Whitehot Magazine

Donald Kuspit on the Artist As Ideal Patient

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893.

By DONALD KUSPIT, October 2019

Psychoanalysis has regarded the artist as a “special case” since Freud wrote that “an artist is originally a man who turns away from reality because he cannot come to terms with the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction which it at first demands, and who allows his erotic and ambitious wishes full play in the life of phantasy.  He finds the way back to reality, however, from this world of phantasy by making use of special gifts to mold his phantasies into truths of a new kind, which are valued by men as precious reflections of reality.”(1)  As the psychoanalyst John E. Gedo points out, the “artist type” has been dissected with every theoretical device conceived by psychoanalysis,(2) the way the machine in Kafka’s story In The Penal Colony tortures and executes the prisoner “for disobedience and insulting behavior to a superior.”(3)  As the scholar Ellen Handler Spitz notes, psychoanalysis follows Plato in believing that the artist’s “madness” or psychopathology is unusually intense and intractable, “inspiring” art yet making for an irreparably damaged life, seemingly untreatable. (4) This brings to mind the poet William Butler Yeats’ remark that perfection of art or perfection of life is possible, but not both.   

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889.

It is as though to make great art one has to be incurably mad—as Pontormo, who suffered from paranoia, Goya who suffered from depression and schizophrenia, and Van Gogh and Pollock, who both had bipolar disorder (Pollock was treated by a Jungian psychoanalyst), all seemed to be.  Indeed, it is as though one has to be insane to be creative, as Munch famously implied:  “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness.  Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder…my sufferings are part of myself and my art.  They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”  With fearless self-knowledge, he declared that “Illness, insanity, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life.”  It seems that for Munch, as well as Pontormo, Goya, Van Gogh, and Pollock art was not so much a cure for their mental illness as an acknowledgement, acceptance, endorsement, even appreciation and celebration of it.  Indeed, they gratefully welcomed it, for mental illness—serious mental illness--led them to take creative risks, become creatively daring.(5)  They became pathbreaking innovators, taking creative liberty, making creative leaps, going their own innovative way:  breaking with Michelangelo’s classical figures, Pontormo’s elongated figures jumpstarted mannerism; breaking with traditional realism Goya jumpstarted surrealism; breaking with naturalism Munch jumpstarted symbolism; breaking with Impressionism Van Gogh jumpstarted Expressionism, brought to a grand climax by Pollock.  

Pontormo, Visitation (Miraculous Encounter).

God must have been mad when he created the world, for primary creativity is located in the psychotic core of the self, as the psychoanalyst Michael Eigen argues, suggesting that the psychotic artist—the artist whose creations convey “gross…distortions of reality,” indicating a “gross impairment in reality testing and the creation of a new reality,”(6) (which takes us back to Freud’s understanding of the artist)—is a would-be God.  Thus Michelangelo—pictured suffering from depression in Raphael’s School of Athens, 1509-1511, was called “the divine one,” Beethoven and Goethe came to be regarded as gods.  The notion of the artist—particularly the “mad artist”—as God came into its own with Romanticism,(7) but lives on in Modernism, with its claims to revolutionary creativity, not to say the delusions of creative grandeur of many modern artists, from Picasso to Pollock. 

Raphael, The School of Athens, 1509-1511.

The intellectual mold in which psychoanalysis casts the artist is called “pathography,” Freud’s term for his inquiry into the unconscious of Leonardo da Vinci (1910).  As Spitz writes, “pathography implies writing about suffering, illness, or feeling, with important overtones of empathic response on the part of the author for his subject.”(8)  While Freud denied that psychoanalysis could “give an account of the way in which artistic activity derives from the primal instincts of the mind,” and asserted that “pathography does not in the least aim at making the great man’s achievements intelligible,”(9) the fact is that from the beginning psychoanalysis implicitly aimed to do just that.  Pathography was the jumping off point for the development of a “theory of artistic creation,” as Max Graf said, (10) a theory that would make artistic greatness comprehensible.

Leonardo da Vinci, St. John the Baptist, 1513.

