Nature or Nurture – Can art be taught?

I’m one of those people that, when they decide on a hobby or profession, must know EVERYTHING about it.  I’m the first in line to book into a course as I feel it gives me more confidence in the area if I think I’ve studied it.  I’ve done this with fitness, project management, lighting, dog washing – you name it, I’ve done it!

Except for art…

I just can’t bring myself to take art classes.  I’ve enquired a few times but never followed through.  Here’s why.

I consider whatever creative or artistic ability I may have as a genetic “gift”.  Some people inherit their mother’s fine hair, their father’s height or their grandmother’s stubborness.  I think art is like singing or blue eyes – you are either born with it or not.  I believe you can tweak some techniques to get a better outcome but on the whole I don’t think you can be taught to paint or draw.

My fear with art classes is that someone would tell me that what I’m doing is crap or wrong.  Can art be wrong?  Isn’t it personal expression in whatever form you choose?  Isn’t experimentation part of the creativity journey?

Imagine if Picasso went to art school (maybe he did?), I can just picture the teacher taking one look at his “cubism” work and saying “whoa dude, that woman you painted is totally out of whack – what’s going on there?!”  (Or maybe “man, your rooster drawing looks like a squiggle!).

Picasso - La Lecture (Woman Reading) courtesy of

Imagine what would be lost if artists were trained in a specific way and couldn’t experiment freely, without boundaries.

I don’t want to BE Picasso or BE Emma Hack.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE to have their skill and creativity (even 1% would be great!) but I do want to create my own work – good or bad.  I hope that the people I create for will like what I do but mostly I hope I like what I produce.  I don’t want to be someone else.  If I went to “art school” I’d be scared that my work would no longer be my own as I’d pick up the vibe, style and technique of the teacher.

On the flip side I think that some aspects can be taught, maybe even need to be.  For example, mosaic – I could do a course on that because I’d want to find out what sort of glue, tiles and other materials to use or how best to cut tiles etc.  Or if I wanted to air-brush I’d need to know about the gun, the paint etc – how it works, how to set it up, what paint to use etc.

I really want to be better at what I like doing artistically.  Is there a proper way to hold a brush, apply a brush stroke or mix paint and would knowing this improve my results?  But is it a case of practice, experiment, trial and error or do I need to attend a course?  Would training, schooling or courses limit natural ability or enhance it?

10 thoughts on “Nature or Nurture – Can art be taught?

  1. I can totally understand how you feel. In fact, I remember being somewhat harshly “criticized” by the instructor for a piece of work I did in one of my first art classes in college. I thought it was decent, and was within the parameters of the assignment. It really stung, but in hindsight, it was likely a good lesson for me to learn. I took what he said and tried to keep it just to that. And I still think about his comments on composition, balance, etc, every now and then when working on something, and try to let it help me do a better job, or at least pause to look at the piece in a couple of different ways.
    I do think courses are good for learning the tools of the trade and the technical aspects. And while it is possible that you might be influenced by the style of your instructor and fellow students, it really seems to be that a person’s style is their own and comes from many, many influences in life.
    On the other hand, with all the resources available today, it is likely that you can study and learn anything you need to know on your own. Look at all the self-taught artists out there and the great work they are creating.
    Just my 2 cents 🙂
    Best wishes whichever route you take!

  2. I think the ‘talent’ to draw, paint, create is something you are born with – you can’t learn that. The ability to produce something real from an idea is a special gift which not everyone has but maybe this is why ‘art’ is taught at school … to see who has the potential to produce.
    You will remember that Pa always had his natural gift and produced a number of beautiful paintings in his own style until after being co-erced into attending an art school with an old friend, his paintings changed from natural light colours to a very dark, almost morbid style which didn’t suit his type of work. Fortunately he changed back to his natural style and there were not too many of the dark paintings produced!!
    You yourself were discouraged during school years from your natural style by an art teacher who declared your style/work was wrong!! Of course this was enough reason at the time for you to stop altogether!!! (such a pity).

    • I do remember that about Pa. Perhaps that is something that deterred me (along with the negativity of “that art teacher” who didn’t just tell me I was wrong she suggested I leave!) from pursuing it any further.

      Anyway, that was a long time ago – it’s never to late to try again right?

  3. I have to disagree somewhat. Just because someone criticises you doesn’t mean you will lose your natural abilities. They are someone you are paying to give you extra hints and tips. There’s no reason for you to put them on a pedastal and then allow their comments to affect your art future negatively.
    Also, artistic style changes. It would be boring if your style didn’t change over time and reflect your development as a person. Some of these changes will come from introspection but a lot of changes in all areas of artistic expression (clothes, cooking etc) come from external influences. They come from evaluating what other people show us and then incorporating or discarding their ideas.
    My reading of your text is that you’re afraid to do an art class. You had a bad experience previously and are afraid of a repeat of that. Also, you’re afraid that you’ll lose sight of your own style.
    I have faith in your adult self to be able to put an instructor with non-constructive criticism back in their place. I also believe in your ability to venture out and try new things without compromising your own style. I say, if you get the chance to study with someone whose work you admire – go for it!

    • You make a good point Eve. Perhaps I will investigate art courses in a genre that interests me and see what happens! If nothing else it’ll keep me off the streets and give me a “project” to focus on which is always a good thing for me!

  4. My opinion is that I don’t think talent is a thing you are born with at all. I think if you love making art the talent is acquired through hard work which you don’t mind doing because you love it so much. Everyone can make art whether technical or not and anyone who tries to teach you art you should take as a rough guideline and not a rule. There are no rules! that’s why I have always loved doing it anyway. Classes, colleges and uni’s do not make an do.

    • You make some very good points. I guess it’s like anything – if you want to do it you will, if you love doing it you’ll do it more and the more you do it the better you get over time! I like this idea – it takes the pressure off and keeps the fun aspect 🙂

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