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MacGregor, John M. 1941-

MacGREGOR, John M. 1941-

PERSONAL: Born March 14, 1941, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; son of Charles Edward (a welder) and Florence Grace (a church secretary; maiden name, Eaman) MacGregor. Education: McGill University, B.A. (with honors), 1966; Princeton University, M.A., 1969, Ph.D., 1978.

ADDRESSES: Home—4845 17th St., San Francisco, CA 94117.

CAREER: Ontario College of Art, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, professor of psychology of art, 1971-85; writer. Art historian, independent scholar, art exhibit organizer, and psychotherapist; lecturer at numerous universities, art institutions, and associations in the United States, Canada, England, and Switzerland; visiting scholar at the School of Psychiatry of the Menninger Foundation, 1969-70, and with Anna Freud at the Hampstead Clinic, 1975-76.

AWARDS, HONORS: Canada Council research fellow, 1975; Pro Helvetia fellow, 1987; Ernst Kris Award, American Society of Psychopathology of Expression, 1990.


The Discovery of the Art of the Insane, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1989.

Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott: The Outsider Artist and the Experience of Down's Syndrome, Creative Growth Art Center (Oakland, CA), 1999.

Also author of catalog essays, including L'Art Brut: Images of an Alter World, and Outsiders and Insiders: Parallel Visions in Modern Art. Contributor of essays and articles to numerous periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: In addition to his formal education in art history, John M. MacGregor has researched and trained in the fields of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, psychology, and the psychopathology of art. He utilizes this interdisciplinary approach in his first publication, The Discovery of the Art of the Insane. The book presents a historical study of the discovery and ensuing validation of the artwork of insane individuals. Such works were originally regarded as meaningless scribbles and only received attention from the patients' psychiatrists. But by the second half of the twentieth century, these creations were deemed to have therapeutic as well as legitimate artistic value. MacGregor shares this viewpoint. Although his book focuses mainly on actual psychotics and their works of art, MacGregor also addresses the underlying issue of the social acknowledgment of mentally imbalanced people. In a review of The Discovery of the Art of the Insane in the Times Literary Supplement, Liam Hudson declared, "This beautifully produced book chronicles one of the more remarkable transformations of our time: the movement of mad thought and mad art from the very edge of our collective vision to a point close to its center."

MacGregor offers several reasons why the existence and works of insane artists have been legitimatized over the years. One factor was the advent of romanticism, the literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that began in the eighteenth century and was characterized by emphasis on the imagination and emotions. Seemingly ruled by these traits, psychotics became the subject of odd fascination. Later, Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud's theories led to the belief that the unconscious mind could be the source of artistic inspiration and creativity, and that mentally deranged people could more easily access this part of the mental system. More recently, the artwork of the insane has shown similarities to various genres in modern art, especially art brut ("raw art"); surrealism, a movement characterized by the combination of apparently incongruent images; and expressionism, which focuses on the artist's emotional responses to objects rather than the objects themselves. In his review of The Discovery of the Art of the Insane in the New York Times Book Review, Michael Vincent Miller stated, "Some Expressionist and Surrealist painters deliberately imitated the works of schizophrenics, who, they proclaimed, were the superior masters."

Miller questioned the difference between sane and insane inspiration in art. He commented, "If there is a border between them, we have not yet been very successful in mapping it." Hudson suggested that sane and insane artists "tap the same unconscious reservoirs of psychic energy, and differ, not in principle, but in the terms on which access to this reservoir is achieved." This debate—brought to the fore in MacGregor's book The Discovery of the Art of the Insane—provides an example of how insane art has been legitimatized. As Miller proclaimed, "Two centuries of romanticism and modernism have left us a peculiar legacy: sanity seems to have little place in modern art."



New York Times Book Review, December 17, 1990.

Times Literary Supplement, March 22, 1990.*

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