Thursday, March 3, 2011
It seems to me that the word visionary is used a lot these days, often to describe someone with a great idea. A completely different use of the word that fascinates me is in relation to art. Visionary or outsider artists are self-taught individuals, who don't necessarily self-identify as artists, but who create work out of a strong personal vision. Often their creation is obsessive, abundant, prolific, exuberant, religious, childlike, or uninhibited, and it begs taking a closer look and learning the story of the creator.
Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, a visionary in her own right, founded the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore in late 1995, and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting it last week. What a magical, unique, exuberant, inspiring place! Everywhere you look from the moment you arrive is filled with examples of someone's artistic expression/obsession, from the mirrored mosaic schoolbus to the entry greeting of a floor inlayed with toothbrushes spelling out "Smile".
The current exhibit at the museum is called "What Makes Us Smile" and is filled with works expressing the curators' idiosyncratic perspective of what is funny, highbrow to low, pithy or trashy, poignant or teasing. It is impossible to go through the exhibit without smiling, laughing or raucously guffawing, not the normal responses one expects to have in a museum.
To quote Langston Hughes,“Humor is laughing at what you haven't got when you ought to have it.” But this show - and this museum - gives it (humor) to you where you ought to have it, as expressed by artists, by writers, and by the wonderful vision of a remarkable woman who demanded that inspired outsider artists be noticed.