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Frederickson, J. (1987). The Artistic Personality in Psychoanalytic Theory. Am. Imago, 44(4):257-273.

(1987). American Imago, 44(4):257-273

The Artistic Personality in Psychoanalytic Theory

Jon Frederickson, M.S.W.

While psychoanalysts have often been accused of reductionistic analyses of artists, little attention has been given to the causes of this reductionism. This paper will show that much reductionism has resulted from the acceptance rather than the analysis of stereotypes of the artist based on art ideologies. In this historical review of psychoanalytic writings on the artist we will see how Freud's findings, anticipating those of Winnicott, were misread by his followers who based their analyses on art ideologies. As we trace the evolution of these writings, we will observe that shifts in theories of the artist reflected changes in art ideologies.

Freud and the Artist

Freud “considered the artist a near neurotic….” So runs the usual interpretation of Freud's views concerning the artist and his work. Although a misconception, this sort of interpretation has been provocative fuel to critical pens for decades. While some have dismissed Freud's view of the artist as narrow, emphasizing only the pathological, in fact his views of the artist intermingled in a complex way with his views of art. Trilling (1940: 159-160), for instance, suggests that Freud admired the artist as a mysterious figure we would never understand, but that he spoke at the same time of art with contempt, labeling it an ‘illusion,’ and a ‘narcotic’ The more we examine critiques of psychoanalytic writings concerning both artists and their artworks, the more confusing the conclusions become. What is the source of these contradictions? One source is the reductionist analyses of Freud's followers and critics who accepted rather than analyzed assumptions rooted in nineteenth-century art ideologies.

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