Art Therapies.

Outsider Art has its roots in occupational art therapy, but traditionally art therapies forfeit artistic merit in favour of a cure to a designated physical and/or mental ailment.  Today, art therapy has been separated from its occupational roots into a specialist field in its own right and given a myriad of names from expression therapy to free association and more.   To this end, the United States and British studies suggest art therapy presents effectiveness for helping to alleviate ‘physical and psychological conditions including asthma, dementia, coping with cancer, terminal illness, depression, schizophrenia, stress, anxiety, emotional eating and Autism Spectrum Disorders, but the scientific evidence of the success rate is scant.[i]    

       A survey on the effectiveness of art therapy carried out by the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia [PACFA] suggests there is little evidence available to support the acclaimed effectiveness of art therapy.  The study which included examination of a variety of art forms looked at twelve articles for evaluating the effectiveness of art therapy, only five of which met the survey criteria.   One of these was a systematic review, and the others, randomized controlled trials conducted in Europe, the UK and the USA. There were no studies carried out in Australia.  Further, art therapies are traditionally based on psychoanalytic or psychodynamic principles which can account for any improvement.  Indeed,  most arts therapists utilize varied evidence based theoretical frameworks in their work. These traditions include depth analytic, humanistic, behavioural, systemic, and integrative approaches[ii] so it is almost impossible to detect which components in the therapy processes are the most reliable.    Many art therapists will attest to the reality that the effectiveness of art therapy is based on what clients believe to be the benefits. Moreover, even if art therapy acts as a placebo it must have some merit, not just in the production process, but also in the social gathering, networking and communication. Progress depends largely on the individual.

      James Rhodes is a highly sought after concert pianist who has publically discussed his views on the links between, melancholy, madness and art as well as  the role played by art therapies.   In an article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph Rhodes writes ‘If creativity can lead to madness, is art therapy really such a good idea?  Rhodes explores his own experience of madness and he articulates his dissatisfaction with art therapies.  He admits his ‘only qualifications to write about therapy and mental illness’ are a rudimentary knowledge of psychology and ‘around 9 months of in-patient care in various locked wards in 2006/7…’  Nonetheless, Rhodes states,

as an ex-inmate and artist … there is no question in my mind that in conjunction with other therapies, art or music can be a tremendous tool in dealing with various forms of mental illness from depression to Asperger’s.’  However, he also wonders if   throwing oneself into creativity in order to help defeat the demons is a solution or a hindrance.[iii] 

Rhodes goes on to say:

‘During a stint in a psychiatric unit a few years ago I attended a few art therapy ‘classes’ that, no matter how well-intentioned, made me feel hideously uncomfortable and hopelessly untalented [ using crayons, please draw a picture of your happy place where you feel safest ]. Since leaving hospital I have thrown myself into a creative career and spent many hours a day rigorously practicing the piano in pursuit of that career. Whilst there is of course a huge distinction between a career as an artist and art as just a hobby, I’m still very much in two minds as to whether music or art is a good therapy or if it is in fact a potentially dangerous downward spiral into madness’.[iv]

      Rhodes notes that engaging in the artistic process involves two of the most dangerous factors for the mentally fragile – ‘solitude and criticism.’  Rhodes tells how when working in a normal city job he was emotionally troubled, but nowhere near as troubled as he become on entering the arts,

‘there is rarely a feeling of accomplishment, hardly ever a performance one is pleased with, a constant and unending pursuit of the unattainable. Medication is outstanding [I’m forever indebted to Pfizer], but for me today, meds and music don’t mix – the invariable haziness, dulling of the senses and diffusion of feelings goes against everything the creative process demands.[v]

  The links between mental illness and art have been visible throughout history.  In the 4th century B.C., the connection between ‘Divine’ spirit and altered states of consciousness was clear so too was the distinction between those who were allowed to publically channel their inner voices and those who were not.   In other words there were profound ‘differences’ between the church proclamations of the Divine and those of the heretic or ordinary citizen. For the latter the risk of Divine talk could lead to incarceration or being burnt at the stake.   Today, much of the ritual that took place to justify religious belief would be considered mentally precarious if not down right ‘insane’.

