The thing that struck me as I surveyed the work featured in the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery yesterday was the mention of 'self-taught'. It's odd, I thought later, how in writing it hasn't tended to matter which college or university one attended, whilst artists are more often than not described as, for instance, having studied at Slade/Thameside/Camberwell. But then again, where writers are concerned this has started to change. This is due to the increase in creative Writing MAs and the like. It's no longer unusual to read of a British writer's academic history. Ian McEwan studied at UEA, as did a whole load of others. It will be
interesting to see whether the university or college stated in the writers biogs represents sufficient variety. But apart from this I wonder if it will ever catch on to refer to a writer as 'self-taught'. It sounds somewhat ridiculous. When the term is assigned to visual artists it connotes a greater ability because it seemingly came forth unbidden by higher education; innate talent trumps taught and fostered talent because the former implies 'genius'. Yet with the rise of literary agents now using MA's in creative writing as an additional filter in the daily battle against the slush pile, it cannot be long before those writers who are published without the MA are referred to as 'self-taught'. Another differentiator to use in the marketing plan.


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