L’Arche panel: Art Brut and Outsider Art

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June 9, 2011

L’Arche panel June 9th Brennan Hall, Toronto

Ellen AndersonGood morning everyone. Thank you for your warm welcome. It is a great pleasure and honour to be included in this assembly today.

I run a studio/ gallery for artists with disabilities called Creative Spirit Art Centre.

One day, I was asked to admit a woman with Down syndrome into Creative Spirit. I was told that she had behaviour problems and was disruptive. The sheltered workshop didn’t want her going in for the entire week, so they asked, Please, would we accept her for two days a week? And we did.

As it turned out, she was wonderful! It seemed that she was quite happy making art. She smiled as she learned to put out her own art materials and to clean up after herself. She painted and she painted with joy. Professional artists would come in to watch her. Her work changed and grew as she observed the paintings exhibited in the studio/gallery. She absorbed art as naturally as if it sunlight. She glowed and smiled as she dipped her brushes into pools of colours and drew them over sheets of paper. Her worker revealed that after she started making art with us, her behavioural problems ceased. She was no longer a problem in the workshop.

I believe it was a change that occurred because the art centre was the only place she was not told what to do every single moment of her life and that she had found a place to express herself. She could make art and share it with other people. It gave her value in the eyes of others and it gave her a way of manipulating materials in the real world to make meaning for herself. Most important of all she became a happy, functioning member of a creative community.

I came to art and disabilities because I am the mother of a son who was born with cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities. I am also trained as an artist, designer, and director. And by chance; I am an organizer of non-profits and charities.

I founded an art centre for people with disabilities because there weren’t any in Toronto or Ontario twenty years ago. I understand that when one chooses to make a change for one person; it is just as easy to make it for many. In the process, I came to understand that people with limitations of speech or movement, intellectual capacity or emotional burdens; can produce art which expresses a range of human emotions from joy to despair through the use of colours, lines, shapes, movements in a two dimensional plane. Having a voice is very important. It is about freedom of expression for those who are most often condemned to be voiceless in society.

The art created by the core members of L’Arche belongs to the categories of Art Brut and Outsider art. Art Brut (which translated is “raw art” in French) is a term used by the French artist Jean du Buffet, who collected art made by children and people with mental health issues. Outsider art is a term, developed by art critic Roger Cardinal to refer to art made by people with mental health issues who are living outside of the mental institutions, but nowadays it can mean any group of people who are marginalized for any number of socio-economic reasons.

These are categories of art as pure expression. It is about the act of making a mark; a mark made by a human being. It is about giving voice; being present and occupying a spatial reality which will continue to speak long after the maker is gone.

Prehistoric man left images of his hands on the walls of caves. The hands are a visual impression of the human being who made it. It says, “I exist. I am or was here”. Perhaps he or she could not write but the hand print was a form of identification which we would recognize thousands of years later.

The art critic John Ruskin once said, “All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul.” The images in this exhibition are that — they are soul, and they are without guile. They are paint, pencil and paper managed with pureness of vision, direct and innocent. They are an expression of the soul inhabiting the body. It is unfiltered, unbridled expression.

Thank You,

Ellen Anderson

Creative Spirit Art Centre