“An Outsider Artist is how people in the industry refer to Artists who have had no formal training at all. Who haven’t been to art school and who are only self taught”.
When Mandy Cherry Joass explained this term to me, standing in a barn on Waiheke Island, wine in hand, I felt sad. Sad that the term existed. Sad that it seemed to marginalize a group of people who for whatever reason had not attended any higher education in their chosen field. And mostly, sad that I was one. I never had the money to go to Art School and it’s something I had come to terms with over the many years since high school ended. Suddenly however, this seemingly derogatory term I had never heard of before, was something which would be used to describe me!
I didn’t understand why they (or rather, we) were looked down on. Surely a person creating works of art who has had no instruction on how to even begin, should be celebrated. I never went to Art School, but I still created art. I dropped out of year 12 Art class because all we did was copy other peoples work. How was I ever going to improve ‘my own style’ if all I did was copy dead old artists paintings? Not everyone has the money or the personal circumstances to give up working and go play with paint and charcoal all day. This was discrimination pure and simple as far as I was concerned. Bloody outrageous….
As that week went by, spent assisting with the build of this monolith of a sculpture on the side of the hill, I learned more about the work itself; I read the description that went alongside the 144 square metre sculpture I was there to help create. It turns out Puapua Whenua was more than just a giant woven square of old Venetian blinds. Much more in fact. As I looked around at the other works displayed in the show, I noticed they too had beautiful and often surprising descriptions accompanying them.
None of these descriptions struck me in quite the same way Mandy’s had however. The way she expressed herself and the ideas behind the creation added depth and a new appreciation of the work. I asked her where she had learned to write in such a way and was told quite clearly that writing about her work was one of the most important tools she had gained from her time at Ilam School of Fine Arts. She explained how it was a vital part of being an artist if you ever wanted to put yourself out there to the public, galleries and exhibitions.
For me this seemed to be very important information. Information that had never before occurred to me. I came to the realization that it’s all well and good being an outsider artist if that’s what you want, but if you don’t know how to define and market yourself within the industry then you will likely struggle to make it more than just a hobby. Now if there’s one thing that week on Waiheke with my friend and mentor taught me, it’s that I want this to be more than a hobby. This is who I want to be. This is who I am. This is what I want to do….
So now, here I am – Sass Curry: Art student. Finally.
Now tell me… why are you here?