Sensory Deprivation

Dubuffet needed a frame for his proposed book for Gallimard. He was aware of the stigma attached to “insane” and to “psychotic art” and felt the need for a more dignified term. He decided upon ‘Art Brut’. Although originally intended to refer to the work of the schizophrenic masters he had encountered, the term evolved in meaning as Dubuffet formulated his philosophy. He realized that pure intuitive and original expression was not to be found only among the insane; he had also come across mediums, visionaries, eccentrics and other social misfits who were similarly gifted. His term “Art Brut”was therefore not synonymous with “art of the insane.” Indeed he claimed that there could no more be an art of the insane than there could be an art of people with bad knees.

— John Maizels, from Raw Creation


Artistry of the Mentally Ill: A Contribution to the Psychology and Psychopathology of Configuration

Hans Prinzhorn

“It is nearly 50 years since the publication of Hans Prinzhorn’s Bildnerei Der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill). When the book first appeared it created a near sensation with its bold announcement that paintings and drawings executed by asylum inmates were to be treated with high seriousness and aesthetic analysis. It made strikingly original comparisons, for that time, between these works and the art objects made by children and so-called primitive peoples. However, most shocking to some readers in the early 1920s were the parallels to be seen in the art of mental patients and the revolutionary paintings and graphics that were then being widely exhibited by the artistic avant-garde of the day, the German Expressionists. Prinzhorn’s book has maintained a kind of timelessness in spite of advances in art scholarship and the relentless assimilation of the new in the gaudy parade of modern art. Artistry of the Mentally Ill remains an extraordinary document from the history of psychiatry and aesthetics. In a most sensitive and dignified manner it celebrates the humanity, the resourcefulness and the creativity of some of our wretched, anguished brothers, whom society is even now too willing to ignore or discard.” Includes 187 illustrations from the author’s collections, many in color.

Publisher: Unknown
Paperback: 274 pages

Asphyxiating Culture and Other Writings

Jean Dubuffet

“Culture has carried things so far that the public feels one must become an imposter in order to create a piece of art.” Dubuffet reacted by staging shows of what he termed Art Brut (raw art). “Among the most interesting worlds we have seen, certain were done by people considered to be mentally ill and interned in psychiatric asylums… consequently, we mean to consider in the same light the works of all people, whether they are judged to be healthy or sick, and without making special categories.”

Publisher: Unknown
Hardback: 118 pages

The Discovery of the Art of the Insane

John M. MacGregor

“John MacGregor draws upon his dual training in art history and in psychiatry and psychoanalysis to describe… the significant influence of the art of the mentally ill on the development of modern art as a whole. His detailed narrative, with its strangely beautiful illustrations, introduces us to a fascinating group of people that includes the psychotic artists, both trained and untrained, and the psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, critics and art historians who encountered their work.
“After discussing the situation of the mentally ill in the 1700s and the later Romantic obsession with the insane as visionary heroes, MacGregor explores the process of discovery of psychotic art in the latter half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. In separate chapters he then relates this discovery to later developments—German Expressionism and the Nazis’ purge of ‘degenerate’ art and artists; Surrealism; and Jean Dubuffet and l’Art Brut.”

Publisher: Unknown
Paperback: 416 pages

Howard Finster: Man of Visions

Howard Finster

A homemade scrapbook of writings and paintings by America’s Golden Arches of folk art: over 10,000 paintings sold! Reverend Finster got the call to preach when he was 13. “I was afraid, and said, ‘Lord I don’t have the education. I don’t even have any good clothes. Lord please let me go.”’ The Lord didn’t, and Finster pastored 10 Southern Baptist churches in a 45-year period. Then he was called to build his Paradise Garden. “I got the idea of that at the county dump… I saw beautiful things people threw away… like a pocketbook full of jewelry and nice gold watches. I started collecting them up… a Hula Hoop, ball equipment, dental tools… I said these things needed to be displayed… You hardly ever see a button spinner or wooden sack nails anymore… These things are previews of things we have now. That’s what the old Bible is… a preview… And the New Testament is a preview of what’s to come.” Finster’s prolific witness-the-Lord folk style has made him world famous. “I’m in a human body, and I’m existing on this planet, but I’m living in another world, and that world don’t have nothing to do with famous.” Includes a 1950 interview and color photos. GR

Publisher: Unknown
Paperback: 128 pages

In the Realms of the Unreal:“Insane Writings”

Edited by John G.H. Oakes

A compilation inspired by Jean Dubuffet which is most interesting for its writings (especially in translation) of such significant Art Brut figures as Adolph Wölfli and Henry Darger. Compiled from archives like the Prinzhorn Collection and the Collection de l’Art Brut. SS

Publisher: Unknown
Paperback: 256 pages

Madness and Art: The Life of Adolf Wölfli

Walter Morgenthaler, M.D.

