History of SELF-TAUGHT

Hans Prinzhorn, “Introduction,” Artistry of the Mentally Ill (1922; reprinted 1972)

The public has recently heard a great deal about “mad art,” the “art of the mentally ill,” “pathologic art,” and “art and insanity.” We are not overly happy with these expressions. The word “art” includes a value judgment within its fixed emotional connotations. It sets up a distinction between one class of created objects and another very similar one which is dismissed as “nonart.” The pictorial works with which this study is concerned and the problems they present are not measured according to their merits but instead are viewed psychologically. It therefore seems fitting to retain the significant, if not exactly common, expression “artistry of the mentally ill” for the title and for a subject which has so far been very little known outside of psychiatry. It includes all three-dimensional or surface creations with artistic meaning produced by the mentally ill.

Most reports published to date [1] about the works of the insane were intended only for psychiatrists and refer to a relatively few cases of the kind that every psychiatrist sees over a period of years. The studies of Mohr, [2] which are frequently quoted outside of technical literature, are notable for their exploration of more general problems, however. Unfortunately, there has never been a large collection of pictures which would provide, together with rich resources of comparative materials to minimize the danger of generalizing from too few accidentally discovered cases, the opportunity to investigate all kinds of interesting questions. Pictures by patients are probably known in every older mental institution. They have often been the occasion for the founding of small museums, or they have been added to already existing collections exhibiting figurines made from kneaded bread, escape tools, and casts of abnormal body parts; collections, in other words, very much like those which used to be made of curiosities....

We should say only this about the types and origins of our material: it consists almost exclusively of works by inmates of institutions – by men and women whose mental illness is not in doubt. Second, the works are spontaneous and arose out of the patients’ own inner needs without any kind of outside inspiration. Third, we are dealing primarily with patients who were untrained in drawing and painting; that is, they had received no instruction except during their school years. To summarize, the collection consists mainly of spontaneously created pictures by untrained mental patients.

[1] Most of the psychiatric publications are critically reviewed in Prinzhorn, “Das bildnerische Schaffen der Geisteskranken,” Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie 52: 307-326, 1919.

[2] Mohr, “Über Zeichnungen von Geisteskranken und ihre diagnostische Verwertbarkeit,” Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie, vol. 8, 1906.

Excerpt source:

Hans Prinzhorn, “Introduction,” Artistry of the Mentally Ill: A Contribution to the Psychology and Psychopathology of Configuration, translated by Eric von Brockdorff from the Second German Edition (1922; reprint, New York, Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1972), 1-3.

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