Gedo notes that Graf, a prominent musicologist who presented a paper on the “Methodology of the Psychology of Poets” to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1907, “assumed that creative personalities might prove to be more complex than other people,” but that “the central issues in the artist’s mental life would probably remain veiled, beyond any inferences that might be drawn from the examination of his works.”(11)  Nonetheless, pathography may help us understand some artist’s blocked creativity—for “illness is inhibition of the productive force”(12)—but it is too limited an investigation to understand the full complexity of creativity.  “Psychoanalysis cannot produce artists,” as the psychoanalyst Susan Deri wrote, “but it can elicit patients’ authentic form-creative potentials and liberate them from functioning under the auspices of a ‘false self’ and from repetitious fixation on the traumatizing aspects of the past.”(13)  Psychoanalysis can help people liberate their form-creative potentials, but it cannot exhaustively analyze form-creativity. 

A paradox pervades psychoanalytic discourse on the artist.  The artist is the ideal model for the healthy human being, that is, the person whose form-creative potential is concretely actualized.  But the artist also seems more traumatized by and unconsciously fixated on his past than less creative people.  To put this in the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein’s terms, making art is theoretically the most creative kind of nonpsychotic functioning, but in psychological practice it is “predominantly psychotic,” that is, it is fraught with unconscious anxiety about “persecution, fragmentation, or annihilation,” and involves a “reality sense…grossly distorted by projections.”(14)  The paradox points to the psychoanalyst’s ambivalent attitude to the artist.        

If the artist is no more than another, if somewhat glorified, case, and the ultimate aim of psychoanalysis is to understand and celebrate creativity as such—the psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg argues that its goal is to liberate love and creativity (creative love), and with that defeat hatred and destructiveness (destructive hatred)—why does the psychoanalytic literature tend to focus on some famous artist, as though he had a monopoly on creativity—Goethe for Kurt Eissler, Michelangelo for Robert Liebert, and of course Leonardo for Freud—rather than on what one might call the generic artist, the creativity with which each and every one of us is born with, that is, focus on the vicissitudes of primary creativity?  Great artists are supposedly superior specimens of humanity, but then the psychoanalytic point is that nobody is superior to the unconscious.   

And that’s the reason:  the workings of the unconscious—what Freud called “dream work”—are more visible in the art dreams of the great artist than they are in the artful dreams we all have, for the dream is the first, primal work of art, and in great works of art dream work is writ large.  Great works of art are socialized dreams, serving civilization by embodying an ideology or world-outlook or general attitude.  There are two basic types of such works:  those with a classicizing style or tendency, emphasizing reason at the expense of emotion, more broadly the triumph of mind over matter, consciousness over the unconscious, perfected in the classicism of ancient Greece and Rome; and those with a romanticizing tendency or style, advocating the expression of raw emotion rather than the refining control of reason, and often the conflict between them, as in Symbolism and Surrealism, and, in Expressionism, the triumph of emotion over reason, the unconscious over the conscious, matter over mind, epitomized by Abstract Expressionism.  It seems no accident that the art of the insane has become a resource and inspiration for many modern artists—one thinks of their use of the works in the Prinzhorn Collection--while traditional classicism has become “academic” in modernity.  In contrast to great works of art, whether classically or romantically oriented, seemingly lesser works of art are more like personal dreams, socially acceptable because they follow the forms and norms established by great works of art, however modified.   

There’s another reason the psychoanalyst is drawn to the art of the great masters:  the psychoanalyst is himself a great master, for he has mastered “the art of interpretation,” as Freud called it, (15) perhaps the most difficult of all arts, for in interpreting dreams—the art products of the unconscious—he is mastering the unconscious, the most difficult of all things human to master.  He is as great an artist as any great artist, even a greater artist, for he can understand the dream, fathom its meaning, not merely have it, caught up in it, submit to it, as seems necessary to produce “inspired,” truly distinctive dream works of art, indeed, to spend one’s life making art, as though unable to awaken from a dream state.  To dream of making great art is to be in bondage to the unconscious, and psychoanalysis aims to make us conscious of what is unconscious, but great art makes the dreams of the unconscious socially acceptable, which is not necessarily to become conscious of their meaning, let alone liberate us from the thralls and thrills, raptures and horrors, of the unconscious, which is what psychoanalysis aims to do.  The biblical Joseph was the first psychoanalyst, for he was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh, and he was an artist, as his multi-colored coat suggests:  no artist, however great, has such a distinguished pedigree.  However intriguing and insightful the great artist’s interpretations of appearances may be, they cannot compete with the psychoanalyst’s interpretations of dreams. 

Odilon Redon, The Dream, 1879.

