Outsider Art Becomes Mainstream?
Collectors looking for "the next big thing" have embraced Outsider Artists.
In the late 80s and early 90s, my appreciation for art expanded at a fantastic speed. I went to art gallery openings and museum events almost weekly and absorbed a tremendous amount of knowledge. However, in hindsight, my understanding was limited by what I didn’t know, and I wasn’t particularly open to learning. While this is obvious and easy to say, when you are on a self-driven educational path, blind spots can be easy to miss.
When I started, I was primarily exposed to people who had some degree of validation as an artist, and they all followed a relatively traditional path. Everyone had at least a four-year degree, if not an MFA. They worked full-time as an artist or an arts educator that funded their artistic pursuits. Essentially the starving artist profile with which we are all familiar. They all had gallery representation, and some were even acknowledged by museum curatorial staff who bought for their institutions or offered shows. I still remember when the DIA showed Gilda Snowden’s work and bought a piece for the collection, and I thought she had achieved the pinnacle of recognition for an artist.
In hindsight, it was a very sophomoric view. My view was limited, and I missed a portion of the quality art being produced. My filters were designed to focus on what my environment identified as high-quality artists. I was trying to find the next Jeff Koons. I successfully filtered out much of the “bad” art, but I also filtered out some talented people who hadn’t followed the traditional path.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when friends acquired work by Purvis Young, that my education of “outside artists” began. I found these two definitions for “outsider art.”
Outsider artist can be defined as:
· Art produced by artists without formal training, especially those who work in an idiosyncratic style and are relatively isolated from mainstream artistic trends.
· art produced by untutored artists working by themselves and for themselves
One expert said of outsider art:
It’s about people making art with no (or minimal) artistic training and with no conventional (or minimal) connection to an art world, which, strictly speaking, is what they are “outside” of. It’s about them solving problems of creativity with their own internal resources rather than what they’ve been trained to do. It doesn’t have to mean — can’t mean — total isolation from all cultures, since that would require isolation from the world, period. But it means their artistic engagement with that culture is strictly on their own terms, whatever those terms might be.
Of course, it’s not really all that simple, and things get more complicated very fast. But rather than worrying about the labels, we should worry about the complications themselves. Ultimately, who cares about liking an artist because of what they’re labeled? Use whatever label you, or they, like. Care instead about valuing work by people whose creative efforts would otherwise be ignored because they are not part of an art world or they lack that conventional connection.
Outsider artists were first coined by the critic Roger Cardinal in 1972; the term ‘Outsider Art’ was initially employed as a synonym for ‘Art Brut.’ Jean Dubuffet created that label in the 1940s to describe works produced beyond the boundaries of the mainstream art world.
In the ensuing decades, the label has broadened to encompass work by artists who have not had any formal training and have never been part of the art establishment. Some of those described as outsiders have come from difficult circumstances, having experienced poverty or mental illness.
So who are the Outsider artists we should know about?
Christie’s is an excellent source of information about artists worth collecting. The head of Outsider Art at Christie’s, Cara Zimmerman, calls out the following artists:
Thornton Dial and Ronald Lockett
In another article, I thought it was interesting to see that Vincent van Gogh and Louis Armstrong were both famous self-taught artists.
Since 1993, New York and Paris have hosted the Outsider Art Fairs. The fairs showcase self-taught art from around the globe; The fairs include work from exhibitors alongside several curated spaces. The vibrant display of painting, drawing, sculpture, mixed media, ceramics, and book arts fills the venues with a palpable energy of color and creativity.
From the 2019 show, I found this article. “Six Inspiring Outsider Artists You Should Know from the 2019 show” by Scott Indrisek. Published Jan 18, 2019. Here is what he said about Vera Girivi which was shown by the James Baron. (you can google to find the others)
The painter Vera Girivi was happily doing work out of her bedroom studio in Genoa, Italy, sharing it on social media. James Barron got in touch via Instagram to see if she’d be interested in showing it more widely. Her modest canvases mostly depict nude women—generally alone, but sometimes in exuberant groups—standing or lounging in ornate interiors. The influence of
“Clothes are unimportant to me,” she’s quoted as saying in a wall text. “What’s important for me is what’s beneath the clothes: a beautiful woman or a heavyset woman, it makes no difference.”
Some of the top talents highlighted from the 2022 NY Outsider Art Show:
· Margaret Mousseau, ceramic masks, and colored pencil drawings. by
· Nicole Appel, known for her patchwork portraits, five of her signature drawing were recently purchased for the collection of renowned artist Kaws
· Karlheinz Weinberger, whose work predominantly explores outsider cultures and rebellious male youth.
· Rayed Mohammed; creates drawings in solitude
· Jeanne Brousseau. vivid, strikingly imaginative drawings of both shape-shifting humans and beasts
Want to see more? Here are some museums to visit in the US and internationally to see more outsider art.
American Folk Art Museum (New York)
American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore)
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (Chicago)
John Michael Kohler Arts Center (Sheboygan, Wisconsin)
Musee de l’Art Differencie (MAD musee) (Belgium)
Collection de L’Art Brut (Switzerland)
Adolf Wolfli Foundation (Switzerland)
House of Artists (Gallery Gugging) (Austria)
Lille Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art (France)
Samlung Zander (Germany)
Prinzhorn Collection (Germany)
Please don’t make the same mistake I did and create a barrier based on education. If Christie’s has a curator of Outsider Art and there are fairs focused on the body of work, it is a recognized movement. Artnet, Artsy, and even eBay all include Outsider Art. Sometimes gallerists and art consultants can also be excellent sources of information about outsider artists.