Art History Lab

Unleashing Authenticity: The Power and Influence of Art Brut

Art Brut is an interesting concept that has taken roots in the modern art world. It is an art movement that is designed to showcase the work of artists who fall outside the traditional art scene and are considered to be social outcasts.

In this article, we will delve into the meaning and history of Art Brut, particularly looking at Jean Dubuffet’s definition and its history. We will also explore Jean Dubuffet’s influence on Art Brut and Outsider Art, analyzing how he collected and expanded on the movement.

Jean Dubuffet’s Definition of Art Brut

Jean Dubuffet, the French artist and art theorist, coined the term “Art Brut” in 1945. The term translates to “raw art,” meaning that the art is created outside the traditional frameworks of the art world.

Dubuffet’s understanding was that Art Brut is created by individuals who are not formally trained or recognized by art institutions. The artists are often referred to as outsiders, misfits, and social outcasts.

Dubuffet believed that Art Brut was honest and not influenced by the contemporary culture. It was also original, as the artists were not guided by mainstream art movements.

In his writing, Dubuffet explained that Art Brut was not art “as one understands it in cultural circles,” but rather, it was a “product of the entire evolution of the human mind up to our time, untouched and uncontaminated by artistic culture.”

The term Art Brut is often used interchangeably with Outsider Art, which refers to art created by people who are not part of the mainstream art world. Examples of Outsider Artists include patients in mental institutions, religious cult members, and street performers.

History of Art Brut

Art Brut has its roots in the early 20th-century art movements, particularly Der Blaue Reiter in Germany and the works of the Austrian artist and psychiatrist, Hans Prinzhorn. In 1922, Prinzhorn published a book titled “Artistry of the Mentally Ill,” which featured the works of mentally ill individuals.

Prinzhorn’s book greatly influenced the Surrealists in Paris, who saw the works as avant-garde. In the 1940s, Jean Dubuffet began collecting Art Brut works, and he expanded on the movement by organizing exhibitions, publishing books, and founding the Compagnie de l’Art Brut.

The earliest artist Dubuffet discovered was Adolf Wlfli, whose intricate works he found in a Swiss mental institution. Dubuffet’s collection of Art Brut works grew, and he showcased them in exhibitions around Europe.

The movement was popularized globally in 1951 when Dubuffet’s exhibition in Paris, “Anticultural Positions,” was reviewed by American critic Harold Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s article brought Art Brut to the attention of the American art world.

Art Brut gained a considerable following in America, and artists, collectors, and curators began showing an interest in Outsider Art. By the 1960s, Art Brut exhibitions were being held in museums and galleries around the world, and it had become a recognized art movement.

Jean Dubuffet’s Influence on Art Brut and Outsider Art

Jean Dubuffet’s Collection and Expansion

Jean Dubuffet’s collection of Art Brut works expanded over the years, and he did not limit himself to mentally ill patients. He collected works by prisoners, children, and other individuals who created art outside the traditional art world.

Dubuffet believed that there was art in everything, and he collected works that he felt were authentic and original. Dubuffet played a significant role in the Art Brut movement, expanding its reach and legitimizing it in the art world.

He organized exhibitions, wrote books, and founded organizations that promoted Art Brut. Dubuffet’s role in the Art Brut movement inspired other artists, collectors, and curators to explore Outsider Art.

Formation and Dissolution of the Compagnie de l’Art Brut

In 1948, Jean Dubuffet founded the Compagnie de l’Art Brut, an organization that brought together artists, writers, and interested parties to develop and promote Art Brut. The organization was primarily composed of Surrealists, who were drawn to Art Brut’s raw and nonconformist nature.

However, disagreements within the organization led to its eventual dissolution in 1951. The Compagnie de l’Art Brut did not have a clear mandate, and disputes erupted over its direction.

The Surrealists were unhappy with Dubuffet’s approach to Art Brut, which they saw as being too commercialized. Dubuffet, on the other hand, wanted to legitimize Art Brut in the art world and believed that commercialization was necessary.


In conclusion, Art Brut, or Outsider Art, is an art movement that is characterized by its raw nature and created outside the traditional art world. It is a movement that has its roots in early 20th-century art movements, particularly Der Blaue Reiter and the works of Hans Prinzhorn.

Jean Dubuffet was instrumental in popularizing Art Brut and Outsider Art and legitimizing it in the art world. Dubuffet’s definition of Art Brut, his collection, and expansion of Outsider Art, and the formation and dissolution of the Compagnie de l’Art Brut are examples of his influence on the movement.

Art Brut is a fascinating art movement that continues to inspire artists, collectors, and curators worldwide.

Art Brut Goes Mainstream

Rise of Art Brut

In the mid-20th century, Art Brut began to find its way into mainstream art circles. The rise of Art Brut is attributed to the influence of Jean Dubuffet, whose collecting and exhibiting of Art Brut works attracted a growing audience.

During this time, mainstream painters and artists like Pablo Picasso and Jean Miro began incorporating elements of Art Brut into their work, which helped to legitimize the movement in the art world. In many ways, Art Brut can be seen as a reaction to the conventional and intellectualized nature of mainstream art.

By contrast, Art Brut was characterized by its rawness, directness, and lack of formal training. Its emphasis on the individual, and its unconventionality, is what contributed to its appeal to mainstream artists.

The works of Art Brut artists were often primitive, childlike, or downright naive, and they appealed to those who sought an alternative to the status quo of the art world. Additionally, Art Brut was often associated with primitive art, a form of art that was becoming popular at the time.

Primitive art was seen as an antidote to the overly intellectualized and complex art in the modern world. Artists who were interested in primitive art were drawn to the directness, vitality, and purity of Art Brut works.

