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Tear Down That Wall!
July 19, 2007

Radar Magazine

It's a favorite pastime of curmudgeons everywhere: Setting faux-naive paintings alongside naive paintings and asking supposed art experts to pick the real from the fake. Radar magazine gets in on the act here, daring savvy readers to prove through an online quiz that they're not faking it when they say they know what art is.

Maybe it marks me as a sap, but this strikes me as mean spirited. The editors are insinuating (and not with subtlety) that the arts establishment—in this case the Venice Biennale—has arbitrary, insular, and inconsistent standards. The thinking goes: Why do institutions support art that can't easily be distinguished from art that is known to have zero value (outsider art by convicts, hobbyists, and the mentally challenged)?

But of course the question hinges on the value of outsider art. Why assume that outsider art has no value? Point of fact, folk art is judged and considered according to different metrics than art in the professional art world—and in the best case, strong work garners attention.

It might not be easy to tell folk from faux-naive art—that would be the point of "faux-naive" work, after all—but then, the two are considered by different standards. So what's the worry? No one will confuse the apples with the oranges—except, perhaps, editors who muddy the issue for a cheap jab at artists and the art world. And as far as jabs go, I was irritated that the editors chose to submit a work by Eileen Schofield as an example from the control group. Schofield is an artist and member of Art Enables, which supports mentally disabled artists and shows the breadth of their work in context. The only context Radar gives Schofield is a mocking one.

One noncompliant observation: This sort of challenge is almost always restricted to painting. Why? Why don't editors pit an image from a randomly selected Flickr stream against, say, a photograph by Jeremy Deller?

Posted by Kriston on July 19, 2007 in American Art Everywhere


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