Mental Illness

Any definition of what constitutes ‘outsider art’, or art brut, is elusive. The boundaries of this ‘category’ are notoriously porous. There is no manifesto, no consistent medium, nor is it especially tied to any single period in time. However, it can be argued that outsider art is often regarded as art created by those on the margins of society, such as people in psychiatric hospitals, in prison, or the disabled. Outsider artists are also usually self-taught. For several decades, Anthony Mannix has been at the forefront of Australian outsider art, his particular qualification for the label being serious mental illness (though the term ‘illness’, as The Toy of the Spirit implores, is problematic). Mannix was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the mid-1980s, and spent periods as a patient in psychiatric hospitals over the next decade. Now based in the Blue Mountains, he has been free of schizophrenic episodes for many years.

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Madness ‘haunts all of our imaginations’, writes Andrew Scull in Psychiatry and Its Discontents, but it is more than a nightmare. Each year, one in five Australians will experience mental illness, according to the Black Dog Institute, and the World Health Organization warns that one in four globally will experience a mental or neurological disorder during their lifetime. The essays gathered here, however, raise grave doubts about the psychiatric knowledge and practice upon which these epidemiologies are based.

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