In the early 20th century, the medical psychiatric obsession of diagnosing not only humans but also their artworks as “insane” led to the looting of their artworks in psychiatries and asylums. Hans Prinzhorn led the movement and took advantage of the common practice in psychiatric institutions throughout Germany, including Heidelberg, for psychiatrists to take possession of these works, who included them in the medical records as clinical evidence to support their psychiatric diagnoses. This was comparable to the looting by the colonial masters.
This slander still holds today, where the artwork of people with psychiatric diagnoses is labelled “outsider art” and exhibited in a segregated fashion as novelties, rather than “real art”. The discussion around these “outsider art” pieces always revolves around understanding the diagnosis of the artist, rather than evaluating the art itself and its message. The clearest example of the injustices still being perpetrated is the German museum of the Prinzhorn Collection, which opened in 2001 and exhibits the stolen art of those considered by the Nazis to be “degenerates”.
As a way to address this ongoing discrimination and finally disprove the myth of art and madness, the authors propose an exhibition in a prominent location only of works of art by authors who remain anonymous, a wild mixture of authors who were suppressed in coercive psychiatry and by psychiatrists.
It is now one hundred years since Hans Prinzhorn published his book “Bildnerei der Geisteskranken” (“pictorial products of the mentally ill”) in 1922. High time then, to take stock of the trail of destruction left by this concept of medicalising and therefore pathologising works of art. The hegemonic narrative is that insane “outsider art” was discovered by this German psychiatrist who collected the works in the Heidelberg University Hospital at which he worked and disclosed their existence by publishing this groundbreaking book that made these works and their influence known to the world.
When we came across a recent version of this cliché written by The Guardian journalist Charlie English, we, the International Association Against Psychiatric Assault, decided that it was time to publish a different view of this event, based both on knowledge of the facts and its chronology and aimed at restoring human dignity to the victims.
We refute the mystification of “art and madness” by showing the significance of Hans Prinzhorn for the Nazi specific concept of “degenerate art”. Prinzhorn was an ideological precursor of systematic medical mass murder (which in turn was an important waypost of the Shoah).
In 1916 during World War I, the first Dada exhibition took place in Switzerland. “The first great anti-art-movement, Dadaism or Dada, was a revolt against the culture and values that had caused the carnage of the First World War. The movement quickly evolved into an anarchist form of avant-garde art whose aim was to undermine the value system of the ruling organisation that had allowed the war to happen, including the art institution, which they saw as inseparable from the socio-political status quo”.1 Several of the exhibitors, Hans Arp, Hans Richter, Walter Serner and Ferdinand Hardekopf contributed works while they were incarcerated in the Kilchberg psychiatric sanatorium.2
Of course, it can be argued that they were “mentally ill”,3 but it should also be remembered that several of them were not Swiss citizens and their stay in a mental institution offered them asylum from having to return to their countries and certain forced conscription.
The background of the Dada exhibitions and perhaps other new art movements in the first years of the 20th century (Cubism, Futurism, Negro art, etc.4) is the reason for the reaction of authoritarian Heidelberg revisionism in the form of the Prinzhorn book, a reaction that defines the collection acquired in the psychiatric department of the University of Heidelberg. This is a diagnostic slander of the authors of the works in clinical-psychiatric terms. Prinzhorn wrote a letter in 1919 asking all institutions to send him works produced by their inmates. He thus took advantage of the common practice in psychiatric institutions throughout Germany, including Heidelberg, for psychiatrists to take possession of these works, who included them in the medical records as clinical evidence to support their psychiatric diagnoses. This was comparable to the looting by the colonial masters. Prinzhorn not only illegally collected5 these works (i.e. he did NOT buy/pay for the works) for a “museum of pathological art”6 or “his longed-for museum of pathological art”,7 but also did NOT regard them as works of art. Charlie English writes about this, but it becomes even clearer in the clinical term Prinzhorn gives to the title of his book: “Bildnerei”. It means something like “pictorial products”.
