Outsider Art Research


LOGOS (panel 2)

1) History of Outsider Art

= Outsider Art is also known as Folk Art, Art Brut

= term “Art Brut” was coined in July 1945 by Jean Dubuffet while he was searching for “marginal works of art”

+ “Drawings, paintings, all works of art emanating from obscure personalities, maniacs; arising from spontaneous impulses, animated bynfantasy, even delirium; and strangers to the beaten track of catalogued art…Artistic works such as paintings, drawings, statues, and statuettes, various objects of all sorts, owing nothing (or as little possible) to the imitation of art that one can see in museums, salons, and galleries; but that in the contrary to humanity’s first origins and the most spontaneous and personal invention; works which the artist has entirely derived (invention and manner of expression) from his own sources, from his own impulses and humors, without regard for the rules, without regard for current convention.”

= term “Outsider Art” was first coined in 1972 by the British writer Roger Cardinal—it’s an English language equivalent to “Art Brut”

= artists typically work in solitude, secrecy, and anonymity with no audience in mind, no aspirations for public recognition

= artists are fundamentally different from their audience (often thought of as dysfunctional according to parameters of normality est. by culture) à dysfunctional according to psychological illnesses, criminality, gender, sexuality, anachronistic (underdeveloped), or because of a cultural identity/ religious belief that is significantly different

= because of the ideology of Art Brut (artist’s lack of want for public audience) it required a third party to discover and promote it

+ John Debuffet’s campaign for the recognition of outsider art consisted of naming, gathering, exhibiting, and formulating the specificity of this marginal form of creation

= no examples of Art Brut before the late nineteenth century have survived  (because remember to qualify as outsider art you must not seek public recognition and this category of art was not really recognized until after 1945)

+ however some movements, like the Incoherents led by Jules Levy in 1882 held “an exhibition of drawings executed by people who do not know how to draw,” represent the spirit of the movement

= Rodolphe Topffer studies children’s scribbles and art and how it progresses as   they grow older and technique is refined

+ similarly to Art Brut he found that “..the child protected from all artistic study or training, delivers a virgin drawing freed from the imitative will, without slavishly trying to copy his model.  On the contrary, his hand as it  draws is guided solesly by the intention of thought – the idea.”

= For this reason, artists like Paul Klee, Gabriele Munter, Wassily Kandinsky, and  Franz Marc chose to include childhood works in their collections

= Mid 1900s spiritualism begins to appear in industrialized regions of England, Belgium, and northern France because of the growth of the proletariat as  well as the rural exodus — therefore there is a need to “renew clandestinely their   ties to their predecessors.”

+ Victor Hugo consulted the spirits with aid of séance table and “entered into contact” with Aristophanes, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Moliere, and Galileo who “guided his drawings on hundreds of sheets of paper” — he used pen/ pencil but also ink blots, prints, folding, scratching, and tearing, and experimented with unusal methods such as beard feathers, scraps of paper, burned matches or coffee grinds (similar to the methods and materials of many outsider artists)

= Folk art, tribal art, prehistoric art, and children’s drawings were being discovered simultaneously

= asylum patients: Wolfli, Muller, and Corbaz are classic examples of Outsider artists as well as mediums: Madge Gill, Augustin Lesage, and Laure Pigeon as well as non-psychotic artists: Gaston Chaissac, Scottie Wilson

= “Compared with ‘insider’ movements in western art such as Impressisonism or Cubism, which functioned in socially sophisticated ways, individual outsider creators seldom even know of each other, let alone form a cohesive group. In other words, Outsider Art does not follow the usual art-historical movement. Instead, its descriptors tend to be based on sociological and psychological factors that are held together primarily by commonly made claims by Outsider Art’s apologists about the artists’ fundamental difference to or antagonism towards a supposedly dominant cultural norm.”

