Mind Hacks has just linked to a great article regarding how the psychiatrists, art critics and historians have viewed the artworks produced by those who are mentally disturbed. While the psychiatrists were initially more concerned about discerning the patterns of mental disturbance from the artworks, the artistic community saw these artworks in more romantic light and as liberating and also found inspiration from them.
What concerns me here more is the themes or stylistics of the artworks produced by those who were insane (mostly psychotic patients).
For his book Lombroso collected 108 patients whom he considered to show artistic tendencies. Like Benjamin Rush he noted that insanity was able ‘to transform into painters persons who have never been accustomed to handle a brush’. Lombroso examined the work of the mad, looking for distinctive features, and concluded that there were certain recognizable characteristics of insane art. These included such features as ‘eccentricity’, ‘symbolism’, ‘minuteness of detail’, ‘obscenity’, ‘uniformity’ and ‘absurdity’.
In 1965, Leo Navratil, an Austrian psychiatrist, published Schizophrenia and Art. Navratil held that artistic expression was a symptom of schizophrenia, and that this expression could bring about a healing process. Navratil described four main features—formalization; deformation; use of symbols; and a tendency to impose facial interpretations on shapes.
Some of the distinguishing features identified for Schizophrenic art are symbolism and finding and imposing patterns (seeing faces in cloud shapes for example) on not-normally-related stimuli/ shapes. This gels nicely with my earlier accounts of schizophrenia being one extreme type of creative thinking characterized by too much use of symbols and too much discerning of patterns and agency as contrasted with the more realistic and non-agency / no-correlation-is-causation type of Autistic and scientific thinking styles. Also the formalization in schizophrenic art corroborates with the emphasis on emphasis on abstract thinking in schizophrenia. Thus it seems that Schizophrenia and Autism are just two extreme manifestations of the normally creative, but different, thinking styles used by those who are artists and those who are scientists.