Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Jean Dubuffet on outsider art.

In "Asphyxiating Culture" he gives it a negative definition in relation to established art rather than a positive definition. I'm still working on the eighty page essay because it's not really structured at all but consists of paragraph long aphorisms that are tedious and repetitive. But he's made it plain that outsider art isn't just art of the mentally ill, isn't just the art of people that established society considers insane. It's much broader than that. What it is not is art that's been conditioned by academic training, pure and simple. This means that people who develop their own style independent of what art schools are teaching is the fashionable thing as well as those who develop their own techniques independent of the same are outsider artists. Simple as that.

And it doesn't even have to be people who have had absolutely no academic training whatsoever, just not much. Like people who draw all the time who have taken a class or two but who pretty much just keep doing their own thing, integrating some of what they've learned into it but not really deviating from their previous work. It doesn't have to be people who are cut off from the outside world, either. Something that's not well known is that schizophrenics aren't culturally isolated from everyone else but are often voracious in their curiosity about the world. What they do with the information they get is unique to say the least, but the info is still there. What's more, even inmates committed to a mental hospital can, of course, take their art really seriously and really work hard to make it good according to their standards. That sort of kills the notion of them as naive artists or as untainted by the outside world.

Naive art itself isn't that naive, Dubuffet would argue. What's it naive in relation to? If someone is making little country folk art paintings how are they necessarily naive about what the artistic tradition puts forward as being the big movements and the big names, the classics of art. Maybe they just want to paint little country style folk art pieces.

*on edit: here's an excerpt. Much fertile stuff there:

"Taken as antithetical to the group consensus and the reasons of State, the individual essentially defines himself through objection. He will always be an objector at heart, and he will be one all the more strongly the more he is aware of his individuality and the more he is determined to safeguard it. The antagonism between the reasons of State and the healthy vigor of individualism gives the waters of the social sea an internal, vivifying movement. But only on the condition that the individual maintain his position as objector, as insubordinate. If he allows himself to be persuaded to abandon this position to become an auxiliary to the interests of the group, thus slipping from the administered to the administering, the ranks of the police win one point and an individual is lost for the group. And if all individuals do this, there will only be police and no more individuals -- what kind of group will it be then? Whom will the police administer? Will it administer itself? At that point the social sea, deprived of its inner pulse, will be a dead sea, stagnant water.

The divided position of the individual, who on the one hand, as an individual, vigorously opposes the reasons of the group, and who on the other hand, as one of the elements making up this group, considers himself a participant in the interest of it, is for everyone a permanent source of confusion and straying thoughts. The mind is always in the process of cheating by jumping from one of the two tracks to the other, and once there trying to find coherence, which is impossible. This is because the mind seeks maxims valid on all planes, long range maxims. It is very uneasy when approached with short range maxims, good for one plane only, and which, once the plane has changed, are transformed. The mind is thirsty for continuity; and it wants continuous maxims, on a continuous plane; maxims of limited function are not at all satisfactory, any more than parallel lines that never meet. Yet might it perhaps be possible for the mind to adjust to a new fragmentary and discontinuous perspective, and for it to decide to radically change its old operating procedures by orienting them from now on in this direction?

Thought is dimmed by its old aspiration to cover a very broad field, too broad a field, from a single perspective. A philosophy that would consider fragmentary fields one after the next, without worrying about making connections between them, and that would obstinately apply this technique would undoubtedly come up with some very fertile findings. Once decided upon incoherence, an episodic coherence, thought would probably find itself endowed with an astonishing burst of energy.

Instead of senselessly attempting to straighten lines that by their very nature are curved and will remain curved, this new philosophy of the discontinuous will stud the curves themselves; it will focus upon the changes undergone by principles as the field shifts, and the junctures where, as the curve is accentuated the principles become reversed.

Before, in order to evoke how the obverse is nourished by its opposite reverse I should have used the image that b est manifests this mechanism, and that is tooled leather: What is raised on one side is hollow on the other.

Although it revolts, thought must become accustomed to the idea that all things are in a constant state of mutation, and must become skilled at manipulating clouds which have neither fixed forms nor a fixed location, but are transitory and mobile. It is mobility and not fixity that must become the target for thought, its constant object."

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