I am now writing about one of the most difficult subjects and it’s about self-taught artists. *Self-taught* is such a simple and common word, yet it takes on a whole new meaning in the world of outsider art.
I tried to create a pictorial representation of how the various labels overlap in the United States: folk art, contemporary folk art, outsider art, art brut, and the work of African-American Southern artists. It gets confusing. I have concluded that the best tactic is to use any one of these terms, say it with confidence, and wait to see if you are challenged. (Not likely.)
The first thing that comes to mind are the amateur painters who you may see at the park with an easel. They take their endeavors seriously and may actually be quite good at it, but they are not the self-taught group of artists that we talk about in the world of outsider art. These hobbyists are aware of the world of cultural art and may attempt to mimic their favourite styles.
I like the way one writer described the distinction between artists. An artist who is part of the contemporary art scene is called *an artist.* He or she has studied in an art school, is aware of art trends, and may explore the limits of known art genres. However, a *[fill in the blank] artist* is outside of that art world. They may be called a self-taught artist, an outsider artist, a folk artist, etc. I stumbled upon a photo of a interesting painting recently. The local artist called himself a *working class artist* – a term I had not heard before. I tried to contact him to see more of his work, but sadly he has not responded. Very frustrating.
In the United States, a self-taught artist can be a folk artist, a contemporary folk artist, an outsider artist, a visionary artist, or an African American Southern artist. To complicate matters, the term *outsider artist* has fallen out of use because it is felt to be a derogatory term. Instead, outsider artists are now called self-taught artists. You see what I’m saying, right? It might be easier to use a tangled ball of string as a pictorial representation instead of overlapping circles. (Outsider artist Scottie Wilson photo above.)
So, here is a warning that a long discussion about self-taught artists is about to begin. I am trekking back to the mountain top tomorrow for another focussed writing session. Stay posted.