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Lee, H.B. (1949). The Creative Imagination. Psychoanal Q., 18:351-360.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:351-360

The Creative Imagination

Harry B. Lee, M.D.

Freud admired artists, especially writers, for their intuitive access to the unconscious. He commented that it was more important for a psychoanalyst to be a poet than to be a doctor of medicine; yet, he paid comparatively little attention to the problems of artistic sublimation. His writings reveal only an incidental interest in them. He described the artist as a citizen, but not as an artist. An examination of his statements about artistic sublimation, and of his references to art, reveals that he was relatively insensitive to art. Even this marginal interest was not animated with the usual qualities of his scientific temper since he, also, was influenced by the erroneous philosophical æsthetic accepted by Western culture.

In The Moses of Michaelangelo (1), Freud confessed an inability to experience æsthetic emotion, stated that he was attracted chiefly to the subject matter of art, and expressed a preference for literature and sculpture. He was '… almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure from music'. His insensitiveness to art as art led him into the common error of confusing with æsthetic emotion the emotion described by the subject matter. It is conceivable that his insensitivity also led him to regard art in the way for which he has been criticized by those artistically sensitive scholars and critics who are otherwise friendly to the theories of psychoanalysis.

The Cultural Lag in Aesthetics (2) traced to culture's approval of a philosophical theocentric æsthetic the failure of science to solve the central problems of æsthetics: artistic creation and appreciation. It traced to the same cause the failure of psychology, experimental æsthetics, and psychoanalysis to solve these problems, and also their failure to approach them effectively. It described the errors of the philosophical directive


Read before the Committee on Creative Imagination at the annual meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Washington, D. C., May 1948.

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