I like the term “wild art” so much better than “outsider art.” Not that they are exclusively related or anything.
“Wild art is the vast proliferation of art forms that occur beyond the perimeters of the established art world,” the book explains in its introduction. It then goes on to differentiate itself from “outsider art,” and explains that wild art “is simply art that does not fit into the narrow confines of the established art world.”
More than that, though, and as the book points out, it is art that does not wind through the traditional system of acceptance and applying value as it has been developed within the art world. “It is wild vegetation to the manicured lawns of the art world,” it states. Within these terms, I’d say it was unavoidable and invaluable.
Wild Art (Amazon, Powell’s) posits that there is no one art world, but multiple worlds, and takes it upon itself to function as some form of survey of many of these, an introduction to areas worth exploring further.
These worlds include the street in a chapter that covers graffiti, of course, but goes way beyond that. One of the most amazing pieces is an anonymous vandalism of a Soviet-era monument to World War 2 in Bulgaria. The figures of soldiers were repainted by an anonymous artist into various cartoon figures like Superman and Captain America, as well as Ronald McDonald and Santa Claus. Vandalism doubling as appropriation. That chapter also covers tree sweaters and graffiti of children playing around Chernobyl.
If you were to ask me what I thought the fastest growing field of wild art was, I’d say body art. It seems like everyone has something inked on them these days, and most people more than one image (full disclosure – not me!). Wild Art’s chapter covering body modification covers tattooing, but goes way beyond that. There’s performance artist Stelarc, who had a “cell-cultivated ear” transplanted on his arm. It doesn’t look great. There’s also temporary saline modification in foreheads, pointy ears, scarring, forked tongues, corset piercing, and good, old-fashioned plastic surgery. Body art, to me, tends to focus on grotesqueries, but knowing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is a good caution for this chapter.
The human body is the most extreme canvas in the book, but it’s good to get that over with, because what follows is a parade of interesting work from a variety of materials, from animals to toilet seats to buildings, from human artists and other creatures, of hugely contrasting scale from the tiniest action figure to sculpted islands in Dubai.
And that is, I think, the real point of the book. People make art from whatever they have available, whenever they have the time, for whatever purpose, even none at all. Wild Art reveals art as one of the most ubiquitous things in the world. It engulfs us. It can be on ourselves, on our pets, we can live in it or even eat it. We could poop it out, actually. Art is so big, so unwieldy, that the idea of a museum or gallery to contain it, of a curator or historian or critic to qualify it, seems like an impossible task.
The lesson is that most people do it because they must.
Wild Art reads partly as a manifesto – or maybe the better way to put it is a declaration – a declaration of a world full of art that can never be tamed, accessible to anyone and everyone, with no perimeters attached to it. Art is normal. Everyone’s doing it. Open your eyes and you will never be bored.