Words by them: outsider art, inside

Mar 19th, 2014 | By | Category: News

By Emma Jonas

Senior history major Jordis Miller’s Carson Undergraduate Research Grant allowed her to combine her study abroad experiences, art history minor and personal interest in art brut.

Carson grants, which are awarded to approximately 10 sophomores and juniors every year, offer students the opportunity to engage in a creative, professional or scholarly research project.

In spring 2013, Miller studied abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she encountered the Collection de l’Art Brut, which inspired her to center her grant around the study of art brut (also known as outsider or raw art).

Using the grant, she created an art brut display at the Installation Gallery in the Willamette art building; the exhibition, titled “Works by Us, Words by Us,” ended on March 14 and featured works from Oregon State Hospital patients.

French artist Jean DuBuffet, whose pieces comprise much of the Collection de l’Art Brut, describes art brut as “pieces of work executed by people untouched by artistic culture … so that their authors draw everything… from their own depths and not from clichés of classical art or art that is fashionable.”

Miller noticed a discrepancy between the literature on art brut and its presentation at the Collection in Switzerland.

“[It] wasn’t as prevalent to see as much about specific artists in the literature…[the Collection] was just about the artists, which I was very pleased to see,” Miller said.

Miller said the goal of her project was three-pronged.

“[I wanted] elevate the role of the artist by analyzing the portrayal of the artist through three angles: The literature on art brut, the Musée de l’Art Brut and the art itself,” Miller said.

With support from Associate Professor of Art History Ricardo de Mambro Santos and Assistant Professor of Art History Abigail Susik, Miller contacted the Oregon State Hospital about displaying art created by patients with mental illnesses.

Working with the Oregon State Hospital was difficult for Miller, and she said the project often faced bureaucratic setbacks. Miller had to be mindful of her role as a non-governmental operative and the project became much more time consuming than she anticipated.

“It’s been technically difficult, but it’s all been worth it,” Miller said.

The 26 pieces featured in the collection, arranged by color and medium, differed in subject matter. There were several paintings of cars, a few rivers, a bird, a harbor, flowers and a wood duck, among other subjects.

A placard next to each piece stated the title, artist’s name and medium of expression. The exhibit also offered booklets containing an artist statement for every piece. Some artists self-disclosed thei illnesses in the statements, but otherwise their conditions were not identified.

Some artists wrote about their hopes of being seen in new, astigmatic ways through their art. Others explained their pieces’ connections with the past or the future. Many described art as a means of relaxation and expression and said they plan to continue creating art after leaving the hospital.

“It’s really not as dark as you might think… It’s heavy in that these people do have personal stories but not depressing … It’s enlightening,” Miller said.

The artists had the opportunity to attend the gallery opening and see their art exhibited in Willamette’s Installation Gallery, which was the first time their pieces had been displayed outside of the hospital.

“[They were] very moved to have their art be approved by the non-hospital community,” Miller said. “[The exhibition] boosted their confidence in not just who they are but also in their art.”

ejonas@willamette.edu

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