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Get to Know: Outsider Art

Posted by jase on July 27, 2009

The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut (French: [aʁ bʁyt], “raw art” or “rough art”), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by insane-asylum inmates.

While Dubuffet’s term is quite specific, the English term “outsider art” is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or Naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.

Outsider art has emerged as a successful art marketing category (an annual Outsider Art Fair has taken place in New York since 1992). The term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people outside the mainstream “art world,” regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.

In 1991, the first and only such organization dedicated to the study, exhibition and promotion of outsider art was formed in Chicago: Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Chicago is often recognized for its concentration of self taught and outsider artists, among them — Henry Darger, Joseph Yoakum, Lee Godie, William Dawson, David Philpot, and Wesley Willis. Intuit maintains a non-profit museum, open to the public, which features exhibitions of art by intuitive, outsider, and self taught artists.

The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut (French: [aʁ bʁyt], “raw art” or “rough art”), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by insane-asylum inmates.

While Dubuffet’s term is quite specific, the English term “outsider art” is often applied more broadly, to include certain self-taught or Naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.

Outsider art has emerged as a successful art marketing category (an annual Outsider Art Fair has taken place in New York since 1992). The term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people outside the mainstream “art world,” regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.

In 1991, the first and only such organization dedicated to the study, exhibition and promotion of outsider art was formed in Chicago: Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Chicago is often recognized for its concentration of self taught and outsider artists, among them — Henry Darger, Joseph Yoakum, Lee Godie, William Dawson, David Philpot, and Wesley Willis. Intuit maintains a non-profit museum, open to the public, which features exhibitions of art by intuitive, outsider, and self taught artists.

Jean Dubuffet and art brut

French artist Jean Dubuffet was particularly struck by Bildnerei der Geisteskranken and began his own collection of such art, which he called art brut or raw art. In 1948 he formed the Compagnie de l’Art Brut along with other artists, including André Breton. The collection he established became known as the Collection de l’Art Brut. It contains thousands of works and is now permanently housed in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Dubuffet characterized art brut as:

“Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals. After a certain familiarity with these flourishings of an exalted feverishness, lived so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade.” – Jean Dubuffet. Place à l’incivisme (Make way for Incivism). Art and Text no.27 (December 1987 – February 1988). p.36 Dubuffet’s writing on art brut was the subject of a noted program at the Art Club of Chicago in the early 1950s.

Dubuffet argued that ‘culture’, that is mainstream culture, managed to assimilate every new development in art, and by doing so took away whatever power it might have had. The result was to asphyxiate genuine expression. Art brut was his solution to this problem – only art brut was immune to the influences of culture, immune to being absorbed and assimilated, because the artists themselves were not willing or able to be assimilated.

Cultural Context

The interest in “outsider” practices among twentieth century artists and critics can be seen as part of a larger emphasis on the rejection of established values within the modernist art milieu. The early part of the 20th Century gave rise to cubism and the Dada, Constructivist and Futurist movements in art, all of which involved a dramatic movement away from cultural forms of the past. Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, for example, abandoned “painterly” technique to allow chance operations a role in determining the form of his works, or simply to re-contextualize existing “readymade” objects as art. Mid-century artists, including Pablo Picasso, looked “outside” the traditions of high culture for inspiration, drawing from the artifacts of “primitive” societies, the unschooled artwork of children, and vulgar advertising graphics. Dubuffet’s championing of the art brut — of the insane and others at the margins of society—is yet another example of avant-garde art challenging established cultural values.

Terminology

A number of terms are used to describe art that is loosely understood as “outside” of official culture. Definitions of these terms vary, and there are areas of overlap between them. The editors of Raw Vision, a leading journal in the field, suggest that “Whatever views we have about the value of controversy itself, it is important to sustain creative discussion by way of an agreed vocabulary”. Consequently they lament the use of “outsider artist” to refer to almost any untrained artist. “It is not enough to be untrained, clumsy or naïve. Outsider Art is virtually synonymous with Art Brut in both spirit and meaning, to that rarity of art produced by those who do not know its name.”

