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Art of Insanity: An Analysis of Ten Schizophrenic Artists

by Hans Prinzhorn Solar Book
Pub Date:
Pbk 160 pages
AU$59.99 NZ$63.47
Product Status: Available in Approx 14 days
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Hans Prinzhorn (1886–1933) was a German psychiatrist and art historian. While working at the psychiatric hospital of the University of Heidelberg, Prinzhorn focused on adding to the hospital’s collection of artwork created by mentally ill patients. Making use of this collection, he published Bildnerei der Geisteskranken or Artistry of the Mentally Ill in 1922, a study of what he termed “schizophrenic art,” richly illustrated with examples of works from asylum inmates. After Max Ernst brought a copy to Paris, it became an essential influence for the Surrealists, who, inspired by Freud, had already begun to explore the unconscious through dreams and automatic writing, simulating madness in their lack of reason, logic, and structure. Prinzhorn’s theories, mainly concerned with the borderline between illness and self-expression, were a perfect fit for the Surrealist aesthetic.

At the center of Prinzhorn’s book were case studies of ten psychotic artists whom he refers to as the schizophrenic masters, for their “complete autistic isolation” and “gruesome solipsism.” The Art of Insanity collects these ten case histories along with over ninety original illustrations, and presents them in a new edition designed to focus on Prinzhorn’s unique, anthropological synthesis of psychoanalysis and art theory.

Alongside many fascinating and bizarre artworks that cannot be found elsewhere, The Art of Insanity makes available in English this influential and unusual study that was crucial to the eventual formulation of the Art Brut movement by Jean Dubuffet and André Breton, as well as the overall project of the Surrealists.
Hans Prinzhorn studied art history and philosophy at the University of Vienna, and in 1919 he became an assistant to Karl Wilmanns at the psychiatric hospital of the University of Heidelberg. When he left in 1921, he had extended the hospital's art collection, originally begun by Emil Kraepelin, to more than 5,000 works.