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Outsider Art: James Edward Deeds

May 12, 2012

Christina Trevino sent me a link to the Electric Pencil video on James Edward Deeds. It's a fascinating recounting of how the drawings of this mental institution inmate survived being tossed in the garbage. The drawings are haunting, the background details leave you wanting to know more. This is really outsider art to the tenth power. It is an interesting little film and worth spending the 15 or so minutes it runs. Deeds worked on ledger paper from the asylum he was at. He was institutionalized at age 17 and lived there until he was released to a nursing home for the final 10 years of his life. (If I did the math correctly he died at age 79 after spending 52 years in the asylum and 10 years in a nursing home.)

I found it interesting that he didn't draw contemporary fashions on his people. Well, that's just one thing I found interesting. Most touching, and the important thing that comes through in this short video, is the need for a creative mind to keep producing, despite other constraints. Check out the video to learn more.

  1. Reply

    I also found a link on another site and had no idea what I was about to see. What a wonderful discovery. So many levels of wonder – why the different era of interest? How did he get resourses or was it from some kind of memory? He clearly sketched some with his family – what a support in a strange circumstance. I once saw a presentation of photographs taken by a deaf rural Kentucky woman who was given a brownie camera when she was eight or so. Her parents had no money, but they got her film and developed her photographs (not slews, but steadily). She had little language, nothing near schooling, not much communication, but the images were just striking. That as her world, and in their way, her family supported her need to express. Again and again there are these testimonies about that essential drive to externalize an internal vision. Thanks for sharing the link.

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    Very touching video. His draftsmanship doesn’t seem to be that of a deranged person. I wonder what his treatment would be today. The eyes are haunting.

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    Molly, there’s so much we can’t know unless the family releases more details, and we see records, and even then it’s one side from a time when mental health was viewed through a different glass.

    People with severe mental issues often create work of exquisite draftsmanship. There are a couple of masters from the Renaissance and later who had severe problems (so deranged as to kill others) yet created sublime sketches and paintings. The eyes are indeed very, very haunting.

    I found it sad that he had to be taken away from the animals he loved so much, and hope he got to be out on the grounds at least part of his day.

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    LizzieBo the story of the deaf photographer is very interesting. Thanks for sharing it.

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