Outsider Art, known in Europe by its French name Art Brut, was first formally recognized in 1948, when the visionary collector Jean Dubuffet formed the Compagnie de l'Art Brut. Dubuffet’s interest had arisen through reading Dr. Hans Prinzhorn’s 1922 analysis of the creativity of his mentally ill patients. This work also had a powerful influence on the Surrealist movement in art that arose between the wars.
Dubuffet’s remarkable art assemblage found a permanent home in Lausanne, where it forms the core collection of The Museé de l’Art Brut – the leading institution in Europe devoted to Outsider Art. Following Dubuffet’s lead, a growing number of collectors, galleries and institutions, in Europe, the United States and the Far East have specialized in this genre.
A precise definition of Outsider Art has yet to find universal acceptance. In essence it is art produced in response to some inner creative urge by those isolated from, or on the fringes of, society, ignorant of the art world and its passing fads, unversed in conventional techniques, oblivious as to how others respond to their creativity, and wholly divorced from any concern with financial gain.
To art critics and collectors, the appeal of Outsider Art lies in its essential purity. They would argue that this art is a reflection of innate, untainted creativity that provides a window into the innermost recesses of the human soul. Outsider Art wells up like a volcano from deep within the artist, wholly uninfluenced by how others might view the work and with no regard to possible monetary reward. Thus Outsider Art is manifestly free of many of the criticisms leveled at the contemporary art world.
Because Outsider Art lacks a universally acceptable definition, it is sometimes used to include other, more peripheral, art forms. Thus some would burden Outsider Art by expanding it to encompass all manner of ‘rustic’, ‘ethnic’, ‘primitive’, ‘folk’ and other untrained, childish expressions of creativity that may be broadly identified as ‘naif art’. Outsider Art more rigorously envisioned, while sometimes naif, possesses a depth far beyond the merely unsophisticated.
For a comprehensive and scholarly account of Outsider Art read:
Lucienne Peiry, 2001: "Art Brut - The origins of Outsider Art" (translated by James Frank) Published by Flammarion
There are numerous websites devoted to Outsider Art. Among the most important are:
Intuit (The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art) www.outsider.art.com
American Visionary Art Museum www.avam.com
"Treasures of the soul" by MacGregor & Critical Praise.