First published: Summer 2000
How strange it is. A society that demands a resume summarizing the formal education and professional training of everyone seeking entry into its work force, has decided somehow that it will esteem its artists precisely for their lack of such credentials. The fashionable artist today is 'self-taught.' In fact, 'un-taught' is preferred. Everyone is talking about self-taught/outsider artists.
Make it clear, we are not just continuing the old conversation about naive and folk art here. We are looking at a new and wider conversation in the contemporary fine art scene. What we are finding is a shift of the old paradigm in which art was presumed to mirror a culture's collective life.
This traditional model is being replaced by one in which art is expected to negate cultural experience via a celebration of the personal experience of its maker – a creator whose credibility as an artist is directly tied to his or her isolation from cultural life of any sort.
Thus, the peculiar scenario in which dealers promoting new artists all across America have been overheard assuring collectors that even though a certain talent being showcased in their gallery did study at Yale (or the Art Institute of Chicago – or wherever) this 'academic' exposure had no effect whatsoever on the artist's creative development.
Somehow (despite his or her degree certification) the newcomer is represented as immune to the taint of pedagogy – a true artist following a 'private vision' – a self-taught OUTSIDER. How, exactly, does this work?...and how did we get here?