Do you need qualifications to be an artist?

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… And that’s the topic for the fifth issue of the Good to Know zine! It’s our biggest issue ever too – 68 pages filled with shared experiences and thoughts by 51 artists, illustrators and designers. There’s also a special segment that’s generously shared by Melanie Maddison of Colouring Outside the Lines zine, and features snippets of previous 10 interviews with artists that relates to the topic at hand.

To celebrate the launch, we’re giving away TWO issues of this zine; one each to lucky commentors who share with us their thoughts: Is it necessary to have a degree/qualification to be an artist? Do you have experiences or thoughts to share?

Giveaway ends on 25th September, and if you can’t wait, well you can always get your own copy at the Good to Know project page where you’ll also find past issues of the zine!

Pssst, also, if you want new updates every now and then, you might be interested in signing up for our mailing list?

{The pattern for the cover of issue #5 was designed by Vicky Smith}


UPDATE: Commenting has now closed, thanks for participating!

39 Replies to “Do you need qualifications to be an artist?”

  1. Alexandre says:

    That’s why the word autodidact exists and I think even if it’s harder you can taught by yourself and with the others help…qualifications may be a good start but it could keep you away from different other ways of doing, thinking etc…
    [I hope I’ve been clear enough… my english really sucks !!]

  2. noella k says:

    studying art helps you get the skills and teaches you techniques.. but in the end the inspiration and talent comes from you.

  3. I don’t think it’s necessary, but you have to be really disciplined to learn and practice by yourself and need lots of honest critique from people that you trust, which is difficult to find. Still, lots of art teachers out there are trying to influence your personal style, so you get to avoid that. And I’m just putting differently what Alexandre already said…

  4. Adeline says:

    I think art is whatever a person feels is special to them. Art should be something personal and each piece should relate to the artist for meaning. The whole world could hate it and it wouldn’t matter as long as it was special to the creator. That being said i think that art can be refined with the guidance of someone more knowledgeable, but it should be a learning experience where your eyes are opened to new ways of doing things. A degree is something that furthers your art, not THE art.

  5. Rita says:

    It’s not absolutely necessary – art is a journey. You are the navigator.

  6. lisa mertins says:

    i’m an example of a professional artist with a long, rewarding career with no formal training. a classic example of having the heart and the drive and the skills developed because of that. however, i’m now at the beginning of a new art direction so i’ve sought college training. there are things i’m learning now that i wish i’d learned long ago. i won’t need a degree but being open to seeing things in a new way is crucial for me as an artist. i believe it’s the insatiable hunger for an honest pursuit of art that makes one an artist.

  7. Mithi says:

    I think it very much depends on your personality. I’m retraining to be an illustrator from having been a scientist. I needed that structured time to get my head round thinking completely differently. I found I couldn’t do it on my own, or while holding down a non-arty job.
    I have been very lucky in my art education as my tutors have helped me explore stuff that I’m sure I wouldn’t have done by myself – and I’ve also learned a lot about the industry as we get lots of jobbing illustrators/agents/commissioners etc coming to speak to us – all these I wouldn’t have really had ready access to if I hadn’t been doing the degree. Just this networking opportunity (with all the people I’ve mentioned above, and your fellow coursemates) has been probably more helpful than any kind of “learning-art-techniques”.

    SO yes, has been great for me – but I don’t think you nececessarily need it …

  8. Mary Ann Hollander says:

    I found that it was easier to focus on the creative aspects of my work once I had more technical training. I didn’t have to figure out how, just what.

  9. I’ve often wondered about this. I have a degree in design and work in illustration, animation and design. I would love to be able to create art for art’s sake but feel like a faker because I haven’t spent years studying the intricacies of fine art. Funnily enough I think it’s a fear of being taken seriously.

  10. Yes. Like any other field of study or career.

    Can a child create art? Of course, she/he can also cook, write, build, and make judgement calls — at an elementary level.

  11. Emma Kidd says:

    what happened there?
    Oh well, I’ll rewrite my comment about not being able to wait to see what everyone wrote. I’ll have to wait until I get back home to buy a copy if I don’t win a free one!

  12. Liane says:

    I think each person has to answer that for themselves. It helps to talk to both professionally and not schooled artists to decided if you yourself should go the school route or not. It really depends on the person. I did go to school for painting but I think the thing that makes me an artist didn’t come out of that. Of course, learning skills/technical training and getting feedback by knowledgeable people is important. But the most important thing is being devoted and curious (in life in gen’l and not just art:)
    My son is in art school now and I think it will help him in many areas: having a broad vision of art, making connections and learning skills he may not pursue on his own but will enhance his work in the long run.

  13. Melyong says:

    All we need is a lot of imagination, guts, self-belief and passion. Technical stuff is to further enhance all of the above. But whoever said that art is perfection? It is all the imperfections that makes it perfect. Plus, if you don’t have those in you whats the point of having the technical advantage? ‘cause in the end of the day, when technical things run out of your system, what left?

  14. Annisa says:

    I go back and forth with this myself… I don’t believe that a degree is necessary, though for me I’m pretty sure I need the discipline side to be taught to me.

