"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, March 9, 2012

Self-Taught Art

Now, I would generally be wary of "academic" art, particularly academic modern art, because I've always thought that the more intellectual apparatus one needs to interpret a work of art -- the more you need a layer of jargon between the viewer and the work itself -- the less it's real art, and the more it becomes an elitist language game.   I feel the same way about academic literary criticism and, for that matter, academicized literature... the type of self-referential, unlived drivel you get from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Having said that, learning your craft is different.   The Regular Wife, the Regular Son and I went this afternoon (I was playing hooky, the RS was off school) to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see an exhibit of "self-taught" artists.   The works were generally interesting, but in a somewhat clinical way.   The best of them were obsessive-compulsive doodlings that showed a great deal of vision, but in a way that made me think that the artists were possibly mad.   Indeed, some of them were.   Here's an example by Scottie Wilson:

I see talent here, but it seems talent at the service of obscurity, not at the service of speaking to an intelligent human audience.   I don't see someone who has learned his craft in an adult way, but rather a rather childish, private exercise.  

Anyway, we left that exhibit and walked down the hall to the permanent collection for a refresher in what great art actually can be:

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