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Self-taught Art refers to art created outside the canon of art history. Perhaps all artists are self-taught to a degree. But in the context of terminology, Self-taught seems to be the most applicable of the commonly used umbrella terms which describe the scope of such art. Folk Art and Outsider Art have also been used as umbrella terms for the field. In my opinion those terms better describe styles of Self-taught Art. There are many valid adjectives for this art. The lack of current consensus regarding terminology within the field is mostly an indication of the magnitude and diversity of artistic creation that recently has been and is continuing to be discovered, preserved, cataloged, exhibited and collected by an emerging art market.

Self-taught Art is an umbrella term for two sub-genres, Outsider Art and Vernacular Art. Outsider Art includes Art Brut and Neuve Invention. Vernacular Art includes Indigenous Art, Folk Art and NaÔve Kunst. These terms all relate to various levels and types of cultural influence in the life of the artist, and in the composition and context of the art work. Such reference is used for categorization and collection guidelines.

In its ideal, Lí Art Brut is created in the absence of cultural influence, as opposed to LíArt Culturel. Art Brut characterizes the intense, abstract, compulsive, idiosyncratic, and spontaneously sub-consciously derived nature of the work of such Outsider artists as Aloise Corbaz, Augustin Lesage, Adolf Wolfli, and Carlo Zinelli. Still there is some discernible cultural influence in even the work of these artists. In essence there are few true Art Brut artists as defined by Jean Dubuffetís 1945 definition. It is more of an ideal than a category. But the category envelopes all art close to the ideal.

Further along the spectrum of cultural interference in an artistís psyche is a category known as Neuve Invention (Liminal Art). This is work by Self-taught artists who create with a singular perspective but who are generally more culturally savvy than those whose work is deemed Art Brut. The work of such Outsider artists as Emery Blagdon, James Castle, Felipe Jesus Consalvos, Henry Darger, Charles Dellschau, Achilles G. Rizzoli, Martin Thompson, Willem van Genk, Jerry Wagner and George Widener would be considered Neuve Invention. Neuve Invention also relates to the art of entranced process artists like Hiroyuki Doi, Minnie Evans, William Fields and Melissa Polhamus.

There can be a thin line of distinction between many artists being deemed Art Brut and those deemed Neuve Invention. The exact placement of the line and the identification of particular artists is a matter of opinion that may define certain collections. The classification of Neuve Invention is often based more on an artistís biography than on a particular distinction in the art. This is especially true in the case of Doi, whose art (at the surface) reveals little of the cultural influence in his life. Levels of cultural influence or aspects of intention in the work of Outsider artists may only be relevant to the evaluation of each particular piece. The sub-categorization of Outsider art is not imperative. In that sense it is acceptable to use the term Art Brut interchangeably with Outsider Art. Each artist can be considered individually. Such is the nature of the work.

Outsider Art is the most widely used English language term to describe the artistic diversity on the spectrum of Neuve Invention and Art Brut. The French term, Neuve Invention does not translate well into English. An emerging American English counterpart is Liminal Art. The word liminal expresses a creative impulse derived from the exploration of sensory thresholds. It also plays on the notion of the abilities of such artists to straddle the threshold between unhindered creativity and the demands of daily life. Another developing term is Art Singulier, a translation of Outsider Art. It has also been used to refer to the most culturally sophisticated work at the far end of the spectrum of Neuve Invention. Time will likely sort out the usage of this term, if it survives.

The work of most Outsider artists is created for themselves, often as a byproduct of their relative isolation. They have varied processes. Darger often traced projected images. His well thought out creative process was similar to that of academically trained artists, though incredibly compulsive. Thompsonís art results from complex mathematical formulas. Widenerís art contains printed facts relating to his compositions. These aspects indicate a conscious creative approach. Other artists like Doi and Wagner seem to have a more sub-conscious and spontaneous approach to the creative impulse. In such cases it is common for the creator to view a finished work as if they played no part in its creation. Varying degrees of autism may also play a role in some Outsider artistsí creative process. However, often misguided emphasis is placed on uncommon aspects of Outsider artistsí biographies such as illiteracy, fanaticism, ďinsanityĒ, eccentricity, disability and isolation. Such traits do not qualify one as an artist.

