Confessions of a self-taught artist: Ruby Jagrut

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Chauvet Cave, Ardèche, France. Dated to: 30,000 to 28,000 B.C.

Ruby Jagrut tells you why self-taught artists are a part of the earliest human artistic legacy – cave painting. These ancient artists were not formally trained, but they decided to follow their passion to express and document. You can too!

“Which school you went to to learn art?”

These kind of  questions come to me in different forms all the time. I had a teacher but didn’t go to a formal school to study art. I found a great teacher in Toofan Rafai, who helped me find my medium, discover my colours, methods of treatment, befriending the idea of natural dyes and their interface with canvas and textiles. He taught me patience to make the art happen and emerge through these dyes.

So many friends in my journey are formally trained. Since I was not, one always wondered in the beginning about the many things I have missed out. Teachers, practice, eco system, peer pressure and this peculiar thing about measure. Measuring one against the other. Comparing with relation to the others.

There is no Idiot’s Guide or a serious DIY for those keen to follow their passion for art. There is no one way, unlike say becoming a doctor, engineer, pilot, lawyer or a scientist. One chooses and walks on a path full of uncertainties and fogs of confusion, which is draining and sometimes very disappointing. Also because it is very applied.

Some 10000 years old drawings of the rocks of Bhimbetka caves near Bhopal, India attract global interest

It is far easier for people who go to art school, study fine arts and pursue a career logically coming out of the process. What was I asking myself when I stumbled into this discovery that I may pursue art? Clearly there were many doubts and questions. Upon checking one finds there are many greats who became artists in spite of not going to a proper school. That includes Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Henry Rousseau, Henry Darger and closer home, Subodh Kerkar, Madhvi Parekh, Sudhir Patwardhan, and Amit Ambalal. When we talk to them and read about them, we find some things common.

At some point a decision was arrived at. A leap of faith was taken. They took the plunge. Challenges were many. To begin with, you don’t have a group of people who understand you and your passion to start with, you don’t have peers to ask where to get materials, which book to refer to, and what’s happening in the current scenario. Also, one has to learn the hard way and be very lucky to find a teacher or guru to handhold you, and help you in developing perspective. Moving alone in the absence of a group can also be quite a challenge as the exposure is limited to one person or style.

But there are definite advantages. You don’t have to conform to many measures as in group, class and standards. You don’t have to do too many things to pursue one stream. But the best thing is you when you are not educated in the field of art you don’t have to struggle to unlearn or undo things. Finding oneself is relatively easy. Art schools also brand the artists in certain ways, as artists from particular groups and times are. Galleries have preconceived notion about particular art schools and regions you belong to. It’s an uphill task for a self-taught artists or for that matter all artists who do not belong to formal category.

The struggle is to find a community which helps us find our elements better and smoothly. Not going to an art school doesn’t mean one cannot get access to the plethora of knowledge, experts and references that exists. Of course, one has to try a little harder. 

I might sound a bit preachy but nothing can substitute hard work, perseverance, and patience! There are no shortcuts, as we all know. To be aware of all aspects about the field; what’s happening, where it is happening, why it is happening? and so on. Asking questions help. Meeting with people of the community helps. Learning to articulate helps. Learning to put things in perceptive helps.

In the beginning you might have to sponsor yourself in the pursuit of this passion. Use the Internet to track what are big ticket things happening around the world and India, and develop your own way of seeing the art. Follow their amazing collections on Internet. Make notes. Have thoughts and connect the world of art that is relevant to your own authentic elements and consciousness.   

There is one more thing. That art was there before the schools came. Before languages emerged. Much before the Internet. One can always try to reclaim that ancient pre-historic tendency encoded in you. 

That man who picked a colour and scribbled something on a wall about the dance around the shikar he had just done was, in fact, self taught. I see all self-taught painters as part of that continuity and tradition.