Monday, May 21, 2007

Art Brut

The encounter between art and psychiatry began about 100 years ago. Emerging in the framework of social, cultural, scientific, and economic progress, psychiatry reflected a new approach to understanding humankind, one in which human beings came to be regarded less and less as the product of divine intervention or social fate, and more as individuals with personal histories, rights, and potentials.
Around the same time, the avant-garde, in the course of overcoming canonic concepts of art, became interested in non-European and nonacademic forms of art, including the work of van Gogh and Henri Rousseau, African sculpture (which influenced cubism), folk art (which influenced Russian futurists and Marc Chagall), children's art (which influenced the Blue Rider -- Der blaue Reiter -- movement in Europe), and the art of the mentally ill (whose importance to modern art was pointed out by the artist Paul Klee as early as 1912).
By the late 19th century, psychiatrists were already taking an interest in the creative output of patients, albeit solely for diagnostic purposes. In his 1907 book, L'Art chez les fous, the French psychiatrist Paul Gaston Meunier, writing under the pseudonym Marcel Réja, was the first to make the connection between art and the works of the mentally ill. In the decades that followed, an interdisciplinary dialogue between art and psychiatry took shape, and through this dialogue the art of the mentally ill came to be regarded in a new context, in terms of both psychiatry and cultural history. Switzerland, Bern, and especially the work of Adolf Wölfli played important roles in this process. ...
Adolf Wölfli was an outsider on multiple levels: impoverished, mentally ill, imprisoned, institutionalized, and artistically untrained. Within the confines of his cell at the Waldau Mental Asylum, he created a highly complex and intricate mental world with its own private mythology -- the St. Adolf-Giant-Creation. In the course of the last century, this singular vision left the private world of the asylum, gained broad recognition, became internationally known and highly collected, and entered museums, galleries, and libraries all over the world. (from chronicle )

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