Atlanta author Andrew Dietz's The Last Folk Hero puts a local spin on the ongoing debate surrounding Southern folk art. Sometimes comic, sometimes cautionary, Dietz's book chronicles the career of Buckhead folk art promoter (and organizer of the High Museum's current Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibition) Bill Arnett and his relationship with the black artists who some say he exploits and others claim he champions.
Why is folk art still such a battleground?
The issues that come up in The Last Folk Hero are centered on folk art and they are equally knotty when applied to just about any art form. What's art, and what isn't, and who has the right to say? What is exploitation, and what isn't, and who has the right to say? How should art be valued and how -- intentionally or unintentionally -- does the race and socioeconomic class of the artist impact that?
Of all the personalities you wrote about, who stayed with you the most?
It was the artists that were the most fascinating to me, Lonnie Holley and Thornton Dial in particular. Very different but both driven to create and express themselves in a way they were unable to earlier in their lives.
What do you want readers to take away from your book?
The United States was built on self-expression. Today cultural cynicism has settled over many of our communities resulting in declining creativity. Heroic creativity is about the acts of people who, despite awful circumstances, choose to put some positive form of self-expression into the world.
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