Jacqi and I delivered paintings last weekend for a show that I'm having in Lake Charles, LA, and today we hung some paintings for a show that I'm having at the Loophole here in Denton. At both places they asked me where I learned to paint, and I told them that I learned to paint originally from the creative writing courses that I take at UNT, and the response was, "oh, so you are self-taught." Not that they were being disparaging in any way, but I'm asked that question a lot and it got me to thinking.
I explained my feelings that, as far as I have seen, art classes and writing classes cover a lot of the same material, and that in my opinion I have had some excellent art classes -- I just wasn't holding a brush at the time. The terms used are often different, a foil in literature is a term used when two characters have qualities that offset each other and intensify the qualities in each other - like the brave hero of the story who may have a cowardly sidekick. In painting the term of this concept is complementary colors, where one color is in stark contrast to another color and therefore intensifies both -- such as when red is placed next to green. The truth is that if you were to read a book on painting theory and one on writing theory at the same time you might feel as if you're reading the same book.
One thing that I hear over and over again in books on both painting and writing is that you can't be taught how to paint or write creatively. The only way to learn is through doing; books and classes are important because they give you ideas, but the ideas do you no good if you never put them into practice. To me this means that everyone is self-taught on a very real level. If a person could master material by just signing up for a class then every student would be an expert in every class that they attended. We know that this is not true, that to make a good grade you have to put in the effort. I think that sometimes people get confused and feel that that the school is more important, but I feel that it is the effort that is most crucial.
I have another problem with the idea that in order to excel in something you have to be taught it first, and that is when someone is doing something completely new. If I had to wait for someone to teach me to paint I would have waited a lifetime. There are no visual arts schools for the visually impaired, at least not yet. I think that instruction is important, I plan to teach someday myself, I just don't think the emphasis should be on the teaching, but rather on the learning.