A degree is entirely necessary with Graphic Design... maybe not if you want to be a painter or sculpter or some thing of that sort, but there is far more defined technique with graphic design than any of the other arts. You can look at a design and say, this is what is wrong with it the artist's vision is far less important. A painting you can look at it and go this is awful, but it may be exactly what the artist wanted.
Also with Graphic Design you generally learn a lot about marketing which is a Huge asset. In my school you automatically gain a minor in marketing.
This is where I say, graphic design can be a profession. It can be something entirely learned with little to now artistic skill... but that person will be no where near as great as someone with natural artistic ability.