Founded in 1991, Intuit, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote public awareness, understanding, and appreciation of intuitive and outsider art through a program of education and exhibition. Intuit seeks to discover and preserve examples of intuitive and outsider art, and to operate a permanent facility in which to pursue such activities.
Intuit Program Director, Collections & Exhibitions, Farris Wahbeh received his MA in Modern Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute in 2005. While a student, he was the editor of F Newsmagazine and a curator's assistant at the Roger Brown Study Collection. He also interned in the department of Museum Education at the Art Institute of Chicago. Before attending graduate school, he worked at The Getty Research Institute in numerous capacities, including as a Library Assistant in Conservation/Preservation and Collection Maintenance, a Research Database Editor at the Provenance Index, and as a Special Collections Cataloging Assistant.
Q: What is it today that makes outsider art so attractive to the art-going public? Could it be our attraction to naïveté in an overly informed world?
Wahbeh: I don't think that it is necessarily "today" that makes outsider art so stimulating for art cognoscenti. Outsider art has a strong art historical trajectory, one which the field follows very closely — especially when defining it to the public. It has its roots in Europe (surprise) with psychiatric doctors Prinzhorn and Morgenthaler. Jean Dubuffet subsequently coined the term Art Brut to synthesize and broaden their previous work and, in the 1970s, Roger Cardinal's publishing house coined the term "outsider art." There is current and extensive dialogue on the use of the term as a genre and its efficacy as an "umbrella" term (much like cubism, fauvism, expressionists, etc). In other words, it is not a "lo and behold" type of attraction, but one which covers a broad historical time frame which informs a mode of aesthetic appreciation.
While the description of artists as "naïve" has surfaced throughout the dialogue on outsider art, I think equating outsider artists with a form of "naïveté" is counter-productive and quite offensive. Artists such as Henry Darger, Charles Steffan, Zdenek Kosek, Felipe Jesus Consalvos, Martin Ramirez, Emery Blagdon or Lubos Plny create magnificent, intricate and complex realities that defy categorization. In fact, their worlds are more informed than ours! None of these artists are or were naïve in the strict sense of the word, nor are their creations. Rather, they took part in then-current world affairs and cultural production and their work was, to a degree, informed by that. In other words, these artists are multifaceted and provocative and their works deserve our attention as manifestations of sheer intelligence and coordinated density.
Q: How interesting (refreshing, or frustrating) has it been for as an art gallery to interact with contemporary outsider artists?
Wahbeh: As with all artists, it is absolutely amazing to experience and watch an artwork manifest from the hands of its creator. Currently, Lonnie Holley is our artist in residence here at Intuit. Being at the gallery with Lonnie, hearing his thoughts on contemporary culture, and seeing his artistic process is staggering and mind opening.
Q: As the encroaching modern world continues to strive to make reality a form of entertainment, and continues to strip away the idea of privacy, what role do you see outsider art playing in the future discussions of what it means to be human?
Wahbeh: Perhaps it is the sheer tenacity of their imagination that resists insta-tainment sensibilities. Perhaps it is the visual explorations and labyrinthine elaborations of their works. Perhaps it is the world the artists create in their works and in their words. Outsider art will play a significant role in future discussions of art and its meaning in the contemporary present. I believe that this is so because our humanity is more fragile than we think. Outsider artists are prophetic in that respect.