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Lesson Plans

Howard Finster

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
tommye scanlin (
Tue, 27 May 1997 17:04:00 -0400

Hi list,
I wanted to respond a very interesting question by Teresa Sheffey:

Teresa said, " With someone like Howard Finster, is it overall
design or , "does it bring glory to God and display God's message?" When
we look at a work by Howard Finster, is God's message the meaning for the
work, or is it his method and material? It would be interesting to talk
with Finster and compare his perspective to ours."

Teresa, it is indeed interesting to talk to Howard Finster and hear
that he sees the message as the primary meaning for the work. He will tell
you, for instance, that he's been criticized by some for allowing his work
to be used in popular music and videos, like those by R.E.M., but that he
sees how these means spread his message--millions more have read and seen
his religious exhortations through his connection to this music than would
have ever heard him preach from the pulpit in his small rural churches.
Howard Finster is usually described as a "visionary" or
"self-taught" artist rather than as a "folk" artist. Dr. John Burrison,
folklorist and collector, discussed the difference at a conference,
describing how the folk artist learns through tradition of family or
community. This did not happen in Howard's case, except in the sense of
religious wayside signs that are found throughout the rural southeast U.S.
countryside--or at least, used to be; or possibly through other religious
examples of image and text, like religious tracts. However, Howard's
children and grandchildren who are now doing art work, according to Dr.
Burrison, could be described as "folk" artists since they've learned the
traditions of their father or grandfather's work. Howard is driven to make
the work; many of the works are visionary...more than Biblical
interpretations--actually based on visions he's had. Two excellent books
about Howard's work are _Howard Finster: Man of Visions_ by John Turner
and _Stranger from Another World_ by Tom Patterson. And, by the way,
Howard is in his early 80s now, but can still be found talking to the
public on Sundays at Paradise Gardens near Summerville, GA.
So, Teresa, I feel to compare Howard Finster's perspective to ours
would mean each of us has a particular perspective into which we fit art
work. There's been discussion in the past few days about the academic view
vs. the view of the outsider (outsider being used in a broad way here to
encompass folk, popular, cultures from outside the Euro-tradition, etc.).
I know the more general discussion centers aroung DBAE, but I want to say
that from a personal level, although I am a university professor, I viewed
art work from many perspectives. And, most interesting to me is that I've
found that these perspectives have changes with time--and, significantly,
from exposure to people like Howard Finster. To me, the critical factor
has been the exposure, being open to something I was never taught about
while in college. What makes the work of outsider artists so exciting, so
puzzling, so infuriating, and so challenging? Well, each of us has to
figure out exactly which of our buttons is being pushed by works of *any*
kind and then respond to that issue, I think. To ignore the art work being
made in the real world, the world outside of academia and the status-quo
art world, is to ignore probably 99% of the creative force and forms in the
world. I think teachers at all levels deserve to introduce students to
these works. And I think that DBAE can offer a structure through which to
do this. But, teachers have to learn about these works themselves before
they are able to bring them in a meaningful way to the classroom.
A few months ago someone asked about information about art cars; I
responded to that request, as I'm sure many of you did. This medium--the
artsednet, and other WWW sites--offers a great way to learn. Granted, we
aren't spoon-fed all the answers here--and we still have to take the
information and opinions with huge grains of salt--but to have a suggestion
made by someone a continent away that one may follow up on is a tremendous
educational opportunity.
Pardon the length of this reply (especially to you, henry!!) But,
as you can see, one of my buttons is outsider art and it just got pushed!
I urge everyone interested in the art work outside to delve into it. Jean
Dubuffet did. "Dubuffet ...realized that for him true art had to come from
outside the ideas and traditions of the artistic elite, and he found
inspiration in the art of children and the insane. The distinction between
'normal' and 'abnormal' struck him as no more tenable than established
notions of 'beauty' and 'ugliness.'" (_A Basic History of Art_, 5th ed.,
Janson and Janson, 534)

Tommye Scanlin