Outsider Art – Is It Really Art? – part 1

What actually is art? Give me ten people and I’ll give you ten different definitions of the word. What it means to you is as unique to you as your fingerprints. But who’s to say what qualifies as art, or fine art? What distinguishes the art of Jean Michel Basquiat from Rembrandt van Rijn? Besides the time differences, each artist’s art have been met with different types of criticism. Was one art, and the other just crummy art? Who’s to say?

What we can say though is there is an unmistakable mainstream art circuit with art dealers and galleries, critics and fine artists with or without their MFA’s. Sometimes this crowd can be quite pretentious and judges art in its own way, usually following the natural cycles of fads and trends. What’s hip today may be tomorrow’s old news. That’s just how it is.

Jean Buffet’s Dhôtel nuancé d’abricot, 1947

But true art and artistry can be found everywhere. Wherever there is creativity there is art. You don’t need to hang around in posh upper class galleries and drink expensive wine to be a real artist.

Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut

“Art Brut” in French literally means “rough” or “raw” art. This was translated to “Outsider Art” in English. It was started by the painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet to describe art that is outside of the official art culture. He knew the value of art which normally doesn’t hang on gallery walls but nonetheless should be recognized and not necessarily written off as lesser art.

Dubuffet mainly focused on the art of the mentally ill in insane asylums. One particularly noteworthy example was Adolf Wolfli. As a mental patient diagnosed with psychosis, he was an extremely prolific artist creating epic novels of 45 volumes with over 25,000 pages and 1600 illustrations. With minimal resources he would slowly create work after work with only one pencil and two sheets of paper a week at his disposal. This meant drawing on tiny bits of paper, using small stubs of pencils, and anything he could find or beg off of people to get his work done.

Wolfli’s work was often characterized as “schizophrenic art” with obsessive symmetry, ornamental patterns, reduced depth. Every piece of the paper is covered, leaving no white or empty space. Another similar work is by the psychiatric patient Friederich Schroder, who drew the “Swan Doll’s Dance of Death.” With a perfect mirror symmetry down the middle, the drawing shows a monster with a grotesque smile wearing a crown and holding his arms curving downward with birds’ heads for hands, combining animal with man.

By Daniel Kretschmer
Click here for part 2 of the article

Speak Your Mind