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(1956). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXV, 1954: Psychoanalysis and the History of Art. E. H. Gombrich. Pp. 401-411.. Psychoanal Q., 25:280.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXV, 1954: Psychoanalysis and the History of Art. E. H. Gombrich. Pp. 401-411.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:280

International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXV, 1954: Psychoanalysis and the History of Art. E. H. Gombrich. Pp. 401-411.

Ernest Jones once wrote that symbolism comprises almost the whole development of civilization: 'A never-ending series of evolutionary substitutions, a ceaseless replacement of one idea, interest, capacity or tendency by another'. In the dim beginnings of art, a symbol was not experienced as a symbol, but rather as the reality itself, just as to the young child a doll is not a symbol of a baby, but rather is a real baby. Art grows and matures not by external accretions (such as technical improvement) but by a constant extension and modification of symbols. The representational stereotypes of primitive culture invoke the pleasure principle through repetition and emphasis on similarities rather than differences. The sophisticated, however, seek more difficult gratifications. To the degree that art is too direct, too obvious, too cloyingly sweet, it departs from symbolic representation and becomes less appealing. Purely surface appeal (photos of pin-up girls) does not permit the audience to share in an artist's imaginative process: where representational accuracy is the cardinal emphasis, the image is too easy to read, 'we find repellent what yields too obvious, too childish gratification. It invites to regression and we feel not secure enough to yield.' On the other hand, Impressionism, which requires an effort at shared activity, 'yields a wonderful premium of regressive pleasure'. In Cubism, similarly, the primary process comes into full play, 'anything is possible in this crazy world'.

The artist's unconscious and his conflicts resemble those of the world around him, and he has special gifts. What is important is the social context in which he works and to which he offers his work: the style, the trend of the people creates a sounding board in the reverberations of which the artist's private and personal meaning is all but swallowed up. We should therefore speak of resonance with the artist rather than of communication from him. It is questionable whether art is accessible to psychological analysis. The real work of art achieves more than the satisfaction of a few analyzable cravings. It is 'the highest type of organization of countless pulls and counterpulls on a hierarchy of levels' that baffles efforts at analysis.

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Article Citation

(1956). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXV, 1954. Psychoanal. Q., 25:280

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