… In its often fierce and narrow consistency, outsider art can confirm certain experiences that may be at the foundation of all art …
This is from How to Look at Outsider Art by Lyle Rexer (2005):
… There are no common styles or forms to be traced “leading up to” outsider art, and no obvious visual characteristics to serve as a measuring stick of the category. Indeed, we realize we are sketching not the history of some actual phenomenon or conscious movement but instead the history of an idea, in this case, an idea about all the things that insider art is not. True outsider artists are who they are, unaffiliated and idiosyncratic. Their art is what it is, with few references to other art and often little or no sense of an artistic past or heritage. Outsider art tends to be all present tense and to reinvent the wheel in terms of visual forms.
… according to critic Hal Foster, European insiders saw three things in outsider art, particularly the art of the insane: the uncorrupted origins of expression, spiritual vision, and anticultural transgression. These features suited insider needs, theories, and agendas, but they had little if anything to do with the conditions or intentions of most of the artists actually making the works.
… Paradoxically, the efforts of many Pop and Conceptual artists to undermine notions of authorship, expression, and individual style had the opposite effect of legitimizing as never before, via irony and distancing techniques, individuality and creative identity.
… Pop art may have tried to kill the myth that art carries uniquely imagined spiritual and aesthetic meaning, but it only reinforced the myth of the artist as a special individual operating outside the psychological and “lifestyle” norms of society. Although outsider artists didn’t participate in these revolutionis and acts of historical critique, the appreciation of their work depended on such developments.
… it is not necessary to take positions for or against this work.
… Let the ideologues draw lines; the rest of us don’t have to make such either/or choices, and our imaginative world is poorer if we do. As I argue repeatedly in this book, the appreciation of outsiders and insiders is inseparable. … [T]he two realms may directly illuminate each other. Artists separate in time and space, as well as in circumstance, may well share deeper sources of inspiration and the same impulse to communicate in visual languages of their own coinage.
[ … ]
… Why look at outsider and self-taught art, if not out of romantic nostalgia for some image of unfettered individuality and expressive freedom?
… we might consider some works of better-known contemporary artists that are likely to be on exhibition at any given time in the art galleries of New York’s Chelsea district. [Rexer then gives a description of what he is seeing in such galleries] … Some of the works cited above are arresting and even memorable. What they lack is a sense of necessity.
Regardless of the artists’ motives or commitment, the vast majority of these pieces could have been done by any number of other artists, who create works very much like them. They seem to exist for temporary and local purposes that are usually immediately obvious but will become unintelligible in a matter of months, not to say years, when prevailing preoccupations, dominant media imagery and social attitudes change. And they are almost all products of an education bases on the study of works much like themselves.
… Above all, however, few things on the walls and floors of Chelsea at any given time convey a sense that the artist needed to make them in order to communicate a significant aspect of his or her sense of reality or of the complicated negotiation of self with world. Nor do many of them embody a sense of significant play or discovery. Rather, the works seem to be tautologies. As Andy Warhol delighted in pointing out, they are art because they appear in an art-world setting. Q.E.D.
Outsider artists tend to invest all of what they can in their art all the time. They rarely strategize their work or hold anything back. They usually lack irony but may display enormous reservoirs of humor and love, not to say anger, shame, bewilderment, and euphoria.
… It is this communicative urgency that gives rise to the unusual forms and the vast, comprehensive visual schemes that represent other worlds or other languages.
… In its often fierce and narrow consistency, outsider art can confirm certain experiences that may be at the foundation of all art, and thus can enhance our generosity toward art in its many forms. It can teach us that art builds worlds; that is art’s power.
I get what Rexer is after above (and I always enjoy his writing), but I disagree that the lack of a “sense of necessity” disqualifies works from being valued as good art. I think it’s actually harder, often much harder, to work innovatively into areas that are of no ‘necessity’ at all.