= Fairly recent acceptance of the term Outsider Artist in the United States has to do with an increased public interest in work produced outside mainstream culture and the rise of post-modernism

= “The discovery of Outsider Art relies on the chance encounter. It becomes art only in the act of naming, though this in no way alters its intrinsic qualities. It is seductive whether visible to a wide audience, or hidden from view entirely, and in this sense possesses a tantalizing and fragile presence…”

= in the US a new genre of largely rural, self-taught, compulsive art had emerged  which is distinctly different from Contemporary Folk Art and can be seen in the works of artists Mary T. Smith, Bill Traylor, Sam Doyle, Mose Tolliver, Leroy Person, Herman Bridgers, Steve Ashby, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, James Hampton

2) History of Outsider Art in NC

= Past examples

= Current Examples

= Nation/World-wide Recognition

3) How does Outsider Art fit into the local art movement?

= Are the artists involved in the community? Are they promoting themselves?

= How has the local population responded to their artwork/

= Within the local art movement, is it categorized by itself?

Unused Logos Information

What does it mean to be an outsider artist?

It may seem like you have to have a certain amount of craziness to be considered a so-called “Outsider Artist.” Or at the very least that you have to exhibit one of the “early warning signs.”  [Yes, Annie Hooper was a little off her rocker, but didn’t that make her creations all that more extraordinary?] However the fact of the matter is that outsider artists do not have to exhibit the early warning signs nor have a mental disability that would make them seem insane; most do not. Beside James Harold Jennings, none of the artists introduced in the previous flap have an acknowledged mental disorder.

The title “Outsider Artist” does seem to be given mostly to individuals who live their lives outside of the “normal” social groups and settings.  But the outsider artist may consider him or herself a member of a group that is only slightly wacky by society’s standards. The thing that really makes an individual an outsider artist is why he/she creates the artwork that he/she does!

 Why do outsider artists create art?

Outsider artists make the things they do for many reasons. Many people appreciate their art because they believe that it is an act of pure expression and “automatism.” Automatism is a spontaneous behavior that one performs unconsciously. For an outsider artist, automatism is when they are overcome with the urge to draw or make. Some outsider artists feel guided by a higher power, spirit, or even an invisible hand when they are creating. This type of creation (automatism) results in passionate, messy illustrations with a certain amount of tangible intensity. The work is not made to be graded good or bad so the artist’s true style and “inner self” is revealed.

In reality, most outsiders’ art is in response to some sort of dramatic change in their life that upsets them emotionally and puts them in an unfamiliar situation. Their artistic expressions can also stem from a desire to show others how they view the world or even try to convince others of the correctness of their religious beliefs or superstitions. Very few outsider artists are residents of a mental institution, but many of those that are create their artwork to cope with their disorders or in response to the visions they may have.

“Outsider Art [this] gets [derives] as much power from its usefulness to its makers as from the way it appears visually [its formal aesthetic qualities]. These artworks are well-made tools designed to help the artist come to grips with the mysteries surrounding ordinary living. The art allows the artist to reach out of isolation and say, ‘Here I am come see what I have made.” In the end, an outsider artist wants to prove to people he is valuable and to earn attention. Isn’t that what we all want at some level?

Dealing with Strong Emotions

– Death of a Loved One

– Lonliness

– Depression

Events Outside their Control

– Retirement

– Accident

Religious Beliefs

Express Visions


Attract Attention

Prove Their Value to Society

Cope with the Realities of their World

Some art historians believe that to be an outsider artist you must have no knowledge of the audience that you are creating for and that as an outsider, you can have no direct contact with the people who are interested in your work either for purchase or enjoyment. Could you imagine how hard that would be today? Many of the artists that we’ve discussed function well in society, know of and even follow other outsider artists, and they will personally sell their artwork to those who are interested.

Materials/Tools/Processes (transition from why they create art to “they do it out of need, etc. so the materials they use are the ones that they have available_ this frequently results in the use/reuse of found trash/objects) (then transition to recycling) (then subtly encourage kids to create their own art

“The spectrum of Outsider Art is now so broad that it is hard to find any obvious common feature, except that it is something that strikes us as extraordinary, both in its choice of materials – Outsiders have a penchant for recycling – and in its content – often an unsettling combination of the crude and innocent – and that seems to have been created out of the blue.”

ETHOS (panel 1)

1) Why do they participate in outsider art?

