In association with the Royal Academy of Arts

How to be an artist without going to art school

Forget student loans, textbooks and critical theory – instead, trip through these alternative routes to an art education

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Jeremy Bailey
Jeremy Bailey is our new favourite tongue-in-cheek art guide and one-man laughter factoryvia jeremybailey.net

This article is part of a series on art today to support the Dazed x Converse Emerging Artists Award  Check out the rest of content here and make sure to visit the Royal Academy in London before 17th May to see all the work IRL. 

In Terry Zwigoff's 2006 film Art School Confidential, there’s a scene where acclaimed artist Marvin Bushmiller (played by Adam Scott) sits in front of a lecture hall full of desperate art school students, spewing fake deep anecdotes at the crowd. Responding to a question about whether he learnt anything from art school, Bushmiller asserts: “In order to be a great artist, you simply have to be a great artist. There’s nothing to learn!” The art world isn’t as opaque as Bushmiller makes out, and although art school is the default passage that most wannabe art professionals trudge, it’s worth tapping into some unlikely sources to get some unconventional insights.

In honour of this year's Converse x Dazed Emerging Artists Award, the list below attempts to forge an alternative route through the art world, from watching art comedian Casey Jane Ellison’s ultra-awkward-but funny YouTube show to following Instagram’s finest art troll. Happy learning!

READ #ARTSELFIE

A few years ago, NYC-based writer and curator Brian Droitcour started instagramming himself reflected in art pieces. He then officialised his shiny arty series, assigning the hashtag #artselfie to each photo. DIS Magazine later launched the #artselfie blog inspired by Droitcour’s project, and a wave of sepia-toned pics featuring cropped artworks and cropped heads rolled in, eventually making their way into a huge tome, aptly named #artselfie. Read to get seduced by good angles, bad lighting and random art. Order the publication here.

WATCH CASEY JANE ELLISON'S TOUCHING THE ART

"I feel lost but peaceful," mulls Ellison during season 2, episode 2 of her show on Ovation TV. Watching the artist/comedian throw art’s biggest and most unanswerable questions to her female-only panels will probably leave you feeling snug in your own bafflement too. Dissecting the art world through awkwardness, Ellison’s video series isn’t so much about solving art's biggest conundrums once and for all (i.e. What is art? What’s its purpose?) rather, it’s about starting a dialogue, and watching it dissipate and go off topic. The second season kicked off in tandem with this year’s New Museum Triennial, featuring Hood By Air CEO and filmmaker Leilah Reinwaub and artist Juliana Huxtable. Watch the latest segment, "Art criticism, Journalism & Gossip" below to decipher whether art writing is for crybabies only.

FOLLOW ICALLBULLSHIT ON INSTAGRAM

Let’s face it, the art world is, at times, full of bullshit, and this critic is not afraid to call it out. Blunt, crass and straight to the point, this is a rolling gossip-y feed shaming pretentious culprits and their hollow pursuits. Dubbing Sarah Lucas’s work as ‘poo stew’ and Richard Prince as ‘Meta Boring’, @icallB spares no one, and it’s just as well – nobody really knows the person behind it anyway. Nevertheless, this feisty account will remind you the art world can be gaudy, that art can be boring, and if so inclined, you shouldn’t feel bad about hatin’ on some art.

TAKE NOTES FROM AKADEMIE X

Wouldn’t it be nice to ask Marina Abramovic, Miranda July, Tim Rollins and Sanford Biggers about how to make it as an artist? Fact is, you’ll probably never have the chance to pester these big wigs, so it’s nice to know that the wisdom of these art professionals, along with 32 others, have been neatly collated in to Akademie X – a self-proclaimed ‘art school without walls’. Notes on the MFA system, lying v bullshitting and finding mentors feature throughout, in addition to practical advice and reading lists. This is required reading for those thinking about attending art school, those who can’t afford art school, and those who want to find out how these artists made a success of their lives.

GET A PERSONALISED MUSEUM

Jeremy Bailey’s brainchild transforms the banner ads that disrupt your sanctified browsing into sites for new media art. Tailored to your personal tastes, The You Museum collates the information supplied via a simple questionnaire and musters up a bespoke exhibition that chases you as you click through the internet. It’s a sweet idea, and if you decide to click on a banner you happen to like, you can purchase the art being shown – in the form of a mug, tote bag or pillow. “I feel that I'm co-opting something negative to create a positive outcome”, Bailey tells Fast Company, “and this of course is a long running tradition that people have used to improve the world many times before."

FOLLOW BLACK CONTEMPORARY ART ON TUMBLR

Founded by Kimberly Drew in early 2011, this Tumblr is a necessary route into the extensive and far too often overlooked world of black contemporary art. Drew curates a constant feed of young emerging artists making experimental work through mediums such as installation, new media, and film. Be sure to browse their comprehensive lists of black and PoC art blogs and black artists. Work by Jonathan L Chase, Caitlin Cherry and Isaac Kariuki are recent finds that are certainly ones to watch.

VISIT THE MUSEUM OF STOLEN ART

Perhaps the ultimate marker of an artwork’s worth is whether people want to steal it or not. Ziv Schneider, founder of the Museum of Stolen Art, has assembled what might be, in theory, the most expensive museum collection, if it existed in the real world that is. Images of missing masterpieces sourced from the Interpol Art Crime Database cover a virtual white cube space where viewers, aided by an Oculus Rift, can view art that’s yet to be recovered. Part educational tour, part public plea – the museum hopes to acquaint audiences with these lost works, lest they find them somehow. 

WATCH GALLERY GIRLS

"Like, don’t get béchamel sauce all over my clothes," snaps Angela, one of the seven tightly-strung, moneyed interns desperate to forge a career in the New York gallery scene. As you’d expect, bitchiness and gossip form the central premise of Gallery Girls, constantly eclipsing actual convo’s on art (which rarely occupy much screen time anyway). Should wannabe gallery interns watch this for accurate insight? Probably not, but this perfectly packaged guilty pleasure is hard to resist. Once you’ve sat through the first season (Bravo didn’t renew the show) you can read all about what the interns have been up to since the show ended here.

READ THE ART STUFF ON TOPICAL CREAM

Whitney Mallet’s essay, "D’Accelerationism", is probably one of the most important texts to come out of the first quarter of 2015 – an on point analysis on art, capitalism, technology and appropriation. This is only part of the reason you should keep on top of the Topical Cream though. Spotlighting some of the most interesting female artists working today, the online magazine (dedicated to women working in fashion, art and technology) is saturated with girls creating awesome projects. Recommended reading includes: "Rachel De Joode: Signifiers + Surface", "The Skin We Live In: Ariana Page Russel", "Conflict (Process) Alisa Baremboym" and "Girls In Guangzhou".

LISTEN TO PERFORMANCE ART 101 OR KNOW WAVE

Self-described as an ‘education for availabists living in a post-apocalyptic world’, Performance Art 101 – chaired by filmmaker and performance artist Kembra Pfahler – schools listeners on the careers and trajectories of artists both emerging and established. With guests such as Richard Kern, Walt Cassidy and Juliana Huxtable, Kembra casually conducts insightful conversations on working in the contemporary art world, surviving as artist and finding one’s voice – with various anecdotes and crazy stories peppered throughout her hour-long segment. Airing from NYC’S radio station Know Wave, its best that jot down notes with your sharpies (as advised by Pfahler at the start of each show) – you don’t want to miss anything out.