Selected Interview: Arnulf Rainer
“… one also drills this source”
Klaus Mecherlein: Mr. Rainer, in almost forty years you have gathered the probably biggest collection of so called outsider art. There are diverse, sometimes synonymic names for it: “outsider art”, the German “Außenseiter Kunst”, “Art Brut” or latterly even “psychiatric art”. Which name do you favour?
Arnulf Rainer: In no way “psychiatric art”, since there are also physically impaired artists or also some, who do not have any neurological problems. I favour “outsider”, because some even do not require treatment and lonely live somewhere. Like autistic people, for example. Others, of course, live in residential homes and are taken care of… .
It is very difficult to find something precise, a general term that covers everything. And “L’Art Brut” has been rigorously used and distinguished and classified – in contrast to how it is often done today – by Dubuffet, who introduced this expression. And I do not know whether the expression is thus protected – probably not legally, but somehow similar to that.
K.M.: Has the expression “outsider” then to be understood regarding the society or the mainstream art?
A.R.: Since nowadays many live in residential homes one cannot speak of outsider with regards to the society: But I would says that they are at the fringe of the development of art. They are also influenced by contemporary art and by the fact that the get response from an audience. Thus it is not totally beyond our sensibility for art, meaning that they are visible and sensible.
K.M.: Actually every artist is an outsider, since he cannot be really integrated – and this is probably even his special function. Which function and also which influence on the culture does this art have, maybe still today, in your opinion?
A.R.: They are a corrective and naturally also influence the mainstream art like we know it from the workshop and gallery scene. The other way round, one has to mention that they at times generate something new, yet they also have a common characteristic. One utterly important characteristic is the fact that there is rarely an educational background.
Secondly, they have a narrow mental focus. Picture it like this: a drunk driver does not recognise other road users because his focus is narrowed. And it is similar with those artists, which do not have a really big horizon. Even if I only have a slightly bigger horizon and overview, they have an very narrow one.
There is an unambiguous signal that someone does not belong to outsider art. That is when somebody has a driving license. Then he surely does not belong to outsider art.
K.M.: In one of your articles you mention the chain ladder function in artistic working. As you describe it, the artist clambers from picture to picture, he advances through one work to the next. Would this also be valid for outsider artists, or is there an influence of the limited focus preventing this?
A.R.: No, the outsider also clambers from one picture to the next and there is at least some kind of development, yet there is not much fluctuation. But this does not mean anything. It is simply the case that each artist is an inventive person and develops by working on one work or on a series, until he emanates from himself with something new. This means that the artist is influenced by his already finished works. And so is the outsider. Yet, outsiders have less mobility, meaning that they do not change that much.
K.M.: In the art market, outsiders are nowadays sought after, downright “in” – not “out” at all. Can it happen that they lose their speciality and their function as cultural mavericks when they get popular?
A.R.: Well, you have to be careful regarding this. They surely have the function to have a new, totally different point of view. But in the end outsiders and insiders, so to speak, grab each others hand and are in contact. The line gets blurred.
On the other hand there is an important function, which is that the outsider art, having been created by artists with a relatively narrow horizon, has the status of a stress reducer for us. This means, when we do not need to be absolutely mindful – like when driving a car – this reduces our stress. This also translates to the art audience, providing a relation to this point of view. It makes their live easier… Outsider art is, how should I phrase it, home culture…
K.M.: In this regard I would like to continue with a passage from the text “Was aber ist Johann Hauser” (“Yet, what is Johann Hauser”) you wrote in 1978. I found it very remarkable and would like to cite it. For instance, it says: “By his drawn works, an ‘infantile’ fulfils early dreams, old ideals, present wishes. We experience satisfaction of the past, get a free-ride for former developments.” Also: “Morons achieve the development of clever people!” Do you still think like this today?
A.R.: This surely follows, yes, – … one cannot say morons, but people with an low IQ. Of course it is not only other people’s intelligence they are provoked by, but they provoke to sympathise in earlier stages, in which everybody has been in before. We have also been born sometime, everything is still developing.
K.M.: Has, what you just said, been a motivation for your collection?
A.R.: I wanted to gather things which were not culturally acknowledged at that time. I would not say that they were seen as inferior, but they were not noticed. There is still a strong disrespect for the disabled stemming from national socialism. And I wanted to show that disabled still have the ability to perform and that they also provide something to others.
K.M.: From an artist’s perspective, this is being motivated by distance. In other words, a social motive.
A.R.: You have to imagine that, after the war, I so to speak woke up as an artist and that was my socialisation. I still experienced many things – and the phrase “entartete Kunst” (“depraved art”) was something that was still very virulent and often used after the war. Also in academic circles; there was, for instance, Sedlmeier and his “Verlust der Mitte” (“Loss of the middle”).
We have indeed lost the middle, yet due to the internet… this is actually nothing wrong, but even nothing positive.
K.M.: Have there been any other points of contact which brought you closer to this art in respect of form and content, and gave you inspiration for your own work?
A.R.: No, I would just say that there were suggestions and they also materialised. But I doubt this happened simultaneously; I had my attitude even before I got in touch with it. Of course, I am coming from post-war surrealism and surrealists were, as is generally known, intrigued and infected by this insane peoples’ art.
K.M.: In articles from that time there also appears some sort of identification with the outsiders regarding the view of the own existence as an artist. For instance, when you write about Johann Hauser and yourself in the already cited paragraph: “Even I am anything else than an eagle, rather a worm […]; also a J. Hauser disguised as an academic painter.”
A.R.: Well, in this context eagle is simply a symbol for great overview and primarily stands for accuracy, a sharp and deep insight. Even I do not have that and I am, at a time, very constricted in my own work. Yet I try to diversify and look at new topics whenever I have finished something. Yet, this is fundamentally only possible when working not on huge pictures, but on drawings. They provide more flexibility.
K.M.: “Hauser disguised as an academic painter”. Doesn’t that also refer to admitting own – partial – weaknesses (or, if you want, strengths), like a close focus, limitation of the view. Then also the insight or readiness to play these roles.
A.R.: Yes, that is right. However, there is a difference between Hauser and me. The metaphor “Hauser as an academic painter” naturally means that I work driven by emotion and naivete…
K.M.: … in order to similarly succeed in crossing borders, to “invade into this wonder world”?
A.R.: I also drill in this field. Yet, in contrast to the disables I drill in many fields and, so to speak, drive with different vehicles. And I have a driving license, of course. I also try to steadily widen my focus more and more. I do not see myself as an outsider at all. Art per se is always a permanent process of expansion and diversification.
Interview Source: http://www.euward.de/html/en/2156.htm