= Walter Morgenthaler and Hans Prinzhorn published studies on the works of the insane in 1921 and 1922

+ attribute “an esthetic dimension to works of the mentally ill”

+ Dr. Morgenthaler examines the works of Adolf Wolfli à tries to determine his artistic style before he examines his pathological traits à publishes Wolfli’s works and attribute them to his name because “for him the artist mattered as much to him as the insane patient”

+ Hanz Prinzhorn releases a book containing his research of more than 5000 works by the mentally ill à collected Karl Brendel’s famous chewed bread/ wooden sculptures, Peter Moog’s watercolors of biblical scenes

à according to Prinzhorn “no single trait distinguished the art of a madman” from the work of a “normal” creator

+ psychiatric studies into the works of the insane increased at the end of the 1800’s

+ psychiatrists like William A. F. Browne, Lombroso, Marie, Ladame, Steck  and Ferdiere collected important works of the insane and                                                 established collections because they valued “not only the expressive                                   values of the art of the insane but also aware of the importance of                                              preserving and presenting them.”

= Psychiatric patients, self-taught visionaries, and mediums are groups at the heart of early definitions of outsider art

= producers exist outside of “normal” cultural and psychological society and when their work is introduced to the public, they are put in an unfamiliar position

= “The answer to the question as to whether one has to be a social outsider to be   an outsider artist seems to be in the affirmative, but the definition of this is relative. In other words, you may be part of a culturally marginalized group and  function perfectly well in that context, but marginal all the same in relation to the culture of art consumption.”

= direct engagement with the art market is frowned upon because it implies that the artist has some ambition and awareness of an audience

= Pure expression?

+  “honest sense for the beautiful and the appropriate. But since their sensibility differs from ours; the forms, colours and relationships of their works appear to us as strange, bizarre, and grotesque: crazy.” p. 58,                                   Outsider Art:  Spontaneous Alternatives

= Art Therapy

+ widespread use of therapeutic drugs changed the desperate creativity and image making of those with a mental illness making it more ordinary

+ this raises two major issuses that exist within Outsider Art

1) the Romantic emphasis placed on expression rather than technique

2) reveals the continued survival of the idea that the most artistic expression is linked to suffering

+ Art therapy in hospitals and outreach programs of the 1960s are often considered the demise of outsider art

+ art holds at bay or controls forces that might otherwise spill into full- blown psychosis (ex] Rosemarie Koczy experienced the Holocaust and depicted its forms in order to express the hope that exists in humans evenin their most deporable state)

+ Art therapy does not expect producers to be artists in any sense of the word

= Explain a Constructed World

+ strive to construct and explain a world and most of the time pieces are packed with a combo of word and image

+ “develop complex iconographies and linguistic systems in order to protect themselves and their ideas from perceived threats”

+ outsider artists require a super-abundance of information and description about their own world

+ usually by constructing the world they live in they can better deal with their reality of harsh living conditions (poverty, incarceration in psychiatric hospitals or prisons, or social marginalization) HOWEVER Outsider Art does not equal simple escapism

= Superstition?

= Dealing with Strong Emotions/ Depression?

+ Henry J. Darger lost his mother shortly after the birth of his sister when he was four, his sister was given up for adoption, and his day abandoned him at 12 and he was placed in an asylum but escaped 5 years later à these events caused him to write 15000 typed pages with 300 illustrations about an epic battle between good and evil in a terrifying world wracked by war and natural disease

2) Religion?

= mediumistic creation and spiritualism in the early 1900’s was an attempt to recapture pure artistry because it would allow you to achieve a “semi-conscious, passive state conducive to the channeling of unconscious messages from the beyond”

+ Surrealists support automatism in their creative process

+ Experimentation with hypnosis flourishes

+ Dubuffet collection grows to include the works of Augustin Lesage, Fleury Joseph Crepin, Madge Gill, Jeanne Tripier, and Laure Pigeonwhich moved their works from spiritualist art to “Art Brut”

= Monsiel was an untreated schizophrenic who began to produce work that depicted hallucinations of Christ and the Devil then he began to draw a more rigidly controlled image of the world dominated by the human face à through his creation he was able to reverse his role from being threatened to threatening the world with his moral power communicated directly from God

3) Techniques of Outsider Art

= Tools and Techniques?

