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].