Outsider Art has its origins in the french Art Brut movement coined by the french artist, Jean Dubuffet, in the mid nineteenth century. The terms, in both languages, generally refer to art that is produced by self-taught artists, although it has also, at times, referred to artists who battle mental illness, and are compelled to produce art as therapy.
I first learned about “outsider art” about a year ago while researching art that I liked on Pinterest. I realized that a lot of the art that I was collecting had the title “outsider art” and so I specifically searched this term and found of treasure trove of art that fit the style of art that I preferred, all of which I saved to this board, with a couple photos below for reference.
The more that I learned about art and different styles of art, as well as art history (albeit very limited) the more I realized that I liked outsider art and styles of art like it. And so I felt it would be interesting to explore and explain exactly what it is about this style of art that I find intriguing.
And in fact intriguing is a good word to start with because what first draws me to outsider art is some level of intrigue. The uniqueness of outsider art is immediately compelling, but it is the message embedded within that uniqueness that creates a feeling of curiosity and intrigue.
Outsider art is not necessarily (or even often) purely aesthetically attractive. There is much more often an emphasis on a message or an emotional mood that the artist is compelled to communicate. Often technically blunt there is nothing subtle about this kind of art. It can be raw, brut, naive, yet packed with authenticity.
This is what I love the most about outsider art. At its best it is 100% authentic non pretentious pure creation. In a world where authenticity is a rare commodity I find outsider art to be a reliable source of legitimate originality. It is not trying to convince you that it is something that it’s not. It’s not often an intellectual iteration on a previous evolution in painting technique. It’s most often than not, exactly what it looks like a raw emotive communication of naive emotions that come from within.
I find the authenticity of outsider art to be refreshingly legible and at the same time it is simple and accessible for lay people such as myself. Technical ability does not exclude one from participating, it’s more about trying to find an authentic voice and listening to yourself, than achieving technical ascendancy. At the risk of demonstrating how little I actually know about art, it seems to me that other modern forms of art such as abstract art, modernism, cubism, and some impressionism require a high level of either sophistication, art history understanding, or social signalling (read bullshitting) to appreciate. I’m sure there is amazing amazing work being done in these areas. It’s just sometimes a little beyond me to be honest.
Outsider art on the other hand is humble. With no training, and just a little exposure I can start to formulate an opinion about what the artist was trying to communicate, about the emotional and psychological state of the artist, and what I like and why.
It’s fascinating and true that way.
But don’t mistake it’s simplicity for lack of sophistication. Making unique marks that are authentic requires a certain type of sophistication. It’s not always explicitly understood sophistication, and it doesn’t always hit the mark. But when it does, what outsider artists at times capture is a slice of the complexity of life and our sometimes tortured relationship within it.
And it is for this reason that I love outsider art.