  • Art Brut: literally translated from French means “raw art”; ‘Raw’ in that it has not been through the ‘cooking’ process: the art world of art schools, galleries, museums. Originally art by psychotic individuals who existed almost completely outside culture and society. Strictly speaking it refers only to the Collection de l’Art Brut.
  • Folk art: Folk art originally suggested crafts and decorative skills associated with peasant communities in Europe – though presumably it could equally apply to any indigenous culture. It has broadened to include any product of practical craftsmanship and decorative skill – everything from chain-saw animals to hub-cap buildings. A key distinction between folk and outsider art is that folk art typically embodies traditional forms and social values, where outsider art stands in some marginal relationship to society’s mainstream.
  • Intuitive art / Visionary art: Raw Vision Magazine’s preferred general terms for outsider art. It describes them as deliberate umbrella terms. However, Visionary Art unlike other definitions here can often refer to the subject matter of the works, which includes images of a spiritual or religious nature. Intuitive art is probably the most general term available. Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art based in Chicago operates a museum dedicated to the study and exhibition of intuitive and outsider art. The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland is dedicated to the collection and display of visionary art.
  • Marginal art/Art singulier: Essentially the same as Neue Invention; refers to artists on the margins of the art world.
  • Naïve art: Another term commonly applied to untrained artists who aspire to “normal” artistic status, i.e. they have a much more conscious interaction with the mainstream art world than do outsider artists.
  • Neuve Invention: Used to describe artists who, although marginal, have some interaction with mainstream culture. They may be doing art part-time for instance. The expression was coined by Dubuffet too; strictly speaking it refers only to a special part of the Collection de l’Art Brut.
  • Visionary environments: Buildings and sculpture parks built by visionary artists – range from decorated houses, to large areas incorporating a large number of individual sculptures with a tightly associated theme. Examples include Watts Towers by Simon Rodia, Buddha Park and Sala Keoku by Bunleua Sulilat, and The Palais Ideal by Ferdinand Cheval.

