«In the early 20th century, two doctors produced highly influential writings on art created by patients in psychiatric hospitals, originally intended for medical research. Swiss psychiatrist Walter Morgenthaler was enthralled by the artworks of one of his long-term patients, Adolf Wölfli, which he analysed in his book A Mental Patient as Artist (1921); while German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn documented and collected thousands of artworks by his patients in Artistry of the Mentally Ill (1922). The latter became a tremendous influence on the Surrealist movement and other artists of the time, in particular Jean Dubuffet.
Dubuffet was one of the most influential French artists of the post-World War II era. After studying Prinzhorn’s essays, he became utterly fascinated with the art of the mentally ill, which held, in his eyes, incomparable qualities and represented the purest form of artistic creation. Entirely immersed in the concept, Dubuffet found an inexhaustible source of inspiration for his own art, and founded the Compagnie de l’Art Brut in 1948, with one of Surrealism’s most acclaimed figure, André Breton. With this organisation, Dubuffet sought to collect the works of these untrained artists, celebrating the raw quality untouched by academic rules and current trends with exhibitions and publications. He maintained that, because of its spontaneity and innocence, Art Brut was far superior to any other established genre marked by art-history.
Although it might have been considered as such, Art Brut was not solely the art of the psychologically troubled. Many works were indeed produced by asylum inmates, but Dubuffet explained in his manifesto that mental illness was not a criterion. Art Brut was instead meant to encompass the artistic creativity of minds sheltered from external influences, able to produce spontaneous and immediate artistic responses to their surroundings.»