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Segal, H. (1952). A Psycho-Analytical Approach to Aesthetics. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 33:196-207.

(1952). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 33:196-207

A Psycho-Analytical Approach to Aesthetics

Hanna Segal

Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als das Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch gerade
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen
uns zu zerstören.

In 1908 Freud wrote: 'We laymen have always wondered greatly—like the cardinal who put the question to Ariosto—how that strange being, the poet, comes by his material. What makes him able to carry us with him in such a way and to arouse emotions in us of which we thought ourselves perhaps not even capable?' And as the science of psycho-analysis developed, repeated attempts were made to answer that question. Freud's discovery of unconscious phantasy life and of symbolism made it possible to attempt a psychological interpretation of works of art. Many papers have been written since, dealing with the problem of the individual artist and reconstructing his early history from an analysis of his work. The foremost of these is Freud's book on Leonardo da Vinci. Other papers have dealt with general psychological problems expressed in works of art showing, for instance, how the latent content of universal infantile anxieties is symbolically expressed in them. Such was Freud's paper 'The Theme of the Three Caskets', Ernest Jones's 'The Conception of the Madonna through the Ear', or Melanie Klein's 'Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in a Work of Art and the Creative Impulse.'

Until recently such papers were not mainly concerned with æsthetics. They dealt with points of psychological interest but not with the central problem of æsthetics, which is: what constitutes good art, in what essential respect is it different from other human works, more particularly from bad art? Psychological writers attempted to answer questions like: 'How does the poet work?' 'What is he like?' 'What does he express?' In the paper 'The Relation of the Poet to Day-dreaming', Freud has shown how the work of the artist is a product of phantasy and has its roots, like the children's play and dreams, in unconscious phantasy life.

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