 As Plato wrote in the dialogue of Phaedrus:

‘Madness, provided it comes as the gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings… Madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human.’ [vi]

 It is no wonder then that many who suffer from altered consciousness and delusions announce themselves as ‘God’ or ‘Divine’ or believe themselves to be someone famous or infamous.  God equates with the most primal of human experiences and is expressed in numerous antiquities as a mirror image of all living plants and creatures.


[ii] PACFA

[iii] › Culture  › Art  › James Rhodes 

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid.

[vi]Dr. Alice W. Flaherty  By ELISSA ELY, M.D. New York Times

Published: March 16, 2009 


American Psychologist Bruce Levine on the Professional Approach to Anti-Authoritarianism.

Here is what Bruce Levine has to say about anti-authoritarianism:

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.

In graduate school, I discovered that all it took to be labeled as having “issues with authority” was to not kiss up to a director of clinical training whose personality was a combination of Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, and Howard Cosell. When I was told by some faculty that I had “issues with authority,” I had mixed feelings about being so labeled. On the one hand, I found it quite amusing, because among the working-class kids whom I had grown up with, I was considered relatively compliant with authorities. After all, I had done my homework, studied, and received good grades. However, while my new “issues with authority” label made me grin because I was now being seen as a “bad boy,” it also very much concerned me about just what kind of a profession that I had entered. Specifically, if somebody such as myself was being labeled with “issues with authority,” what were they calling the kids I grew up with who paid attention to many things that they cared about but didn’t care enough about school to comply there? Well, the answer soon became clear.

Mental Illness Diagnoses for Anti-Authoritarians

A 2009 Psychiatric Times article titled “ADHD & ODD: Confronting the Challenges of Disruptive Behavior” reports that “disruptive disorders,” which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and opposition defiant disorder (ODD), are the most common mental health problem of children and teenagers. ADHD is defined by poor attention and distractibility, poor self-control and impulsivity, and hyperactivity. ODD is defined as a “a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior without the more serious violations of the basic rights of others that are seen in conduct disorder”; and ODD symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”

Psychologist Russell Barkley, one of mainstream mental health’s leading authorities on ADHD, says that those afflicted with ADHD have deficits in what he calls “rule-governed behavior,” as they are less responsive to rules of established authorities and less sensitive to positive or negative consequences. ODD young people, according to mainstream mental health authorities, also have these so-called deficits in rule-governed behavior, and so it is extremely common for young people to have a “duel diagnosis” of AHDH and ODD.

Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”?

Albert Einstein, as a youth, would have likely received an ADHD diagnosis, and maybe an ODD one as well. Albert didn’t pay attention to his teachers, failed his college entrance examinations twice, and had difficulty holding jobs. However, Einstein biographer Ronald Clark (Einstein: The Life and Times) asserts that Albert’s problems did not stem from attention deficits but rather from his hatred of authoritarian, Prussian discipline in his schools. Einstein said, “The teachers in the elementary school appeared to me like sergeants and in the Gymnasium the teachers were like lieutenants.” At age 13, Einstein read Kant’s difficult Critique of Pure Reason—because Albert was interested in it. Clark also tells us Einstein refused to prepare himself for his college admissions as a rebellion against his father’s “unbearable” path of a “practical profession.” After he did enter college, one professor told Einstein, “You have one fault; one can’t tell you anything.” The very characteristics of Einstein that upset authorities so much were exactly the ones that allowed him to excel.

