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Dr. R. Pankova


“Creative art therapy fits into a movement to return the lost body up against the inflation of mental discourse. Creativity in therapy is a bridge to form, as a bearer of meaning and also in the study of the self and the world."

Peter G. Klein

For two years, from 1919 to 1921, Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, who at that time managed the psych ward at the University Clinic in Heidelberg, collected paintings, manuscripts and objects created by patients of the hospital and other institutions between 1890 and 1920.

The value of these works was received with enthusiasm by the avant-garde in that era. Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Alfred Kyuben were fascinated. Jean Dyubyufe (1901-1985, founder of "Art Brut") is one of the biggest lovers of their art. All held to pay tribute to their brothers, the anonymous artists behind the closed walls of asylums.

If we make a brief historical review of how madness was perceived, you will find interesting generalizations. According to Jean Florance, the behavior of the western world towards madness knows major metamorphoses. In the Middle Ages, madness is explained by religion: mad people were considered as possessed by demons, and were healed by exorcism or other religious rituals. The overall concept of madness was that man was possessed by a demon or one of the 800 servants of Satan, and Exorcist was trained to recognize them. In the 18th century, with the centralization of countries, especially in France under the rule of Louis XIV, vagrancy, madness, poverty, misery, unemployment were prohibited in the name of social order. Municipal hospitals (asylums) were opened, where not only mentally ill people were interned, but sleepwalkers and irresponsible fathers - spendthrifts, prodigals, prostitutes, blasphemers, thieves... in one word - all those who created the mess or wandering and begging. They distributed them in groups and forced them to work - they were underpaid and therefore proved useful in economic terms. In short, every person with an "outrageous" behavior was closed. This model is adopted in England and Germany. At the same time, we can't help, but to ask the question whether any treatment was applied to mentally ill people? From the studies it was found that for mentally ill people living together with others, the only measure which has been applied was internment. This continued for a century and a half, until the French Revolution, when the authorities sent doctors in municipal shelters, where they found that mentally ill were treated like animals. There was something like an internal selection: the crazy scared others and so they lived separately, sleeping on bales of hay, chained to walls, immersed in their own excrement.

Renowned Doctor Pignet gave the sensible idea that these "suckers" be treated with humanity and then were created the first specialized institutions for people with abnormal mental development.

The division of mental institutions apart from prisons took place in the 19th century. Caring for the sick was entrusted to "alienists" - doctors, charged with the observance of order and hygiene, but also with medical knowledge in order to prevent the spread of any disease. It was considered that insanity is contagious disease and can spread among a healthy population. So, the doctor turned into a barrier between madness and the city. The mentally ill had been isolated again, but this time with more humanitarian motives. The very concentration of all forms of mental deviations in one place was due to systematic monitoring of lunatics, which necessitated the creation of classifications for the study and more extensive study by the staff, then by doctors who soon identified themselves as "psychiatrists."

In the late 19th century started a real upsurge of knowledge associated with these systematic observations. Like botany, that has classification of the species and the links between them, the subject of madness underwent a detailed "medicalization". Doctors began to recognize not only the body and somatic symptoms, their medical logic led them to what is now called "mental illness". The idea that insanity is a disease of the spirit, but clearly related to organic causes, was born in a particular community, caring for the mentally ill. In the early twentieth century, German psychiatry has been extremely influential and it is in this context that Hans Prinzhorn worked, and many others who had contact with Freud in Vienna. The meeting between Freud's psychoanalysis with German-Swiss psychiatry gave very fruitful results in the study on patopsychology.

The mentally ill were no longer a threat and people tried to understand their world, to explain the connection between normal and pathological, and show that in normal people there are also events that are not very far from the madness, such as dreams, nightmares, some psychosomatic disorders and fears.Psychoanalysis broke down the boundaries between madness and normality and young psychiatrists began to listen and pay attention to words and pictures of the unsound mind, which led to great interest in the causes of insanity and the search for similarities between the mental burdened man, the child and the primitive man in means of expression. One hypothesis pointed towards psychogenetic predisposition and the most probable reason was in the hereditary allele.

Regardless of the ancient and medieval fears, when insanity scared people, but at the same time was a cause of a natural curiosity and desire to study this behavior. Today there are many trends in psychotherapy trying to decipher the language and forms of communication in this "different" world.