Notable outsider artists

  • Nek Chand (b. 1924) is an Indian artist, famous for building the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, a forty acre (160,000 m2) sculpture garden in the city of Chandigarh, India.
  • Ferdinand Cheval (1836–1924) was a country postman in Hauterives, south of Lyon, France. Motivated by a dream, he spent 33 years constructing the Palais Ideal. Half organic building, half massive sculpture, it was constructed from stones collected on his postal round, held together with chicken wire, cement, and lime.
  • Henry Darger (1892–1973) was a solitary man who was orphaned and institutionalised as a child. In the privacy of his Chicago apartment, he produced 15,000 pages of text and hundreds of large scale illustrations, including maps, collaged photos and watercolors that depict his child heroes “the Vivian Girls” in the midst of battle scenes that combine imagery of the US Civil War with fanciful monsters.[1] – link to Henry Darger Room study collection
  • Francis E. Dec (1926–1996) was a U.S. lawyer disbarred in 1961 after what he claimed was a conspiracy and who spent the next thirty years of his life in isolation mailing increasingly paranoid rants to the media. His outlandish worldview and unique writing style made his rants become cult items circulated as involuntary humour and underground poetry.
  • Howard Finster (1916–2001), a self-taught artist, was a preacher from Summerville, Georgia who claimed to be inspired by God to spread the gospel through the built environment of Paradise Garden, his masterpiece, and over 46,000 pieces of art.
  • Madge Gill (1882–1961), was an English mediumistic artist who made thousands of drawings “guided” by a spirit she called “Myrninerest” (my inner rest).
  • Paul Gosch (1885–1940), a schizophrenic German artist and architect murdered by the Nazis in their euthanasia campaign.
  • Alexander Lobanov (1924–2003) was a deaf and autistically withdrawn Russian known for detailed and self-aggrandizing self-portraits: paintings, photographs and quilts, which usually include images of large guns.
  • Helen Martins (1897–1976) transformed the house she inherited from her parents in Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa, into a fantastical environment decorated with crushed glass and cement sculptures. The house is known as The Owl House.
  • Tarcisio Merati (1934–1995), an Italian artist, was confined to a psychiatric hospital for most of his adult life during which time he produced a vast amount of drawings (several dream toys, bird on nest etc) , text and musical composition.
  • Martin Ramirez (1895–1963), a Mexican outsider artist who spent most of his adult life institutionalized in a California mental hospital (he had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic). He developed an elaborate iconography featuring repeating shapes mixed with images of trains and Mexican folk figures.
  • Achilles Rizzoli (1896–1981) was employed as an architectural draftsman. He lived with his mother near San Francisco, California. After his death, a huge collection of elaborate drawings were discovered, many in the form of maps and architectural renderings that described a highly personal fantasy exposition, including portraits of his mother as a neo-baroque building.
  • Judith Scott (1943–2005) was born deaf and with Down Syndrome. After taking a fiber art class at an art institute for the disabled, she began to produce objects wrapped in many layers of string and fibers.
  • Bunleua Sulilat (1932–1996) was a Thai/Lao myth-maker and informal religious leader who organized large groups of unskilled volunteers for the construction of two religious-themed parks featuring giant fantastic concrete sculptures.
  • Miroslav Tichý (b. 1926) wandered the small Moravian town of Kyjov in rags, pursuing his obsession with the female form by secretly photographing women in the streets, shops and parks with cameras he made from tin cans, children’s spectacle lenses and other junk he found on the street. He would return home each day to make prints on equally primitive equipment, making only one print from the negatives he selected. His work remained largely unknown until 2005, when he was 79 years old.
  • Adolf Wölfli (1864–1930), a Swiss artist, was confined to a psychiatric hospital for most of his adult life during which time he produced a vast amount of drawings, text and musical composition. Wölfli was the first well-known “outsider artist,” and he remains closely associated with the label.
  • Kiyoshi Yamashita (1922–1971) was a Japanese graphic artist who spent much of his life wandering as a vagabond through Japan. He has been considered an autistic savant.
  • Scotti Wilson (1928–1972) (born Louis Freeman), emigrated from Scotland to the United States and opened a second-hand clothes store, found fame when his casual doodlings were noted for their dream-like character.
  • Bill Traylor (1854–1949). Better characterized as “self-taught” than “outsider,” Traylor was born into slavery in Alabama. Unable to read or write, he first began drawing in 1939 at the age of eighty-three. He worked full-time for the next four years to produce over eighteen hundred drawings. He used a straight edge to create geometric silhouettes of human and animal figures which he then filled in with crayon and tempera. He is known for his intriguing use of pattern versus flat color and a remarkably intuitive sense of space.
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Get to Know: Zoroastrianism

Posted by jase on July 11, 2009

Zoroastrianism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster, after whom the religion is named. The term Zoroastrianism is, in general usage, essentially synonymous with Mazdaism, i.e. the worship of Ahura Mazda, exalted by Zoroaster as the supreme divine authority.

Zoroastrianism is uniquely important in the history of religion because of its possible formative links to both Western and Eastern religious traditions. In the opinion of Mary Boyce, as “the oldest of the revealed credal religions”, Zoroastrianism “probably had more influence on mankind directly or indirectly than any other faith”.

In the English language, an adherent of the faith commonly refers to him- or herself as a Zoroastrian or, less commonly, a Zarathustrian. An older, but still widespread expression is Behdin, meaning “follower of Daena“, for which “Good Religion” is one translation. In the Zoroastrian liturgy, the term Behdin is also used as a title for an individual who has been formally inducted into the religion (see navjote for details).

