Archive for the ‘Zoom In: An Outsider Art Project’ Category

Art is wonderful. Full of incredible stories, and magnificent figures striving to share the best of what our world has to offer.

But I don’t want to confuse the story with the message, and I realize how easy it is to fall in love with an artist rather than their art. But if I was any good at creating, and if these poems have any meaning, I wouldn’t want you to feel for them because you think I’m cool. I’d want you to like them because you sat down with them and felt a spiritual kinship and maybe you decided to tell me about. Then again, maybe you didn’t. Maybe they had no impact – and that’s okay.

Art is not beautiful because I had a rough childhood, or a good grade in a class, or something to prove to another student. Those things augment the palpitations of the soul – but they are not art. What I make, and you see, and we feel is art. And a life story ought to have an incredibly insignificant impact on that virtue.

I’m not pretending to understand the fundamentals of art, goodness, or the ability to negotiate human emotion. I just know that we latch onto the person when the reality of their feeling becomes overwhelming to us. Taking Darger’s painting apart through his life devalues the creative process of that work, and makes the thing he submitted secondary to the work he left behind. We build up our idols, pin up our heroes, but they might never have wanted that in the first place. Ultimately, when we make the artist the art, we assume that these figureheads did something we need to be personally attached to. They were just people, and became remarkable by a mixture of luck, talent, and foolishness.

So the nature of a class where we pull things apart to such a degree is daunting, and even more so because the class is so focused on the people. I wanted to take an opportunity to remind myself and others of what these people became famous for, even if they didn’t intend to. Because they were weird, and because they said or made things which we responded to emotionally. The guy who labeled Daniel Johnston is right, and so are people who see him as working outside the mainstream. Do those labels really give us a better appreciation for the art? And can they really even begin to tackle the more important questions like

  • How do I respond to this on a gut level
  • How does it make me feel?
  • What can I take away from this expression of humanity?

When we can begin to really break down those barriers, and to appreciate art on a more gut level, we at least begin to think of things from the perspective of someone who understands the commerce between ideas and idealism. And maybe, hopefully, we begin to put less emphasis on the spectacle of art (because spectacle never lasts) and truly examine why these works from decades ago really matter. I think you’ll find, as I did, that all the academic hypothesizing and conjecture in the world can’t replace the intimate moment where a work of art and a human being forge a connection.

Zoom in

Take a look

Obscure everything


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Now, outsider is entirely the wrong term.

We ghosts have all talked
And we agree about that much.

You’ll have to find another one.
Or we’ll haunt you.
Or torment your kids or something.

Seriously though, I don’t know
Any one of us who has ever been outside.
We’re artists – we like it indoors.
And all this business of art courses is

I’d say the real outsider artists are the ones who never make
Anyone feel anything.
Because that’s inside –
That’s heart.
So don’t tell us we’re not real,
Even if we are ghosts,
Because our glow is intimately human.

Because our bodies used
To join hands miraculously
From the far reaches of the Earth when we’d do
Our art thing.

Don’t devalue how much shit
And grime we tacked on our lives
To make something beautiful
That you now sit on your coffee-table.

It’s a tough enough world the way
We lived it.
Perhaps we should never have created circles
In the first place.

We’ve never felt further in.

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Ignatius is, in many respects, the perfect case study for appreciating art. Not in how he organizes his, because it’s a little insane, but in how he reacts to the world around him. Without any sense of pretence, he establishes an immediate connection with everyone and everything around him. He doesn’t buy into any hype, never doubts his judgment, and forms incredible connections very quickly.

What’s also remarkable about him, as he never gives anything a second thought, is just how successful he is. Rather than getting caught up in the mind-games and hysterics of modern criticism, he returns to a deeper form of understanding more based in the level of gut-reaction. But rather than simplifying his interaction with the world, it actually makes him more worthwhile in the scope of the novel.

We don’t often look at free-wheeling crackpots as bastions of art, but Ignatius might just be one. Feeling is something extinguished by so much of modern academia, and while I’m not discounting the importance of really understanding something, I think the power of feeling is underestimated. Ignatius is successful because he beckons by whims, and embraces the nature of his changing fortune. Rather than putting art on an unattainable pedestal and pushing the people upon it off for their inadequacy, perhaps the trick is to give into the moment, leave behind the pretension, and like and love for the little time we have to appreciate things which make us feel.

It’s just a thought. But Ignatius, after all, never thought too hard about anything.

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We never meant for you to love us this much.
It’s true, like a young girl sweltering
In the arms of a too-soon boy we
Thought everything would turn out fine.

Death is kind of like the Inferno in
Somuch as you become part of
This guild of dead-heads and make
All day. There’s less gambling, though.

So here we are. With too much knowledge,
Too much awareness of everything around
Us, and we can see you falling in love.
Watch your face read our stories.

But there’s a reason we keep everything
Locked in the chest of the heart
Or the home. We never meant to become
This large, or this fat.

We just wanted to Love ourselves.
To spend a few hours away from our homes
And our skin, and to feel like something
More grandiose than nothing.

Because when you drink all day
Teach pathetic courses
Money comes hard
Your body betrays you
The world forgets you
Your family forgets you
You can’t leave
You don’t leave
You don’t want to connect,

You just want to remember.

We were always in love with the world,
We just didn’t know how to connect.
And thank goodness we’re gone
Because we could never have handled
This much Love.

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love a good story. We love those bare-boned tales of people who stick out against the droves and hordes of mediocrity. But the discussion and mass consumption of art can lead to this ugly filtering – a perception that all art is mad e for our benefit and dissection.

Artists become artists (or so Vonnegut calculates) by virtue of putting their art out. But once it is, and particularly once they die – we cannibalize them. That means the same recordings we salivate over might have been Johnson’s larks, or his masterpieces. We imbue him with the power of the Devil, the King of the blues, and he loses his humanity. And weren’t those the things we initially connected to?

That’s the magic of art. While Vonnegut heralds the importance of interpersonal communication, these memories serve as cathartic self-expression for those like Brainard who experienced the unique trials of an erea. We can pick these pieces pf art apart piece by piece, but ultimately some of them become and remain beautiful because they either conform or disregard our values of the past.

Whether it’s picking parts of Darger’s life or work and illuminating them – these things have their own meaning. These things, like the Vivian Girls, represent an incredibly insular genius. By dissecting them, we neglect to appreciate them for humanity, or simplicity, but to fulfill an artistic paradigm that these people, as outsiders, didn’t buy into.

We can’t neglect natural beauty – the same beauty which is so prevalent in the naturalist world of Darger or the elemental overtones of Robert Johnson.

Take the art apart and really make something of the pieces. But don’t forget that it, too, is a perfectly imperfect expression of the human soul.

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When you died we consumed you.
Blood and flesh and oils
We devoured your canvas,
Spitting up dreams and
Dust from the
Corners of your psyche.

We found your tiny daughters
And ripped their naked bodies
Limb by limb to
Pull some clue from the
Sinews of their skin
We hungered for you.

Deep in the womb of your
Art – how could you have known?
We dressed up the room.
Sealed your life in harsh plastic.
We just wanted
To make your fingers clean.

We just couldn’t help but ask about both endings.
We wanted clean hands,
Pristine fingers
Forgetting just how hard
Paint and scissors sting.

But didn’t you realize?
Could you not care
As we poked, prodded, propped
Your art up to disgusting light?
There’s no dust now –
Only eyes.

And I’m so sorry,
Because we couldn’t see you
For you. For the sad fluttering
Of your heart or your smudgy
Pastel smile. Sometimes a story
Is just a story.

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What if I talked to you?

Take away this veneer,
It’s ugly anyway.

What if this poem was made for you?
And everyone thought the same thing.
They’d miss some details, sure,
But it would that still have meaning?
It would still mean something.

But we like our art to feel like it’s speaking
Directly at our head. Then, like a loaded
Gun – BOOM.
Something like that, anyway.

But maybe that’s just egocentric,
And really the best poems were
Never for us at all.
They were for the crestfallen author,
Who I have now usurped completely
By stealing their beautiful work
And tacking in up in the chambers
Of my heart!

I’m a thief!

Well, okay,
I’m overreacting.
But what I am saying,
And I think this is important,
Is that we always want to be a part of everything.
And the greatness of humanity, or even the smallest
Artist painting, can exist without us.

We need to remember what it’s like to be a dinner-guest
And to have a healthy-sized portion.
To sit at the table of art and not gorge
On our own importance, or our taste
For tragedy. To remember that you can be
Hungry without over-stuffing.

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Little boxes,
Little boxes,
Little boxes full
Of human hearts

And fruit men
And big dreams
Which all erode
Just the same.

Because you couldn’t live
Couldn’t bend back
Straight up rigid
As skyscrapers.

Couldn’t walk loose shoes
Dim tie, which you know
Those people –
Can see through you

Couldn’t love your wife
For her. Seeking bigger
Dreams, you even fucked
Out of your league.

Because the dollars won’t touch
You and the status can’t
outlive you and for such
a bright man you’re so stupid.

We choose the pocket-book
Over the heart, all the time.
The idiot over the art,
The passion over the patience.

We let the art breathe
And we let the job be
Maybe we finally find
Our place out there.

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Time to start over…

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I think the whole thing is there. Flannery got it, and we can call it the religious message – but heck, it’s still self/universal expression. But here’s what I mean. The kid goes to the service with all the people – his parents are real junkies. But he’s there – at this RELIGIOUS ART EXHIBIT and these people freaking GET IT. RIGHT?

Well – not really.

It’s just the art. All these people in one place – waiting for one thing – the artist to pull the cosmic bunny out of the hat.


It takes this kid, doing his own thing and just taking the message (medium) for what it IS to really get it. So he goes to the river, wants to wash in the good old basin of self-creative life and is sucked away.

He takes the message, doesn’t want to overthink it, and THIS is the kid Flannery heralds religious transformation?

Then that guy , totally Earthy, tries to grab him – Overthinks It.

Because – and mind me here –  he tried too hard to grab it all.


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