Art of Innocence

artofinnocenceArt of Innocence

A Privileged View into Private Worlds

by Joyce Marcel

Sixty years ago, Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) described a form of art he named ‘Art Brut’. This was art that was not based on established traditions or techniques. It did not follow styles or trends, and it was not made primarily to be sold for monetary gain. It is spontaneous, uninhibited, and maybe not even made as ”art.”

Art of Innocence

A Privileged View into Private Worlds

by Joyce Marcel

ArtofInnocencePicSixty years ago, Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) described a form of art he named ‘Art Brut’. This was art that was not based on established traditions or techniques. It did not follow styles or trends, and it was not made primarily to be sold for monetary gain. It is spontaneous, uninhibited, and maybe not even made as ”art.”

The appeal of this work, for Dubuffet and others before him, was the unselfconscious imagery born of pure, uninhibited expression. This art subverted the conscious efforts of the artist and dismissed premeditated ideas of what art should be and what it should represent.

In his attention to the artistic output of institutionalized people, Dubuffet was following in the footsteps of predecessors such as Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, a Viennese psychiatrist who had been trained as an art historian in the early twentieth century. Prinzhorn discussed the artistic output of the individuals partly in terms of representing an urge to communicate, to externalize imagination, emotions and responses.*

Every October two of the art therapists at the Brattleboro Retreat, Wendy Baxter and Sarah Balascio, mat, frame and exhibit a selected sample of their patients’ work at the Hooker Dunham Theater & Gallery in Brattleboro in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month. The show is called ‘Finding Strength in Making Art.’

”This is a way to bring the artwork that our patients are creating as part of their therapy and treatment here to the community at large, so they can see how art therapy plays a role in the healing process,” Baxter said.

The patients use art in many ways: as a calming technique, as a drawing-out of energy, as a welcome distraction from mental turmoil, and as a way of expressing themselves non-verbally.

”A lot of the time, the art work is the richest part of what they’re trying to express,” Balascio said.

Art made in therapy can be beautiful, powerful, innocent and moving. It can also be disturbing. Raw emotions of pain, agony, loneliness, love, and even hope are expressed. One deeply emotional painting on exhibit last year, done with acrylic paint and glitter, was a self-portrait of an adolescent girl struggling with her sense of self and her feelings of not belonging. In the picture, the eyes stare out at you, anguished and yet glittery, wide open and heavily outlined in black; the mouth is large, red and closed.

”All these images are art,” Baxter said. ”It’s not about judging whether it’s good or bad. Art is neither good or bad. It is. And different people are drawn to different works of art. We’re putting them on display as an example of the power of art. Some of the work would be aesthetically pleasing to every viewer, and some viewers would question ‘why is this here?’ But that’s the very question we want to interact with.”

None of these patients necessarily think of themselves as artists, and none of the work on display will be for sale.

”Art doesn’t need to be for sale to be art,” Baxter said. ”It’s valuable in its own right. It’s important for the community to see this, because then they can see how people at a point in their life that is very difficult are trying to survive. Where else are they going to have that opportunity?”

”Self expression is the whole point,” Balascio said.

The opportunity to view this work is special — an invitation to the public to view these private expressions and singular worlds.

Finding Strength in Making Art is on view October 2 through 31 at the Hooker-Dunham Gallery, 139 Main Atreet, Brattleboro.

Excerpted from: Katherine M. Murrell, ‘Art Brut: Origins and Interpretations,’ Singular Visions: Images of Art Brut from the Anthony Petullo Collection exhibition essay (2005).

Share This Post On