A) The fact that the development of Dadaism had a profound impact on German art and poetry in the 1910s and 1920s allows only one conclusion: Dadaism was a real challenge to 20th century art and especially poetry, as it went against the traditional styles and values characteristic8 of traditional art and poetry in the social order, even if the Dadaists only experimented for about a decade. Nevertheless, Dadaist influences continued to be felt in the literary movements of the 20th century for a long time.
Against this demolition of traditional boundaries, Heidelberg University Psychiatry, with Hans Prinzhorn’s collection “Bildnerei der Geisteskranken” (“pictorial products of the mentally ill”), medically labeled the artists as “mentally ill” based on psychiatric diagnoses, reinforcing the notion of pathologisation of art that originated at the end of 19th century. Art was thus no longer judged, or rather condemned, according to the work, but rather according to the supposedly “sick” mental state of the artists. We call this authoritarian revisionism.. Heidelberg University is guilty of reacting to the liberation of art through Dadaism with this authoritarian revisionism, thus revising this groundbreaking step for the modernising art of the 20th century. The “cathedral of reason”, the university and its psychiatry, initiated defining art as a disease by assigning it to the madness of the insane. This initiative continues to this day, as artists are still discriminated against as “artists who are different”9 if they come from or have already been interned in asylums and/or psychiatric institutions. Wilmanns and Prinzhorn intended to use the works of art which they had acquired in psychiatric institutions in bad faith, i.e. looted art, to establish the Psychopathological Museum in Heidelberg, which indeed was opened on 13 September 2001.10
“…if the Führer had not put a stop to it”.11
B) This basic structure was further developed in the next step from 1933: “ill” became “degenerate” (“entartet”). In German, the word has a special meaning due to the formative part of the word: “art”, which is often not understood in other languages.
In German the word „art“ is in a biological context a basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism. By using the word „entartet“, it not only defines a human illness, but worse, excludes a person from being part of the human race. The moral taboo of murder had thus been broken for persons who are defamed in this way. It marked the ideological preparation of exterminationist exclusion, first through forced sterilisation and marriage bans, then from 1939/40 through murder in gas chambers, which was exported to the gas murder factories in occupied Poland in 1942. From 1941, the centrally organised murders were transferred directly to the psychiatric prisons and continued through death by starvation until 1948/49. 12
C) The logical consequence of this radical exclusion was then openly expressed by Carl Schneider, Karl Wilmann’s successor as chief physician of Heidelberg University Psychiatry. In his lecture published by the “Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten” (Archive for Psychiatry and Neurological Diseases) in 1939, he described the objective that modern art and the creators of this art should meet the same fate as he executed on the mentally ill shortly afterwards, i.e. their murder. As with the insane, he would select them beforehand: the painter Otto Dix was specified! Then he would have them murdered in the same way, in order to then dissect their brains and to be able to present them as exhibits to his students in the lecture hall of the university psychiatry department, exactly where today the so-called “Prinzhorn Collection” is displayed, mocking its victims and demonstrating the hegemony and diagnostic power of psychiatry.
D) This basic ideological structure was not broken after 1949, only the killing stopped. It continued unchanged in “Art and Delusion” and is still the basis of exhibitions such as the 2005 “Biennale meine Welt” at the Museum “Junge Kunst” in Frankfurt-Oder.13
That Charlie English actively collaborated with the Prinzhorn Collection for his book “The Gallery of Miracles and Madness” can then no longer come as a surprise, especially since he titles the fourth part of his book “Euthanasia“. This very word was used in the language of the doctor-Nazis to cover up murder and we tirelessly demanded to stop using it in our publication on 17.2.2009. Our appeal:14
Help make the perfect Nazi murders imperfect by….
1) …getting the Nazi jargon “euthanasia” (= physician-assisted suicide) banned from language use when it refers to the systematic medical mass murder from 1939 to 1949. The Nazis used the word “euthanasia” to cynically imply that it was the victims themselves who wished to die. Whenever you use this term, the victims are once again degraded, even in this present day. When you use this word for the systematic medical mass murder from 1939 to 1949, you help to reproduce the doctors’ Nazi ideology, expressing solidarity with the perpetrators and participate in the attempt to cover up their guilt….
