On the Status of Outsider Art: Traces of a Critical Reflection

From a background in art history, more specifically, from a background of research in contemporary art and the state of art during and after WWII, the author starts with the observation that a sharp delineation between the creative expression of psychiatric patients and art is difficult to determine in some cases. A description of the status of outsider art needs to take into account that, on the one hand, to collect the plastic expression of psychiatric patients, naive art, folk art, popular culture and ethnic or tribal art under one umbrella is untenable and that, on the other, every form of expression could occupy its specific place in the field of tension between art and psychiatry. It is argued that the plastic expression of psychiatric patients, beyond its private status and provided one takes into account the ethical rules, has a dynamic status depending on the angle from which it is approached. From this perspective the plastic expression of psychiatric patients can be considered as: (i) self expression with a psycho-medical and private status which in the context of possible relevant research belongs partially to the public domain; (ii) the result of the intersubjective or social dynamic with mixed (private and public) status or possible socio-cultural status; (iii) object of aesthetic experience with a public and social status; (iv) stimulus for artists in their exploration of the language of expression, and; (v) commercial and collectible object.