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Slochower, H. (1986). Psychoanalysis and Art: Their Body Language. Am. Imago, 43(1):1-5.

(1986). American Imago, 43(1):1-5

Psychoanalysis and Art: Their Body Language

Harry Slochower, Ph.D.

“The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego”

Freud: The Ego and the Id.

“Somewhere inside me, there is a feeling for form, an appreciation for beauty as a kind of perfection.”

Freud: Origins of Psychoanalysis

In the Postscript to the second edition of his Gradiva, Freud urges that we need to examine “the methods and processes by which (the artist) has converted his material into a work of art.” Similarly, Kant characterized the esthetic experience as an awareness of how the form of the esthetic object—its color, sound, tone, imagery—its web and woof—contains and presents its “meaning.” Likewise, Paul Ricoeur asserted that analytic experience is better conveyed by image than by word. This emphasis has special bearing on the application of psychoanalysis to art. It can put us in tune with the emotional oscillations of art, make us aware that “the argument” of an art-work is embedded in its imagery—that is, its Body-Language.

K.R. Eissler (Genius and Talent, 1971) suggests that Freud's unique insights also derive from his deep sensitivity to language. Indeed, in Freud's own formulation, the influence of an art-work “is determined not by the strength of the argument but by its affective tone” (St.Ed. 14:41). Even as he championed the Reality-principle, Freud viewed the human mind as a poetic power and regarded speech and gesture as symbolic communications.

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