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Spitz, E.H. (1982). Reflections on Form and Content in Modern Art. Psychoanal. St. Child, 37:547-568.

(1982). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 37:547-568

Reflections on Form and Content in Modern Art

Ellen Handler Spitz


I have attempted to present the various ways in which selected psychoanalytic authors have regarded the question of form and content from the perspectives of (a) the sublimation of erotic and aggressive wishes; (b) the elaboration of ego functioning; and (c) object relations theory. In particular, I have sought to consider the relevance of these theories to modern art. By implication, I have tried to demonstrate the rewards of interdisciplinary research.

Clearly, no single theory has succeeded in providing an exhaustive account of aesthetic phenomena. What I have tried to point out here is the necessity for a continuing and lively interplay between theory and practice. As art changes, aesthetic theory must develop to keep pace, and this is true as well for the relevant aspects of psychoanalysis. Each theory presented

has, in my opinion, valuable insights to offer with respect to the art of our time, and much work needs be done in relating aspects of these theories to specific developments in the various media.

I wish to acknowledge that questions have been left open, and puzzles left unsolved. However, to preserve the tension between keeping basic questions alive and seeking passionately to resolve them is fundamental to the philosophic attitude. A capacity to tolerate and even to pursue ambiguity is the common destiny of artists, philosophers, and psychoanalysts. With respect to the art of today, I shall close with a quotation from Santayana (1896):

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