We deplore the absence of a declaration of solidarity by the art world with the persecuted artists in psychiatry. Unfortunately, the art world has thus yet to take this step. In contrast, the Parisian students were exemplary when they demonstrated in solidarity against the expulsion of Daniel Cohn-Bendit by the De Gaulle government in 1968 with the slogan: We are all German Jews.
A similar reaction is missing, because Lucy Wasensteiner’s 2019 book The Twentieth Century German Art Exhibition: Answering Degenerate Art in 1930s London15 about the 1939 London exhibition also precisely misses this point. Here, too, reference is made only to the “proper” art of the time, while the art of the alleged “insane and mentally ill” continues to go unmentioned, a discrimination, despite being threatened with murder and manslaughter, or being persecuted, imprisoned and mistreated.
As a way to address this ongoing discrimination and finally disprove the myth of art and madness, we, IAAPA, propose an exhibition in a prominent location only of works of art by authors who remain anonymous, a wild mixture of authors who were suppressed in coercive psychiatry and by psychiatrists. For either modernism, like Dada, breaks with the boundaries of conventionality and normality in art, including anti-art, and abolishes these boundaries, or it clings to the idea that “mental illness” can show itself in “pictorial products” („Geisteskrankheit“ in “Bildnerei”) – Prinzhorn’s choice of words – that excludes from art the works by those imprisoned and slandered in the psychiatric wards.
And of course, the collection of looted art in the lecture hall of the murderers in Heidelberg must finally be freed from the medical clutches of psychiatry and transferred to the museum “Haus des Eigensinns” until it can be handed over to its rightful owners, the heirs of the authors.16
- https://www.daskreativeuniversum.de/dadaismus-dada-merkmale ↩
- https://www.sanatorium-kilchberg.ch/site/assets/files/1603/rueckblick_dada_ich_und_ueber_m_ich_23_06_16.pdf ↩
- By his own admission, Hans Richter was grateful for the rest of his life to be medically slandered with the psychiatric illness “juvenile imbecility”! ↩
- All the art movements mentioned several times in Carl Schneider’s lecture, for more details see footnote No. 11. ↩
- Expert opinion Prof Peter Raue: https://www.dissidentart.de/eigensinn/ungekuerztergutachten.htm ↩
- This is what Charlie English quotes in The Gallery of Miracles and Madness on page 25 from Hans Prinzhorn’s circular letter in June 1919 ↩
- The Gallery of Miracles and Madness by Charlie English, page 43 ↩
- See, for example, Kurt Schwitters “Sonata in Urlauten”: https://www.dissidentenfunk.de/archiv/s0504/audio/lo/t04.mp3; also: https://youtu.be/l8OzOUGe5f8 and https://youtu.be/1qLKu3R8no4; and Dadaism and German Poetry essay https://www.proessay.com/dadaism-and-german-poetry-essay/ ↩
- See video of the opening of the exhibition “Bennale my world” on 13.3.2005: https://youtu.be/0lMauyX51z4?t=1636 ↩
- https://web.archive.org/web/20170509215044/http://www.autonomes-zentrum.org/ai/prinzhornprotest.html ↩
- Quote from “Entartete Kunst und Irrenkunst” (Degenerate Art and Mad Art), the speech by Carl Schneider, head of the Heidelberg University Psychiatric Clinic, who succeeded Wilmanns as head of the Psychiatric Clinic in Heidelberg and whose collection was headed by Hans Prinzhorn, held on 19 March 1939, published in Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, page 164, 1939 – Springer https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01814830. In the speech he refers, among other things, to the paintings by Otto Dix, but also to texts by Schwitters. Degenerate artists and mentally ill artists have in common, he says, that they are exempt from work and that their work is promoted by communists and Jews, and this endangers the Nordic true artists. Then he reports on his notorious findings from work therapy (for which he is also so revered by Klaus Dörner in Klassische Texte neu gelesen, in Psychiatrische Praxis 13 (1986), pp. 112-114: Carl Schneider, “the theorist who, in terms of scientific theory, could hardly be surpassed in the 20th century…”). One can get the schizophrenic artist to produce normal work through appropriate medical care – by destroying his works and leading him to a normal profession. The full text of the speech is documented here: www.iaapa.de/schneiders_speech.pdf ↩
