Before Jean Dubuffet became an artist, he served in the French army. He was stationed high atop the Eiffel tower. Instead of developing his art, he spent long months staring down at the winding streets and tiny buildings below.
What a waste! Think of what he might have accomplished if he'd spent that time at art school.
Years later when Dubuffet became a world famous artist, no one could figure out where his radical new vision came from:
Before Alberto Burri ever dreamed of becoming an artist, he was drafted into the Italian Army in World War II. He was quickly captured in Tunisia and shipped off to a POW camp in Texas. There he spent two long years doing drudge work surrounded by burlap and canvas tents, gunny sacks, sandbags and camouflage netting. What a waste!
After the war he became world famous for his innovative art working with the textures and colors of burlap.
I can't imagine where Burri came up with such a radical idea. Art schools certainly weren't teaching anything like that.
Illustrator Harold Von Schmidt never had the advantages of art school. Orphaned at five, he kicked around the Old West working as a cow hand, and then on dam construction. In this brawny world he broke his neck twice, and suffered other broken bones, dislocated shoulders and numerous bruises but he learned to understand cattle and horses as a working cowboy on trail drives. Then one day he met the western artist Maynard Dixon who was looking for models and a studio assistant, and it changed Von Schmidt's life.
He eventually became famous for his muscular, authoritative paintings of horses and the wild west. He painted with the forcefulness of someone who had hit the ground hard-- a forcefulness that eluded his peers who had refined their skills in art school.
Von Schmidt was esteemed by his fellow illustrators and went on to become the President of the Society of Illustrators. Here is his portrait by James Montgomery Flagg from the Society of Illustrators' Wall of Presidents:
Ah Jean Dubuffet
when you think of him
doing his military service in the Eiffel Tower
as a meterologist
you know how wonderful the 20th century