By today’s standards, Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would have certainly been diagnosed with one or more disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, “I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.” Alinsky also recalls a time when he was ten or eleven and his rabbi was tutoring him in Hebrew:

One particular day I read three pages in a row without any errors in pronunciation, and suddenly a penny fell onto the Bible . . . Then the next day the rabbi turned up and he told me to start reading. And I wouldn’t; I just sat there in silence, refusing to read. He asked me why I was so quiet, and I said, “This time it’s a nickel or nothing.” He threw back his arm and slammed me across the room.

Many people with severe anxiety and/or depression are also anti-authoritarians. Often a major pain of their lives that fuels their anxiety and/or depression is fear that their contempt for illegitimate authorities will cause them to be financially and socially marginalized; but they fear that compliance with such illegitimate authorities will cause them existential death.

I have also spent a great deal of time with people who had at one time in their lives had thoughts and behavior that were so bizarre that they were extremely frightening for their families and even themselves; they were diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses, but have fully recovered and have been, for many years, leading productive lives. Among this population, I have not met one person whom I would not consider a major anti-authoritarian. Once recovered, they have learned to channel their anti-authoritarianism into more constructive political ends, including reforming mental health treatment.

Many anti-authoritarians who earlier in their lives were diagnosed with mental illness tell me that once they were labeled with a psychiatric diagnosis, they got caught in a dilemma. Authoritarians, by definition, demand unquestioning obedience, and so any resistance to their diagnosis and treatment created enormous anxiety for authoritarian mental health professionals; and professionals, feeling out of control, labeled them “noncompliant with treatment,” increased the severity of their diagnosis, and jacked up their medications. This was enraging for these anti-authoritarians, sometimes so much so that they reacted in ways that made them appear even more frightening to their families.

There are anti-authoritarians who use psychiatric drugs to help them function, but they often reject psychiatric authorities’ explanations for why they have difficulty functioning. So, for example, they may take Adderall (an amphetamine prescribed for ADHD), but they know that their attentional problem is not a result of a biochemical brain imbalance but rather caused by a boring job. And similarly, many anti-authoritarians in highly stressful environments will occasionally take prescribed benzodiazepines such as Xanax even though they believe it would be safer to occasionally use marijuana but can’t because of drug testing on their job

It has been my experience that many anti-authoritarians labeled with psychiatric diagnoses usually don’t reject all authorities, simply those they’ve assessed to be illegitimate ones, which just happens to be a great deal of society’s authorities.

Maintaining the Societal Status Quo

Americans have been increasingly socialized to equate inattention, anger, anxiety, and immobilizing despair with a medical condition, and to seek medical treatment rather than political remedies. What better way to maintain the status quo than to view inattention, anger, anxiety, and depression as biochemical problems of those who are mentally ill rather than normal reactions to an increasingly authoritarian society.

The reality is that depression is highly associated with societal and financial pains. One is much more likely to be depressed if one is unemployed, underemployed, on public assistance, or in debt (for documentation, see “400% Rise in Anti-Depressant Pill Use”). And ADHD labeled kids do pay attention when they are getting paid, or when an activity is novel, interests them, or is chosen by them (documented in my book Commonsense Rebellion).

In an earlier dark age, authoritarian monarchies partnered with authoritarian religious institutions. When the world exited from this dark age and entered the Enlightenment, there was a burst of energy. Much of this revitalization had to do with risking skepticism about authoritarian and corrupt institutions and regaining confidence in one’s own mind. We are now in another dark age, only the institutions have changed. Americans desperately need anti-authoritarians to question, challenge, and resist new illegitimate authorities and regain confidence in their own common sense.

In every generation there will be authoritarians and anti-authoritarians. While it is unusual in American history for anti-authoritarians to take the kind of effective action that inspires others to successfully revolt, every once in a while a Tom Paine, Crazy Horse, or Malcolm X come along. So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”

* * * * *

Ref. 2012.



Bruce Levine is a well known psychologist who has noted how hundreds of people with  “oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses“, are generally diagnosed as essentially anti-authoritarians, also how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.

