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Gilman, S.L. (2010). Hidden Gifts: The Mystery of Angus MacPhee. A film by Nick Higgins Icarus Films, 2005, 25 minutes.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 58(2):405-407.

(2010). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 58(2):405-407

Hidden Gifts: The Mystery of Angus MacPhee. A film by Nick Higgins Icarus Films, 2005, 25 minutes.

Review by:
Sander L. Gilman

“Art brut,” or as one of those interviewed in this film, the art therapist Joyce Laing, calls it, “art extraordinary,” is an obsession of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that has become a commonplace of the twenty-first. Who is any longer surprised by the naive, criminal, or mentally ill individual who produces art (and the galleries in which we find it)? The theme of such art, and the stated interpretation in this short and elegant film, is that “art brut” is created by short-circuiting the pathways between the unconscious and the work of art: such artists simply create, just as we simply dream. Our dreams are amorphous and are retained only in crude approximation in our narratives when we awake; these artists articulate in an unmediated manner the creative impulse. The film quite correctly argues that not all such artists are mentally ill and that not all of the mentally ill show creative impulses and abilities.

The case of the crofter Angus MacPhee (or McPhee: sources have it both ways), from South Uist in the Western Isles off Scotland, is an excellent case for the much more complex reading of both art and “art brut” in a short film that is self-consciously aware of the difficulties of both categories. MacPhee was invalided out of the British army in 1940 as someone unable to serve. In 1940 (after Dunkirk) this meant that he was already seriously compromised.

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