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By Kenneth W. Harrow

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Peoples in distant countries and in ‘primitive’ societies began to take on a substance more solid than that of the undifferentiated native. Suddenly, with the possibility of an almost apparently limitless material ripe for stylistic adoption, the vertical take-off of modern art was assured. The process of co-option and appropriation was extraordinarily rapid and complete, beginning jointly, and perhaps hesitantly, with Degas and Whistler staking out claims on The myth of primitivism 16 the Japanese, and with Gauguin grasping first the ‘primitive’ of Breton folk art, then that of Melanesia, the pattern was set.

Yet, just as a transition was being made in the matter of resources, so parallel transition was also affected in terms of needs. The Egyptian civilization, dying as it did during the classical period, turns out to be one-dimensional; there are, apparently, no decipherable records, no historic personages save a few vague shadows, no heroes, no exemplary legends, merely the single dimension of visual style. Style alone, it quickly became apparent, cannot long fill the role now being proffered it—a radical departure, incidentally, from any previous response to visual culture, and one crucially in need of proper analysis.

2 None the less, a great deal of outsider art appears to be created in a kind of indifference to or detachment from such factors as commercial reward, critical approval, or even local encouragement. 5 cm: Collection de L’Art Brut, Lausanne). question of ‘success’ is incorporated into the work; for example, in Adolf Wölfli’s plans for the printing and distribution of his books, and his elaborate, fugal calculation of the compound interest accruing from their imaginary sales. The problem is that the ideology behind the promotion of outsider art conceals the fact that both in its form and in its Outsiders or insiders 21 content it functions as a ‘negative’ or reversed version of the aesthetic criteria of conventional art, and forms of parody or sacrilege are intimately dependent upon the idioms which they subvert.

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