Psychoanalysis is an art of interpretation, and it is also a science, as Freud emphasized, interpretation being applied science.  Psychoanalysis is in pursuit of knowledge:  it aims to understand dreams, and other manifestations of the unconscious, rather than utilize them to make art, even exploit the unconscious, as Odilon Redon did In The Dream, 1879 and Pollock did in Portrait and A Dream, 1953—“All art is submission of the will to the unconscious,” Redon wrote, and “the source of my paintings is the unconscious,” Pollock said, and the dream works—clearly nightmares--of both show just how insane the unconscious can be, and how works that indulge in it lack what Freud called “the perceptual pleasure of formal beauty,”(16) and as such are aesthetic failures however emotionally exciting.  They betray consciousness, and with that subvert the reality principle.  To use Anna Freud’s distinction, classical art tends to defend against external reality by idealizing it, romantic art tends to defend against internal reality by exaggerating it, paradoxical ways of avoiding coming to terms with, not to say mastering, both.  The reality principle must triumph over the pleasure principle if one is to have a good life, or, as Freud famously said, where id is, there ego must be, if there is to be civilization, and with that more love than hatred, more binding libido than disintegrative aggression.  In other words, for Freud the perceptual pleasure formal beauty affords as well as the brash expression of emotion and blind submission to the unconscious in Symbolist and Expressionist works is secondary—even a hindrance--to the knowledge of the psyche psychoanalysis affords, and with that useless for the achievement of mental health and the modicum of happiness necessary to have a somewhat good life.    

Jackson Pollock, Portrait and a Dream, 1953.

Psychoanalysis combines science and art; it is an art of interpretation based on a scientific understanding of the nature of the psyche.  Interpretation is necessarily an art, for it brings general principles of psychoanalytic knowledge to bear on a particular case.  It has been called the most revelatory of all the humanistic or “Geistige” arts, for it is able to reveal the unconscious truth about human beings.  Freud praised Michelangelo as an “artist in whose works there is so much thought striving for expression,” an artist who “has often enough gone to the utmost limit of what is expressible in art.”  Yet “the obscurity which surrounds his work” suggests that he has not expressed enough.(17)  For he has not understood enough:  obscurity is inherent to art, Freud suggests, for it does not understand what psychoanalysis understands, the obscure workings of the psyche:  to express emotion—convey it through form--is not necessarily to understand it.   

Michelangelo, Moses, 1513-1515.

Nonetheless, Freud envied the artist’s instant intuitive understanding of the psyche, while he had to work hard to grasp its complexity.  Thus Freud admired the writer Arthur Schnitzler, whom, as he said, intuited truths about the psyche that he, Freud, was only able to discover through laborious, scientific work with patients.  Despite the fact that Freud went further than Schnitzler in his discoveries and thus was, in a sense, a greater artist, Freud coveted the artist’s legendary intuition, an easy, seemingly spontaneous way of gaining knowledge—but not enough, for Schnitzler could not accept Freud’s idea of infantile sexuality and incest.(18)  Perhaps Freud wanted to analyze Schnitzler, with whom he corresponded, to learn how he performed his intuitive miracle of understanding.  Freud thought that omnipotent thinking is characteristic of children and artists, suggesting that for him artists are children, a romantic view that Baudelaire also had.(19)       

In a letter, Freud took Oskar Pfister, a pastor and psychoanalyst, to task “for being ‘overdecent’ and insufficiently ruthless to his patient,” advising Pfister “to behave like the artist who steals his wife’s household money to buy paint and burns the furniture to warm the room for his model,”(20) implicitly female one might add.  “Ruthless” is the key word here—ruthless as “the surgeon, who puts aside all his feelings, even his human sympathy, and concentrates his mental forces on the single aim of performing the operation as skillfully  as possible.”(21)  The artist spares no expense to make his art, even making it at the expense of his wife:  stealing her household money and burning the household furniture, the artist shows himself to be a criminal.  Abandoning his wife for his female model, perhaps more alluring and tempting than his all too familiar wife, he becomes an adulterer and philanderer in spirit, a voyeur in practice, deriving scopophiliac pleasure from painting his model’s undoubtedly naked body. 

Benvenuto Cellini, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1545-1554.