Adolf Wölfli was a schizophrenic Swiss peasant institutionalized from the age of 31 until his death in 1930 after an episode in which he attempted to molest a 3-and-a-half-year-old girl. While incarcerated in Waldau Hospital, Wölfli was supplied with colored pencils and paper by his doctor, Walter Morgenthaler. This led to Wölfli’s prodigious output of interrelated drawings, writing, musical compositions and collages, which has made him the most acclaimed and studied example of Art Brut. Madness and Art is a combination psychiatric case study and artistic monograph written by Morgenthaler, and is the first book to appear on the subject of the art of the mentally ill (it was published in 1921, one year before Prinzhorn’s landmark work). Morgenthaler also allows Wölfli to speak for himself throughout the book by including Wölfli’s own “A Short Life Story” and extended excerpts of his distinctive prose. SS

Publisher: Unknown
Hardback: 176 pages

Matriarchy: Freedom in Bondage

Malcolm McKeeson

“Matriarchy: Freedom in Bondage is the life’s work of 86-year-old reclusive artist Malcolm McKesson, who has been secretly writing and illustrating this semiautobiographical erotic novel for the past 30 years. Matriarchy follows the extraordinary transformation of a young man abducted into willing submission as a servant to a stern mistress who teaches him to ‘curb his manly nature.’ The protagonist learns to take on the roles of daughter, page-boy and husband, each with appropriate costume. With its intense and atmospheric line drawings and evocative descriptions of exotic costumes, rituals and bondage devices, Matriarchy reveals an inner mythology created in ecstatic seclusion, a subversive world of courtly eroticism. McKesson’s art is in the collection of the American Visionary Art Museum and the Collection de l’Art Brut, in Switzerland.”

Publisher: Unknown
Paperback: 208 pages

Other Side of the Moon: The World of Adolf Wölfli

A catalog, published to accompany an exhibition of Wölfli’s work in Philadelphia in 1988, which approaches his work in terms of contemporary views of Outsider Art. Includes beautiful color reproductions of his paintings and collages, a thorough analysis of his musical compositions, poetry and prose and updated information on Wölfli which has emerged since Walter Morgenthaler’s classic book about him. SS

Publisher: Unknown
Paperback: 64 pages

Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond

John Maizels

This book is easily one of the most definitive surveys of Outsider Art. There are other books on the art of the insane, Art Brut and strange architectural expressions, but few that encompass this wide of a range of subjects as well and as beautifully as does Raw Creation. Maizels looks first at European examples of these genres, then American ones, dividing works loosely among Art Brut, folk art and marginal art. There are chapters on well-known artists Adolf Wölfli and Jean Dubuffet, and another is devoted to the artists of the clinic at Gugging. One section is devoted to the topic of preservation, citing such destroyed works as Charles Schmidt’s House of Mirrors, and current efforts to preserve works like Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village. The book is lavishly illustrated with paintings, drawings, sculpture, architecture and all manner of three-dimensional art. The examples of heterodox architecture, such as Finster’s Paradise Garden, Cheval’s Palais Ideal and Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden, are superbly photographed. The book’s design is as stunning as its subject matter, and the typographic design perfectly complements the text. MM

Publisher: Unknown
Hardback: 240 pages

Revelations: Alabama’s Visionary Folk Artists

Kathy Kemp and Keith Boyer

The state of Alabama, home to all 31 of the artists profiled here (as well as native-son-superstar Howard Finster), seems to abound in the kind of environments where sculpture gardens grow out of scrapyards and objet trouvé assemblage is commonplace “tinkering with junk.” Defined not only by their innovative use of humbler materials (at least two of the artists featured use mud as a primary ingredient of their compositions), these artists also thematically cluster around such concerns as formalist/idiosyncratic Christianity, hard times, patriotism, moral compulsion, childhood memories and civil rights. Many also share a whimsical, punning sense of humor light-years removed from irony.
More surprising are the parallels that characterize the evolution of each as an Outsider artist. The archetypal outsider bio would be as follows: early inclinations to isolation and introspection; the subject exhibited artistic talent which lay dormant for years; some misfortune occurred in later life—the artist was laid off, laid up or forced into retirement; the misfortune was often associated with religious epiphany, and was nearly always the reason for the individual turning to art; and the artist often borrowed materials from a previously practiced trade. While many of these profiles share a sort of gentle tragedy, some details seem to spring directly from the grotesque and brutal Southern Gothic of Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. Memorable among these is Myrtice West’s religious blackout after which she awakened to find herself issuing apocalyptic warnings from the pulpit of an unfamiliar church, as well as her premonitions of her daughter’s murder in her presence at the hands of her son-in-law. Most fascinating, and certainly darkest of all, is the history of Juanita Rogers, whose humanoid animals sculpted from cow bones and mud in a one-room shack were created, she says, “for crippled people, crazy people, and colored people all over the world,” and who reports being brought to her current home on a “carnival train” from a place “where black mud swallows up the cars.” To their credit, the authors’ treatment never strays far from the straightforward tone of backyard conversation. Rev. Ben Perkins on his philosophy of art: “People love the American flag. If you can get a church and a flag both on a thing, and you’re not too high, then somebody’ll buy it.” RA

Publisher: Unknown
Hardback: 224 pages