According to Levine, “Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously”. Further, Levine notes that “Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority” Levine is probably quite accurate in his observations. He also tells us, “when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not” (Levine 2012).The question is are anti-authoritarians pathological.?

  Categorizing anti-Authoritarians as pathological may not be something that we perceive as appropriate in a democratic society.  Nonetheless, the idea is not new. Indeed, the social and health sciences were devised with a view to maintaining constraints over the populous or what Freud (1929) referred to as the primal horde.   There is no doubt that advances in mainstream society requires some adherence to society’s rules and this is especially true of the professions.  Uncommitted citizens or those with a bad record do not get to be admitted to the legal professions, nor are they likely to become doctors or psychologists.  This is because the professions are the compliance police designed to maintain the social order, at least until they have achieved their MDs or PhDs after which they might be cut a little slack; but not too much.   This scenario is particularly true of psychologists and psychiatrists.  As Levine suggests, “The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians…” whereby “degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance” (Levine 2012).

Compliance begins in school, but only recently has opposition to the socially prescribed rules been a diagnosable condition, albeit there has always been a divide that separates the professional from the potential rebel. This is not to say there are no professional rebels, but their rebellion (or lack of it) comes at a cost. On the one hand the rebel is faced with being ostracized, on the other the non-rebel often lives a life of false values working and holding beliefs that are not truly his or her own.

 Moreover, most professions who adhere to the prescribed compliance dictates are victims of what the French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu (1980) called symbolic power.  That is to say the assumed power of the professional is not real self-empowerment it is merely an order of compliance.  Bourdieu approaches power within the context of a comprehensive ‘theory of society’ whereby he understands power as a culturally symbolic construct, that is to say, a constantly enforced behaviour manifest through the dynamics of agency and structure.  Bourdieu argues that this interplay takes place in the unconscious by way of a “Habitus”.   In other words the symbolic power becomes a self-perpetuating system created through social interaction rather than through individualism. Also the attempts to create changes to this system are difficult and time consuming. The problem lies in the fact that Habitus is not guided by free will, but by the internalized forces that have become embedded into the system whereby its drives maintain its consistency in every aspect of daily life. Bourdieu identified two major components in this symbolic schema. The first is capital, which plays a central role in power relations leading to the distinction between classes; the labouring class and those who control the means of production upon which the labourer depends.  Bourdieu tells us that the shift from material capital to social and cultural capital is what aids the invisibility of   abuses carried out in the name of capital accumulation and hence, the inequity within the system.    

The second concept contains two components, “legitimacy” and “fields”. Symbolic power is carried through fields such as the social, legal religious and educational institutions, which serve to promulgate the symbolic power system and its “misrecognition” or what Marx called false consciousness. What is worth remembering in Bourdieu’s theory is, as he reveals, the sociological scientific method has been part of the system of constraints.  Bourdieu suggests that the sociological scientific method can therefore be a part of the system that dispenses with the power relations.

Ref. 2012

Pierre Bourdieu 1980  “The Logic of Practice”, NY Stanford University Press.

Sigmund Freud 1929/1985 “Civilization and Its Discontents”. Harmondsworth, Penguin Classics.

Art as subversive.

  Outsider artists are subversives who do not share the lifestyle or the sentiments of the bourgeoisie class. Outsider artists contest the social order or they withdraw.   The outsider artist views the mainstream as a life-world shrouded in a false consciousness and transfixed in a predictable and facile mediocrity.  The outsider artist is an outsider because s/he is a seeker of truth.   The outsider artist is un-accepting of the bland routine and rebels in earnest.  

      In line with recent research in the cognitive sciences a new proposition concerning the importance of making art has arisen.  Neurological evidence now suggests that the urge to create art is an innate factor wired into the brain as a defence mechanism against anxieties.  To this end, it might be considered that Outsider Art is a radical expression of this innate trait that offers distinct improvement to troubled lives.   

