Outsider Art is art that is created by people outside of the mainstream of society. This could be people in prison, in mental institutions, or people who live in very isolated or rural areas. Many Outsider Artists have not gone to college and have no formal art training.
Folk Artists – as defined by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) – have learned from a relative or neighbor a craft tradition of quilting, basket making, or even music. Folk Artists have a craft or talent that has literally been passed on to them by master artisans. Sometimes that label of “Folk Artist” slips over to the separate but similar category of Outsider Artist.
Outsider Artists are solitary perennials that continue to reseed themselves and their work year after year. Many times, they work in isolation and become discerning critics of their own work with a quality of aesthetic that is continuously improved.
One of the most well known examples of an outsider artist is James Hampton (1909-1964) who toiled alone for decades creating an incredible work of religious outsider art. Usually housed at the Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., this masterpiece is on display at the Abby Aldrich Museum of Historic Williamsburg.
James Hampton was a janitor who recycled trash from his job, found items on the street, and used it to create a large altarpiece which he entitled, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly.
So what makes this large and unique work special?
First, this is a piece of art that must be seen in person to truly appreciate the size and detail that has been lovingly adorned upon the many surfaces of this multi-unit piece of art.
Also, consider that this artist worked anonymously and alone for many years in a garage that he rented just to house his life’s work. This large and beautiful installation was not discovered until after his death.
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The national repository of our country’s treasures (The Smithsonian) has chosen to preserve this work forever to share with the nation.
It is a priceless legacy left by an artist who was not seeking fame, fortune, or a gallery representative. He created art because it was, for him, an absolute necessity.