EXTRAORDINARY INTERPRETATIONS
(SELF-TAUGHT ART IN FLORIDA)

By: Gary Monroe

While I was writing The Highwaymen: Florida's African-American Landscape Painters, I suggested to Meredith Babb, the assistant editor-in-chief of the University Press of Florida, that it would be prudent to print no more than 3,000 copies. Then, only a handful of people were aware of the Highwaymen, and few of us appreciated  their art or grasped their social contribution; some people shunned Highwaymen paintings. Fortunately, she didn't listen. Still, the first printing sold-out within four months, and now the press is preparing the fourth printing. Hard to believe that it's been less than two years since The Highwaymen hit the shelves!

I have similar reservations about my forthcoming book, Extraordinary Interpretations: Self-taught Art in Florida, which University Press of Florida will publish in November. It highlights sixty-one artists each of whom is represented by a color reproduction of his or her work; a photo-portrait and brief essay complements each artist's entry. The rub though is the art. Like the Highwaymen's, it's not traditional. In fact, it generally flies in the face of tradition. It is not the point of these artists to be unconventional; convention to them is simply beside the point: Perspective is irrelevant and color is more a function of fun than theory. The idea behind the work is the maker's unfettered expression.
Although "self-taught" is a good and an accepted referent, the roots of this kind of art is more illuminating. It goes back to Jean Dubuffet's fascination with the art of the insane, that he called Art Brut (Raw Art). In the early 70s, Roger Cardinal coined the term "outsider art," which stuck but was to become politically incorrect. I use "contemporary folk art" to denote this work as an umbrella term, as well as "self-taught." Nevertheless, the art, outside of the academic canon, was only of late co-opted into museum culture. Its immediacy and renegade spirit keeps it relevant and informative to scholars and so-called fine artists, and makes it accessible to others in the mainstream.

Like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, Extraordinary Interpretations fills a niche by being the Sunshine State's
contribution to the national dialog about contemporary folk art.

Florida is fertile territory for self-taught artists, whose eccentricity informs their imagery. I have traveled the state, from Key West to Pensacola, for years meeting energetic self-taught artists.

I've discovered a diverse lot; from retirees to the emotionally disabled to blue-collar workers, their imagery contains a font of information that challenges and expands the accepted notions about the visual arts.

As I write in the Introduction of Extraordinary Interpretations, "The artists in this book work on the fringes of art and life with little, if any, support... They are interested in creating a world in which they want to live, examining the one in which they have lived, or exploring the one in which they do live." By delving into these artists' idiosyncrasies, we can enhance our own sensibilities and expand our own consciousnesses. It's little wonder that self-taught art has stirred consideration of meaningful ideas while gracing homes and becoming highly collectible. This is less a book of pictures than of revelations.


About the author:

Gary Monroe, a native of Miami Beach, earned a masters degree in the fine arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1977. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Florida Department of State's Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Humanities Council, and the Fulbright Foundation. As a lecturer for the Florida Humanities Council's Speakers Bureau, Mr. Monroe has brought the Highwaymen story to the citizenry of Florida. Gary Monroe is a professor of art at Daytona Beach Community College. He lives in Deland, Florida, and may be reached at: monroe51 @bellsouth.net.


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