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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Outsider Art: Art on the Fringe

Lee Godie began showing up in front of the Art Institute of Chicago sometime in 1968 to sell her artwork, calling herself a French impressionist. Not much is known about Godie before her arrival in 1968, but in all probability she never had any formal art training; she simply created. She is part of a genre that has been labeled many different things, including: Outsider Art, Art Brute, Folk Art, Naïve Art, and Self-Taught Art. This genre of art has been defined as “two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects – created by individuals who have not attended art school.”

Godie is one such artist. Her work is often critiqued, like that of many outsiders (including the Rev. Howard Finster), for being child-like, lacking realistic depth perception, and having a general aesthetic quality that lacks the influence of centuries of past masters. However, appreciators of outsider art see these aspects as part of the allure of the work, that which gives it a unique quality. It is a genre unhindered by the art institutional system. The work does show a certain naiveté, but that is just the point. There is an expressive quality in these works. The allure is not in the realism, but in the feelings that are evoked.

For example, this double-sided work by Godie, which is currently being researched at MIR Appraisal Services, at first glance feels elementary because of the lack of depth and the simplicity with which the marker has been applied. However, the side-glancing eyes, slightly hunched shoulders, and strained smiles give both figures a feeling of angst. Godie was able to create this feeling because, although unrealistic, the vibrantly colored thick marker line has exaggerated these features, bringing them to the viewer’s attention.

The work of Godie and other more contemporary outsiders is now reaching popularity, with some of Godie’s works bringing in thousands at auction. However, older outsiders’, or primitive artists’, work was ignored by the mainstream but utilized to great success by the modernists. Modernists first appreciated the work of primitive artists because of its expressive quality, and because it was created outside the boundaries of western art. In fact, one of the goals of modernism was, as the artist Franz Marc said: “Once more and many times more we are trying to divert the attention of ardent men from the nice and pretty illusion inherited from the olden days toward existence, horrible and resounding.” The modernists appreciated primitive art for the fact that it could evoke feeling and emotion without having to be intrinsically tied to any certain form or aesthetic quality.

While the modernists certainly appreciated primitive art, and used it to influence their own work, it was never shown or considered on the same level as what the modernists were creating. Likewise, many people ardently enjoy outsider art, making it a genre that has become increasingly collectible. However, the fact remains that Godie and others are still labeled as outsiders. Only time will tell if outsider art will be able to cross its own genre barrier and become a part of the artistic mainstream, like the work of one of the most famous self-taught artists, Henri Rousseau, whose work can now be seen in the new modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.

*For more information on the double sided portrait by Lee Godie (shown above) please call 812-814-8510 or email

Works Cited

Gary Alan Fine, Everyday Genius: Self-Taught Art and the Culture of Authenticity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), xii.

Franz Marc. “Forward to the Planned Second Volume of Der Blaue Reiter,” in Blaue Reiter Almanac, ed. K. Lankheit, (London: 1974), 260.

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    Chicago, Illinois, United States
    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.