How do I know if someone I want to use for a service is not a hack or a quack? I look at their credentials. If I need a doctor, I want to see a diploma from a prestigious school and an association with a well-known hospital. Credentials—that wonderful 19th century invention—are crucial to my choices of a lawyer or a CPA or any other professional. But, like many good things in America, we’ve taken the idea of credentials and run it into the wall. Does a master’s in journalism mean someone can write? Does an MBA confer good business judgement?

Nowhere is the absurdity of our reliance on credentialing more apparent than in art. The Prix de Rome for two centuries was Europe’s most prestigious painting award. Between 1860 to 1870, the winners included Léon Perrault, Diogène-Ulysse-Napoléon Maillard, Jules Machard, Henri Regnault, Édouard-Théophile Blanchard, Luc-Olivier Merson, Jules Joseph Lefevbre, André Hennebicq, and Gustave Huberti. These artists were the darlings of the academy and the salons of Paris.

During the same decade, a bunch of scruffy no-account types who hung around the cafes of Paris were inventing a new form of seeing. Every time they applied for a scholarship, submitted to a prize jury, or tried to enter a prestigious exhibit, they were rejected. Their names were Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissaro, Cezanne, and Manet.

The lesson is to not pay attention to credentials. Pay attention to the art.

That lesson came home to me several months ago over lunch with John Sughrue, owner of the Fashion Industry Gallery in the Arts District. In preparation for the very successful Dallas Art Fair in February, John came across a small exhibit of local artists not represented by galleries. These people often work in obscurity, showing their work only at warehouse parties organized by friends and promoted by word of mouth. He was astonished by the quality of the work. I, too, have often been amazed at works I saw by people I’ve never heard of. Right then, we decided to hold our first-ever D Art Slam to showcase the largely unknown work of the best Dallas artists.

On May 29, you’ll have a rare opportunity to look inside a Dallas art world that is deeper and broader than you might expect. These are not the kind of artists who produce work to match the color scheme of your living room. They are highly individual, very exciting, often outrageous, sometimes playful, and at times brutal in the honesty of their visions.

This is a city that is coming into its own. Our best work is not by brand-name architects designing stellar new buildings, wonderful though they may be. Our best work is being done in garages and lofts and tiny studio apartments. On the D Art Slam, you will get the pleasure of discovering it.

For tickets and other information regarding the D Art Slam, go to www.d-artslam.com.