 

Basic beliefs

  • There is one universal and transcendental God, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated Creator to whom all worship is ultimately directed.
  • Ahura Mazda’s creation—evident as asha, truth and order—is the antithesis of chaos, evident as druj, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict.
  • Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster’s concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism.
  • Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail over evil Angra Mainyu / Ahriman (see below), at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end (cf: Zoroastrian eschatology). In the final renovation, all of creation—even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to “darkness”—will be reunited in Ahura Mazda returning to life in the undead form. At the end of time a savior-figure [a Saoshyant] will bring about a final renovation of the world, and in which the dead will be revived.
  • There will then be a final purgation of evil from the Earth (through a tidal wave of molten metal) and a purgation of evil from the heavens (through a cosmic battle of spiritual forces). In the end good will triumph, and each person will find himself or herself transformed into a spiritualized body and soul. Those who died as adults will be transformed into healthy adults of forty years of age, and those who died young will find themselves permanently youthful, about age fifteen. In these new spiritual bodies, humans will live without food, without hunger or thirst, and without weapons (or possibility of bodily injury). The material substance of the bodies will be so light as to cast no shadow. All humanity will speak a single language and belong to a single nation without borders. All will experience immortality (Ameretat) and will share a single purpose and goal, joining with the divine for a perpetual exaltation of God’s glory.
  • In Zoroastrian tradition the malevolent is represented by Angra Mainyu (also referred to as “Ahriman”), the “Destructive Principle”, while the benevolent is represented through Ahura Mazda’s Spenta Mainyu, the instrument or “Bounteous Principle” of the act of creation. It is through Spenta Mainyu that transcendental Ahura Mazda is immanent in humankind, and through which the Creator interacts with the world. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, in articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula Ahura Mazda made His ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu.
  • As expressions and aspects of Creation, Ahura Mazda emanated the Amesha Spentas (“Bounteous Immortals”), that are each the hypostasis and representative of one aspect of that Creation. These Amesha Spenta are in turn assisted by a league of lesser principles, the Yazatas, each “Worthy of Worship” and each again a hypostasis of a moral or physical aspect of creation.

Other characteristics

  • Water and fire: In Zoroastrianism, water (apo, aban) and fire (atar, adar) are agents of ritual purity, and the associated purification ceremonies are considered the basis of ritual life. In Zoroastrian cosmogony, water and fire are respectively the second and last primordial elements to have been created, and scripture considers fire to have its origin in the waters. Both water and fire are considered life-sustaining, and both water and fire are represented within the precinct of a fire temple. Zoroastrians usually pray in the presence of some form of fire (which can be considered evident in any source of light), and the culminating rite of the principal act of worship constitutes a “strengthening of the waters” (see Ab-Zohr). Fire is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained, and water is considered the source of that wisdom.
  • Proselytizing and conversion: Zoroastrians do not proselytize and living Zoroastrianism has no missionaries. There may be historical reasons for this (amongst those in India proselytizing was/is a crime and the culprit faces expulsion), but in recent years, and with the exception of the Iranian priesthood, Zoroastrian communities are generally not supportive of conversion.
  • Inter-faith marriages: As in many other faiths, Zoroastrians are strongly encouraged to marry others of the same faith, but this is not a requirement of the religion itself. Rather it is a creation of those in India. Some members of the Indian Zoroastrian community (the Parsis) contend that a child must have a Parsi father to be eligible for introduction into the faith, but this assertion is considered by most to be a violation of the Zoroastrian tenets of gender equality, and may be a remnant of an old Indian legal definition (since overruled) of ‘Parsi’. This issue is a matter of great debate within the Parsi community, but with the increasingly global nature of modern society and the dwindling number of Zoroastrians, such opinions are less vociferous than they were previously.
  • Life, death and reincarnation: In Zoroastrian tradition, life is a temporary state in which a mortal is expected to actively participate in the continuing battle between truth and falsehood. Prior to being born, the soul (urvan) of an individual is still united with its fravashi, of which there are as very many, and which have existed since Mazda created the universe. During life, the fravashi acts as a guardian and protector. On the fourth day after death, the soul is reunited with its fravashi, and in which the experiences of life in the material world are collected for the continuing battle in the spiritual world. In general, Zoroastrianism does not have a notion of reincarnation, at least not until the final renovation of the world.
  • Disposal of the dead: In Zoroastrian scripture and tradition, a corpse is a host for decay, i.e. of druj. Consequently, scripture enjoins the “safe” disposal of the dead in a manner such that a corpse does not pollute the “good” creation. These injunctions are the doctrinal basis of the fast-fading traditional practice of ritual exposure, most commonly identified with the so-called “Towers of Silence” for which there is no standard technical term in either scripture or tradition. The practice of ritual exposure is only practised by Zoroastrian communities of the Indian subcontinent, where it is not illegal, but where alternative disposal methods are desperately sought after diclofenac poisoning has led to the virtual extinction of scavenger birds. Other Zoroastrian communities either cremate their dead, or bury them in graves that are cased with lime mortar.

