In the Autumn of 1977, pioneering Scottish art therapist Joyce Laing and her photographer, set out on a one-week mission to visit as many mental hospitals and old asylum sites in Scotland as possible, in order to collect their very own ‘Art Brut’ collection; a search that Joyce still continues to the present day. Starting at Craig Dunain Hospital near Inverness and following Jean Dubuffet’s definition as art created outside the boundaries of official culture, Joyce searched in hospital wards, gardens, outbuildings, under hedges and inside skips in order to find a range of work which she now labels ‘Art Extraordinary’.
Joyce notes that Art Extraordinary is rare and usually refers to ‘visual forms created by artists, usually with no formal art education or training, whose work arise from an inner necessity impelled by intense personal vision’ (Art Extraordinary, 2014). The works produced may come from individuals from all walks of life, although many tend to be created by people that have experienced institutional care and mental health difficulties.
The side bar images used on our blog site were collected on Joyce’s journey and are some of the earliest pieces in the Art Extraordinary collection dating from the late 19th century. Collected from the Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen, these pieces and the journey they continue to travel tell an interesting story about the changing nature of institutional care in Scotland. Although the artist remains unknown, the work opens up avenues of insight into the spaces of mental health care in the present and the past. Yet, the histories that the work reveals, in the same moment as opening up possibilities, also highlights tensions between mental ill-health, institutionalisation and the arts which remains a key site of examination in our research cluster.
This work is part of a lager project undertaken by Cheryl McGeachan and funded by the British Academy entitled ‘A Tapestry of Tales: Investigating the Historical Geographies of Art Therapy and ‘Art Extraordinary’ in Scotland (1950-1980).
Art Extraordinary (2014) Art Extraordinary Trust (last accessed, 23/06/14)