 It is not unusual to hear artists say the live for their art, or they don’t know how they would manage without their ability to paint and draw, or to make sculptures and the rest.   We admire the dedicated artist, but rarely do we think about art as a means of stabilising the brain’s serotonin and noradrenalin or how creativity raises the endorphins to makes people feel better about themselves and life in general.  Ever since we discovered that art raises the endorphins we can better understand how art becomes an addiction and sometimes turns into obsessive compulsive behaviour.   Outsider Art in particular is indicative of the obsessive compulsive traits; but this should not be viewed as a bad thing.   There are all kinds of obsessions the good and the   bad.  Life itself can be an obsession and should be if one wants to prolong it. 

      Today, art is taking on new meanings making it more purposeful and inclusive.  The new scientific discoveries make art production almost mandatory for health and well being, which in turn undermines the notion of what constitutes good and bad art and closes the gap between art as therapy and art as aesthetic appreciation.  No longer can we measure art on the basis of fashion or the perceptions of good taste.  We know that our brain activities operate on first [Palaeolithic] and secondary [rational] principles, the abstract and the real;  are both necessary to bring an image or idea to consciousness. This is old knowledge made new and relevant for our times.  Art is meaningful and it provides a sound pathway for lives lived to the fullest potential.


Art and Anarchy in the works of Herbert Read.


Herbert Read was an anarchist who wrote numerous books on art and literature, he had a great influence on the use of art in education.  Read also co-founded the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.  Read had an interest in Existentialism and he was one of the first critics to use psychoanalysis as a tool for literary criticism. He was also one of the first English writers to take an interest in the writings of the French philosophers and was particularly impressed with the works of Jean-Paul Sartre.  Read never described himself as an Existentialist, he did acknowledge that his theories had similarities to Existentialism.  Read perhaps was the closest England came to a traditional European Existentialist thinker. 

      Politically, Read considered himself an anarchist, but he followed the “quietest” tradition albeit he had a distain for capitalist and materialist culture.  Read’s book To Hell With Culture deals specifically with his disdain for the term culture and expands on his anarchist view of the artist.   Read was an idealist believing that every human reality is a product of the mind, whereby the unconscious had its overwhelming influence on life and art.  This view stood in contrast the prevalent anarchist and socialist views of the time as most Marxists believed life was simply an outcome of a bourgeois society, but one in which a psychological process had evolved to create a false consciousness.  

    Herbert Read is known for his commitment to education and particularly   in the use of art in the classroom.  Read became interested in the drawing of children and wrote on the subject in pamphlets titled: Education through Art (Read, 1943); The Education of Free Men (Read, 1944); Culture and Education in a World Order (Read, 1948); The Grass Read, (1955); and Redemption of the Robot (1970)”.

Read’s ideas on creativity in schools also offered the possibility of greater international cohesiveness through the opportunity to create a more balanced approach to social relations through the use of art.  Notably,  Read argued that in Art Education  “every child, is said to be a potential neurotic capable of being saved from this prospect, if early, largely inborn, creative abilities were not repressed by conventional Education”. Everyone is an artist of some kind whose special abilities, even if almost insignificant, must be encouraged as contributing to an infinite richness of collective life”[i].  

Genetic Memory?

    All symbolism is said to be linked to a genetic memory, but the view is controversial.[i] Nonetheless, it is one way of explaining why a damaged part of the human brain can be compensated by another unused part without any prior knowledge of the skills that might emerge from it. This is the world of the autistic, the savant and sometimes the sick and injured, but it is also another dimension we know little about.  We have hardly touched the surface in the pioneering neurosciences.   Expert neuroscientists call the extraordinary compensation brain plasticity; the artist calls it visionary.  

