Everyone's an artist - or a critic. But don't assume that a lack of technical skill means a lack of talent. Creative expression matters more, and outsider art has shown collectors that big money can come from some of the most unexpected places.
Art collecting is a fascinating hobby, but in most cases it is a rich man's game - unfortunately, most art lovers don't have the means to bid on the next Matisse that comes up for auction.
Sure, most folks can afford work by lesser-known artists, and local shows are a great place to start, but you sure do have to wade through plenty of crap to find work that showcases actual talent.
For most of us, art collecting can take one of two turns - either as an investment, or as a passion. If you collect pieces you love, pieces that speak to you, and you need nothing else from them, that is absolutely fine.
It is, in fact, how most artists prefer their work to be used. On the other hand, buying the work of a talented unknown can really pay off if they ever break through, and you can easily sell the painting for a 1000% return.
The Real Talent
The trick is spotting the artist with the potential to become art-important. Often, amateur collectors focus on technical skill as a litmus test for aspiring artists, and more often than not, the artist remains aspiring.
Art schools are full of students who have incredible technical skill and can produce incredibly photorealistic paintings, but very few go on to actually become a big, investment-worthy name.
The reason is that art is not about technical skill as much as it is about creative inspiration. Cameras already reproduce scenes exactly - the artist's job is to capture what a camera never could, the final product a result of inspiration filtered through a living mind.
Art's New Direction
This is why outsider art is so hot with collectors. Outsider art is not concerned with color theory or balance, symmetry or perspective. In fact, a true outsider artist has never been trained, and may not even be aware of the current art world at all.
Outsider art is about pure creative expression, and it can range from lighthearted and silly to almost frighteningly dark and moody - often, within the same artist's collection.
True outsider art is created by people who don't see themselves as artists, and don't really see their work as art. Outsider artists exist on the fringe - that weird guy down the street with the Coke-bottle towers - and they would do what they do whether anyone cared or not.
It was the art of institutionalized mental patients that began the movement - work that was done as therapy, emptying the heart and mind onto paper. The rawness of it had massive appeal, and a movement was born.
Unfortunately, as soon as there was money to be made in the genre, everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Before long, "outsider art" became synonymous with "bad art" because untalented wannabes thought they had finally found a way to be considered "real artists".
In the early 2000s, it seemed like anyone with a glue gun was making junk sculptures and calling it "outsider art" - but in most cases, it was still just junk.
True outsider art is hard to come by, and your best bet is to seek out the weirdos. It is these types who produce the purest, truest form of the genre, producing absolute definitive works of abject creativity and passion.
They do it for themselves. But if you can talk them into parting with some work, you may just be their big break - a single gallery showing can launch them into some serious cash.
Be Someone's Break
Bill Traylor's work began as outsider art - until an auction of 21 of his drawings brought in $777,000, and the demand for his work became so great that he is now considered a legitimate part of contemporary art dealings. So, don't go looking for Traylors, because you can't afford them.
In fact, the demand for outsider art has grown so large that if the artist is referred to by their last name only, they have become established and you can no longer afford them.
No, the best way to collect outsider art is to find the outsiders yourself. Not in a gallery, not at a museum, not at an art fair. Seek out the strange. Talk to the guy who glued doll heads all over his van. Make friends with the lady who sews giant pom-poms onto her clothes and argues with herself.
Worst case scenario, you might have an interesting conversation. Best case scenario, you might pay $50 for something that could fetch six figures one day. But if they refer to themselves as an outsider artist, run. Because they are not. In this case, awareness negates the possibility.