A term used by the French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created spontaneously. He identified this practice among psychiatric patients and children. It is also called 'outsider art'.

Jean Dubuffet Villa sur la route [Villa by the Road] 1957 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018.

Origins of Art Brut

Art Brut was initially termed by French artist and writer Jean Dubuffet in 1945, to describe a collection he was building of work by people other than artists, including children, visionaries, mediums and the untutored, an art style also often referred to as Outsider Art. For Dubuffet they were truly expressive, free from the constraints of academic training.

At the end of World War II many artists saw previous traditions reduced to rubble along with the rest of culture, with a sense that everyone would have to begin again. Dubuffet saw the innocent, unpretentious qualities of Art Brut as the ideal style for a new age. The term is also employed to describe Dubuffet’s own art; he was not an ‘outsider’ but came to art later in life at the age of 41, having had a previous career as a wine merchant, and attempted to incorporate Brut qualities into his own paintings.

The Art Brut Collection

Dubuffet was deeply affected by the Surrealists, particularly their fascination with work of the ‘insane’. During and after the Occupation in France a number of children’s art exhibitions were held, and in 1946 and 1950 a number of large post war exhibitions were put together of patients’ work at the St Anne psychiatric hospital in Paris.

In 1948 Dubuffet, Andre Breton and Michel Tapie along with several others established the Companie de L’Art Brut, a non-profit company set up to collect and study Art Brut, which is now housed in the museum, La Collection de l’Art Brut in the Swiss City of Lausanne. They were drawn to the uninhibited nature of Art Brut and its unselfconscious expression, including work by the Swiss schizophrenic Adolf Wolfli, who created a part-real, part-fantasy biography of text and illustrations while in his asylum cell. Also included was the work of housewife Madge Gill, a psychic who believed she was guided by an ‘unseen force’ called Myrninerest, to produce intricate drawings of girls’ faces. The Art Brut collection came from a variety of sources and Dubuffet aimed to be as democratic as possible. The first exhibition of the catalogue was held at the Galerie Rene Drouin in Paris in 1949.

Dubuffet’s Paintings

Within his own work Dubuffet was influenced by the discovery of the Lascaux cave paintings in 1940, as well as street graffiti, which he felt revealed a primal urge to produce art. Dubuffet also felt that art should be produced out of a ‘hard won’ struggle between the artist and his medium, as demonstrated in his haute pate paintings of the 1940s and 50s which mix paint with sand, tar and gravel and are scratched into with raw expressive marks, as seen in Villa sur la route (Villa by the Road), 1957. Later, his Hourloupe series from 1962-74 explored the process of creating ‘automatic’ doodles made without forethought, resembling Surrealist ideas, demonstrated in Disposif aux vaisselles (Dishwasher), 1965.

Art Brut Today

Dubuffet’s emphasis on intuitive, primal ways of making art and his avid collections of art that would have previously gone relatively unnoticed have linked him with a number of subsequent modern art movements, most notably Art Informel, CoBrA and Abstract Expressionism.

Artists

Jean Dubuffet
1901 - 1985
Scottie Wilson
1891 - 1972

Glossary terms

  • A literary and artistic movement that sought to challenge conventions through the exploration of the subconscious mind, invoking the power of dreams and elements of chance. It is now regarded as one of the most radical movements of the 20th century.