Floating in the dusty peripheries of mainstream arts and culture, you will find the locus of this week’s cultural preoccupation; Outsider Art(s).
Coined in 1972 by the critic Roger Cardinal, Outsider Art was presented as an English equivalent of what French critics named ‘art brut’; typically regarded as harsh, unskilled artistic products. They can be blurry, disjointed and rudimentary, bristling with cosmic vibrations and all the dreamy afterglow of a cheese dream.
The ‘Outsider’ bracket encompasses self-taught artists, artists who identify as disabled and artists who identify as mentally handicapped. David Maclagan expands Cardinal’s original definition, writing that examples of Outsider Art are, “extraordinary works created by people who are in some way on the margins of society, and who, for whatever mixture of reasons, find themselves unable to fit into the conventional requirements – social and psychological, as well as artistic – of the culture they inhabit.”
The definitions are as multifarious as the examples, united by their desire to transcend the oppressive member’s club of the artist’s on the inside. Where the Damien Hirsts of our world are licking the boots of Capitalist commissioners and taking cheques for suspending aquatic lifeforms in cerulean tanks in $100,000 per night Las Vegas hotel suites, there’s a tedious absence of the Outsider’s radical eye.
Responding to the hawkish institutional gatekeepers of artistic homogeneity, this weekend saw the opening of ‘You Don’t Deserve to be an Artist’; an exhibition curated by ex-Goldsmiths students Taylor McGraa, Sofia Akel and Galina Skvortsov. Writing in the foreword to the exhibition’s brochure, Skvortsov writes that the idea for the project came from reading a statement by Tracey Emin in Goldsmiths’ [smiths] magazine in 2016, wherein, the artist disregarded the artwork of those with no formal training who claimed to be artists (“Tough shit. You don’t deserve to be an artist. You’re doing another course, end of story. Don’t do your course and then double. You can’t.”)
The exhibition unapologetically celebrates the individual artistry of its contributors, many of whom are self-taught and studying within academic departments including Psychology, Social Anthropology and Media and Communications. Admittedly, I wasn’t able to physically attend due to a vile bought of sickness, but, having scoured Instagram stories and gratefully received images of the *entire brochure* and installations from a loyal friend, I can say with absolute certainty that this was a salient and humbling collection of lovingly curated works, underscoring the democracy of artistic labels so often brandished and dictated by the privileged tastemakers. Art is for all!
Looking for an inspirational figure to break up the mundanity of my Wednesday afternoon, I headed along to a talk hosted by Lucidity and Not9to5 considering ‘The Future of Work’. Their guest speaker, Rachel Allan, explained her background working for nearly twenty years in the city, before becoming disillusioned with the urban rat-race.
Following a spontaneous holiday to India, Rach decided to take the plunge and walk away from the comforts of a salaried job and mortgage, upping sticks and moving to Bali to become a remote freelancer, whilst maintaining business ties with London and commuting as/when. Whilst it might not be the most eco-conscious mode of living, Rach’s story is undeniably alluring and rather than pushing her personal journey as the enlightened route, she asks her audience members “what could make your work more rewarding for you?”.
Rach concluded her talk with promoting accountability networks and support groups as vital components to any remote freelancer’s lifestyle. I left the evening feeling part of a wider community of untethered freelancers, as well as dizzily inspired, emboldened and entirely ready to sell my belongings, become my own boss and shack up on a Bali beach with a cold beer and a laptop.
If you’re looking for a roguish idol for Outsider Arts, the protagonist of Andrea Lawlor’s debut novel Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (Picador) is every bit as ‘Tight’ ‘Hot’ ‘Deep’ and ‘Smut’ filled as its cover suggests. Paul Polydoris is a hubristic collar-popped punk and a bundle of pansexual yearning, magically evading binary gender conventions and dancing between forms to the tune of Woolf’s Orlando.
Lawlor’s writing is richly sensuous and unforgettable, evocatively capturing Paul as the perfect voyeur to 90s queer culture, moping from the bedrooms of San Francisco one-night-stands to Film and Queer theory classes, all the while making zines, mastering mixtapes, bartending and bookselling in a glorious queer cultural vortex. Paul is a cheerleader for the outside. If you fall in love, take your soft pink and your soft queer heart to Waterstones’ Gower Street branch on the 21st May, where the author will be in conversation with Paul Kindersley and Literary Friction’s Octavia Bright. I’m going to melt into a puddle of reverence.
If my offerings of outsider arts have left a sour taste, then you’re invited to suck on the cultural outputs of the cultural insider, photographer, chess enthusiast and prolific director Stanley Kubrick at the Design Museum’s retrospective exhibition, commemorating the director’s cinematic oeuvre twenty years after his death. Whilst films such as Dr Strangelove, The Shining and Barry Lyndon were warmly received by critics, the director enjoyed testing the limits of decorum and censorship, infamously adapting Nabokov’s Lolita which he later bizarrely lamented for failing to emphasise the novel’s erotic qualities.
The exhibition immortalises Kubrick’s life and times through 700 props and ephemera; cameras, miniature centrifuges, promotional posters, codpieces and annotated scripts; my personal favourite being the call for ‘WIERD [sic] ELECTRONIC MUSIC’ at the opening of A Clockwork Orange. The non-chronological organisation of Kubrick’s films book-ends the exhibition with 2001: A Space Odyssey and provides only a partial insight into the director’s biography.
All things considered, if you’re a fan of period costumes, milk, or letters of complaint from enraged Baptists, it’ll be worth taking out that small loan before heading down to Kensington sometime between now and mid-September.