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Outsider. Visionary. Folk. Naïve. Self-taught. California has been home to a host of such nationally and internationally renowned artists. Outsider Art refers, in the most general terms, to a broad range of self-taught artists who create unique and highly personal work without regard to art traditions or the marketplace. In recent years, the genre has attracted its own audience of collectors and viewers. Folk art encompasses a community and tradition that passes from generation to generation. Art referred to as visionary connotes forward thinking or highly imaginative work, while terms such as “self-taught” and “naïve” comprise unlimited definitions. None of the artists fit into any one category, yet this exhibition reflects a comprehensive selection of work illustrating the range of these California artists.

A Condensed History
of Outsider Art

Humans once created some amazing, beautiful works without regard to the process of documentation. This phenomenon occurred not only in America, but also in Europe. Although one might argue that “if it didn’t get down on paper it didn’t happen,” the artwork exists nevertheless. Outsider Art began similarly – without a conscious record. Indeed, the art was there first.

Outsider Art’s rich history began in the middle of the nineteenth century, with a series of studies conducted European psychiatrists writing about the relationship between psychiatric disorders and artistic creativity. As early as 1857 in Scotland, Dr. W. Browne published Art in Madness. The Italian doctor and collector, Cesare Lombroso, produced Genio e follia, (Genius and Madness) in 1864; Marcel Reja’s, L’Art chez lez fous, (Art For the Mad, 1907); Paul Schilder’s Wahn und Erkenntnis, (Illusion and Realization, 1918). Finally, in 1921, came Ein Geisteskranker als Kunstler from the Swiss Dr. Walter Morgenthaler’s monograph of his patient and artist, Adolf Wolfli. This seminal work first designated a name to the subject of his study, instead of a pair of initials. The following year, Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, who was schooled in both psychiatry and art history, published his classic book on the art of the insane, Bildnerei der Geistedkranken. This coveted study heavily influenced artists such as Paul Klee, his contemporaries, and the Surrealists; the work’s impact on modern and contemporary art was simply immeasurable. Although this fact is widely recognized, no comprehensive text of art history of the Western World acknowledges or includes this important contribution.

The works of the Surrealists first outraged the public; they taunted the artists, calling them “mad men.” It was the artworks made by the “truly” mad men and women artists of the institutions that most influenced the Surrealists. Jean Dubuffet and Andre Breton formed “la Compagnier de l’ Art Brut” in 1948, thus coining the label “Art Brut.” Dubuffet amassed a large collection in the 1940’s while he formulated theories on “art without culture.” He was quite militant about it; after years of looking, he finally found a home for his amazing Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne. He once again brought focus on the importance and validity of this largely unknown, forgotten and mostly overlooked group of image-makers.

The artists chosen for this exhibition reflect their variety of physical and mental abilities and a way of working that they have continued to develop by way of attending adult art making workshops at Centers located throughout Northern California. Most of these artists have shown in both regional and national exhibitions, in galleries and museums.

These artists, like all human beings, have an innate desire and ability to create. They have chosen to focus their energy on art making. Like other artists, they too have the same motivations for making art: to make something great; approval seeking from one’s peers; monetary profit; catharsis; and it is foremost something to do. Like their European and southern counterparts, they excel at creating images that are as rich and imaginative as they are themselves. These artists work free of any knowledge of the art world past and present, but will often include image references to the American pop culture that bombards us daily.