Unreal Nature

August 30, 2016

Inside Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… What marks the outsider is the conviction that there is only one world, and that world includes, explains, and ultimately consumes the so-called objective world, turns it inside out.

Continuing through How to Look at Outsider Art by Lyle Rexer (2005):

… the artist shows no fidelity to a preexisting reality. These artists have no interest in mastering the conventions that would be necessary to achieve a goal they do not seek. Their primary experience is the encounter between a hand driven by imagination and the flat surface. Art becomes an enactment, not a transcription. The depth and dimensions of the image arise entirely in the patterns and relations of the figures that fill the space.

… Artists always see their own art differently from the way audiences see it. The works they appreciate most are often different from the ones critics praise. But with outsider artists and with some self-taught artists, this problem never arises because the artists themselves seem often to have no sense of quality or make no judgments when it comes to their own work.

… For most outsiders, the created object is a means to another end or the by-product of a process of inner equilibration.

… Repetitive visual patterns, intricate detail lavished on trivial visual elements until a sheet of paper becomes an impenetrable field, words and phrases incorporated over and over again like mantras — these are some of the elements of outsider art most familiar to the public. They are lumped together under the term “obsession.” But surely Picasso was in the grip of an obsession that would not allow him to stop making images, and Matisse was as well, painting as an invalid from his bed using a long pole with an attached brush.

[line break added] The same can be said for contemporary artist Steve di Benedetto (b. 1958), for example, who for a number of years has made images almost exclusively of helicopters, or the photographer Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), who shot thousands of rolls of film he would never print or even look at more than once. Obsession is the occupational hazard of all artists, who would rather do what they do than anything else, or, at least, cannot stop doing this one thing regardless of what they desire.

… The output is staggering: 25,000 densely worked, complex pages and nearly 3,300 drawings and collages in little more than three decades — the output of Adolf Wölfi dwarfs even that of the indefatigable Picasso and Matisse. So, too, does that of Henry Darger, who produced not only an illustrated epic of some 15,000 pages but also a 5,000-page journal detailing weather patterns. Although still a teenager, Jonathan Lerman has already produced hundreds of drawings at breakneck pace.

Adolf_Wölfli_General_view_of_the_island_Neveranger,_1911
Adolf Wölfi, General view of the island Neveranger, 1911

… Even more striking than the prodigious output and energy of these artists are the ambition and scope of their projects. They attempted to create visual worlds in which all the significant features of their imaginative life could find a place. For those new to the field of outsider art, its most impressive — and disturbing — feature is this impulse to contain everything, to assimilate everything in the work. And because the work is created outside the usual commercial channels of approval and reception, it is truly as if art is being proposed as an alternative universe.

… The totalizing ambition of these and many other projects reverses the usual priority of world and artist. It is not simply that the artist molds an alternative world out of his or her imagination. Artists always do that. What marks the outsider is the conviction that there is only one world, and that world includes, explains, and ultimately consumes the so-called objective world, turns it inside out.

[line break addedJorge Luis Borges provided a striking image of this in his story ‘Tlön, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius.’ It describes a vast fictional world, complete in every detail, created and elaborated by a legion of imaginative people by secret agreement, over the course of centuries. References to it are salted away in libraries and archives. Once it is discovered, it exerts an irresistible fascination and finally takes dominion over the ideas, values, philosophies, and actions of the normal world.

My most recent previous post from Rexer’s book is here.

-Julie

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