- Heinz Faulstich, Starvation in Psychiatry 1914-1949 ↩
- See video of the opening of the exhibition: https://youtu.be/0lMauyX51z4?t=1636 ↩
- English: https://www.iaapa.de/8_demands.htm; German: https://www.iaapa.de/8_demands.htm#dt ↩
- https://www.amazon.com/Twentieth-Exhibition-Routledge-Research-Exhibitions/dp/1032094605 ↩
- See the 7th demand: http://www.iaapa.de/8_demands.htm ↩
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
FIRST COMMENT! Wait, this isn’t youtube…..wtf? OK, I didn’t read the article carefully first, only skimmed it. His name is, was, Lee Filimonov. Descended from lower-echelon “White Russian” nobility. Non-U.S. citizen. Purple Heart-decorated Viet Nam veteran. PTSD. Alcoholism. Prolific artist. Father and husband. Victim of the pseudoscience drug racket social control mechanism of psychiatry, and the mis-named “community mental health system”, which is in fact a sort of out-patient GULAG SYSTEM. Despite the fact that Soviet Russia & Nazi Germany were bitter enemies in 2 World Wars, their use of psychiatry as a WEAPON was even more nasty than the U.S./Britain/Europe, etc….And the SAME PATTERNS of ABUSE Globally. Only less brutal here in America. Somewhat….
Lee was what I called a “human art machine”. You poured art supplies and materials in one end of him, and a steady stream of ART flowed out the other end. And each drawing, painting, sculpture, “assemblage”, etc., was often RE-poured into the ART MACHINE to be re-born and re-created as new art. He was my Art Professor and Instructor for many years.
He was at best neglected, and usually abused, by psychiatry & the “mental health system”. And, all the good little goody-2-shoes in town had a piece or 2 of his art that they might have given him as much as $10. or $20. for. …Sure, the sympathy-ridden coffee shop owner let him have the odd exhibition that brought in the rare commission. Given that he walked all over town every day, and how recognizable he was, he was fairly well known, and respected at a polite distance. Mostly. Had the local CMHC been at all humane, he could have easily had a successful, modest living from his art. Instead, he suffered from the FORCED psych drugging, which he eased with beer or liquor sometimes. Too bad he wouldn’t use cannabis. Even more too bad the neuroleptics the quack shrinks pumped into him….
Seems almost like a gathering of KINDRED SPIRITS here….
March 9, 2017, my good friend Keene Police Chief Brian Costa blew his brains out with his service weapon….I consoled his Family at his funeral service….
March 11, 2005, my Father died from cancer chemotherapy & radiation poisoning….
March 9-11…..so it goes….
May God DAMN psychiatry…. ~bill bradford, survivor of the genocide of psychiatry….
You should rather write about James Hillman high rhetoric. Kraepelin, for example, was a barbarian, all Germans was. Medical jargon is not a psychologial language, rather it is a weapon of the wulgar materialists. Psychiatry, as a clinical uzurpation is only a weapon against psyche. It has nothing to do with psychological perspecive – identity. It is only a barbaric kind of uzurpation. All monistics ideologies are a weapon against psyche. Against mythical imagination. Clinical language is not a psychological language, it is a religion of scientism. Psychiatry is a marxistic weapon for , not something which loves human psyche. Marxists are handicapped, not psychological people. Psychiatry is weapon of the handicapped. Psychological people, on the psychological level, are much higher than marxism or vulgar materialists, are.
Interesting history, which I was not taught about in my art history classes. I’m a graduate of an art school that was tied for the number one art school in America, the year my work was displayed on their walls.
“For either modernism, like Dada, breaks with the boundaries of conventionality and normality in art, including anti-art, and abolishes these boundaries, or it clings to the idea that “mental illness” can show itself in “pictorial products” („Geisteskrankheit“ in “Bildnerei”) – Prinzhorn’s choice of words – that excludes from art the works by those imprisoned and slandered in the psychiatric wards.”
I most definitely DON’T agree that excluding “from art the works by those imprisoned and slandered in the psychiatric wards.” Especially given the fact that the “mental health system” has seemingly been targeting the artists in America for decades.
