Southern Folk-Art, Outsider Art & Self-Taught Art
October 17, 2003 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Southern Folk-Art, Outsider Art & Self-Taught Art • Ginger Young of Chapel Hill, NC who runs this eponymously named art studio, says: "Despite their lack of formal training, these artists have tapped into a powerful wellspring of creativity to render their worlds with passion, pathos, and immediacy." Truly beautiful, unfiltered, vibrant stuff. How could you go wrong with artists named Tubby Brown, Minnie Adkins, Mose Tolliver and Woodie Long? On another note: is this school of thought/art, which comes in and out of vogue every few years, as pure as it seems, or is there an air of exploitation and corniness that comes with fetishizing The Other?
posted by dhoyt (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Warning! Warning! Pretentious art snob alert! Term "The Other" used! Danger, danger!
posted by nyxxxx at 10:51 AM on October 17, 2003

How exactly does one "fetishize The Other?"
posted by GiantRobot at 11:02 AM on October 17, 2003

A) "The Other" is not a term I've ever used til this thread, and I'm the furthest thing from an art snob. But anyone who is familiar with arts criticism is surely familiar with the concept. I was sort of putting their words in my mouth to make a point.

B) By "fetishize", I just meant someone who is making a self-conscious effort to praise the bizarre (no matter its merit) because it is far outside the mainstream. In this case, I don't Ms. Young is guilty of that.

Sorry to have confused anyone.
posted by dhoyt at 11:18 AM on October 17, 2003

Not to "pile on", but what do you mean by "unfiltered"?
Do you mean "untrained"?
posted by sharksandwich at 11:33 AM on October 17, 2003


I was just implying that sometimes art is consciously "filtered" through some personal motivation or style (politics, controversy, homage, experimental, whatever), while in the case of these artists their motivation seems pretty pure: they enjoy it, they feel compelled to do it, and they probably don't keep up with art crit mags to see if they "fit in". Uncompromising, unfiltered, un-self-conscious, whatever you want to call it.

I'm assuming at least some folks had time to check out the website in question and enjoy the actual art? :)

Maybe I should've just posted a crunchland-style one-word post without elaboration.
posted by dhoyt at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2003

Great FPP.

Unfiltered as in untrained, yes. Outsider as in didn't go to pretentious art snob school. Another term for "outsider" art is "Self taught" or even "folk." The terms are meaningless other than to describe a genre that exists outside of art schools and theory. I love Southern outsider art. Precisely because it's independent from art school snobbery. It's all about aesthetic. and it's often crazier than a seven dollar bill. Plus the folks who make it tend to be rather compelling themselves.

When I was in High School, friends and I used to take lots of trips up to Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens. Amazing place. It was eventually fenced in (off?) and began charging admission, and now most of the great pieces there are in art museums. And of course Howard has passed away. But if you're ever in Pennville Ga., (just a stone's throw from Summerville!) it's worth checking out. You know him from the REM and Talking Heads album covers. I got to meet him, I'm glad to say. Certainly not pretentious. An amazing man. He started painting after God commanded him to (in his garden, in the form of Elvis if I remember correctly).

Mose Tolliver is better known as Mose T. The Tollivers (Mose's family) are friends of my mother's. His daughter-in-law took care of my grandmother as she was dying. We read a poem she wrote for my grandmother at her funeral. Mose' son, Johnny, is one of the sweetest guys I've ever known. Whenever I go home to visit my mom he always brings food over (a southern thing). Mose painted a version of my wedding portrait for my mom, I think it's the only (or one of the only) portraits he's done.

The guy is a former sharecropper, uneducated, and as far from pretentious as one could get (from my understanding, I've never met him). His daughter Annie does some great work as well, though (like Roy Finster's stuff), it's derivative of her father's work.

Don't knock these guys just because they're, um, fetishized by the art community. They'd be doing it anyway, regardless.

(and, er... sorry for the personal stuff, but Mefi itself has been oddly personal for me the last couple of days. It's weird to see people you know being pillored here).
posted by emptyage at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2003

after sitting thru a talk given by Matthew Barney last night and feeling my stomach retch up in amazement of his deity status within the art world for work that i find absolutely empty – yes, I think that “outsider art” is completely valid. Why not. Postmodernism at it’s best encourages a multiplicity of perspectives, and I for one feel refreshed to see people connecting to their own version of expression in whatever form it takes. Some “outsider art” is better than others, but it’s pretty much on the same subjective scale that traditional art is judged by – minus the intellectual framework of contemporary art. But then again, after watching Barney present his work, reading right off a piece of paper in a monotone voice completely detached from work he’s been doing for the last 9 years, I don’t get the sense he really knows what the fuck he’s doing.

and there were so many moments, while in school, gripped in the immobility of over-theoretical-analysis of whatever I was attempting to do, that I wished I was outside the structure of formal training. so no, I don’t feel it’s exploitive. what is art really for anyway but to express some element of the human condition in as many ways as can be invented.
posted by nyoki at 12:21 PM on October 17, 2003

Art is not on an upwards or downwards path.

