"Thinking is learning all over again how to see, directing one's consciousness, making of every image a privileged place."
The Myth of Sisyphus
It could be argued that with the end of the Modernist narrative in the late 1960's and the subsequent rise of "pluralism" in the 1970's; that the very notion of "outsider" art becomes problematic. With the end of this story everything in effect opens up and art making loses its historical determinism. Philosopher of art Arthur Danto puts it succinctly: "Today there is no longer any pale of history. Everything is permitted." 1. While this permissiveness has been liberating it has also lead to the flattening of thought and expression in much contemporary art. Part of the problem has been a heavy-handed sociological approach to the making and presenting of art; something abetted by the art market. Many artists are also simply responding to a situation endemic in post-industrial culture just now, where there seems little time for careful reflection upon anything. As a well-known critic recently pointed out, many artists have accepted the short attention span of the audience and now make art to be taken in at a glance. The art market has encouraged this development through its promotion of art that serves its purposes, both economic and ideological. Of course this is cynically defended in terms of "giving the art viewing public what they want." Unfortunately, experiencing art has become for many something akin to channel surfing. Art that cannot accommodate the status of trinket or sound bite very often remains in the background, little seen and largely ignored. My notion of "independent" art is implicitly critical of the art market. This is not intentionally "radical" or titillating art, but rather art that speaks to people with both clarity and depth. It is basically a matter of what artist and critic Robert Morgan has called "inner-directed" art. I understand this to mean art that explores and reveals the artist's subjective relation to things in the world. This relation need not be obscure, provided that the artist builds upon certain shared aspects of experience.
The artist beyond the pale of the market today is often an unwitting humanist; someone committed to making art that deepens our sense of being. In Morgan's view, the great challenge for visual artists in the coming millennium is to "re-discover the act of seeing in this desperate age of speed and information," and thus, "re-gain consciousness." 2. The idea, indeed, the act of re-gaining consciousness is of paramount importance. Our psychological freedom may depend upon this. When it comes to art making I believe it is the intentional clarity of the artwork (or its intentionality) that will be the decisive factor in the struggle to come to our senses.
Through acknowledging the intentionality of an artwork we sense that the work points to something beyond itself, even though that something might be fundamentally ambiguous. This reflection can lead to fresh appreciation of our abilities to think and feel in relation to the imaginative endeavors of others. We can reject the conditioning of the media and the market and find in the experience of art independent of the market or mainstream a new human purpose: a meaning both personal and collective.