Outsider Art

cloth doll

My Mom found this cloth doll in her deceased uncle's belongings. Is it an example of Outsider Art? Could be. Or maybe not. Are you wondering what Outsider Art is? Outsider Art is sometimes referred to as "folk art", "naive art", "visionary art", or "primitive art". Jean Dubuffet was a major advocate and he came up with the term "Art Brut". I would say Outsider Art is art that is produced by people outside the academic or commercial art establishment. Sometimes untrained people on fire with artistic impulses create works of amazing beauty and power.

I don't know if this doll possesses amazing beauty and power, but it certainly has charm and the person who made it had talent. The ribbon on the front has a paper label pasted on that says "The Oddest". The doll appears to be handmade rather than a commercial product - the question is: when, by whom, and why? My Mom said her grandmother was good at sewing so she might have made it. Was the doll an award of some kind? A private joke? I guess we'll never know.

A lot of the meaning is lost if we don't know the history or the context of the object. I would look at this doll a different way if I found out that it was a commercially manufactured product after all. I'm not knowledgeable about antiques or collectibles and I don't know what dolls looked like 60 or 70 years ago. What if there are a lot of these floating around? I would still think the doll was cute but I wouldn't like it as much if I didn't think it might be a genuine piece of folk art.

In deciding how to define Outsider Art, I was thinking that the context in which the object is made has a lot to do with how I would categorize it or appreciate it. A lot of "trained" artists, including myself sometimes, emulate the style of this type of art. In that case, would what we create really be "primitive" art? Probably not, even though you might not be able to tell just by looking at it. If a person has knowledge of "sophisticated","representational", or "realistic" art techniques and chooses not to use them in the traditional way, that is not the same, in my opinion, as an artist with no such knowledge or formal training creating something straight from his or her soul. That does not mean I don't like such art - I do very much. I just look at it a different way. I've read of cases of outsider or folk artists gaining fame and critical or commercial sucess, only to create debate over whether they are still an "outsider" - is their work now less pure because of their involvement in the art world?

You might wonder why it's necessary to categorize or define this art at all. For me the main reason is to organize my web site! I don't know if the artists themselves would agree with their works being in this section. From the style, the work on this page appears to fit in the category of Outsider Art. Others may see it a different way.

I've been privileged throughout my life to do a lot of traveling by car around the United States. On my travels few things give me a bigger thrill than to find some evidence of Outsider Art here and there. The creator may not even think of it as art. It could be a cool piece of graffiti, a painted sign advertising a fruit stand, a front yard full of statues and objects, a funky mailbox, and eccentric shrine - anything that tells me the world is not all strip shopping centers, sterile chain stores, corporate logos, and brains numbed by TV. Somewhere, somehow, creativity and individuality can still survive.

On the rest of this page I will share with you some photos of things that may or may not be Outsider Art. I do know that they make life more colorful and interesting! Following are links to my photos of art cars and an art sculpture environment I came across in Utah. Enjoy!

grafitti in Pueblo, Colorado

I was on my way to the State Fair in Pueblo, Colorado last summer and saw this graffiti covered storm sewer. Even though we were running late for a horse show, my friend June let me stop and take a few photos. Now that is friendship! If you knew June, you'd know that was a big sacrifice!

man with eccentric hat

My Aunt Marilyn paid a dollar to photograph this gentleman in San Francisco a few months ago. I wonder what he considers himself to be? Does he see himself as a performance artist? Or a street performer? Now that's what I call a hat! It's difficult to see from this picture what is in the hat, but I can tell you from scrutinizing the original snapshot that among other things it contains the stuff that goes inside pillows, dried vines, bits of green plants, circuit boards, at least one telephone, and lots of pictures of women in scanty bikinis. I wonder if it's heavy?

people with TV heads

I went to the St. Louis Mardi Gras parade in 1996. It's held every year in the Soulard neighborhood and it's, well, pretty different. There were a lot of art cars there and a lot of people and floats that did not have that generic corporate sponsored look to them. A whole bunch of people dressed as TV's, as you can see they looked pretty cool. Unfortunately I was changing film when the coolest float went by and I missed getting a photo of it. Someone had built a giant three dimensional skull on top of their car and it had a big old cigarette in its mouth with real smoke! You should have seen it! I like parades because they give people an excuse to dress crazy and express themselves. I wish we could do that all the time.

See an art environment! It's the Butch Cassidy Monster Mountain Museum!

Assorted art car photos, 1984-1996.

I photographed these art cars at "A Taste of St. Louis", September 1996.

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