Judith Scott: communicating through art

This week, Outside In Manager Jennifer Gilbert reflects on the work of artist Judith Scott using the 2014 publication Judith Scott: Bound and Unbound by Catherine Morris and Matthew Higgs for reference. Judith will be represented in the upcoming Outside In and Craftspace exhibition Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making, which will be at Pallant House Gallery from 12 March – 12 June 2016 before touring nationally.

“Today, Judith Scott’s work is known throughout the world, and is included in both Outsider Art collections and more recently in mainstream contemporary collections. Judith attended the Creative Growth Art Center in California for 18 years before she passed away in 2005. During her time at the Center, she wrapped 160 different objects that she found around the studio, sometimes taking months to complete one piece. It isn’t known what compelled Judith to use the objects she did, but they were clearly important to her or her life in some way. On some occasions, she would even hide her own – or others’ – personal belongings in her work.

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Judith Scott, Untitled, Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection, The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (not part of Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making)

Over the years curators have found it difficult to interpret Judith’s work – partially due to her being mute as well as deaf. Because of this, little is known about her artistic impulse, what her works meant to her or how she would have liked them to have been displayed in an exhibition space. Judith would often turn the pieces whilst creating them, making it difficult to know which side is the front and which is the back.

It becomes apparent the more you read about Judith that she enjoyed the attention she received when her artwork was first recognised. Her twin sister Joyce has even said that Judith’s clothing choices became more flamboyant the more that people started to take notice of her work.

Matthew Higgs said of Judith’s work in 2014 “We cannot know what Judith Scott thought she was doing; we do not know what her objects mean, let alone what they actually are. We cannot with any confidence co-opt them into any established history of art, insider or outsider.” I believe this is why her work fits into any exhibition, and why it is now worth so much.

In Judith Scott: Bound and Unbound that came out to coincide with her solo show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2014, Higgs said “The answer to the question of what Scott was actually making and her motivation for doing so remains elusive. However many associations her objects might evoke, art historical or otherwise, we ultimately remain none the wiser as to what exactly Scott was trying to articulate through her work. Given the complexities of her circumstances as a deaf mute woman with downs syndrome, and her inability to communicate in a conventional manner, she was never in a position to explain her works or speak of the rationale behind the final form.”

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Judith Scott, Untitled, Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection, The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (part of Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making)

Judith seemed to care very little for her work once complete, starting straight away on a new piece. She had been known to fondly pat the artwork when she saw it in an exhibition, or even wave to it, but then she would carry on as usual. I can think of many other artists still working today (that Outside In supports) who work in this very same way, where the act of making is much more important than the finished product. In these situations it seems the material selection and the process is where the meaning lies – not necessarily in how the piece may look when it’s finished. For these artists, many of whom are non-verbal, the very act of creation is their way of communicating with others.

Outside In recognises the importance of the artists’ voice in these situations, and also for those who are visually impaired, who use their art work to communicate. Because of this, we decided to hold a panel discussion bringing together various artists, facilitators and academics to discuss art as a form of communication. Judith’s sister Joyce will be on the panel, talking about how creativity was such an important part of her sister’s life.”

Saturday 21 May, 2 – 4pm
Art as Communication: Panel Discussion

For many of the artists involved with Outside In, communicating using language is not possible. Because of this, many of them use their art to communicate with the people around them, and to share their worlds with others. To accompany ‘Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making,’ Outside In is hosting a panel discussion focusing on art as communication, looking at how creativity can be vital for people without language, or sight, to maintain their independence.

The panel will include Dr Cheryl McGeachan, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow who is concerned with the historical and cultural geographies of mental ill-health and asylum spaces; Dr David O’ Flynn, consultant rehabilitation psychiatrist at Lambeth and Maudsley Hospitals and Chair of the Adamson Collection Trust; Joyce Scott, twin sister of exhibiting artist Judith Scott and member of the Advisory Board of Creative Growth Art Center in California; Charlotte Hollinshead, artist facilitator at ActionSpace; and David Johnson, a blind visual artist working in 3D.

It costs £7 (£5 if you have an online gallery with Outside In) and tickets can be booked by calling: 01243 774 557.

Judith Scott’s work will feature in Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making, which is on display at Pallant House Gallery from 12 March – 12 June 2016. This piece is on loan from The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester where it is part of the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection.

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