Art and Psychoanalysis
- LAST REVIEWED: 10 January 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0030
- LAST REVIEWED: 10 January 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0030
Art history and psychoanalysis are interdisciplinary subjects that rely on imagery for their very existence. Works of art are, by definition, images, whether these are two- or three-dimensional. Psychoanalytic interpretation, both clinical and as applied to other fields, deals with the observation and analysis of imagery: in dreams, symptom formation, symbolism, and fantasy. These two fields officially came together in 1910, when Freud published the first psychobiography of an artist (namely, Leonardo da Vinci), and they met again four years later in Freud’s short essay on the Moses of Michelangelo. Both studies engendered controversy, with art historians and psychoanalysts offering heated critiques pro and con. Following these two publications, the field of art and psychoanalysis expanded into various approaches, depending on the particular psychoanalytic or art-historical bias of the author. Although there has been considerable overlap in these approaches, they can be divided into three major categories: (1) psychobiography, in which the artist’s life is directly related to his or her work; (2) psycho-iconography, in which the iconography of a work is determined by convention and theme and can be analyzed psychologically; psycho-iconography can also provide insights into works of art when the artist’s life is well known and can be related to the meaning of the imagery; and (3) the origin and nature of creativity and symbolization. These three methods of analyzing art and artists form the major sections of this article. Both psychobiography and psycho-iconography are of most value when they clarify the art, especially with regard to its meaning or technique. The origin and nature of creativity and symbolization are more relevant to the creative process and can be approached either from the point of view of a specific artist or via the conventions prevalent at a specific time and place. Brief bibliographical entries are also provided for tangential issues, as well as for general discussions of the methodology of psychoanalysis applied to art. There are general overviews of the application of psychoanalytic thinking to works of art, as well as publications that expand the boundaries of psychoanalysis. These overviews include more recent approaches to art, and compilations of essays or talks given at conferences that deal with different ways of reading art according to the school of psychoanalysis favored by the author. Additional approaches to the application of psychoanalysis to art include feminist studies, semiotics and structuralism, gender studies, colonialism and non-Western art, and neurobiology. The issue of aesthetics is covered only when included in works primarily concerned with psychobiography, psycho-iconography, or creativity and symbolization. The application of psychoanalysis to aesthetics has become a major field in its own right and deserves a separate set of bibliographical entries.
Since Freud’s introduction of clinical psychoanalysis and its application to the humanities and other fields, a number of books on art and psychoanalysis, starting in the 1950s (Kris 1952), have been published. Later books cover slightly different approaches to art and psychoanalysis. Some deal with the reception of works (Spitz 1989), others with specific psychoanalytic topics such as dreams, the Oedipus complex, etc. (Adams 1993), interdisciplinary approaches to culture (Davis 1996), the polymorphous perverse character of creativity (Howard 2001), and modern psychoanalytic approaches applied to modern and contemporary art (Walsh 2013). These tend to deal with different schools of psychoanalysis applied to the arts, with art historians generally focusing on particular works of art and individual artists, and psychoanalysts on the creative process: although in some cases the two overlap and reinforce each other.
Adams, Laurie Schneider. Art and Psychoanalysis. New York: Icon Editions, 1993.
An overview of psychoanalytic readings of works of art. Topics such as dreams and delusions in art, expressions of the Oedipus complex in art, psychobiography and autobiography, conventional themes, the primal scene, and the transitional object and its implications for symbolization and creativity, are surveyed, along with explanations of theory and clinical vignettes.
Davis, Whitney. Replications: Archaeology, Art History, Psychoanalysis. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.
Twelve interdisciplinary essays explore what Davis calls “replications” in art history, archaeology, and psychoanalysis. Argues that art history, like archaeology and psychoanalysis, deals with the cultural meaning of objects and imagery. Thus, art history shares certain elements with those fields, as well as being able to form a bridge between them. Among the artists covered are Max Ernst, Bourgeois, Whiteread, Koons, Kruger, and Sherman.
Howard, Seymour. “Eros, Empathy, Expectation, Ascription, and Breasts of Michelangelo (A Prolegomenon on Polymorphism and Creativity).” Artibus et Historiae 22.44 (2001): 79–118.
Examples of the polymorphous perverse character of creativity and the metamorphosis of imagery reflecting unconscious processes.
Kris, Ernst. Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art. Madison, CT: International Universities, 1952.
An art historian and psychoanalyst introduces the notion of “regression in the service of the ego” as a necessary condition of creativity: that is, the artist, via ego control, accesses his or her unconscious and transforms its mechanisms into art. Kris considers several major artists as well as examples of the art of the insane.
Spitz, Ellen Handler. Art and Psyche. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.
Three main approaches to art and psychoanalysis are explored: the psychobiographical connections between artists and their work; the nature of a particular work; and the reception of works. In addition to the visual arts, taking a more aesthetic approach, Spitz cites examples of music, dance, and literature.
Walsh, Maria. Art and Psychoanalysis. London: I. B. Taurus, 2013.
