The Allure of Self-Taught Art (2022)

The Allure of Self-Taught Art (1)

Roger Catlin

Museums Correspondent

In the beginning, the weathervanes pointed the way. While scouring antique shops in the 1970s, Margaret Z. Robson purchased rustic, handmade barn toppers along with other handmade bits of Americana.

Robson was “very attached to the American democratic experiment, so [she] bought weathervanes, and duck decoys and quilts,” says her son Doug Robson, who inherited his mother’s interests. “The collecting morphed into something more interesting and radical as time went on.”

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His mother was drawn to the people behind the art, known and unknown, and through collecting, helped others become more aware of the leading lights in what was once called folk art, then outsider art and now categorized as self-taught.

In just a few decades, Margaret Z. Robson had amassed one of the most significant collections of such art in the country, dating back to the early 20th century. After her death, 93 works were donated in 2016 to the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington, D.C., which had already established itself as a leading center for this unique and arresting branch of American art.

The Allure of Self-Taught Art (2)

Self-taught genre

Just opened this month, “We Are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection” includes highlights from that gift, along with 32 promised works from Doug Robson’s collection and a major work he donated to the museum this year.

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Altogether, “it’s one of the most significant gifts in the area to the self-taught program at SAAM in the museum’s history,” says Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the museum who organized the exhibition.

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Stories of visionary artists

Forty-three artists are surveyed in the show, including some of the most well-known names in the field, from Howard Finster, whose distinctive paintings festooned with declarations and sermons adorned album covers by R.E.M. and Talking Heads in the 1980s, to Henry Darger, whose large tracts of children at war found just prior to his 1973 death in Chicago caused a sensation.

The show’s oldest artists include Bill Traylor, born into slavery around1853 who began making art at age 86 and was the subject of a major exhibition at SAAM in 2018 andWilliam Edmondson, who carved cut stone, and became the first African American and first self-taught artist to have a solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1937.

Many more lesser-known names receive attention and new consideration. “Eleven of them, we don’t actually know their identities,” Umberger says. The most enigmatic of them has been given the name Philadelphia Wireman, after his work—about a thousand small assemblages of wire and tape and reflectors and other scrap materials—were found in a pile in an alley. “Trash treasures from the streets of Philadelphia,” Umberger calls them.

And yet there is something compelling about their tightly wound forms. “Most of them are about the size of the hand, and they’re very talismanic,” she says. “They seem to have a connection withAfrican spirit bundles—protective amulets made from materials or objects that held some significance or meaning for their maker.”

The Allure of Self-Taught Art (5)

They’re ascribed to an African-American man, in part from the neighborhood from which they are found. And Black art is significant part of the collection, since by definition it was self-taught and comes out of a drive for self-expression from those excluded from the academies.

Collecting the self-taught

Born in Minnesota, Margaret Zuehlke was a successful businesswoman on her own in Chicago before she got involved in politics during John F. Kennedy’s presidential run, then married lawyer John Edwin Robson, who worked in different Washington administrations over the years.

The couple picked up antiques here and there, but didn’t begin to get into the art and the unsung artists behind the works until the late 80s while living in Atlanta. Their first piece was a drawing by Traylor, followed by the carvings of Ulysses S. Davis. His carvings were rooted both in American figureslike George Washington and Uncle Sam andAfrican elements, saysDoug Robson. “That felt like an important bridge in the collecting.”

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Self-expression outside the mainstream

It was at a time when self-taught art was gaining attention in the art world. In 1970, the Smithsonian American Art Museum had acquired James Hampton’s elaborate Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly, which the artist made from aluminum foil in a D.C. carriage house, opening the door to further self-taught works of wonder at the museum. A mile away, the Corcoran Gallery of Art staged its groundbreaking “Black Folk Art in America, 1930-80” in 1982, a show that was a likely influence on Robson’s collecting.

Working with curators, gallerists, antique shop owners and “pickers,” the couple’s collections grew over the years, but especially after Margaret Robson became a widow in 2002.

“In the last couple decades of my mother’s life, art became her raison d’être. It’s what energized her and where she focused her energies,” Robson says.

The Allure of Self-Taught Art (7)

Stories behind the artists

Robson may have helped to widenthe perimeters of the genre, too, through her support of the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California,that encourages work from the developmentally disabled. Margaret Robson was one of the first to buy the heavily wrapped fabric sculptures by Judith Scott, who was born deaf and had Down syndrome. Recognition grew for Scott’s work such that, after her death in 2005, it was featured in a 2014 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and included in the Venice Biennale in 2017. Margaret Robson "was very involved in a variety of ways that a lot of collectors are not,” says Robson. “Her work in advocacy helped bring this art more to the forefront of visibility in this country.”

