Between Insanity and Beauty - The Art Collection of Dr. Prinzhorn
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On Outsider Art and the Margins of the MainstreamBy Marcus Davies
While the hard-line approach of scientific inquiry came to a tragic head during the 1937 Entartete Kunst exhibition in Berlin, a more interdisciplinary, humanistic, and ultimately successful appraisal of the art of the outsider is evident in the career of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn (1886-1933). Trained in both psychiatry and art history, Prinzhorn’s approach to the art of the mentally ill, while still influenced by the diagnostic tendencies of his peers, bears the mark of an individual genuinely in awe of the “beauty, originality, and expressive intensity” underscoring the breadth of art works found within the clinics, hospitals and asylums of the time (MacGregor 1989:193). In his seminal book, Artistry of the Mentally Ill, first published in 1922, Prinzhorn strives to cast off the dominant paradigms equating genius with madness, arguing that, if a work may be said to constitute genius, judgment “by any fixed, outside standard” should have little bearing on its intrinsic and lasting value (Prinzhorn 1972:6). In light of this, Prinzhorn strives to examine his subjects, a vast collection of patients’ work from Europe and America held in the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic, on the basis of their own merits, “as free of prejudice as possible” (Prinzhorn 1972:6).