I've always had a somewhat strange relationship with outsider art.
Not because I don't like or appreciate it. I think it has to do with the actual term, "Outsider Art." Especially the "outsider" part.
I know numerous artists who aren't necessarily trained artists. Many are self-taught and have no formal art training at all. Still, they're great artists, although not necessarily "folksy" types. Nothing against folksy, mind you.
Dictionary.com defines "outsider" as "a person not belonging to a particular group ... a person unconnected or unacquainted with the matter in question."
Before I go on, let me just say that I'm not an expert on the history of outsider art. That's not really the point here. However, in the context of contemporary art, my take on "outsider" refers to an artist who lacks formal education, yet has great, raw talent.
Let's face it, a lot of people also equate outsider art with "backwoods" or "hick mentality," but I don't have much to say about that right now. However, I will say this ... "hick mentality" and "backwoods" stuff can be found all over the world, not only in the stereotypically-placed South. Certain parts of upstate New York (for example) to this very day are shockingly "hick," if you insist on using that term.
My mind and fingertips typing on this keyboard want to ramble on about this, so I'll go with the flow ... Do you know what I think "Outsider Art" is really about?
But first, is there anything wrong with being an outsider? Well ... yes and no. If the outsider chooses to be an outsider, No. If an outsider is an outsider because they're being discriminated against or being treated as an outcast, Yes. If the outsider is an outsider due to lack of education or something else, Yes. But back to marketing.
These days, when you see the term "Outsider Art," you can almost always assume it's about marketing. And why not? If you've been an outsider all of your life, shouldn't there be some way to turn it into an advantage ... for a change? There are advantages in adversity, No?
For most of my life, I've felt like an outsider. Especially in the art world. However, being an "outsider" has really given me a leg up. It has helped me to find my own voice and be fearless about whatever I write and whomever I interview. I'm not beholden to anyone. When you're an outsider or at least perceived as one, you've got nothing to lose except your own sense of self-respect by conforming when conforming isn't necessary.
I got the idea to write this essay after I got an email from Austin, Texas-based artist Gabe Langholtz. Gabe says I "discovered" him. I love his work and have a few of his paintings which some "folks" might consider "outsider," but I just think it's charming art. Anyway, here's the note he sent to me:
Hope all is well. Are you still collecting? I've acquired some really nice works over the past few years. The latest piece by an artist named, Samantha Jorgensen.
Had an interesting thing happen the other day. Someone came by my stop on the East Austin Studio Tour ... and asked if I was familiar with the writer Michael Corbin. Such a small world we live in at times. I got to tell her the story of how you discovered me years before Austin did. Brought back some fond memories.
Anyhow, I've got to head out to do the last leg of the tour. Talk with you soon.
What I love about Gabe's note is the fact that he has continued to grow and prosper as an artist. His work looks outsider-ish, but one day, Gabe will be on the "inside." He'll be connected within the art "establishment." That's good and bad, depending on how you look at it.
I also love the fact that more and more people seem to be connecting to ArtBookGuy which I've always kind of considered "outsider" and beneath the radar. Things change when you stick to your plan.
Being on the outside gives you such perspective. It makes you brave and you're more likely to take chances. I've taken lots of chances with artists whose work I love. I don't do it expecting or wanting anything in return, yet I get a lot of satisfaction in return.
If you feel like you're always an "outsider looking in," relish this time. Embrace it. You're far more powerful than you realize because the people on the inside are looking - or scowling - back at you and they're shaking in their boots because deep down inside, they know that YOU only have to be right ONE time.
Being right one time can be a game changer. When you're an outsider looking in, make sure you're looking within YOURSELF and not gazing through the bakery shop window like some little 19th Century street urchin kid out of David Copperfield.
The answers are WITHIN you and not outside of you. Being on the outside gives you more time to peer inside. Peering inside helps you to develop a formidable core. Then ... when everyone else goes right and laughs at you for veering left, you can be totally comfortable with your decision because at the end of the day ...
... you'll be on the inside track and they'll be outsiders looking at you.