Inside Out: Outsider Artists Tell Their Stories

Rendition of Starry Night by Stephanie Rodriguez

Whether it’s called Outsider Art, Visionary Art, Naïve Art, or Intuitive Art, art produced by self-taught individuals, often without formal training, can reveal an innate personal vision that many trained artists strive to attain. According to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, visionary artists begin by listening to the inner voices of the soul.

Here are some words I found on the wall at the Brooklyn Museum a few weeks ago: Plain style is a new expression proposed as an alternative to primitive, naive, outsider and folk art. Unschooled artists sometimes explored stylistic convention and techniques of formally trained artmakers, they often misunderstood rules or modified them to suit their abilities or visions. While these works may be lacking in technical sophistication, the simplicity has a power and appeal of its own. Some see these as forerunners to the pared-down forms of modernism.

Visionary artists invent their own traditions. They hear their own inner voice so resoundingly that they may not even think of what they do as art. Jean Dubuffet’s beloved Art Brut Collections, formed exclusively from the raw art creations of non-artists, such as street people, hermits, factory workers, housewives and psychic mediums, motivated him to say, “Art is at its best when it forgets its very name.”

In the early 1990s, Outsider Art became so popular with collectors that the Outsider Art Fair was born in New York City. Today it is the largest fair of its kind.

The West Windsor Arts Center is partnering with HomeFront’s ArtSpace Therapeutic art program to present Inside Out, showcasing the work of Naïve artists to tell their inner stories.

Lawrenceville-based HomeFront, the non-profit agency providing a comprehensive network of services for poor and homeless families in Central New Jersey, established the ArtSpace program to draw on clients’ creativity to enhance self-esteem.  Homelessness and poverty rob people of their self-respect, making it difficult for them to focus on what they can do to improve their own situation. The ArtSpace at HomeFront helps build self-esteem and seeks to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of our clients.

“The works by both established outsider artists and newcomers are colorful and evoke emotion. ArtSpace will feature some more welll known outsider artists friends such as Ruby C. Williams, Jon Sarkin, and others ” says Ruthann Traylor, director of ArtSpace. “A lot of times the artwork tells a story. Art is transformative – it can help someone make it through a life-changing experience. ArtSpace promotes healing and rebuilds souls.”

The West Windsor Arts Council presents Inside Out: Visionary Artists Tell Their Stories, March 3 through April 27 at the West Windsor Arts Center. An opening reception will be held March 3, 6 to 8 pm. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, noon-6 pm, and Saturday, 10 am-4 pm.

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