Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Mobilizing Mad Art in the Neoliberal University

Resisting Regulatory Efforts by Inscribing Art as Political Practice

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2019), 13, (3), 255–271.


Mad art is consistently relegated to the therapeutic realm, understood simply as a benevolent force in the lives of mad people. This divorces mad art from its origins in the asylum and disconnects it from aesthetic markers that consider the skill, technique, and practice of the mad artist. When mad art objects are de-contextualized they reify biomedical interpretations of mad art/artists in ways that employ cultural practices as a form of regulation. Increasingly, art practices are included in myriad academic fields. The article argues that the use of art, in and of itself, is not an inherently radical practice. While Disability Arts and Culture has influenced the use of art in the neoliberal university, the contention is that the canon does not adequately detach mad art from the biomedical gaze. The article employs the framework of mad studies and engages the field of Fine Arts in order to contextualize mad art in a set of terms that operates outside of biopolitical ends. By reflecting on their art practices as instructors, curators, and researchers, the authors show mad art as necessarily rich in history and political possibilities, and position madness as a way to move forward in reconceptualizing art practices and values.

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