Robson, too, was taken by the neurodivergent art from the Creative Growth Art Center. “Dan Miller was the first thing I ever bought from them in the 90s,” he says. “Two little pencil drawings that were so forcefully rendered they looked like wire.”

It is a striking, nearly 12-foot long, untitled 2016 abstract from Miller that is Robson’s recent gift to SAAM. Such work, he says, “shows you that that kind of creativity can come from places we don’t even consider.”

For both generations of Robsons the art was something they surrounded themselves with at home. Robson recalls his mother’s Chicago apartment late in her life, with “a Judith Scott sculpture hanging in her bedroom—she woke up to that every morning. The beautiful William Edmundson birdbath was right in the middle of her apartment. She used it as a gentle staging ground for her mail."

“She lived with her art. She didn’t want to store it. She wanted to enjoy it. She wanted people to enjoy it. The Albert Mertz spikes back here, people loved that.”

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Mertz, a retired die cutter in Michigan, took to painting hundreds of old railroad spikes in bright hues, polka dots and faces. In the exhibition, the untitled 1980 work sits piled in a corner. “It always got a reaction out of people, because they’re so fun and whimsical,” Robson says. “Children loved them, they always wanted to go up and play with them.”

Robson says when his mother died in 2014 at 82, it was a bit sudden. “She hadn’t really really formulated a plan about what to do with the collection, but she would say to me, in only the way my mother could, ‘You’re going to have to deal with this someday,’ which was somewhere between a gift and a threat I suppose.”

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A sportswriter covering tennis for publications like USA Today, Robson says he wasn’t fully prepared for the challenge, “but when I did, I was also very inspired by what my mother left behind, which sort of catalyzed my own collecting journey.”

Donating to the Smithsonian seemed a natural, he says, “some of my childhood had been spent here. It’s one of the major art institutions that early on gave this kind of art a certain prominence and made it part of the American story, And I love that it’s for free.”

He’ll also endowed the Margaret Z. Robson Symposium Series, taking place this yearOctober 7 with “We Are Made of Stories: Selfhood and Experience in Art.”

“We Are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection” continues at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. through March 26. 2023. We Are Made of Stories: Selfhood and Experience in Art / The Margaret Z. Robson Symposium Series" takes place on October 7, 2022. Registration opens September 7

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FAQs

What is self-taught art? ›

Self-taught artists are artists who did not receive formal training in the visual arts, or whose formal training did not influence their artistic practice. Self-taught artists may or may not work as professional artists in the mainstream art world.

Are there any self-taught artists? ›

Some Well Known Self-Taught Artists. Henri Rousseau, Tiger In A Tropical Storm Surprised, National Gallery, London, England. Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) is best known for his vivid, exotic landscapes and dreamlike scenes. He never received formal art training and didn't begin to paint until he reached the age of 40.

How many artists are self-taught? ›

The Benefit of Art Education

In a study conducted by Artnet, only about 12% of the 500 most successful American artists were self-taught, while others had bachelor and masters degrees from various art schools. Prominent college art programs, usually offer a variety of perks for their students.

Can self-taught artist be successful? ›

If you are disciplined, then you can achieve anything as a self-taught artist that a trained artist could achieve. In fact, formal art training can be restrictive to the learning of some artists, who may be better suited to the self-taught path.

What is a self-taught artist called? ›

Outsider art is art made by self-taught or supposedly naïve artists with typically little or no contact with the conventions of the art worlds.

Is it hard to be a self-taught artist? ›

While being a self-taught artist isn't easy, it's definitely not impossible, either. With enough focus, drive, and determination, you might see your art goals become a reality. We've put together a list of tips and tricks to help you get started on your artistic journey.

What is the hardest thing to sketch? ›

Many artists consider hands are the hardest thing to draw due to all their possible positions and details. Drawing hands presents a hard challenge to artists because many lack experience doing it, making mistakes more common.

What is the difference between a trained artist and a self-taught artist? ›

A self-taught artist is generally someone who has taken a different career path in life than anyone who has pursued art as a career from an early age. A trained artist may have gone to college to study fine arts, or worked as an apprentice for an established artist.

How do you become a successful self-taught artist? ›

How to Be Successful as a Self-Taught Artist - YouTube

How can a self-taught artist be improved? ›

HOW TO BE A SELF TAUGHT ARTIST Studio Sessions Ep. 5 - YouTube

Is Vincent van Gogh self-taught? ›

Largely self-taught, Van Gogh believed that drawing was “the root of everything.” His reasons for drawing were numerous. At the outset of his career, he felt it necessary to master black and white before attempting to work in color.