In addition to Freud, the author applies various modern psychoanalytic approaches of interpretation, e.g., Lacan and Kristeva, to modern and contemporary artists. The nature of the object is considered from surrealism through postmodernism with the intention of arriving at the reality of human experience rather than presenting traditional psychoanalytic interpretations.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Activist and Socially Engaged Art
- Adornment, Dress, and African Arts of the Body
- Ancient Egyptian Art
- Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) Art
- Angkor and Environs
- Art and Archaeology of the Bronze Age in China
- Art and Architecture in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary
- Art and Propaganda
- Art of Medieval Iberia
- Art of the Crusader Period in the Levant
- Art of the Dogon
- Art of the Mamluks
- Art of the Plains Peoples
- Artemisia Gentileschi
- Arts of Senegambia
- Arts of the Pacific Islands
- Assyrian Art and Architecture
- Australian Aboriginal Art
- Aztec Empire, Art of the
- Babylonian Art and Architecture
- Bamana Arts and Mande Traditions
- Barbizon Painting
- Bartolomeo Ammannati
- Bernini, Gian Lorenzo
- Bohemia and Moravia, Renaissance and Rudolphine Art of
- Borromini, Francesco
- Brazilian Art and Architecture, Post-independence
- Burkina Art and Performance
- Byzantine Art and Architecture
- Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da
- Carracci, Annibale
- Chaco Canyon and Other Early Art in the North American Sou...
- Chicana/o Art
- Chimú Art and Architecture
- Colonial Art of New Granada (Colombia)
- Conceptual Art and Conceptualism
- Contemporary Art
- Courbet, Gustave
- Czech Modern and Contemporary Art
- Daumier, Honoré
- David, Jacques-Louis
- Delacroix, Eugène
- Design, Garden and Landscape
- Destruction in Art
- Dürer, Albrecht
- Early Christian Art
- Early Medieval Architecture in Western Europe
- Eighteenth-Century Europe
- Ephemeral Art and Performance in Africa
- Ethiopia, Art History of
- European Art, Historiography of
- European Medieval Art, Otherness in
- Eyck, Jan van
- Festivals in West Africa
- French Impressionism
- Gender and Art in the Middle Ages
- Gender and Art in the Renaissance
- Gender and Art in the 17th Century
- Giotto di Bondone
- Gothic Architecture
- Gothic Art in Italy
- Goya y Lucientes, Francisco José
- Great Zimbabwe and its Legacy
- Greek Art and Architecture
- Greenberg, Clement
- Géricault, Théodore
- Iconography in the Western World
- Installation Art
- Islamic Art and Architecture in North Africa and the Iberi...
- Japanese Architecture
- Japanese Ceramics
- Japanese Literati Painting and Calligraphy
- Jewish Art, Ancient
- Jewish Art, Medieval to Early Modern
- Jewish Art, Modern and Contemporary
- Jones, Inigo
- Kahlo, Frida
- Katsushika Hokusai
- Lastman, Pieter
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Luca della Robbia (or the Della Robbia Family)
- Luisa Roldán
- Markets and Auctions, Art
- Marxism and Art
- Maya Art
- Medieval Art and Liturgy (recent approaches)
- Medieval Art and the Cult of Saints
- Medieval Art in Scandinavia, 400-800
- Medieval Textiles
- Meiji Painting
- Merovingian Period Art
- Moche Art
- Modern Sculpture
- Monet, Claude
- Māori Art and Architecture
- Museums in Australia
- Museums of Art in the West
- Nasca Art
- Native North American Art, Pre-Contact
- Nazi Looting of Art
- New Media Art
- New Spain, Art and Architecture
- Olmec Art
- Pacific Art, Contemporary
- Palladio, Andrea
- Parthenon, The
- Performance Art
- Perspective from the Renaissance to Post-Modernism, Histor...
- Peter Paul Rubens
- Philip II and El Escorial
- Photography, History of
- Pollock, Jackson
- Polychrome Sculpture in Early Modern Spain
- Postmodern Architecture
- Pre-Hispanic Art of Columbia
- Psychoanalysis, Art and
- Qing Dynasty Painting
- Rembrandt van Rijn
- Renaissance and Renascences
- Renaissance Art and Architecture in Spain
- Rivera, Diego
- Rodin, Auguste
- Roman Art
- Science and Conteporary Art
- Sculpture: Method, Practice, Theory
- South Asia and Allied Textile Traditions, Wall Painting of
- South Asia, Modern and Contemporary Art of
- South Asia, Photography in
- South Asian Architecture and Sculpture, 13th to 18th Centu...
- South Asian Art, Historiography of
- The Art of Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy through the ...
- The Art of Southern Italy and Sicily under Angevin and Cat...
- Theory in Europe to 1800, Art
- Timurid Art and Architecture
- Turner, Joseph Mallord William
- van Gogh, Vincent
- Viking Art
- Warburg, Aby
- Warhol, Andy
- Wari (Huari) Art and Architecture
- Wittelsbach Patronage from the late Middle Ages to the Thi...
- Women, Art, and Art History: Gender and Feminist Analyses
- Yuan Dynasty Art