Sunday, November 16, 2014

Untitled: The Art of James Castle

Where: American Art Museum

When: through February 1, 2015

It's not often that I see an exhibit and really have no idea what to make of it.  I might like something or dislike something, but I can't remember the last time I went to a show and had no idea whether I liked it or not.

Here's what I do know:  James Castle was a profoundly deaf man who never learned to communicate with others in any conventional way.  He could not read lips or use sign language, nor could he read or write.  He lived in rural Idaho with his family and created many drawings.  He used paper he found around his family's home and made a kind of ink out of soot and his own saliva.  His works depict the small town and farmland that were his surroundings.

So are these works of interest to us because we're trying to figure out what he's saying?  Or are they of interest because they stand on their own merits?  Would we put them in a museum or add them to private collections even if Castle were able to communicate in ways the general populace could understand?  Are they art, or are they a curiosity?  On another level, we're assuming that Castle is trying to communicate through his art, but is this really true?  Is there something he wants us to understand or is he merely passing the time?

I left the show with more questions than answers and a sense that the questions are not capable of being answered.  The one thing I can say is that James Castle's work is the ultimate example of outsider art.

Verdict: I'm not sure I have one, which is a first since I started writing this blog.

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