Comstock's magazine 0519 - May 2019 - Page 39

one of the contributing galleries for 15 years — and to show their work at her gallery as well as to purchase piec- es that speak to her as a private collector. Exhibitions of outsider art continue to be held locally at Archival, on K VIE and at the Verge Center for the Arts, which hosted a survey show of 35 years of SCN artwork in 2014, as well as nationally at venues such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the annual Outsider Art Fairs in New York and Paris. Yet questions about the genre’s definition, popularity and marketability remain. Some outsider artworks have fetched prices in the tens of thousands of dollars on the national art scene, but most sell for less than $100 when they’re hung on the wall of a local gallery. Which figure is a more accurate ref lec- tion of the value of outsider art? Is there any way to tell when the genre itself is so hard to define? When French artist Dubuffet started using the term art brut, he was referring particularly to art done by those on the outside of the established art scene, then primari- ly patients at psychiatric hospitals and children. Art crit- ic Cardinal broadened the definition when he attached the word “outsider” to mean art done by someone who is naïve — a child or patient — or self-taught. Neath sees the term as perhaps too broad to do its various subgenres justice. She sees five subgenres: religious-fervor artwork (she cites famed outsider artist Howard Finster, who claimed to be inspired by God to spread the gospel through his art); prison art; children’s art; artwork by the developmentally disabled; and art by the legally insane. For Liv Moe, founding director of Verge Center for the Arts, the definition isn’t just overly broad, it’s downright problematic. “The cliché of outsider art being considered more ‘pure’ because it’s outside the mainstream fetishizes the artists, which takes away their individuality,” says Moe. When the term was first used in the 1970s and ’80s, she ex- plains, it was to specify a previously nebulous genre full of people operating on the fringe of the art establishment — whether because they were self-taught, disabled or living in rural areas and therefore not part of the conversation. But over the years, a romanticism has taken hold that sees these artists not as outsiders but as something akin to ar- tistic unicorns. “The concept [of art] that comes down to us through academia is that we’re all contributing to a running Good design reflects community. Great design creates it. May 2019 | 39