Artizein: Arts and Teaching Journal


I have championed artists who have been invisible and underrepresented for decades. Sometimes these artists have been labeled by race or ethnicity and many of them have fallen into the categories of folk and self-taught. When writing about artists who have fallen into one of these categories, I have often tried to avoid labeling them, hoping to have them viewed simply (and complexly) as artists worthy of (high) art consideration. However, I have found that sometimes labeling has been necessary and even useful. Labeling helps a writer, curator, scholar, educator, or arts facilitator focus on a particular cultural group, worldview, or historical era. It gives context to an artist from an unfamiliar cultural group and can help illuminate an artist’s message. But it can also box an artist into a limited space. And in some cases, labeling can develop an idea about education that may be debilitating, misleading, and wrong. This article is about labeling artists (most especially artists of color or from difficult circumstances) as “self-taught,” which is wrought with misunderstanding and riddled with negative consequences for the artist and for the educational process.


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