There are many talented contemporary Self-taught artists such as Joe Coleman, Anthony Dominguez, Chris Hipkiss, Timothy Wehrle, and others who challenge the notions of what constitutes Outsider Art. Their work poses many questions. What is the significance (other than for the sake of classification) of an artistís cultural acuity if their art is uncontrived, of merit, and not accepted as part of the canon of academia? Can an artist reference the work of another artist and be considered an Outsider? An artistís intention to market work does not automatically corrupt the work. Many artists have found a market in this field. Some of these artists can be quite involved in contemporary culture. I see a fine line between some of their work and that of a contemporary ďFineĒ artist like Tony Fitzpatrick. It seems that a combination of education, lifestyle, process, intention, aesthetic, sometimes simply the lack of mainstream representation, and other factors weigh in before one can properly be badged an Outsider. Iím joking about the badge of course. But it is a brand like any other term. There have been hoaxes and contrivers. Some artists consciously choose to work with materials fitting for this field: found objects, tin and paper. Some have art degrees, as in the case of Michael Madore who has Asperger's Syndrome, but have since developed work that is essentially outside art historical context. Aesthetic qualities alone do not separate this work. The lines are fuzzy. Marketing and exhibitions have played a part in the creative intentions of some contemporary Self-taught artists. And in some instances academic artists have (often later in life) channeled their work like some Outsider artists.

It is not only living artists who challenge the boundaries of Outsider Art. Achilles G. Rizzoliís incredible imagination combined with his professional background in architectural draftsmanship and interest in classical cathedrals and monuments to create his unique art. His adept symbolic renderings of people as architectural fantasies are amazing. Given Rizzoliís knowledge of architecture, his personified drawings are likely inspired by Giovanni Piranesiís eighteenth century architectural fantasies known as capricci. Rizzoli created his art without market intent, yet his work certainly draws from art historical context. Jon Serlís art is also difficult to pigeonhole. It draws from his imagination, cultural margins, and art history. Henry Dargerís art was unknown to the world during his lifetime. Thirty years after his death his art became and still is widely influential on the contemporary academic scene.

Vernacular Art, though self-taught, is directly imbued with influences from a particular (non-mainstream) culture of which the artist is a part. Such influence may come from inherited tradition. It is part of the experience and perception of the artist. And it is evident in the context or composition of the art. Vernacular Art includes culturally influenced regional art (Indigenous Art) from around the world. Much Indigenous Art is already classified, exhibited and marketed by its region or in a specific context, such as Graffiti.

In the past century, Modernism paved the way for the appreciation of non-mainstream, idiosyncratic ways of looking at the world. The art of previously unrecognized or squelched cultures was sought out, adopted, studied and collected. In this hemisphere, a particularly large number of diverse artists were found in the United States regions of Appalachia and the Deep South, as well as in the Caribbean. There obviously is a tremendous range of Vernacular Art throughout the world. It can be mediumistic or ritualistic. It can be Folk Art. It can be abstract. It can comment on social issues. It can be conceptual as in the case of the contemporary work of Lonnie Holley. There are many well regarded twentieth century American (of the Americas) Vernacular Artists. These would include Thornton Dial, Sam Doyle, William Edmondson, The Quiltmakers of Gees Bend, Hector Hyppolite, Georges Liautaud, Martin Ramirez, Bill Traylor, Charlie Willeto and Purvis Young, to name but a few.

There are many significant Vernacular Art environments, such as Howard Finsterís Paradise Garden, St. EOMís Pasaquan and Simon Rodiaís Watts Towers. Hundreds of such profound places can be discovered throughout the world. Many have been lost over time. Some are immense like Nek Chandís forty acre Rock Garden of Chandigarh, India. Others are even found indoors as in the cases of the work of Annie Hooper of North Carolina and Emery Blagdon of Nebraska. Many environment builders have Outsider aspects to their work, especially Blagdon. But most environments are steeped in the regional culture of which the artist is a part (or the adopted and created culture as in the case of St. EOM).

