Through my work as a freelance writer, I’m often given opportunities to meet interesting individuals and explore topics and establishments whose paths would probably not have crossed with mine otherwise. I feel very fortunate to have a skill that allows me to do this, not to mention feeling incredibly lucky to have an editor with a knack for providing me with assignments that never fail to excite me and enrich my life somehow.
For my most recent assignment, I was asked to visit and then write about an art gallery. Though not an expert by anyone’s stretch of the imagination, I’ve always enjoyed visiting galleries and museums. As with any medium, some genres move me more than others, and it’s on a completely visceral level. That being said, I was absolutely not prepared for what awaited me at the Gallery of International Naïve Art (GINA). I’m sure I’ve encountered naïve art before without giving too much thought to the genre itself. It can be found all over the world, with a distinct set of attributes that characterizes this type of artwork no matter where the artist is from or when the painting was created. The genre is utterly timeless, and one of the most defining characteristics is that the artists are self-taught, having received no formal training. The paintings explode with warm colors and intricate detail that draws people in, speaking straight to the heart. There’s no need for explanations or commentary; the images simply speak for themselves.
And I was blown away by what I saw. Absolutely and totally captivated. As I mentioned above, I enjoy art. On rare occasions, art – whether it’s visual, written or in musical form – touches my soul in such a way that I can almost feel my insides quivering with joy. Sounds strange, doesn’t? I’m profoundly affected by beauty in art and in nature. As soon as I stepped into the gallery, I felt my insides begin to quiver. I don’t really know how to explain it without sounding as though I’m speaking in clichés, and since I’d rather not go down that road, I hope you can understand the depth of feeling I’m trying to convey here.
During the course of my interview with the gallery’s owner, I learned that naïve art, despite its utterly enchanting beauty, is one of the least popular art genres. In the mainstream art world, the lack of a formal education on the part of the artists is looked down upon, and not nearly enough funding is invested in its promotion. Indeed, in many countries, there are few if any galleries that are solely dedicated to naïve art, and in most instances, when they do exist, they aren’t necessarily in easily accessible locations. All of this would certainly explain why I hadn’t had any meaningful encounters with naïve art (despite having heard of some of the more prominent artists of the genre like Grandma Moses and Henri Rousseau). Naïve art, rather inexplicably in my opinion, is the neglected child of the art world.
Despite this “neglect”, however, it’s an art form that speaks from the heart of the artist to the hearts of “regular” people, people who don’t necessarily want or need complicated art. Perhaps, like me, they are interested primarily in the visceral appeal. Perhaps, despite the best efforts of serious art aficionados who prefer to extol the virtues of more acceptable genres, people are actually looking for art that speaks directly to the soul; art that draws them in simply and wonderfully, without having to think too much or work too hard.
Are you curious as to why I’m telling you all of this? Well, while putting the finishing touches on my story, I had something of an epiphany. Immersed as I was in the magical world of naïve art as a result of both the article I was writing and the joy it brought me, I began to think about the poetry I write and how, in a sense, it resembles the concept of naïve art. Not that I would ever be so presumptuous and conceited as to think that my scribbles and simple weaving of words demonstrate anything close to the level of artistry as the paintings that touched me so thoroughly, of course, but more in terms of what defines the genre. I’ve never taken a poetry course, nor do I have any formal training (in any writing style, really). And, while I appreciate the valuable constructive criticism I receive as I strive to improve my skills and somehow reach new levels, I also have to admit that I’m not necessarily interested in trying to write in a more intellectual style, one that clearly seems to resonate with “proper” poetry lovers and judges of poetry contests. My natural inclination is simply to write from my heart, using themes and words that I hope will touch others in their hearts and in their souls, without too much complexity or fuss. I don’t have it in me to create stanzas so chockfull of lofty words and complex line structure that one has to work in order to understand the meaning; I don’t want to leave you wondering about whatever it is I’m trying to convey. I want you to be able to take what I’ve written and see how it relates to your own life, not to simply read them and cast them aside as something intangible.
That’s not to say that I don’t want to write the best poetry I possibly can within the parameters of my writing style, because I do. I use the advice given to me by others to seek out and fix the weak spots, and constantly ask myself what I can do to make something even better. I push myself to keep an open mind with regard to suggested changes, forcing myself to consider whether these suggestions have merit. But with that being said, I’m not going to set aside a writing style dictated by my heart in order to write according to a prescribed set of characteristics that define the way some think poetry should be written, even if that means my writing doesn’t subscribe to accepted norms.
And I’m okay with that. If there’s an important lesson to be learned from my plunge into the world of naïve art, it’s that the poems I write don’t require a seal of approval from poetry scholars and experts. While it would be nice to receive professional recognition or accolades, I don’t need them to measure the value of my words or the impact they have on others. That value can be found in the responses I receive from friends and strangers alike, people who have been moved enough to let me know their thoughts; people who have written to me out of the blue, thanking me for sharing and for somehow being able to describe what was in their hearts.
Would I be thrilled if I won a contest or managed to get my poetry published professionally? Of course. But I would also rather know that my words have truly touched the souls of a few “regular” people than received critical acclaim by so-called “experts” and almost completely ignored by everyone else. There’s no point in creating a window into your heart if you’re just going to make it difficult for most people to open, is there…