Outsider Art

What is an outsider?

What is an outsider? I suppose there are many definitions: one who is alone in a different culture; one who doesn’t speak the same language as those she is around; one who doesn’t understand what is going on around him. If I may be so bold, I suggest that everyone who has lived through teenage years has had the feeling of being an outsider at one point or another.

The bulk of my blogging, has been about my experience as the brother of an autistic, profoundly retarded, nonverbal individual. Just a century ago, Paul Eugen Bleuler observed an “autistic aloneness” in some of his schizophrenic patients; ‘autism’ is from the Greek ‘autos’ meaning self. My brother is in a world of his own, mutually exclusive to anyone else’s – at least exclusive of my world. Who could be more of an outsider than he, although it doesn’t seem to bother him?

I understand that those who are at the high end of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) scale must feel isolated and outside the mainstream due to lack of understanding nonverbal cues, among other things.

Outsider art?

The obvious description of outsider art is artwork not invited to mainstream exhibitions. Paul Cézanne was an example of an outsider artist at one point. Only one of Cézanne’s works was displayed at the Paris Salon, even though he submitted each year for well more than a decade. “Cézanne’s paintings were shown in the first exhibition of the Salon des Refusés in 1863, which displayed works not accepted by the jury of the official Paris Salon.”

Wikipedia expands upon the above definition: “The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut (French: [aʁ bʁyt], “raw art” or “rough art”), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outsides of the established art scene such as insane-asylum inmates and children.” 

Art of the insane?

I would like to come back to this topic in another post, as it may offer some clues regarding ways to express inner feelings. But for now, I pose the following questions: Is the artwork of an “insane” person understandable to a sane person? Is it possible to establish art interpretation as a means of communicating states of mind between people of varying mental ability and capacity? This would be remarkable.

Art therapy

According to the Art Therapy Association, “Art therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.”

I noticed that the term ‘communication’ was not included in the definition of art therapy. Maybe it is implied, but it makes sense to direct a person in need of therapy not only to make feelings visible, but to do so in a way that communicates to others.

The ultimate outsider

Years ago I heard a person describe someone “as a person who never quite got used to living.”

Perhaps expressionistic art is for this type of person, who is an outsider to himself.

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