Her works emerged from dreams and visions she had since childhood, as her hands were being guided by the wonders of God to show divine presence in the world. Giant birds, biblical figures, complex flowers, mysterious faces, and other spiritual images adorned her pages. Once she began drawing, nothing stopped her, not poverty, or the claim by family members and friends that she was "crazy," or her lack of training as an artist (Farrington 203).
Similarly, J.B. Murray lived nearly all his life in a rural, remote Georgia town. In the late 1970s, the devoutly religious Murray seriously believed that God was sending him messages. Although he was illiterate, Murray thus began writing with any available instruments in undecipherable script and crosses. Despite the fact that he was later incarcerated and briefly institutionalized for his odd behavior, after he was freed he continued writing throughout his home's interior and sending prophetic inscriptions to members of his church (Padgelek).
African-American folk art has been gaining acceptance over the past several decades. Known by many of the above noted designations -- naive, self-taught, folk and outsider -- these artists have existed outside of the art schools and academies. They were direct descendents of the slaves in the past or now help people recall these horrible times (Farrington). African-American folk art first became recognized during the late 1930s when the Museum of Modern Art exhibited the works of self-taught artists William Edmonson and Horace Pippin. Interest in such artwork, however, decreased in the 1950s, and did not come alive again until the mid- 1980s. Over the following two decades, more and more people grew to desire this "vernacular" art that is, as expressed by connoisseur Paul Arnett, "a language in use that differs from the official language of power and reflects complex intercultural relationships charged with issues of race, class, language and education."
To keep themselves busy and occupied, prisoners have also produced arts and crafts. Similar characteristics that sometimes promote outsider status such as social inequality, poverty, lack of education is indicative of many of these individuals as well. Often the censorship of the institution is just the impetus needed to urge the prisoners to express themselves. "In Cellblock Visions: Prison Art in America."
Art Journal, Winter, 1997 [electronic version.] the author
Phyllis Kornfield, writes about artists in prisons who are either self-taught or have had some training. One of the most able artists in her book is Daniel (Stretch) Watson, a college graduate who has been drawing since high school. His brightly colored superrealistic images are included in surreal compositions that provide commentary on present-day social matters. Watson says that his works are his way of contributing to society while he serves a life sentence for murder.
The prisoners often portray the sights of their everyday life behind bars. Arthur Keigney started carrying a gun and holding up banks as a young teen. He's been incarcerated since 1971 for maksed armed bank robbery. In prison, Keigney became interested in painting. While in Massachusetts state prisons, he painted such works as "Haircut, F-Ward," a self-portrait of himself getting a terrible haircut in the cell. A woman prisoner named Elaine Butler completed pictures of inmates in her facility lying outdoors on towels, which she sarcastically called "Mabel's Beach." Some prisoners make artwork for other inmates, others for gifts and family.
Spiritualists and mediums have also had their artwork considered as outsider products. The medium Helene Smith's typical personality transformed radically when she went into her trances. Through her powerful male spirit, she showed in word and artistic expression the other worlds she visited. Sometimes, she would travel to Mars and even speak Martian while automatically drawing automatic (Rhodes 144)-- "the pencil glided so quickly that I did not have time to discover what contours it was making. I can assert without any exaggerations that it was not my hand alone that made the drawing, but that truly an invisible force guided the pencil in spite of me."
Outsider Art" continues to evolve along with changes in society. A new form of work, for example, called "recycled folk art," transform pieces of trash into new treasures. In Mexican-American Texas communities, houses are adorned by objects, colors and symbols that reflect a history over the past to present days. Many of the visually rich barrio decorations are made from everyday castoffs such as Styrofoam cups, tires and tile chips. Brightly colored trucks and cars, tree swings, and televisions act as shrines to the Virgin of San Juan. Windmills and whirligigs are made from soda cans, butterflies from scrapped tin and muffler robots from used auto parts (Cerny)
Folk art from various other American cultures include such oddities as Elvis-looking alligators, banjo chickens, tin-men statues, flag creations and Americanized versions of Irish, Japanese, Syrian, French and many other cultural traditions. Bebo is an artist that lives in Kingston Springs, Tennessee. He cuts critters out of old barnwood and paints them with tractor paint. The critters range in size from 1 foot to over 12 feet. W.C. Rice has a christian cross garden in Prattville, Alabama., near Montgomery. In Wisconsin, visitors see grottos, sculpture gardens and personal statements running across the length of the state from the very religious messages of Holy Ghost Park in southwestern Dickeyville to Fred Smith's patriotic masterwork in north-central Phillips.
When "Outsider Art" was first defined by Cardinal, there were only a few collectors. Mostly, they were interested in artwork from mental institutions. However, "Outsider Art" is becoming very popular in the United States. Museum shows and fairs specifically highlight their work. Regardless of what specific genres one puts under the umbrella of "Outsider Art," (na ve, folk art, etc.), there is agreement that the creators have to be outside of the mainstream. However, the line is often very fine. When outsiders are institutionalized, they are separated by mental or physical barriers. However, in many cases other self-taught creators often move close to the mainstream.
Some self-taught creators, beyond those in institutions, do not want to be in the limelight. No one knows about their work. When other outsiders are noticed and achieve a new status, they do not wish the economic gain and notoriety associated with fame. Yet they may feel more a part of the mainstream and lose their anonymity. This does not mean that their work will alter or that they move to the inside circle. However, they may be clearer about the interests of their "insider" audience. Purposely or unconsciously, they may change their approach or step within the inside boundaries.
The mystique of outside art lies in its anonymity and elusiveness. Once it "comes out of the closet," so to speak, it is no longer a mystery and possible to be discovered. As Walker notes: "One reason 'Outsider Art' is increasingly popular is because it seems so unmediated, as though it tumbled directly from the creator's mind onto the canvas. The discovery that the creator actually guided its fall with some skills -- skills, worse yet, that he deliberately honed -- can feel like a betrayal, at least for those who've romanticized the artist as an untutored primitive without any self-awareness."
In any society, there are acts or behaviors that occur outside the norm. Many people consider them alien, undesirable, or even on the verge of being illegal. However, these negative concerns change as more individuals have experience with them. When TV shows were first produced, for example, they never showed a bedroom with anything but twin beds. Now, not only is there one bed in the scene, but making love is commonly seen on broadcast shows even during prime time.
What happens when "Outside Art" becomes an "in" thing with much of America? For instance, an "Outsider Art" fair did not include one creator because he had become too known. Joe Coleman was one of the "Outsider Art's" biggest stars, creating bright paintings of riots, demons, serial killers, and sideshow geeks. His work was immediately recognizable. The show's director said that Coleman had been to art school, which removed him from the lists of the self-taught. She believed his work was now more appropriate for a contemporary fair. As a response, Coleman argued that money was the main problem. When he was excluded, the organizers described him as being "too aware of the whole business process of selling" his work. He noted: "They seem to want to promote an art in which they're dealing with people who are either emotionally or physically incapable of protecting themselves. Or dead."
Is "Outsider Art" going to dissolve into the ranks of contemporary art in the years to come? Some experts say that it is wrong to conclude that there can be no "Outsider Art." "It is not knowledge of, or even engagement with, a dominant culture that destroys the outsider illusion, but functional acceptance into that culture" (Rhodes).
Cardinal agrees. He believes there is still a case for acknowledging the art form as…