- Outsider Art -

“Outsider Artist” is a term generally applied to those artists who create their work outside of the influences of official art culture. True outsider artists create in a vacuum and are generally bereft of the thoughts and ideas of their contemporaries who create works for consumer consumption and mass production. These artists are often seen as having a condition of circumstance (i.e. a mental disorder) which serves to further isolate them from the mainstream. Outsider artists, as a rule, have no formal education in the arts, instead relying on the use of improvised forms and methods in their work.

Oftentimes this type of work is seen as primitive when compared to more readily available decorative art, or even well-established and well-known work. The outsider artist also tends to create out of what may be called an imperative rather than creating commissioned works for profit. It can be seen in many of the different realms of the art world, be it film, music, paint, or sculpture. There is a myriad of forms which the works may take. Outsider art is not usually considered part of a movement and is generally only distinguished by the nature of its creators.

Being a society of free enterprise, there are some who attempt to capitalize on the creation of these works. In New York, for example, there is an Outsider Art Festival, the goal of which is to sell and make known the pieces and the artists who create them. The festival seems to be quite popular, enduring since 1992. One might ask if it is wrong to personally benefit and gain from those who create in a fractured state. It is often the case, however, that outsider artists go unnoticed. The talent and work of these individuals are largely undiscovered until the artists’ deaths.

It is human nature, it seems, to categorize ideas for easy reference. Art, however, cannot be placed in file cabinets to suit genre needs. Art serves to suit the needs of its creators, whether those needs be self-expression, self-destruction, or anything else. Those who attempt to call it by any other name are often trying to sell an idea. Once the idea is sold, it is packaged and mass produced and thus can no longer be considered on the outside.


Jason R. Willhelm