Tutorial Notes on Outsider Art

After talking further about Outsider Art in our tutorial I came up with some observations about what a lot of this so-called ‘outsider’ artwork has in common:

  • Paintings tend to lack any sense of negative space (i.e. they are often very busy with detail, chaotic)
  • The style of painting tends to be quite flat and child-like (many of the pictures remind me of the sort of paintings or drawings that might be made by an angst-filled teenager)
  • The works often have a strong symbolic value
  • The works also frequently carry a very strong personal meaning, or message from another often spiritual force
  • There is a sense of the primitive about many of the works of art, they are often driven by strong impulses to create
  • Many of the ‘outsider artists’ use non-traditional materials such as scraps of paper, pebbles, sticks, fiber

The irony of outsider art, which applies to many ‘radical’ art movements (noticeably conceptual art and neo-conceptual art), is that its aim to be apart from the art world falls so easily and completely flat on its face. The art establishment subsumes such movements trying not to be a part of it, consuming and taking for its own anything that is trying to rebel. This has happened to relational aesthetics as well (more about that later, I’m reading about it now!).

The man who draws funny frogs…

Before the tutorial I had never heard of cult musician and artist Daniel Johnston, the subject of a documentary film called ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’. Throughout his career, Johnston’s songs and drawings have been informed to some degree by his ongoing struggle with manic depression. He is definitely an outsider artist. Johnston’s musical work gained popularity after he moved to Austin, Texas, and he began to attract attention mainly because of his habit of handing out tapes to people he met. His artwork has been shown in galleries such as in London’s  Aquarium Gallery and New York’s Clementine Gallery, both in 2006, and the 2008 Liverpool Biennial. He is perhaps most famous for his funny frog, originally drawn for an album cover (and seen on a t-shirt worn by Kurt Cobain), which he was commissioned to paint a mural of in 1993 in Austin.

The iconic frog - seen on Kurt Cobain's T-shirt

The iconic frog – seen on Kurt Cobain’s T-shirt

Homer the famous artist

Towards the end of the tutorial we were shown an episode of The Simpsons. What on earth has that to do with Outsider Art? you may ask. ‘Mom and Pop Art’ from 1999, is an episode about Homer accidentally becoming an outsider artist. In the episode, Homer inadvertently becomes a well-praised artist after his failed attempts to build a barbeque pit. His exhibit goes to the Louvre. Mr Burns then buys his artwork, and Homer becomes a success. However, after his new art appears in the ‘Art in America’ show, Homer’s artwork is criticized for being too repetitive of his first piece. Homer tries and fails to match his first fame. The episode ends in his failure.

Homer the famous artist

Homer the famous artist

Its not all a pile of pulp…

In 1999 Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame) made a series of documentaries about Outsider Art called ‘Journeys into the Outside’. I have yet to watch these but they look fascinating. Reading up on what inspired this documentary I found out that Jarvis Cocker, during his art college days, (‘She studied sculpture at Saint Martin’s College, that’s where I caught her eye…’) wrote a thesis on Outsider Art and received the second lowest mark in his year. It was during this time that he came across Outsider Art when he found a book on the subject, his search in the library sparked by his interest of the divorce between art and reality. He wanted to find something that bridged the gap between art and every day life. Ten years after writing his feature he was able to travel across America and find some fascinating examples of Outsider Art.

Jarvis Cocker contemplating strange art

Jarvis Cocker contemplating strange art

That’s all for now.


Tutorial Notes

Daniel Johnston’s website, http://www.hihowareyou.com/ [last accessed 13 December 2012]

Pulp Wiki, http://www.pulpwiki.net/Jarvis/1999JourneysToTheOutside [last accessed 13 December 2012]

Wikipedia analyses ‘Mon and Pop Art’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mom_and_Pop_Art [last accessed 13 December 2012]

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