August 22, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Outsider Art

"The line between “outsider” art and the rest of the art world is often quite blurred ..."

By Thor Sigstedt

Thor’s Hammer

Thor Sigstedt is an artist in wood, words, cameras, bronze, cast iron, glass, notes and steel; a homesteader from Spirit Valley specializing in forest diversity and “land ethics” and a dabbler in practical and non-practical non-zero new paradigm complexity in the multiverse.

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The line between “outsider” art and the rest of the art world is often quite blurred with no obvious distinction between them. This was the case at the SOFA art show in Santa Fe this year. They were kind enough and thoughtful enough to include outsider art for the first time. I was fascinated to see that there was not a clear delineation of the “rows” and that I was not really able to tell the difference between the two at that time.  Of course, there were some clear indications such as using recycled materials and such, but even some of the participants even agreed that it was difficult to see the line between the two.

Being something of an outsider myself, I was, of course, deeply interested.  Like my father quips, “I am self educated, myself.”  Having thoroughly enjoyed the Meow Wolf installations over the years, I know that there is a tendency for me to appreciate outsider art. My opinion is like my opinion of a dancer; if they have the guts to get out there and make a fool of themselves, sometimes; they get my vote. 

Being a custom furniture maker, builder and outsider architect, I know that making those distinctions between craft and art are often very difficult to do.  I was taking bronze foundry classes at Highlands University a while back and vividly remember a crazy old woman, a retired art teacher who wandered around the studios in a sheer, see-through blouse and odd attire and thinking, “Is she art?” Another professor (“teacher” to me, “tutor” to St. Johns ) overheard me talking about snagging some roots or sticks for my artwork from somewhere where it was “forbidden” to remove such things and I invoked “Artist’s License” and he cryptically asked if I had a license.  I didn’t like his attitude or that of many artists from academia as they often think they do have a more important license to practice and judge art. 

Now anyone with any sense in the real world should know that this is ridiculous and propped up chauvinism.  Many children do better artwork than most adults, even professionals, naturally, for reasons that are beyond my understanding but suggest that a license is not required.  For someone with decades of personal discipline, attention to detail and countless hours of thought as to the form and shape and function and finish of a piece of furniture or a house, to contemplate these questions is natural.  Of course, a professional builder of things cannot really slide through his or her career, as money is always involved. The success of the piece is always judged promptly.  And we all know that in this particular trade, the amount of effort to create the pieces is often not commensurate with the cost to the customer. 

I know it is important for an “educated” person to use his or her training and papers to further a career and do not ridicule this by any means.  I honor them and also wish to keep things the right size so that a clear picture is in front of us by honoring also those that did not sit behind a desk and possibly kowtow to a narcissistic, politically tenured or possibly sadistic teacher or institution.  This whole situation is a little like coming out as an atheist but still wanting to go to church to talk about deeply important spiritual truths and keep those friends that have shared so much with you over the years; not minding hearing or using the term “god” and also knowing that, in your heart and mind, you know there is none. You still want to play with them and suspect that many of them agree with you but are afraid to admit it.  

The penalty for being “outsider” does not seem fair, right sized or appropriate.  So, as we pass through Santa Fe noticing Indian Market, Spanish Market, the SOFA show  and the free music on the Plaza and walk together with each other, I think it is worth thinking about all this.  My friends and I recently did a bronze pour together and decided to experiment pouring bronze into a green gambrel oak post carved out with our very first  bronze “Artist Licenses.”  What fun! Don’t you wonder how they came out?

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