Outsider Art has always fascinated me. Drawings, paintings, sculptures (etc) made by people with a passion for creating but with no formal training in art technique or tradition. Works that are almost child-like in their execution. Works where proportions, dimensions and accurate tonality are eschewed in favour of a raw and uncensored expression of the artist’s inner world. And, if I am totally honest, the thing that I love most about outsider art is that it is weird. Compellingly weird. And weirdness is a potent but rarely acknowledged force for disturbance and transformation because, in the most simplest of terms, it is not normal.
The eminent Social Scientist Gregory Bateson once said that “change is news of difference.” I would add “…and difference is news of weirdness.” If we are serious about transforming the way in which human beings interact and relate, then we need to to seek the perspective of the outsider and bear witness to their natural difference. We need to reach outside of the comfortable walls of the echo chamber and give prominent platforms to the unconventional inexperts. And, if we are serious about bringing more raw creativity into our world, we need to more frequently hang out with passionate “weirdos.”
Jean Debuffet started a creative revolution in the art world in post World War II Europe through his wonderfully weird Art Brut* movement. His mission was to disrupt stale, stuck and somewhat elitist traditions by allowing the works of marginalised, untrained outsiders to be seen. Debuffet described these works as “works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere. [These works] are, because of these facts, more precious than the productions of the professionals.” For me this perfectly articulates the power of the outsider, be they an artist, a humanitarian, a leader, a coach, an entrepreneur, a consultant, a writer, a teacher, a parent, a child. People with a passion and commitment to their interests, but with little or no formal training in technique or tradition. People whose lack of ‘normal’ expertise allows their untainted, uncorrupted weirdness to disturb, inspire and innovate. Brilliant, natural creatives who are traditionally marginalised because they value practice over promotion and are therefore never likely to feature in a gallery or on a corporate “talent” list or be invited to give inspiring key note talks.
So, instead of seeking expertise when we want creativity and true transformation, what would happen if we were to seek out those who don’t know? To invite the inexperts to the table? To hang out with the passionate weirdos and see what they make of it all?
And if we start to do this we may find we are able to let go of our own debilitating labels of being an “imposter“, instead embracing our doubts and differences as evidence that we are a in fact a potentially-potent “outsider.”
I sense that a weirdness revolution is needed. To build on and broaden the principles and ethos of what Debuffet started in the art world and bring it to all areas of our lives and work.
Viva Brut Creativ!
* “Art Brut” translates literally as “Raw Art” and Debuffet’s story of scouring post WWII Europe, seeking art that was “off the beaten track of catalogued art” is inspiring. Not only did it challenge conventions but it gave voice to many artists who had been marginalised by society or institutionalised in asylums for being different to the norm. This wonderful book by Lucienne Perry tells the story of Art Brut.
Inexpert 2018 was an experiment in the power of not knowing. An experiment that invited speakers to give talks on subjects that they had little or no expertise in to an audience of 100 ticket holders. On reflection I guess it was a first step towards what I’m writing about in this blog. A scrap book of what happened at Inexpert 2018 can be found at www.inexpert.org
The Lab, founded in 2015, is a not-for-profit place for outsiders and inexperts to experiment and be experimented on. A place to try something out you’ve never done before. A safe haven for being playful with not knowing and failing happy. Details of the next lab (and previous labs) can be found at www.the-lab.co