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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

… each new environment must open to us, if we allow it to educate our perception, a new wealth of beautiful forms.

MODERN ART IN MANY MEDIA HAS FORCED US TO ENLARGE our traditional notions of aesthetics. Can we use the customary dichotomous categories of form and content to deal with the painting of Jackson Pollock, the music of Elliott Carter, the choreography of Merce Cunningham? Psychoanalysis has offered at least three approaches to understanding works of art, all of which bear upon the question of form and content, and all of which have, I believe, a contribution to make toward our understanding of modern art.

A prior question might be asked about what sort of dialogue is possible between psychoanalysis and aesthetics. In his paper on the integration of philosophical and psychoanalytic aesthetics, Friedman (1958) speaks of the need for promoting "a conversation between philosophy and psychoanalysis." In his view, the philosopher and psychoanalyst approach the aesthetic from different places: traditionally, the philosopher begins either with concepts of beauty or art which he works back to particular sources, or he localizes the aesthetic fact or object whose properties he attempts to describe and from which he then infers more general principles.

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