What does hoarding have to do with outsider art? I’ve been asking myself that question for the past year. First, I have to tell you that I don’t like TV, for all the reasons that you’ve undoubtedly heard before. But then, by a technological fluke, I started receiving the full cable package (free) from my local provider. With a touch of curiosity and a truck-load of derision, I sat down to explore the world of cable television. What had I been missing for the past 20 years?
I quickly discovered that, in fact, I had missed nothing except a crop of new programs that were even more of an insult to my intelligence. HOWEVER, I sat through an episode of “The Hoarders.” And then another, and then another. Yes, watching this program is like slowing down to see the remains of a car accident, but it’s more than that. What intrigues me is the genesis of every hoarding problem. These people weren’t born hoarders – they became hoarders. Every single hoarder has been able to pinpoint the very moment when the hoarding began. It’s usually about compensating for a loss – a family member died, they lost their job, they got divorced, and so on. That’s the part that is so fascinating to me. Most of us have survived all of these life calamities, but we didn’t become hoarders.
So why is this relevant to my studies in outsider art? It’s because I have heard the same explanation from people who describe why and when outsider artists began their life’s work. It’s typically preceded by a traumatic event. I think back to Annie Hooper, for example (see earlier blog), who started her creation of 2,500 Biblical sculptures when her son did not resume his childhood role after returning from war. Roger Manley, the curator of the museum that houses her collection, tells me that every outsider artist he has ever met has been able to identify the moment they started creating art. Sometimes it’s a huge event, like the death of a beloved, and sometimes it’s a trivial event (to us), like a broken leg.
What I may absorb as a painful but inevitable bump in the road of life, another may experience as an overwhelming and unmanageable catastrophe that turns their life upside down. To deny the truth of their reality is to deny their humanity. It is not a trauma competition.
It brings me back to one of my first blogs – Who’s Outside(r) – when I referred to Foucault’s description of another system of thought. We must accept the possibility of thinking that. Whether it’s someone who has stuffed 446,000 boxes into their living room or someone who has created a fantasy world of art, there is a certain logic to it. We did not take the same path, but we were not walking in their shoes.