Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Outsider Art: An Insider's Perspective?

detail from You Are Doomed., Earthling (variation 2) c 2015 (a)RTomens
Is this ^ Outsider Art?

How would it qualify? Must I suffer from mental health problems? Should it be a painting or sculpture rather than digital art? Where are the Outsider Digital Artists? Everywhere, possibly, if you take one look at what Google throws up under images of Digital Art. Not that more rubbish oddness is created digitally than by paint or sculptor's chisel. And yet, being more democratic in the sense of readily available tools and the methods of usage, there may well be more Digital Art Outsiders than in any other medium.

I watched the panel discussion, Don't Call Me Crazy: How We Fell in Love With Outsider Art this morning. Yes, we were busy in the department (as I call the hospital ward) but I could Work (that's my term for wandering the corridors shouting "Jean Dubuffet was nuts!" at everyone) whilst listening.

James Brett, founder of the Museum Of Everything, is on the panel. I've looked at their site a few times but it seems that the actual museum is no longer open. I haven't studied the art on display because, actually, I'm too much of an Outside Art-ist to be bothered. Not being bothered by what other artists do may or may not be symptomatic of an Outsider Artist. I don't know.

The terrible truth is that despite my best efforts (which amount to concentrated ten-minute search sessions, at most, because us Outsiders are so compelled to create that we can't spare much time) I find few artists with whom I feel a certain affinity...a bond, if you like. That's one problem with being Outside, no matter how hard you look, there's no In Crowd to join, even if you wish to, which I don't (until they come knocking).  As panellist David MacLagan said, quoting groucho Marx, I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. A funny thing to say, but quite untrue, actually, since I believe we would all like to be members of the perfect club for us. Many Outsider Artists who have achieved recognition willingly join the Art club. Why wouldn't they? It's a mistake (made by some of the Art In-Crowd) to assume that Outsiders wilfully remain where they are. They are Outside because there's no way in for them.

In his introduction to the book, Art Brut, (referred to by Jarvis Cocker in the panel discussion) Michel Thevoz says: 'It may be that art thrives in its healthiest form among these ordinary people, because practised without applause or profit, for the maker's own delight; and that the over-publicized activity of professionals produces merely a specious form of art.' It's an important point to bear in mind even now (the book was published in '76).

If Art Brut's initial phase, as kick-started by Jean Dubuffet in the late-40s, began as a minor interest (albeit with profound implications) it seems as if, in the guise of Outsider Art (official term) it now has a kind of kudos, allotted to it by gallery-owners, curators etc. Yet 'ordinary people' make art all the time without recognition no matter how unique their visions. I say 'unique', knowing full well that 'it has all been done before'. But I mean art which has the mark of the maker, the individual spirit of creation...perhaps 'it' is indefinable.

Are they all Outsider Artists? Or 'mere' amateurs? The irony is obvious; many more will remain Outside from lack of officially being blessed by curators of 'Outsider Art' than those who will get In. In this sense, it has become just another club in the Art World. A club which only the luckiest Outsiders will be invited to join should the 'right' people offer them membership.

Unlike those who have been (or still are) in the art education system, Outsiders create with no expectation of, or yearning for, success. This is what marks them out from the culturally programmed pack. Yes, we may all want success, but as a motivating force, it soon dissipates when the dream does not become reality within a certain (personal) time frame. What keeps an artist going is the desire to create. Some may call it a 'compulsion'. In the eyes of some, this does make the Outsider Artist 'crazy'. So be it, then. I applaud all Outsiders who do it because they must and to please themselves. In our materialistic world, 'pure' creation is a wonderful thing.

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