Steve Murison, Cats of the Roman Empire


What does it mean to be an Outsider Artist? In the final installment of three features on Outsider Art, Frame and Reference asked a group of artists from the Outside In project at Pallant House in Chichester to reflect on the terms used to label them and describe their creative practices.


Steve Murison

Do you consider yourself an Outsider Artist?
I consider myself an artist, nothing more, nothing less.


How comfortable are you with the term Outsider Artist?
There is something beautiful about searching an unmarked crate at a record fair and unearthing a treasure. Labels are just that, you can be a slave to them, or completely ignore them. Anything that moves you will transcend all labels anyway, who cares what the little side panel says, or the tag, or the babbling writer. If it screams at you, makes you weep, makes you think, change, would you fight those feelings if the label weren’t correct?


Steve Murison, Unfolding Solidity in your Orbit


How would you define the term Outsider Art?
Art made unconsciously beyond the confines of regulated, understood, traditional convention.


Do you think it’s a positive or negative label?
A true outsider artist would have no concept, care or understanding of the label. Ironically, everyone outside of that bubble becomes irrelevant anyway.


What other terms/labels feel comfortable?
Handsome artist. Rugged painter. Weirdo. Weirdo artist.


Jan Arden

I really consider myself an outsider artist because I have never felt part of the mainstream art world and all that entails, or this world. I have always felt that I live in the twilight zone, in between the awakened world of what we call reality and the land of nod spoken of in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The world of dreams and the unbridled imagination appeal to my sense of mystery. Living in the outsider world is being real and authentic, daring and crazy… free!! And just being who I am, or want to be, and what I want to draw, paint and create.


Jan Arden, The Sacred Crow


I feel so inspired by the term Outsider art – I am not quite here or there, I am the space inside the polo mint. Living on borrowed time from the ancient Faerie folk as they danced in my dreams, as I slept at my grandmother’s house in Eire. I awoke to find them dancing in a circle, around and around, they went dancing on the Outside.


Outsider!!!! You’re one of a kind, a unique artist and human being, a rebel hiding in the attic of forgotten socks and babies’ dummies intertwined in ladies’ hair-ties, plastic elastic stretches across my naked mind. I would try to define, if I had the time, but can only speak of the rumours that echo within the recesses of my mind.


It’s so positive how can it not be! Throughout the history of art you will find hundreds of Outsider artist who have been innovators. The Outsider term is allowing artist and artistic talent to shine through into the art world, it allows for free expression, working through the pains and pleasures of life to bring forth, using the medium of art, all that is within us and much, much more.


Jan Arden, Much Ado About Nothing


Raw and real/authentic and challenging, emotional, sexual and liberating, insightful and in your face. Stare deep in to my pictures and allow your mind to wander see without seeing, absorb the hidden messages, dance, laugh, and cry free your emotions.


I feel so amazing, it has been a journey from my early childhood as an Outsider artist from the age of 5!! Yes, when I was five!! I drew very similar pictures when my father put me in the attic; I would draw for comfort and company, and still do today. But with a joy and well-being feeling. I often dance while in between drawing, laugh and cry, sleep and then become obsessed with my pictures. It’s a roller-coaster ride at times, but Hey, that’s what drives me on and on.


Carlo Keshishian

Do you consider yourself an Outsider Artist?
It depends by whose definition, but in general I have conflicting ideas about this. In some respects yes, in other respects no. If there even is such a thing anymore, I would say there is a spectrum, and that it is not linear but multi-directional.


How comfortable are you with the term Outsider Artist?
In the context of Outsider Art by its original definition, I consider the term almost void. Whether it makes sense to still use this term and apply it in a new way, I am not sure, therefore I do feel somewhat uncomfortable with it as it will most likely be wrongly used (if there is even a way to use it rightly, which is debatable, hence this series of questions being so prevalent as of late). I think how comfortable I am with it depends on who is using it and in what context.


