0
Get Alert
Please Wait... Processing your request... Please Wait.
You must sign in to sign-up for alerts.

Please confirm that your email address is correct, so you can successfully receive this alert.

1
Book Forum   |    
Beyond Reason: Art and Psychosis: Works From the Prinzhorn Collection
Reviewed by JOSEPH J. SCHILDKRAUT, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2000;157:2068-a-2070. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.157.12.2068-a
View Author and Article Information

By Bettina Brand-Claussen, Inge Jádi, and Caroline Douglas. Berkeley, Calif., University of California Press in association with the Hayward Gallery, London, 1998, 195 pp., $35.00 (paper).

Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, born in June 1886, studied art history at the University of Vienna, obtaining a doctorate in 1908. He then undertook voice studies in England, planning a career as a singer. In his late 20s, he trained in medicine and psychiatry, serving as an Army surgeon during World War I. In 1919, he joined the staff of the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic, which had a small collection of the art of patients with psychosis. The origins of the collection may be traced back to Emil Kraepelin, Director of the Heidelberg Clinic from 1890 to 1903. Having worked under Kraepelin, Dr. Karl Wilmanns, the clinic director who hired Prinzhorn, planned to enlarge the collection and publish a study of these works of art. Prinzhorn, with his training in art history as well as psychiatry, was uniquely qualified to carry out these plans (1).

Within several years, Prinzhorn assembled "the largest and finest" collection of art by psychotic patients in Europe; he went on to use this material for a "revolutionary new publication," Artistry of the Mentally Ill(2). "Reaction to the book was such that Prinzhorn’s reputation was established by it; he became famous overnight" (1). Prinzhorn, however, left the Heidelberg Clinic in 1921, before the publication of the book, at which time the collection included some 5,000 works of art (by about 500 patients) that had been collected from about 1890 to 1920 (1). These works came mainly from European psychiatric institutions. Although the collection was intended to serve as an archive for research in art and psychiatry, some time after Prinzhorn’s death in 1933 it was packed away and stored in the hospital attic. There it remained until recent decades, when it was restored, catalogued, and made available for exhibition. Beyond Reason: Art and Psychosis: Works From the Prinzhorn Collection is the catalogue of an exhibition held in London’s Hayward Gallery, December 5, 1996, to February 23, 1997. The present volume, containing three essays and 186 photographs, 155 of which are in color, was published by the University of California Press in association with the Hayward Gallery in 1998.

The first essay, "The Collection of Works of Art in the Psychiatric Clinic, Heidelberg—From the Beginnings Until 1945," by Bettina Brand-Claussen, assistant curator of the Prinzhorn Collection, provides a revisionist account of the events that led to the expansive development of the Prinzhorn Collection. Asserting that "only Hans Prinzhorn has given his version of the events," the author states that Wilmanns’s contribution to enlarging the collection was greater than had previously been assumed. Contrary to Prinzhorn’s claim of spontaneous production of art, Brand-Claussen describes how patients were encouraged to produce works of art and asserts that "many patients—more than Prinzhorn was prepared to admit—had prior notions of visual design and imagery from school, from drawing lessons, or from craft or technical training." She goes on to state, "Prinzhorn’s notion of unconscious creativity stands revealed as a case of Expressionistic wishful thinking." In writing Artistry of the Mentally Ill(2), Prinzhorn was aware that he was competing with similar efforts elsewhere, e.g., Morgenthaler’s monograph on Adolf Wölfli (3), which was originally published in 1921. Prinzhorn’s "publicity campaign" for his own book and his derisive comments about Morgenthaler’s efforts are described in Brand-Claussen’s essay.

Summing up Prinzhorn’s accomplishments, Brand-Claussen writes, "Prinzhorn’s book was ultimately about art" not psychiatry.

For all its occasional absurdities, Prinzhorn’s Artistry [of the Mentally Ill] is a unique and finely presented work…it was his achievement to rescue previously despised works from the psychopathological and diagnostic clutches of his colleagues and—by virtue of their psychological origins in the "deepest strata" of the mind—to place them on an equal footing with "professional" art.

She goes on to note, however, that with the exception of one related publication, Prinzhorn failed to pursue any of the studies that he had projected as sequels to Artistry of the Mentally Ill. Brand-Claussen concludes this essay with a discussion of the Prinzhorn Collection during the Nazi regime, when the "art of the insane," as found in the Prinzhorn Collection, was linked to "degenerate" Modernist art. The Nazi dogma that "everything regarded as ‘degenerate’ should be destroyed" led to the murder of some of the artists featured in the Prinzhorn Collection.

