Outsider Art
Definition, History, Collections of Primitive/Naive Art.

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The Sleeping Gypsy (1897)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
A masterpiece of Naïve art,
by Henri Rousseau, perhaps the
most famous creator of Outsider art.
For other works by Rousseau, see:
The Dream (1910) MOMA, New York.

For painting and drawing,
see: Fine Art.
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see: Plastic Art.
For ornamental designwork,
see: Decorative Art.
For crafts and design,
see: Applied Art.
For artworks made from salvaged
material, see: Junk Art.
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see: Visual Art.
For concepts of beauty,
see: Aesthetics.

Outsider Art


In fine art, the term "Outsider art" refers to works produced by artists outside the established art world or outside the conventional boundaries of official culture. The actual phrase "Outsider art" was first used in 1972, by the art critic Roger Cardinal, as an English equivalent of the French term "art brut" (raw art) first coined by the French painter and assemblage artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) for the same type of primitive art. As it was, Dubuffet's focus was on paintings/ drawings by psychotics in insane-asylums, of which he amassed a sizeable collection, managed by his Compagnie de l'Art Brut.

Wider Than Art Brut

If Dubuffet's concept of Art Brut is largely confined to works by marginalized and maladjusted individuals, the English concept of Outsider art is wider, and embraces works by uneducated, self-taught (naive) artists, and those by artists with little or no contact with institutional forms of art, including geographically remote artists and cultures, as well as painting and sculpture by asylum inmates. Outsider art is exemplified by the work of the Irish landscape painter James Dixon (1887-1970) who lived on windswept Tory Island, off the coast of Donegal. Dixon's outstanding artistic talents only became apparent when he took up painting at the age of 72! Note that Outsider art describes works created outside the norm: it does not refer simply to artists who are unconventional. Thus, for instance, followers of Dada, or any other anti-art movements are not considered to be Outsider artists. Similarly, it does not include the well-documented drawings and paintings of autistic artists, if those artists are working within the mainstream art scene.

For an explanation of the

the creative arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

For a guide, see: Art Types.

For a list of the best examples of
oils, watercolours, mixed
media from 1300-present, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever.
For the top 3-D artworks, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.


Other Types of Outsider Art

Naïve Art
This old-fashioned term used to be employed to describe outsider art by a painter or sculptor without any formal training or qualification, such as the celebrated artist Henri Rousseau 'Le Douanier' (1844-1910). It referred to supposedly spontaneous, intuitive art, typically bold in design, simplistic in form and colour, and lacking in conventional motifs like linear perspective and chiaroscuro. However, since this genre became established in the 19th century, it has spawned a host of "pseudo-naïve" or "faux-naïve" works - often by highly trained, polished artists - now available in art galleries worldwide.

Primitive Art
The term 'primitivism/primitive art' is sometimes used - as a synonym for Outsider art - to describe art by untrained and unsophisticated artists, but is more accurately used to describe work from contemporary tribal cultures, such as Aboriginal, Oceanic, Native American, African or Alaskan art. However, the term is now considered politically incorrect by critics of modern art - who prefer terms such as "folk art", "vernacular art", or "intuitive art".


The biggest assembly of Outsider art is Jean Dubuffet's Collection de l'Art Brut - based in Lausanne Switzerland and numbering over 5,000-items. Another smaller group is The Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection, at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), which features such artists as Aloise, Carlo, Henry Darger, Madge Gill, Hauser, J.B. Murry, Sekulic, Oswald Tschirtner, Van Genk, Scottie Wilson, Wolfli, Zemankova, along with a number of lesser-known modern artists.

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