Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology

Degree Type

Master of Art


The life and art of Bill John Roth offer a paradox to the study of folklore and folk art. The personal and public nature of Bill's art is exemplified through his mural Geographic Hieroglyphics In God's Own Handwriting. On the surface the art and artist are seemingly detached from the community, but upon closer investigation this is not the case. I have explored the notion of "outsider" art, the problems associated with artistic interpretation and the difficulties of labelling artists according to academic and elitist standards. Thus the contextual background of the artist and community are important aspects of this study and of any study concerned with the nature and process of creativity. The final product is not the only standard by which folk art should be judged. The ideas and thought processes behind the objects are what really contribute to the nature of the finished product. The purpose of this thesis is to use Bill's art as an example of the complexity involving the conflict between individual creativity and community tradition. Is this solely the artwork of an individual artist or work that represents involvement in the community? Through observation, analysis, tape-recorded interviews and public performances of identity, I have concluded that Bill's art is a product of community involvement. While his work challenges the traditional notions of folk art, it is contextually folkloric in nature.



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