- Text Size + what is outsider art?
Michael Smith, “Man“, Oil on board

Michael Smith, “Man”, Oil on board

“True art always appears where we don’t expect it, where nobody thinks of it or utters its name. Art detests being recognised and greeted by its own name. It immediately flees. Art is a character infatuated by the incognito.”

Jean Dubuffet

“Outsider Art follows no rules and has no influences. An Outsider artist has only his imagination or sub-conscious to guide him. His art is unlikely to bear resemblance to any art that has gone before, other than his own. He works from compulsion and not with any audience in mind, and creates with a powerful and singular artistic voice.

True Outsider artists do not seek publicity, recognition or exhibitions of their work. They work purely from a compulsion or need to create, rather than from any wish for recognition or any other sort of benefit from their art. They usually have a large body of work, and have, almost always, found a particular ‘style’ with which they are comfortable, so their work is instantly recognised from another artist.”

Julia Elmore, RoaR Trustee and Assistant Editor of Raw Vision magazine.

There is an ongoing debate about the use and definitions of the term “Outsider Art”. The following headings illustrate some of the other main names given to this genre of art:

Neuve Invention
Art Brut
Outsider Art
Folk Art / Contemporary Folk Art
Marginal Art, Art Singulier
Visionary Art, Intuitive Art
Naive Art
Visionary Environments

For more information about outsider art and the above definitions we recommend this essay on the Raw Vision website.




Adolf Wölfli picture

Portrait of Adolf Wölfli with paper trumpet, 1925

Outsider Artists Profiles

Adolf Wölfli

Adolf Wölfli (1864–1930) (occasionally spelt Adolf Woelfli or Adolf Wolfli) was a prolific Swiss artist who is regarded as one of the foremost artists in the Art Brut or outsider art traditions.

Wölfli had a troubled childhood. He suffered abuse and molestation and was orphaned at the age of 10, thereafter growing up in a series of state-run foster homes. He worked as a farm labourer and briefly joined the army but was later convicted of attempted child molestation for which he served prison time. Sometime after being freed he was arrested for a similar offence and was admitted in 1895 to the Waldau Clinic in Berne, Switzerland, a psychiatric hospital where he spent the rest of his adult life. He was very disturbed and sometimes violent on admission, leading to him being kept in isolation for his early time at hospital, perhaps due to his psychosis which led to intense hallucinations.

At some point after his admission Wölfli began to draw. Unfortunately his earliest drawings have not survived, so it is difficult to know exactly when he began his artist explorations, although his first surviving works (a series of 50 pencil drawings) are dated from between 1904 and 1906.

Walter Morgenthaler, a doctor at the Waldau Clinic, took a particular interest in Wölfli’s art and his condition, later publishing Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Psychiatric Patient as Artist) in 1921 which first brought Wölfli to the attention of the art world. Morgenthaler’s book was revolutionary in many ways as it was not simply a clinical study but argued that a person with a severe mental illness could be a serious artist and had the ability to make important contributions to the development of art.


History of Outsider Art
To see a timeline of Outsider Art, please click here.


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