First published: Fall 2010
As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, three issues continue to haunt the field of Art Brut and self-taught art and its connections to the larger worlds of art. The first speaks to the foundational opposition between Art Brut and the academic art world, which Dubuffet termed Art Culturel.
Despite his advocacy of the absolute and necessary separation of the two realms of creativity, subsequent generations have struggled to establish a widely accepted position of either equivalence or superiority to the self-described ‘mainstream’ art world within a radically expanded conception of the nature of art in our culture. The second continues the effort to reconcile two distinct yet historically conjoined forms of non-academic art: the European concept of Art Brut and the American formulation of self-taught and vernacular art. Art Brut’s emphasis on inherently asocial or anti-cultural artists has proven inappropriate to the strongly individualistic creators who are deeply embedded in racial, ethnic, and regional subcultures as well as the national popular culture characteristic of much American self-taught art.
Yet both traditions celebrate the intense originality of vision of untrained artists working far looks at the latest developments as the new Art/Brut Centre Gugging gathers in strength outside the established art world. The third is spurred by an increasing awareness of the striking creations of untrained artists globally and questions the integrity of a field defined primarily in opposition to a Eurocentric art world which is already positioning itself within the global currents of creativity, political power, and investment finance. These issues challenge the cultural institutions that support Art Brut and self-taught art. Among them, the Art/Brut Center Gugging has been especially responsive as it has evolved during the past several decades.
Founded by the Austrian psychiatrist Leo Navratil, Gugging’s origins look back toward a medical approach to the nature of artistic behaviour. Initially using his patients’ drawings as diagnostic tools, Navratil, who had no background in art, unexpectedly discovered his significant sensitivity to the artistic power of some of his patient’s creations. Driven to understand these works, he studied the writings of earlier and contemporary doctors and launched his own theory of the relationships among schizophrenia, art, and poetry.