Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Romy Golan

Committee Members

Mona Hadler

Katherine Manthorne

Kent Minturn


Art Brut, Outsider art, Europe, United States, Modern, Contemporary


The search for a “raw art,” untouched by the corrupting effects of culture, led Jean Dubuffet and others to collect, under the heading Art Brut (Outsider art), art made by the mentally ill and otherwise disenfranchised, poor, uneducated, elderly, and/or physically disabled. Since Dubuffet’s codification of Art Brut around 1945, the Outsider has been identified by cultural isolation, mental distance and a requisite discovery by some cultural insider, paternal or exploitative. This discoverer - whether doctor, artist or collector - becomes a translator of sorts, instructing audiences through exhibitions as to how they should receive this work by marginalized artists. Because there is no discourse among Outsider artists, the field does not conform to the standard paradigm of the artistic ‘movement,’ but coheres through a history of these exhibition and collecting practices. Collecting of Outsider work becomes a treasure hunt, where trophies from contact with the abnormal -- cast as capable of pure artistry -- are returned to normative realms. My dissertation charts that history through a series of exhibition case studies, from the mid-twentieth century to the present. I begin with Dubuffet’s Art Brut collection in Switzerland as background, and its dark presentation still invokes asylum. I move quickly to the United States, however. I study the history of the American Folk Art Museum and its erasures of difference among anonymous Folk artists, and then look at Southern Outsider environments such as those constructed by Howard Finster and Kenny Hill. The dissertation ends with the contemporary scene: the Outsider Art fair, workshop/galleries for artists with developmental disabilities and Outsiders at the Whitney Biennial.