Folk Art indicates a sense of aesthetic and technique derived from tradition and created in awareness of other art as well as a potential market. Horace Pippen, Morris Hirschfield, and Grandma Moses are examples of supreme painters in this realm. NaÔve Kunst is a European variation of Folk Art. Abstraction is not usually a characterization of Folk Art. The American Folk Art Museum naturally uses Folk Art as an umbrella term. It is a stretch for the term Folk Art to include both the Art Brut work of an artist like Adolf Wolfli and the contemporary Vernacular work of an artist like Thornton Dial. The American Folk Art Museum has led the way in recognizing the expanded scope of the field in recent decades. Its name need not change in order to continue to do so. Similarly, The Museum of Modern Art includes Postmodern Art.

Classifying art based solely on the artistís biography can be problematic. However, biography can provide important context for the appreciation of a work of art. Consider Martin Ramirez who was originally valued for the ďclaustrophobicĒ Art Brut aesthetic of his work which reflected his confinement late in life in a state hospital. Further understanding of his life and body of work has revealed how his art was also shaped by his cultural background and experiences prior to confinement. His lines may have been inspired by patterns he witnessed in such things as roof tiles and furrowed fields. The churches, caballeros and trains were all aspects of his experience. His art has come to be appreciated for its vernacular sensibility as well as its compositional quality.

There will always be art that defies easy categorization. Many artists straddle categories. The work of Leroy Person shares Outsider Art aspects and vernacular influences. Howard Finster, Minnie Evans and James Harold Jennings have both Liminal Art and Folk Art aspects to their work. Howard Finsterís significant early paintings were seemingly created in a state where his compositions were channeled from his sub-conscious. He said his inspiration came from Jesus and visions of other planetary worlds from past lives. There are stunning and baffling details in the best of his early paintings. Such work illustrates what is being called visionary consciousness. It applies to artists who have an extraordinary level of faith based inspiration such as J. B. Murray, Howard Finster, Minnie Evans, Bessie Harvey, and Georgia Blizzard; or those who attain / attained a different plane of consciousness in the creative process such as Hiroyuki Doi, Augustin Lesage, Jerry Wagner or likely Tibetian Tangka artists and mediumistic vernacular artists.

I believe that when Howard Finster and Augustin Lesage spoke about being guided by voices, they were describing different (meditative) states of consciousness that allowed them access to what they were seeking (spiritual crossing). This goes beyond typical notions of an artist's creative concentration or spontaneous improvisation. Creative channeling is a rare and fragile process of which there are likely many degrees including surrealist automatism and mediumistic automatism. The work of some Outsider artists may provide a unique window for understanding paranormal aspects of consciousness. Mysticism and mediumistic creativity may be some artistsí reality. Roger Cardinal wrote about The Art of Entrancement in Raw Vision #1. The creative impulse can be divined and recorded in many ways. Academically trained artists have explored many aspects of creative inspiration. A conscious sense of theory does not preclude one from spontaneous improvisation. But I find that people are often better able to tap the root of beauty and truth while living on the margins of convention.

Academically trained artists have referenced the art of vernacular artists in their work. And vernacular artists such as Thornton Dial, Ronald Lockett and Purvis Young have referenced the art of academically trained artists in some of their work. In mid career, Young spent much time viewing art books in his local library. Dial has made inroads into the mainstream dialog by educating himself about art history. Still, these are artists who had long created a body of work reflective of their experience and outside of any art market or collectorship. Their work has evolved over time yet has retained its unique voice and underlying vernacular sensibility.

The aesthetics of Self-taught Art can simultaneously mirror developments in Modern Art. An example of this would be the comparison of early Gees Bend Quilts to the collage of Jean Arp or various works of Paul Klee. They were created parallel since neither the Gees Bend artists nor the academic artists were aware of each other. As I have mentioned, it is interesting to note the timeliness and influence of the Outsider artist, Henry Dargerís imagery in relation to much of what is favored in contemporary painting in the international art market. Dargerís work was created in the 1950ís - 1970ís.