My art portfolio terrifies Lutheran psychologists I dealt with – to the point one psychologist attempted to steal all profits from my work, my work, my story, and everything else from me with a bogus “art manager”/conservatorship contract – attempted art thievery, just like the Nazi psychiatrists did back then.
But I must somewhat agree, “mental illness” can show itself in “pictorial products,” since my portfolio beautifully – albeit “too truthfully” for the “psych professionals” – visually documents America’s iatrogenic “bipolar epidemic.” Given an understanding of the etiological “bipolar” research in Robert Whitaker’s book, “Anatomy of an Epidemic.” And an understanding of the etiology of my actual “mental illness” symptoms, which were created by a psychiatrist, via anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning.
If, by chance, you’re looking for an artist whose work is not technically “outsider art,” since I was called a “Chicago Chagall” by that psychologist who attempted to steal from me. But if, by chance, you’re looking for an artist whose work could help tie together “insider” and “outsider” art, I’d love to talk to you.
Since, I guess, I’m a little bit of both an “insider” and “outsider” artist. But I’m also an independent psychopharmacological researcher who found the medical evidence of the iatrogenic etiology of both the positive and negative symptoms of the “sacred symbol of psychiatry.”
My contribution to degenerative art.
I have my own art, and also a “diagnosis.” Here’s a piece a wrote just because I and a group of facebook friends had been trying to help someone with a “borderline personality disorder” diagnosis, and this music started playing through my head: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxyjGyzfFGY And then there’s this whole youtube site, although I haven’t added anything for more than ten years really, although there’s stuff I’m getting ready to start recording: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxZBenrqh6lr8iyzk5rDNXg
This isn’t just the looting of art from “crazy” people, it’s the looting of whole cultures and societies. Art has become a commodity, an escape, a sensual product, “beauty” one can own (along with the artifice it takes on to become a commodity) rather than what it is meant to be, something spiritual that gives the soul and the spirit and emotions a home, and expresses that life has meaning beyond our attempt to control it.
I’m sure that Mr. Charlie English thinks that he’s helping these poor crazy people, that writing a book assuming he’s promoting their art, and then ignoring as far as I can tell the whole hypocrisy that medical treatments proven to cause chemical imbalance, regarding illnesses that are said to have chemical imbalances although this is only alleged and hasn’t been proven, that what causes what is listed as the cause of a disease is allowed to be touted as appropriate compassionate healing and enforced. But this is how it always goes. The same as how everyone assumes that the whole congregation in a church, school or any other “public” even being clothed (with appropriate fashion, costume or uniform) that it’s a decent gathering. The whole thing is so ridiculous that I make such a jab about it.
I read this article a few days ago, and find I have to fight the tendency regarding my own art to not give up in sharing it, the kind of discrimination going on, that it can’t just be art for its own merit, but that it has to be dressed up in proper social regalia before even being considered. There’s an article regarding Mr. English’s book in the guardian where it’s even speculated whether one can tell whether someone is schizophrenic by their art. Can they find the weapons of mass destruction corporate media touted as the excuse to invade Iraq, although they were never found, is that to be found in a painting as well? Or the holy grail, or the formula for eternal life, or…. I mean let’s be serious about this, if you can find signs that someone has a disease that in reality is only an alleged condition yet to be proven to exist as a disease (otherwise poverty is also a chemical imbalance rather than a social construct) then why not go for the money and find everything else one wants to believe in but doesn’t want to investigate!?
As a composer pianist, I won a local competition to have my music performed 2001. Symphony musicians and the head of a college music department played and sang my music. Before that I really only was “disabled” and having not given up on music still composed it. Having a keyboard and a computer, when completely at a loss for what to do in life, and rather than simply exploding in aggravated distress at being completely disenfranchised I could go to the computer, start composing, and would feel a white light surround me that would calm me and give my reflexes a place to be active, and I “composed” music, although I might argue it was the mind itself, or nature, or God, but really just a place someone could go rather than being assimilated into a society which really mostly saw art as a diversion, a sensual commodity rather than an expression of the human soul.
