These drawings were done from 1918 to 1919 by Elizabeth Stohn. Ms Stone was a child at the time, and was something of a "cross-category" artist. Part Schoolgirl art, part naive, part trained (as she had just completed her "art school training" by correspondence school. ) Certainly not what is generally considered "outsider" art, though that term is pretty widely applied as far as I can tell. These are folky and charming, but not really folk art either. Outsider Art? Nah.
While thousands of women studied art and (like Ms. Stohn) aspired to be an artist, even naming early woman artists is hard. They were screwed over ever since they were here in every field. Why should art (or comics, for that matter) be the domain of men? Plus, here is a secret…they were often better than the men and never received the credit. They were lost and laboring as "anonymous" in quilting, needle-point, and other acceptable near domestic arts.
Labels appropriate to Ms. Stohn could maybe include "rebel" too. I have written about her life and how she was one of the first women to use "thought and caption" balloons. That post sorta went mini-viral in the comic book world, being picked up by comic historians and such. The Comics journal linked to it as well. One day I hope to scan her entire "graphic novel" From Poverty to Luxary (sic)
I remember respected art scholar and dealer Randall Morris saying something like "Cartoonists have their own school, they aren't outsider artists" and I don't differ with him. Still there are many standards being applied on the walls of the outsider art fair, and each show will continue the mixed blessing of being labeled as an outsider.
"I know it when I see it" was used to describe pornography by Justin Potter when ruling in a landmark obscenity case heard by the Supreme Court in 1964. I am pretty sure he threw his hands up when he said it. "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it..." he said. We should avoid that esteemed opinion when evaluating outsider art.
A wonderful group of "comic books" were one of discoveries at the last Outsider Art Fair. I'll guess he took some courses too, but it is a guess. Dan Nadel would be the person to ask. I sure would love to see them, but as I say, I wasn't there.
(There was another Johnson (real name Ferd or Ferdinand Johnson) working at the same time in Chicago, and he became quite well-known among other cartoonists. Same fellow? I can't tell…I didn't go go cartoonist school! (joke) It was certainly not the same fellow, but neither of them were being "obsessive" about drawing. They were just doing what comic book artists do. That would be filling page after page with drawings. Ask Gary Panter, a great artist who is not an outsider. He published a massive book containing his sketchbooks. Read the great essay on Frank, the outsider HERE by Dan Nadel. There were other great cartoon artists (Basil Wolverton, Windsor McCay for example) and there were plenty of bizarre comic strip artists who were visionaries. Mr. Nadel knows his stuff…See the magnificent volumes he put together on some HERE. Any library specializing in any art must have these two books. Like the books displayed at the last outsider art fair, he reveals dozens of quirky and magnificently talented artists, be they self-taught or not.
Ponder on what an outsider artist is, and if the work you are appraising fits some arbitrary non-definition like Justice Steven's frustrated legal opinion of smut, ponder more. Everyone has their own concept. But can we agree, at least, that if one went to art school, he isn't an outsider? Outsider Art...I know it when I see it.
Other articles in the I'm Not at the Outsider Art Fair series are HERE. See also two books on Folk art Outsider art by the writer Jim Linderman HERE and HERE.