continuum outsider art

The Many Terms in Our Continuum: ‘Outsider Art’

As Priscilla Frank and Kevin Sampson aptly point out, the term ‘Outsider Artist’ is offensive to some subgroups of artists within the art world that has manifested itself outside of the establishment. While we at Brut Force have tried to remain term agnostic, siding with the way the artist prefers to describe his or her self, we think it’s important to acknowledge the terms and classifications that exist and that will ultimately in some form describe this art movement in retrospective.

So for the sake of our readers, we thought it might be beneficial to lay out some terms that are used to describe the artists that we cover. Ultimately, we agree that integration into the larger contemporary art world is the trajectory and the future. At present though, there is still disparity. Below, we’ll attempt to expose the tip of the iceberg for the blurred lines that exist today amongst these terms.

Art Brut

The label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet is specifically focused on artists that create art outside of the art establishment or the established academic tradition. It is a French term that translates to raw art. It was thoroughly explored by this year’s exhibition by the American Folk Art Museum entitled Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet.

Folk Art

Folk Art often gets lumped into the same conversation because of its often rough or naïve nature. Folk art is often not influenced by mainstream art world trends and is not typically created by members of the art establishment. A more stringent definition align folk art with that of indigenous people or tradespeople. Folk art is more closely linked to cultural identity than any of the other categories we discuss.

Naïve Art

Naïve art is art created by a person without formal art education. Naïve art is often grouped with outsider art as its definition may hint. Strict naivety is becoming more and more rare as the forms of self-education have spread.

Outsider Art

This, the most infamous of terms, was coined by Roger Cardinal in 1972 as a synonym to art brut. It is often applied as a catch-all term for self-taught art of all forms though, which draws some criticism. The term though is more lax in its definition typically applied to self-taught artists that outside of the mainstream art world. To make things more complicated, Jerry Saltz argues that there is no such thing as Outsider Art and that the distinction is “outmoded discrimination still in place.” For better or for worse, the term Outsider Art has proven an effective marketing tool for the Outsider Art Fair and other entities tied to the name in recent years.

Self-Taught (Contemporary Self-Taught)

This is the term that Brut Force is most comfortable with and most directly influences our curation and content strategy. The manifestation of the term self-taught and specifically contemporary self-taught art was explained by Duff Lindsay of the Lindsay Gallery as, today’s “artists are not rural, they’re not southern. They might be knowledgeable about art and folk art, but you would not consider them to be outsiders. They’re not isolated from the art world or the art marketplace.” According to Lindsay, it might be hard to tell that a self-taught contemporary did not receive a traditional art education, though in spirit, the work shares something with the visionary, inspirational, or vernacular characteristics that define the genre of outsider art.

The Continuum

One of our favorite articulations of this was applied by Leslie Umberger of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She states that if folk and self-taught are at opposite extremes of a single continuum, “with tradition at one pole and autonomy at the other, and all of it having developed apart from art world trends and markets. To discuss any particular artists you must consider where he or she falls along this line, each individual having varied amounts of traditional skills or ideas and personal vision.”

We look forward to continue to bring dialogue and discussion to the terms and the artists that make up this exciting field.