Dear Reader, Do you demure from expressing yourself creatively? Do you insist that you don't have the time or money to acquire the necessary training, skills, and materials requisite to being an artist?
Do you bemoan that whatever kind of work you do isn't fashionable, isn't desired, isn't wanted by the world? Is your name Carolyn Elliott? Because I do all that stuff, every day.
Ever since I was old enough to realize I could get attention with my artistic stylings I've been hobbled by chains of perfectionism and caring-what-others-think tempered in the hands of demonic smithys under the mighty mountain forgery of Self-Doubt. It's a painful condition. But I'm getting over myself, in large part thanks to inspiration from visionary art.
The Art that Forgets Its Name
What's visionary art? According to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the term
refers to art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself." In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as 'art' by its creator.
So visionary art, much of which is so freakin' cool it makes me quiver (check out that mosaic mirrored egg!), is made by people who lack formal artistic training. Indeed, it's very often made by people who are in some way marginalized by society and who lack financial resources. Hmmm. As I consider the vast wonder of things made by self-taught and under-advantaged creators, I begin to seriously lose my excuses for not making more stuff myself.
The thing which really fascinates me about visionary art though, is that its creators often don't even consider it to be art. They just think of it as a necessary expression of their intuition. The section on the American Visionary Art Museum's website which describes the difference between traditional folk art and visionary art goes into more detail on this matter, and I find it so compelling that I have to share it with you:
The essential difference between the two [folk artists and visionary artists], though both may at times use similar materials and methods, is that visionary artists don't listen to anyone else's traditions. They invent their own. They hear their own inner voice so resoundingly that they may not even think of what they do as 'art.' Dubuffet's beloved Art Brut Collections, formed exclusively from the "raw art" creations of non-artists, such as street people, hermits, factory workers, housewives and psychic mediums, motivated him to say: "Art is at its best when it forgets its very name." It is this listening to one's inner voice with such focused attention that contributes to the unusually large number of visionary art works -many of which took decades to create. Yet there are still common threads. The most common theme of visionary artists worldwide is the backyard recreation of the Garden of Eden and other utopian visions -quite literally building heaven on earth.
On reflection, I think I have to agree with Mr. Dubuffet that "Art is at its best when it forgets its very name." I've spent many hours in fine art museums in America and Europe. I volunteered for years at the Carnegie Art Museum and the Andy Warhol Museum. And yet nothing that I've seen in the fine art category grips me as much as art brut.
And isn't it wild that the most common theme of this work is the recreation of the Garden of Eden? Knowing this reminds me of the trippy aboriginal greatness of Womb With Three Births, a work produced by two of my favorite (largely self-taught) geniuses, Sigh Meltingstar and Eliza Bishop, for a show I curated this past summer at the International Children's Gallery on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh.
When I ponder the truth that art is best when it forgets its name, I get a little sad. I remember all the times I forced myself to do something serious with words or paint or clay because I was indeed aiming to make "art." In my self-imposed seriousness, I've drained most all of the fun out of creating and often ended up with stuff that induced yawns rather than yelps of joy.
A few weeks ago I decided to surrender my conditioned desire to make "art" and instead relax into my authentic preference to produce cool stuff in accordance with the dictates of my inner voice and share it with others by whatever means necessary.
So far, the results have been really fun-- I've started making songs with my friend Jane for our freak folk project and I wrote and performed my first few minutes of stand up comedy.
In the coming days I'll be sharing thoughts and prompts on making the transition from stifled-by-seriousness to trembling-visionary-glitter-bombness.
Image Credit: Picture by LollyKnit of a sculpture in the American Visionary Art Museum, borrowed from Flickr under Creative Commons licensing.