Many of us today expect museums to be bustling hubs of activity, offering a range of sensory experiences. But what if this is all just a distraction from the very essence of museums? In this essay, Amanda Shepard explores the age-old argument that seemingly pits the people against the soulful experience of objects themselves.
Throughout my career I’ve been blessed with friendships with some of the most interesting people in the art world. One of the most fascinating was the self-taught folk artist Howard Finster. I was a myopic art historian in training when I first saw Howard’s work in an art magazine in the library of the Clark Art Institute. I had no experience with “outsider art” and thought the idea that someone self-taught could actually make art was ridiculous. Several years later, however, while spending a long weekend in Chicago browsing through the galleries of River North, I called on art dealer Carl Hammer and discovered that his entire gallery was devoted primarily to these “outsiders.” My education about folk- or outsider- art began that afternoon as Carl walked me through his back room pulling painting after painting from the racks and telling me stories about each of his artists, including Howard Finster.