Tammys, Self-Taught Artist

Expressively Inspired: The Desire to Create for Two Self-Taught Artists

Vincent Van Gogh was inspired by the light of Arles, France. He, a self-taught artist himself, was also seduced by the effect of complementary colors and was drawn to using them in ways that had not been done before. His inspiration to create became an obsessive passion that haunted him and ultimately led to his death.

Inspiration for artists is often associated with springing forth from a muse, a connection or person that lifts an individual to do something dynamic and original. From a conversation with two self-taught artists, this idea only scratches the surface of why and how artists are compelled to create.

Odilion Redon, wrote in “Introduction to a Catalogue” (Theories of Modern Art, Chipp 1968) that, “The artist submits day after day to the fatal rhythm of the impulses of the universe surrounding him. His eyes, those ever sensitive, ever active centers of sensation, are hypnotized by the marvels of a nature which he loves, which he scrutinizes.”

The Self-Taught Artist’s Perspective

This statement could not be more fitting for self-taught artist, J.J. Cromer. Cromer confirms that creating is essential to his day. He told me poignantly, that he feels out of sorts when he cannot draw. It helps his psyche. It is the possibility of what can extend from each of his pieces into the next that keeps Cromer inspired. His way of looking at his work and constantly looking for the next piece, the act of working, being present in his work, all contribute to his inspiration that grows his artistic evolution.

In addition I spoke with self-taught artist, Holly Farrell who has always been close to her artistic nature. Her work has been described as “folk realism.” Her ambition in creating is to provoke connections in the viewer, and she has done so with a prolific portfolio.

For Farrell, when she is not painting, she feels anxious. It is creating that brings her joy. She finds the solitude, expression, and the finishing fulfilling. “I feel most centered when I’m creating,” she explains. What inspires Farrell is recognition. When she sees something she has a connection to, either physical or emotional she wants to paint that what she feels about it, what it is she remembers and recognizes. I was curious if Farrell felt she created from a place of whimsy or a deeper place of necessity. Farrell told me, “all of the above.” She is constantly, intuitively collecting subject matter. “I have a basement full of things that are waiting their turn,” she says.

Many outsider artists have more of a need to create than the formally trained artist. Farrell and Cromer confirmed this for me when I asked both of them how they felt about being called an “outsider” artist, and how they felt the outsider artist differs from the formally and academically trained artist.

Self-taught artist, Phone, 2016, acrylic & oil on masonite, 18x13 inches

Holly Farrell, “Phone,” Acrylic and Oil on Masonite, 18″x13″, 2016.

Farrell explained, “In my mind, the outsider artist starts out creating with no or few skills or tools and somehow finds a way to pull something together, a way to express how they feel – it’s like suddenly you can speak.” She went on to describe her personal viewpoint. “I feel that way when I work. There wasn’t much of a dialogue in my life before I began to paint. I was floundering. Traditionally trained artists, in my mind, start out with a bigger skill set. The real education, self-taught, outsider, traditional, or otherwise, comes in the making of art. I think that formally trained artists have a better sense of intention…they go into art school because they want to be artists, they see a possible future in it, or maybe they just want to be good artists. The idea is that they have some kind of expectation, confidence.”

J.J. Cromer, "Jump, Chump!", Mixed Media on Paper, 8.5" x 6.75", 2016.

J.J. Cromer, “Jump, Chump!”, Mixed Media on Paper, 8.5″ x 6.75″, 2016.

Cromer clearly stated, “I don’t concern myself with a title.” Cromer went on to speak about the difference between outsider artists and traditionally trained artists, suggesting that academic critique is the focus of many formally trained artist’s expectations of what is deemed good or worthy. Cromer echoes a sense that the intuitive nature and process of expression can get lost when work is produced with a linear judgment in mind.

An artist’s inherent need to create and express themselves is a core part of their being. It is a very emotional experience. Kasimir Malevich, wrote on “Suprematism” (Chipp, 1968, Theories of Modern Art) ”The emotions which are kindled in the human being are stronger than the human being himself…they must at all costs find an outlet-they must take on overt form-they must be communicated or put to work.”