Carlo Kesishian, Transmogrification Lapse Stray


How would you define the term Outsider Art?
In one sense, I see the terms as a reference to the term Art Brut, which at a point in time encompassed the idea of people who create art but from a different place to most ‘trained’ artists. In a time before the internet, mobile phones, etc. when more people might have lived reclusively without contact to the outside world, and when they may have made art for reasons that have nothing to do with considering an audience or wanting to show the work to anyone, or to sell the work.


The artwork of people in mental institutions or prisons, or anywhere that separates them from being involved in arts on a commercial level… This is one definition which may have worked at a point in time some decades ago. Other definitions include: that of one feeling isolated; or alienated for whatever reason; or artists, themselves, feeling ‘outside’, but not necessarily in any obvious way, from those who are, generally, in charge of deciding what is, or isn’t, outsider, by whatever the insider definition is at the time. I think Outsider Art can be a very subjective term, which sort of makes it an impossible term.


Do you think it’s a positive or negative label?
I think labels in general can be simultaneously both positive and negative to have, and this is no different, generally speaking.


Carlo Kesishian, The Implacable Moment of a Dream


What other terms/labels feel comfortable?
A True Artist, Genuine Artist, Artist. Simply because I feel a lot of people who are considered artists today approach making ‘artwork’ in a very clinical way, perhaps even considering strategically what they can make that will be more saleable, or used as a commodity, or I don’t know what; something they think others will like, over what they themselves like, or maybe that is also what they would like, and paradoxically, why can’t the term ‘artist’ encompass that also, to approach making ‘art’ from an angle mostly concerned with targeting a particular audience etc. Are politicians not considered politicians because their ideas/approach come from a different angle? Not the most appealing analogy, I know.


Centuries ago, artists were commissioned to do portraits of royalty, etc. Does this mean they aren’t artists, because someone else is instructing them? Craftsmen/women perhaps is more suitable. But is there no creativity to what they do? As clinical as some of the artwork of today is, it does not mean there aren’t creative processes involved in achieving what they set out to achieve. I suppose ‘Introvert Art’ can work as a term, as unappealing as it sounds! Introvert Art and Extrovert Art. Not very marketable, eh? Ha-ha. Introspective Art? Simply ‘Art’ should be good enough. When the typical question ‘What is Art?’ arises, it is funny that some things, which look more like art, are excluded, and when the things, which the question is generally aimed at, becomes validated by the high prices achieved at auction etc.


Tess Springall

Do you consider yourself an Outsider Artist?
In a way I do. I am proud to be considered to be a part of what is stipulated by people as being an outsider artist. But really I’m an insider.


How comfortable are you with the term Outsider Artist?
It’s yet another label – should we be defined? Outsider has a somewhat derogatory connotation.


Tess Springall, Dreaming


How would you define the term Outsider Art?
Hmm, erm, hmm. Artists, who would not, generally speaking, have the opportunity to exhibit their work in prestigious galleries.


What other terms/labels feel comfortable?
Do we have to be labelled or categorised? We’re artists! If I were to have to use a label it would be ‘intuitive art.’


Do you think it’s a positive or negative label?
It’s definitely negative. If it’s outsider art, then that means there’s an inside, when really outsider art is no longer outside.


Tess Springall, Memories of being Sectioned


Thanks to Kate Davey and Marc Steene at Pallant House for sourcing these insider views.


For the first installment Inside the Outsiders’ Art World: Sue Steward traces its development.


For the second installment Outside In: Pallant House Gallery’s Marc Steene questions the label Outsider Art and its cultural significance.


From 4 – 21 September 2014, seven selected Outside In artists – including Jan Arden – will have their black and white work on show in The Inner Self: Drawing from the Subconscious at CGP London.


From 30 September – 26 October 2014, Outside In: National 2012 Award Winner Michelle Roberts will have a solo show in the Studio at Pallant House Gallery.


Outside In have recently started an Outside In Blog which comments on the world of Outsider Art; including artists, events, conferences and exhibitions.