    A new era of discovery in neurobiology is revealing just how marvellous our brains are in terms of transforming and repairing a bad situation. In turn, this raises questions about how we might go about unlocking the real human   potential in all of us.   Experiments using sodium amytal [amobarbital] carried out by psychiatrist Darold A. Treffert in the 1980s are said to have exposed vast reservoirs of memories and forgotten images that are stored in the brain and never used. This semi-barbiturate, sometimes known as the truth drug causes a hypnotic state as well as hallucinations and sometimes delirium, but many who hear voices, psychics, psychotics, mediums and more frequently experience this state.   

      Darold A.Treffert believes we humans have focused only on one form of intelligence, but he also believes that the various measurements we use for identifying intelligence characteristics might become obsolete in the future.   As Treffert suggests it is likely that we all have multiple intelligences.[ii]  This should significantly alter the way we view pathology and different abilities.  


[i]Darold A Treffert Islands of Genious [genetic memory]  p12

[ii]Ibid Ch. 1

Bringing Back the Dead.

      In Freudian terms ‘Art’ is always the symptom for repressed pain.  What cannot be explained in reason can be symbolized or contained in a vernacular and new forms of language, shapes, symbols, letters, spaces, Argotic constructions, glossolalias, mandalas and Asemic writings.   The Outsider artist is productive, illuminating and at the same time often unmanageable.  However, these traits are not unique to the Outsider artist.  Indeed, it is now considered that a borderline neurological disorder can create a disposition to produce any kind of art.   Moreover, this could be a good thing for humanity in an ever-growing hostile world. [iii]    There have been peaceful societies in ancient history based purely on poetry and art.[iv]   If music can help placate unresolved anger and violence in modern cities and train stations then Outsider art might have a special place in bringing about kindness and compassion. [v]

Outsider Art is a bold admission of Abjection manifest in compulsion, repetition, obsession and the blatant dismissal of authority, usually characterized by the super-ego. This means mythology in the strictest sense of the word, need not be attributed to supernatural beings, but to the specific acts of the super-ego, for example, man as superman, superwoman, god or goddess, otherwise the disappearance of the physical, material body  and transcendence, sometimes loosely referred to as a psychosis; or the disappearing/dead body.

The idea that the body with its internal god is dead has been attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who coincidently died himself in a mental Asylum.  The term ‘god is dead’ first appears in 1882 in The Gay Science   [German: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft], in sections 108 [New Struggles], 125 [The Madman], and for a third time in section 343 [The Meaning of our Cheerfulness]. It is also found in Nietzsche’s 1883 famous work  Thus Spoke Zarathustra [German: Also Sprach Zarathustra], which is the work that made the statement most popular. The idea is stated in ‘The Madman’ as follows:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? [vi]

Outsider Art and Antecedants.

      All art is a poetic embellishment of a life experienced either through the rigors of physical events or by way of a fantasy.   In order to understand the poetic embellishments that give rise to great art it is important to understand the impacts of a general disenchantment on the human psyche. Evolution puts [dis]comfort into the realms of an altered consciousness, one that displaces reason for the primal instincts.  This can best be explained in the development of a Buddhist philosophy whereby all humans are said to be born into a world of pain and struggle that must be overcome if harmony and peace of mind are to be found.  Buddhism does this by cutting across the pain and pleasure principles with a detachment.    A recurrent theme is the reification of concepts, and the subsequent return to the Buddhist middle path [i] otherwise a position of transcendence.

Early Buddhism was based on empirical evidence gained by the human senses.  This changed over time and Buddhism added more speculative thoughts, such as metaphysics, phenomenology, ethics and epistemology and it acquired a more ontological positioning.  This appealed to a number of eastern groups because it avoided the supernatural beings of the pagan religions and provided categories that were more distinct and relative to everyday living and its hardships.

