Outsider Art: The hot art trend we can all afford

Over the summer, the Hayward Gallery in London featured an exhibition called An Alternative Guide to the Universe. That exhibition showcased what is called “outsider art”, and it took the capital by storm. But what is outsider art? What does it mean, and why is it the one form of art that is accessible to everyone?

Joe Minter sculpture

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This history of outsider art

The term “outsider art” was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972. As art brut (literally, raw art) was becoming popular in France, Cardinal wanted an English phrase to describe the movement that focussed on art usually created by children and patients in mental institutions. Both descriptions focussed on how outside the boundaries of the art world these works were, largely because the artists didn’t have the same perspective as classically trained artists.

Figgy Fox painting

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Eventually, outsider art came to be applied to any art that has been created by anyone (not just children and institutionalised patients) who have had no contact with the art world. These artists don’t get their works exhibited, they didn’t study classical art techniques, and they aren’t engaged with other artists, critics or genres of art.

Because of this isolation, outsider artists are self taught, and their work tends to have a naïve quality that appeals to many critics and art fans.

Outsider art today

Today, outsider art has become a big genre in the art world. Outsider art fairs have been running in New York and around the world since the early 1990s, and works have been exhibited in major galleries and museums to great critical acclaim.

New York Art Fair

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In fact, many artists who have had training in the art world have misappropriated the label, applying it to their work – regardless of the content of it – simply because they operate on the fringes of the art world.

Still, the art world’s appetite for outsider art is only growing stronger, so now is a great time to start getting into the genre.

How you can get some outsider art

By its very definition, outsider art is art that is outside the art world, so to find some real outsider art, you have to look past the galleries and shops in a city. Folk artists often fall into the outsider art category, so try looking in villages and rural areas that have a lot of artists in them. Go to the fairs and exhibitions to find a large selection of outsider art.

Loudspeaker bird

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The great thing about outsider art, though, is that you can do it yourself. After all, the outsider art movement started in part by admiring children’s art, so you can simply frame some of your own kids’ work. You can also make some of your own, since there are no rules about what outsider art should look like. Just paint, draw, make collages or assemble a sculpture from whatever you have to hand, and you will have a work of outsider art – provided you don’t know how to create art in the traditional sense.

What do you think about this big art trend: are you eager to get involved, or do you think art should be left to the professionals?

Howard Finster portrait

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