|Howard Finster, If a Shoe Fits, Wear It, 1977; Cathedral in Heaven (closed view),1979|
But Finster, who died in 2001, had no pretensions about the works that took him from itinerant church-planter to art world celebrity. When fancy-schmancy gallerists from SoHo and TriBeca visited his studio and Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia, to snag the latest works for their adoring clients, Finster wouldn’t let them see a thing until he led them to an open coffin inscribed with biblical apologias concerning their salvation, and gave them several earfuls of sermonizing. But ever since the day a daub of paint on his finger told him to make art, he was unapologetic in speaking about it. “Mah work is scrubby,” he once said in his earnest, deep South twang. “It’s baaaad, nasty art. But it’s tellin’ somethin’. You don’t hafta be a perfeck artist to work in art.”
Finster’s imperfect compositions—just a few of the 50,000 he meticulously numbered over 25 years of obsessive productivity—speak out with other so-called ‘masterworks’ in a profusely illustrated 2001 catalog called American Anthem, which features the collection of the American Folk Art Museum.
“Mah work is scrubby. It’s baaaad, nasty art. But it’s tellin’ somethin’. You don’t hafta be a perfeck artist to work in art.”—Howard FinsterIs it patently feckless to slap the weight of a ‘masterwork’ on art made of string, tin, matches, wood, odd fabric swatches, bottle caps, old buttons, and cheap lead house paint—generally the kind of stuff you find in the cobwebby corners of a dusty garage? By the time Grandma Moses died, in 1961, she’d probably had as much print assigned to her oeuvre as Pollock had to abstract expressionism—but she was still a standout. Eventually, folk art went through various terminological filters imposed on it by art historians or critics, who accepted or rejected qualifiers that were meant to validate or include it, yet still distinguish it from so-called ‘fine’ art —a term that may shortly disappear. It’s been called primitive, self-taught, outsider, vernacular, visionary (in Baltimore’s museum), or l’art brut (roughly translating to ‘raw’ art, this is Dubuffet’s rubric for his collection in Lausanne).
|Game of Chance: Slaves and Auctioneer, mid-1800s, possibly Maine origins|
|Anniversary Tin, unidentified, c.1880, Gobles, MI|
|Charles Dellshau, Flying Machine 4575: Broad Cutt, c. 1920, Houston, Texas|
|Possum Trot Dolls, c. 1953, Calvin and Ruby Black, Yermo, CA|
Art and architectural historian Karen Mulder is seriously attempting to recover from academia by guest writing for The Daily Glean, and was contemplating a Howard Finster cartoon portrait of John F. Kennedy that she owns as she wrote this post.