A few days ago I was privileged to see the film “Make”. Up until then I did not think about makers or outsider art. I had to look it up. Outsider art is created by “self-taught” artists. It is produced by people, often institutionalized, sometimes handicapped, who don’t know, understand or care about the cultural restraints of art.It has been around since people first decided to paint on the walls of their cave dwellings. In the early 1920’s, outsider artists started to be recognized when European psychiatrists published two pioneering studies of art made by asylum inmates. In these studies, an attempt was made to find universal truths about human creativity. In the late 1940’s it was embraced by the art world. Jean Dubuffet, French artist and curator, called it art brut, French, but the meaning comes through. He said, “We understand by this term works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part. These artists derive everything…from their own depths, and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art,” a beautiful sentiment.
The documentary, MAKE, examines the lives and art of four American self-taught artists: Prophet Royal Robertson, Hawkins Bolden, Judith Scott and Ike Morgan. Each artist finds his medium and is able to transcend their limitations and produce unique works of art.
Ike Morgan, institutionalized for violent schizophrenic behavior, spends his days painting as he says, “… to pass the time away.” Although his imagery is not new, his rendering is and that gives his paintings a unique quality. He has, over the years produced thousands of portraits ranging from George Washington to the Mona Lisa.
Royal Robertson, originally a sign painter, deals with an apocalypse of his own design. His small house is covered with doomsday warnings, biblical quotes and alien creatures. As a self ordained profit he holds tight to the anger he feels for his ex-wife and her imagined infidelities. In his art he tries to bring sense to his madness and to create road maps to salvation.
Hawkins Bolden, was blinded at a young age. He created scarecrows to keep the birds from his garden. His scarecrows are created from the flotsam and jetsam of society’s thrown away objects, which he collects and transforms into sculptures. His totems all have many “eyes” and crowd out the plants they are protecting.
Judith Scott, was born with Down’s Syndrome and institutionalized when she was 8 years old. Years later her twin sister found her and removed her from the institution. She was enrolled in a program where she could create art and she set about creating cocoon like sculptures of string.
I recommend seeing this movie to anyone who wants to understand the creative process more thoroughly. Of the movie, David Byrne (Talking Heads) said, “Here is a real testament to the power of making art (or music, for some of us) – how that process not only heals and energizes, but the results move me as a viewer as well. They’re touching something deep, as any artist should. There’s a little bit of all of us in this work. This is as high and as fun and beautifully primal crazy enlightening as it gets.”