PERCEIVED PSYCHOPATHOLOGY IN A
Robert Sommer, Ph.D., and Vincent J. Cassandro, M.A.
R. A. Blakelock was a highly acclaimed 19th Century visionary American
painter who spent 25 years in mental hospitals. Students rated random samples
of Blakelock’s work completed before, during, and after his breakdown. Paint-
ings completed after the start of his long-term hospitalization were rated lower
in skill and higher in psychopathology than those done before his breakdown.
The difference in perceived psychopathology persists when ratings for skill level
are controlled. There were also differences due to training level of raters and
whether or not the paintings were presented in color.
Two separate lines of research on the relationship between art and
psychopathology have produced inconsistent results and conclu-
sions. Case studies of single artists with a history of serious mental
disorder, such as Vincent Van Gogh (1), Edvard Munch (2), and the
English cat painter Louis Wain (3), are rich in descriptions of psy-
chopathology. In contrast, systematic studies of the artwork of psy-
chiatric patients using standardized rating scales and control
groups, have had difﬁculty ﬁnding consistent differences (4, 5).
These two lines of research involve different populations, methods,
and sampling procedures. Case studies on this topic have tended to
focus on individuals with formal art training and analyze work pro-
The authors are afﬁliated with the University of California, Davis.
Address correspondence to Robert Sommer, Psychology Department, Univer-
sity of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616–8686; e-mail:
PSYCHIATRIC QUARTERLY, Vol. 71, No. 2, Summer 2000
0033-2720/00/0600-0153$18.00/0 2000 Human Sciences Press, Inc.