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Esman, A.H. (1967). The Vanguard Artist: Portrait and Self-Portrait: By Bernard Rosenberg and Norris Fliegel. New York: Quadrangle Books, Inc., 1965. 366 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 36:116-120.

(1967). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 36:116-120

The Vanguard Artist: Portrait and Self-Portrait: By Bernard Rosenberg and Norris Fliegel. New York: Quadrangle Books, Inc., 1965. 366 pp.

Review by:
Aaron H. Esman

More than the challenge offered by the enigma of the work of art itself, the mystery and the elusiveness of the creative act have enticed a succession of students into an impenetrable jungle of pathographic and analytic studies of artists in the hope of finding the explanation of artistic creativity. Some promising trails have been blazed, following the lead of Freud. It is, perhaps, too much to expect that so complex an enigma can be completely solved.

The authors of The Vanguard Artist—a sociologist and an educational psychologist—have had the happy idea of interviewing a group of twenty-nine recent, unidentified but prominent and successful representatives of the avant-garde of the early 1960's (for the most part, of abstract-expressionist painters and nonrepresentational sculptors). In one or two carefully designed interviews they sought to learn as much about the formative experiences and current attitudes of each of these highly gifted and creative men and women as could be gained from direct inquiry. They have compared their data and attempted to integrate it with psychoanalytic conceptualizations of the creative process and of the genetic background of the artist.

The brilliance of their achievement—and no less enthusiastic a description suffices—is not mitigated by their failure to advance us much farther toward complete understanding of our enigma. They have succeeded in mapping the surrounding terrain with a wealth of fascinating information dealing with, among other matters, social origins, familial patterns, education and its virtues and defects, significant identifications, awakening of awareness of creative gifts, feelings of alienation from prevailing social attitudes, self-evaluations, intellectual functioning, work habits, relations with other artists, critics, dealers, museums, and the general public, and last but not least, sexuality.

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