Outsider Art

Coined in 1972, the term Outsider Art refers to art produced outside of conventional art or, rather, outside of the boundaries of work accepted as art of the culture. Some schools of thought suggest that Outsider Art includes art works created by self-taught artists. The term has been applied to anyone creating art outside of the mainstream art world; notably, Outsider Art has been applied to art created by mental asylum patients. In fact, the genesis for the concept of Outsider Art occurred during the end of the nineteenth century when the concept was known as art of the insane asylum and later as Art Brut.

As the movement historically grew out of, essentially, insane asylums, it is still sometimes referred to in that context. Near the end of the 1900s some psychiatrists noticed that some patients produced drawings or etchings and they began to look more seriously at creative works produced by artistic patients. In 1922 a German doctor published a renowned collection of art created from hundreds of mental asylum patients throughout Europe. These works caught the attention of Avant Garde artists Paul Klee and Jean Dubuffet who felt their influence and potential to impact the art world.

Eventually, however, the term was applied more broadly to anyone creating art who was ‘uncooked’ by the art world. In the U.S., for instance, folk artists were also grouped in the Outsider Art genre. Many Outsider Art artists have achieved notable reputations in the art world in spite of their ‘outsider’ status. The Indian artist Nek Chand is revered for creating the Rock Garden of Chandigarh; the garden is located on forty acres and is entirely filled with scrap items and found discarded objects. Other artists associated with Outsider Art who achieved acclaim for their body of work or works include Ferdinand Cheval, Henry Darger, Vojislav Jakic, Judith Scott, Kiyoshi, Yamashita, and Pierre Vuitton to name a few.

Outsider Art also reflects a wide variety of art mediums and art forms. Painting and drawing, of course, make up a significant portion of Outsider Art; however, forms like collage, sculpture, photography, and writing are also reflected by the movement. Moreover, many unconventional art forms are associated with Outsider Art. For example, Willem Van Genk became well-known for decorating raincoats with ornate drawings. Judith Scott, an artist with Down Syndrome, became celebrated for her fiber art works. Helen Martins of South Africa created an alternate environment using crushed glass and cement. Because the nature of Outsider Art works is so extraordinarily varied, the term is necessarily a broad one to encompass many styles, techniques, mediums, and so forth. All are created, however, by artists outside of the defined art world.