After the huge success of recent shows in Venice, London and Paris, interest in Outsider Art has never been higher. But what exactly is it? How do we define it? And who are its gurus and leading lights? Alan Yentob explores this captivating, compelling and magical alternative art universe. Why in 2013 was Outsider Art finally being feted by the art establishment, and what took it so long? imagine… embarks on a worldwide journey to meet some visionary creators, and their equally obsessive collectors and enthusiasts.
What is Outsider Art?
The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut, a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outside of the established art scene, such as psychiatric hospital patients and children.
While Dubuffet’s term is quite specific, the English term “outsider art” is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.
Outsider art has emerged as a successful art marketing category; an annual Outsider Art Fair has taken place in New York since 1993, and there are at least two regularly published journals dedicated to the subject. The term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people who are outside the mainstream “art world” or “art gallery system”, regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.