The Evolution of Psychoanalytic Thinking About Aesthetics

Authored by: Adela Abella

The Routledge International Handbook of Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

Print publication date:  November  2022
Online publication date:  November  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367276454
eBook ISBN: 9780429297076
Adobe ISBN:


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We can differentiate three stages in the evolution of psychoanalytic thinking about aesthetics. In the first period, attention was focused on the content of the work of art: following Freud’s first hypothesis, artistic endeavour allows a return of the repressed through displacement and disguise. In this line of thought, art is aligned with dreams, neurotic symptoms, slips of the tongue, child playing, myths, and so on. This model had an important drawback: it cannot explain the special vigour of a literary masterpiece in comparison with a tabloid drawing on the same content. During the 1950s, Hanna Segal attempted to resolve this quandary, highlighting the impact of the formal presentation: in the same way as for tragedy, the beauty of a work of art allows the expression and the coming through of unbearable feelings and phantasies. However, this second model was of little use in approaching contemporary artistic trends which disregard beauty and formal perfection. Evoking some postmodern aspirations, more recent psychoanalysts emphasize the multiple personal recreations of a work of art. These three models will be applied to one of the most frequent iconographies of Christian art, the Annunciations, with the aim of exploring their respective usefulness and limits.

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