Outsider Art and Psychiatry in the Late Soviet Period





Outsider Art, Art Brut, art of the mentally ill, Soviet psychiatry, punitive psychiatry, Soviet culture


This article examines the discourse surrounding the Soviet Outsider Art of the 1970s–1980s. The author analyses the characteristics of scientific and scholarly approaches to, and definitions of, Soviet Оutsider Аrt, and the relationship of this phenomena to the contemporary political situation. The research methodology relies on the theory of discourse and discourse analysis, which makes it possible to examine texts and events from highly different fields as parts of an interconnected system. The innovative character of the study lies in the fact that, for the first time, the author considers the discourse of Soviet Оutsider Аrt from the perspective of Soviet policy and international affairs. The lack of specialized works that study Soviet Оutsider Аrt makes the article relevant and innovative. Researchers have not previously considered the connection between Soviet foreign policy, ideology, punitive psychiatry, and the discourse surrounding Outsider Art. In the 1970s, the creative process of the mentally ill became a topic of interest for Soviet psychiatry. The drawings of psychiatric patients were treated as vehicles of their creative impulses and utilized in psychiatric research for diagnostic purposes. Soviet psychiatrists compared the creative abilities of the mentally ill with various artistic movements, primarily surrealism; however, their vocabulary and analytic approach remained strictly psychiatric in nature. The 1980s gave rise to significant interest in this topic by a larger audience, in connection with a rethinking of artistic languages and the creative process. There was a dual attempt to dispel the reputation of “punitive psychiatry” and a growing understanding of the importance of “otherness” in art. Orienting to the discourse of key texts, this article reveals a gradual shift from the language of psychiatry to art in academic and journalistic texts devoted to Outsider Art in the 1970s–1980s.

Author Biography

Anna Suvorova

Dr. Hab. (Art History), Professor, Herzen University.

48, Moika Embankment, 191186, St Petersburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-6421-8514



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How to Cite

Suvorova, A. (2024). Outsider Art and Psychiatry in the Late Soviet Period. Quaestio Rossica, 12(2), 461–472. https://doi.org/10.15826/qr.2024.2.889



Problema voluminis