Why does someone make art, and why do they make it the way they do?
Even though we want the answers, that question is too big and abstract, so we rephrase it as a matter of experience: why did this person make this art, and why did they make it like this?
I'm letting that question float in the background as a steady position while I look for my overlapping thoughts about the Self-taught, the Unfamiliar, and now the Artificial -- together a steadily increasing proportion of my daily visual intake.
Recently I've seen more and more frequently that "Outsider" is becoming the primary point of reference for inclusivity and equity in the so-called "art world" of visual art, and here is my main new thought: it's probably time to stop saying "outsider". Here's the issue...
Diversity -- a standard dimension of today's societal DEI evolution, is not a basic problem in the world of people who make art. And once we decide that we prefer attending to diversity in art-making, there is no real difficulty in the volume of supply; the matter is instead about satisfying the search. But exploration does not always culminate in selecting what is found.
There's no getting around the fact that while selection means approval or elevation, it also means exclusion of other things at that time and in the selector's context. Too much of the time, blinders and biases willfully ignore much of what is there in favor of serving a system of exclusivity that we more clearly see now as being institutionalized. And making the excluded "chic" is not a solution when the excluders are still the ones doing the deciding.
There is the "Insider" art world, in which Cultural, Market, and Personal influences come to dominate both expectations and terms of evaluating art. Any critic, collector or exhibitor may be in business to pursue some difference that passes some fairly specific Who Cares Test, subject to myopia, rewards, and privilege. The same is true, of course, for non-professionals and general art lovers or appreciators, factoring in where and how they were raised, and likewise educated.
But selection criteria can readily become a vocabulary of value - signals sent, grown and shared for groups of common interest, more or less like currency. If you take the wrong currency to where you're going, your money's no good there.
How do we retire the predisposition of the perspective that frames "outsiders"?How can these selection criteria either cross-pollinate or evolve among differing selectors, eroding or re-evaluating exclusion and instead exposing the true world of art as created by the makers?
My approach to an answer points at the prominent (and I think permanent) changes in three dimensions of how the art maker's are dealt with in the art world.
First, the Media vs. the Market: borrowing a description from Raw Vision Magazine, there is a population of art makers who are "untrained, unschooled, and uninfluenced by the art world." What would be stunning, except that we are already so accustomed to it, is the default presumptuousness of what the so-called "art world" comprises: institutionalized arbitration of quality and value, servicing a cultivated audience, for financial consideration. The presumption is on a par with some sports league in the USA automatically declaring its best team "world champs".
Regardless, given television plus social media, there now exists another organized world of selection and arbitration with a massive distribution and exposure platform that can lay claim to being self-validating, unconcerned with other institutional precursors. For an artist , being discovered and shared in streaming or online not only circumvents the conventional gauntlet of juries, agents, galleries, and auctions but pressures those conventional agents to take a look at what gets traction online and why.
Conventional markets do not determine the importance of Art. They determine the importance of an asset in a sales category. Artists meanwhile must themselves determine how to make being online meaningful. But the point is that they are not trying to get into the art world; when they show up, they are in the art world.
Second, the Milieu vs. the Meaning: We are used to evaluating artists based on "mastery". But for artists who are inventors, the degree of development achieved in their work is about what they learned by doing, which may be something few others at first know. Here, the force of personality over time blends a talent and an idea into a new expression. If given enough production support, the effort might succeed at having an impact with recognized high value -- especially within the environment of its own origin. Also, that value might be due to innovation, and it is perfectly normal for high-value innovations to at first be primitive, not masterful.
It's especially important that this artist-driven value can readily persist in a community unconcerned with any milieu other than where the work came from. Whether we have called its milieu tribal, religious, indigenous, outlaw, or some other classifying label, work that carries persistent meanings can sharply contrast with what people from elsewhere are familiar with. It can change their frame of reference, and can flip the script on who is deemed an insider or an outsider. In fashion, music, and street art, for example, we know this happens all the time.
Third, the Methods vs. the Means: Over the span of formalized art history and criticism, there is the aggressive attachment of differing perceived value to different mediums. And in association with a medium, materials themselves have become signals of hierarchical importance and value. But originating with makers, new preferences regarding how structured materials associate with meaning can manifest as forms, language, or style. It is also common that forms, languages and styles get appropriated by the art makers -- purposed and repurposed -- for experimentation, entertainment, or design of expression. We know of course that this has been acknowledged in "mixed media" and "conceptual art" being given passports into the institutionally elite -- not to mention photography's epic battle for recognition.
Now, digital automation of production democratizes the means of making things as well as of publishing (distributing) them. Commodity supercomputing is a reality now in the form of consumer A.I. tools for creation and production, and the explosion of trial-and-error experimentation in composition and content constitutes massively parallel aesthetic researches worldwide. Meanwhile, studios may be the size of a laptop, operating with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Summarized almost too simply, the above sees that the conventional artworld institutions cannot control today's forces of visibility, multiculturalism and technology enough to sustain the illusion of being the authority on value in art.
Today, an artist cultivates, at will, both concepts and materials from a dramatically expanding world of resources. And, as many artists today are people whose work would not have been deemed "art" 120 years ago, the next normal in the world of art occurs not because of the past but despite it.
I see two things in particular that dominate as influencers of upcoming change.
One: value in the self-conscious "fine art" world has long been married to the idea that important art is unique. But now, compared to the earlier moments of say Duchamp and Warhol, the notion of uniqueness as a major default criterion of value in artistic production is under unprecedented pressure to justify itself. If the meaning of the work is not pretty exclusively an effect of uniqueness, then uniqueness loses relevance and can be simulated only by scarcity. The most profound influence to date of A.I. (artificial intelligence) in art is that it so easily eliminates both uniqueness and scarcity as default values unless those are specific chosen strategies for expressing a certain meaning. And as happened with movable type and then with the photographic camera, culture's boundaries are suddenly thinned by an order of magnitude in permeability.
And two: artists themselves increasingly and inventively borrow expressive forms from each other across the boundaries of their differing milieu. And in that, the artificial constraints of genre and medium are still very useful as an option to art-makers,; but as a default criterion of value, they are increasingly challenged by the expansion of the artists' own recognition of the real creative world. Much more as in music, "fusion images" are an outcome -- the improvisational composition of diverse multiple expressions in a work, whether some conventional genre or medium can logically contain it or not.
All together, I take those things as arguments that emerging artists are not how we find emerging art. Rather, emerging art is how we find emerging artists. Supporting art-making obviously is what supports most artists. The art world going forward is not about the market's colonization and farming of so-called emerging artists.
What those observations also tell me is that the "art world" is shifting from being proprietary to being open source, even as the art "market" spawns new discrete channels with their own particular barriers to entry and elevation.
The real significance of this is in the mythbusting impact on the primacy of the proprietary art world's notion of Refinement as artistic maturity and quality. This proprietary world is built for artists "emerging" into attention in a graduated process, then pulling more of their artworks into the market.
What is replacing that legacy is mostly an emphasis on Idiosyncrasy as artistic authenticity and importance. This open world is built for personal artwork to emerge in communities, then to have the originating artist recognized in the community as someone exemplary of its interests. Now, conventional art institutions have neither the first nor only say in defining the "communities" of art.
That combination of the art world restructuring and the shift of emphasis is what re-defines the "outsider" presence in art as mainstream, and why we need to educate each other away from the perspective that defines "Outsiders"...