On the Artist as Outsider and Insider
To support its many efforts to create a utopia, Modern Art needed to create the Avant Garde and the idea of the artist as the outsider. The stranger, the Pale Rider who enters our hick town armed with truth and ready to radically change our world if we would only listen to their message. Who needs Clint Eastwood when you have the Wyoming cowboy Jackson Pollock riding into 1950s New York to save it.
As this idea of the Avant Garde started to weaken in the 70s, Roger Cardinal coined the term Outsider Art (Jean Dubuffet pioneered the field earlier as Art Brut) for a new class of art that focussed on the farthest cultural ripples of society. This was the art made by the self taught, the psychologically damaged and different – the social outsider beyond even the shamanic artist. Its promise: that without any pollution from the ‘modern’ world’s ideas the naive savant will reveal a deeper human story to us. The further we reach from the centre the purer the truth.
The belief that the truth can only be revealed from someone outside of the village is a historical idea that became popular in the 19th century with early anthropological experiments, was powered by early 20th century European politics and continued as a revolutionary cultural metaphor into the art world today.
Today, however, everything is different. There is no Avant Garde because we all live in one global village and no-one is outside. Despite the art market’s best attempt to paint China as our 21st century savant saviours, the Beijing artists are just as much part of the village as any Sao Paulo, Tehran or London-based artist.
There has been an inversion. And the redemptive and revolutionary truth lies at the centre, not the edges. In the global village the real outsider artist is the insider.
The artist as insider is the role that has been ascribed by our global society to any artist that wishes to take up the arms required. If everyone is connected, every system intertwingled and every culture meshed, the artist’s job is to reveal what is hidden in plain sight.
This is already happening at a social level with hacker culture, and on the streets in the entertaining irony of Banksy.The pioneering work of the collective Critical Engineering is an example of art that takes for its subject what is hidden.
In a world that is increasingly engineered, it is necessary to counter the power structures behind the engineering to reveal a truth. As Max Ernst said when talking about the power of surrealism and Hitler’s distaste for it – ‘we created one madness to oppose another’.
Drifting – Jane Parker
Pale Rider – Copyright The Malpaso Company
Max Ernst – Copyright The Max Ernst Estate