"Whirligig Figure of a Knife-Grinder"
Artist Unknown, New England, 1875
Often this primitive adornment is referred to as "folk art" or "outsider art" - works of beauty created by people with no formal artistic education or training. In their current exhibition, the American Folk Art Museum takes the notion one step further by introducing the concept of "self-taught genius".
Michael Rothloff, Pennsylvania, 1922
What exactly is "self-taught genius" you might ask? Let's begin with the underlying tenet that after the War of Independence all the citizens of this new United States had to invent and create what it was to be an American. They were literally "self-taught Americans" developing a culture and history as they went along. Independence and freedom fostered ingenuity, self-reliance, individual growth and a strong national identity.
Lucina Henderson, Massachusetts, 1808
"Mary Valentine Butcher / Dr. Christopher Butcher"
Jack Mantel, Pennsylvania, circa 1825-30
"Lady with Muff"
William Edmondson, Tennessee, 1940
From a modern perspective - especially with what passes for Contemporary Art these days - few would question that these works, whether intended as "art" or not, were made by people with exceptional creative and aesthetic talents. People who felt so passionately that they intuitively expressed their emotions by painting, drawing, sewing, carving or otherwise channeling their vision into a physical object. The urge to "make something" definitely precipitated "self-taught" - but is it truly "genius"? While the exhibition certainly makes one ponder the question there is no clear cut answer. Is one an artist because of, or in spite of, training, and is a formally trained artist better or worse than an intuitive one? One thing is sure, these are expressions of love, objects of desire and works of vision.
"Self-Taught Genius" will travel throughout the United States until 2017.
Artist Unknown, New England, 1818-1822