Can You Be an Artist Without Formal Education?

Art is found in galleries, theaters, movies, and dance competitions. It is found in museums, festivals, concerts, and other formal events. It is also found in your sketchbook, your street, or the park.

Today’s piece deals with a question asked by many artists: Do I need to go to art school to become a professional? Let’s shed some light on that, shall we?

Formal Education

Most artists you hear about on TV and the rest of the media have had some form of formal education. Some have attended prestigious universities. It is natural to think that this is the only way to become successful in the art world.

However, higher education and art schools have both advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the most common ones.



Talent only gets you so far. You also need practice, structure, and additional techniques to express yourself and your ideas. Arts schools can help you with that by teaching you the ways the old masters used to do things.


You practice in a relatively closed setting where you receive feedback on your work. Your teachers can tell you what it is that you are lacking or why you are frustrated with your work. The school provides you with a place and setting where you can hone your skills and talents.


It is unfortunate, but many artists don’t get recognized simply because they don’t know the right people. Sitting at home a painting does not give much exposure to your work. Schools can potentially help you connect with others.



Education, especially private and prestigious, can be very expensive. So much so that people are still drowning in student debt even when they are working in lucrative fields. I think you’ll agree that art is not one of these fields for 9 out of 10 people.

In other words, higher education is often available only to those that can afford it. There are a few rants I would like to write about on that subject, but that is a topic for another day.


There is no guarantee that you are going to succeed. There is also no guarantee of the quality of education you are going to receive. Schools and teachers differ and there is a limit to what each of them can offer you.

Can You Be A Professional Artist?

Now with the pros and cons out of the way, let’s talk about whether you can be an artist without going to an art school. The answer, in my humble opinion, is yes (with an asterisk). You can be a professional artist if you work hard and do the legwork and networking yourself. That means that you would be in charge of promoting your art and getting recognized.

This leads me to the second hurdle. You can sell your art on the street, online, do commissions, and design work. What I’m trying to say is you may be required to do work that has nothing to do with your own voice.

Finally, there is something Brandon Sanderson, a renowned fantasy writer, said in one of his writing classes on the subject of writing professionally. I will not quote him, but the gist of it is that very few writers make it to the professional level where they can live off of their work. Not quitting your day job does not make you an amateur. It helps you financially.