art brut

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I didn’t realize that so many internet comics were actually examples of art brut.  The example above is the banner from http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/.

“(French: “raw art”), art of the French painter Jean Dubuffet, who in the 1940s promoted art that is crude, inexperienced, and even obscene. Dubuffet, the most important French artist to emerge after World War II, became interested in the art of the mentally ill in mid-career, after studying The Art of the Insane by the Swiss psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn. Dubuffet applied the name art brut to the drawings, paintings, and doodlings of the psychotic, the naive, and the primitive, works that he regarded as the purest forms of creative expression. Like the early Cubists’ discovery of primitive Oceanian and African sculpture, Dubuffet’s study of this type of art gave him the inspiration he sought for his own art, as it represented for him the most authentic expression of emotion and human values.”

The Art of the Insane sounds intriguing.  I wonder if there are certain themes that are common in such art.  The paintings I called up in a search engine tended to be horrific facial expressions, skulls, and some religious imagery.  I wonder if religious imagery would be more common in people suffering from delusions of grandeur (e.g., thinking that you are Christ).

I also wonder why paintings done by the mentally ill seem a better source of inspiration than music.  I would think that music done by the mentally ill would be so unstructured as to be unbearably ugly.  Why wouldn’t the lack of structure harm the esthetics of paintings then?  Do principles of structure matter more in some types of art than in others?  If so, why?

A final question this topic raises for me is whether the art of the mentally ill is truly “the most authentic expression of emotion and human values.”  This seems akin to Rousseau’s Romantic elevation of the “noble savage,” which seems questionable to me.  Sometimes a savage is just barbaric and a child is just childish and a mentally ill person is just crazy.

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