I am just back from a wonderful trip visiting family and friends in the Baltimore area. One of the highlights of the trip, aside from reconnecting with people I truly love, was a visit to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
So, OK, what is “visionary art” anyway? The museum defines it as “art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself… In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as ‘art’ by its creator.” This isn’t folk art either. As the museum states, ” Unlike folk art, visionary art is entirely spontaneous and individualized.”
The exhibitions in this museum are inspiring, thought-provoking, serious and playful, unique and imaginative created by people who are compelled and obsessed from a pure intention to express themselves– their ideas, visions, feelings, narratives– visually. Not because they majored in their artform and learned its techniques and possibilities, but from a rawer, genuine, sincerer place. Some of these artists have been disenfranchised by the larger society due to economic or ability status. Some of these artists are serving or have served time in prisons or other kinds of institutions.
The philosophy behind this museum is filled with a large humanity and compassion. These are their listed education goals:
1. Expand the definition of a worthwhile life.
2. Engender respect for and delight in the gifts of others.
3. Increase awareness of the wide variety of choices available in life for all … particularly students
4. Encourage each individual to build upon his or her own special knowledge and inner strengths
5. Promote the use of innate intelligence, intuition, self-exploration, and creative self-reliance.
6. Confirm the great hunger for finding out just what each of us can do best, in our own voice, at any age.
7. Empower the individual to choose to do that something really, really well.
This could be the philosophy of a life well-lived, almost sacred in nature. These could be the words of a rabbi or guru or your favorite teacher.
I spent seven hours there last Tuesday, drawn into the lives and the powerful visions of these authentic and vital voices.
The website for the AVAM is http://www.avam.org/