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Roger Cardinal (1940–2019)

The British scholar Roger Cardinal, who translated and broadened Jean Dubuffet’s conception of art brut—a label applied to artists who work outside of official cultural institutions—died on November 1 at the age of seventy-nine, according to The Guardian. Pressed by his publishers to anglicize the French artist’s coinage, Cardinal introduced the term “Outsider art” in his 1972 book of the same name. Despite his ambivalence about the title, the text was well received in the United States and slowly helped advance a field of art scholarship that has enjoyed resurgence in recent years.

Cardinal would go on to publish many essays and books on “Outsider” artists, and alongside Victor Musgrave, he curated “Outsiders” (1979), a watershed, four-hundred-work exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London that included artists such as Henry Darger, Martín Ramírez, and Joseph Yoakum. Like Dubuffet’s art brut, a label most often used to describe the work of psychiatric patients and children, the term “Outsider art” has fallen out of favor in recent years due to its exclusionary associations and has been replaced by slightly less fraught terms like “self-taught art” or “outlier art.”

Born in 1940, Cardinal became interested in so-called Outsider artists via his fascination in automatism and Surrealism, which he first studied as a doctoral student at St. Dunstan’s College in south London. In 1965, he relocated to Winnipeg, Canada, to become an assistant professor in the University of Manitoba’s French department. Two years later, he returned with his wife, Agnès, and his son Daniel to England, where he soon began teaching at University of Kent at Canterbury in a professorship he would hold for fifty years.

In addition to Outsider Art, Cardinal authored the books Surrealism: Permanent Revelation (1970), Figures of Reality (1981), Expressionism (1984), The Landscape Vision of Paul Nash (1989), and The Cultures of Collecting (1994). He also served as contributing editor of Raw Vision, a British quarterly devoted to artists without formal training.