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The Art Brut Outsider Art and Poetry Institute

rt brut is now a somewhat archaic and imprecise term that used to be applied to artists that create forceful and innovative works with a lack of formal training. It was also called nativism by some. Nonetheless, both terms in time have come to be thought of as dismissive and condescending towards those who do unique and sophisticated work. Perhaps the implication is that no artist can create without the instruction and knowledge of techniques that seem necessary to those in a more academic setting. Perhaps the academics found it slightly insulting that all of their fine training might be undone, or even surpassed, by someone with no formal training. Whatever the reason, art brut is a term of the past.

We now refer to those who create art or literature with no formal training, a disability, or mental illness as Outsider artists. They’ve also been referred to as folk artists. Both labels being preferable to art brut or nativist. Mental health reformers like Dorothea Bix and Jane Adams began a revolution in treating asylum inmates with more respect and dignity, and techniques like poetry and art therapy were employed to try and raise the spirits of mental health patients and give them an outlet for their ideas and some sort of accomplishment in creating something of value.

Art and Poetry Institute

This is not to say Outsider art hasn’t been appreciated through the ages. It certainly has. Roger Cardinal had a great deal to do with the coining of the phrase outsider art. He used it in reference to the patients he worked with in a clinical setting as a psychiatrist. He began to notice when using art and poetry as a therapy tool, many of the patients were able to create wildly vivid and imaginative works of art and poetry. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung might have hypothesized it is quite possible for those with little training or even intent might tap into a collective unconscious while in a state of creativity. This would be in keeping with the Surrealist and Dadaist concepts of automatic writing.

Saying this can also be seen as dismissive, as the greater possibility is that we all have the capacity to create works of art and literature at a high level, and it should therefore be no surprise when those with no training, or a disability do so. Dr. Henry Wolfsburg, of The Journal of Outsider Poetry has written eloquently in defense of the work of his patients. He does not consider them bruts or lesser human beings at all, and asserts their work is no accident, or even a result of psychosis, medication, or brain damage. He sees that they are working out very intricate and complicated, if not at times solipsistic, rules that apply to a Universe perhaps with only one occupant. When seen this way all work makes sense in the world in which it was created. You can read more about Dr. Wolfsburg and his art therapy techniques at The Journal of Outsider Poetry. Another good online publication featuring Outsider art and poetry is not-quite-blank.

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