The Art of Madness


In this piece for The Paris Review, Cody Delistraty details the French painter Jean Dubuffet’s efforts to collect artwork made by people deemed mentally ill and confined to asylums. This winter, four collections of artwork created by mental health patients, including pieces collected by Dubuffet, will be displayed at the Maison de Victor Hugo in France.

“Art brut, or raw art, is ‘raw because it is uncooked by culture,’ John Maizels writes in Raw Creation, ‘raw because it came directly from the psyche, and, in its purest form, touched a raw nerve.’

In his own words, Dubuffet called art brut ‘works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses—where the worries of competition, acclaim, and social promotion do not interfere—are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals.’

The culture of mainstream art, Dubuffet reasoned, was driven by an urge to assimilate every inventive artistic development, and thereby robbed it of its power. Mainstream art would be sure to, Maizels writes, ‘asphyxiate genuine expression.'”