New Orleans

“Passionate Visions of the American South”

New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)

Raymond Coins’ cedar sculpture of his wife Ruby is covered in a flower print dress. The clothes are cheap and flimsy, but the figure underneath couldn’t be more solid or insistent. With “Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present,” an exhibition currently at the University Art Museum in Berkeley, a kind of sanctuary has been created for 80 artists whose 270 creations reflect an inner strength and obstinance that transcends their impoverished environment.

The term “self-taught,” with its Abe Lincoln-reading-by-the-firelight stubbornness is emerging as a replacement for the James Dean flashiness of “outsider” to refer to the work of isolated, untrained artists bypassing the culture factory’s conveyor belt. Both equally vague terms connote the romanticism with which we view these artists: as, to cite Jean Dubuffet, “obstinate visionaries brandishing

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