Buddhism holds a strong appeal for the Outsider artist who experiences the middle path transcendence in the processes of creating.    A  similar process can be found in the legends of Wolfram von Eschenbach and in particular his captivating tale of Parzival, a young boy whose epic journey and initiation into adulthood resulted in his encounter with the mysterious and pain ridden Fisher King who must find a cure in the Holy Grail, otherwise reproduction.   The tale is heavily influenced by the Greek tragedy Oedipus [Oidípous meaning ‘swollen foot’] was written by Sophocles in the 5th Century BC.   Oedipus was the mythical Greek king of Thebes who was said to have fulfilled a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother, thereby bringing disaster upon the kingdom.   Oedipus was one of three plays that revealed the flawed nature of humanity and an individual’s role in the course of his or her destiny.

Oedipus has played a central role in classical and modern art and literature especially in Shakespeare’s who also played to the Royal Courts and Oedipus is crucial to the conceptualization of Freudian Psychoanalysis and other forms of developmental psychology.  The history and logic of psychoanalytic praxis can be mapped in the sexual drives that sit between the life and death theories.  They describe the primal instincts experienced by all of us, but which are heightened in people with dissociative conditions and the ‘the shifting conceptualization of the object’ and/or the ‘object of desire, the object in desire’ and ‘the object as cause of desire’[ii]

[Illustration by Junitta Vallak: Angels].

The Primal Isolation.

      While the evolution of consciousness is complex the specific variations that find their way into great works of art have been largely functional and based on daily ritual and a belief in a body of perceived supernatural forces; or to put it differently, beings who are considered superior to ordinary men and women and who encapsulate higher powers that can been drawn upon through the intermediary phenomena of nature and the creative imagination.   These belief systems have given rise to a particular canon of spiritual existence often derided as heresy, deviant, insane and anti-social, but which eases the emotions associated with the primal isolation.    

      If the isolation increases belief systems become more transcendental and this   renders Outsider Art as a new way of envisioning the world.    Consider for instance the architecture of Antoni Gaudi [1852-1926] which includes a cathedral, a park, housing and more.  Gaudi has greatly influenced the Spanish City of Barcelona, whereby every year millions of people from across the world flock to see his work.   Gaudi was greatly influenced by the primal shapes, textures, colours and forms of nature and this is reflected in his use of pillars and brightly coloured mosaics, his stoned curves and his twisted iron sculptures that were totally out of step with the architecture of his day as well as that of his contemporaries, but very in-step with the primal libidinal expressions of the Outsider artist.



[i] The Central Path, Middle Way or Middle Path (Pali: majjhimā paipadā; Sanskrit: madhyamā-pratipad[1][a]; Chinese: 中道zhōngdào; Japanese: 中道chūdō; Vietnamese: Trung đạo) is the term that Siddhartha Gautama used to describe the character of the path he discovered that leads to liberation.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Middle Way refers to the insight into emptiness that transcends opposite statements about existence.[2][b] 

[ii] Julia Reinhard Lupton and Kenneth Reinhard [1993] After Oedipus Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis,  Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, p2.


[iii]Anjan Chatterjee

Department of Neurology and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience

The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Pennsylvania 19104, USA  INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF 39




[vi] —Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann


Creativity and Inner Worlds.

Joseph Wallas [1926] believed that creativity took place through four processes, preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.  Preparation is the state where the individual does the preliminary work. First there is the scanning of the creative territory. What are the possibilities?  This action is followed by brain storming and/or the gathering of ideas. The movement to brain storming is relatively unstructured, but it may involve some free association. Alternatively, the mind might just wander with no fixed end intended.  After this first stage the collected material is sifted and analysed, not necessarily in a conscious manner.  Some instinct can be applied to all the mental sifting and shifting processes. In the incubation process the material is contemplated, which may be a passive or active deliberation with no particular time-line.   


