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Revelatory: revealing something otherwise unknown | Fake: a thing that is not genuine; a forgery or sham

Laura Martin painting drawing2_edited.jpg

The (Fake) Fake Artist

The psychologist David Rosenhan's study On Being Sane in Insane Places (published in 1973 in the leading US journal Science) explored through the use of 8 'pseudo-patients' the quality of care in psychiatric institutions in America. His study was a scathing attack on psychiatry - his pseudo-patients went undercover to reveal poor treatment and most worryingly an over-zealous diagnostic method that institutionalised patients who only had mild symptoms. He'd used fake patients in his study to 'prove' that mental health provision in America at the time needed an overhaul.


When author and investigative reporter Susannah Cahalan set out to explore Rosenhan's legacy she was shocked to find evidence that he'd altered his findings with inconsistent data, misleading descriptions, and inaccurate or fabricated quotations from psychiatric records. Moreover, she was only able to identify two of the pseudopatients. In light of Rosenhan's numerous deceptions, Cahalan concluded in her book The Great Pretender that the other pseudo-patients might have been simply invented by Rosenhan. The fake patients were it seems themselves 'fake'.

Rosenhan claimed that one of his pseudo-patients was a famous abstract artist that he re-named 'Laura Martin'. Despite an extensive search by Cahalan no evidence has yet been found that the artist posing as Laura Martin was real, despite Rosenhan describing the paintings she made whilst in the institution. We responded to this extraordinary story by visualising what those paintings may have looked like in a series of drawings. We also interviewed Susannah for a podcast and have published for the first time original extracts about Laura from Rosenhan's unpublished autobiography, where he describes the paintings in question.


Patricia Kingori talks to Susannah Cahalan about her investigation into Professor David Rosenhan

Digital drawings in fake pencil of fake abstract paintings created by the fake artist Laura Martin while in psychiatric institution in the US, in a fake publication that accompanied her entirely imagined solo show at the fake Cahalan Gallery in 1971. Al Hopwood, 2022.

Original extracts about 'Laura Martin' from David Rosenhan's unpublished autobiography (with highlights made by Susannah Cahalan)

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