Throughout the twentieth century, autism has been variously interpreted and as a result has become a flexible signifier. Over the last decade, both the academic world and popular culture have paid particular attention to the self-expression of people living on the spectrum. On the occasion of the most recent exhibition in the Dr. Guislain Museum in Ghent, which put numerous autistic artists in the spotlight, Leni Van Goidsenhoven reflects on conceptual changes within autism discourse, the danger of the savant-rhetoric, cultural interventions and the category of “autistic art”. She moreover shows how Museum Guislain’s project experiments with autism and outsider art by incorporating playful elements.
Outsider Art: On the Importance of Repetition in the Artist’s Work and on the Traces of Matter in his Mastersignifier
In the context of the debate on the art value of outsider art (in the two following senses: valuable art versus devalued art, and the value of outsider art for art history) the author investigates the central place of repetition for the artist in the creative process. Firstly, the surplus-aesthetic-value of an outsider-work-of-art is partly assigned to the manifest repetition that is found in this work. Support for a connection between aesthetics and repetition is found, on the one hand, in the work of established artists like Andy Warhol and, on the other, in Lacan’s seminar L’ éthique de la psychanalyse (1959-1960). Secondly, repetition, as it manifests itself in art, is interpreted as being the frame of the fantasy that protects the subject but that also simultaneously compels him or her. This compulsive repetition is often related to the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father as anchoring point for the fantasy in the work of outsider art artists. Different forms of the repetitive and compulsive appearance of the Name-of-the-Father are illustrated using short vignettes about outsider art artists. Thirdly, the fundamental importance stressed of the material that is repeatedly and compulsively incorporated as object a is established. It is proposed that this material, via association, can be transformed into an independent thinking language from which, via repetition, the master signifier and the signature of the artist develop.
This paper explores what happens in the subject when creating visual art. It is argued on the first level that there are four steps in the creation process: (i) forming the image; (ii) creating the object; (iii) the decision to finish; and (iv) the separation. On a more advanced level, one needs to be aware of the essential difference between the status of the creative process in neurosis and psychosis. It is argued that within a neurotic structure the process of creation (sublimation) witnesses the acceptance by the subject of the emptiness of the Thing behind the object created, whereas within a psychotic structure visual expression should be considered a symptom, a therapeutic phenomenon. Insight is gained into the specific way in which linguistic mechanisms enter visualisation through the case of Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, a German psychotic outsider.
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.
On the Nature of the Creative Process in Art Brut, Reflections Inspired by the Work of Arthur Perreira
Starting from the viewpoint that Art Brut cannot be differentiated from professional art on the basis of an analysis of either its style or its content, the author questions the nature of the creative process in Art Brut, with reference to his observation of a psychotic artist and to the work of Jean Oury on Creation and Schizophrenia (1989). It is argued that in Art Brut there are three main elements: (i) the need to create which manifests itself as an attempt to cure; (ii) a characteristic attempt to communicate or to install a social bond; and (iii) endless repetition. However, while these elements may be particularly explicit in Art Brut and therefore suggest an interesting perspective for the study of the creative process in general, it is concluded that they do not in themselves constitute a set of distinctive criteria with which to differentiate “Art Brut” from professional art.