      In order to put Outsider Art into its creative context it would be prudent to start with German Expressionists who portrayed a particular disenchantment felt by many of the avant-garde artists towards the 1920s urban development and industrial modernism.  The early twentieth century was a period of great innovation in the arts with such movements as post-impressionism Fauvism, cubism, Dada and surrealism. The avant-garde found its strength under the German Weimar government of the 1920s and it emerged as a leading centre of Expressionist painting, sculpture, modern music and film.   These new ideas were not automatically accepted.  The mainstream German population did not care for the new art and the Nazis viewed the culture of the Weimer period as degenerate.  Their response stemmed partly from a conservative aesthetic  taste manifest in a love of the classical Greek works and the Roman Empire and partly from their determination to use culture as a tool of propaganda. [i]  Hitler viewed classical art as an exterior form that embodied an inner racial ideal.[ii]   Under Hitler the modern styles of art were banned and the Nazis promoted works that were traditionally connected to the ‘blood and soil’ and which upheld values of racial purity, militarism and devotion to the fatherland.  All else was Degenerate art said to be produced by artists who were un-German, Jewish and/or Bolshevist.  

German Expressionism was retaliation to the totalising regime and it drew on the traditional   use of folklore and primitive artefacts.   Ernest Ludwig Kirchner[1880-1938] was a German painter and print maker and one of the key figures in the artists group Die Brucke or The Bridge, the first 20th century Expressionist group.  The Brucke group, was named after a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, in which he states that ‘what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.  Kirchner volunteered for army service in World War I, suffered a breakdown, and was discharged. In 1933, his work was branded as Degenerate by the Nazis.  In 1938 Kirchner took his own life by gunshot.[iv]

Expressionist artists Emil Nolde [1857 –1956] and Ludwig Meidner [1884-1966] began a trend in the depiction of inner worlds, isolation and alienation.   The idea of the primitive was very much a basis for a large amount of the Brücke artists’ work, but it also became the German ideal heralded by the Third Reich. The idea of the artist’s rejection of society and the urban city was prevelant throughout the history of art in Germany, for example, preceeding Die Brücke, was Wilhelm Riehl’s Land und Leute [1857 – 63], which advocated a return to the land and racial purity making it a symbol of German culture and tradition.  There was also Carl Vinnen’s Worpswede Stimmungsladschaften [mood landscapes] and Arnold Bocklin’s mythological landscapes, which provided a romantic vision of rural life. The notion of returning to nature is also highlighted in Adolf von Menzel’s a Journey Through Beautiful Nature, [1892]. 

       The Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso, viewed the decent back to the primitive as a ‘madness’ or child-like stage of growth that involves a retreat from worldly chaos. Similarly, the world’s most famous of Swiss Outsider artists, Adolf Wolfli [1864-1930] created art to offset his anxiety after his psychotic collapse.   Here the chaos appears to emerge from the body and become transferred into a text and/or image.   Just as the German Expressionists escaped from the isolation and alienation of modern urban living, today Outsider artists immerse themselves in a nostalgic vision of the inner world through paining, sculpting, carving and building eclectic works.  The French Outsider artist   Pascal Maisonneuve [1863-1934], displayed his defiance of the changing world by creating faces from shells.  

      Outsider artists work compulsively and rarely do they plan in advance. The primal obsession is generally accompanied by a continual need to fill in the gaps and offset the natural wild or the inner mental wilderness. Nolde would often concentrate exclusively on a specific subject matter in intense bursts of activity which he described in his autobiography.  Kirchner would also work obsessively, without taking notice of the time, and would often emphasise his mental distress as a key driving force behind his work.   Kirchner reportedly took to stimulants such as alcohol, sex and morphine during his time in Berlin, and right up until his suicide in 1938 he was continually fighting a battle with loneliness and alienation, which became articulated in his frustration with modern city life.  

[i] [Adam, Peter (1992). Art of the Third Reich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.ISBN 0-8109-1912-5

[ii][ Grosshans, Henry (1983). Hitler and the Artists. New York: Holmes & Meyer. ISBN 0-8419-0746-3 p87

[iii]Degenerate art – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

[iv]Ernst Ludwig Kirchner”, Brucke Museum. Retrieved 8 September 2007.