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mental health mondays [rewind] :: the art of madness

this could almost be considered part two of last week's mhm post, except that it was written years earlier. as much as creative work can help diminish certain mental disorders, mental disorders can also bring new magic to the work of creative people.

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there is an ongoing debate as to the interaction between mental disorders and artistic creativity. while it's difficult to document the subject, there does seem to be a cultural fascination with the idea of the artist having an eccentric mentality. likewise, so-called "outsider art" or "art brut" has a sort of cult following, as if we believe that such art unwittingly reveals something of the workings of the disordered mind.

the terms "outsider art" and "art brut" are somewhat confusing, as they are used interchangeably to refer to professional and/ or trained artists and "naive art" created by amateurs, without artistic education, many of whom have been discovered only late in life or posthumously.

french artist jean dubuffet, who coined the term "art brut" and, along with andre breton, was responsible for drawing attention to it and building a permanent collection, described it as art that existed outside the pressures of culture and therefore as something which could never be assimilated by the mainstream [since the artists did not operate within the confines of the mainstream]. this differentiates it from art which challenges cultural norms, since such artists are aware of [and responding to] their predominant culture.

the difference between genuine appreciators of outsider art and a freakshow audience seeking a spectacle is a fine one and chances are that such artists tend to attract both, because what they do piques both our curiosity and our fears, showing us at once imaginative potential and the fragility the mind.

here are a few examples of art by the mentally disordered, from various backgrounds and times. i've focused on visual arts, since they're a little easier to include here...

louis wain, professional illustrator, later diagnosed with schizophrenia
 


adolf wolfli, the original outsider artist, a mental patient who inspired dubuffet
 

MORE AFTER THE BREAK...




paul gosch, german artist associated with the expressionist movement, later consigned to an asylum and executed by the nazis



helen martins, a south african woman who spent years obsessively decorating her house and property, which is now preserved as "the owl house museum"



martin ramirez, originally from mexico, he spent much of his life institutionalised in california for paranoid schizophrenia



willem von genk, supposedly both autistic and schizophrenic whose art seemed to serve as a kind of therapy



 feel free to share any stories or experiences of outsider art, or any theories on art and madness...

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