It is believed that key concepts of Zoroastrian eschatology and demonology have had influence on the Abrahamic religions. On the other hand, Zoroastrianism itself inherited ideas from other belief systems and, like other practiced religions, accommodates some degree of syncretism

Many aspects of Zoroastrianism are present in the culture and mythologies of the peoples of the Greater Iran, not least because Zoroastrianism, was a dominant influence on the people of the cultural continent for a thousand years. Even after the rise of Islam and the loss of direct influence, Zoroastrianism remained part of the cultural heritage of the Iranian language-speaking world, in part as festivals and customs, but also because Ferdowsi incorporated a number of the figures and stories from the Avesta in his epic Shāhnāme, which in turn is pivotal to Iranian identity.

Principle Beliefs

Ahura Mazda is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything which can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In the Gathas, the most sacred texts of Zoroastrianism thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the prophet acknowledged devotion to no other divinity besides Ahura Mazda.

Daena (din in modern Persian) is the eternal Law, whose order was revealed to humanity through the Mathra-Spenta (“Holy Words”). Daena has been used to mean religion, faith, law, even as a translation for the Hindu and Buddhist term Dharma, often interpreted as “duty” but can also mean social order, right conduct, or virtue. The metaphor of the ‘path’ of Daena is represented in Zoroastrianism by the muslin undershirt Sudra, the ‘Good/Holy Path’, and the 72-thread Kushti girdle, the “Pathfinder”.

Daena should not be confused with the fundamental principle asha (Vedic rta), the equitable law of the universe, which governed the life of the ancient Indo-Iranians. For these, asha was the course of everything observable, the motion of the planets and astral bodies, the progression of the seasons, the pattern of daily nomadic herdsman life, governed by regular metronomic events such as sunrise and sunset. All physical creation (geti) was thus determined to run according to a master plan — inherent to Ahura Mazda — and violations of the order (druj) were violations against creation, and thus violations against Ahura Mazda. This concept of asha versus the druj should not be confused with the good-versus-evil battle evident in western religions, for although both forms of opposition express moral conflict, the asha versus druj concept is more systemic and less personal, representing, for instance, chaos (that opposes order); or “uncreation”, evident as natural decay (that opposes creation); or more simply “the lie” (that opposes truth, righteousness). Moreover, in his role as the one uncreated creator of all, Ahura Mazda is not the creator of druj which is “nothing”, anti-creation, and thus (likewise) uncreated. Thus, in Zoroaster’s revelation, Ahura Mazda was perceived to be the creator of only the good (Yasna 31.4), the “supreme benevolent providence” (Yasna 43.11), that will ultimately triumph (Yasna 48.1).

Further reading

Introduction to Zoroastrianism

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