Does Intention Have an Impact on what we Consider to be ‘Art’?

I thought it was about time to produce another post on where I’m currently standing with regards to the never-ceasing debate on the definition of the term ‘Outsider Art’. This post is partially influenced by an article I came across this week, written by Jillian Steinhauer for Hyperallergic entitled ‘What Does “Outsider Artist” Even Mean’(see the end of this post for a link to the article). This post will focus on the idea of ‘intent’ – whether the intention behind creating a piece makes it ‘Art’ (with a capital A) – and what this means for ‘Outsider Art’.

Steinhauer’s article was in essence influenced by a previous post from another Hyperallergic editor, Kyle Chayka, which discussed Wendy Vainity’s 3D web animations. Chayka claims of Vainity’s work – “Are the videos outsider art, or the work of a knowing artist making amazingly weird work on purpose?” Here, Chayka seems to be making no discernible difference between ‘strange artists’ and ‘Outsider Artists’. Is art about intentions, Steinhauer asks; and, “how much does – and should – the artist’s intentions affect how we receive his or her work?” Steinhauer draws on a 2007 blog post written by dealer Edward Winkleman who claimed that he couldn’t get himself “unstuck from an assumption about the importance of intent in art.” Winkleman continues, saying that “this assumption has led me to conclude that the work of Henry Darger, for example, is not ‘Art’ because (or so it’s been reported) he had no intention of ever showing it to anyone.”

So, does intention define a work as ‘Art’? Perhaps it does – for example, many things in day to day life could conceivably be referred to as art, if they are placed into a gallery setting or bought by a known ‘Art’ dealer – but what stops them being referred to as such? Intent, I guess. This was the case with ‘ready-mades’, such as Duchamp’s Urinal  – taking something ‘every day’ and making it into art because of the intention behind it. Surely then, most ‘traditional’ ‘Outsider Art’ should not be classified as ‘Art’ (with a capital A). I, however, disagree with this. I’m still not sure how I really define ‘Art’ as such – can there ever really be a definition? And, likewise, I’m still not sure what defines ‘Outsider Art’. I am sure, however, that just because ‘Outsider Artists’ often never intended for their work to be seen in public doesn’t mean we can’t see it as ‘Art’ (with a capital A).

Steinhauer’s article: ‘What Does “Outsider Artist” Even Mean?’


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