First published: Spring 2024
Outsider art may be becoming trendy but does this constitute true acceptance by the mainstream art world? And is that desirable anyway?


Outsider art is a term that covers a wide range of styles and forms that have in common the fact that they come from places where you may not ordinarily expect to find art. It does not denote a particular movement, or tendency, but rather a kind of shared feeling among individuals mostly separated by time and space; namely, an intuitive reaction to the creative urge to communicate. Crucially, this is art that usually originates, and even sometimes circulates, in contexts that either know nothing of the art world, or care nothing for it. In the past, these contexts have included whole communities living remotely from large urban centres, the drawing rooms of spiritualists, the wards of closed psychiatric hospitals, and even private dwellings of individuals living more or less in social isolation.


Daniel Miller, Light, between 1992 and 2005, felt pen and oil pastel on paper, 15 x 11 in. / 38 x 28 cm


In other words, this is art that has been created emphatically away from the system of art schools, dealers, collectors, critics, galleries and art fairs that constitutes the regular contemporary art world in different times and places. Yet, not coming from the standard places is neither an indication of a lack of creative or even technical learning, nor of the works’ inferior quality. Some amazing art has emerged in the last 100 or so years, often challenging the received ideas of conventional art-world critics, collectors and museums; although, as is the case with art produced within the art-world system, not all outsider art is of high quality.


Rosemarie Koczÿ, Untitled, 1988, Indian ink on paper, 5.5 x 9 in. / 14.5 x 23 cm


While many in the art world ignored or mocked this art from “elsewhere”, some of the first people to see creative worth in it were themselves art-world artists who were part of western avant-gardes: Expressionists, Surrealists, and the like, from Paul Klee, Max Ernst and André Breton, to Karel Appel and Arnulf Rainer. It was the French artist Jean Dubuffet who, in around 1945, first gave it a collective name: art brut (literally “raw art”, although in French the word “brut” also carries other apt connotations of “originality”, being “unrefined”, and “authenticity”). The term “outsider art” was an attempt at finding an anglophone equivalent, coined by English academic Roger Cardinal for his history of art brut, published in 1972.




This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #119.

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