Monday, October 11, 2010

Outsider Art Comes of Age

Painting by Albert Louden

I went to the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester today, I didn't know what they were exhibiting but was looking for stimulation and inspiration.

And I found it!

These days I find contemporary art more stimulating than classical art, although I do very much enjoy the latter. So the first exhibition about landscapes left me a little cold despite getting to view some stunning paintings by Turner, Constable and many others.

What really grabbed me was the exhibition about outsider art. I hadn't really heard the term before and find the phrase filled with irony.

Outsider art is the art made by anyone and everyone who just feels the need to create. But what is the difference between this and insider art? Quality? Or simply acceptance by the mainstream?

To become an 'insider' artist your art must be selected by the art cogniscenti to be included in their special club. But is this a guarantee of quality? Do you need to go to art school, have a degree and be part of the establishment to be any good? Could you argue that arbitary selection for inclusion in the club may actually devalue what you are doing.

I watched a short film about a painter called Albert Louden. His work plays with scale, perspective, colour and form and to my eye is reminiscent of Picasso. I liked it a lot and could see why it was popular. Before becoming successful he was a part time lorry driver who lived with his mum, had no artistic training but just did it for himself. Once he was discovered he has very much moved from the outside to the in but he is a perfect example of an outsider artist at the time.

I watched another film where Jarvis Cocker went to meet eccentric characters who had created amazing homes with every inch covered in mosaics or stone carvings. Each one a labour of love done only for themselves. Yet more outsider art.

The rest of the gallery space was filled with diverse creations by many outsider artists in many forms. Some I didn't like, some grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. It brought home to me that the creative spirit is within us all.

The irony of having an exhibition in a mainstream gallery of outsider art to make it acceptable was not lost on me though!

Despite Goldsworthy's success it is said that he has not received much critical acclaim from the cogniscenti. Perhaps this is a symptom of land art and its inability to be brought indoors successfully. Despite it being possible to create natural art installation indoors that are still enthralling something is inevitably lost. Can land art ever be insider art?

It seems to me that the age of the outsider artist has come. With the birth of the internet and social networking many an artists gallery is now online, instantly accessible and with feedback be being provided from art critics all over the world.

Successful art (visual, music, acting etc) is an industry just like any other but with a subtle difference. Of course the vast majority of successful artists are deservedly so but then there are others who are chosen by one of a few influential individuals and then they are made for their whole career but not necessarily to universal acclaim. Do you believe that the cream always rises to the top? Of perhaps that for every successful, famous artist there are a hundred more equally skilled but always destined to remain on the outside as they just didn't get the right break at the right time?

Just as music is being claimed back from the big music companies and now bands can become well known on the internet and sell out an album without ever signing a deal. Artists can show their work to a worldwide audience instantly online and whatever is good will be emailed and tweeted and 'liked' by whoever sees it.

I know I have been amazed by the endless creativity of everyone I encounter on Flickr and the blogosphere. So much inspiration, imagination and diversity in the creations that I find. Warhol famously said that in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. With such diverse talent out there, Youtube, Farcebook, Flickr and everything else then this is coming true right now.

So is this the age of the outsider artist?

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