First published: Winter 2010
At its core, artistic creation is a solitary affair: the artist is alone with their materials and their imagination. This is reflected in many creation myths, where a god creates the world out of solitude and loneliness. Probably most art is created under such circumstances of isolation and obscurity, but for obvious reasons we can never know how much. Only the tip of this iceberg appears in amateur art exhibitions.
A great deal of such work is not ‘original’: it pays more or less deliberate homage to conventions that are either traditional or Modernist. There is also the influence of what could be called a collective visual unconscious. Almost all the innovations of Modernism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstraction etc have been culturally digested and flushed into a sort of underground sewer of forms and styles. This also includes more popular recipes, as found, for example in comics, logos and other forms of imagery.To dip into this reservoir you do not have to have been to an art school: in fact those with only a superficial acquaintance with art are most likely to draw on it (doodling is a microcosmic example). Nevertheless, some of this work created in obscurity manages to come to light and has the stamp of originality.
The question then arises: how much of this could be called outsider art? The term has now been around for sixty years or more (since the foundation of the Compagnie de l’Art Brut in 1948). During that time the whole cultural landscape has fundamentally altered, including most of the artistic conventions that Dubuffet attacked with his notion of a popular, unsophisticated creativity. In addition, his initial conditions for extreme originality, social or psychological isolation, creative innocence and detachment from the marketplace, for example, have become almost impossible to maintain. Imaginary isolation has become harder because of the contamination of TV, the internet, iPods, mobile phones etc. Some writers believe that solitude itself is endangered.
Cultural innocence is also harder to maintain, partly because the category of outsider itself has become incorporated into the mainstream. And because many outsiders are discovered during their lifetime, they too have to cope with the commercial world just like other artists. It is not just that the actual survival of outsiders – the eccentrics, the visionaries, the outcasts – is endangered: what is also affected is our image of outsider-ness.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #71