The art world and the world of madness are connected. Contemporary artists often try to give their own interpretation of what mental illness can be. They show the frailty of the human condition and examine the difference between what is normal and what is abnormal.
The term outsider art refers to spontaneous and unconventional pieces created by artists who are not part of the professional art scene or operate on the fringes of society. They can be psychiatric patients, mentally challenged persons, people leading a secluded life who have a hard time finding their place in society, just as well as playful creative persons who irrepressibly follow their own path in their art.
The attention for these artists comes from two sources: the discovery of ‘naïve art’ on the one hand, and psychiatry on the other. In 1928, art historian Wilhelm Uhde showed his self-taught ‘Sacred Heart painters’, whose works he collected since 1912, in a Paris exhibition. Already in 1922, German psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn published Bildnerei der Geisteskranken, for which he brought together about 5000 pieces all made by psychiatric patients. The book inspired many artists, including Jean Dubuffet who coined the term ‘art brut’, pure art, setting it against cultural art. Since the 1970s, the term ‘outsider art’ is used, which is applied more broadly.
Outsider artists make visual art that reveals talent, imagination, and authentic creative force. Their work is completely unrelated to professional art, training, tradition, and style. With their remarkable paintings, sculptures, and installations, they reach and move a wide audience.
The work of outsiders cannot be defined by a single term. There are storytellers as well as artists with a feverish compulsion to create their very own world. No matter the intention, the image is always presented without hesitation, with accuracy and conviction.