This is part 3 of a larger series on art, syncretism, and the need to understand everything. To read part 1, click here.
Outsider artists have existed forever, those who skip classical training and go there own way. They may not have perfect form or color combinations and often their work looks very childlike and juvenile. However, many of them have risen to the level of stardom, or at least cult stardom. Jean Michel Basquiat spent most of his early art days walking the streets and tagging enigmatic scrawls all over New York City. His tag was SAMO, a mix of SAME OL’ SHIT and the story of Little Black Sambo. He didn’t frequent art galleries and museums and in those early days spent the night more often than not on a park bench. His hard had existed in the subways and in alleyways for years before he “made it big.” No one had recognized his genius yet so they didn’t bother to look at all.
Adolf Wolfli was a child molester and a madman. No hero and no sage but he obsessively covered page after page with small nubs of pencil. He suffered from many things but one of them helped him create his own style and voice. Horror Vacui is the fear of empty space and his art had none. Every gap or white space exploded with musical notation, little black marks he called “birds.” Wolfli was not creating in the white walls of galleries but in the white padded walls of an asylum. He never sipped wine with patrons and never was lauded as a master. It was not until later that his work was recognized as genius. While he made it, in the confines of his cell and his mind, it was only seen as the obsessive compulsion of this man.
A man walked the desert and wore the clothing of “camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey…” This man spoke in ways that no one fully understood and many wrote him off as crazy. He was a messenger, outside the walls, of the coming Messiah.
Too many times we push things away because they don’t seem real, factual or possible. We often deny things because they are unfamiliar ask any homosexual how it feels to come out of the closet, or any minority who tries to join a swanky country club. Ask any artist who seeks to go a new way. The early abstract artists were ridiculed for this new language. DuChamp and Mondrian and Rothko and Pollack had their art questioned as “true art” all the time. Critics claimed it must be in a correct language in order to be valued; it had to be on their terms if it was to be understood. We have to see our own mark. We have to hear our own words. We need to see a familiar face in the crowd.
The Cross of Huatulco was denied as heresy. The Spanish thought since they hadn’t brought that particular story, it couldn’t be a true cross of Christ. The British agreed. They were more concerned with it being Spanish, than it being Christ’s. The British were concerned with it being British. They could not understand how or why it had arrive unless by their language and by their style and by their way. Since that didn’t seem possible it must have been the work of the devil. They did it then and we do it now.
Do things need to make sense and be common and understandable?
I am not a musician. I played violin shortly as a child and I struggled through the French horn in junior high. My dad is a musical genius. I have a slight basis of music but I am not fluent in the language. In the same way I can ask “DONDE ESTA EL BANO?” I can take a look at sheet music and tell you what 4/4 means but I am not fluent. But because I do not speak music, does that mean I cannot enjoy it? Just because I cannot write my own symphony does not mean I can’t listen to one and be moved. This is because music, dance and painting, art in general, does not speak just one language. Art speaks the language of its own medium, brush, canvas, chiaroscuro, and impasto. It also speaks a language all people can understand. If I wrote off music and denied its power simply because I didn’t understand it I would be missing out on so much. So why do we do this in so many other ways? Even in music there is an extent to what people allow, musically illiterate people love their style be it classical or country or hip-hop but will more often than not have a style they hate. Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, The Danielson Famile and many other experimental musicians take form into unknown territory while listeners of pop push it away. This all hearkens back to Huatulco; because we do not see our mark, we say it cannot be. Since this isn’t the jazz I like, I deny that it is jazz. Since you use strange forms or break down the human body into planes and structures, it is denied that it is art. Since you speak of a new way to experience God, (that doesn’t fit my way to experience God) than it is not God that you are experiencing.
Are we more concerned with being us than marveling?
Are we more concerned with being classical than being artists?
Are we more concerned with being Spanish than being able to kneel at an unfamiliar cross and worship?