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Self-Taught & Visionary Art in New Zealand


Stuart Shepherd teaches at the Institute of Communication Design (School of Fine Arts in the College of Creative Arts, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand). Shepherd’s research into self-taught and visionary art has uncovered a wealth of previously unknown work that has begun to receive national and international attention.

Self-taught and Visionary Art: A Survey is a Massey University-funded research project conducted by Stuart Shepherd.

The survey began with an entreaty to local newspapers for artists (meeting the formal criteria).

The response to the newspaper advertisements was immense. During 2001–2002, I traveled up and down the country, collecting almost 3000 slides documenting a range of 2- and 3-dimensional works.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has acknowledged the survey as ‘nationally significant’, offering to archive the research.

Criteria for Inclusion

Through discussion with art professionals, I developed formal criteria to identify self-taught and visionary art:

  • Work in any medium by people who have no formal or traditional art training
  • Work that is a manifestation of personal logic; not following the style or manner or any particular school
  • Work that is part of a sustained body of work: where a particular visual language has developed


A further research outcome has been the categorisation of distinct forms of visual expression.

Formalising the terminology used to discuss these works is seen as central to the acknowledgement of the works and artists, as it enables critical discourse using a common language.

This website presents the categories in this taxonomy, including a description of the category, and example works and artists (drawn primarily from the survey).