That was 2001, but since then, and bringing my piano playing abilities out of the grave, I started performing again. Just myself, little free concerts, and then just at my own place, stuff recorded for a community TV channel. I still am quite confounded at the amount of discrimination one encounters. And a lot of it simply is that as an artist one is supposed to be a commodity, and also having a “diagnosis” and not being secure in oneself enough to not be driven “crazy” by insensitive behavior; people can be highly exploitive, and even unprofessional and harassing, but when this effects you when you don’t know how to respond, then if they can make you out to be inappropriate or crazy, they can continue being exploitive and unprofessional. I was really happy 2001 to find an outlet for music I didn’t know would ever see the light of day, but totally unprepared for the amount of bizarre discriminatory, insensitive, confusing, exploitive and corrupt, dishonest and even illegal nasty responses one could get was one really involved with what I thought would be having one’s art acknowledged.
And in essence it was really just — art was — really just a place I could go to find a place for my emotions, my spirit and my soul to have a home and express itself, or find space to be, for what one might say “God” had given me. It had become nothing but that for me, after I had been put in this space of having an alleged disease. That’s where I could go and breath again. When I got the diagnosis, I have to add that I had then already, from actually the highest commodities of “fame” in classical music, gotten attention out of nowhere (I knew so and so would show up in my life somehow, and he was putting the furniture into a new neighbor’s house because he had met her when playing for their orchestra), and just before that had had a whole year where a whole group of spirits had spoken to me through a trance medium or other mediums (Chopin, Mozart’s mother, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Clara Haskil, Bach, Nadia Boulanger) and so I already was in a field of thought that was simply art, NOT how one is to be to make it and be part of current exploitative trends. I can’t say that dealing with the mediums wasn’t highly confusing, in comparison with the spirits, regarding exploitative behavior, and I really had no idea how aggressively exploitative the current music world could be at the level of what I encountered out of nowhere, thinking it would be different, either. I didn’t even know what was going on. I had had a whole social falling out, and extreme discrimination going on regarding the mediums and the spiritualist churches I had been involved with. I hadn’t had a good childhood at all, either. Both parents being “psychologists” had a whole gamut of ideas regarding how to analyze children, how to control them and how to make themselves out to be more objective and understanding while not really attending to their children in ways normal “unenlightened” families did and do. I couldn’t really encounter simple difficulty in my life without encountering such stress from never having been nurtured to express myself enough to understand my own instincts, that I lost it. the whole matrix of being able to navigate through to what one really thought wasn’t there, only the stress that would I not think said way I’d meet with harsh disabling criticism. Then my mother got a psychiatrist friend of hers to diagnose me to get me on disability, mostly because she didn’t want to believe that what really happened to cause me distress had really happened, and being on disability, although it gave me the space to allow music and the other arts to express themselves without having to be commodities one gets paid for, the neglect and the immense confusion regarding the lies of the drug companies and diagnosis, and social paranoia and stigmatizing, and consequently having more difficulty because of trauma from all of that added to it….. how is one supposed to know what’s going on?
I have somehow come out of it. I don’t know how. I don’t know how I statistically have survived while most people like me would be stuck in a foster care facility having no civil liberties anymore, other than having to act appreciative that their mind is disabled with “medications” and that they are cared for when their nature is suppressed and they have become commodities for the drug companies, the psychiatric establishment and all of the “good will” that believes their lies and disinformation.
And it’s like one would get more respect would one believe the lies. As Charlie English goes on about, it would seem.
A local psychiatric facility had music of Beethoven and art of Van Gogh on a commercial, announced that these people both had psychiatric illnesses, and actually advertised their ability to “fix” people up. Why not write a book about what’s wrong with all the great artists, and list their diagnosis, if not during their life posthumously. Why not cater to the fear people have of art that’s so mesmerizing that people don’t understand that it doesn’t come from people that model the morals of society. There had to be something wrong with Mozart because he was happy simply that it was music, and knew its worth beyond the world’s way of thinking, as if there hasn’t been enough guff going on about that……
It’s called what happens, and life, and how people survive trauma… If you think it’s sane, you’re REALLY not paying attention.
That is a VERY STRONG piece of ART, Krista!
My sincere compliments.