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Greenacre, P. (1958). The Relation of the Impostor to the Artist. Psychoanal. St. Child, 13:521-540.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 13:521-540

The Relation of the Impostor to the Artist

Phyllis Greenacre, M.D.

Many artists feel as though they were impostors, especially at the beginning of their careers. The possession of extraordinary gift is apparently not easily taken for granted. The performances of many impostors, especially of those seemingly dedicated ones, in whom the works of imposture form the main core of existence, impress others as having the quality of artistic achievement. The ability of the impostor to put on convincing acts of impersonation, including facsimilar reproductions of special skills (such as usually involve considerable preliminary training, knowledge, and practice), may seem to be almost miraculous and inspired. Indeed the impostor may bring his latent fantasies into a vivid living form in the assumption of his impostored character so far surpassing in interest and apparent ability his ordinary "other self" that one is tempted to say that he is his own work of art.

The artist too is at least two people, the personal self and the collectively stimulated and responsively creative self. These two selves are sometimes nearly as separate as they are in the impostor—the division not infrequently recognized in the use of different names. Further, the character of the impostor seems especially to intrigue the artist, and the subjects of changing identities and the nature of imposture are ever recurrent themes of myths, fairy tales, and of all literature. On his journey to the Hebrides, Samuel Johnson showed a ruthless fascination in visiting those remote Highlanders who were the alleged sources of information to James Macpherson in his perpetration of the great hoax of the Ossian poetry.

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