At 32 years of age, Aloïse Corbaz was made to live in a psychiatric asylum due to her diagnosis of schizophrenia. After she was admitted to the hospital, she began to experiment with creative writing and drawing. The artistic culture of Art Brut latched onto her as a prime example of the raw art and talent that can arise out of the imagination that is not influenced by the societal constraints and expectations of art.
In her time of painting, drawing, and writing, she created a large body of work, producing hundreds of pieces including full notebooks of writing, gigantic scrolls, and individual paintings. Her choice for medium included traditional lead, colored lead pencils, and crayons. She loved to work on both sides of the paper, canvas, or scroll as a part of her creative process.
Aloïse Corbaz and the Art Brut Movement
The Art Brut movement is one that celebrates what is being called outsider art or raw art. What is considered so special of this type of artwork is that it comes from the spirit in an unmitigated or filtered fashion. It is not subject to the expectations of schools of art or expectations of experts. The pure creativity and imagination shines through clearly. The wonderful aspect of Aloïse’s work is that she spent time hospitalized for schizophrenia but was not medicated, so she had full access to the various creative urges and forces pouring out of her.
The schizophrenic artwork of Ms. Corbaz has been on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne for the world to enjoy, and as the onlookers pondered over her work, the question began arising whether or not modern schizophrenia medications would have suppressed her creativity. The belief of many people is that these antidepressant and antipsychotic medications tend to destroy the creative impulse within those who need it to help reduce the negative symptoms associated with their complex internal world.
As discussed in another post here concerning schizophrenia and creativity, there has been some data arising out of publications providing support that there is a correlation between high creativity levels and individuals living with schizophrenia. The studies conclude that it is possibly the lower amount of dopamine receptors in the schizophrenic brain that create this boost in creativity because it leads to associations being made that are less common than in the minds of those with more dopamine receptors. The fear for those interested in creativity is that the antipsychotics help normalize the production and uptake of dopamine which inhibits these rare and strange associations from being made in the individual’s thoughts.
Pascale Marini, the man who curated the exhibition of Aloïse Corbaz’s work, reported to swissinfo.ch that he believed Ms. Corbaz would not be institutionalized in the present day but would have been medicated. She would not have had the protective and safe environment in which her art would thrive and flourish. She was allowed a total of 46 years work with her illness in safety through the creative arts.
Insight Into Aloïse Corbaz’s World
Aloïse started producing drawings very soon after she was admitted to the hospital in year of 1918. In the beginning for whatever reason, whether that be for reasons of fear or privacy, she began her art in secrecy. She wrote her thought and drew representations on scrap pieces of paper. After gaining trust with her orderlies, she was allowed full sized sheets of paper and sharp writing utensils such as crayons and eventually coloring pencils. These became the medium she used to represent her mind externally.
Many introverts dream of the reality Aloïse was allowed for herself. She was the grand architect, the master artisan of her internal world. She was on a permanent vacation, free from the external responsibilities of pursuing and maintaining a career, entertaining others, and the other maladies we all deal with. She was free to pursue her art and free herself from her torment by removing it from the inside and placing it on paper.
Aloïse Corbaz said, in regards to creativity, that it is “miraculous… the only source of perpetual ecstasy.”
The person responsible for coining and pushing the movement of Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet, visited Corbaz frequently for two decades and was of the opinion that it was her art that ultimately brought about a resolution of her mental illness and a cure to her suffering.
Details on Aloïse’s Life and Her Work
Aloïse Corbaz was born in Lausanne in 1886 where she spent much of her youth with the intention of becoming an opera star. Her dream was interrupted when she was made to move to Germany as a governess of children at the court of Emporer William II. It was in 1913 when she moved back to Switzerland that her delusions began.
Others began to notice her strange behavior and she was made to be interned in an asylum for schizophrenia in 1918. She continued the rest of her life hospitalized while fostering her natural skill for art.
Her artwork became so rich with symbolism and varying in size, up to very large-scale scrolls, that she was eventually celebrated as one of the three major influencers of the Art Brut style. She found herself at the forefront of this movement by using crayons, toothpaste, flower petals, and colored pencils.
Through the parameters set by her environment, she found ways to allow her creativity to break through regardless, ultimately creating at least 834 drawings, many of which are two-sided and contain writings as well. She was known to draw many animals and beautiful flowers in rich colors and often drew famous figures in history.