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Lady Eleanor

Eleanor Heartney helps us read between the lines.


At last month's opening reception for Now Read On: Jesse Howard & Roger Brown at the H&R Block Artspace, we met a woman with long, straight hair and small, round glasses. She excitedly recounted attending a previous lecture by Eleanor Heartney, one of the contributors to the show's catalog. Our new acquaintance had found the New York-based art writer and cultural critic to be intelligent, articulate and challenging. In short, we were told, it was a damned shame we'd missed it.

Lucky for us, Heartney makes her way to KC once again this weekend as one of four professionals in a symposium on creative process. After such a glowing recommendation, we wanted to know what she planned to contribute to the panel.

"Creativity is a very difficult thing to pin down, but one of the things I know I want to talk about is what it isn't," Heartney tells the Pitch. "It's not about finding the thing that pleases the greatest number. It's really about finding the thing that isn't particularly welcome at the moment it comes forward."

With that in mind, we asked how the creative processes of a self-taught artist like Howard, whose painted signs and sculpture filled his rural property on the outskirts of Fulton, Missouri, and Brown, a Chicago imagist who actually collected Howard's works, might intersect.

"Brown's savvy. His work fits into the continuum of contemporary art. But it [outsider art] challenges you in a way that work made within the system doesn't," Heartney says. "You can't apply your formal training — or, if you do, you're missing the point."

She's quick to point out, however, that there are similarities between the two men, and that work made by self-taught artists isn't automatically more authentic or pure just because they didn't attend art school.

"There's this notion that they [outsider artists] are naïve or magically struck by inspiration," Heartney explains. But she adds that Howard's worldview informs those hand-painted constructions. "It's just a context we're generally unfamiliar with."

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