Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Outsider and Self-Taught Artists Get Their Due

Yesterday's Art Daily featured a story about a gallery in Germany with a new exhibition spotlighting works by artists who did not emerge through the academic process, but were self-taught. The article got me thinking about "status" in the arts and whether there's an upper class and lower class in the art scene.

The title of the story is, "For the first time, Museum Folkwang displays works by self-taught, non-academic artists." It struck me strange to see the opening phrase "For the first time" because it comes across as elitist. I've never been to an art opening where I wondered, "Was this person trained in school? What schools did they attend?"

The announcement begins...

ESSEN.- Works by self-taught, non-academic artists are usually referred to as “naïve” or “outsider art” and are conventionally viewed as a distinct category, separate from modern art. But in terms of their power and intensity, these works often rival the great modernist masterpieces. 

The show is titled The Shadow of the Avant Garde and features artists like Rousseau along with some of modern art's superstars. (Read full account here.)

In truth it s very likely that a prestige factor exists in the art scene as it does in real life where it seems to matter which side of the tracks you grew up on, even though this is supposedly un-American.

This 2013 article from The Atlantic talks about "outsider art" as well, but in a different light. The article is by Sarah Boxer, who may or may not have been academically trained. The Rise of Self-Taught Artists opens by stating its premise: "Outsider artists—visionary, schizophrenic, primitive, psychotic, obsessive, compulsive, untutored, vernacular, self-taught, naive, brut, rough, raw, call them what you will—are insiders now."

Upon reading these words I thought of some of the shows I saw at the Ochre Ghost and have seen at the PROVE here in Duluth. Both galleries in Duluth shared work that came from the fringes, some of it quite remarkable.

But I also thought about another distinction at play. There was a time when the line that separated insiders and outsiders was geographic. If you were not from New York you were an outsider.

Or maybe the dichotomy at play is significant and insignificant. Your work is either important or unimportant. i.e. irrelevant. Can this fear of being cast out as an irrelevant become a driver that pushes people to leave home and try to make it in the Big City? Or in our local scene are the artists who get their week into the Tweed collection more important than those who are overlooked? Is an artist considered "more serious" when she draws on expensive Strathmore paper rather than newsprint?

I wish there were places where an article like this could be discussed at greater length, but alas, the days of dorm room bull sessions get subsumed in the rush of our face-paced frenetic lives. If you're a local artist I'd be interested in your thoughts on this article.

Meantime, art goes on, whether we buy it or not. 

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