  15. Jess says:

    I don’t think anyone needs credentials to be an artist, and I am not sure if having BA has done anything to help me find work, however it did grant me the opportunity to explore new avenues in art and taught me self discipline. I do know that going back to school will give me the chance to take time off work to commit 2 years to making art, which I super excited about. Also, the credentials can equate to work/teaching.

  16. Bill Porter says:

    Like a lot of careers, a degree is a great thing to have but doesn’t make you more or less qualified. I have a BFA and am glad I do but the dept. I went through wasn’t the best and hurt me in as many ways as it’s helped. Frankly it’s about your skills and ability to do the job. We all come from different educational backgrounds and no one road to life as a professional artist make one better than the rest. This wide diversity helps give each person’s work it’s own look and originality. Heck some of the best artists are self taught. So there is no set formula to success.

  17. Of course you don’t need formal training to be an artist – that comes from a need to create. I think there are times when formal training helps (sometimes you get to a point that you know you need to know more to go further) and times when it restricts you too much. Everyone has to decide for themselves when and how much training they need to make themselves a better artist.

  18. My art professor extraordinaire (Marilyn Frasca) taught us to be connected to our unique source of “work”. The techniques needed to bring the work to life will reveal themselves and can be learned at anytime. Skills and media are tools we use to tell our stories visually. You don’t need art school to have a story to tell!

  19. nicole licht says:

    I admire perseverance, intent, a rigorous practice, a knowledge of history, and a critical eye
    … how ever which way you’ve reached that.
    “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” -Michelangelo

  20. char says:

    This is a hard one…
    Do you want to be able to experiment and learn in a tranquille setting for 3-4 years? WONDERFUL…go to Art School.
    Do you want to mix and mingle with contempory up and comings of your time? WONDERFUL…go and study…
    DO you know who you are and what you love?
    GO out into the World and work at what you love to do…you’ll make it either way…
    Determination and passion for your field of Art is what’s important!
    Amy..have a great weekend!

  21. sarah says:

    you definitely don’t need a degree to be an artist. i felt on my course that people who otherwise wouldn’t have come across certain artists and force fed ideas wouldn’t have made the things they did. yeh it brought out the good in their work but at the same time, some of it isn’t their own ideas. it’s an idea of what art is according to that particular university.

    but… it’s good to be somewhere focusing entirely on art, meeting people and sharing ideas. i’d do it again for sure, but it’s not got me anywhere now – in fact i feel stupid telling people what course i did

  22. linda says:

    I certainly do NOT think it is necessary to have a degree to be an artist.

    Since the definition of an artist can be different for every person, it’s really a state of mind and personal issue, in my opinion. After all, it’s just a label we have created. Most important is to have passion for whatever you do and believe in yourself!

    That said, I think like with anything else, artists have to learn skills, techniques and practice their craft. However, where and how an artist learns and pick-up skills is wide open. Some do it in art school, others with experimentation…I don’t think one method is valid over the other, everyone is unique.

    When I see something I like and connect to it in some way, I don’t ever ask if the creator has an art degree! That’s the last thing on my mind…

  23. Naomi Shiek says:

    I’m a recent graduate of a prestigious graphic design and illustration program. Before that I studied Fashion Design for 3 years. From experience, I can say that No, you definitely don’t need a degree or certificate to be a creative artist. You just need passion.

    What studies do help with, though, is they refine your skills and your taste, and if done correctly (you learn what to listen to and what to ignore) an education enhances your style. I know that I would never have been able to draw and make the things I do now if I hadn’t gone through the intense (and sometimes painful) degree at Bezalel. But my 3 years in fashion school had very little impact on me creativity-wise. Over the course of my studies I learned what I like and what I don’t like and through trial and error and advise how to achieve what’s in my mind’s eye. That’s a skill that would have been extremely hard to achieve on my own.

    Passion, imagination, and talent – that’s all innate.

  24. I have been illustrating in the publishing and film industries for many years, as well as teach and lecture extensively. A degree is a piece of paper, but it also represents knowledge acquired from years of study. Ultimately you are responsible for your success (however you define success!) as an artist. I tell students that ultimately college or any form of study is really buying you time to pursue your goals, refine your craft and personal vision.
    If your question applies to making a living from your art, that success will blossom from your passion, talent, marketing skills, and ability to innovate/re-invent yourself over the long term. Learn to become an empowered artist entrepreneur.

    I teach a course called “Artist As Brand” that encompasses these principles.

    I bow to the inspired work you are creating here on PIKALAND!



  25. Linn says:

    University trained artists are a relatively new breed – Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Doisneau, to name a few, never got a BFA and look how successful they were. They were just brave, intelligent, individualistic, dedicated creative beings who made their art from their hearts and lived it, which is how I define an artist.

  26. I don’t necessarily believe that you need to have a degree, but I think that it would be great if you have taken some classes. Classes on the fundamentals of art.

    For me, personally, as a self-taught artist I wish that I would’ve taken some classes. I think that it would have helped me skip some steps that I’m struggling with.

    I just want to have someone who is experienced using the materials show me how to use them and share some tips that they’ve learned. I don’t need a degree for that.

