Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Interview with Phyllis Kind

Katsuhiro Terao

Hiroyuki Doi

Carlo Zinelli
AK: What are the differences and similarities between an outsider, or self-taught artist, and an insider, or classically trained artist?
PK: I believe the major difference is that self-taught artists are working for a different motive — an interior motive. Someone like Howard Finster was working to proselytize for Jesus. Both Wölfli and Ramírez had a personal narrative in mind, but it wasn't necessarily artistic, per se; they weren't thinking of themselves as artists or making art for the world. They just didn't have that historical conception of art in their heads, or the ideas of criticism, so what they're doing is outside of the conventional dialogue. I can't say it's a monologue because the word "monologue" has a derogatory, boastful side to it, and the impulse of outsider art isn't the least bit boastful. It's a job. It's a need. It's something that completely takes over their lives — whether they're doing it for Jesus or for God or for the apocalyptic end of the world. Their interior motive is something that's just intrinsic, and they don't identify it in relation to others. They aren't concerned about selling art to others, for money or critical approval. Although, the broader issue of approval is interesting; for instance, Ramírez used to bring people into his little room, and he would arrange them in the way he wanted them to view his work, which was tacked up on the wall. And Wölfli loved it if someone liked his work. But that has nothing to do with why they made it. There's no parrot of approval sitting on their shoulder and involved in a dialogue with them.
As for the similarity, something I've only just realized is that genuine artists, who invent their own vocabulary of form, become super involved with the activity of art-making itself. This might happen when they're just working and working, and all of a sudden, the work takes over and tells them what to do. And afterwards, they say, "Jeez, did I do that?" There's a film I was just watching about self-taught artist James Castle, and Robert Storr is quoted in it as saying something like, "It's frequently said that many artists have no intentions." I want you to know that all artists have intentions — but those intentions, which may or may not actually manifest in the final work, are beside the point. For years, I've spoken about something called intentional fallacy, and what intentional fallacy is about is that you cannot judge a work of art by what the artist intended to do; the work itself has a kind of agency. So an artist's intention for the work of art is neither necessary nor sufficient to make it a work of art. It's even more interesting when we try to make a connection between whatever the hell the artist intended and the resulting piece. Once an artist starts to think that they're doing what critics tell them they're doing, they sometimes take on this attitude about what they should be making and who they really are, and it stiffens their work. But every genuine artist, whether self-taught or trained, has a deeper level of involvement with their work.

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