Any definition of what constitutes ‘outsider art’, or art brut, is elusive. The boundaries of this ‘category’ are notoriously porous. There is no manifesto, no consistent medium, nor is it especially tied to any single period in time. However, it can be argued that outsider art is often regarded as art created by those on the margins of society, such as people in psychiatric hospitals, in prison, or the disabled. Outsider artists are also usually self-taught. For several decades, Anthony Mannix has been at the forefront of Australian outsider art, his particular qualification for the label being serious mental illness (though the term ‘illness’, as The Toy of the Spirit implores, is problematic). Mannix was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the mid-1980s, and spent periods as a patient in psychiatric hospitals over the next decade. Now based in the Blue Mountains, he has been free of schizophrenic episodes for many years.
Barnaby Smith is a critic, poet and musician currently living on Gundungurra and Darug land. His writing on art, literature, film and music appears regularly in Art Guide Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Quietus, Metro, Australian Book Review and others. He records music as Brigadoon and released the album Itch Factor in 2020: www.brigadoon.bandcamp.com
From the New Issue
Cathy Goes to Canberra: Doing politics differently by Cathy McGowanby Joshua Black
Time of the Magicians: The invention of modern thought, 1919–1929 by Wolfram Eilenberger, translated by Shaun Whiteside
Wagnerism: Art and politics in the shadow of music by Alex Ross