Roger Cardinal coined the term outsider art in 1972 as an English-language parallel to art brut, the raw art or rough art Jean Dubuffet described earlier. Britannica defines it thus: “Any work of art produced by an untrained idiosyncratic artist who is typically unconnected to the conventional art world, not by choice but by circumstance.”
Henry Darger created a 15,145-page fantasy novel supplemented with about 300 pieces of visual art. Filmmaker Jessica Yu made the acclaimed documentary In the Realms of the Unreal about Darger and his magnum opus. Darger also features in the now out of print UIP book Self-taught & Outsider Art: The Anthony Petullo Collection. Unconventional art, meanwhile, continues to grow in popularity and critical esteem, a laudably democratizing impulse.
University and small presses have a long commitment to unconventional artists. Indeed, providing an outlet for the unconventional—whether in art, thought, or outlook—is a big part of what makes such publishers essential.
Darger’s Resources, by Michael Moon
Duke University Press
Given his disturbing subject matter and the extreme solitude he maintained throughout his life, critics have characterized Henry Darger as eccentric, deranged, and even dangerous, as an outsider artist compelled to create a fantasy universe. Contesting such pathologizing interpretations, Michael Moon looks to Darger’s resources, to the narratives and materials that inspired him and often found their way into his writing, drawings, and paintings. Moon finds an artist who reveled in the burgeoning popular culture of the early twentieth century, in its newspaper comic strips, pulp fiction, illustrated children’s books, and mass-produced religious art. Moon contends that Darger’s work deserves and rewards comparison with that of contemporaries of his, such as the “pulp historians” H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard, the Oz chronicler L. Frank Baum, and the newspaper cartoonist Bud Fisher.
Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond, by John Maizels
A now-classic study, Raw Creation explores Outsider Art’s explosive influence on modern art. John Maizels traces how the art world celebrates the once-scorned works of visionaries, folk creators, spiritualists, recluses, the insane, and the socially marginalized.
Drawing in particular on Outsider Art’s influence on Jean Dubuffet and his Art Brut movement, Maizels looks at a wide range of work by self-taught and Outsider artists. The result is a fascinating account of human creativity.
The Colorful Apocalypse: Journeys in Outsider Art, by Greg Bottoms
University of Chicago Press
Beginning in Georgia with a trip to the Reverend Howard Finster’s famous Paradise Gardens, Greg Bottoms‘ journey is an unparalleled look into the lives and visionary works by self-taught evangelical artists whose beliefs and oeuvres occupy the gray area between madness and Christian ecstasy. Bottoms draws us into the worlds of such figures as William Thomas Thompson, a handicapped ex-millionaire who painted a 300-foot version of the Book of Revelation; Norbert Kox, an ex-member of the Outlaws biker gang who now lives as a recluse in rural Wisconsin and paints apocalyptic visual parables; and Myrtice West, who began painting to express the revelatory visions she had after her daughter was brutally murdered.
Groundwaters: A Century of Art by Self-Taught And Outsider Artists, by Charles Russell
Visionary art, art brut, art of the insane, naïve art, vernacular art, “raw vision”—what do all these and many other categories describe? An art made outside the boundaries of official culture, first recognized more than a century ago by German psychiatrists who appreciated the profound artistic expression in the work of institutionalized patients. Promoted by brilliant museum curators like Alfred Barr and artists like Jean Dubuffet, such work became a wellspring of modern and contemporary art. This volume brings together works by twelve of the most influential self-taught artists to emerge during the past century. Each represents a facet of the outsider art phenomenon, from mental patients like Adolf Wölfli and Martín Ramírez, through vernacular masters like Bill Traylor and Thornton Dial, to artists who seem to be in touch with other worlds, such as Madge Gill and Henry Darger.