First published: Winter 2023/24

In his new book, Marc Steene – founder of Britain’s Outside In charity, promoting artists outside the mainstream – looks at one of the strong influences of direct creation. Here Raw Vision publishes an extract


To be introspective is to contemplate the self – an internal process, searching the soul to find answers or to confront the demons or angels you might find there. It can lead to self-awareness or obsession; the Oxford English Dictionary defines introspection as “the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes”. Through being introspective the unconscious can be revealed, and we can sense the deeper impulses that drive us and play an important role in all our lives, more than we can ever fathom. We can find ourselves contemplating the bottomless pool of desires and fears, a place where the everyday is transformed and accorded new meanings and purposes. 


Richard Dadd, The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, between 1855 and 1864, oil paint on canvas, 15.5 x 21.5 in. / 39.5 x 54 cm


The workings of the mind can be dark, complex and intricate. It can have its own logic, language and secrets, sometimes revealed and explained, but more often not. It can be a means to make the unconscious visible, a way to enable a visualisation of our emotions, whether through structured interventions, such as counselling or art therapy, or through a self-led journey to render the inner self visible. As the psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim (1904–1990) said: “The unconscious speaks to us in images rather than words and it is simple when compared with the productions of the intellect ... it is viewed as the lowliest aspect of our mind ... but when well used it is the part of our personality from which we gain greatest strength”.


Albert Rackett, Building 3, 2009, pencil on paper, 41.5 x 32.5 in. / 106 x 82 cm


Art produced in asylums and mental health institutions, whether independently or through structured activities, tends to take on a particular characteristic, partly because of the setting, but also because of the purposes and motivations for which it is made. As Katrin Luchsinger said in Extraordinary! Unknown Works from Swiss Psychiatric Institutions around 1900: “They [the artworks] deal with existential issues; the choices of material more telling of their treatment, and our ideas of artistic inspiration have to be revised.” Hans Prinzhorn’s landmark book Artistry of the Mentally Ill was published in 1922 and brought the work of artists who were incarcerated and producing art in asylums into public view. Prinzhorn wrote to asylums across Germany, Austria and Switzerland asking them to share artwork being produced by patients. He recognised that the work sent to him was art and that there was much that could be learnt about creativity from studying the work – not as an outcome of a patient’s psychosis with no relevance apart from as a medical record. 




This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #117.

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