… “Look again,” they seem to say. “Look directly and assume nothing.”
Final post from How to Look at Outsider Art by Lyle Rexer (2005):
… Has outsider art come completely inside? If so, what does that mean for contemporary ideas about what art is and does, especially if Western avant-garde art has depended so heavily for its impetus and even its formal languages on what it defined as “outside”? I do not believe outsider and self-taught art can ever be comfortably folded into our historicized (so-and-so begat so-and-so) narratives about art, nor will time naturalize all their anomalous forms, that is, make them accessible or meaningful the way Cubist works, for example, now seem “normal” and Picasso’s distortions no longer shock.
… Insofar as they stubbornly retain an “otherness,” outsider and self-taught art does have a distinct role to play in the art of our time. That role is to summon us back, like the tolling of a bell, to the existential roots of art making, where apprehensions of being are transmuted into form.
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… The opposite of an [historically, i.e. outsider] orphaned work is one with too many relatives, so many that we cannot see it except in familial terms. For the best-known artists, it can begin to seem as if history itself created their art. Works by artists from Mondrian and Matisse to Blinky Palermo (b. 1943) all become chapters in a vast textbook of the evolution of artistic consciousness or, in postmodern terms, fields of play for impersonal cultural signifiers.
[line break added] This sense of impersonality grows with every re-presentation of a work of art, every digital and printed image. In this all-encompassing system of secondhand experience, the works become icons, canceling our direct perception of them as performances, foreclosing all but the narrowest visual participation.
[line break added] We lose, for instance, the sense of urgency and finicky obsessiveness of Picasso’s so-called Analytic Cubism, the contradictory tactile qualities of Mondrian’s grids, and the strange loquacity of Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings. Outsider art — those works that resolutely resist such invisibility by confounding our conceptual categories — can act as a spur to aesthetic conscience. “Look again,” they seem to say. “Look directly and assume nothing.”
Artists do not make things in order to fit academic categories or to fill postage-stamp slots in art-history books, even though history may be on their minds. They do it because, fundamentally, it feels better to do it than to do anything else, and not to do it is untenable. They don’t know when to stop. And they make so-called alternative universes because every act of imagination presupposes an “alternative universe.”
[line break added] But such alternatives are never divorced from the world because they are created in the world and manifested in it, to us. Often it takes time for the deeper affiliations to reveal themselves, or for us to forge them, for us to see how even the most hermetic objects mediate between one mind’s experience of reality and another.