Hans Prinzhorn was not the first who has seen the works of the mentally ill in the eyes of an artist. He himself was an artistic nature - participated in musical events as a singer (baritone). At that time in France in the late 19th century, there were already people who are interested in the artistic works of the unsound mind and were looking for connection between the manner of drawing and design of images made by patients and their relationship with the disease. As if the painting served as a mainstay in the differention of the diagnosis; the creation of the patients was included in his/hers medical records and completed the epistemology of the disease. Prinzhorn was keenly interested in the work of Jung, especially his work on tests of verbal associations and how signs of schizophrenia or early dementia could be identified in speech and expression. Naturally, he turned to Drawing performances of those who had difficulty in verbal expression. Such graphic study at that time was Hermann Rorschach's test with ink stains and in this context Prinzhorn was given the task to collect the greatest possible amount of documents from nearby psychiatric hospitals. The directors of these hospitals applied the patient’s medical records to the works of the sick.

For several years Prinzhorn managed to collect between four and five thousand drawings, paintings, sculptures, etc. Of course, he had to classify them as a result of which in 1922 issued the book "Artistry of the mentally ill". This is the first and perhaps most daring attempt to analyze the "delicate" boundaries between art and psychiatry, between creativity and mental illness. The book was richly illustrated with works selected from the collection and very soon gained popularity in Europe and gave birth to a new perspective on the problem. Thanks to the analysis of Prinzhorn, a new approach to entering and understanding the world of madness was formed. This world was now seen from the inside, although most of the works of the insane still remained vague, unclear and sometimes impossible to interpret.

But the question is whether the mentally ill should adopt a new statute as an artist. This is the critical point: when you looked at these drawings, it was difficult to say whether it is the works of sick people or artists. If a review of their works, it is clear that there was great similarity between them and those of Paul Klee, to Kandinsky Kyuben, Miro and Picasso. Interesting was that the works of unsound mind received much greater response among artistic circles, especially in the radical innovation of concept art of the 20th century.

From all the transformations of visual art - whether it is expressionism, surrealism, etc., mental deviations were taken seriously, as if the madness in all of us could become a real source of creativity. From here started the collapse of the academic form and scandals that occurred repeatedly in various exhibitions in Europe, who denied some works by Picasso, Klee, Kandinsky, Braque - Heads of galleries and exhibition spaces now asked themselves whether they were dealing with crazy or cynics who had fun causing scandals.

Time had to pass before society managed to swallow this return to the original sources of art. What psychologists wanted to say is that we were all children once, and children feel a great need to express themselves. This behavior was called by Prinzhorn "impulse for expression." Very quickly this momentum, in contact with the visual forms and social symbols becomes a necessity of expression: the way in which the child creates these forms, was at first in the form of scribbles, then it begins to repeat them, because he seemed ornamental and beautiful, then began to copy figures and symbols, and so in children's works could also be found worthy of being abstract art. With the mentally ill it is the same. They have an expression that went beyond opposing states: "health-sickness." The most interesting in Prinzhorn's book is how he manages to show that the opposite of the polarity "sick - not sick," there was great interest and curiosity about the sources of human creativity, as well as major trends in the renewal of contemporary art in which also return the so-called primitive Negro art.

The book clearly shows that abstract art was incredible, wholly reformatting aesthetic values ​​while rehabilitating disorder and spontaneity, just as the Surrealists, who raised the free association of ideas. Thus, there was a real correlation between the interest of artists to mental disorder, a relationship between psychiatrists and artistic natures, between psychoanalysts and artists. Freud knew Prinzhorn, went to his lectures and seminars, and worked with him. This is a whole world, which flourished between the 20s and 30s of last century.

In general, the artist in the master of his art. But if the mentally ill is able to exercise his will over his work? This question was asked by Walter Morgentaler. It has been noticed that initially, in the expression comes chaos, but in the process of painting, when the patient began to find in his drawing the ability to alleviate his condition, he spontaneously discovered the same thing as a man who has never dealt with similar, namely, progressive disclosure rules, symmetry, symbolism.

Artists have some tradition behind it, man doesn't become an artist out of nowhere, he comes from a school, brings in some aesthetic models, subjects to some rules. While the art of people who are not considered artists (called "Art Brut") enshrined the progressive development of the game of contradictions. The mentally ill no not create or discover the game of contradictions, they live in it and retell in his paintings.



Prinzhorn. H. Artistry of the mentally ill. New York: Springer. (1922/1971)

Morgenthaler, W. Madness  & art. Lincoln, NB: Univ. Nebraska Press. (1921/1992)