Raja Shehadeh Speaks About The Importance Of Self-Taught Artists

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The blog also includes great art about human nature by warli and self-taught artists.

The Art of Self-Taught Artists: Raja Shehadeh interviewed the most interesting self-taught artists in the world and asked them what they think makes a successful artist. This art blog shares their answers.

The interviews are enlightening, even for the most seasoned artist. It’s amazing what self-taught artists have to teach us!

Visit this blog to learn more about Warli art and its self-taught practitioners.

Great interview with Raja Shehadeh about Warli Art and Self-Taught Artists by Anuradha Mathur.

Raja Shehadeh is an English writer, human rights lawyer, political activist and community worker from Ramallah in Palestine. He has authored two highly successful books, “The Third Way: Journal of a West Bank Palestinian” (1999) and “Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape” (2005). He has written for various newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent. In 1993 he was awarded an Amnesty International award for his book “Palestinian Journey” in which he recounts his personal experiences regarding the first Intifada. As a result of his dedication to advocacy and activism, Raja received numerous awards including the Anna Lindh Journalism Award in 2003.

He is a founder member of the democratic secular movement called The Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center (DWRC), headquartered in Ramallah.

Raja’s most recent publication is “Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine”. It is a collection of short stories that focus on people’s lives during the occupation, their development, hopes and dreams.

Raja Shehadeh, an author and a lawyer, believes that self-taught artists are more open to experimentation, and do not get affected by what others think of them.

“In the West, you have art schools – which don’t produce extremely interesting or experimental work – because people are being told what to do,” he says. “It’s very restrictive in terms of what they can do.”

On the other hand, he says, “If you’re not trained but you’re doing it yourself, you’re not going to listen to anybody else. You will do what you want.”

Shehadeh says he is fascinated by the warli tribe’s art because its members only started painting about 15 years ago. Their paintings are usually based on their dreams and visions. “The idea of self-expression is new for them,” he says. “And they are also very much aware that it could be commercialised – it can make them money.”

Raja Shehadeh speaks about the importance of self-taught artists:

“I do not like labels. And I do not like to call the work of self-taught artists ‘naive art’ or ‘outsider art’. It is wrong in my opinion because what is naive is an attitude, and this attitude is not there in the work of these artists. These people had a very strong sense of themselves and their identity. They were not marginalized or isolated from society; they were absolutely part of it. The term outsider is also misleading as it suggests that these artists are ‘outside’ the mainstream and that they are seen as second class citizens from whom we should protect ourselves.”

“I think that what we need to understand when we look at the work of self-taught artists is that their work needs to be understood on its own terms rather than ours. This does not mean that we cannot learn from them, but I think that if you try to interpret them in your own intellectual or cultural framework, you will fail.”

“What I admire in the work of self-taught artists is their openness and their respect for both nature and others. In addition, they have an extraordinary capacity for imagination; they have a vivid inner life that

“So, you were self-taught? Where did you get your inspiration?”

“Inspiration is everywhere. You can find it in any object, but to me, it is nature that inspires. I see a lot of colours and forms in the sky and in objects like trees, leaves, birds and animals.”

The questions were coming thick and fast. I was returning from a visit to Warli country, a remote area of several hundred villages in the Thane district of Maharashtra where I had been photographing Warli paintings for the last three years.

The driver who had driven me down from Mumbai with my translator was probably quite used to his passengers asking questions about the area where he lived and worked, but this was different; this was my first time here too. And since I had spent most of my time on fieldwork in the company of Warli artists, or talking with them or watching them paint or discussing their art with them as we sat around their huts for hours at a time, it seemed logical that I should be able to answer some of these questions myself.

Paintings are made by hands, and hands can be trained. Simply learning to hold a brush or a pencil is an important first step. It’s no accident that artists’ handbooks have chapters on how to hold a pencil or paintbrush. The human hand is remarkably versatile, but we’ve all become accustomed to using it in just one way.

Taught artists, working from memory and from life, can tell at a glance if something is wrong with their picture. But the average untrained person can’t really see what’s wrong with his or hers; he or she will just know that it’s not quite right.

If you can’t see clearly what you’re doing wrong, how do you fix it? One solution, for some people, is to take lessons. But if you don’t have a teacher who can point out your faults and give you corrections, there are other possibilities as well. You might look at paintings by artists you admire and try to reproduce them.

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