What is Outsider Art?

The development of the awareness of forms of creative expression that exist outside accepted cultural norms, or the realm of "fine art", began with the researches of psychiatrists early in the century.

The work of Dr Morganthaler documented his patient Adolf Wolfli, a genius who produced countless thousands of works from a small cell in his Swiss asylum. Dr Hans Prinzhorn collected thousands of works by psychiatric patients and his book "Bildernerei der Geisteskranken" (Artistry of the Mentally Ill), published in 1922 became an influential work amongst Surrealist and other artists of the time.

One artist who was particularly affected by the works Prinzhorn presented was Jean Dubuffet. Together with others, including Andre Breton, he formed the Compagnie de l'Art Brut in 1948 and strove to seek out and collect works of extreme individuality and inventiveness by creators who were not only untrained artists but often had little concept of an art gallery or even any other forms of art other than their own.

Dubuffet's concept of Art Brut, or Raw Art, was of works that were in their "raw" state, uncooked by cultural and artistic influences. He built up a vast collection of thousands of works, works which bore no relation to developments in contemporary art and yet were the innovative and powerful expressions of a wide range individuals from a variety of backgrounds.

Dubuffet's great collection was eventually granted a permanent home by the city of Lausanne and the Collection de l'Art Brut is now one of the most powerful and overwhelming art museums to be found anywhere in the world.

A parallel development to the awareness of paintings, drawings and sculptures which fell into the sphere of Art Brut, was the discovery of environmental creations by a similar range of people. One of the most famous of these, the Palais Ideal, built by the postman Cheval, received much attention from the Surrealists who admired his ability to realise his dream in this incredible structure, the product of thirty years of devoted toil.

In Los Angeles, the extraordinary Watts Towers, the product of a similar commitment by an Italian immigrant worker, Simon Rodia, became the first step in the realisation of a vast number of environments to be found right across North America.

Today the increased awareness of all these forms of expression has led to a network of small organisations in both Europe and the United States devoted to the preservation of such works and the support of their creators. Similar collections to the one in Lausanne have been established in many countries and exhibitions of different aspects of the phenonema are a regular occurence. The diverse influence of all these forms is now apparent in the work of an increasing number of "trained " artists who have turned their back on changing trends and fashions to try and form a truly singular reality for themselves.


Milwaukee Art Museum Folk Art Collection

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