Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Siona Wilson

Subject Categories

Contemporary Art | Modern Art and Architecture


Fernand Deligny (1913-1996) was a French thinker, writer, and social worker who dedicated his entire life to an abolitionist project of protecting “severely autistic” children from internment in mental asylums by allowing them to move freely through the mountains of Cévennes where he established a support network for neurodiverse children. He privileged children’s nonverbal state and let them “direct” the community.

This thesis aims to historicize the drawings made under the guidance of Fernand Deligny between the 1960s and 1980s. His drawing method of tracing children’s movement offered an unprecedented way of providing visibility to children with nonverbal autism, outside of the conventional treatment narratives. The use of art in Deligny’s approach provided an alternative to the prevailing techniques of his era, such as asylum internment, clinical treatments, or psychoanalysis. In contrast to the dominant methods of remedial intervention, Deligny’s visionary practice preceded disability advocacy by several decades.

This thesis insists on the importance of positioning Deligny’s work vis-à-vis the cultural production of his time despite its interdisciplinary nature and non-conformity to institutionalized art history. It traces unique interconnections and influences between art and radical psychiatry from the interwar to the postwar period in France. It focuses on the ways Surrealism and Situationism can inform our understanding of Deligny’s method, as these movements share affinities with it in their political and philosophical address and dehierarchized approach to culture. Moreover, the thesis explores the influence of Deligny’s drawing method on psychiatry, in particular the work of Deleuze and Guattari.

It argues that Deligny’s work can contribute to art history by offering a unique and unprecedented example of registering radical otherness, which in the discipline has been conventionally associated with appropriation of the states of the child, the mad, and “the primitive.” In contrast, in Deligny’s practice, the use of drawings instead of language attempted to produce non-hierarchical relations between autistic children and non-autistic adults.