Madness as a Form of Knowledge: Pavel Ivanovich Karpov’s Creativity of the Mentally Ill

Within the span of only four years, two books on the same subject and with almost identical titles were published on two sides of Europe: Hans Prinzhorn’s Artistry of the Mentally Ill (Berlin, 1922) and Pavel Ivanovich Karpov’s Creativity of the Mentally Ill (Moscow, 1926). Whereas the first book was recognized as one of the key steps in the “discovery” of the psychotic art and its eventual mainstreaming, the second one quickly fell into obscurity. Its author perished in Stalinist purges of the 1930s, together with a number of his colleagues from the Russian Academy of Artistic Science (RAKhN, 1921-1931), in which he served as the head of the Commission for the Creativity of Mentally Ill. This article is the first in-depth study of Karpov’s book and his theory of creativity, which he based on his extensive collection of the works of his patients (which was also lost in the purges). The article argues that his approach to psychotic art is completely independent from Prinzhorn’s. Instead, it places this book in the context of the specific form of Kunstwissenschaft that was practiced in RAKhN, suggesting that this placement is of primary importance for understanding Karpov’s methods and aims. More specifically, the article argues that in his research on the creativity of the mentally ill, Karpov engages in a productive dialogue with the philosopher and prominent RAKhN member Gustav Shpet’s work on epistemology from the same period. The result is an original contribution to the clinical literature on art of the mentally ill patients.

ARTMargins, Volume 11, Issue 1-2, pp. 126-151.

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