The second essay, by Inge Jádi, curator of the Prinzhorn Collection, is titled "Points of View—Perspectives—Horizons." In this thoughtful essay, Jádi raises a number of questions concerning the preservation and presentation of the Prinzhorn Collection and discusses works in the collection in relation to "Art Brut," a term introduced by Jean Dubuffet to describe art by nonprofessional artists, particularly art created by children, psychotic patients, and others, where the artistic impulse seems to appear in a raw state. Art Brut, the author notes, "derives from an outsider existence," and "the work and the person are an inseparable whole."

Art in the Prinzhorn Collection, as well as much of Art Brut, writes Jádi, cannot be presented (as can "official art") in exhibitions and books, which lose "an essential quality of these works: their inseparability from the artists’ existence as a whole." In discussing works by one of the patients, Jádi notes that "they were not conceived [as works of art]…but compulsively produced under imminent threat of extinction, as a weapon to ward off death." She notes that this "is an art born in pain and against the artist’s will," whereas in professional art, the "experience of suffering endured, and its materialization in the work, becomes the artist’s treasury, upon which he/she draws."

Jádi discusses the chaotic state in which she found the Prinzhorn Collection when she first took charge of it in the early 1970s. Describing it as a "sheer overwhelming mountain of material," she notes that the "work of these patients is itself causally linked with chaos." This resonance, she recognizes, is now "lost as a result of the scholarly cataloguing [and] conservatorial care" that subsequently occurred.

The title of the final essay, "Precious and Splendid Fossils," by Caroline Douglas, is taken from Benjamin Rush’s description of the artistic production of mental patients. Douglas describes the intellectual climate at the time when Prinzhorn worked on this collection: Romanticism, with its elevation of "the madman [into] a kind of hero in touch with a reality somehow more vivid and authentic," the discovery of African sculpture and the spiritual power perceived in these works, the advent of Expressionist art and thought, the social anxiety aroused by the migration to the city and away from "traditional" rural communities, and the evolution of psychiatric theory and treatment. Prinzhorn, she writes, "sought to establish scientific principles for a universal theory of the ‘Psychological Foundations of Pictorial Configuration,’" bringing what "had been deemed pathological into the realms of art." Regrettably, Douglas writes, Prinzhorn’s selection of examples of the art of the mentally ill may have been biased toward the works that conformed to his theories.

In concluding this essay, Douglas raises the possibility that some of the patients whose art is included in the Prinzhorn Collection may have had what we would now classify as manic-depressive disorder rather than schizophrenia. She goes on to note that creative work can provide "a way of channeling the frenzy of ideas, associations and images that are often produced in manic phases," while depression may provide a counterbalance "by slowing down thought and feeling, allowing for reflection and focus." In any event, she writes, "the works of Prinzhorn’s masters" present "a new view of reality, born out of…the terrible suffering that always accompanies mental illness." The painful truth of this assertion is made evident by the works of art reproduced in this volume.

MacGregor JM: The Discovery of the Art of the Insane. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1989
 
Prinzhorn H: Artistry of the Mentally Ill (1922). New York, Springer, 1994
 
Hirshfeld AJ, Schildkraut JJ: Book review: W Morgenthaler: Madness and Art: The Life and Works of Adolf Wölfli. Am J Psychiatry 1995; 152:1094–  1095
 
+

References

MacGregor JM: The Discovery of the Art of the Insane. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1989
 
Prinzhorn H: Artistry of the Mentally Ill (1922). New York, Springer, 1994
 
Hirshfeld AJ, Schildkraut JJ: Book review: W Morgenthaler: Madness and Art: The Life and Works of Adolf Wölfli. Am J Psychiatry 1995; 152:1094–  1095
 
+
+

CME Activity

There is currently no quiz available for this resource. Please click here to go to the CME page to find another.
Submit a Comments
Please read the other comments before you post yours. Contributors must reveal any conflict of interest.
Comments are moderated and will appear on the site at the discertion of APA editorial staff.

* = Required Field
(if multiple authors, separate names by comma)
Example: John Doe



Related Content
Books
Gabbard's Treatments of Psychiatric Disorders, 4th Edition > Chapter 22.  >
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, 4th Edition > Chapter 49.  >
Textbook of Traumatic Brain Injury, 2nd Edition > Chapter 11.  >
Gabbard's Treatments of Psychiatric Disorders, 4th Edition > Chapter 1.  >
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, 4th Edition > Chapter 49.  >
Topic Collections
Psychiatric News
PubMed Articles