Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The term Outsider Art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for Art Brut (which literally translates as "Raw Art" or "Rough Art"), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by insane asylum inmates.
While Dubuffet's term is quite specific, the English term "Outsider Art" is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or naive art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as Outsider Artists have little or no contact with the institutions of the mainstream art world, they often employ unique materials or fabrication techniques; much Outsider Art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.
In the years since Outsider Art has emerged as a successful art marketing category (an annual Outsider Art Fair has taken place in New York since 1992) the term is sometimes applied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people outside the "art world" mainstream, regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.
Art of the Insane
Interest in the art of insane asylum inmates had begun to grow in the 1920s. In 1921 Dr. Walter Morgenthaler published his book Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Psychiatric Patient as Artist) on Adolf Wölfli, a psychotic mental patient in his care. Wölfi had spontaneously taken up drawing, and this activity seemed to calm him. His most outstanding work is an illustrated epic of 45 volumes in which he narrates his own imaginary life story. With 25000 pages, 1600 illustrations, and 1500 collages it is a monumental work. He also produced a large number of smaller works, some which were sold or given as gifts. His work is on display at the Adolf Wölfli Foundation in the Museum of Fine Art, Berne. A defining moment was the publication of Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the mentally ill) in 1922, by Dr Hans Prinzhorn.
Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut
French artist Jean Dubuffet was particularly struck by Bildnerei der Geisteskranken and began his own collection of such art, which he called Art Brut or Raw Art. In 1948 he formed the Compagnie de l'Art Brut along with other artists including André Breton. The collection he established became known as the Collection de l'Art Brut . It contains thousands of works and is now permanently housed in Lausanne.
Dubuffet characterized Art Brut as:
- "Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses - where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere - are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professions. After a certain familiarity with these flourishings of an exalted feverishness, live so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade." - Jean Dubuffet. Place á l'incivisme = Make way for Incivism. Art and Text no.27 (Dec. 1987 - Feb 1988). p.36
Dubuffet argued that 'culture', that is mainstream culture, managed to assimilate every new development in art, and by doing so took away whatever power it might have had. The result was to asphyxiate genuine expression. Art Brut was his solution to this problem - only Art Brut was immune to the influences of culture, immune to being absorbed and assimilated, because the artists themselves were not willing or able to be assimilated.
The Cultural Context of the Outsider Art category
The interest in "outsider" practices among twentieth century artists and critics can be seen as part of a larger emphasis on the rejection of established values within the modernist art milieu. The early part of the 20th Century gave rise to cubism and the Dada, Constructivist and Futurist movements in art, all of which involved a dramatic movement away from cultural forms of the past. Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, for example, abandoned "painterly" technique to allow chance operations a role in determining the form of his works, or simply to re-contextualize existing "readymade" objects as art. Mid-century artists, including Pablo Picasso, looked "outside" the traditions of high culture for inspiration, drawing from the artifacts of "primitive" societies, the unschooled artwork of children, and vulgar advertising graphics. Dubuffet's championing of the art of the insane and others at the margins of society is yet another example of avant-garde art challenging established cultural values.
Definitions of these terms vary, and there are areas of cross over and grey areas between them. Raw Vision Magazine's website suggests that "Whatever views we have about the value of controversy itself, it is important to sustain creative discussion by way of an agreed vocabulary". Consequently they lament the use of Outsider Artist to refer to almost any untrained artist. "It is not enough to be untrained, clumsy or naïve. Outsider Art is virtually synonymous with Art Brut in both spirit and meaning, to that rarity of art produced by those who do not know its name."
Related terms include:
- Art Brut
- Raw art, 'raw' in that it has not been through the 'cooking' process the art world of art schools, galleries, museums. Originally art by psychotic individuals who existed almost completely outside culture and society. Strictly speaking it refers only to the Collection de l'Art Brut .
- Neue Invention
- Used to describe artists who although marginal have some interaction with mainstream culture, they may be doing art part-time for instance. The expression was coined by Dubuffet too; strictly speaking it refers only to a special part of the Collection de l'Art Brut .
- Folk art originally suggested crafts and decorative skills associated with peasant communities in Europe - though presumably it could equally apply to any indigenous culture. It has broadened to include any product of practical craftsmanship and decorative skill - everything from chain-saw animals to hub-cap buildings. A key distinction between folk and outsider art is that folk art typically embodies traditional forms and social values, where outsider art stands in some marginal relationship to society's mainstream.
- Marginal Art/Art Singulier
- Essentially the same as Neue Invention, refers to artists on the margins of the art world.
