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Tip: To review the bibliography…

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It is always useful to review an article’s bibliography and references to get a deeper understanding of the psychoanalytic concepts and theoretical framework in it.

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Esman, A.H. (2011). The Artist's Mind: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Creativity, Modern Art and Modern Artists. By George Hagman. New York: Routledge, 2010, viii + 179 pp., $90.00 hardcover, $34.95 paperback.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 59(3):628-631.

(2011). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 59(3):628-631

The Artist's Mind: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Creativity, Modern Art and Modern Artists. By George Hagman. New York: Routledge, 2010, viii + 179 pp., $90.00 hardcover, $34.95 paperback.

Review by:
Aaron H. Esman

Psychoanalysts have been struggling with the mystery of art and the artist ever since Freud ventured into the field with “Leonardo” (1910) and laid down his formulation of the artist's flight from “reality” (1911). Each innovation in psychoanalytic theory has been accompanied by a new set of ideas about the creative process and the psychology of the artist—Otto Rank, Ernst Kris, and Heinz Kohut, along with some of their followers, being among the many who have ventured onto this rocky terrain. They are, of course, not alone; philosophers, cognitive psychologists, and, most recently, evolutionists (e.g., Dutton 2009) have all tried their hands at explaining how and why artists do what they do and how and why the rest of respond as we do to their efforts.

The most recent turn in our field is, of course, that of relational psychoanalysis, which appears to have assimilated earlier concepts of interpersonal psychology, British object relations theory, Kohutian self psychology, and attachment theory into an all-embracing system that tends to minimize the role of “classical” ideas about drives and intrapsychic conflict and emphasizes the critical influence of the vicissitudes of early child-parent relationships in the formation of potentially conflictual self systems.

Such, in any case, is the position of George Hagman, who in this challenging book sets forth what he proposes as “a new psychoanalytic aesthetic model that has both clinical and historical significance” (back cover). Through the study of the lives and works of a selected group of modern avant-garde artists— Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Joseph Cornell, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol—he ventures to account for both their characters and their unique artistic achievements, as well as their particular roles in the history and evolution of modern art, in purely relational terms.

Hagman's method is well exemplified in his chapter on Degas. In its break with earlier tradition, “modern art,” he says, “has as its primary goal the enhancement, cure and restoration of the self (p. 38). (From another perspective one could, no doubt, say that its primary goal is the creation of beautiful or arresting objects, whatever the dictates of the individual artist's “self-psychology.”)

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