I spent part of today driving to some of the local Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Evanston, Illinois.
Wright is one of my favorite architects. I’ve been a fan of his ever since I read The Fountainhead and saw rumors that Wright might have been some of the inspiration for the character of Howard Roark. Whether that’s true or not, I discovered his house Fallingwater in the process of looking into the question and I thought to myself for one of the first times in my life “this is what architecture should be.”
Wright’s work was the concrete embodiment of a particular philosophy on architecture that I love. As he said:
Architecture is life, or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived. – Frank Lloyd Wright, as quoted in An Organic Architecture
This isn’t an essay about architecture though. If you ask a moderately educated person if they have heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, they will probably tell you yes. He’s arguably the most influential American architect to have ever lived.
What they don’t tell you though is that Frank Lloyd Wright was a high school and a college dropout. He also declined a four-year scholarship-funded education at the prestigious French École des Beaux-Arts and chose to become an apprentice draftsman. No formal schooling, no credentials, and yet he developed a unique “modernist” style of architecture in a time when everyone else was imitating the past.
In this sense he stands with people like Edith Hamilton, a widely influential Classicist and author of Hamiltons Mythology who was denied entry into graduate school because she was a woman, Michael Ventris, a linguist with an architecture degree who deciphered Linear B when everyone else thought it was impossible, and Heinrich Schleimann, a businessman who discovered the ruins of Troy despite the academic world’s confidence it did not exist.
I like to point to Wright when people tell me that you can only drop out of college if you’re going into entrepreneurship. The simple fact is that you can achieve just about any professional goal you want without spending 4 years at a university accumulating debt and taking classes you hate. I know people who are engineers, news anchors, business owners, world travelers, startup employees, authors, artists, data analysts, journalists, and everything in between who did not attend college or who have no college level training in their given field.
And I think there is no doubt that Wright skipping formal schooling played a large role in his ability to create his own work. He was forced to learn through experience in the real world, not by conforming to standards of the past. Howard Roark says in The Fountainhead:
I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.
You could imagine Frank Lloyd Wright saying something similar. He created his own tradition by following an uncommon path, understanding that school would not get him where he wanted to go. As he said, when commenting on ideas,
You can’t get it in a university, you can’t get it here, you can’t get it anywhere except as you love it, love the feeling of it, desire and pursue it. And it doesn’t come when you are very young, I think. I believe it comes faster with each experience, and the next is very simple, or more simple, until it becomes quite natural to you to become master of the idea you would express. – Idea and Essence” September 7, 1958
My own experience in these few years since I dropped out of school have been similar. Real world experience is the mother of creativity. Whatever value school might give you, it won’t teach you that. You need to get out into the world and make stuff.
Frank Lloyd Wright did just that and he was able to succeed without a degree. What will you do?