The categories of naive art, art brut, and insane or eccentric art, which shade into various & further categories of neo-primitive or urban-primitive art— all these ways of categorizing & labelling art remain senseless:—that is, not only ultimately useless but also essentially unsensual, unconnected to body & desire. What really characterizes all these art forms? Not their marginality in relation to a mainstream of art/discourse…for heaven’s sake, what mainstream?! what discourse?! If we were to say that there’s a “post-modernist” discourse currently going on, then the concept “margin” no longer holds any meaning. Post-post-modernism, however, will not even admit the existence of any discourse of any sort. Art has fallen silent. There are no more categories, much less maps of “center” & “margin. ” We are free of all that shit, right?
Wrong. Because one category survives: Capital. Too-Late Capitalism. The Spectacle, the Simulation, Babylon, whatever you want to call it. All art can be positioned or labelled in relation to this “discourse.” And it is precisely & only in relation to this “metaphysical” commodity-spectacle that “outsider” art can be seen as marginal. If this spectacle can be considered as a para-medium (in all its sinuous complexity), then “outsider” art must be called im-mediate. It does not pass thru the paramedium of the spectacle. It is meant only for the artist & the artist’s “immediate entourage” (friends, family, neighbors, tribe); & it participates only in a “gift” economy of positive reciprocity. Only this non-category of “immediatism” can therefore approach an adequate understanding & defense of the bodily aspects of “outsider” art, its connection to the senses & to desire, & its avoidance or even ignorance of the mediation/alienation inherent in spectacular recuperation & re-production. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the content of any outsider genre, nor for that matter does it concern the form or the intention of the work, nor the naiveté or knowingness of the artist or recipients of the art. Its “immediatism” lies solely in its means of imaginal production. It communicates or is “given” from person to person, “breast-to-breast” as the sufis say, without passing thru the distortion-mechanism of the spectacular paramedium.
When Yugoslavian or Haitian or NYC-graffiti art was “discovered” & commodified, the results failed to satisfy on several points:—(1) In terms of the pseudo-discourse of the “Art World, ” all so-called “naiveté” is doomed to remain quaint, even campy, & decidedly marginal—even when it commands high prices (for a year or two). The forced entrance of outsider art into the commodity spectacle is a humiliation. (2) Recuperation as commodity engages the artist in “negative reciprocity”—i.e., where first the artist “received inspiration” as a free gift, and then “made a donation” directly to other people, who might or might not “give back” their understanding, or mystification, or a turkey & a keg of beer (positive reciprocity), the artist now first creates for money & receives money, while any aspects of “gift” exchange recede into secondary levels of meaning & finally begin to fade (negative reciprocity). Finally we have tourist art, & the condescending amusement, & then the condescending boredom, of those who will no longer pay for the “inauthentic.” (3) Or else the Art World vampirizes the energy of the outsider, sucks everything out & then passes on the corpse to the advertising world or the world of “popular” entertainment. By this re-production the art finally loses its “aura” & shrivels & dies. True, the “utopian trace” may remain, but in essence the art has been betrayed.
The unfairness of such terms as “insane” or “neo-primitive” art lies in the fact that this art is not produced only by the mad or innocent, but by all those who evade the alienation of the paramedium. Its true appeal lies in the intense aura it acquires thru immediate imaginal presence, not only in its “visionary” style or content, but most importantly by its mere present-ness (i.e., it is “here” and it is a “gift”). In this sense it is more, not less, noble than “mainstream ” art of the post-modern era—which is precisely the art of an absence rather than a presence.
The only fair way (or “beauty way,” as the Hopi say) to treat “outsider” art would seem to be to keep it “secret”—to refuse to define it—to pass it on as a secret, person-to-person, breast-to-breast—rather than pass it thru the paramedium (slick journals, quarterlies, galleries, museums, coffee-table books, MTV, etc.). Or even better:—to become “mad” & “innocent” ourselves—for so Babylon will label us when we neither worship nor criticize it anymore—when we have forgotten it (but not “forgiven” it!), & remembered our own prophetic selves, our bodies, our “true will.”