Aug 10, 2006

In Cognito

I sometimes do art workshops with adults with mental health problems and learning disabilities. In my experience, more often than not these are apathetic processes, or else barely tolerable diversions of anti-catharsis. But I was struck dumb recently when a participant explained an otherwise unremarkable acrylic painting. He gestured across the canvas with a complete conviction that every notion featured or memory depicted existed in the same space and with the same treatment; an equility of time and consideration. Whatever allowed his clarity, be it nievity or a lack of exposure, it enabled him a confidence and a pragmatism of paradoxical sophistication. He is not inclined to paint unless really encouraged and holds no regard for his 'pictures'. The finished pieces are of little interest but there is a lot to be admired in his working process and manner of sorting ideas and placing images. For me at least, and perhaps for him too because he enjoyed my praise and the sense that he had pleased me. The experience reminded me of some of the definitions of outsider art that I have come across over the years. The term ‘L’Art Brut’ - literally ‘raw art’ – was coined by the French painter Jean Dubuffet. ‘Art does not lie down on the bed that is made for it’, Dubuffet said, ‘It runs away as soon as one says its name: it loves to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called’.

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