Outliers and American Vanguard Art
“An outsider artist,” writes Sanford Schwartz, “might be someone who resolutely, and perhaps eccentrically, wants to live and work only on her or his terms. An outsider artist might be someone who has been institutionalized, or who suffers some physical impairment, which keeps the person at a remove from others. But an outsider artist, as the term has evolved, might as easily be someone whose daily experience—as, say, a black person in the South—has kept that person from having any real contact with the larger culture beyond his or her immediate community.
“Outliers and American Vanguard Art” gives us not only a new label—“outliers” instead of “outsiders”—but, more ambitiously, and with a certain confusion, a look at how trained, and progressive, artists have responded to outsider art…It is a treat to come upon a unit of sculptures by the stone carver William Edmondson, whose angels, horses, and other figures, dating from the 1930s and 1940s, are at once extremely chubby and tensely at the ready. The little-known painter William H. Johnson, a trained artist who took on a primitive style emphasizing his African-American heritage, makes a terrific impression with his Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (circa 1944), in which the descending chorus of angels are like schoolgirls of the era, each in ankle socks and Mary Janes.”
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