Outsider art

12 May 2014 / 4 comments
I just got back from a weekend in Hobart, where I spent a day at MONA – the new Museum of Old and New Art. I came across an artist that stopped me in my tracks. In a dark room, suspended from the ceiling, as if floating in the air, were a series of pencil drawings with watercolour of young girls. Sometimes the girls were fully clothed, outside a circus tent, and everyone was happy, other times they were naked and had penises and there was an underlying feeling of something sinister. There was one piece that had me gaping - of young girls being attacked and strangled by men in a war-like scene, over and over again. I stopped and stared for ages and wanted to elbow away anyone who so much as got near my space and threatened this magical moment of discovery.

Being MONA, I was able to look up more about this artist on their O device and I discovered he was called Henry Darger and these were his ‘Vivian girls’. Darger was a reclusive artist and writer. After he died his landlord discovered a 15,000-page manuscript and hundreds of drawings and watercolours. Darger had created art for the love of creation. It appears that he had no intention of being exhibited or published in his lifetime. Luckily the person that discovered his work was a photographer and had an eye for art, otherwise, it could all have been thrown in the bin.

Ex-National Gallery of Australia director and art critic Betty Churcher once said that the most interesting art is probably happening right now in someone’s bedroom and no one even knows about it. Darger is typical of ‘outsider art’ – art that happens outside of the mainstream art world. Is it even more precious because the maker has no desire to be ‘discovered’?

Lately a friend of mine, a filmmaker, was questioning me about why I was giving away so much content for free by having my work on a site like Wattpad. I said that it was the joy of having people read my work, that their votes and positive comments were currency to me. She kept on questioning me, and asked me how I protected my work, and what if someone ripped it off. I said at this stage in my career I’d take it as a compliment.

But on the way back from the airport this weekend, I received a Google alert on my name that directed me to a website where someone has posted my story ‘Bequest’ as a free ebook download. I didn’t feel flattered by it at all, I felt infuriated. Sure I was giving it away or free on Wattpad, but I still had some sort of control over how it was presented. I’ve sent them an email asking them to take it down, but the site seems so dodgy I doubt I’ll ever get a response. But is any exposure good exposure at this point in my journey? And if I’m giving it away for free anyway, should I care where it’s turning up? Is my intention just to have as many people as possible read my work? Is it all just about getting my name out there?

But if I’m to take a leaf from Darger’s book, does it matter at all? I’m not planning on getting rich from my writing. I’m in the fortunate position of having a job that I like and a roof over my head. I write because I love it, because if I don’t write, I feel like something is missing from my day. It’s art for the sake of making art. If it gets noticed, then great … if it doesn’t, I’m still enjoying creating it.
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