Since the high market started to tighten its grip on outsider art, we keep reading and hearing, pretty much everywhere, even in the milieu that is supposed to defend it, that this art doesn’t really exist, that it is just art, and that it shouldn’t be approached any differently. How can one speak of outsider art when there is no such a thing as an insider art?, they say. That sounds rather logical, except that it means that it is mainstream art that has disappeared. But 50 or 70 years ago, when Dubuffet and Bourbonnais established their collections and their lines of thinking, there was a mainstream, there was an inside and there was such a thing as an orthodox way to make art. This attitude is somewhat reminiscent of small children who close their eyes and who think that – since they can’t see anything – there is nothing to be seen.
Following their idea to its final consequence, the naysayers insist that, since there is no outsider art, there can be no outsider artists either. That, therefore, one should speak about outsider artists the same way they speak about all artists. That is not at all. Never mention the artist’s biography. Leave it out, entirely, if possible. Only focus on the artwork. We will know if it is good or bad even if we know nothing of whoever made it. Oh, this undying obsession of "contemporary art" critics to say what is good and what is bad, as if they knew! This idea, so dear to phenomenology and entirely correct, in fact, that the work of art is not the object in itself, but something that happens when the gaze of the onlooker touches the artefact. That the work of art is not a thing, but an inner phenomenon, an alchemic reaction of the spirit. And that therefore the two elements of this reaction are the observer and the artwork. The artist is accidental.
Very well. Except that that’s not really how it goes in real life and definitely not in outsider art. In real life, one does not pay 58.4 million dollars for one of Jeff Koons’ "balloon dogs" because it is good. But because it is by Jeff Koons. It is the author that matters, not the work.
And, as far as outsider art goes, this proposition is not valid quite simply because the name of the game in outsider art is not "beauty" and certainly not "the concept" – of course one can find concepts in outsider art, just as one can find philosophical ideas in a love poem, but that is beside the point. The name of the game in outsider art is "emotion". In outsider art, if it’s any good, it will speak (please don’t say that Koons’ dogs also speak, it might make some want to bite). And when it speaks, it speaks of the artist. And not in the disguised way that is at the basis of the sociological or psychoanalytic approach to art, but in a very direct and immediate way. It is to this story of the artist that we connect when we look at Andre Robillard’s rifles or Aloyse’s romantic idylls. It is this story of the human behind that speaks to us and moves us, not the concept, the technique or the "process". The two elements of the phenomenological reaction are the onlooker and the artist. The artwork is the pretext. This is why we can’t leave out the artist. This is why we, those who defend outsider art, insist to include the biography of the artist in the debate. It is not out of voyeurism, but out of a logical necessity. If the priests of contemporary art think we are wrong, they had better reflect upon the unsustainable incoherence of their position: on the one hand they deny the artist and on the other hand they worship the very notion. It was not without meaning that Piero Manzoni, as long ago as the Fifties, created his boxes of "merda d’Artista", which contained exactly what you would think. He knew how vacuous this worshipping of the idea of the Artist while totally discarding the artist himself was and he wanted to call it out. Oh, well...