- Visionary Art/Intuitive Art
- Raw Vision Magazine's preferred general terms for Outsider Art. It describes them as deliberate umbrella terms. However Visionary Art unlike other definitions here can often refer to the subject matter of the works, which includes images of a spiritual or religious nature. Intuitive art is probably the most general term available.
- Another grey area. Described as untrained artists who aspire to "normal artistic status", i.e. they have a much more conscious interaction with the mainstream art world.
- Visionary environments
- Buildings and sculpture parks built by visionary artists - range from decorated houses, to large areas incorporating a large number of individual sculptures with a tightly associated theme. Examples include Watts Towers by Simon Rodia, and The Palais Ideal by Ferdinand Cheval.
Notable Outsider artists
- Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924) was a country postman in Hauterives, south of Lyon, France. Motivated by a dream, he spent 33 years constructing the Palais Ideal. Half organic building, half massive sculpture, it was constructed from stones collected on his postal round, held together with chicken wire, cement, and lime.
- Henry Darger (1892-1973) was a solitary man who was orphaned and institutionalised as a child. Near the end of his life, a vast book in 15 volumes with 15000 pages of text and hundreds of large scale illustrations was discovered in his one-room apartment. Darger's illustrations have been the center of interest in his work: maps, collaged photos and watercolors depict his child heros "the Vivian Girls"--who are often seen violently slaughtered, and who when nude often have male genitals--in the midst of battle scenes that combine imagery of the US Civil War with fanciful monsters.
- Madge Gill (1882-1961), was an English mediumistic artist who made thousands of drawings "guided" by a spirit she called "Myrninerest" (my inner rest).
- Alexandre Lobanov (1924-2003) was a deaf and autistically withdrawn Russian known for detailed and self-aggrandizing self-portraits: paintings, photographs and quilts, which usually include images of large guns.
- Martin Ramirez (1895-1963), a Mexican outsider artist who spent most of his adult life institutionalized in a California mental hospital (he had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic). He developed an elaborate iconography featuring repeating shapes mixed with images of trains and Mexican folk figures.
- Achilles Rizzoli (1896-1981) was employed as an architectural draftsman. He lived with his mother near San Francisco, California. After his death, a huge collection of elaborate drawings were discovered, many in the form of maps and architectural renderings that described a highly personal fantasy exposition, including portraits of his mother as a neo-baroque building.
- Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) was confined to a psychiatric hospital for most of his adult life during which time he produced a vast amount of drawings, text and musical composition. Wölfli was the first well-known "outsider artist," and he remains closely associated with the label.
- Raw Vision
- Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
- Adolf Wölfli-Foundation, Bern
- Henry Darger
- Palais Ideal
- Art & Psychosis
- Outsider Art World | Demirel Collection (engl.)
- Outsider Bildwelten | Sammlung Demirel (ger.)
- Jean Dubuffet: L’Art brut préféré aux arts culturels (=engl in: Art brut. Madness and Marginalia, special issue of Art & Text, No. 27, 1987, p. 31-33)
- Publications de la Compagnie de l'Art Brut - L'art brut, Vol. I-XX, Lausanne, Collection de l'Art Brut, 1964-1985
- L'Art brut, Exhb. cat. Musée des arts décoratifs, April 7-June 5, 1967, Paris, 1967
- Roger Cardinal, Outsider Art, London, 1972
- Roger Cardinal, Art Brut. In: Dictionary of Art, Vol. 2, London, 1996, p. 515-516.
- Harald Szeemann, Ein neues Museum für Lausanne. In: Id., Individuelle Mythologien. Berlin 1985
- Michel Thévoz, Art brut, New York, 1975
- John M. MacGregor, The Discovery of the Art of the Insane. Princeton, Oxford, 1989
- Parallel Visions. Modern Artists and Outsider Art. Exhb. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1992
- Allen S. Weiss, Shattered Forms, Art Brut, Phantasms, Modernism, State University of New York, Albany, 1992
- John Maizels, Raw Creation art and beyond, Phaidon Press Limited, London, 1996
- Self Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1998
- Colin Rhodes, Outsider Art, spontaneous Alternatives, London, 2000
- Lucienne Peiry, Art brut: The Origins of Outsider Art, Paris: Flammarion, 2001
- Foster, Hal, Blinded Insight: On the Modernist Reception of the Art of The Mentally Ill. In: October, No. 97, Summer 2001, pp. 3-30.
- Deborah Klochko and John Turner, eds., Create and Be Recognized: Photography on the Edge, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004
- Michael Krajewski, Jean Dubuffet. Studien zu seinem Fruehwerk und zur Vorgeschichte des Art brut, Osnabrueck: Der andere Verlag, 2004
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