Is going to school for art worth it? ›

Despite the stigma surrounding art majors, an art degree can be an excellent opportunity to develop and hone the studio skills necessary to forge a career as a professional artist. Both the environment and length of the program allow students to learn relevant tools and surround themselves with like-minded individuals.

Can you become a professional artist without school? ›

Becoming an artist without getting the required formal education is not only possible, it is recommended in many cases. By gaining art education from other means, you can become as proficient as anyone who spent thousands of dollars and four years trying to become a professional artist.

Can you be a successful artist without a degree? ›

Artists are very creative and able to express themselves through their art in a way that other people can understand and appreciate. Artists combine their natural talent and creativity and, because of this, many artists do not have to have a degree to do what they do.

What is the motivation of an artist? ›

He then split artists' motivations into four broad categories: financial success, the desire to socialize, the compulsion to create, and the freedom that the artist's lifestyle affords. The most successful artists, he argued, are motivated by all four aspirations.

What is art from untrained artists called? ›

NAïVE ART. This term refers to untrained artists who depict largely realistic scenes, often in skilled detail, with people, animals, and other aspects of the observed world, sometimes combined with fantasy images.

Did Van Gogh have formal art training? ›

Finding Solace in Art

In the fall of 1880, van Gogh decided to move to Brussels and become an artist. Though he had no formal art training, his brother Theo offered to support van Gogh financially.

What is another word for self-taught? ›

Synonyms for self-taught. autodidactic, self-educated, self-instructed.

Why is art so hard? ›

Making art can require Olympian strength and endurance. Before the advent of power tools, weeks and even months of hard labor were required for sculptors to hammer, chisel, rasp, and hand-drill their way into stone. Potters, metalworkers, and glassblowers not only wield clay, ore, and silica, but wrestle flames.

What part of the body should I learn to draw first? ›

I suggest starting with body parts that you will be drawing most often: face, head, bust, arms, hands, fingers, torso, legs, feet and finally toes. 7. Poses - In poses you combine the body parts and start with very basic poses and viewing angles. As you get better, you will start adding more poses to your repertoire.

When can I call myself an artist? ›

a person who practises or performs any of the creative arts, such as a sculptor, film-maker, actor, or dancer. There is no mention if qualifications, how much money you make or the years of experience you have. It's quite acceptable to call yourself an artist even if you don't make a living, or trained.

How do you write a self-taught artist bio? ›

So if you are a self taught artist, write your artist biography listing all your achievements, influences, showings, sales and include an artist statement. Then when it comes to qualifications, highlight that you have been an artist for X amount of years, highlight your experience over any qualifications.

How do you become a master artist? ›

Steps To Becoming A Master Painter
  1. Study the types of painting to define and develop your signature style: ...
  2. Master your skills by learning from professional painters: ...
  3. Build your painters resume and portfolio: ...
  4. Treat your career in painting as a business: ...
  5. Go beyond the art market to sell your paintings:

Can you learn painting by yourself? ›

Yet learning to paint doesn't need to be intimidating, and it doesn't require talent, in-person lessons, or great expense. All you need to teach yourself to paint is a few materials, targeted practice, and the right frame of mind.

Can I teach myself to draw? ›

Yes, you can teach yourself to draw, and it can be easier than you think. Some people find the teach yourself approach the easiest way to learn. We all learn in different ways, but everyone needs to start somewhere. Teaching yourself is a great way to begin.

How do I get serious about art? ›

  1. 5 Tips for the (Serious) Self-Taught Artist. 8/21/2019. ...
  2. Don't ignore Art Fundamentals. ...
  3. Embrace exploration and enjoy the journey. ...
  4. Join some kind of artist group or community and try to obtain (constructive) feedback from artists that are a bit farther ahead than you are. ...
  5. Stay consistent and stay focused on your goal.
Aug 21, 2019

How can one promote good draftsmanship? ›

how to improve draftsmanship + proportional sensitivity - YouTube

Can sketching be learned? ›

You can learn to draw; you might not believe it, which is often the first stumbling block to attaining a new skill. Drawing is as much a mental game as an observational game. Sure, you need a basic skill level to hold a pencil and make a mark but not as much as you may think.

Is Frida Kahlo self-taught? ›

Kahlo was initially self-taught, and her pictures represent her own version of Surrealism, which she practiced before becoming familiar with the European Surrealist movement.

What is meaning of self-taught? ›

Definition of self-taught

1 : having knowledge or skills acquired by one's own efforts without formal instruction a self-taught musician. 2 : learned by oneself self-taught knowledge.

What makes Vincent van Gogh different from other artists? ›

His expressive and emotive use of color and distinct brushwork became hugely popular and massively influenced Expressionism, Fauvism and early abstraction as well as various other aspects of 20th-century art. Today, van Gogh is generally regarded as the greatest Dutch painter since Rembrandt.

