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Why is this art important?

The Outsider art world has grown in popularity over the past decade.  Why not?  Just the word, Outsider, makes you feel kind of like a rebel.  Out of the main stream.  Not part of the establishment; someone who can’t be bought or sold.  It’s a wonderful nonconformist handle to want to attach yourself to.

Outsider is, in fact, the American and British version of Art Brut as defined by the French artist and scholar, Jean Dubuffet   The Outsiders or Brut artists were any artists who might be removed from society, either in mental institutions or in prisons.  Brut artists usually lacked any formal training in the arts and as Dubuffet put it, “the insane introduced something that wasn’t visual at all; pure caprice, pure mental invention, with absolutely no visual justification.”

The Outsiders in America aren’t necessarily people incarcerated or in mental institutions.  They’re often untrained artists who live in rural settings or who are removed from the influence of mainstream culture.  They created not for wealth or recognition, but to fulfill a creative compulsion.  There are a few who don’t even consider themselves artists.  Others are visionaries sharing their messages from God or otherworldly sources.  Bill Traylor was a former slave who didn’t create art until he was 80 years old.  Mose Tolliver created art only after he was left disabled.  Henry Darger lived in obscurity and it wasn’t until after his death that his wealth of creativity was discovered.  Mary T. Smith adorned her shack with crude and bold images painted on recycled materials.  Martin Ramirez spent three decades of his life in a California psychiatric hospital creating art.  Sybil Gibson painted ghostly images on paper grocery bags and newspaper.

Outsider, Art Brut, Contemporary Folk Art, Self-taught; all these terms represent artists not in the league of Fine Arts.  The Outsider art world is so vast that the quarterly magazine ‘Raw Vision’ dedicates its pages to these untrained artists.   Bill Traylor, Nellie Mae Rowe, Howard Finster, Myrtice West, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Mose Tolliver, Purvis Young, R.A. Miller, Lonnie Holley, Bernice Sims, Woodie Long, Sybil Gibson and Thornton Dial are icons of the American self-taught arts.  Their works are as inspired and as compelling as the works of any Western masters.  What they might lack in classical training they make up for with their determination to create and the pure honesty of their works.  All of these artists have a unique quality to their work that makes them stand on their own legs next to any thing you put them up against.

Maybe the Outsider world is becoming fuzzy and things don’t necessarily mean what they used to.  That’s not so unusual, is it?  There’s a new legion of artists out there who are using the handle Outsider to perhaps only draw recognition to their work.  In the end it’s not the term or definition that matters.  What really does matter is, did the work draw you in and take you someplace else for a moment?  Did it make you smile, or even depress you?  Did it move you?  Someone once asked Louis Armstrong what he considered good music.  His reply was,  “Any thing that makes you tap your feet”.  We tap our feet, tip our hat, shed a tear and do a little jig to all things raw and honest.


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