Folk art, as defined by the American Visionary Art Museum is art "learned at the knee" and passed from generation to generation, or through established cultural community traditions, like Hopi Native Americans making Kachina dolls, sailors making macrame, and the Pennsylvania Dutch making hex signs.
Visionary art on the other hand, again defined by the Visionary Art Museum is art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself. In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as art by its creator.
So, the essential difference between folk art and visionary art is that visionary artists don't listen to anyone else's traditions, they create their own. They listen to their own inner voice and create what comes to them from deep in their soul.
Yesterday, my older son Jimmy and I headed down to South Street in Philadelphia to check out Philadelphia Magic Gardens and see the work of a visionary artist named Isaiah Zagar whose mosaics can be found in many places in Philadelphia, but especially at the Magic Gardens at 1020 South Street.
As you can see from all of the pictures in this post which were taken at the Magic Gardens, Isaiah's work is amazing! His mosaics cover half a city block with an indoor gallery and a massive outdoor labyrinth of tiles, mirrors, and found items from the local community. A true example of trash to treasure!
As I stepped into Philadelphia Magic Gardens, I was both shocked and awed at what Isaiah had created and was thankful to those who had worked so hard to preserve his work and keep it from the wrecking ball.
Though the website for the Philadelphia Magic Gardens calls Isaiah's work folk art, I feel it is more in line with visionary art, especially in that there is no true tradition of creating walls out of found items which are then covered in mosaics. Isaiah had a vision that was his alone, borne out of listening to his inner voice, and turning that voice into what lay before my eyes.
It really is impossible to take in all that Isaiah has created in one visit. There are just so many nooks and crannies to investigate. Welcoming chairs throughout encourage one to sit and contemplate the surroundings.
A free mind, unencumbered by expectations is what allowed this work to come to fruition. A reminder to me to let go when trying to bring any of my visions to the surface. To let my soul do the speaking and see what comes.
A tall two story wall in the foreground, large wall in the background, all covered with tiles and other assorted found items.
Philadelphia Magic Gardens Website, click here.