The Outsiders

Would you label this outsider art? Why or why not?

Why Outsider?

Here’s that troublesome question again: How and why is some art labeled “outsider?”

What is this art and its creators outside of?

If an artist has no formal art training does that automatically make his/her art outsider art?

The phrase, outsider art,  is every bit as troublesome as the term, “the other” that is often bandied about in scholarly works. As one reads Kate Withstandley’s, The Outsider Renaissance (click on the link to access the article), certain questions arise: Who determines these labels? Are these art works outsider, intuitive, not fine art? Why not simply call them art?

There is nothing “outsider” about the last three pieces below nor is there anything “insider” about the two above. The only difference between the two sets of paintings is that the first is by prominent Bay Area artist, Nathan Olivera, while the second is by what the art world labels outsider artists. None is better or worse than the other so why differentiate? I might very well have posted some of Picasso’s paintings, sculptures and potteries and asked the same question with an added twist, “If you didn’t know who the artist was, would/wouldn’t you call this outsider art?”

Outsider Inside, Insider Outside

New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was at one time considered an outsider, that is, until he became a part of  Warhol’s world. Basquiat, genius that he was, knew that he needed exposure and so, he actively tried to get inside Warhol’s world. Would he have become an insider artist if Warhol had excluded him? Would the art establishment, the critics, museums and galleries have taken him as seriously as they did if he had not been a part of Warhol’s crowd? Left on his own, would the art world have realized that Basquiat deserved to be noticed the way an artist like Picasso deserved to be noticed?

Warhol Polaroid of Basquiat making a monkey face

Mekking Monkey Face

What price did Jean-Michel Basquiat pay to move from being an outsider to an insider artist? Was this Warhol monkey face portrait, for example, part of  the price he paid to become famous? In Jamaica, “mekking monkey face” is simply clowning around and making silly faces. It is the pastime of children. The name of the game notwithstanding, I have yet to see a Jamaican child mek monkey face so that (s)he actually looks like a monkey. Their clowning around has more to do with mouth and eye gestures and distortions. What’s more, I haven’t seen any child use props to mek monkey face like Basquiat and Warhol did in this photograph. Add the out-sized ears to the distorted eyes, nose and mouth and you get a transformation from human to animal.

Whose idea was it that Basquiat strike this pose? Was it his? Was it Warhol’s? Were photographer and subject in collusion? Is one being coerced by the other to make/take the photograph? For what reason did sitter and photographer create this image? Certainly this cannot be an attempt by Basquiat to be taken seriously by the art world. Noticed, maybe, but taken seriously? I doubt it. Yet another question to consider is this: Did Warhol photograph anyone else in this particular pose? If not, why? Why Jean-Michel Basquiat and not Mick Jagger, Edie Sedgwick or any of his other sitters?

This photograph is the only one I’ve seen where Warhol’s sitter strikes this pose. Why this sitter and why this pose? Is Basquiat, maybe Warhol as well, making a statement, confronting the status quo? Are they deliberately drawing attention to Basquiat’s status as an outsider times two in the art world? Whatever the case, the portrait does not sit well. (See my previous post, “Mammy and Myths: Oh Andy!” for more on Warhol and Basquiat and the making of myths.)

Note: The large Olivera painting is the property of Stanford University. You can view it in their contemporary art gallery at the Cantor Museum.

Shota Katsube - Untitled, 2011 Image from Wellcome Collection
Shota Katsube – Untitled, 2011
Image from Wellcome Collection
Norimitsu Kokubo – The Economically Booming City of Tianjin
Image from Wellcome Collection
Ryoko Koda – Untitled, 90-00
Image from Wellcome Collection
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The State of the World: Money and Art Markets

limited access open space
Limited access open space, La Honda Creek, CA (Sept 2012)

A Different Kind of Perspective

I have been an art lover and creator for as long as I can remember. And I’ve been engaged with history, looking at it from all different perspectives for quite some time now.  But art history, art criticism and their effect on the art market? I can take them or leave them. They grab me pretty much the same way my Fidelity Money Market home page grabs me.

To get to my Fidelity account page, I first have to get past the “World Markets” page. Maybe I can change that but I’m not exactly invested in figuring out how to change my home page anymore than I’m interested in figuring out what the Facebook people are up to on my Facebook page.

The World Markets Today, 5/18/13

At the very top of  Fidelity’s world markets list is the United States. No surprise there, though it may be a great surprise to China. I hear we owe them the shirts off our backs. The number ascribed to the United States’ finances on the world markets stage today is 1667.47. What does that mean? Is that the Dow Jones Industrial average? If so, what does it mean? Also linked to the United States (listed immediately below the country’s name) is this: +17.00 (+1.03%). I just want to look at the balance in my little checking account! First though, I need to navigate past this world markets list. Every once in a while I stop and look. Today I look and I wonder.

Down on the list, a little after the United States, comes two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico. Mexico, at number four, has the number 2742.94 ascribed to it. Is that bad or good? I know that isn’t better than the United States’ world market listing: Although Mexico has 2,742.94 listed next to it, underneath it the numbers read +2.20 (+0.08%).  (The United States’ numbers are +17.00 (+1.03%.)) Listed at number four as it is, it cannot be better than numbers one, two and three – the United States, Canada and Chile – on the list.

Why These Fourteen Countries?

The two Latin American countries on this world markets list are higher up than the Olde World country, Spain, to which they owe their “genesis.” Countries like the one I’m from will never show up on this market exchange. It’s not simply because we are small or that we are New World countries. If that were the case, New Zealand and Singapore wouldn’t be on this list. But they are.

Fourteen countries in all, are on the world markets list. Does the world then, consist of  only these fourteen? Do other places not matter, not exist? Does money in places like India, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Australia, behemoths because of their land mass, not exist?

The most (only?) obscure country on this list is New Zealand. Those of us from the “Third World” must be somewhere on the periphery or totally non-existent. Am I a figment of my own imagination? Are Jamaica, Africa, India, Portugal, and Scotland non-existent? All these places go into making up who I am. So forgive me when I say, “Meh!,” to the world of art history and criticism. They are pretty much like this list of fourteen world markets countries, absurd. The same is true for overpriced art works. (See yesterday’s reblogged article on this issue.) And so, I look askance as I create and define my own art and space in this world.

(The countries listed in order from 1-14 on the world markets list are: USA, Canada, Chile, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kindgom, China, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore. If one were to buy into what is being said about today’s financial markets, shouldn’t China be the one at the top? Go figure.)

Reblogged — Buying Barnett Newman’s Art on Faith

The-Art-Critic-small

Today’s elite art buyers deluded into investing tens of millions on the Emperor’s new canvas.Newman-and-karabekian Blue painting with one white stripe fetches over 43 million at Sotheby’s auction. I’ve been to a Barnett Newman exhibition, stood in person before the canvases and patiently took in the subtle permutations of color and form, along with other museum goers, and probably appreciated them better than most. I’ve even done work in a similar vein, such as my “Composition with Bars of Soap“. However, I had a litmus test of art that somehow eludes the top buyer connoisseurs and aficionados. As an art student, I felt that a lot of my classmates weren’t really being honest with themselves when they said their favorite artist was someone like Kasimir Malevich, who painted the infamous “Suprematist Composition” – a white square on a white canvas.

When I’d pressed for why someone…

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