What Is Art Brut?

In the 1940s, the French artist Jean Dubuffet coined the term “art brut.” The term “raw art” refers to work created untrained artists who work outside of traditional art and society’s conventions. Dubuffet began collecting artworks institutionalized mental patients, prisoners, and others whose art was disconnected from the restraints of society after being heavily influenced books detailing the art produced patients in insane asylums. In this raw art, Dubuffet believed, a pure form of art existed, springing directly from the depths of the artist’s psyche. By the end of the 1940s, he had collaborated with other artists on a collection of examples that would eventually become the “Collection de l’Art Brut,” which is now housed in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Dubuffet’s collection of brut art reflected the deepest fears and desires of institutionalized psychiatric patients and prisoners. The hospitalized artist’s crude drawings of counterfeit money on toilet paper, which she used to try to pay her psychiatrist, raise troubling questions about symbolism and irony. This example of brut art typifies the individual nature of these works and the driving personal necessity behind their creation. For the creators of art brut, the concepts of marketability and acceptance in the art world, which are daily concerns for mainstream artists, simply do not exist.

Although not quite the same as art brut, the term “outsider art” is widely used in the English-speaking world to describe similar art. Outsider art encompasses a broader range of subjects than Dubuffet’s obsession with insane asylum and prison art. In the strictest sense, art brut creators existed on the periphery of society, with no contact with academic institutions or galleries. Outsider artists, on the other hand, may lack formal art training but still live in society. Outsider artists, like the creators of raw art, are guided inner visions and their own sense of creativity rather than academic or professional art conventions.

All new forms of art, according to Dubuffet, are eventually assimilated into mainstream art. The art loses its power of original creativity as a result of this transformation. Outsider art, according to some in the art world, is causing this. The term is now used to market the works of any untrained or unconventional artist, rather than being restricted to visionaries or artists working completely outside of traditional artistic ideals. Many people believe that the growing acceptance and recognition of art brut and outsider art has transformed it from raw to popular art.