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Lipscomb, P.A. (1996). Mondrian and his art: a nonpathographic perspective. Free Associations, 6(1):95-111.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(1):95-111

Mondrian and his art: a nonpathographic perspective

Patricia A. Lipscomb, M.D., Ph.D.

Freud (1910, p. 130) originated the term ‘pathography’ to refer to the process of studying an artist's psychological world (especially its pathological features) by applying psychoanalytic thinking methods to biographical information and to examples of the artist's work. Elsewhere (Lipscomb, 1994) I have used Phyllis Greenacre's 1973 study of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) to illustrate problems that inhere in the pathographic method. In this paper I present some of the nonpsychopathological principles underlying Mondrian's work, with attention to art-historical influences on his style as well as some formal elements of his work, in order to demonstrate that even when a psychological explanation for certain features of an artist's work appears plausible, other explanations may obtain and therefore need to be considered. I describe how Freud's own limitations (specifically his difficulties in appreciating artistic innovations and in comprehending the formal qualities of art works) may have set for subsequent pathographers an example of relative neglect of the intrinsic concerns of the pathographic subject's field of expression.

Development of Abstraction in Mondrian's Art

Abstraction in art is sometimes misunderstood as simple rebellion against realism. However, what appears ‘realistic’ in painting is pure illusion in that it creates the appearance of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional planar surface by means of fool-the-eye techniques. The image may look like the real object, but it is not identical with the real object. This process is analogous in some respects to a magician's realistic demonstration of pulling a rabbit out of an empty hat.

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