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Cincinnati Art Museum

Creating Connections: Self-Taught Artists in the Rosenthal Collection Audio Exhibition





Hello, my name is Julie Aronson, Curator of American Paintings, Sculpture, and Drawings and curator of Creating Connections: Self-Taught Artists in the Rosenthal Collection. I will be reading the What is this Art? panel of the exhibition.

What is this art, and how do we talk about it?

As you look at this exhibition, you may wonder:

  • What qualifies as museum-worthy art?
  • Why are these works grouped together when they are so dissimilar?
  • Does the work of self-taught artists become less interesting when other people provide materials and advice, becoming collaborators in the creative process?
  • Does knowing the artist’s biography enhance your appreciation of works of art?
  • When does the promotion and sales of work by marginalized artists cross into exploitation?

Questions like these provide abundant food for thought.

Traditionally, notions of progress and a succession of art movements define art history. So, what do we do with work that doesn’t fit? Many of the terms used in the past to describe the art of those working independently of the mainstream-such as “primitive” and “naive”-are demeaning; they imply that the art is less worthy of consideration and devoid of aesthetic decision-making. The term “Outsider Art” dates to the 1970s and is still used in the marketplace to denote work made in isolation by those at the margins of society. This whole concept is not only misleading but sometimes cruel or racist. As many of these artists learned from others, even the now-favored “self-taught” is imperfect. Should we just call their work ART and leave it at that?


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