Can you teach yourself to draw? ›

Yes, you can teach yourself to draw, and it can be easier than you think. Some people find the teach yourself approach the easiest way to learn. We all learn in different ways, but everyone needs to start somewhere. Teaching yourself is a great way to begin.

Can I be an artist without a degree? ›

Artists are very creative and able to express themselves through their art in a way that other people can understand and appreciate. Artists combine their natural talent and creativity and, because of this, many artists do not have to have a degree to do what they do.

Are artists born or made? ›

Artists are both born and taught, says Nancy Locke, associate professor of art history at Penn State. "There is no question in my mind that artists are born," says Locke. Many artists arrive in the world brimming with passion and natural creativity and become artists after trying other vocations.

Do I need to learn to draw before painting? ›

(Artwork by: @katezambrano)

All this is not to say that one cannot paint without learning to draw; but the best approach to develop your skills as an artist is to learn to draw first and then build on your skills by learning how to paint.

The New Year is perfect to learn how art marketing builds awareness, develops interest, encourages desire, and motivates buyers to act.

There are always more ways to market art than most artists can use at once.. It's my experience that those artists who take responsibility for marketing find the time to do the work.. Galleries where gallerists sell the artists' work for them.. Without art marketing to create awareness, there is no interest, and consequently, no sales.. An artist’s website is a valuable marketing tool for artists of all experience levels.. __Contact Include a link to your contact page on every page of your site.. __ Your name is your brand—display it on each page People indeed buy the artist as much as the art.. Keep it all about you and your art always.. That doesn't work.. A brand is what people say about artists when they aren't there.. No artists are the same.. Artists who worry over selling out via art marketing can take lessons from the contemporary art market.

We've rounded up the best of the best for the 25 top interior design firms. Get ready for the finest interior designers and their awe-inspiring portfolios!

As a result, Decorilla can reach more clients than most interior design companies.. Luxury living room by one of the top interior design firms, Decorilla. Because their team includes designers with various skill sets, they can create equally exceptional residential and commercial interiors.. The employee-owned interior design company works alongside clients to create environments that are full of energy.. The resulting interiors – whether residential, recreational, or commercial – are creative and diverse.. As a result, their commercial and residential projects are timeless as the team skillfully pairs vintage and contemporary in a luxurious setting.. Unsurprisingly, the driving forces behind D’aquino Monaco made it to the Interior Design Hall of Fame.. Homes by Rees Roberts + Partners are calming and timeless.. There’s certainly no surprise that they are among the top residential interior design firms in the world.. WHAT WE LOVE: How Champalimaud’s interiors feel culturally and historically rich, yet contemporary, like every space has a story to tell.. Projects earning numerous “best of” awards and making many “top of” lists set Steven Harris Architects apart from other interior design companies.

The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund provides non-dilutive capital and high-touch support for Black founders in the US, Brazil, and Europe.

GOOGLE FOR STARTUPS INITIATIVE. #FundBlackFounders. Across the US, there are amazing Black startup founders who are building great companies yet are locked out of access to the funding that is critical to their success.. The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund provides non-dilutive cash awards to Black led startups that have participated in our programs or have been nominated by our partner community or a previous recipient.. Selected founders receive $100,000 in capital along with Google Cloud credits and hands-on support to help their startup grow.

A Brief History Of Art Censorship From 1508 To 2014

1865: Edouard Manet's "Olympia". By this time, classical nudes had been integrated into the language of art, with painted bodies like Michelangelo's becoming not only accepted but revered.. Only one year after Manet's "Olympia," Courbet upped the ante on NSFW depictions with his naturalistic view of the world's origin -- aka, a close-up portrait of the vulva.. Her colorful depictions of wild eroticism were removed from an exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern in 1969 , after the museum director demanded the genitalia in her works be covered up.. Local Senator Jesse Helms publicly expressed his outrage, stating that the work " dishonor[ed] the Lord .". A 2013 exhibition titled " Saints and Sinners" commemorated the 25th anniversary of the controversial moment in the fight for freedom of expression.. Finley's grant was vetoed due to review by Rowland Evans and Robert Novack -- who never saw the piece in person.. Karen arrives, disrobes, and begins slathering herself with brown goo.". Giuliani filed a lawsuit against the Brooklyn Art Museum for showing the work.. The museum won the case.. 2012: Pussy Riot's "Punk Prayer -- Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!". Furthermore, museum workers erased Ai's name from the list of the award's past winners and jury members.. This controversial performance replicated the "human zoos" that existed in the 19th and 20th centuries, forcing viewers to confront a heinously racist moment in history head on.. "It has not been my intention to alienate people with this work," Bailey wrote for The Guardian soon after.

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