+ practice of bringing together several separate small elements is a common practice (derived from working like this out of absolute necessity)

+ all materials have a lack of preciousness

+ purpose of the medium is always to convey meaning and never to signal its own value in material terms

+ tool kit of hammers, corkscrews, utilitarian objects (peach carver)

+ teeth as pliers (child making car in Haiti)

= Materials?

(usually dictated by availability and expressive need, before art therapy most patients were forced to improvise in the art materials that they used)

(use of ‘salvaged materials’ and ‘detritus of the modern world’ “has perhaps endeared it to 20th century Western visual artists more than any other)

(“transformed the commonplace by paying it rapt attention” p. 158 Outsider Art)

+ paper

+ canvas

+ walls of hospital rooms, houses, etc.

+ foreign dictionaries (Walla)

+ chewed bread (sculptures)

+ picture making using boot polish

+ embroidery using yarn from unpicked clothing

+ laundry lists, flattened paper cups which he glued together with paste made from mashed potato or glued bread (Ramirez)

+ rolled sheets of paper

+ newspaper

+ wooden pailings

+ iron roofing sheets (Mary T. Smith, Sam Doyle, Leonard Daley)

+ organic decaying matter (Michael Nedjar)

+ shell and bottle gardens (Litnanski’s Jardin du Coquillage, Tressa ‘Grandma’ Prisbrey’s famous Bottle Village à began as a way to construct a wall around her plot of land but then developed into a collection of houses for her pencil collections)

+ steel and colored cement inlaid with bottles, shells, ceramic fragments and other similar materials bearing the impressions of tools and other objects (skeletal structures and towers built by Simon Rodia in Los                                     Angeles 1920s)

= Found Art (an expansion of, if desired)

+ if an empty Coke bottle is given to a tribe in Africa, they will findcreative ways of using it, inventing! à “They artfully transform it, from its most recent state as a piece of Westerner’s trash, to a new status of tribal treasure. At least that’s the way we see it. For the Kalahari Bushmen, the process appears to be one not so much of reusing but of creating anew; not so much transforming, as inventing.”

(p. 9 Recycled Reseen)

+ objects made from found objects often have the mark of two distinct domains each with its own materials, meaning, makers, and users like objects of Western culture combined with third world objects/sensibility

+ different objects have different lifespans – different degrees of permanence and disposability

+ this recycling is of a different scale than the automated sequence of events in recycling in industrialized nations motivated by waste management, global greening and ecological awareness à recycling of objects is small scale, hand done, local

+ process of transforming something that someone has thrown away is taking place in urban America in addition to remote corners of the globe

+ trash/rubbish is by definition an object that is not owned by anyone and falls outside all categories of economics, culture, and social control—often takes on negative connotations as unsanitary, dangerous, unorganized

+ many objects have an inherent “designed obselecence”

+ a lot of times a person’s wealth is measured in “the amount they throw away”

+ “The United Nations estimates that 2 percent of the people in cities in non-industrialized countries make a living from the refuse discarded by the richest ten to twenty percent. [Germer 1991]” (p. 17 Recycled Reseen)

+ the recycled object: “Like collage in art or quotation in literature, the recycled object carries a kind of ‘memory’ of its prior existence. Recycling always implies a stance toward time – between the past and present – and often a perspective on cultures – one’s own and others.”

+ Richard and Judith Lang = Beach Plastic

(1999 started collecting plastic debris from a 1,000 yards of Kehoe Beach in Northern CA and now they make mixed media pieces who make visual art, sculpture, exhibitions, and jewelry from found plastics; first piece was a trophy piece, a trophy fish made from plastic…har, har; then they got invited to exhibit at a local gallery with first exhibit entitled “Two People, One Beach, One Year”) [beachplastic.com]

= What does it mean to recycle?

= By using “blank” material, the artist is preventing “blank”

= Environmental Conciousness/ Sustainability/ Green Movement à Are they motivated by these? Are they aware of these? If not, discuss what they are doing to contribute unknowingly. (This will emphasize the easiness of recycling to the audience.)

5) How does the artist interact with his or her environment?

= Is it a created fictional environment? Does it matter?

