Three Phenomenal Self-Taught Artists

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Consider the background of our most famous artists. Whether they were icons from the Old World or established names from more modern times, it's natural to assume that they began their careers at an early age. Nurtured through art school and mentored by teachers, they developed their talent slowly and carefully. However, some of the most prolific and well-known artists never received formal training in their craft. They followed the muse of their passion and produced phenomenal works that remain classics today. The lives of these self-taught artists are a source of fascination and inspiration.
The Folk Artist
His painting, The Peaceable Kingdom, is better known than his name, but Edward Hicks is considered one of America's premier self-taught artists. Hicks was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1780 and became the foster child of a devout Quaker family. At age 13, he became a coach maker's apprentice, but his small stature limited his duties to painting and varnishing the carriages. Hicks turned this modest training to house painting and designing tavern signs and clock faces. He eventually became a preacher of the Quaker faith, and began to translate the images of his spiritual devotion into the works that we enjoy today. While his paintings are considered Folk Art, they still convey a mastery and quiet sophistication that is remarkable.

The Illustrator
The beautiful work of John Gould fills 41 volumes and remains the definitive study of 19th century bird species. This future naturalist was born in Dorset, England in 1804 and followed his father's profession as a gardener. His curiosity about nature and especially the bird life that he observed turned into a lifelong quest. He set out to draw and document as many species as possible. Although he had very little formal education, Gould became the first curator of London's Zoological Society. Nicknamed the “Bird Man,” he produced artwork that influenced the leading scholars and scientists of his day. Charles Darwin relied on Gould's expertise and referenced his perfectly detailed bird studies throughout, On the Origin of Species. Gould published 300 scientific articles and became the most important ornithological illustrator of his time. His lifelong accomplishments were never hindered by his lack of conventional training. Although he died in 1881, John Gould prints are still considered some of the finest illustrations of birds ever created.

The Painter
Frida Kahlo's paintings have been described as surreal, disturbing and beautiful. Born in Mexico City in 1907, Kahlo was bedridden with polio by age 6. As a young woman, she hoped for a career in medicine, but was forced to abandon her plans after she was severely injured in a trolley accident. She turned to art as an outlet for her pain. Working with an easel specially designed to accommodate her immobility, Kahlo spent three months in the hospital crafting what would become her signature style. For the rest of her days, she endured physical and emotional pain from her injuries. Her paintings were manifestations of the suffering that played such a large role in her life. That Kahlo was self-taught adds an emotional depth and courage to her work that still resonates.

The talent of these remarkable individuals is undeniable, and their work reflects the passion of their inspirations. There is a lesson to be learned from these self-taught artists: Regardless of the paths our lives might take, we should always nurture our own natural talents and follow our personal roads to inspiration.
Freelance writer Nadine Swayne is an avid art lover and draws from that inspiration to offer this article. Being a self taught artist is a tremendous talent that few possess.  From the surreal artistry of Frida Kahlo to the natural beauty of John Gould prints , it is undeniable that these self taught artists were internally driven to express themselves through their works of art.
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