History of SELF-TAUGHT

John M. MacGregor, “Conclusion,” The Discovery of the Art of the Insane (1989)

The discovery of the art of the insane was not merely an intellectual operation. Twentieth-century artists in particular were challenged by this new art, and their own image-making activity changed in response to it. Certainly, the art of this century was influenced by the discovery of the art of the insane. The encounter of artists with this art, and their varying intellectual and pictorial responses to it, is part of the story of its discovery. Artists, unlike scientists, react by doing; discoveries are to be discerned most clearly in their work. In some cases it has been possible to point to clear pictorial evidence of influence from this source. But the primary influence of the art of the insane on modern art is to be found not in superficial formal similarities or coincidences of subject matter, but rather in the increasingly close proximity of these two forms of art, and in terms of the territory they both explore.

The absolute integrity and the pictorial strength that they saw in the work of the untrained insane encouraged many modern artists to risk opening up and giving expression to similar areas in themselves. Throughout the nineteenth century, and with vastly increasing speed in the twentieth, the subject matter of the artists becomes increasingly himself. Abandoning all outer pretext or rationalization, he sets out to explore his inner reality and to present it in images that are frequently utterly private and incomprehensible. This movement away from the surface was not the result of the artist’s contact with the art of the insane. As I have tried to demonstrate, the discovery of this new art form was merely an outcome of processes occurring in both art and psychiatry that were leading irresistibly toward the encounter with the unconscious.

Excerpt source:

John M. MacGregor, “Conclusion,” The Discovery of the Art of the Insane (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), 315.

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