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Berman, J. (1997). Necessary Illusion: Art as Witness. By Gilbert J. Rose. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1996, 148 pp., $27.50.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 45:639-640.

(1997). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45:639-640

Necessary Illusion: Art as Witness. By Gilbert J. Rose. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1996, 148 pp., $27.50.

Review by:
Jeffrey Berman

Despite Freud's admission (1928) that “before the problem of the creative artist analysis must, alas, lay down it arms” (p. 177), neither he nor other analysts have been loath to speculate on the mystery of creativity. Gilbert J. Rose is among the most distinguished psychoanalytic theorists of art. A faculty member of the Yale University School of Medicine and the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis, he is the author of two earlier books, The Power of Form (1980) and Trauma and Mastery in Life and Art (1987), both of which emphasize the adaptive, integrative roles of art. Necessary Illusion, the last volume of this trilogy, reveals the author's continued effort to find parallels between art and psychoanalysis.

Unlike Freud and earlier psychoanalysts, Rose wisely refuses to pathologize art. Rather, he demonstrates through lively clinical vignettes and astute discussions of painting, music, and literature that art can promote the artist's ego strength and expand his or her appreciation of reality. Rose's main thesis in Necessary Illusion is that patterns of tension and release characterize the inner dynamic or structure of emotion and art. Art thus leads to a “witnessing presence”—an internalized object relationship in which the artist experiences heightened empathy, attunement between self and object worlds, and a greater sense of self-mastery.

The strength of Rose's new book lies in its recognition that art is a necessary illusion, one that creates a feeling of intrapsychic and interpersonal connectedness. Art is also an existential necessity that affirms identity and the need for community. While acknowledging that art may not always stabilize an artist's disintegrating ego—some artists have committed suicide at the height of their creative power—Rose argues passionately that art is therapeutic for both artist and audience.

I admire the synthesizing quality of Rose's work and his awareness of the importance of insight and empathy.

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