Why There’s Growing Interest in Art By People Diagnosed with Mental Illnesses


Victoria Tischler, a lecturer in psychology at University of the Arts London, writes in The Conversation about a growing interest among galleries and collectors in art that was made by people who’ve been diagnosed with mental illnesses or other psychological “outsiders.”

“The art created by outsiders reveals illuminating truths about what it is to be human,” writes Tischler. “The work is real and pure – and has a depth that contrasts with the often contrived offerings of conventionally trained artists. It shows us what we dare not think, let alone speak. The artists tell seemingly bizarre stories, translate hallucinatory experiences, or depict imaginary and fantastical worlds which trace painful personal trajectories. They reveal the psyche; our dreams, our nightmares, the afterlife. The art is unknowing yet visionary. The artists do not subscribe to standard art-school criteria – and this is what separates them from the mainstream.”

Outsider art can refashion how we think about mental illness (The Conversation, January 20, 2015)


  1. I love art, I’m an artist–actor, performer, band member, writer, filmmaker, etc. What is really irritating to me, however, is how things like art and spirituality (referring to the previous article, about God and psychiatry) are becoming more and more frequently associated, somehow, with ‘mental illness.’ Talk about brainwashing!

    I would like to officially dissociate this vague and non-understood notion of ‘mental illness’ from art, spirituality, and all that is good in this world. Even being kind-hearted, open, energetic, insightful, and productive can be seen as some kind of ‘mania’ or based on some kind of self-delusion, or some such nonsense. I can’t even keep up with how virtuous living, and seeking joy, fun, and personal freedom are so chronically associated with psychopathology. Good grief.

    At this rate, how is light and truth ever going to find its way into the ‘mental health world,’ if these are precisely what are continuously obstructed and sabotaged?

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    • These two articles posted this morning on spirituality and art have really gotten me thinking, mainly because I found myself a bit stuck with the irritation that I mention in my above post.

      What has occurred to me now is that a world without art and spirituality is quite dark and dense, and in fact, to me, would translate into sheer madness. This is why I have always envisioned an awakening of psychiatric survivors (and the like, whatever all that means, about extremely oppressed people, devalued rather than seen for their gifts) would actually be the gateway to a Renaissance, a new age of healing, flourishing art, new insights regarding humanity, etc. And most importantly, a new, deeper, and universal meaning to the word ’empathy.’ I think that would unite a great many people on a very profound and authentic level.

      I see the potential, just from what I’ve seen on this website for the past few years. I’m wondering how to break through all that resistance?? That’s what I would call daunting, so this is where I simply surrender to the light (universe, or whatever one wants to call that which is greater than ourselves–and there is SOMETHING greater than ourselves, I mean, c’mon), and take my walk in the woods, feeling and expressing gratitude for life. That would never, in the slightest, have been me 12 years ago. This is better.

      I have such seriously tremendous respect for all who have the courage to walk their paths on this planet, however they choose to do it. That is one tough game. It’s heartening to see this with new clarity. That gives me a great deal of hope. Thank you to MIA virtual community, and all that speak their truths with such passion and commitment to making things better for us all, one way or another.

      That’s my Sunday Blessing! 🙂

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    • “What is really irritating to me, however, is how things like art and spirituality (referring to the previous article, about God and psychiatry) are becoming more and more frequently associated, somehow, with ‘mental illness.’”
      Exactly. In the “good old days” they would just be good artists who have a unique insight into human condition, today they are “mentally ill”.

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      • Yes, I hadn’t been forewarned that the psychiatric industry was in the business of targeting, defaming, tranquilizing, and poisoning all the Christian artists. Thankfully, my idiot psychiatrist finally looked at my work and concluded it was that of a “smart female,” and insightful.” I think he liked my piece implying bin Laden was now a part of the landscape, and maybe even my American flag painted upside down and backwards, implying we’re doing things wrong in this country right now.

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        • Oh, my American flag piece also has a Calla lily on it, lilies are a traditional sign of hope. But the lily also looks somewhat like a cornucopia, which is empty, referring to the mockery that has been made of our monetary system. Thank you, baby boomer bankers and politicians that profit from our never ending wars.

