Works by Michael Banks. Michael is a rising young artist from Alabama. His style continues to grow by leaps and bounds. You can find out more about him here.


I've been collecting Outsider Art for nearly ten years. Now, this certainly does not make me an "expert", but I have become fairly obsessed with collecting, and I'm happy to share the things I've learned along the way. You shouldn't take everything I say (and certainly everything you read on the internet) as the gospel truth. Appreciating art is about aesthetics, and yours are probably different than mine. Stick with your own opinions, they're as right as anybody else's, and don't let anyone tell you what to like or dislike. The best piece of advice I can give you is that if a work of art makes you happy then it's a good piece of art.


If your primary interest in folk art is financial, if you're buying this art as an investment, my advice is: don't. This is a relatively new field of art and it's unclear how well any individual piece will hold its value in the future. If you want to make money, there are better ways to do it. That said, I could probably sell any piece of art in my collection for more than I paid for it. However, I have no intention of selling anything off, and have never bought a piece with the sole intention of selling it.

This art should be judged for the pleasure it brings the viewer, not for its financial worth. If you like a piece, if it makes you happy, then it's a valuable piece. Having occasionally briefly worked in a gallery, I can't tell you how many customers asked me which piece was "worth more". My answer then, as it is now, is that the piece you like the best is worth the most. For me, this type of art has a visceral appeal. It strikes me on an almost cellular level, rather than on an intellectual one. You should never let anyone else tell you what's "good" and what has "value". There are many well known artists whose work draws huge prices that do absolutely nothing for me. And there are artists that I find appealing who aren't favored by the big shot critics. Buy for yourself, as you're the person who will have to look at the art every day.

Mermaid whirligig by Mark Casey Milestone, from Winston-Salem, NC


Probably the greatest joy from collecting this kind of art is that you can easily meet the artists. The experiences I've had, and the friendships I've made with artists are worth far more to me than owning the actual art. When you get to know an artist, and hear their story firsthand, the art takes on new meaning. Now every time I look at a Jimmie Sudduth painting in my house, I think of his sly smile and the wonderful afternoons I've spent in Fayette.

I've seen more than 30 artists and I've yet to have a bad experience with any of them. Most artists want people to see their work, and love to meet fans. These people are happy to invite you into their homes and work spaces and spend as much time with you as you'd like. You can buy work directly from most artists at a fraction of the cost you'd pay in an art gallery (of course when you do this you're limited in selection to whatever the artist has on hand).

I'm happy to share any information I can (addresses, phone numbers, directions) on how to go see these artists (e-mail here). If you do go, please be respectful. Remember you are a guest in their home. Don't haggle with the artist over prices. You shouldn't feel like you're obliged to buy something if you don't see anything you like. If the artist asks for a certain price, that's what the work is worth, either buy it or don't buy it, don't try to talk them down. And please, don't interfere with the creative process. So many times I've seen people come into an artist's house and try to tell them what to do, and it sickens me. People will stand over an artist and direct them as they paint. It's a complete perversion of the art. This is about the personal inspiration and vision of the artist, not about you. If you want a specific painting done a specific way, then do it yourself. I have no problem with going to an artist and asking for a type of painting I know they do, but I stay out of the way and let them do it as they see fit. Some artists won't take requests. Mose Tolliver, for example, would farm out most commissions to his family members (and then sign his name after they'd done the painting).

So just go and enjoy yourself. Take a long weekend and go meet some amazing people. So many great artists are elderly and in poor health that if you put it off for long, you may never have a chance to meet them. Go now and you won't be kicking yourself in a few years....

"A Sunset at Raimbilli Hill Cousins" by Gayleen Aiken, an artist from Vermont. You can learn more about Gayleen, and the GRACE program here.



Ab The Flagman