What is Outsider Art?


An interesting discussion came up the other day about outsider art. I’d never heard the term “outsider art” until I was getting my BFA, and basically the instructor said something along the lines of “look at how interesting Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls are, and now none of you can ever be a part of it because you are here in a classroom”. My understanding is that outsider art is made by people on the fringes of society, people who have no real foundation in formal art lessons and are not involved in any sort of artistic community. Also that “authentically” outsider art would probably come from someone with some sort of mental illness or fall within the autism spectrum. Like Daniel Johnston would be an example of that in a way, even though he has cult following interested in his art and music (see The Devil and Daniel Johnston)

Getting back to the discussion I overheard, apparently some people consider “outsider art” to be anyone who hasn’t show in gallery’s or publications, or synonymous with “amateur” or “primitive”. I feel those words have completely different connotations and are some what derogatory soI turned to the internet to help myself better define the term, and this is what I found:

The term ‘Outsider Art’ was introduced as the title of Roger Cardinal’s book in 1972 and was originally intended to act as an exact English equivalent to Dubuffet’s term [Art Brut], although from the outset it encompassed not only Art Brut but also works in the Neuve Invention category Over the years it has been used increasingly loosely and can often now refer to any artist who is untrained or with disabilities or suffering social exclusion, whatever the nature of their work.
(examples: Adolf WölfliJohann Hauser, Chomo, Bill Traylor, Schroder-Sonnenstern, Ferdinand ChevalSimon Rodia). -http://www.rawvision.com/

That description is fairly open to interpretation, but basically it is art made by social misfits. I found this article about former president George W. Bush and his new found intrest in painting. The article defined him somewhat jokingly as an outsider artist, but I do feel that it fits to a degree. I mean, he comes from no formal art background and would not be considered by most to “fit in” with the art scene. Is a qualifier for being an Outsider Artist that you have to make things that are good and not just unfounded in artistic tradition? I do like his dog paintings though.




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