The Outsider is In – Teacher Fellowship Program at Intuit

At Intuit we define “intuitive and outsider art” as work of artists who demonstrate little influence from the mainstream art world and who instead are motivated by their unique personal visions. This includes what is known as art brut, non-traditional folk art, self-taught art, and visionary art.

As education director I work closely with Chicago Public Schools teachers in developing their curriculum by providing professional training that focuses on the genre. These training sessions range from lectures, tours to private collections and museums of outsider art, hands-on art workshops, and peer curricula review. In the following spring, students visit Intuit’s exhibition and incorporate inspirations into their art projects. The program ends with a students’ exhibition with selected artwork to honor the creativity and hard work of the teachers and their students.

By bringing intuitive and outsider art in the classroom, the teachers are given the opportunity and support to create unique lesson plans based on outsider art and work by self-taught artists. The students can see artists are not confined to the any social, cultural, and economical status. The program allows the students to recognize the creative spirit that is embedded in everyone, regardless of the level of artistic training.

I interviewed with Marvin Tate, art teacher at Prologue College Prep High School and one of the participating teachers in the program during the school year of 2010-2011. In the following, he shares his experience in this program:

Carol Ng-He (CNH):  What was in the outsider art and Intuit Teacher Fellowship Program that attracted you?

Marvin Tate (MT): One of the chief reasons for my participation in Intuit Teacher Fellowship Program was the opportunity to allow my students to experience a type of art that resembled their own work. I was hoping that, on a much deeper level, the experience of learning about outsider art and connecting it to make their own art would empower them, and subtly eradicate their “inferiority-complex” due to their personal obstacles and minimal exposure to art.

CNH: How did the idea of the outsider art fit your student group?

MT: From a class and economical viewpoint, the term “outsider” is not unfamiliar for my students. Ninety-five percent of my students come from broken homes, have been incarcerated, are single parents, on drugs, have gang affiliations, and or have some type of learning disabilities. I knew that the previous art teacher only used paints and crayons and never took them on any art-related field trips. I wanted to show them that this thing called “art” could be something personal and that you didn’t need a lot of money to do it. When I showed them a documentary film about Wesley Willis, a Chicago-based self-taught artist, they were floored by the artist’s physical disadvantages and non-traditional “rock-star” persona.  We started a dialogue after the film and everyone who was in attendance agreed that, art is more complex than simply “good or bad.”

CNH: How did the outsider art and Intuit Teacher Fellowship Program impact you as a teacher and as an artist?

MT: As an educator and self-taught artist, being involved in the Intuit Teacher Fellowship Program gave me the confidence and the vocabulary to implement elements of fun and surprise in my classroom. Students were always hesitant by the ideas that I’d come up with, such as: making sculpture out of lunch trays or creating clothing out of condoms. Some of my students couldn’t fathom he idea or were too embarrassed to even open the package.  As an artist, my goal is to educate, challenge and deconstruct obstacles, whether they are imagined or real, to create a new kind of dialogue between the new, the old as well as the outsider and the insider.

The conversation with Marvin gives a perspective on the application of outsider art to inspire students outside of traditional school settings. In my next post, I will explore how teachers use outsider art to address the needs of inner city youth and create social change.

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