This is what I have to say about that.
I know artists without formal education whom have gone on to be very successful, however there is of course never any guarantee for success, if you are speaking monetarily, regardless of one's education or circumstance. Education is a very personal choice that one makes as an artist, and the word success is relative. I can only speak from my own experience.
I was not a good student, in an system that does not foster or encourage creativity. I did have a thirst for knowledge, which I believe is what needs to underpin any educational pursuit.
I have chosen to return to University at the age of 56 years of age, which has been both challenging and simultaneously, one of the best experiences, in my life time for so many reasons.
As a younger art student, I attended NSCAD from 1971- 1979. I was neither ready, nor prepared for University. One needs to be ready and to choose the right program, with the right Professors. Unfortunately, at 27 I was unable to complete my degree, as I suddenly found myself a widow, after being newly married for only four months, in my last year of University and was unable to return, which always weighed heavy on my heart.
Now, as a mature student, I will finally graduate at the age of 59 with my BFA from a wonderful Fine Art Department and University, in eight months time. In the near future I hope to continue on in pursuit of an MFA.
And so I will say, yes, I greatly value my formal education, even though in the past I was never the best student. I am now getting As and Bs and I have fulfilled the dream of returning to complete my degree.
I have been blessed with an experience, that for me, is second to none. I am constantly inspired by fellow students, artists and professors who stimulate, motivate the intellect and creative spirit, making all the difference in my life, as a person and as an artist. It is about the quality of what I learn, from quality teachers, and simultaneously from the quality of the creative process, in my own art practice.
My fellow students keep me young, inspire, educate me, and because of my own experience, I can mentor many of them, in a mutually respectful exchange, which I find very rewarding, having been a Youth Care Worker for over 20 years.
We are never to "old " for learning, Life is for learning. I am here to say, if you are thinking about going back to University, but are hesitating, especially if you think it's too late, or you are too "old", or for what ever reason. Make sure you choose the right University, the right program, with the right professors and you will not regret it.
There are so many in this world who have no hope or opportunity to attend University. I am so very grateful I have that opportunity, and I intend to take every advantage that I can of it, as I do not take it for granted.
In conclusion yes, you do not have to go to University to get an art education but why wouldn't you want to, if you have the opportunity. It will only enrich your life, as an artist and as a person and bring you much happiness.
" It's not the pursuit of happiness, it's the happiness of the pursuit."