Category Archives: Wolfi

An Overview of Outsider Art

Pencils and Colored Pencil drawing by Adolf Wolfli

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It is well-documented that art-making can have a healing effect, especially for those suffering from emotional or physical pain. Making art allows people of all ages and all levels of ability to express themselves visually, in a way that transcends the limitations of verbal language. For many, it is a therapeutic process, even if they are not consciously aware of it.

Art-making can be a useful creative outlet for those afflicted with schizophrenias or other psychoses. In 1948, French artist Jean Dubuffet coined the term “art brut” (called “Outsider Art” in English) to refer to artworks created by men and women who created work “outsides” of the known art world. He was especially interested in the work of art created by people in mental institution, although the term “outsider art” refers to anyone who creates art outside of mainstream conventions, and not just those with mental illnesses.

Outsider artists have no background in art; they are not schooled in the lessons of art history. They do not seek fortune, fame, or acclaim for their art. Therefore, Dubuffet says, the work of outsider artists is more pure and creative than those who have an education in art, because their work comes from their “authentic creative impulses”. The work of outsider artists is truly created as art for art’s sake – although those creating it may not even know that they are creating “art” at all.

Famous Outsider Artists include Adolf Wolfli, Augustin Lesage, and Henry Darger (although it is worth noting that they never sought fame and instead, became well-known due to public interest in their work). They and their fellow outsider artists created a range of materials, from pens to yarns to seashells – in effect, turning anything they could find into art. The most notable characteristic that is shared amongst many works of Outsider Art is the impressive amount of detail that often goes into the pieces, as you can see in Adolf Wolfli’s drawing above.

The Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland houses Jean Dubuffet’s collection of thousands of works of Outsider Art. For those interested in leaning more about Art Brut and seeing an impressive collection in person, the Collection de l’Art Brut is well worth a visit.


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