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Mitchell, S.D. (2016). Outsider Artists at Work. Psychoanal. Perspect., 13(3):353-361.
  

(2016). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 13(3):353-361

Outsider Artists at Work

Samantha Dylan Mitchell, MFA

The Center for Creative Works is an art studio for adults with developmental disabilities just outside of Philadelphia. None of the art staff–who are the primary source of services, contact, and interaction for CCW participants–have training in psychology or social work. We are not tasked with therapy or rehabilitation, and thus none of us have been trained on the complexities of the diagnoses of participants. Instead, the point of interactive contact is based solely in interpersonal engagement, and in visual art.

I started working at CCW in the summer of 2012, after completing an MFA in painting. What we know of the people we work with is mostly from what we experience first-hand, uninformed by medical histories, preconceived ideas about mental illness and developmental disability, or a focus on fixing perceived problems. Instead, we learn to adapt and develop in conjunction with the participating artists. With art as a conduit for communication, our relationships and experiences of each other are based in visual interpretation and approach to material. The artwork that emerges from this environment is exciting, and entirely unique. Without formal aesthetic training, and oftentimes without an idea of what an artist must be, creation comes from a fluid transfer of impulse to action.

The field of outsider art has developed since the early 20th century, when psychologists and artists became interested in artwork created by psychiatric patients. At present, “outsider” can be meant to include folk artists, self-taught artists, mentally ill artists, developmentally disabled artists, physically disabled artists, and untrained artists.

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