First published: Spring 2005
In an essay entitled 'La Vie profonde', the poet Maurice Maeterlinck writes that 'each man must find for himself a particular way of carving out a superior life within the humble and inevitable reality of the everyday'. He goes on to contend that everyone has a link to the infinite which they should seek to develop, and that, at some point in their lives, everyone is granted a revelation of their true spiritual being. I believe that those ignored and often underprivileged people whom we have come to designate as 'Outsider artists' are essentially people who have had such a revelation – an abrupt recognition that there is more to existence than its immediate, humdrum shell – and who have been bold enough to try to cast light upon the dark and profound aspects of their experience.
Typically, their artmaking will resemble a journey of exploration which penetrates the surface of normal consciousness and exhibits what the metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico refers to as 'the revealing symptom of the inhabited depth'.
Outsider artists are typically people who approach existence as if 'from scratch' – without prejudice, and with a minimum of educational or institutional safeguards. Defying any social, physical or intellectual deficit, they seem each to arrive at a critical moment in their lives when they feel the necessity to stand alone and tackle their situation without flinching.
Outsider artists feel compelled to address the strangeness of their lives; they like to ruminate upon its shapes and textures, and to fret over issues of metaphysical understanding which the average person has no time for. Often they show signs of mental and physical non-conformity, among which is an unusual passion for artmaking. Ignoring conventional standards, they handle their artefacts in ways which other people judge to be obscure, ugly or disquieting.
In their own eyes, what they make is not so much beautiful as appropriate, perfectly tailored to their unique expressive project. The criterion is internal, having to do with an intuitive sense of what is directly meaningful to the individual. And nothing is quite as meaningful as the meaning one carves out for oneself.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #50