Andrea Fritsch


An analysis of the debate surrounding the art exhibit Almost There: A Portrait of Peter Anton at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in 2010 reveals sets of actors with competing interests and claims on the term outsider art. I explore the public fascination with madness and outsider art, suggesting actors engage outsider art in three attitudes—aesthetic, instrumental and investigative. Aesthetic attitudes operate within an expanded definition of official ‘Art’ that allows outsider artwork, but not the outsider artist, to participate in the reproduction of fine art conventions. Instrumental attitudes engage outsider artwork and perceptions of madness as forms of cultural and social capital in the Bourdieuian sense. The curators of Almost There operated with an investigative attitude, seeking to understand the social conditions influencing the artist as well as the artist’s sociality and intent. Investigative fields such as documentary production and psychiatry situate outsider art historically, as art practice, and subjective expression. I argue each attitude strategically engages the label of outsider art to both negotiate and question hierarchical relationships. The imperfect fit of the Almost There exhibit in the category of outsider art demonstrates the limitations of current conceptions of artistic merit and mental health.