History of SELF-TAUGHT

Jon Thompson, “The Mad, the ‘Brut’, the ‘Primitive’, and the Modern: A Discursive History,” Inner Worlds Outside exhibition catalogue (2006)

With the intervention of the French painter Jean Dubuffet, the overarching regime of interpretation governing Art Brut or Outsider Art shifted quite dramatically from psychiatry into the more open domain of the visual arts. He worked in secret to expand the definition of Art Brut and to widen the search for exemplary figures. However, there was always a certain ambivalence about Dubuffet’s formulation and an element of denial foreshadowed by the very label with which he chose to describe it, Art Brut (raw art). His initial impulse was to make a collection that was accessible to only a select group of people but not to the public and to ‘ear-mark’ but not to define the Art Brut artist. Dubuffet’s founding ambivalence continues to the present day. Paradoxically, despite his passionate interest in the work of artists who lived and worked independently of the mainstream and his pioneering work in bringing such work together as a collection, he remained a convinced ‘separatist’. He wanted the achievements of these artists to be recognised but kept apart from the art of the Modernist, or as he called it ‘academic’, mainstream. Even after his collection had been given its own museum in Lausanne, he insisted on a singular highly restrictive condition for its future use: no work from the main collection was ever to be removed and used in curatorial projects in other museums.

But the most problematic aspect of Dubuffet’s ‘separatism’ adheres to the term Art Brut itself, with its implications of a ‘founding’ or ‘originating’ creative impulse as an antidote to an overly cultured art. Accordingly, image-wise Art Brut figures as a pure, stylistically autonomous, a-historical, unschooled art, arising out of the burning inner necessity of individuals who are detached from cultural processes and institutions and exist beyond the margins of ‘normal’ society. The impossibility, perhaps even the absurdity, of such an existence is clear. Examine each point of definition in turn and there quickly emerges something of [Roland] Barthes’ hysterical mimodrama in such a self-reflecting and overly simplified ‘representation’ of creative life. Look closely at the work of artists like Henry Darger, Joseph Yoakum, Scottie Wilson, or even that of Adolf Wölfli who was hospitalized with psychosis and this highly restrictive, ultimately negative picture is rendered fugitive. Clearly these artists — and many others like them — enjoyed rich imaginative lives. How these lives were fed varied with individual circumstances….All four, then, were very much concerned with the wider world, even with imagined sites far removed from their immediate day to day circumstances.

Excerpt source:

Jon Thompson, “The Mad, the ‘Brut’, the ‘Primitive’, and the Modern: A Discursive History,” Inner Worlds Outside exhibition catalogue (Fundación “la Caixa”; Irish Museum of Modern Art; Whitechapel Gallery, London; 2006), 65-66.

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