Reactions to Sociopolitical Context

The rise of Art Brut coincided with a period of tumultuous world events, including World War II and its aftermath. The Nazi regime in Germany had begun to identify and target people with disabilities for extermination, under the guise of eugenics.

In the wake of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the war, many people began to re-examine mainstream scientific ideologies and question the so-called truths of modern society. It was in this context that Art Brut emerged as a rejection of the established art world, which was seen as elitist and exclusive.

By championing the works of those who were outside the mainstream, Art Brut became a statement against the political injustices of the time. In many ways, the darkness of the time spurred a desire to exclude societys perceived unwanted elements.

For example, all those who were not white and Aryan were typically marginalized and mistreated. In response, Art Brut gave these ostracized groups a powerful voice and demonstrated that some of their works had value.

The Concept of Outsider Art

Roger Cardinal’s Definition of Outsider Art

Roger Cardinal is a British writer who played a pivotal role in defining the concept of Outsider Art. His 1972 book, “Outsider Art,” is considered a seminal work on the subject.

Cardinal’s definition of Outsider Art describes a kind of art that is created by self-taught artists outside professional institutions, such as asylums, prisons, or other settings. According to Cardinal, Outsider Art represents the cultural expressions of those who are typically considered on the margins of society.

This can include individuals with an array of psychological and physical ailments who propose a different form of society altogether.

Characteristics and Themes of Outsider Art

Outsider Art is typically characterized by a number of distinctive features that differentiate it from mainstream art. The first is that Outsider Art is created by self-taught artists who are often socially, economically, or psychologically marginalized.

Because of this, Outsider Art is often highly individualistic and is characterized by dynamic, personal expression. The second characteristic of Outsider Art is that it is often unconventional in terms of style, technique, and materials.

Outsider artists use whatever materials are at hand or are easily accessible, resulting in works that are less polished and more basic. The third characteristic of Outsider Art is its focus on psychological illness or eccentricity.

Many Outsider Art works capture the inner worlds of their creators and showcase their individual psyches. These works often feature powerful, unresolved emotions or are visual expressions of struggles with mental disorders.


Art Brut and Outsider Art have become powerful and valuable art movements over the years. The rise of Art Brut, led by Jean Dubuffet, coincided with both the rejection of traditional art and an increased desire to include underrepresented voices and themes.

Meanwhile, Outsider Art, a wholly separate but related movement, is notable for its focus on individualism, unpredictability, and unconventional use of materials. Together, these movements represent a unique and important facet of the art world, one that continues to inspire and influence artists to this day.

Art Brut Concepts and Accomplishments

Concepts in Art Brut

The concepts underlying Art Brut are complex, yet they are what give the movement its unique character and appeal. At its core, Art Brut aims to promote and celebrate works made by those individuals who fall outside the mainstream art scene.

Here are some of the fundamental concepts in Art Brut:

Authenticity: Art Brut values authenticity and champions the creation of art that is untouched by outside influences, cultural clichs, or trends. Art Brut artists often create works that are raw, primal, and direct.

Pureness: Art Brut celebrates the purity of the creative process, derived from the artists’ unique individuality, without interference from the outside world. This celebration informs the spirit of Art Brut and distinguishes it from other art movements.

Unifying Element: Art Brut aims to provide a unifying element that bridges the gap between outsiders and the broader society by advocating for seeing their collective value. Medium: Art Brut celebrates the diversity of media that artists use to express themselves.

In Art Brut, the medium is viewed as an extension of the artist’s expression, rather than a limiting factor.

Achievements in Art Brut

Despite its unusual style and unconventional approach, Art Brut has produced some of the most memorable and significant works of art of the 20th century. Here are some of the most notable achievements of Art Brut:

Breakthrough moments: For many artists, the creation of an Art Brut work involves a “breakthrough moment” that helps them channel their eccentric talents and experiences.

These moments signal a turning point in an artist’s life, while the artwork produced often reflects a newfound clarity of vision. Heightened Connectedness: Art Brut, by championing the unique and individual qualities of outsiders, often provides a degree of connectedness between the internal experience of the artist and the larger internal experience of humanity.

Inner calm: Many Art Brut works exude a profound sense of inner calm and tranquility. The works often include themes of peace, quiet, and stillness.

Surrealism: Art Brut was influenced by Surrealism, a 20th-century art movement that celebrated the irrational, subconscious, and the fantastical. The works of Art Brut artists are often characterized by intense, dreamlike imagery and playful, naive innocence.


Art Brut is an exciting and unique art movement that celebrates the creativity and individuality of those outside the mainstream art world. The concepts of authenticity, pureness, medium, and unifying elements, all play a crucial role in this celebration.

From its emphasis on the authentic, it aims to offer a sense of connectedness between the internal experience of the artist and the larger human experience. The achievements of Art Brut are undeniablefrom breakthrough moments and inner calm in works to its impact on Surrealismit continues to inspire and influence contemporary artists today.

In conclusion, Art Brut is an important and influential art movement that celebrates the creativity and authenticity of artists outside the mainstream art world. Jean Dubuffet’s definition and collection of Art Brut works helped popularize the movement and bring it into the mainstream.

The rise of Art Brut coincided with a rejection of conventional art and a desire to include marginalized voices. The concepts of authenticity, pureness, unifying elements, and medium play a significant role in Art Brut.

Its achievements include breakthrough moments, heightened connectedness, inner calm, and its impact on Surrealism. As a result, Art Brut continues to inspire and influence artists today, reminding us of the power of individual expression and the importance of celebrating diverse perspectives in the art world.

Popular Posts