The Discovery of the Art of the Insane

MacGregor, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn
  • Date of entry: Nov-30-2010
  • Last revised: Nov-27-2010


An engaging historical analysis of several aspects of the history of madness and art. It includes chapters on the history of

- the portrayal of mentally disturbed people;

- the idea that creative genius is enhanced by mental illness;

- architecture of psychiatric hospitals;

- art therapy; and

- the use of art as a semiotic tool for diagnosis.

Several case studies of individual artists, such as Richard Dadd or Adolf Wölfli are used to exemplify each theme. Special attention is given to artistic movements such as romanticism and expressionism. It is completed by excellent endnotes, a good bilbiography, and detailed annotated index.


The author trained as a psychoanalyst and is a former professor of the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. This book is a revision of his 1978 PhD dissertation in Art History at Princeton University. He has also published major contributions to “outsider art”  with lavishly illustrated, full-length studies of Henry Darger and Judith Scott.


Princeton University Press

Place Published

Princeton, NJ



Page Count