Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You are Probably NOT a Self-Taught Artist...

Go to for more information about the art of "self-taught" artists. Such a cool website, and a very cool museum to visit.
It would probably surprise some of the folks who refer to themselves as self-taught artists that a formal definition for this term already exists, and they are not included in this group of special artists. Type "self-taught artist" into the search engine of Wikipedia for example, and you are redirected to "Outsider Art." This entry contains other synonyms such as art brut, raw art, rough art, naive art, and art of the insane to name just a few. Outsider Art is one of my favorite art genres, and with a short read, you can find out about this incredibly interesting and inspiring art movement.

See: For the purposes of this blog entry, I'm agreeing with the definition set forth there. My point in this blog entry has to do with this quote from the article:
The term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people outside the mainstream "art world," regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.
I'm agreeing with that premise, too, although "sometimes" should probably be replaced with "most times". To be polite, I find it confusing when someone refers to themselves as "self-taught." If I weren't going to try to be polite, I'd think the person was ignorant at best, or a pompous ass at worst. Although I guess making stuff and then trying to sell it to make a living does require some sort of ego, I daresay. Generally though, I consider myself a kind person and return to the feeling of confusion and wonder what he or she is really trying to say? And if they call themselves "self-taught" to an editor of an art magazine for example, doesn't that make him or her sound ignorant of an entire named and recognized art movement?

Ironically, true self-taught artists would most likely not realize that they were self-taught, or even call themselves artists at all.

While a small portion of the definition does have to do with education, that is not all there is to it. It seems that this part of the definition has been grotesquely mutated in order for those who use self-taught to describe themselves to take some sort of extra credit that is ultimately unearned. It implies the artist thinks of himself as gifted in some way, because he didn't require any of that pesky directed education in order to do the stunning work he does. But the opposite is true, and in no way does that set the artist apart in any special way whatsoever.

"Self-taught artist" does NOT mean that you practice alone in your studio a lot. It should go without saying that any artist spends a great deal of time honing their craft and communing with the Muses or other higher power (or not) to create something that somebody might one day proclaim as art. (If this hoped-for proclamation is the reason you work, well...uhm-m-m-m...hmm...bigger confusions might exist.)

"Self-taught artist" does NOT mean you lack a college or art school education. And since when is that something to brag about anyway? I mean, where does that get you? Because by misusing the term, you're already illustrating a certain lack of education, whether self-directed or not. I'm not sure I'd want sole credit for that misunderstanding.

"Self-taught artist" does NOT mean you did a bunch of metaphysical research on your own, either. Nobody cares except in how you're able to morph that into your art in some way that speaks to somebody else. Or not. Nobody should care but you.

Think about education, formal or otherwise. Did you watch somebody's YouTube video? Page through their books? Watch a dvd on the topic? See a how-to spread in a magazine? Try and follow a tutorial? Take a class? Watch a demo? Go to college? Go to art school? If you did any of these things, you cannot consider yourself part of the self-taught art movement and you are misusing the term. More importantly, you are not giving credit where credit is due. That's where I tend to get off-track in my thinking and find myself wandering along the pompous ass track.

If you were one of the self-taught artists in the creative vacuum described by the Outsider Art movement, you most likely wouldn't be reading this blog, or even using the term. Another quote, one of my favorites, was coined by the person credited with defining the Outsider Art movement, Jean Dubuffet:
"Art is at its best when it forgets its very name."
I only wish my intentions could be a pure as a true "self-taught" artist. As it is, I'll spend a great deal of the rest of my life trying to attain that goal and put forth great effort. And as the term "self-taught artist" is misused and overused, I'll probably continue to put forth great effort in attempting to understand what the artist using the term -- and making a first impression -- is really trying to say.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Art vs. Craft Discussion

Studio, thinly disguised as a garage...
I've always found this discussion to be mildly annoying and for me moot because the only way to settle the distinction is through the work itself. That is, if there is even a distinction to be made, of which I am unconvinced. And if you're talking about it, you're not working on it. And if you're not working, you'll never create work that somebody will want to try to put in the "craft vs. art" box. Also, I should mention that I hate boxes. Which is kind of funny, because while I've recently had to conclude that I am not the neat freak I thought I was, I am somehow obsessive-compulsive enough to try to organize my belongings, and I routinely find boxes of stuff within boxes of stuff, within other boxes. But I digress...

I oftentimes think these sorts of "intellectual discussions" are rather clever methods of procrastination disguised as important. I also think the more intelligent one is, the more clever and sneaky the procrastinations, to the point that even the person procrastinating doesn't realize he or she is in the throes of a really good one. For example, I find myself writing in this blog about a topic that I've already mentioned I find mildly annoying if not altogether moot -- don't think for a second that the irony escapes me.

Ultimately, the work stands on its own, and I find this reassuring. But if you're thinking and talking about art vs. craft, you're probably not working. I'm stingy that way: anything that takes time away from my working time sucks for me, and that includes esoteric discussions of whether or not an artist is engaged in making "craft" or "art." When I make something, I'm doing it because I have to for the most part. That is, I have an idea of something that I have to make, and I cannot be satisfied and therefore happy, until I have made it. (If you consider yourself an artist and are working for any other reason, we can talk about that issue another time.) Generally, I don't give a damn how somebody wants or needs to categorize the work. The mildly annoying part for me is that by attempting to categorize an artist's efforts, the categorizor is judging whether the categorizee's work is "better" or "best." This pigeon-holing has no bearing whatsoever on what I make next. It doesn't create some sort of intellectual shortcut that allows me to skip steps on my journey, so again it becomes moot.

The other problem I have with the art vs. craft debate besides the fact that it is an argumentative time sink, is that it sucks the magic right out of the artistic soul. For example, sometimes I get an idea to make something, and something else happens during the process. This type of event can be extremely cool or extremely frustrating. Either way, it gets me farther along my artistic path.

Or sometimes I sit down to make something, and I have an amazing out-of-body experience where I am at peace and in that place of absolute nirvana, and it's as if I am merely a conduit for something greater than myself. That's the adrenaline rush. That's why I keep working. Because quite frankly, I can probably count those times on one hand. And I've been "making stuff" since I could grip a pencil and hit a sheet of paper with it. Don't get me started on cardboard and some paste. Anyway, the art-vs.-craft debate could not be farther from my motivation in either of these two examples.

Lot of surface patterning. Or superficial design?

Were I to analyze a feature of my own work, I would say it's no mere coincidence that I enjoy pattern-making on the surface of my glass -- I'm not at all interested in the artificial perception of great depth that can be achieved with glass. Just as I hate wasting time on unanswerable questions. Don't even get me started on, "Why am I here?" or "What is the meaning of life?" So debate away. I would find it extremely disappointing if anyone ever answered the question of whether something is art or craft in any sort of definitive way. Meanwhile, I continue to do the work so that there is something upon which to pass judgement, for ultimately that's the reason for the debate. And quite frankly, the answer will not affect this artist's pathway. And if it did cause some sort of effect, what kind of artist would I be?