A rather macabre story, supposedly apocryphal yet handed down through the ages, makes the artist’s ruthless criminality—his willingness to sacrifice a human life to make his art (and his lack of guilt about doing so)—transparently clear.  The sculptor Benevento Cellini was said to have murdered a boy for the sake of his art.  Casting a statue, and needing some calcium for the bronze alloy, he threw a little boy into the pot for the calcium in his bones.  (Some think the little boy was his illegitimate son.)  “What was the life of a little boy to the claim of art?” a psychoanalyst asks,(22) implying that Cellini—the exemplary artist--felt no guilt about murdering the boy.  Similarly, Freud’s artist feels no guilt about stealing the household money and burning the household furniture, and with that sacrificing his wife and family to the claim of his art.  It is a small price to pay for greatness.     

In a telling passage on “The Creative Artist” in an article on “The Sense of Guilt” (1958), the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott writes:   “It is interesting to note that the creative artist is able to reach a kind of socialization that obviates the need for guilt-feeling and the associated reparative and restitutive activity that forms the basis for ordinary constructive work.  The creative artist or thinker may, in fact, fail to understand, or even may despise, the feelings of concern that motivate a less creative person; and of artists it may be said that some have no capacity for guilt and yet achieve a socialization through their exceptional talent.  Ordinary guilt-ridden people find this bewildering; yet they have a sneaking regard for ruthlessness that does in fact, in such circumstances, achieve more than guilt-driven labour.”(23)  Thus the artist’s sense of creative superiority—dare one call it a delusion of creative grandeur?—is underscored by his assumption that everyone else is creatively inferior, certainly not as gifted as he is.  It is perhaps why he can treat them in a criminal, indifferent way—belittle them, a dismissive attitude implicit in Cellini’s sacrifice of a little boy for his big statue.  Sacrificed on the altar of art and then consumed by it:  life for the sake of art, not art for the sake of life seems to be the formula for creative success.  After all, what’s a little life compared to a big art:  which is more valuable?  What’s more human:  creative concern for others, however guilt-driven, and driven by what psychoanalyst call relational needs, especially with an intimate other, or creating works of art, however great in the eyes of strangers, that is, society?      

Freud’s creative psychoanalyst—the psychoanalyst naturally gifted with the art of interpreting dreams, as Freud himself seemingly was (he’s the modernized Joseph)—is as implicitly superior to his patient as the artist is implicitly superior to his model and everyone else, including his family and friends.  For the psychoanalyst is more concerned with his patients—practicing his art of interpretation, showing his helpful creativity--than with them, just as the artist is more concerned with making works of art, showing his creativity in social practice (however much to “shock,” as avant-garde art has been said to do, all the more so when it is anti-aesthetic, is to be anti-social, and not very helpful)--than with his family and friends.  But Gedo suggests that “the creativity of everyday life,” as he calls it, may be superior to artistic creativity, for everyday creativity serves society in a more important way than works of art—even great works of art—do.  Particularly, as Gedo emphasizes, because creativity at its everyday empathic best is concerned with raising the next generation, while artistic creativity seems more concerned with expressing the artist’s self, whatever the social significance of his art.  Cellini’s big sculpture is about Cellini’s bigness, whatever else it signifies.  We remember the artist’s name; those who practice everyday creativity—good deeds of concern--tend to be anonymous.  The artist tends to be “self-ish”; they try to be “self-less.”  The great artist is not necessarily a good person, as Freud makes clear, however good his art may be, by social estimation.

The ordinarily creative person tends to be envious, however unconsciously, of the extraordinarily creative artist, however much his envy is masked by conscious admiration.  We may be grateful for great art, but we envy the artist’s creative excess, compared to our limited creativity.  Envy, I suggest—Cellini’s unconscious envy of the little boy, full of life, certainly compared to Cellini’s statue, merely material and dead however aesthetically wonderful and successfully it simulates life, less spirited than the little boy whatever the spiritual significance society ascribes to it--is the underpinning of creativity, as the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein argues in her analysis of envy.  According to Klein, “The fact that envy spoils the capacity for enjoyment explains to some extent why envy is so persistent.  For it is enjoyment and the gratitude to which it gives rise that mitigate destructive impulses, envy, and greed.  To look at it from another angle:  greed, envy, and persecutory anxiety, which are bound up with each other, inevitably increase each other.  The feeling of the harm done by envy, the great anxiety that stems from this, and the resulting uncertainty about the goodness of the object, have the effect of increasing greed and destructive impulses.”(24)  Like the non-artist, with his commonplace creativity, the psychoanalyst is as envious of the artist, even as he regards his remarkable interpretations as on a par with—the creative equal of--the artist’s remarkable works.  But unlike the non-artist the psychoanalyst sometimes carries his envy to the extreme of regarding the artist as a poseur or imposter—a pretender to a creativity he does not have, however creative one has to be to be an imposter, in effect devaluing his creativity and trivializing his person.  As Gedo writes, “the borderline between art and imposture is ever a hazy one,” noting that “imposture occupies the pathological end of the spectrum among the creative activities of everyday life.”(25)   

Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., 1919.

