Aims - To examine earlier uses and abuses of artworks by individuals living with severe mental illnesses, and particularly schizophrenia by both the psychiatric and arts communities and prevailing stereotypes associated with such practices. Further, to explore alternative constructions of the artworks and roles of the artist with schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses, which may be more consistent with amore contemporary recovery orientation, encompassing their potentials for empowerment, social inclusion as citizens and legitimacy of their cultural role in the community. Results - Earlier practices with regardto the artworks of captive patients of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, art therapists, occupational and diversional therapists, often emphasised diagnostic or interpretive purposes, or were used to gauge progress or exemplify particular syndromes. As artists and art historians began to take an interest in such artworks, they emphasised their expressive, communicative and aesthetic aspects, sometimes in relation to primitive art. These efforts to ascribe value to these works, while well-meaning, were sometimes patronising and vulnerable to perversion by totalitarian regimes, which portrayed them as degenerate art, often alongside the works of mainstream modernist artists. This has culminated in revelations that the most prominent European collection of psychiatric art still contains, and appears to have only started to acknowledge since these revelations, unattributed works by hospital patients who were exterminated in the so-called “euthanasia” program in the Nazi era. Conclusions - Terms like Psychiatric Art, Art Therapy, Art Brut and Outsider Art may be vulnerable to abuse and are a poor fit with the aspirations of artists living with severe mental illnesses, who are increasingly exercising their rights to live and work freely, without being captive, or having others controlling their lives, or mediating and interpreting their works. They sometimes do not mind living voluntarily marginal lives as artists, but they prefer to live as citizens, without being involuntarily marginalised by stigma. They also prefer to live with culturally valued roles which are recognised as legitimate in the community, where they are also more likely to heal and recover.
Declaration of Interest: This paper was completed during a Visiting Fellowship, Department of Social Medicine, School of Public Health, & Department of Medical Anthropology, Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass, USA. A condensed version of this paper is published in “For Matthew & Others: Journeys with Schizophrenia”, Dysart, D, Fenner, F, Loxley, A, eds. Sydney, University of New South Wales Press in conjunction with Campbelltown Arts Centre & Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith, 2006, to accompany with a large exhibition of the same name, with symposia & performances, atseveral public art galleries in Sydney & Melbourne, Australia. The author is also a printmaker, partly trained at Ruskin School, Oxford, Central St. Martin's School, London, and College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney.