There is no increased risk of failure, in being an autodidact.
Art Schools are no exception. There was a time, not that long ago, when Art Schools were basically trade schools, training students in the basics they would need to make money in the creative realm. Whether it be as a gallery artist or a commercial illustrator. Perhaps both, as in the case of many of the members of Canada's Group of Seven. Sadly, with the encroachment of Credentialism, Art Schools, along with the rest of the Education Industry, are opening up wider than they ever have before, attracting and accepting both those interested in the creative life and those under the impression that Arts programs are easier than most of the others. Sadly, while it has not been in the past, this second group is increasingly correct, as the standards and mandates of Art Schools lower and change in a cynical attempt to cash in on the 21st century Education Boom.
Adding an extra bit of irony in the case of Art Schools is that for many years, most of the Arts were not seen as something one needed to go to school to be able to do. There certainly were Art Schools, going way back but, much like journalism school, while getting an Arts degree could help, it was certainly not seen as a requirement and, in some cases, attendance was prohibited. Cases such as that of Artemisia Gentileschi. The subject of the 1997 film Artemisia, Gentileschi, now recognized as one of the finest artists of her time, had the misfortune to be born in 1593. Art instruction of any kind being out of the question due to her gender, Gentileschi taught herself how to draw, using her own body as a reference, the only females allowed in the studios of the artists of the day being models, lest respectable girls catch sight of nudity and therefore be corrupted. One of her best known works is her rendition of Judith Slaying Holofernes. A popular theme at the time, the other most famous version being the one done by her stylistic influence and fellow iconoclast Carravagio. Her love for art was such that she continued to paint even after having her hands mutilated while under torture and while it broke just about every social more, she taught her daughter how to paint.
Born as a slave in Alabama in 1853, William “Bill” Traylor was also not able to attend the Art Schools of his day. Yet, at the age of 85 no less, after a lifetime as a sharecropper after the passing of the 14th Amendment to the American Constitution, he picked up pencil and paper and taught himself how to draw, using art to record his personal history. Though it would not until nearly thirty years after his death that Traylor would be recognized and his work gained wider attention, it also laid ground-work for later 'Primitive' artist such as New York Modern Art darling Keith Haring.
Someone else who went against the grain, in more ways than one, was Francis Bacon. Not to be mistaken for the 16th century political figure the Irish-born, English raised painter also left and indelible mark, some might say black spot, on the history of Britain and culture itself, without getting within spitting distances of a Royal commission or the Academy, lucky for them. While he never attended an Art School, Bacon had his first professional exhibitions while he was still in his 20s. Despite tales of a Van Gogh-esque existence that saw Bacon living in his studio space, colouring is hair with boot polish and brushing his teeth with bleach, Bacon was fairly popular with at least with some sectors of the Artistic establishment and handily beat Van Gogh's lifetime sales record of none. Bacon also had his work displayed in the Museum of Modern Art among others and was one of the few living, British painters to have a documentary made about him. Two in fact, Francis Bacon: Fragments of A Portrait (1966) and Francis Bacon (1988), as well as one more than 20 years after his death, Francis Bacon: A Brush With Violence (2017), all of them produced by the BBC.
While a formal Art School education can be helpful, especially depending what sort of art one wants to do, it is not and has never really been a requirement for entrance into the creative life. There is absolutely no shame, or particularly increased risk of failure, in being an autodidact.
What do you think?