Imagine: Outsider Art – Turning the Art World Inside Out

Tue Nov 19, 10.35-11.45pm, BBC1

The first question any documentary about outsider art needs to address is the most obvious one. What is it? Arguably the pioneer (in terms of being labelled at least) was Carlo Zinelli who – in an asylum suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – just drew and drew like Forrest Gump ran. But is that therapy or art? And if Zinelli was an outsider, what does that make Van Gogh who, we’d wager, probably didn’t feel like much of an insider during his life? Aren’t all artists worth their salt outsiders in one way or another?

Alan Yentob doesn’t really address these issues adequately and, in fairness, the concept is slippery given the wildly variable work under discussion – which ranges from the beautiful to the desperate. There is a revealing moment, however. ‘It’s not for profit or fame,’ he muses. ‘So where does this urge to create come from?’ It’s almost as if Yentob is surprised that anyone should be creating art for any reason other than commercial success. Which makes him a dubious choice to helm an arts strand.

Oh well, most of us already knew this. Even if it doesn’t get near the heart of the matter, the film still works as a useful primer, albeit to an arbitrarily defined scene.