Folk Art and Outsider Art: Acknowledging Social Justice Issues in Art Education

By Muri, Simone Alter | Art Education, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Folk Art and Outsider Art: Acknowledging Social Justice Issues in Art Education


Muri, Simone Alter, Art Education


The study of "folk art" and "outsider art" is often neglected in the classroom, although these types of art are highly visible in museums, galleries and bought by collectors. The inclusion of "folk art" and "outsider art" in the art curriculum can serve as a tool for social awareness. Presenting these forms of art to children can help to build a sense of connection with the community and enhance acceptance of diversity, which in turn can increase an understanding of multicultural issues, as they are expressed in art education.

FOLK ART

A conclusive definition of folk art cannot be found in a glossary of art. Folk artists usually are described as individuals who are self-taught, are not overly interested in the technical aspects of artmaking, or are those who do not reflect a great deal on the psychological aspects of their art Most folk artists are everyday people, often from lower working class and socio-economic backgrounds. Their art many times depicts suburban, rural, small-town life. Folk art is frequently considered to be a catchall term that includes the art of stylistically naive, primitive, and "Sunday" painters. The "eccentric" individual, the hobby artist, senior citizen, and prisoners (Parsons, 1986) are grouped together under the label of "folk artists" by the mainstream art world. Lippard (1990) prefers the term "vernacular artist" to folk artist, since most folk artists create their work at home.

OUTSIDER ART

Outsider art evolved from the term L'art brut which was created by artist Jean Dubuffet in the 1940s, literally translated as "raw art." Interest in outsider art grew from the publication of the book Artistry of the Mentally Ill published in 1923 by Printzhorn, an art historian and a psychiatrist. Printzhorn (1923/1995) chose to name the art made by the patients that he collected bildneri, a German term for "image making." The first exhibit of the art of individuals with mental illness was held in Paris in 1905 (MacGregor, 1989). In 1936, at the International Surrealist Exhibition, the surrealist artist Andre Breton exhibited an assemblage box made by a client with schizophrenia. DuBuffett wanted to liberate the art from the stigma of psychiatric labels such as "art of the insane," therefore he created a non-psychiatric term to describe it. DuBuffet believed that the psychopathology of the artist was only one way to purify the artist's freshness of vision. Outsider art could also include the art of social outsiders, spiritualists, and eccentrics. DuBuffet sought out people who created such art and arranged to have their work exhibited (Parsons, 1986). Roger Cardinal, a British humanities professor, coined the term "outsider art" (Cardinal, 1972). DuBuffet was inspired by the "raw art" that he viewed and collected, created by individuals in mental hospitals in Switzerland.

Many psychiatrists, artists, art historians and art critics have further refined the definition of outsider art. Ideally, outsider art is art created without the influences of artistic culture. The ideology promoted by DuBuffet assumes a romantic notion of the freedom and special power of the outsider artist. However, art that is inspired and executed from the depths of the artist's unconscious may be very painful, repetitive and include images that depict unusual preoccupations. Cardinal (1972) described outsider art as art created by people who have no relationship to pre-existing models of art. Currently, the argument exists about whether or not, in today's society, anyone can be truly self-taught and escape social or cultural influences (Ames, 1994). Bourbonnais, a colleague of DuBuffet who founded a museum for folk and outsider art in Dicy, France, believed that this art was the only "real" art. Bourbonnais held the view that outsider and folk art is art not compromised by a style of art, school of thought, or a marketing trend in the art world (Ragon, 1993).

"Outsider artists" are usually selftaught and have an inner need or compulsion to create art. …

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