Lia Wilson

Lia Wilson 2014

Lia Wilson is a writer living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has appeared on Daily Serving, Art Practical, and Squarecylinder. Her research interests include examining the platforms and pitfalls of identity-based categories in contemporary art, in particular the field of Outsider Art and its promotion of artists with mental illnesses. Lia holds a MA in Visual and Critical Studies from California College of the Arts and a BFA in Printmaking from the College of Santa Fe. She is currently Assistant to the Chair of Art and Design Education at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Contact Lia at:

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About Lia Wilson’s Thesis Project

Lia Wilson

Marketing Madness: The Economy of Outsider Art

How does knowledge of an artist’s mental disability affect the viewer’s interpretation of their artwork? This thesis examines the marketing power of the public fantasy of artistic madness in the field of outsider art. The discourses surrounding Martin Ramirez and Judith Scott, two critically and financially successful outsider artists with highly disparate medical conditions and art practices, bear traces of the interpretive formula plaguing the category. This formula capitalizes on romantic mythologies of the mentally disabled: It valorizes the artists’ diagnoses, postures them as unaware of themselves as artists, and positions them as a completely original and isolated alternative to mainstream art. Despite the wide range of ethical and critical investments in outsider art, these disempowering and homogenizing constructions remain embedded in its discourse, sustained by the desire and fascination of eager consumers.

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