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Outsider Art is a collection of essays that deal with the question
of the artistic canon and the art that does not immediately find itself
to be situated within the canon. For the most part the essays present
the historical trajectory of art that begins outside the canon and then
as it develops and as tradition changes, eventually finds itself as an
accepted element of the artistic canon. Suggested then is the historical
nature of the artistic canon; artistic traditions are historically situated
and reflect larger cultural contexts.
Outsider Art, questioning how the outside/inside boundary is
constructed and historical, operates from a post-modern position.
Situated beyond any conception of a stable, if nonetheless constructed,
inside, Outsider Art focuses on the question of how the outside
The collection of essays presented by Outsider Art is engaging.
The essays written from a sociological perspective consider the place of
art within cultural, historical and economic contexts. The essays
tell a diverse set of stories -- stories about the rise of pop art, about
the assembly-line art of Mark Kostabi, about the relationship between art
and madness, about art world scandal, about the cultural place of community-based
theatre companies and about the historical emergence modern dance and the
While Outsider Art seems to make a concerted effort to destabilize
artistic canons, both by demonstrating their historicity and by challenging
their validity, the book in the final analysis falls into a trap lodged
in the heart of post-modernity in general.
While on one hand Outsider Art challenges the traditional canon
on the other hand there is a sense in which Outsider Art establishes its
own canon. Glaring absences draw attention to this. While Outsider
Art considers a wide range of artistic forms, the visual arts, theatre,
dance, the lack of discussion of music and film stands out. Why are
music and film not explicitly addressed? This absence is particularly
striking in so far as many of the arguments, in particular arguments regarding
the blurring between pop and high art, made by the essays in Outsider
Art, seem to operate emphatically in music and film.
Outsider Art was originally published in 1997. I wish that
it had been published in 1989, for two reasons. Theoretically the
compliation articulates, beautifully, the postmodern position -- a position
that in 1989 I was eager to hear. Also however, in terms of explicit
content the essays seem to speak for and of the art world until 1990.
Many of the essays are specifically grounded in the 1980s and the new computer-based
artistic forms that developed in the last days of the 20th century
are not addressed at all.
Ultimately Outsider Art point to a problem not proper to the outsiders
or the not-yet-canonized, but of the postmodern position in general.
Any destablization of traditional bears with it the possibility of merely
establishing a new canon. Rather than dismantle the logic of canon,
postmodernity often merely replaces. Here the new canon is defined
as that which challenges or questions boundaries. The problem ultimately
is located in a tension between form and content. While at the level
of content, Outsider Art, offers something beyond tradition, at
the level of form, in so far as the book presents an articulation of an
art world, Outsider Art establishes and speaks for a new tradition.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the essays in Outsider Art and found their analysis,
subject matter and perspective both interesting and provocative, ultimately
I was left asking, 'What is outside Outsider Art'?
© 2001 Kathryn Walker
Kathryn Walker is
a doctoral student in York University's Social and Political Thought program.
Her work is focused on the relationship between moods, rationality and
politics. Kathryn is also part of the j_spot
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