A crisis

I’m having a bit of an artistic crisis here.

Look at the following:

These are all by an artist named James Castle (1899-1977), and I discovered him through a review of a retrospective of his work at the Art Institute of Chicago. Very elemental, masterful stuff.


James Castle was born deaf; never learned to read, write, or sign; never left his parents’ farm in IDAHO; did all his work with WHATEVER HE COULD FIND, including, for his drawings, SOOT AND SPIT.


Color? “Unknown source,” but probably SQUEEZED FROM MUSHED-UP COLORED PAPER.

HE MADE BOOKS. On found paper. Newsprint left over from someone’s typing lessons. Cardboard boxes. Leftover twine.

HE MADE SCULPTURES out of whatever the hell he could find to hand.

And I’m thinking, what the ever-loving ? What have I been playing at, with my blobs and “encroaching white” and fake perspective and pursuit of verisimilitude? All the notebooks and art paper and gouache and brushes? Nothing I’ve done, nor am like to do if I pursue these paths, has even one-tenth the power of the works of James Castle.

He was seeing things I don’t see, hearing things I don’t hear, walking paths I have no knowledge of. He did this in Boise, Idaho, alone, starting in the 1920s.

This is going to take a while to get over.

Here’s more:

5 thoughts on “A crisis

  1. I have these moments often. The “nothing-I-can-make-will-ever-come-close-to-what-this-guy-made-so-why-even-bother” moments. I wish that I could tell you what helps me to get over it, but I don’t know either.

  2. Yeah, I thought of the Salieri thing, too, but the difference is that Mozart was not just supremely gifted, he was highly trained. This situation would be more like John Adams looking around one day to find that Dale Lyles had surpassed the best things he had ever done or could do.

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