          Yes, the psychiatrists really should have a legal right to defame and murder all the insightful Christian artists (sarcasm). Should we, as a society, really be giving respect to those who create “mental illnesses” in humans, instead of those who actually create real goods? Upside down and backwards, America.

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  2. B and Someone Else–I love both your comments so much, all of it spot on to my mind. What you both say reminds me of what I observed about San Francisco, the way things have shifted so radically in perspective.

    I moved there in 1996, when I was 35, having had that goal since I was a teen-ager. Mostly, I was drawn to the Beats movement–also the Haight-Ashbury stuff, but really it was the Beats that I followed. I thought there was so much truth in what they wrote and talked about, and it did lead to a cultural revolution. Those were visionaries and artists, and teachers through their experience. Troubled? I guess to some extent, yes, but I think that was the point. They were making change from within the society, at large, because it was society that needed to be challenged at this point. The Nuclear Age was in full tilt.

    Into the 2000s, as I was deeply entrenched in that urban culture, having my transformative experiences in life, I noticed that people who thought like this and who supported the radical thinking and revolutionary ideas and who challenged the ills of society, even in the most reasonable fashion, were actually the ones who were diagnosed, medicated, homeless, or otherwise marginalized. I knew so many of these people, thanks to my own journey, and they were the most insightful, creative, and generally brilliant minds I knew. But one way or another, because of their independent nature and knowing their truth, they were beaten down in many ways, due to prejudice and fear in society. I saw a lot of broken hearts and discouraged spirits from the aggressive bullying which society imposes on the its ‘disenfranchised’ citizens. So many issues here that are disturbing.

    Overall, I saw first hand the effect of this ‘social role reversal’ on what once had been a revolutionary mecca. Fear and epidemic marginalization have taken over that city. It’s a major culture clash, and everyone is losing.

    I’ve since moved to a peaceful and grounded environment. Both my partner and I found it unlivable. He also worked in social services, although he never went through the system like I did. But between the two of us, we got the full picture. He witnessed my journey every step of the way.

    Anyway, point being, as you say SE, “upside down and backwards.” Let’s turn it right side up, shall we?

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    • Thanks, Alex, kudos back to you as well. I have a cousin who lives in San Fran, great memories of his fabulous wedding and the wonderful city, but he needs to move out, too. He works in the financial industry, and it’s been driving him nuts for years. He told me once he feels like nothing more than a pimp, charming description of what’s going on in the financial industry, huh?

      “’Upside down and backwards.’ Let’s turn it right side up, shall we?” There are more and more people “waking up,” so hopefully someday we will. It’s not just the “mental health” industry that’s sick, it’s the entire corporatocracy. We need to break up the big industries and corporations, and go back to a truly competitive democratic republic.

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      • You said a mouthful, here, Someone Else. I gave up on SF specifically because the professional ‘advocacy’ was part of the downtown financial district culture, very high rent (for one thing). I found all of Bay Area advocacy to be corporate-run, really into the monetary aspect, focused specifically on that flow. Professional dress codes, etc, to flagrantly set them apart from people who come to them for services.

        So when you are talking about busting up corporate culture, you’re talking about a lot of grant- and donor-run advocacy. Very scary, and central to many of these problems, I feel.

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  3. Am I off base, or is this article rife with incredible bigotry? And not one outsider artist with a diagnosis of mental illness interviewed or even quoted for an article about outsider artists with diagnoses. Not a single one. Seriously?

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    • I think this points to the motive, “The aim is to fashion the meaning of mental illness into something more positive and desirable.” There’s nothing positive or desirable in being defamed with a mental illness. When will the psycho / pharmaceutical industries end their incessant advertising campaign for “mental illnesses?” Oh, it’s wonderful and fashionable to have a “mental illness,” then we’ll treat you like sh-t and steal all your money. It’s not cool to be defamed with a “mental illness.”

      How sick is this, “Her “normal” demeanour reminded me how close many of us are to madness. It takes but one cruel genetic swipe, an adverse life event; a bereavement, childhood abuse, or a great love gone awry. It’s time to value the experiences and skills of those with mental illness, and to enlist their creative talents to refashion our thinking about mental health.” It’s an advertisement for “mental illness,” likely by those who want to financially profit from the work of institutionalized people.

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