Art Brut, Caesar?

outsider art 1What do you make of an art movement that has so many names you don’t know what it is? Outsider Art? Folk Art? Self-Taught Art? Art Brut? Or the more highfalutin Visionary Art? The point seems to be that people who are naïve (and I mean that in the artistic sense) can produce fantastic art with little or no formal training. They might make it from match sticks or bottle caps, but it’s art to them and if you like what you see, then it must be art to you as well.

Unlike folk art that many cultures hand down outsider art 2from generation to generation, visionary art is one person’s own traditions, made up as they go along. How do you tell the difference between a visionary artist and a crazy person? It may be harder than you think. Some visionary artists skate pretty close to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), but hey, the real trained artists can be a little wacky too (think two words -- Van Gogh).

In this country, if you want to see some outsider art your best bets are in Chicago and Baltimore. Chicago has the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art where exhibitions have featured the work of collagist Henry Darger or a century of American mugshots (and this before the Smoking gun.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore has an area devoted to their permanent collection and changing exhibitions built around a specific theme, such as religious art or home and beast. There’s a sculpture barn and one of the coolest museum gift shops anywhere.

If you want to get your outsider art online, check out Outsider There’s a great quote on the home page that sums up the outsider art concept:

“Being an artist is a scary thing to declare; it's much easier being a plumber or engineer or doctor. Not in doing...but in telling. When you say "I'm a plumber", everyone knows what you do. Same with a doctor or engineer. Most know why you pianodo it, too. And probably how much you make. But when you say "I am an artist", peoples minds go mad, they twirl and shake and tilt. You can see it in the air escaping their wordless lips, in the ends of their hair. You can see the confusion in their faces and the way they shake and stand. Still, the artist prevails.”

If you’ve ever had a vision of something artful you wanted to create, you’ll know what this visionary art is all about. If you don’t have an artistic bone in your body, you can still appreciate the extraordinary talent that some of these outsiders are sharing with us. Get out there and look for it.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.


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