Not even a century ago, French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet coined the term ‘Art Brut’ for art created outside cultural and academic institutions. Then came 'Outsider Art' as a quick fix. In the 1970s, art historian Roger Cardinal scrambled for an Anglophone title, as his book publisher didn’t like the French equivalent. Ad hoc, it stuck.
At least it’s honest: the art world values artistic production emerging from education, wealth and social capital, and limits contributions from communities without these privileges. But 'Outsider Art' has always been watery trying to capture its own members. Sometimes, it just references artists that didn’t go to art school. Sometimes, it groups and pigeonholes artists with disability, a criminal record, neurodiversity or mental illness. If so arbitrary, why use it? Today, this label, according to curator Lisa Slominski in her newly published Nonconformers, is more for 'appealing to collectors and audience than an attempt to critically elevate a cohesive stable of artists.'