Marcel Duchamp is undoubtedly the imposter artist par excellence, the exemplary imposter artist, a pseudo-creative artist, his being a spoiler’s art, that is, his art is in the service of the death instinct rather than the life instinct, for it viciously devalues other art, mockingly envying it, painting in particular, as many of his works explicitly do, among them L.H.O.O.Q., 1919, a misogynist anti-humanistic painting, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even), 1915-1923, a pseudo-painting made of fragments of glass, misogynist in its suggestion that the bachelors are preparing to rape the nude bride, and T m’, 1918, supposedly his last mock painting, its canvas nihilistically torn.  With Duchamp, the pseudo-creative imposter artist came into his own, indeed, became a celebrity, perhaps because his destructiveness epitomizes the destructiveness of the 20th century.  It seems no accident that T m’ was made the same year as World War I ended, leaving a destroyed demoralized—and dehumanized--Europe in its wake.  Duchamp was preoccupied with violence—and rape--until the end of his career, as Given:  1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas, 1946-1966, with its naked dead woman—another example of his misogyny--makes clear.  His is transparently an art of hatred rather than love, spiteful envy rather than celebratory joy, as, for example, Matisse’s art—Matisse was his chosen enemy—is.

Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915–1923.

Envy of the artist’s guiltless ruthlessness is the tip of the psychoanalyst’s envious projective identification with the artist.  It is informed by envy of the artist’s apparent omnipotence, as Freud noted, and his ability to reconcile with society despite the fact that he has little capacity for reparative guilt, as Winnicott said.  In Totem and Taboo (1912), writing about “Animism, Magic, and the Omnipotence of Thoughts” in chapter 3, Freud states that “In only a single field of our civilization has the omnipotence of thoughts been retained, and that is in the field of art.  Only in art does it still happen that a man who is consumed by desires performs something resembling the accomplishment of those desires and that what he does in play produces emotional effects—thanks to artistic illusion—just as though it was something real.  People speak with justice of the ‘magic of art’ and compare artists to magicians.  But the comparison is perhaps more significant than it claims to be.  There can be no doubt that art did not begin as art for art’s sake.  It worked in the service of impulses which for the most part are extinct today.  And among them we may suspect the presence of many magical purposes.”(26)  According to Karl Abraham and Melanie Klein, the “omnipotent thinker,” that is, the artist, believes, unconsciously, that his phantasies have been magically realized in his art, that what he thinks is actually the case, the proof being the work of art. 

Marcel Duchamp, Tu m’, 1918.

But what fascinates Freud is how, despite the artist’s narcissistic phantasy of omnipotence—an infantile, primitive phantasy, as Freud notes, writing about the “imperial infant”—he can nonetheless function socially, indeed, become a social success.  The answer is that he’s not completely narcissistic: works of art “differed from the asocial, narcissistic products of dreaming in that they were calculated to arouse interest in other people and were able to evoke and gratify the same [as in the artist] unconscious wishes in them.”(27)  Art is a magical, play-filled stage between the expression of unconscious wishes in personal dreams—primitive works of art produced by the imagination—and their control in consciously made works of art meant for social consumption.  It seems the artist becomes socially successful when his art magically engages—not to say acts out--the narcissism of strangers—the audience—and with that acknowledges and gratifies their deepest, most infantile wish, namely, that their thoughts shape and rule the world, confirming their omnipotence.

