Solitary Creations / Outsider Art

Outsider Art/Self-taught Art is the name given to works of art that are created outside the realms of mainstream art and encompasses a wide range of creative expression, from naive art to art brut. Outsider Art bespeaks, on the one hand, of the dreams, fears and fascinations of extraordinary people, and on the other of the irrepressible creative urge of the homo ludens.

The typical solitary creator works in isolation and has little difficulty with that situation. He does not protest, does not cry out for emancipation, does not fight for recognition, does not call himself an outsider and only calls himself an artist when that is suggested to him by others, and is finally not always particularly happy with all the attention that follows on his ‘discovery’, because it interferes with his activities. This fact, this great contrast with the loud-mouthed art circus of these days, is certainly something in outsider art which appeals to people and intrigues them. It has also led to unjust idealizations and caricatures, since it is always with the help of one or another Other that we define ourselves. Hence the outsider has come to stand for everything that we are not, or no longer are, or think we no longer are: pure, spontaneous, honest, authentic, original, direct. These are qualifications with which outsider art is repeatedly positively compared with ‘ordinary’ art, which would then be dishonest, artificial, intellectual, elitist or commercial, but in fact says more about those who use these terms than about the outsider himself.

So let us, as a experiment in thought, start from the idea that what we are calling outsider art is in fact the most normal thing in the world, and that it is precisely the professionalization of creativity, the restriction of creative behaviour to a specially trained professional group, which is the real anomaly.

Sluiter, Paula; Untitled, 1968, etching, 37x27,5 cm.

Paula Sluiter; Untitled, 1968, etching, 37×27,5 cm.

That is what can be seen in any collection of solitary creations: objects with an unmistakeable creative and artistic dimension, which nonetheless do not come from the system of art production outlined above. Outsider art teaches us that art can be created anywhere, also outside the territory of Western culture, since it would be absurd to suppose that the independent creativity of the outsider is reserved for Westerners. The anti-cultural polemics of Dubuffet have to some extent concealed this fact, but by now many collections, including that of De Stadshof, also contain work by non-Western artists who work outside the traditions of their own cultural environment.

So outsider art is a challenge to the regular art circuit to become conscious of the fact that beautiful, fascinating, thrilling and even threatening and shocking work does not come only from the academies. It is a challenge to all art lovers to ask themselves why they should restrict themselves to the familiar circuit. And it is also a challenge to us, the lovers and advocates of outsider art, since we, too, all too easily, take on the habits of our big brother, the great art circuit, by lazily putting our faith in established names and the judgement of colleagues, instead of in fieldwork and our own intuition.

Willem van Genk; Microcollage ’73/Studiereis van Beatrix en Claus, 1973, oils, mixed media on board, 72 x 132 cm.

info: Ten Berge, Jos; De Stadshof Collection. The search for the homo ludens, in: Allegaert, P., a.o.; Univers Cachés / Hidden worlds. Outsider Art at the Museum Dr Guislain, Ghent 2007; Ten Berge, Jos (red.); Marginalia. Perspectives on outsider art, Zwolle 2000.

Smolders, Frans; Liesbeth Reith and Jos ten Berge; Solitary Creations. 51 Artists out of De Stadshof Collection, Eindhoven 2014.

For important documents see: