On the Inside Looking Out: The Fascinating World of Outsider Art

How outsider art relates to storytelling.

Shaunta Grimes
6 min readJan 28, 2019

Henry Darger, “Untitled” (detail) (c. mid-twentieth century). Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York. Photography by James Prinz.

I fell down a rabbit hole yesterday — ironically, it started with researching Lewis Carroll. Yesterday was his birthday and I thought I was going to post one of his quotes. I might still do that later today.

The weirdest thing about this daily Commonplace Book Project I’ve been working on since the start of the year is the deeper dive into the people I quote. Sometimes, I find out things that are disturbing or even downright disgusting. Coco Chanel was a nazi sympathizer. Marion Zimmerman Bradley’s daughter accused her of raping her.

I already knew that there were allegations about Carroll and Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired his most famous work. I already knew that there was a nude photograph of her big sister and one of him kissing Alice like a lover.

I was looking a little deeper, pressing a thumb into that bruise, to see what I might want to write about it. That was yesterday’s rabbit hole. So it was a pleasant surprise when falling down it lead me to something wonderful that I’d never heard of before.

Of course, I’ve been aware of the idea of outsider art — art created by people who are not formally trained and who are not part of the inside art world. I just never had a name for it. And I never knew that it was a thing.

It is a thing, though. Maybe one reason it is so intriguing to me is because I’ve spent most of my adult life becoming an insider artist. Pursuing formal training in the form of an undergraduate and graduate degrees, working harder than I’ve ever worked at anything to be traditionally published, celebrating every step toward being able to support my family with writing.

From the inside, looking out, I’m intrigued by the idea of art driven by mental illness or poverty or something other than money and recognition.

Earlier this month my daughter, Adrienne, and I went to see Welcome to Marwen. It’s about a man named Mark Hogancamp who creates an incredible, intricate outdoor art installation he calls Marwencol. It’s a world, set in WWII area…

Shaunta Grimes

Learn. Write. Repeat. Visit me at ninjawriters.org. Reach me at shauntagrimes@gmail.com. (My posts may contain affiliate links!)