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Kleinschmidt, H.J. (1976). I: Discussion of Laurie Schneider's Paper. Am. Imago, 33(1):92-97.

(1976). American Imago, 33(1):92-97

I: Discussion of Laurie Schneider's Paper

Hans J. Kleinschmidt, M.D.

What attracted me at once to Dr. Schneider's paper was its original title—“Severed Heads”—conjuring up recollections of Iris Murdoch's hilarious comedy of social and sexual errors. I also admired her courage in attempting anything as unpopular among scholars devoted to art history as the application of psychoanalytic theory to their discipline.

Freud himself defined the parameters of his approach to art. He could not relate to a work without “understanding” what the artist had intended to communicate, a strictly intellectual process. As he wrote in “The Moses of Michelangelo” (1913):4 “I have often observed that the subject-matter of works of art has a stronger attraction for me than their formal and technical qualities, though to the artist their value lies first and foremost in these latter.” Freud's recognition of the distinction between content and form should make psychoanalysts humble in drawing conclusions from the work alone.

In art appreciation, the methodology has moved much closer to the artist's approach. The art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has taught us the importance of an “esthetic alliance,” as I like to call it. The creative dialogue conducted between a work of art and the onlooker is based primarily on an esthetic resonance, and the impact of subject matter takes a distant second place, for the most part.

How many among us today have more than a smattering of iconographic ignorance when confronted by art works of antiquity or the Renaissance? The iconologic erudition of a Panofsky is either a thing of the past or the exclusive domain of a few scholars. It is also wise to remember Panofsky's7 cautionary statement that “there is admittedly some danger that iconology will behave, not like ethnology as opposed to ethnography, but like astrology as opposed to astrography.”

Symbols are abstractions, tokens, signs, but they are also creeds, expressing a belief.

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