When a phenomenon such as Outsider Art, which requires more personal participation than was previously the case as well as an unprejudiced mind, is intro-duced to the art world the viewer cannot escape the intensity of these works for the playing field of cultural references. The recipient does not have total freedom of interpretation when he or she encounters art made by the mentally ill, for example. Outsider art is, however, art of the recipient, as it is mostly up to the viewer whether the original monologue turns into a dialogue.
Unlike much of Outsider Art, contemporary folk art, which draws inspiration from popular culture, for example, allows the viewer to continue the play suggested in the work and develop the ideas further. Inventiveness, often humour, and joy of discovery can often be shared by the maker and the viewer.
Outsider Art cannot actually be interpreted separately from the lives of the makers or from the perspective that they are outside the mainstream of art. We relate what we see to the life story of the maker; we have to accept the mistakes and exaggerations that we would not accept from professional artists.
Outsider Art, especially Art Brut mostly made the mentally handicapped, generally does not contain references to the world outside. Instead, outsider artists open windows through which we can peek into the human psyche and ”another” social reality. Each maker has his or her own story, and therefore every work consti-tutes a new window into one particular soul. Outsider artists often feel compelled to do what they are doing, they are driven to fill the paper. Contemporary folk artists, however, cannot be idle, have nothing to do. Both Outsider Art and contemporary folk art are related to that contemporary art where action as such, the process of doing, is of the essence. Contemporary folk art is characterised by the maker transforming the immediate surroundings: A self-made living environment, ITE as the abbreviation would be in Finnish. Other outsider artists create their own favourite worlds without an external compulsion to perform. These makers need not fulfil the expectations of any outsider, nor the public, and not even mention other spheres of the world of culture and art. The essential thing is self-motivated activity, which we admire as ”pure creativity”. From the viewer’s perspective, the works of outsider artists and contemporary folk artists have such qualities as freedom of creation and unaffectedness which is borne out of the circumstance that the piece is an end in itself, free of time constraints and the joy of succeeding, and the fact that there is no need to fear mistakes, just as there is no need to prove one’s own skills.
Contemporary artists sometimes replace the artwork product with the presentation of the process to emphasise things like the physical nature of making art or to provide commentary on the conventional methods of making art. An artist also plans the process beforehand and analyses it afterwards. He or she presents the process for the art world to evaluate. The artist is anxious about the reception of the work produced. In contrast, the maker of Out-sider Art or Art Brut may not be interested in the future of the creation; creating in itself is enough. He or she may even destroy a work that has taken a long time to create, and on which the person has worked decisively. A professional artist wants to convey a message to other fellow humans but a contemporary folk artist or other outsider maker instead happens to picture the act of creating.
One of the factors which professional art and outsider art share is originality or at least the aspiration to it. One difference is that the amateur artist admires and imitates the art of high culture and its heritage; they aspire to the likeness of art and derive pleasure from developing their own skill. Partly for this reason amateur art and Out-sider Art are different. The latter challenges the amateur with absolute creativity.
We in the Western world still lack a tradi-tion of observing and analysing visual phenomena outside the established and traditional artistic culture. Therefore, the views of those who make Outsider Art, Art Brut or contemporary folk art may differ radically from the ways in which the art-oriented public or professional artist are used to receiving artistic experiences. In a broader sense, Outsider Art is not a coherent phenomenon, because the only thing uniting different kinds of work is their maladjustment within the trends and practices of mainstream culture. We may ask is this even art? When a new pheno-menon knocks on the gates of the art world, there is reason to re-evaluate what we consider art and why. The limits of art cannot be accurately predetermined, instead they are defined on a case-by-case basis, for example, by Kiasma’s In Another World exhibition and its reception.
Professor, Helsinki University of Art and Design