There are many differences between this field and that of academic art. Differences may be found in the intention and process, as mentioned. They may also be found in the lack of curatorial involvement (filters) in the work so that all work, no matter how experimental or gestural, by a given artist may make its way into the market. There can be greatly varying degrees of compositional and material quality within a given Self-taught artistís body of work. We are presented with more uniform quality in the bodies of work of academic artists. Another difference may be in the materials, which are often paper and found object. Further differences can be found in the pluralistic way in which the art is marketed and how it often finds its way to market without representation. There is often a lack of documentation (catalog raisonees) of Vernacular artistsí bodies of work. Such documentation is difficult due to the multitude of visitors many artists received. In the academic art market one would not question that an artist may be concerned about the posterity of a work or be market savvy, regardless of intention. However, it is an attraction in this field for an artist to be concerned only with producing for himself in the present. Biography is used to contextualize the work of Self-taught artists instead of the artist statement which accompanies academic work. These and other aspects differentiate the field in many cases. Repetition of imagery is not a difference. It is common in the academic art world. Most importantly, in terms of quality, there is no difference between the best art in this field and its academic counterparts. It is most relevant to compare works by their respective dates and materials. This is a fledgling field of scholarship. It simply cannot be measured by an art canon that has been established for centuries. However, the unbridled nature of Self-taught Art has and will continue to challenge the boundaries and definitions of both fields of art.

The field of Self-taught Art does not include craft. The exact line between art and craft is always open for debate. It is even a line that is straddled by some artistsí bodies of work. Craft is often characterized by aspects such as tradition, trade, function, whimsy, decoration, repetition of design or style, and group assemblage. That does not mean that everything done by a tradesman or that has function is craft. Some weather vanes and quilts are regarded as exquisite works of art. Many people collect Folk Craft. It is a different field from Folk Art; just as contemporary craft is considered different from contemporary art. Folk Craft objects can have great market value as a result of their immense popularity. Sometimes the function of an object is to make money. My opinion is that the majority of creative work by children and adults, no matter how purely created, is usually craft like at best in its repetition of styles and motifs that have been created before by others. Not everyone who is self-taught is an artist. Though, it is positive for everyone to be creative. True artists have the rare ability to be able to create something captivating and new. A great artist can come from anywhere.

I am happy to assist anyone interested in acquiring work by the artists mentioned in the essay. I gladly make referrals to the many reputable galleries and dealers in this field for work by artists whom I do not represent. I represent work by an array of artists that exemplifies different genres of Self-taught art.

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There are at least six characteristics to consider in evaluating any work of art: Object, Viewer, Place, Market, Process, and Artist.

Many believe that the Object is the most (only) important aspect. Academic artists have played with this notion. Maybe there is no object, just a concept, and so forth. Important aspects include form, eloquence, energy, integrity, originality, containment, intention, communication, authenticity, narrative, socio-political context and materials.

The Viewer(s) experiencing the object and what they value and feel (see) is certainly important. The eye, understanding and experience of the beholder is significant and so is the beholderís motivation, purpose and scope. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But it is worthwhile to be open minded and to experience many forms of art in order to develop an eye.

Place is where art is presented and experienced. It may provide a context which shapes our opinion of the art and sets up discourse with the viewer.

Market is the value and collectible nature of the work. I think many people estimate art mainly by this aspect. But the artist, James Rosenquist said in a recent lecture at RISD, ďMoney and art donít have any relationship. Art is priceless.Ē Value does not necessarily reflect quality. All collectibles are not art.

The Process is the most often overlooked aspect. What was the artistís creative intention? What was the source of inspiration and creative impulse? How was it created, under what conditions?

The Artistís biography is also important. What is the personal / cultural context in which the work is created? What are the socio-political, personal intentions of the creator? What is edited to fit the market?

George Jacobs Self-Taught Art
PO Box 476
Newport, Rhode Island 02840
Phone 401-847-0991