One of my favorite authors of all time, the great and powerful Patrick Rothfuss, has an extraordinary way with words. His descriptions and analogies are masterfully done, describing things and ideas in unexpected and beautiful ways.
In his second book, The Wise Man's Fear, there's a young lady by the name of Denna learning to play harp by teaching herself, with very few lessons. Because she doesn't receive much formal training there's a freedom and wild beauty to the music that Kvothe, the main character, talented and well-trained though he is, can't replicate. I'll let Rothfuss describe it:
. . . I'd learned about music since before I could talk. I knew ten thousand rules of melody and verse better than I knew the backs of my own hands.
Denna didn't. In some ways this hampered her, but in other ways it made her music strange and marvelous. . . .
I'm doing a poor job of explaining this. Think of music as being a great snarl of a city like Tarbean. In the years I spent living there, I came to know its streets. Not just the main streets. Not just the alleys. I knew shortcuts and rooftops and parts of the sewers. Because of this, I could move through the city like a rabbit in a bramble. I was quick, cunning, and clever.
The Wise Man's Fear, Chapter 69, pg. 465
This is clearly an analogy for Kvothe's formal training in music and the subsequent years of practice and growth. He knew everything there was to know about music and it made him skillful in ways other musicians couldn't match.
Denna, however, didn't have that experience. She had a smattering of training, but she was never immersed in music and didn't know all the shortcuts. This should leave her lost and confused when it comes to music...
"But, instead, she simply walked through the walls. She didn't know any better. Nobody had ever told her she couldn't. Because of this, she moved through the city like some faerie creature. She walked roads no one else could see, and it made her music wild and strange and free."
The Wise Man's Fear, Chapter 69, pg. 466
I went to International Business College to study graphic design. Their whole deal is that their programs are accelerated so you can get your degree more quickly, mainly by cutting out the classes that aren't related to your major. I studied actual design for about a year, and the rest of my time there was focused on business classes. As you may have guessed, it wasn't a top-of-the-line, in-depth art education.
I'm not knocking the training I received there, because the teachers were awesome and they laid the vital groundwork for me as a designer. But because of the limited timeframe of the program, it was difficult to really grow and figure things out before it was on to the next concept or class. So, in the time since my graduation in December 2010, I've had to teach myself many of the things that my peers learned in school.
Perhaps I'm flattering myself, but I sometimes like to think of myself as a Denna of sorts. I'm not nearly as pretty, of course, but we're similar in that we've both received less training than others in our field and yet we find ways to succeed. There are certain rules that we aren't aware of so we simply create, unencumbered by conventions. We have a unique perspective of our art because of that fact.
This doesn't always work out, because both music and art need some degree of order for them to really work. But I think the underlying lesson is valuable all the same, and not entirely dissimilar to what I discussed before: just go for it. Allow yourself to create freely sometimes, uninhibited by the demands of work or clients. Make something that's totally yours, not a translation of someone else's vision or art direction. Don't shirk your work, obviously, but I've found it to be immensely therapeutic to just make things for the sake of making.
Give it a try sometime. Walk through some walls. Walk roads that only you can see, and see where you end up. I'm sure it'll be someplace awesome.
DISCLAIMER AND STUFF: I don't own any sort of rights to The Wise Man's Fear. I give 100% credit to Mr Patrick Rothfuss and wholeheartedly endorse the buying and reading of his works. I'm just using his words as an illustration and a plug for his writing. So go read his books. Seriously. They're so good.