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Beau Theige will visit The Arts Center on Thursday, May 25 for Open Mic Night, 7:00 – 9:00 pm. Everyone is encouraged to come meet the artist and musicians are welcome to try his guitars–maybe even for a song or two on stage! Light refreshments will be available.

I love non-traditional exhibits and Theige’s guitars currently on display fall into that category. The work isn’t fancy, slick, polished or framed but it still represents a special art form (in fact several arts combined–the creation of the “assemblage” and the creation of a musical instrument).

This week, Jamestown High School art students enjoy their annual final exam at The Arts Center. What does this entail? First, a tour of the exhibit and then the students write about the art. Since the exhibit is non-traditional the instructors were a little concerned. While the students may understand music and guitars, they may not have considered them works of art.

So we (the staff) step in to give them context and help with the questions like: Where do handmade guitars fit in the world of art? Is a non-guitar playing, hobby farmer an artist, a craftsman, or something else? It happens, there is a category for such art and its broad and wonderful. There are museums (The American Folk Art Museum, American Visionary Art Museum, Museum of International Folk Art) dedicated to it and these arts are avidly collected. Broadly called Folk Art, the genre has multiple subcategories and the boundaries can be contentious. Many arguments have been know to occur over these terms.

Folk Art vs. Outsider Art

Generally speaking, Folk Art is rooted in traditions that come from community and culture (think Pysanky, quilt making, Germans from Russia Iron Crosses). Folk Art encompasses a range of utilitarian and decorative media, including cloth, wood, paper, clay, metal and more. If traditional materials are inaccessible, new materials are often substituted, resulting in contemporary expressions of traditional folk art forms. Folk Art is often characterized by a naive style, in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed.

The term “outsider art” was coined in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outside of the established art scene, using as examples psychiatric hospital patients and children. While Dubuffet’s term is quite specific, the English term “outsider art” is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.

Beau Theige’s Guitars can be categorized as contemporary Folk Art. He is working in a long tradition of guitar making, and a long tradition of making instruments out of found objects. While he did not study with a family member or mentor he did apprentice himself, through reading, studying, experimenting and exploring to learn his art. I would not be surprised if he hasn’t already begun to share his expertise and craft–a hallmark or many folk art traditions–the passing on of knowledge.

Thanks to Arts Center Director Cyndi Wish for preparing a presentation on Folk Art vs Outsider Art (for the students) from which I’ve excerpted a few passages.
The Beau Theige: Custom Guitar touring exhibit is supported in part by a grant to the North Dakota Art Gallery Association from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, which receives funding from the state legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.