Went to a wonderful event at the ICA this evening - 'Don't Call Me Crazy: How We Learned to Love Outsider Art'. The panelists: James Brett (curator of the Museum of Everything), David MacLagan and Jarvis Cocker.
For those that don't follow art, Outsider Art in the loosest possible terms, is art made by artists outside regular society - often mentally ill, or otherwise disordered, or otherwise just particularly solitary. It can be called naive, or uneducated, and it often has a raw visceral effect on the viewer.
I was really, however, fascinated by the idea of audience. Many of these artists - including Henry Darger (image below) were/are either isolated through their own choice, or through institutionalisation. But they seem to have concieved their work for a fantasy audience (Darger's work tells a shocking story which appears to have autobiographical elements). Others, like Ferdinand Cheval (image above), invited visitors to see his Palais Idéal. I wondered if the ICA audience of bespectacled hipsters (and Sir Peter Blake) could possibly have been the kind of people they imagined. It's really an idea that applies to pretty much any 'amateur' work - blogging included. Although my imagined audience is definitely bespectacled hipsters.
During questions at the end, one audience member raised the question of ethics - there is a rather paternalistic "this is what's best for you" element to the treatment of these artists. Outsider Art seems to be a label that is given to an artist, rather than one that they claim for themselves. This seems particularly true of a couple of hospitals discussed where the doctors seem to be also functioning as agents.I found ethical considerations less troubling for artists like Cheval and Darger - neither was really exploited during their lifetime. With living artists, particularly those in institutions, I did feel there was a definite exploitation of their disorders and disinhibition. But as MacLagan pointed out - there is a very therapeutic element for the artists.
The Museum of Everything closes on Sunday, and I will be trying to get down there before then. There's an article here on the Intelligent Life site. And heartbreakingly, the ICA may be in trouble, and might have to close, I hope sincerely that it will not.