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Self-Taught & Visionary Art in New Zealand


An outcome of the Stuart Shepherd’s research project Self-taught and Visionary Art: A Survey has been the categorisation of distinct forms of visual expression.

Compiling the Taxonomy

I compiled a taxonomy of the most readily identifiable groupings of the visual artwork that I documented in the survey. The thirteen categories are divided according to the content of the work, the type of materials, and/or the techniques employed. Note that as these are generalised groupings, individual works may fall into more than one category.

In addition, I have made observations about the gender groupings of the artists and the criteria by which the artist judges the success of a work.

Artists Outside of the Survey

There are a number of artists in the community, who are self-taught and have never been to art school, and yet they are very sophisticated in their working process and are very attuned to their culture. Their work sits somewhere outside my survey. Although their training has not been institutional nor formal, their work does show a sophisticated involvement and awareness of cultural context and the contemporary art world. They could be classified as the ‘self-taught insiders’. Among this group are the following artists that I came into contact with over the course of the survey: Lauren Lysaght, Jeffrey Harris, Gary Waldrom, Steve Carson.

Conventional Crafts and Trades

This survey has avoided the more conventional crafts and trades (such as bone carving, weaving, stone carving) where there is an established tradition of images, motifs, and techniques (even though the training might be self-directed).

Similarly, there are certain categories of unorthodox artwork that come under the umbrella of ‘self-taught’, but that I have not visited in this survey due to a pre-existing sub-cultures or stylistic manners that have been well-recorded elsewhere. Those categories include: Prison Art, Tattoo art, Folk Art (including Naïve Art) and Punk Neo-expressionism.