ISSUE #7 – The self-taught enigma

A collective study on a figure of art history

The 2013 Venice Biennale dropped a bit of a bombshell when, in the official exhibition curated by Massimiliano Gioni, some forty participants with no artistic training were presented side by side and indiscriminately with seasoned artists from the professional sphere. Controversy raged: how could productions that ignore art theory and its traditions be included in the most important biennial in the art world? How could the creativity of works – conceived without any in-depth knowledge of aesthetic criteria – fascinate to the point of serving as an enigma?

Produced during a study day organised by Charlotte Laubard, head of the Visual Arts Department at HEAD – Genève, the entries in this feature look back at the place of self-taught artists during the 20th century in order to resituate the historical and theoretical issues that took part in the construction of the self-taught enigma. The entries aim to undo certain mythologising representations of artistic practices by examining what self-learning concretely produces within a creative process. To this end, they postulate an approach at the crossroads of disciplines, calling on learning theories from the fields of sociology, anthropology, pragmatic philosophy, and cognitive and educational sciences.

Not only do these entries look to create space for artistic productions that have been kept on the margins of art institutions, they also call on us to completely revise our criteria of judgement within the context of the unprecedented broadening of creative practices that have been disrupted by globalisation and digital technologies.

The conferences both feed and complete the research run for a vast historical exhibition organised by Charlotte Laubard at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Saint-Etienne (October 2021-April 2022).

A history of legitimacy

Auto-reverse learning: Daniel Johnston and recording

The self-taught enigma, from the making of the work to its recognition: what can we learn from accounts of learning?