    I’ve learned a lot from watching youtube videos and online workshops. As good as the information was, I still prefer a classroom setting for hands-on help.

  27. Rob Huston says:

    Simple. No, you don’t need any degree or qualifications to be an artist. You may have a personal drive to advance your skills or technical knowledge, but actual creative power and insight, no, no, and no. I just graduated college with a BFA in Graphic Design. But insight as an artist, no, I believe an institution actually made my insight less based on intuition and more on reason and the normality of what everyone else is doing.

  28. Chloe Shields says:

    I don’t think you need any qualification whatsoever. Anyone can be an artist without taking classes – everyone has a personal style, don’t they? Of course, classes might be fun and help advance your skills, or they might not. It depends on the person.

  29. Louise says:

    I don’t think you need any qualifications – I think all you need is passion. I believe that classes refine skills, but this can also be done with hard work, some of my favourite artists have no formal qualifications whatsoever.

  30. I believe Being in famous art colleges or having high art degrees is not enough to be an artist !!!
    This is what you need: passion and then work and work and work .
    In every new artwork you learn so much new things.This is a real school.
    I know an old lady that never went to an art college or even a school but she started painting in 67 years old .She lived in a small village with no art books or gallery or … .Her style is similar to henri rousseau .Simple but strong and sooo dreamy .
    you could find her paintings here :

    In Art you must be a lover!

  31. Sarah says:

    I think it depends on the art school as to whether or not you gain anything from your qualifications other than just the qualification itself. I spent 4 and 1/4 years at art school and came out of it with a degree and a post graduate diploma but I’m not sure that I really learned anything.

    I loved the art school experience and having the constant inspiration that comes with being around so many other creative people – but I think I would have ended up developing and continuing to paint as much as if I’d been doing it in a studio without the input of tutors and lecturers – who more often than not weren’t as helpful as you’d hope. It’s especially unhelpful when you remember that you’re paying these people to help guide you.

    Now that I’m out of art school, I’m really enjoying the freedom to be more creative – which is sad as you’d think that art school is a place to be creative.

    Anyway – I’d love a copy of this zine – if I don’t end up winning then I’ll be getting a copy anyway – such an interesting issue!

  32. Robyn says:

    It’s different for each person. All I know is that I have the creativity to be an artist, but the theory behind the pieces I produce came from getting an education.

  33. Esmeralda says:

    I agree with the quote by a master artist (Pablo Picasso) when he said,“All Children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
    I believe any one can be an artist with or without a degree because we all have the ability to be one if we wish to be.

  34. Emmeline says:

    I think studying art definitely helps you to be a better artist. I was teaching myself to paint of the internet, using tutorials and joining groups… then I started Tafe and found that there is only so much a computer can teach you, watching my teachers paint is like watching magic happen… I love it. Can’t beat the friends/contacts you make there too

  35. joerg says:

    i am not sure, if all children are artists, but i am sure, that topmost very few are professionals.
    i know great artists who never went to art schools and i know terrible artists who did.
    nevertheless i think that even if it is not crucial to have a degree (nobody ever asked me, if i do have one), it is very convenient to attend an art school. not so much to learn techniques, but to refine the taste, as mentioned way above…

  36. Angela says:

    To be very honest: NO. I firmly believe that one is born an artist, it’s something you either are or you’re not. Unlike most professions, which you have to learn the skills of, art is something you live rather than acquire. However, going to art school can be highly beneficial for any artist because although you may not learn how to draw or paint or sculpt, you will learn how to share your art with the rest of the world. With this I mean, art school doesn’t teach you how to make art, it teaches you how to network, how to make conections with patrons, sponsors, managers, etc. You learn how to get published or even to make your first solo gallery show. In art school you meet the people that will help you have a career in art, and how to do that. That’s why I think it doesn’t make you a better artist, but it puts you in contact with many more resources to get your art out there, than if you were doing it all by yourself.

    Of course, there’s people that don’t need to go to school to do this, but it helped me.

  37. Catalina says:

    interesting topic. I would say that you may “discover” sometime in life that you are an artist. Creativity is just something you have or need to wake up. We are all artists. To have skills to explore and develop your creativity is another thing. I guess you may obtain them by yourself or taking classes or better to be in an artist class giving you his/her experience. I would say that anyhow courses and classes always help to explore our art and learn from others.

  38. Camilla says:

    Interesting to read through all the comments here. My opinion is this: I think the artist lies within anyone and will evolve if you let it do so. Schooling is a fine way for many to discover and/or evolve this artist, and refine their skills, but in the end, the artist comes from you believing in you. Daring to live your art. School or no school. Wonderful blog.

  39. Emlbee says:

    I have been wondering the same thing myself. I finished most of an art degree, and then quit. I had finished all the courses that taught me some kind of technique and was about to do my thesis. But I felt it was an emotionally toxic environment, which was killing my passion. And then I thought about my debt, and how was I going to pay it off with my art education, and I didn’t really want to teach art… So I switched to a different school to study Urban Planning. So we’ll see how this decision goes. I feel good so far. But I still want to be an artist, and I’m wondering if certain opportunities will be cut off to me, like residencies and grants, and if I care. We’ll see how it goes.

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