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Mosse, E.P. (1951). Psychological Mechanisms in Art Production. Psychoanal. Rev., 38(1):66-74.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Review, 38(1):66-74

Psychological Mechanisms in Art Production

Eric P. Mosse, M.D., F.A.P.A.

If we attempt to understand the psychodynamics of artistic creation we will first remember how much we are struck by the artistic quality of drawings done by some patients of ours who have never painted before. We might then suspect that the artistic process is basically not very different from the graphic manifestations of neurotics; that the difference between the personality structure of an artist on one hand and a neurotic on the other depends essentially on the specific functioning of the ego. Otherwise, the make-up follows similar lines.

In my experience, the potential artist has an infantile-childish make-up. He believes in magic and has often tendencies in the direction of delusional trends. He is frequently narcissistic, exhibitionistic, regressed to an oral or anal-sadistic level. He loves to talk, to eat and to kiss, all oral manifestations. The often so spectacularly displayed Donjuanism signifies only a castration-fear, made up for by the compulsive need for reassurance against this tremendous anxiety. Therefore, if it is true that, following Otto Rank's definition, “the neurotic is a failed artist,” this self-therapeutic nature of art becomes evident and the artist is a successful neurotic.

As in the neurotic, the proportion of ego, id and super-ego are increased in favor of the id, though, in contradistinction to the psychotic the ego still directs and pushes the artistic process.

We feel that there are two essential motivations for the artist to produce: 1. the defense against his anxiety and 2. the craving for relief of tension on a sado-masochistic level.

1.   Anxiety is the greatest motivating power for most of our actions. It dominates our life from the start. The baby is surrounded not only by the threats of an unknown world, experienced by underdeveloped and untrained senses, but, simultaneously, it is overpowered and terrified by startling impulses and feelings of his own body. The result is a tension that cries for an outlet. These tears in themselves are already his relief reactions. It is difficult to understand that there is hardly more than one article written about the mechanism of crying, while we have such a host of psychological elaboration about the other excretions. Psychologically, there is not much difference between all of them.

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