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  • Writer's pictureAndre Rios Art

Self-taught - Learning to learn

An autodidact by definition is someone who learns without the guidance of masters or institutions, however this definition is a little imprecise in my opinion. An autodidact can and should learn from masters or institutions, basically all learning methodologies are material that an autodidact with serious intentions of acquiring competences in their specialty should take into account.

In this article I talk about my experience in higher art education institutions and my journey as a self-taught artist in the art world.

Faithfully following the instructions and methodologies of a single education system has its advantages but also weaknesses. Learning the fundamentals and acquiring the competence to execute what is expected according to an institutional system can be a way to acquire discipline, integrate processes and a safe methodology in the workflow but there are negative aspects as well that are rarely addressed.

Through my experience in 3 art universities in Portugal I developed my own point of view in relation to this topic and I want to start by highlighting 5 positive and negative aspects of institutionalized teaching in the area of fine arts.

The positive side:


When talking to event/exhibition organizers, art galleries and professionals in the art field, I realized that it is quite common for them to talk about the credentials they have or that someone in question has before they even talk about what they can actually do. In my opinion, this behavior is directly related to the value system of these people, which is rooted in Portuguese culture, the mentality that higher education training in the area confers by itself a status of competence that must be stated before of something else.

Contact with relevant people in the area

When attending an educational institution, we certainly come into contact with several people who work in the area, which is great for creating a network of valuable contacts.

Working in projects

The experience of developing projects from start to finish is very useful. When properly accompanied by a professional and experienced teacher, in a project one can learn work methodologies, group/team work, structure and discipline to complete and present a project within specific objectives directed to the real world.

Find work/get hired

As Portuguese culture values institution credentials, getting hired for a job in the field becomes easier. Candidates without this type of credential are filtered out even before anyone can get to see their portfolios.

Ease of career progression within institutions

Without a higher institutional course, no one can teach in the institutional education system, for example. Whether it is a master with decades of experience or an internationally recognized professional, the rule is not to accept anyone as a teacher who does not have this credential (even when it was given by an institution with a low level of reputation or graduated with the minimal effort required to get this credential).

The negative side:

Lack of updating/quality of teaching

One of the problems I found in institutional teaching is its lack of updating. Many of the teachers of these institutions after graduation continue to repeat exactly what they were taught when they were students and after years or in some cases decades, their students are forced to learn subjects and methods that are completely outdated and without practical relevance in today's world.

Repression of originality

I felt that when we are limited to one teacher to learn a certain topic, we are often limited to one point of view, the only one that is correct within the classroom, that of the teacher.

This means that deviations from this method and point of view are almost always seen as a provocation and opposition to the teacher who holds the authority in the teaching space. Teachers who promote research, experimentation and even invite experts to give demonstrations and workshops are the antidote to the stagnation that these types of teaching tend to develop.

False sense of competence

Completing a course and specialization means that at least the minimum necessary to complete a process that an organization has determined necessary to award a degree of legal competence status has been learned, which sometimes does not correspond to real-world competence. Many stop here but even after an academic training, the learning journey continues indefinitely and is an excellent opportunity to progress as a self-taught.

Waste of time

Although many subjects are useful for the journey of someone seeking knowledge and competence in their field, many of the so-called "subjects" are a waste of time and energy. From topics that are completely irrelevant in the current market to areas of study that don't make any sense and that their subjects will never be used after completing the course. What could be learned in a few months is dragged on for years because this type of teaching is first of all a business and for many businesses, profit always comes first.


For those who are lucky enough to have their studies financed, they don't care so much about the costs of this type of education as long as they pass the year with an average of 10/20 is enough, but for people like me, who have always worked part-time while studying , the costs of attending an educational institution are too high for the value they offer. There are 5 hour online courses that teach, without exaggerating, much more than many college professors teach in 5 years.

There is certainly much more to be covered on this topic but this is my overview of these topics.



With that said, I studied in 3 different arts majors at 3 different universities:

- ESAD (Matosinhos) - Communication design course (1 year)

- FBAUL (Lisboa) - Painting/Fine Arts (1 year)

- Lusíada (Porto) - Industrial product design (3 years)

My story is for another time, but in short, I left the institutional education system and became self-taught. The freedom to learn what I want, when I want and at my own speed are undoubtedly points that I like to mention when I talk about this topic.

In the age of the internet where it is possible to learn from renowned masters through youtube videos, anyone can learn anything without spending a single Euro but there are also countless online courses that can be valuable learning tools for self-taught students.

We don't need to learn from a single person who was chosen according to the parameters of a college direction, we can learn from hundreds of top professionals who not only teach but also work in today's market and in their blogs/videos/courses share technical, philosophical and even business management knowledge. We can see the quality of their work and teaching before we decide that we want to learn from that person.

The age of access to information is here to stay and we can learn anytime and anywhere, whether in our studio working or listening to an audiobook on the beach.

Being self-taught is a way of life and when we learn to learn we become free and independent.

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