Between Madness and Art: The Prinzhorn Collection

Directed by Christian Beetz

75 minutes / Color
/ English subtitles
Release: 2008
Copyright: 2007

What is the link between psychological states and the creative process? Is there a relationship between psychosis and the artistic impulse? What can art works produced by mental patients tell us about artistic genius? Can art therapy be helpful in the treatment of the mentally ill?

BETWEEN MADNESS AND ART examines these issues through the story of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn (1886-1933), a German student of psychiatry and art history. As Director of the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic in the 1920s, he was fascinated by the beauty and expressiveness of the drawings, paintings and sculptures of his schizophrenic patients. He began to study and preserve this art, eventually writing a seminal study, Artistry of the Mentally Ill, and by the time of his death had organized the largest collection of its type in the world.

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After Prinzhorn's death, the Nazis displayed some of his patients' works for their 1937 exhibit of "degenerate art." Forgotten for many years, the Prinzhorn Collection was rediscovered in 1963, toured Europe, Asia and the U.S., and has led to a reevaluation of what today is known as "outsider art."

The film tells this remarkable story through archival footage, profiles of Prinzhorn's patient-artists, footage of their art works, and interviews with psychotherapists, doctors, artists, curators, two contemporary outpatient artists and the collection's current director.

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In its examination of the relationship between mental states and the creative urge, BETWEEN MADNESS AND ART raises serious questions about our current definitions of both art and illness.

"Excellent… an engaging, informative film." Roy Behrens, Ballast

"Fascinating… sensitive… tells the story of Prinzhorn and his collection beautifully." Leonardo Online Reviews

"Raises many fascinating issues… powerful and poignant." Dean Keith Simonton, PsycCRITIQUES, American Psychological Association

"Fascinating."—DOX Magazine

"Careful craftsmanship and aesthetic intelligence."—Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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Select Accolades

  • 2009 WPA Western Psychological Association Conference
  • 2008 Adolf Grimme Award


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