Press enter to see results or esc to cancel.

History of Self-Taught & Outsider Art

  • 1922 Hans Prinzhorn, “Introduction,” Artistry of the Mentally Ill (1922; reprinted 1972)
  • 1942 Alfred H. Barr, Jr., foreword to They Taught Themselves: American Primitive Painters of the 20th Century (1942; reprinted 1999)
  • 1942 Sidney Janis, "They Taught Themselves," chapter one in They Taught Themselves: American Primitive Painters of the 20th Century(1942; reprinted 1999)
  • 1972 Roger Cardinal, “Cultural Conditioning,” Outsider Art (1972)
  • 1976 Jean Dubuffet, foreword to Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1976)
  • 1976 Michel Thévoz, "Prehistory of Art Brut," in Art Brut (1976)
  • 1989 John M. MacGregor, “Conclusion,” The Discovery of the Art of the Insane (1989)
  • 1992 Maurice Tuchman, introduction to Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, exhibition catalogue by Maurice Tuchman and Carol S. Eliel (1992, Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
  • 1999 Alfred M. Fischer, "Looking at Bill Traylor: Observations on the Recepetion of his Work," in Bill Traylor 1854-1949: Deep Blues (1999)
  • 1999 Josef Helfenstein, "Bill Traylor and Charles Shannon: A Historic Encounter in Montgomery," in Bill Traylor 1854-1949: Deep Blues (1999)
  • 1999 Matthew Gale, "Artistry, Authenticity and the Work of James Dixon and Alfred Wallis" in Two Painters: Works by Alfred Wallis and James Dixon, exhibition catalogue (1999)
  • 1999 Roman Kurzmeyer, "Plow and Pencil," in Bill Traylor 1854-1949: Deep Blues, edited by Josef Helfenstein and Roman Kurzmeyer (1999)
  • 1999 Sarah Glennie and Michael Tooby, foreword in Two Painters: Works by Alfred Wallis and James Dixon, exhibition catalogue (1999)
  • 2000 Colin Rhodes, “Other Positions,” (2000)
  • 2000 Jane Kallir, "European Self-Taught Art: Brut or Naïve?" (Galerie St. Etienne, 2000)
  • 2001 Jenifer P. Borum, "ABCD: A Collection of Art Brut," Folk Art magazine (2001)
  • 2004 Anthony J. Petullo and Katherine M. Murrell, Scottie Wilson: Peddler Turned Painter book summary (2004)
  • 2005 Katherine M. Murrell, "Art Brut: Origins and Interpretations," Singular Visions: Images of Art Brut from the Anthony Petullo Collection exhibition essay (2005)
  • 2006 Jon Thompson, “The Mad, the ‘Brut’, the ‘Primitive’, and the Modern: A Discursive History,” Inner Worlds Outside exhibition catalogue (2006)
  • 2006 Roger Cardinal, “Worlds Within,” Inner Worlds Outside exhibition catalogue (2006)
  • 2009 Anthony Petullo, "Art Without Category," Milwaukee: Petullo Publishing LLC, 2009


The genesis of Outsider Art could well be traced to an imagined prehistoric cave wall, to the work of your favorite eccentric visionary (think William Blake), or to the mythic artist-genius dreamed up by Romantic philosophers and poets. Outsider Artists began to emerge as a force to be reckoned with during the early 1920's, with the publication of two pioneering studies of art made on asylum inmates, conducted by European psychiatrists in search of universal truths about human creativity

German Expressionists soon fell in love with the schizophrenic artists presented in these books--especially Adolf Wölfli, Karl Brendel and August Naterrer--and adopted them as creative muses by appropriating their imagery. In Paris, the Surrealists looked to the same books for inspiration, and also to Spiritualist Mediums such as Augustin Lesage and Helene Smith who were famous local practitioners of automatic drawing.

It wasn't until after World War II that Outsider Art was truly recognized as more than simply source material for the modernist avant-garde. The French artist Jean Dubuffet took the Surrealist obsession with Outsiders to a new level by daring to collect and exhibit their work. Not only did he champion the artwork of schizophrenics and local mediums, but he also celebrated art made by eccentric isolates and self-taught laborers. Dubuffet recognized in the work of these divergent groups one unifying trait: a raw quality untouched by academic rules or current trends

In 1947, Dubuffet staged a ground-breaking, manifesto-driven exhibition in Paris, aptly naming his category art brut (Raw Art). Dubuffet's Collection de l'Art Brut grew in the subsequent decades, and eventually found a home in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1976. This unique collection might well have remained in isolation, if not for the publication of a 1972 study of art brut entitled Outsider Art written by the British scholar Roger Cardinal. Cardinal's book, and his 1979 London exhibition Outsiders, launched Outsider Art as a powerful global force that continues to challenge and redefine the limits of what we call art.