= Creating an environment

6) Artists’ beauty in relation to what they create

= descriptors based on sociological and psychological factors

PATHOS (panel 3)

1) Personal Stories of Outsider Artists

= Annie Hooper

= Giorgos Rigas

= Lee Groban

= Royal Robertson, LA sign painter

2) Supporters of Outsider Art

= Brushes with Life: The Journey of Art à UNC neurosciences hospital   showcases artists in an exhibition only permitting artists with mental illnesses

= The Museum of Everything

= Outsider Art Fair, NY

= Testimonies

2) Encouraging Students to explore “outsider art”

ART OF THE INSANE (additional research)

Hans Prinzhorn “Artistry of the Mentally Ill” 1922

  • “The public has recently heard a great deal about “mad art,” the “art of the mentally ill,” “pathologic art,” and “art and insanity.” We are not overly happy with these expressions. The word “art” includes a value judgment within its fixed emotional connotations. It sets up a distinction between one class of created objects and another very similar one which is dismissed as “nonart.” The pictorial works with which this study is concerned and the problems they present are not measured according to their merits but instead are viewed psychologically.”
  • References the studies of a psychologist Mohr
  • Pieces are usually made of “curiosities”
  • Type and Origin of art by the mentally ill:

1) “Works of inmates of institutitions – by men and women whose illness is not in doubt

                        2) “Works are spontaneous and arise out of the patients’ own inner needs without any kind of outsie inspiration”

                        3) “We are dealing primarily with patients who were untrained in drawing and painting”

Roger Cardinal “Cultural Conditioning” 1972

  • Cultural perceptions and the way people have been taught can influence what is thought of as “art”
  • Therefore if a critic or teacher belittles non-traditional art or art that does not fit within the artistic movement of the time, “layman” will perceive the art as “bad”
  • “Instead, the teacher bowed before the prevailing wind emitted by the Establishment, and could consent to find objective beauty only in the place marked out by a superior order. “

John M. MacGregor, “The Discovery of the Art of the Insane” 1989

  • “Twentieth-century artists in particular were challenged by this new art, and their own image-making activity changed in response to it. Certainly, the art of this century was influenced by the discovery of the art of the insane. The encounter of artists with this art, and their varying intellectual and pictorial responses to it, is part of the story of its discovery.”
  • “But the primary influence of the art of the insane on modern art is to be found not in superficial formal similarities or coincidences of subject matter, but rather in the increasingly close proximity of these two forms of art, and in terms of the territory they both explore.”

Jenifer P. Borum, “ABCD: A Collection of Art Brut” 2001

  • “art brut” – term means raw art (art that hasn’t been influenced by high cultural aesthetic ideals and art trends)
  • “ What we mean is anything produced by people unsmirched by artistic culture, works in which mimicry, contrary to what occurs with intellectuals, has little or no part. So that the makers (in regard to subjects, choice of materials, means of transportation, rhythms, kinds of handwriting, etc.) draw entirely on their own resources rather than on the stereotypes of classical or fashionable art.”

Jon Thompson, “The Mad, the ‘Brut,’ the ‘Primitive,’ and the Modern: A Discursive History”) 2006

  • “Paradoxically, despite his (Debuffet’s) passionate interest in the work of artists who lived and worked independently of the mainstream and his pioneering work in bringing such work together as a collection, he remained a convinced ‘separatist’. He wanted the achievements of these artists to be recognised but kept apart from the art of the Modernist, or as he called it ‘academic’, mainstream.”
  • “image-wise Art Brut figures as a pure, stylistically autonomous, a historical, unschooled art, arising out of the burning inner necessity of individuals who are detached from cultural processes and institutions and exist beyond the margins of ‘normal’ society.”


“It must be admitted that most of the productions of the certified insane are either puerile or hopelessly chaotic, and still more absolutely devoid of meaning to the casual critic. Nevertheless, to the psychologist and philosopher even the most immature attempt at self-expression of the imbecile or demented has its profound significance.”

– The British Medical Journal, May 30, 1908 commenting on M. Reja’s “L’Art Chez Les Fous”

à Could discuss the ethos of outsider art/art of the insane — how it is perceived in relation to modern mainstream art/art trends and how it is received by the public

Theo B. Hyslop, M.D., “Post-Illusionism and Art in the Insane” October 1916, p. 34



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s