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Kligerman, C. (1981). Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Artist as Parent. Ann. Psychoanal., 9:225-236.

(1981). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 9:225-236

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Artist as Parent

Charles Kligerman, M.D.

The childhood of artists has long been a fertile area for psychobiographical study, but the examination of artist as parent is relatively rare, and we tend to generalize from random impressions. Many artist-parents have been notorious failures: Goethe's only son was an undistinguished alcoholic who died young; Melville's son committed suicide. But others like Johann Sebastian Bach or Charles Dickens had large families to whom they were passionately devoted and who, on the whole, did very well.

Still, the impression persists that artists generally are less successful as parents than the norm (whatever that may be). The very artist who so often presents his own self—the work—to the world for admiration and confirmation of his innate perfection sometimes lacks the stability of self and empathic inventory that make for a good parent. One thinks here of the unavailable mother in Bergman's film Autumn Sonata or the father in Through a Glass Darkly who keeps perceptive notes about his disintegrating children, but is unable to relate to them in a way that will help them. But is this type of artist really different from many other people in this respect? Could not the same picture be drawn of other famous, academic, or public people, or of anyone in any field who has driving ambition and strong narcissistic needs? Besides, as little as we know about the lives of artists, we know even less about their wives, who are really the primary influence on their children in the crucial stages. Not only have most artists been men, but those women who were able to overcome the formidable obstacles to recognition that stood in their way have seldom had the time, energy, or inclination to attain motherhood. The artist as parent is mainly a father.


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