Dear Fellow Starvelings,
I know it’s been a while but don’t worry. I’m still the quintessentially struggling artist,
and I’m not going anywhere (except, occasionally, to my work table). Hope you’ve all
had a wonderful summer.
I’ve been a BUSY struggling artist, anyway. Last month had four pieces in the “Nouveau Brut”
show at the Becket Arts Center in Becket in the Berkshires. The show was fun, the other artists
were terrific, and the curator was helpful & bubbly & very enthusiastic about the project.
All the artists were supposed to come up with a little screed about what meaning the term “Nouveau Brut” had for them,
especially within the context of this show. Since I feel pretty strongly about what is termed “outsider” art, my piece
turned out to be pretty heartfelt. And here it is:
The (Nouveau) Brut Inside Me
I’ve always been a little resentful of the term “Art Brut.” Apparently Jean Dubuffet, who coined the term, meant to restrict its use to describe the work of artists so far outside the mainstream they wouldn’t even know what the mainstream is. Artists in institutions for the mentally ill, for example, or prisoners, or lunatics at large, or illiterate peasants living in huts far, far from Paris and its oh-so-refined understanding of Art with a capital A.
I can go along with this to an extent. Such artists do need to be recognized and appreciated. But to me the term smacks somewhat of condescension, the notion that these artists are in some sense primitive and this primitive state must be preserved in order to maintain their artistic integrity. In the meantime, their art is marketed for high prices to mainstream collectors, and the official tastemakers continue to decide what’s in fashion and what is not.
Still, I’ve always liked the idea of art completely outside convention, springing from the artist’s heart – an artist who may have heard of, say, Andy Warhol (who hasn’t?) but doesn’t want to *be* him. An artist who might be unschooled but is not entirely otherworldly. Can there even be a true “outsider” artist, according to Dubuffet’s definition, in today’s world? Or can an artist be aware of the surrounding culture and yet still be an outsider at heart?
And here we come to “Nouveau Brut,” a perfect term, I think, for the work of artists who are in some significant way outside the mainstream even though they might know what the mainstream is up to.. Maybe these artists just don’t give a damn about tastemakers and trendsetters. Maybe they didn’t bother to get an MFA. Maybe they’re old people or poor people or working people. Maybe they’re just driven by a compulsion they can’t easily explain. What they have in common is a passion for the art they’re creating. It comes from their hearts and minds. It does not compromise, ingratiate, or wheedle,
But every artist wants her art to be seen, praised, purchased – including me. There lies the conundrum. The driving urge to express one’s vision of the self and the world, and the hope that the viewer will some way, somehow, share that vision.
I see that this little piece about “Nouveau Brut” is full of contradictions.
So is art.
So is life.