Outsider Art: From the Margins to the Marketplace

Outsider Art: From the Margins to the Marketplace

David Maclagan

Language: English

Pages: 192

ISBN: 1861895216

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The term outsider art has been used to describe work produced exterior to the mainstream of modern art by certain self-taught visionaries, spiritualists, eccentrics, recluses, psychiatric patients, criminals, and others beyond the perceived margins of society. Yet the idea of such a raw, untaught creativity remains a contentious and much-debated issue in the art world. Is this creative instinct a natural, innate phenomenon, requiring only the right circumstances—such as isolation or alienation—in order for it to be cultivated? Or is it an idealistic notion projected onto the art and artists by critics and buyers?


David Maclagan argues that behind the critical and commercial hype lies a cluster of assumptions about creative drives, the expression of inner worlds, originality, and artistic eccentricity. Although outsider art is often presented as a recent discovery, these ideas, Maclagan reveals, belong to a tradition that goes back to the Renaissance, when the modern image of the artist began to take shape. In Outsider Art, Maclagan challenges many of the current opinions about this increasingly popular field of art and explores what happens to outsider artists and their work when they are brought within the very world from which they have excluded themselves.


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quest for ‘original’ forms of creativity also has a longer history, going back to the post-Renaissance emergence of the artist as an individual expressive figure and indeed the notion of genius itself: this brought with it a cluster of ideas and fantasies about how originality and self-expression are embodied in works of art. In many ways these ideas acted as a foil to the social and professional demands made on artists through patronage, and later, the commercial market in artworks. The image of

of itself. In a different context, all of these are regarded with suspicion, if not seen as symptomatic, by psychiatry (and later by psychoanalysis), and perhaps this is what Dubuffet had in mind when he asserted that all art-making should be considered ‘pathological’. However, these experiences are one of the main reasons why artists make art, and indeed why spectators enjoy it: amongst other things because it offers a release from everyday functional distinctions. ‘Enjoy’ is perhaps the wrong

Expressionism, where automatism is invoked. In André Masson’s automatic drawings of the 1920s, or in Jackson Pollock’s later drawings influenced by them, suggestions of landscape, body parts, faces and the like are thrown up but left in suspense,2 and this elision is typical of the doodle. In a sense, doodling is like a miniature version both of the spectacular automatic productions to be found in Spiritualistic art (in Madge Gill or Laure Pigeon, for example), and of Pollock’s famous ‘drip

and intensified form. Not only do such institutional studios offer us the chance to eavesdrop on the Outsider artist at work, but they also present a tangible image of artistic creativity under adverse circumstances, in that the obstacles posed by handicap or disability are evident and seem to have a more intimate relation to the work created than is the case with other artists. This is not a deliberate voyeuristic spectacle, like the exhibition of lunatics in Bedlam; it is something like an

1994). 19 Jacqueline Porret-Forel, source unknown. 20 Madeleine Lommel, Lettre 1, L’Aracine website. 21 Ibid. 22 Michel Thévoz, ‘La traversée du miroir’, Josef Hofer. exh. cat. (Schärding, 2008), pp. 14–15. 23 Michel Thévoz, Art Brut (London, 1976), pp. 155–7. 24 Constance Perrin, ‘The Reception of New, Unusual and Difficult Art’, The Artist Outsider: Creativity and the Boundaries of Culture, ed. Michael D. Hall, Eugene W. Metcalf Jr and Roger Cardinal (Washington, dc, 1994), pp. 180–86. 25 James

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