But Freud finally repudiates art in the name of science.  In the last chapter of the New Introductory Lectures To Psycho-analysis (1933), after declaring that “religion alone” is science’s “really serious enemy,” and noting that he “set a higher value upon [his] contributions to the psychology of religion than of art,” he dismisses art as “almost harmless and beneficent, [for] it does not seek to be anything else but an illusion.  Save in the case of a few people who are, one might say, obsessed by art, it never dares make any attack on the realm of reality.”(28)  But however harmless and beneficent art may be, Freud seems to have a certain contempt for it, as his reductive—and destructive--dismissal of the aesthete suggests:  “A clever young philosopher, with leanings towards aesthetic exquisiteness, hastens to twitch the crease in his trousers into place before lying down [on the couch] for the first sitting; he reveals himself as an erstwhile coprophiliac of the highest refinement, as was to be expected of the developed aesthete.”(29)  Nonetheless, Freud envied the artist--and aesthete—for the delusion of omnipotence that art afforded them, a delusion that in the psychoanalyst takes the form of a residual belief in the infallibility of his interpretations, certainly evident in Freud’s instant insight into the aesthete’s coprophilia.  

Freud’s ambivalence about the artist, evident in his remark that the artist is able to return to the real world after being immersed in world of imagination, indicating that he’s not entirely the victim of his unconscious, re-appears, if in different form, in the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut’s “hypothesis of artistic anticipation.”  Kohut gives “the great artist” credit for being “ahead of his time in focusing on the nuclear psychological problems of his era,”(30) but it is “the investigative efforts of the scientific psychologist”(31) that lead to a clear, comprehensive understanding of the psychological issues the artist has only intuitively recognized—superficially grasped rather than explored in depth, murkily acknowledged rather than precisely analyzed.  The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott says something similar when he notes that “the intuitive flashes of the great,…and even the elaborate constructs of poets and philosophers, are lacking in clinical applicability.”(32)  In a similar vein, the psychoanalyst Arnold Cooper remarks that “theories that lack significant consequence for clinical work may be interesting for other purposes, but clearly cannot be held to be clinically valuable.”(33)  

For all these psychoanalysts, the artist’s intuitive flashes of insight into the psyche are like  meteoric flashes in the sky—momentarily blinding and astonishing, but short-lived and not seriously illuminating.  They are unsustainable, however fascinating.  To say this another way, they don’t hold much cognitive water, but they are emotionally exciting.  They add intellectual interest to the artist’s work, but in the end they are a sort of epiphenomenon of its aesthetics, perhaps even an artifact of its construction.  As Freud suggests in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), art, like alcohol, makes us less discontented with our lot in life, but it never makes us completely accept it.  However civilized and interesting and enjoyable art may be, and however pleasurable it may be to become intoxicated by art and alcohol—to experience the intoxicating illusions they afford when we become consumed by them, drink art with our eyes until we are blinded by it, drink alcohol until we are blind drunk, so blind that we cannot see and make our way in the real world, lose interest in it, ignore it as though it does not exist, for art and alcohol enable regression to infantile omnipotence, the delusion of grandeur that relieves us of the pressure of adulthood, and with that denies the banality of reality--the ecstatic pleasure quickly wears off, leaving as discontented as ever, unhappy with and stranded in the real world we happen to inhabit, unable to survive in it until we become sober. WM


(1)Sigmund Freud, “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” (1911), Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud (London:  Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1958, Volume XII), 224

(2)John E. Gedo, Portraits of the Artist (New York:  Guilford Press, 1983), 1-40, Section I. Psychoanalytic Studies of Creativity:  A Retrospect.

(3)Franz Kafka, “In the Penal Colony,” Selected Stories of Franz Kafka (New York:  Random House, 1952), 90

(4)Ellen Handler Spitz, Art and Psyche (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1985), 28

(5)Daniel Nettle, Strong  Imagination:  Madness, Creativity and Human Nature (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2002) is the definitive study of the intimate connection between madness and creativity, using detailed accounts of many seriously disturbed modern artists as exemplary cases.  In accord with this way of thinking about the creative artist as seriously defective the psychologists René Spitz and W. Godfrey Cobliner describe “composers, musicians, dancers, acrobats, painters and poets” as “specially gifted ’highstrung or labile’” types “who have retained the capacity to make use of one or several of these usually atrophied categories of perception and communication.”  Quoted in Richard D. Chessick, Why Psychotherapists Fail (New York:  Science House, 1970), 15. 

(6)DSM-III-R, “Appendix C” (Washington, DC:  American Psychiatric Association, 1952), 404

(7)Vladimir Moss, “The Artist as God:  Goethe and Beethoven,” online publication.

