NORTH ADAMS -- What happens when an artist creates from any material that moves her, without being afraid that a work is good or bad?
What happens when the people meant to teach art shame their students into fear -- and when that fear is gone?
A new show at MCLA Gallery 51 focuses on outsider art and includes an accomplished abstract artist, one more point on her creative journey embracing the outsider aesthetic.
" ‘Outsider' artists are just people making art -- and it's good art and it's done by people who are not trained," said painter Renee Bouchard of Bennington. "None of them have an MFA or a list of all this stuff on their resume. It's just done because they're doing it for whatever reasons. Maybe it's therapeutic. Maybe they just want to be creative. They just need to do this."
Bouchard and her husband, Jamie Franklin, had previously arranged a show of her own work alongside outsider art from their collection for a pop-up exhibit in Downstreet Art last summer. MCLA professor Tony Gengarelly and his students, saw it, and it led to the Bouchard's role in "Inside the Outside: Reconsidering our Views about Art" at MCLA Gallery 51, with work by Jessica Park, Danielle Christensen, Michael McManmon, Charlie Lucas and Ilene Spiewak.
Bouchard and her husband have collected outsider and folk art for the past 15 years, and their marriage has meant a union of art collections, aesthetics and a united hunger for more work.
One acquisition of the couple's in the show is an 1800s Rip Van Winkle piece by Brattleboro Retreat patient Major King.
"It was just hanging in an auction, and nobody seemed to pay much attention to, but it caught our eye," Bouchard said. "My husband did extensive research and realized this was a very important piece, that the [artist] made it while he was being treated for a mental illness. We find that interesting. It's a present that he gave to his doctor in exchange for a watch that his doctor gave him, so apparently he had a good rapport with the doctor. He wasn't just a crazy person. He was a very intelligent person who created something very thoughtful and beautiful."
She loves work that shows people creating with whatever they have at their disposal, rather than seeking out accepted material.
"We have this beautiful sculpture by an artist that is done with hay bale wire," she said. "He was somebody who worked on a farm in the south, and he went around on his free time collecting hay bale wire. The story that is so interesting is that he was extremely resourceful with materials and his need, impulse, to create."
Bouchard's embrace of outsider work has pushed her to unlearn much of what she was taught in art school, where she found humiliation and elitism dominating the atmosphere, regardless of a student's actual artistic ability. She recalls one incident where an instructor refused to review her work because she brought it in a cardboard portfolio.
"It was humiliating," said Bouchard. "I had to carry that portfolio out of the class, and nobody said a word to me. It was so hard for me to make artwork after that, practically impossible. Art school was traumatic for me in a lot of ways. It took me years to recover from it. "
Bouchard decided to skip graduate school and travel instead. She came to Morocco, where she met a self-taught artist who made paintings of ceremonies with people in trances. The work opened Bouchard's eyes to what art could be and what it meant to be artist.
"His paintings were on cardboard," she said. "They were brilliant, and they were on cardboard."
In Bouchard's view, there should be no outside or inside artists. There should just be artists.
"The word ‘outsider' is really annoying," said Bouchard. "I don't like it anymore. It's discrimination."
Without elevated degrees as mandatory to not only art-making, but displaying and selling, the new dynamic between art education and those turning away from it might be creating a whole generation of intentional outsider artists. Bouchard is starting that trend with her own son, Ensor, just over a year old and already collaborating with his mother.
"I've made it so he can work in my studio with me," she said. "He has one work that he has access to and he's learning how to make marks with pencils rather than eat them. He's a regular Cy Twombly, I have to say."
"He has all the colors, he gets to pick which colors and he makes marks with pencils. I respond to his marks, and I like to think he's responding to mine.
If you go ...
What: ‘Inside the Outside: Reconsidering our Views about Art' -- work by Renee Bouchard and Ilene Spiewak with selected work by students from the College Internship Program in Lee, and by self-taught artists from the private collection of Jamie Franklin and Renee Bouchard.
Students from MCLA's Museum Studies class under the direction of Professor emeritus Tony Gengarelly ask: How do we identify and describe art that lies outside the traditional spectrum of art making?
The show groups self-taught artists -- people living in isolated communities, artists with mental or physical disabilities and all those who are not influenced by the established art world -- with contributions from professionally trained artists and teachers.
‘Inside the Outside' celebrates the work of artists Jessica Park and Michael McManmon and Gengarelly's new art biography, ‘A World Transformed: The Art of Jessica Park.'
Where: MCLA Gallery 51, 51 Main St., North Adams
When: Opening reception at 5 tonight, Feb. 27, with Jessica Park. Show through March 23
Information: (413) 664-8718