Who’s not outside(r)

The distinction between folk art and outsider art is somewhat vague.  I often see folk art and outsider art grouped together in books, galleries, and museums.  Although many folk artists are self-taught, they are usually instructed in traditional skills by someone in their community. Their work is an expression of their cultural identity. In other words, folk art is tied to a particular culture. Again, I am referencing Roger Cardinal’s analysis on who’s in and who’s out.

folk art: ladybug whirligig (?)

Outsider artists do not include:

– folk artists (tend towards a cultural stereotype, with little variation among artists)

– Sunday painters (who hope to reach the status of professional artists)

– from an underdeveloped country (fortunately, the discussion about so-called “primitive” art has gone the way of the do-do bird)

– children (who are attempting to integrate into society under the guidance of adults (who should know better than to tell children that the sun must be painted yellow…)

– prisoners (who, arguably, are trapped in a different culture)

– engaged in art therapy (under the direction of trained staff)

 (In drafting this list, I am acknowledging that although my father spent a lot of time puttering in his workshop making strange things, he was definitely not an outsider artist. He falls into the unknown category of “Italian handyman-who-liked-to-saw-up-found-pieces-of-wood-to-make-whirligigs-and-donkey-cart-planters.”  But I digress.)

The distinguishing feature of outsider artists is that they are utterly compelled to create their art. They are radically different from each other, each forming a discrete, autonomous reality with a rich expressive richness.  Roger Cardinal sums it up perfectly as “a teaming archipelago rather than a continent crossed by disputed borders. The only connection between each island of sensibility is that they are all distinct from the cultural mainland.”

(The second distinguishing feature of outsider artists is that they don’t whine that their work isn’t selling. Being “an artist” and making their work for public consumption is antithetical to their motivation for creating art. But I digress again.)