Out with Outsider Art?

Louise Kate Anderson

I recently took part in Accessible Art’s Supported Studio Networks: Possibility and Potential forum on 7 November 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. I was there as a panellist speaking on behalf of the artist run initiative Big Fag Press, alongside artist John Demos, the first participant in our mentorship program.

Demos technically fits the traditional catch-all concept of the Outsider artist, as one who practices without tertiary qualification and also as an artist working with a disability. But this forum raised the question: how relevant is this label to those practising, curating and collecting today?

Glenn Barkley, Curator at the MCA opened the forum with some words by Claes Oldenberg:

I am for art that is smoked, like a cigarette, smells, like a pair of shoes.
I am for art that flaps like a flag, or helps blow noses, like a handkerchief.
I am for art that is put on and taken off , like pants, which develops
holes, like socks, which is eaten, like a piece of pie, or abandoned with
great contempt, like a piece of shit.

(The full text can be read here.)

These words spoke to me, because in my opinion, the best artists are those who push boundaries while still having something to say to the world. So why does the art world continue to be so exclusive?

The activist/artist Ian Milliss, who recently opened The Yeomans Project at the Art Gallery of NSW goes further when he says:

1. Art is an action which changes the culture.

2. This action can be undertaken by anyone.

Surely so-called “outsider or untrained artists” are just as likely to have ideas which can change our world, which can create new prototypes for the future. Art is too selective if it thinks it is a language one can only learn by attending art school, or by following a prescribed career path. Perhaps a better descriptor is that of the “underrepresented artist”, which presents a case for change.

I am for an art that tries to change the world. I am for an artist that tries to lead the world. I am for an art world that hears and looks at what everyone who makes art has to express, that looks for new ways to appreciate art. I am for an art world that abandons the term ‘outsider art’.

More information on Supported Studio Networks and how to get involved can be found here.

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