The 13 Most Amazing Outsider Artists of All Time


Folk art, Outsider art, Art Brut — no matter what you call it, the work of self-taught artists has been fascinating doctors, curators, and other artists for the past hundred years. Inspired by a vision, these artists are often driven by obsession to realize their ideas on found materials using makeshift methods that might seem illogical but end up leading to profound works of art. From the former slave Bill Traylor and orphaned Adolf Wölfli to the gifted savant George Widener and Baptist reverend Howard Finster, we’ve assembled the best of the bunch. Click through our gallery of images and let us know if there is anyone you would add to the mix.

A self-taught artist who was born into slavery in 1854, Bill Traylor was discovered making drawings of people on the street and memories of plantation life in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1940s.

The premier American outsider artist, Henry Darger created a war-inspired fantasy around pre-pubescent girls with boy parts while toiling as a janitor and never receiving recognition until his artist landlord unearthed his treasure trove shortly before his death.

A Swiss artist who had been orphaned as a child, Adolf Wölfli spent most of his adult life in an insane asylum, where he made thousands of intricate drawings of imaginary adventures.

Self-taught Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý made his own cameras from cardboard tubes and tin cans and photographed countless women of his hometown on the sly, printing each clandestine image only one time.

A Wisconsin baker and horticulturist, Eugene von Bruenchenhein painted luscious visions of imaginary realms, shot alluring pin-up photographs of his wife, and made surrealistic sculptures from chicken bones.

James Castle, who was born deaf in a small town in Idaho, made drawings, assemblages, and books from found materials with makeshift brushes and ink that he made using soot and saliva.

Born in Boston, Morton Bartlett bounced from job to job while secretly making dolls of children and photographing them over a 25-year period, leaving an apartment full of figures and prints to be discovered upon his death.

Stricken with illness during childbirth, Englishwoman Madge Gill suddenly started drawing visionary, black-and-white images of a woman in fancy dress when she recovered. She drew thousands of them, which were later found in her home and exhibited internationally.

Born with autism in Ohio in 1962, George Widener is a more recent outsider art discovery. A gifted savant, Widener makes intricate maps and charts based on facts and trivia stored in his computer-like mind.

A Mexican migrant, Martin Ramirez spent most of his adult life institutionalized in California mental hospitals, where he made large-scale drawings of horseback riders, trains, and saints using available materials.

A Baptist reverend and self-taught artist, Howard Finster believed he was on a mission from God to spread the word of the Gospel and paint sacred art. He created his own Plant Farm Museum, a total folk art environment with multiple structures decorated with his colorful work in rural Georgia.

Born deaf and with Down syndrome in Ohio in 1943, Judith Scott was later brought to California by her twin sister and worked at Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, where she invented her own unique style of fiber art.

Born in Missouri in 1890, Joseph Yoakum was of African-American and Cherokee descent. He started drawing imaginary landscapes late in life and was discovered and heavily promoted by members of Chicago’s art community in the late-1960s, while he was still alive.