(8)Spitz, 28

(9)Quoted in Spitz, 28

(10)Quoted in Gedo, 10.  In this context it is worth recalling Freud’s ironic, self-critical thought that so-called creativity may be an example of the “cryptoamnesia which in so many cases may be suspected to lie behind apparent originality.”  Sigmund Freud, “A Note on the Prehistory of the Technique of Analysis,” Therapy and Technique (New York:  Macmillan, 1963), 194 



(13)Susan K. Deri, Symbolization and Creativity (New York:  International Universities Press< 1984), 346

(14)Hanna Segal, “The Klein-Bion Model,” Models of the Mind, Their Relationship to Clinical Work, ed. Arnold Rothstein (New York:  International Universities Press, 1985), 39.  

(15)Freud describes psychoanalysis is an “art of interpretation” in a number of his writings, among them in “Further Recommendations in the Technique of Psychoanalysis,” 1914, Therapy and Technique, 158. 

(16)Sigmund Freud, “An Autobiographical Study,” Therapy and Technique, 123

(17)Sigmund Freud, “The Moses of Michelangelo,” 1914, Character and Culture (New York:  Macmillan, 1963), 106

(18)Ernest Jones, The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud (New York:  Basic Books, 1961), 435

(19)”Genius is nothing more than childhood recovered at will,” Baudelaire famously wrote.  “The Painter of Modern Life,” The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, ed. Jonathan Mayne (London and New York:  Phaidon, 1995), 8.  Like the child, the artist has “the faculty of keenly interesting himself in things, be they apparently of the most trivial,” and like the child the artist sees everything in a state of newness,” and the artist’s “inspiration resembles the delight with which a child absorbs form and color.”   Finally, Baudelaire’s artist is “a man-child, a man who is never for a moment without the genius of childhood—a genius for which no aspect of life has become stale.”  For Baudelaire to become an artist is to remain a child, indeed, to regress to childhood—deliberately he thinks, unwittingly I think.  

(20)Sigmund Freud, “Recommendations to Physicians Practicing Psycho-analysis,” Therapy and Technique, 115


(22)Quoted in Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis:  The Impossible Profession (New York:  Knopf, 1982), 80

(23)D. W. Winnicott, “Psycho-analysis and the Sense of Guilt,” The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment (New York:  International Universities Press, 1965), 26

(24)Melanie Klein, “Envy and Gratitude” (1957), Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963 (New York:  MacMillan, 1984), 181

(25)Gedo, 274

(26)Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo (New York:  Norton, 1950), 90.  Similarly, Winnicott describes the “area of omnipotent control” as a “mad world of magic.” “Psychoses and Child Care,” Through Pediatrics To Psychoanalysis, Collected Papers (London:  Karnac Books and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1992), 227.  He also notes that “the child retains omnipotence in the guise of being creative and having a personal view of everything.”  Home Is Where We Start From:  Essays by a Psychoanalyst (London:  Penguin, 1990), 40

(27)Sigmund Freud, “An Autobiographical Study,” Therapy and Technique, 123

(28)Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (New York:  Norton, 1933), 219

(29)Sigmund Freud, “Further Recommendations in the Technique of Psychoanalysis,” Therapy and Technique, 151 

(30)Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self (New York:  International Universities Press, 1977), 285

(31)Ibid., 296

(32)Winnicott, “Psycho-analysis and the Sense of Guilt,” 15.  In a similar vein, Winnicott writes that “the flashes of insight that come in poetry cannot absolve us from our painful task of getting step by step away from ignorance towards our goal.”  “Fear of Breakdown,” 1963?, Psycho-Analytic Explorations (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1989), 87

(33)Cooper, 5.  Arnold Goldberg, “Psychoanalytic Self-Psychology,” Cooper, 72 suggests that the artist’s insights are more illusory than real because they are not useful for living.  They are no more than a byproduct of “the random freedom assigned by art.”

Donald Kuspit

Donald Kuspit is one of America’s most distinguished art critics. In 1983 he received the prestigious Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism, given by the College Art Association. In 1993 he received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Davidson College, in 1996 from the San Francisco Art Institute, and in 2007 from the New York Academy of Art. In 1997 the National Association of the Schools of Art and Design presented him with a Citation for Distinguished Service to the Visual Arts. In 1998 he received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2000 he delivered the Getty Lectures at the University of Southern California. In 2005 he was the Robertson Fellow at the University of Glasgow. In 2008 he received the Tenth Annual Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Newington-Cropsey Foundation. In 2013 he received the First Annual Award for Excellence in Art Criticism from the Gabarron Foundation. He has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Fulbright Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Guggenheim Foundation, and Asian Cultural Council, among other organizations.

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