Monday, 11 March 2013

Art Brut

Non-artists, may, under certain circumstances be able to produce the sublime better than the artists themselves. A number of artists embrace a naïve, childlike style even though they are technically capable of producing more traditional or photorealistic works. Working in an uninhibited, frenzied or freeing manner tends to allow the artist to create reminiscences of past conviviality, moments that existed in all of us as children. Reverting back to a time before responsibility, where the colour of the sky was unimportant because the sky could be any colour you wanted. French artist Jean Dubuffet invented the term ‘raw art’ or ‘art brut’ which basically described art that had been created outside of traditional art or art dominated by academic training. ‘Art Brut included graffiti, the work of patients in psychiatric hospitals, prisoners, children, and naive or primitive artists. What Dubuffet valued in this material was the raw expression of a vision or emotions, untrammelled by convention. These qualities he attempted to incorporate into his own art, to which the term Art Brut is also sometimes applied. Dubuffet made a large collection of Art Brut.’1

Art Brut didn’t really reach Britain until in 1972 when an art critic named Roger Cardinal created a new term for it. He called it ‘outsider art’; his version of this raw art was to be applied on a much broader scale than Dubuffet’s Art Brut. It is similar to what Dubuffet called ‘Neuve Invention’, where the artist has some interaction or connection to mainstream culture. ‘Marginal art’ and ‘Art singulier’ are essentially the same things, where the artist is on the margins of the art world. Usually, the work of outsider artists is discovered after their deaths. It often illustrates extreme mental states, incredibly controversial themes, unconventional ideas, or imaginary worlds. These artists tend to have no contact any art institutions or the art world in general. In Britain, there is a magazine called ‘Raw Vision’. ‘It defines outsider art as "creative expression that exist outside accepted cultural norms, or the realm of 'fine art'", and says that its "creators would not consider themselves artists, nor would they even feel that they were producing art at all."

Yet, these individuals are able to work in a way we (perhaps educated artists) are not really, truly able to. They remain uninfluenced by the modern world, by what was and what is, they create the way a child would, a form of communication before language, they create art in its purest form. It seems a more sublime, a much more real form of art, produced using parts of the brain we’ve suffocated with knowledge, the sky is blue and therefore it must be blue unless I choose to paint it red. They might not notice the colour of the sky only that it is to be painted with anything, as long as it is painted, as long as it exists, what does the colour, or shape matter? This calls into question the definition of art. If these individuals do not consider themselves to be artists and the work they’re creating is not art, then who are they and what is it? Are they simply creating because they enjoy it, a way to pass the time? The non-artist seems to be under the illusion that the artist’s sight and ability to judge art is greater than that of their own. ‘For while the sight of a man who is interested in art, whether deeply or slightly, is often conditioned by this interest, that of the man uninterested in art is conditioned by what he does or wants to do.’2

How can we as an educated art public decide it is art and these individuals are in fact artists if the work was never intentionally created to be viewed as art and is it relevant to the sublimity of the work? The non-artist would not set out to create a sublime work of art. The artist might. It is the unavoidable hope of an artist to evoke. Usually works that have been made to intentionally illustrate the sublime, particularly the sublime within nature, are unsuccessful. They are too concerned with a conscious effort to affect when the sense of sublime seems to come from a complete disregard of such conscious decisions. The non-artist accesses this ability in a different way to the artist; the artist must allow themselves to get into the correct state of mind, a state free from the pressures of consciousness. 

This isn’t to say that artists are ingenuously going out of their way to disconnect from the world around them by disturbing their natural state of mind through faux, chemically enhanced scenarios or situations. We as human beings are continuously connected to our influences, we cannot escape what exists through living, our experiences, captured by our senses, consciously and subconsciously exist whether or not we chose to express them in a way considered to be creative by a viewer. This inability to escape our own experiences is what seems to enable sublime encounters with works of art. Art is not sublime. The sublime is sublime; it exists within art regardless of an artist or non-artist’s intentions towards the work and regardless of the viewer. 

1. Wilson, Simon and Lack, Jessica, The Tate Guide To Modern Art Terms (London: Tate, 2008)
2. Malraux, André, The Voices of Silence (United States of America: Princeton University Press, 1978) 275.