They build a castle-like structure in their backyard, embellish exterior and interior walls of their house with frescoes or mosaics from broken pottery or shells, or they make a lot of wooden or concrete sculptures to be grouped in their garden, or they make sculpures in nearby rocks.... and they will do such projects for many years, even decades, just without having had any professional training in making such creative constructs, without claiming that what they are doing is art, without thinking they could make any profit by being creatively active this way.......
Some have become famous, like the french postman Joseph Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924), whose Palais Idéal in Hauterives, France, attracts over 100.000 visitors a year. And like Picasiette, a nickname for Raymond Isidore (1900-1964), who fully decorated interior and exterior of his house in Chartres with mosaic, nowadays a museum, a simple man whose nickname has become a generic term for mosaics made from found broken pottery.
This weblog is about these people and the sites they created or are creating nowadays.
In the United States these sites are called "visionary environments" or "art environments", and they are rather well inventarised and documented both in print and on the internet.
Although in Europe on national levels sites have been documented in print and on websites/weblogs, the internet has no systematic inventarisation on a european level of these sites, so that's why I began this blog.
This inventory and documentary of outsider environments in Europe, so far, is an ungoing project..
My definition of an environment is: a relatively large-scale creative construct (sculptural, in painting or architectonic), or ensemble of such constructs, related to and redefining the place of living of the maker(s).
A place of living most of the times will be a private house and/or a private garden. Occasionaly it will be a plot of (private, sometimes public) land near the author's place of living. In a small number of cases it could be the community where the maker resides (François Michaud from Masgot, the Naveira brothers from Betanzos), or a nearby forest/natural area seen as habitat (Rapeau, Császár, Pujiula, Wilson).
I avoid the term art and prefer to use the more neutral term creative construct, slightly further detailed by adding "sculptural, in painting, or architectonic", just to indicate that I want to cover the broad area of sculpting, painting and building. My point of view is more that of a social scientist than that of an art historian. However, although this blog is not focussed upon art, I have a strong affinity with what in general terms best is called Contemporary Folk Art (in the US in general named outsider art) and this certainly determines the demarcation of my subject.
A creative construct can be distinguished from other constructs by its non-functionality. Someone engaged in making a creative construct can do this because he or she wants something to do when retired, wants to make something beautiful, is inspired, has got an impulse, follows a vision, wants to show that ordinary people can perform something great, you name it, but it is not done because the result will be useful.
Relatively large-scale is a criterion that maybe is open for discussion. However, common sense probably will do. So completely creatively decorating all four walls of a room might produce an environment, hanging one painting on a wall would not have that effect (so must of us will not appear in this weblog...)
The creative construct somehow will be related to the habitat of the maker. The value of the creation, if any, is linked to its physical situation. So, an outsider environment is not meant to be shown in another physical environment.
The term redefine is a special one, because by the creative activity the maker gives the spot another aspect. For the maker that aspect somehow will be meaningful: covering the house with mosaic, making statues and exposing them in the garden, painting the outside of the house in a decorative way, building towers, cathedrals, replica of famous monuments...
Of course it could be interesting to discuss why someone starts making an environment. But, as I have noted, in many cases the makers themselves do not know this, as if it they just stumbled into the project. So, I will refrain from talking too much about meaning or intention and I will not give interpretations of what a maker might have meant or intended, or speculate about his or hers psychological condition, unless there are credible reports about that condition (and even then these reports may be conditioned by time- or culturally related factors).
One aspect of this topic of meaning deserves attention: the aspect of making money. In general, people who create environments do not start their project to make money out of it. Maybe, they expect a small donation from visitors, but the creations in general are not for sale and are not made to be sold. It should be noted however, that some sites eventually can become famous and turn into touristic spots, which provide a nice contribution to the local economy (Facteur Cheval, Picassiette)
Neither do the makers of the creative constructs in most cases have much money to spend. This explains, by the way, why they very often use easy and cheap to collect materials, like shells, broken kitchen ware, materials from the rubbish-dump, etc.
Now about the term outsider This blog almost exclusively introduces common people who are or have been doing something very special in the field of human creativity. They spend many years of their life in embellishing their habitat, and they are doing this in an incredibily intensive and passionate way.
So far I couldn't find an easy to use term that summarizes these qualities. The term "Visionary", used in the USA, comes close. And I also like the recently introduced Italian term "Babelici", referring to the passionate builders of Babel..
But then, when in 2008 I started this blog, I was not yet very much acquainted with these terminological issues, and I just used "outsider" because of its association with "outsider art", a field -by the way- where one will find above qualities in its most renowned representatives..
In addition, a more opportunistic consideration, using the term has a practical effect too, since it is a search term for the internet which easy comes to mind, is easy to use and returns many hits..
I am acquainted with the discussion about the somewhat discriminating aspects of the term "outsider" when interpreted as denoting people who are at the margin of society, which in general is not true of most creators of environments presented in this blog.
I also follow the actual discussions about outsider art becoming en vogue within the art world, outsiders so to say becoming insiders, and comparable discussions. It is very interesting to see where this discussion is leading to.
However, as long as this discussion has no generally accepted result and as long as there is no generally accepted other term, I will use "outsider" in my blog, using it in the neutral sense of "non-professional"
As in this way, "outsider" in general refers to someone who is a non-professional in constructing, in art terms a self-taught artist, the criterion being is the absence of formal artistic, architectonic, constructive etc. training.
This criterion of non-professionality is rather formal, but it represents a difference of worlds.
Being trained and educated in a special area ("Having a diploma") gives acces to that area and its related socio-cultural benefits, like social respect and acces to jobs, the media, and financing. Ordinary people ("Without that diploma") do not have this acces and these benefits.
In the realm of creativity this can lead to poignant injustice, because there is no one to one relation between the power of creativity and the possesion of a diploma. (Yes, I know, these statements deserve a more detailed explanation. Maybe later or elsewhere)
In a very limited number of cases, however, I will write a note about someone who was educated in an art school, but then kept far away from the art world, like Chomo, or was not accepted by the art establishment, like Karl Junker. I will refer explicitly to this aspect in the relevant notes.
My blog is about creative constructs, so my frame of reference is cultural, and not political or economic*.
Geographically speaking Europe is the landmass west of the Urals, which stretches to where the Atlantic Ocean begins (including off shore islands like Mallorca and Iceland). From a broad cultural point of view the countries on that landmass have a lot of common characteristics.
So in my blog I will deal with environments which are located in these countries.
In a number of cases I will be prudent in giving details of the specific location of an environment, especially when its author wants to remain anonymous (Indeed, I have refrained from writing about people who have indicated they do not want to be named in media).
And then I will be careful when a site is a sculpture garden which can easily be visited by people with wrong intentions. Outsider art nowadays has become a valuable and theft has occurred.
I will be happy to discuss my approach and share my thoughts on the topic of definition with others.
* The many appearances of "Europe" in as far as states formally co-operate, have been depicted in this "map" (March 2011) on the website Strange Maps