Self-Taught Art: What’s in a Name?

This activity can also be done in the galleries on a self-guided tour.

Work by self-taught artists has been called by many names. This can invite a rich discussion with your students about the effect of a name. Why is giving something a name important? What influence can a name have on the thing named? Can a name be beneficial? Can it bring harm? Read more about the complicated categorization of self-taught art here.

You may want to introduce your discussion by talking with your students about broader implications of societal names. Are there any terms used in their own daily life—such as for their community, family, interests, or hobbies—that they feel are inaccurate or misnomers? What about those they feel hit the mark?

Narrow your focus to works of art, explaining your upcoming field trip and the many ways this kind of art has been referred to. Have students brainstorm associations with each term below. What might the art look like? What does the name imply about the artists? Is this a positive or negative term and why?

Self-taught art
Outsider art
Folk art
Amateur painting
Art by the mentally ill
Naïve art
Art brut (French for “raw” or “rough”)

Ask students to review the biographies of the artists. Does the information provided on the artists and their work match the associations the students’ developed for the terms above?

As a class, think about the different implications of these titles. Are any of the titles accurate? Which are inaccurate and why? Should any of these artists not be grouped together? Which should? What is the purpose of grouping artists together? Is this grouping important—why?