Joseph Wallas  believed that creativity took place through four processes, preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Preparation is the state where the individual does the preliminary work. First there is the scanning of the creative territory. What are the possibilities? This action is followed by brain storming and/or the gathering of ideas. The movement to brain storming is relatively unstructured, but it may involve some free association. Alternatively, the mind might just wander with no fixed end intended. After this first stage the collected material is sifted and analysed, not necessarily in a conscious manner. Some instinct can be applied to all the mental sifting and shifting processes. In the incubation process the material is contemplated, which may be a passive or active deliberation with no particular time-line.
In order to put Outsider Art into its creative context it would be prudent to start with German Expressionists who portrayed a particular disenchantment felt by many of the avant-garde artists towards the 1920s urban development and industrial modernism. The early twentieth century was a period of great innovation in the arts with such movements as post-impressionism Fauvism, cubism, Dada and surrealism. The avant-garde found its strength under the German Weimar government of the 1920s and it emerged as a leading centre of Expressionist painting, sculpture, modern music and film. These new ideas were not automatically accepted. The mainstream German population did not care for the new art and the Nazis viewed the culture of the Weimer period as degenerate. Their response stemmed partly from a conservative aesthetic taste manifest in a love of the classical Greek works and the Roman Empire and partly from their determination to use culture as a tool of propaganda. [i] Hitler viewed classical art as an exterior form that embodied an inner racial ideal.[ii] Under Hitler the modern styles of art were banned and the Nazis promoted works that were traditionally connected to the ‘blood and soil’ and which upheld values of racial purity, militarism and devotion to the fatherland. All else was Degenerate art said to be produced by artists who were un-German, Jewish and/or Bolshevist.
German Expressionism was retaliation to the totalising regime and it drew on the traditional use of folklore and primitive artefacts. Ernest Ludwig Kirchner[1880-1938] was a German painter and print maker and one of the key figures in the artists group Die Brucke or The Bridge, the first 20th century Expressionist group. The Brucke group, was named after a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, in which he states that ‘what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.’ Kirchner volunteered for army service in World War I, suffered a breakdown, and was discharged. In 1933, his work was branded as Degenerate by the Nazis. In 1938 Kirchner took his own life by gunshot.[iv]
Expressionist artists Emil Nolde [1857 –1956] and Ludwig Meidner [1884-1966] began a trend in the depiction of inner worlds, isolation and alienation. The idea of the primitive was very much a basis for a large amount of the Brücke artists’ work, but it also became the German ideal heralded by the Third Reich. The idea of the artist’s rejection of society and the urban city was prevelant throughout the history of art in Germany, for example, preceeding Die Brücke, was Wilhelm Riehl’s Land und Leute [1857 – 63], which advocated a return to the land and racial purity making it a symbol of German culture and tradition. There was also Carl Vinnen’s Worpswede Stimmungsladschaften [mood landscapes] and Arnold Bocklin’s mythological landscapes, which provided a romantic vision of rural life. The notion of returning to nature is also highlighted in Adolf von Menzel’s a Journey Through Beautiful Nature, .
The Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso, viewed the decent back to the primitive as a ‘madness’ or child-like stage of growth that involves a retreat from worldly chaos. Similarly, the world’s most famous of Swiss Outsider artists, Adolf Wolfli [1864-1930] created art to offset his anxiety after his psychotic collapse. Here the chaos appears to emerge from the body and become transferred into a text and/or image. Just as the German Expressionists escaped from the isolation and alienation of modern urban living, today Outsider artists immerse themselves in a nostalgic vision of the inner world through paining, sculpting, carving and building eclectic works. The French Outsider artist Pascal Maisonneuve [1863-1934], displayed his defiance of the changing world by creating faces from shells.
Outsider artists work compulsively and rarely do they plan in advance. The primal obsession is generally accompanied by a continual need to fill in the gaps and offset the natural wild or the inner mental wilderness. Nolde would often concentrate exclusively on a specific subject matter in intense bursts of activity which he described in his autobiography. Kirchner would also work obsessively, without taking notice of the time, and would often emphasise his mental distress as a key driving force behind his work. Kirchner reportedly took to stimulants such as alcohol, sex and morphine during his time in Berlin, and right up until his suicide in 1938 he was continually fighting a battle with loneliness and alienation, which became articulated in his frustration with modern city life.