Discuss using art as a way to communicate

On Saturday 21 May Outside In held a panel discussion around art as a form of communication to coincide with their current Radical Craft exhibition. Here the Outside In team discuss some of the main points raised and some ideas to give thought to.

Our panel included: Joyce Scott, the twin sister of exhibiting artist Judith Scott; Dr. David O Flynn, the chair of the Adamson Collection; David Johnson, an Outside In artist and Ambassador; Charlotte Hollinshead, a facilitator with ActionSpace in London; and Dr .Cheryl McGeachan, a lecturer in Human Geography researching into the Art Extraordinary Collection. The discussion was chaired by Marc Steene, the Executive Director of Pallant House Gallery and founder of Outside In. Below we share some of the main points from the discussion.

Each person on the panel was approaching the topic from a different view point, whether from: experience of supporting non-verbal artists, researching into the artists and their work, curating the work, or from lived experience.


Joyce Scott and her twin sister Judith Scott when they were little

Joyce Scott spoke about how her sister Judith Scott began her art practice. “Creative Growth Art Center in California was the first place where there was the space and the materials to use. She didn’t ever want to leave there, even to go to the doctors!” Judith was a very strong willed and a determined artist. Joyce tells us that art became Judith’s way of communicating with the world. That, often in the Creative Growth studio objects would go missing, and people found keys, cheques, and even engagement rings within Judith’s work. Joyce saw that Judith’s process of creating the work was important to her and it didn’t matter how people interpreted each piece once she had finished them.

Dr. Cheryl McGeachan’s experience of this topic is through researching the Art Extraordinary Collection in Glasgow and looking closely at Angus Mcphee’s work (which can be seen in the Radical Craft exhibition). She is working on projects relating to Scottish Outsider Art and Art Therapy. “Art stands as a tool for the lost voices. It’s a way to negotiate the scary surfaces of the world and communicate things that are too powerful to verbalise.” Cheryl also spoke about the voices of people in institutions being so often oppressed by those with power, that they created pieces of art to overcome this and these works often commented in a powerful sense what it was like to be institutionalised in the first place.


A flint featuring a head that is part of the Adamson Collection

Outside In artist David Johnson who is completely blind, spoke about how all artists create work to communicate something. His experience of creating his work is a process in which he wants and needs other people to help him to communicate his vision. David wants people to have their own interpretation of his work as he wants to hear how this differs to his own, given that he cannot see it. “I have a clear idea in my inner vision, and I want to realise it in a material way and communicate it. When I was younger and I could see I was aware of detail. Now I can’t do that, but I just have a strong impulse to create, and I have to get people to help me create the detail.”

A few themes came up throughout the discussion, all which addressed how art can be it’s own language. In the Radical Craft exhibition, there are several non-verbal artists. We asked the panel about the way in which we (the audience) interpret the works – is this how the artist intended it to be viewed? Charlotte Hollinshead told us about how the artists she works with are mostly non-verbal and for her it is about finding a way that works with them and a material that makes them ‘tick.’ She said, “One artist, Linda Bell, uses her artwork as a way to reach out to people. She enjoys people interacting with her work and being playful with it alongside her. The whole process of making, playing and interacting are, for Linda, equally as important as each other.”


Radical Craft exhibiting artist Linda Bell playing with her work

Dr. David O’ Flynn spoke through a few artists which are in the Adamson Collection. He showed a series of beautiful yet complex works, with all showing an example of how the artists spoke their heart through their artwork. One artist he shared, Mary Bishop, almost always included a solitary woman in her work. She also created work of her relationships with her doctors, which appear as quite distressing pieces to the viewer. Creating artwork must have been an cathartic experience for Mary to express her emotions. David said, “There is something self-healing about art. The act of the creation is more than its communication. Art must have some sort of evolutionary purpose. You only need real language if you want to lie to each other. Pictures are honest and words are dishonest.”


Visually impaired artist David Johnson’s large scale braille art work

We heard from different expertise within the art world and what we learnt from this is that art as a form of communication is extremely important. And that art can be its own language. It can touch us and make us feel emotion in a way that words simply cannot. Words can be thrown away or seen as dishonest, but with a piece of visual art (which has involved a personal process) it has a deep powerful message. Joyce Scott said, “There is place far deeper than words can ever reach and non-verbal artists and people seem to be more in touch with it. This in turn touches a place within us that we are not normally able to reach.”

We are really grateful and privileged that the speakers came to support our event and we thank all who attended the event.

To find our more about the Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making exhibition click here


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