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Newton, S.J. (2000). Psychoanalysis and iconoclasm. Free Associations, 8(1):48-63.

(2000). Free Associations, 8(1):48-63

Psychoanalysis and iconoclasm

Stephen J. Newton

Throughout Its Short History, psychoanalysis has been concerned, apparently almost to the point of obsession, with the interpretation of art and seems to have coveted the secrets of art and creativity. Why should this be so? Why should so many psychoanalytic theorists from Freud, through to Lacan and Kristeva, ostensibly engaged in what purports to be a scientific, medical and clinical practice, be so readily distracted by excursions into cultural territory?

The answer to this question is rooted in the fact that artistic creativity, particularly as it is manifested in the inner painterly creative process, is in fact the prototype of psychoanalysis itself and of psychoanalytic practice and procedure. However, psychoanalysis, as a method of interpretive hermeneutics, is not always keen to acknowledge the debt it owes to art and creativity in its very operational format. Clinicians in the fields of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy more usually prefer to see themselves as scientists, rationalists, or humanists, divorced from the apparently illogical diversions of art. For Freud, ‘there is no court of appeal beyond reason’ (Freud, 1927, p. 173).

This extends into a rivalry between art and psychoanalysis. Freud's assertion that: Before the problem of the creative artist analysis must, alas, lay down its arms, is an unwitting acknowledgement of this (Freud, 1928, p. 239). This rivalry works both ways; just as psychoanalysis needs to deny its antecedents, artists can be very self-conscious about the fundamental therapeutic aspirations of creativity. The desire of artists to distance themselves from what is often perceived as the limiting, reductive and prescriptive pronouncements of psychoanalysis, is no doubt a factor in this.


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