How can you question whether Joe Wheat Folk Aritst's creative endeavors are pure, but not question the purity of Dick Hedd's (ritualistic and rigid; systematic art student) artistic imitations?

i give a thumbsup purity rating to folk/outsider art.

"Despite their lack of formal training... "

Despite of? DESPITE OF?? Because of!

Formal training has shit-all to do with creativity.

Music schools. Spend 4-6 years learning an endless hogwash of intricate details concerning music made 100-300 years ago by dead Germans.

Change cannot occur in stagnant waters. Burn down the art schools of the world. A huge waste of money; millions and billions of dollars wasted because these assholes have tricked people into thinking they know something that "laymen" dont. Every single soul on this earth knows exactly everything they need to know about how to create any medium of art.

Another thing concerning art/music schools: Your outputs are directly related to scattered juxtapositions of your inputs. And rare is a soul who seeks out more inputs than the already rigorous load of academia. Blah blah bland. Which is just the problem. There are as many ways to create music and art as there are people on the earth; but nevermind that, these guys over here have created intricate systems (nevermind they were created the artist's death (after!!!)) which will show you exactly how to create something worthwhile.

Meanwhile, Ornette Coleman misreads the order of a scale in his beginner's saxophone book as a child and the mistake ends up forming the basis of his Harmolodic theory.

And another thing : this "post modern" stance that composers/artists are supposed to be in, is insane. As if art/music has done all that it can do, has finally come to the end of its line, and now all we've left to do is assemble sporadic bits from the here and there to create new works.

1) every era was/is/will be "post-modern". every era is built upon what came before it. no need for another cute label. its a platitude.

2) how lazy have we become? are you kidding me? art has no destination. It is not getting better or worse. It just is. The only constant is change.

We will never exhaust art, only thought.

"Between thought and expression lies a lifetime" - lou reed
posted by Satapher at 12:31 PM on October 17, 2003

I have my suspicions about how "outsider" some of the outsider art I've seen is, lately; much of it seems to fit awfully smoothly into the universe of mainstream gallery art - this one, out of place in a modern art museum? I dunno - and whether that has more to do with increasing dissemination of modern art in our culture or an actual co-opting of "outsider art" by trained artists I don't know enough to say. But I do see evidence of the vocabulary of formal training in many of these pieces, enough to easily see some of them coming from a 23-year-old with a bachelor's degree as well as a 90-year-old lady in Arkansas. Purity's a funny thing.
posted by furiousthought at 1:13 PM on October 17, 2003

there's a great interview of Joe Coleman in a recent issue of Juxtapoz where he talks about why he wasn't allowed into the Outside Art Fair because he's not considered an outsider artist.

The reason they gave him: He understands the business end of art.
posted by destro at 1:27 PM on October 17, 2003

I vote for occasionally corny and exploited. If a 35 year old middle class person in Beloit Wisconsin was making some of this, it would just be more crap sitting in the garage. Somehow if the artist is southern and poor it's more authentic, which to me says more about our own longings than about their talent, or lack thereof. (Not to say I don't like a lot of it, but the nice middle class folks at Yard Dog, for instance, make some tall dollars trading on the personalities of their artists. They make sure at their art openings that the artist is present or they have some long hard-luck bio they pass out at the door.

(Wait, actually, is that any different than any other subset of the art industry? Isn't a great deal of it predicated on networking and selling the personality of the artist, i.e. Matthew Barney and his Mr. Bjorkness?)
posted by pomegranate at 2:44 PM on October 17, 2003

Why can't it just be art and not "outsider art" or "the other"? Why can't you just like folk art and not question it's relationship to so called "formal" art?

What art school did Van Gogh go to? If he lived in Alabama in the modern day do you think people would think he was just a crazed redneck who used too much paint?
posted by nyxxxx at 7:58 PM on October 17, 2003

nyxxx: There has to be a difference between "high" and "low" art, otherwise the galleries would have difficulty keeping a straight face selling a white on white painting for 2 million dollars.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 9:48 PM on October 17, 2003

emptyage, I am jealous of you for having met Finster and having seen his works in situ - the first time I *discovered* any of his work was in the High Museum, and I was immediately smitten by the charm, wit, eccentricity, and singular passion that they evoked.

nyxxxx, I agree with the point you make about labels - I tend to think of this type of art as "folk" art - the terms "outsider" or "other" seem precious, artificial constructs.

And it isn't that there isn't "raw" art among us everyday, perhaps made by that guy in Beloit that pomegranate alludes to, it's that it so often goes unrecognized or unappreciated until discovered by an *expert.*

Nice post dhoyt. I particularly like works like this or this which both seem to creatively convey both a vision and a genuine passion for some aspect of the artists' lives.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:09 PM on October 17, 2003

« Older But what about the children! Oh, they have an...   |   Oh, the irony Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments