Freud's view that art satisfies psychic needs has been taken to mean that art has its source in the unconscious and that it unifies pleasure and reality. The author argues that there is a third point that Freud repeatedly emphasizes, which should not be overlooked, that art influences our emotions. The author examines what Freud means by this claim, in particular, his reading of Michelangelo's Moses. Freud's focus here on emotions as fundamental to subjective experience, as subject to regulation and as potentially healthy forms of communication serves to supplement and even challenge what he says in his theory of affect. The author concludes by making inferences about a contemporary psychoanalytic theory of affects: that it ought to be inclusive of science (more receptive to neurobiology and less bound to Freud) as well as art (preserving the focus on subjective experience, especially the processing of complex emotions), which is illustrated with the concept of mentalized affectivity.
Keywords: art and emotion, aesthetics, affects, affect theory, affect regulation, mentalized affectivity
We remain on the surface so long as we are dealing only with memories and ideas. What is alone of value in mental life is rather the feelings [Gefühle]. No mental forces are significant unless they possess the character of aroused feelings [Gefühle zu erwecken]. (Freud, 1906, p. 49)
Freud's aesthetics is a subject that has been treated exhaustively, and one might well be skeptical whether there is anything new to discover. His view of art can be characterized easily enough: art satisfies psychic needs, particularly psychic needs that stem from the unconscious and that are a mixture of pleasure and reality. Yet, such a familiar summation ignores the crucial role that emotions play in Freud's account. He repeatedly asserted that art produces an emotional effect on the recipient, and the issue of affect regulation lies at the center of his investigations of Leonardo and Moses. Indeed, Freud's reflections on emotions in art are striking because they rely on a reading that is more positive and complex than is found in his (scientific) theories of affect. Emotions are portrayed as fundamental to subjective experience, as amenable to regulation, and as potentially healthy forms of communication. As I shall argue, Freud's understanding of emotions in art provides an important supplement to what he claims elsewhere; moreover, I shall claim that his understanding of emotions in art actually sheds light on the shortcomings of his theories of affect.
There is, of course, a wide consensus that the theory of affect was and remains a problematic area in psychoanalytic theory. Throughout the history of psychoanalysis, complaints have been made about Freud's scientific theory of affect, but there has also been considerable adherence to following in the path he forged. This might be a clue as to why the difference in emphasis and perspective found in Freud's writings on the emotional effect of art has been overlooked. It is illuminating to pay attention to what Freud says about emotions in art because it features the processing of complex emotions. My intention here, however, is not to argue that, armed with knowledge of what Freud says about emotions in art, we can finally postulate an adequate theory of affect. I contend, rather, that Freud's scientific approach to the study of affect needs to be revised by adopting a current neurobiological perspective that makes greater acknowledgment of how emotions are stimulated externally and are subject to regulation. At the same time, it is legitimate to affirm and develop our understanding of the subjective experience of emotions. In this connection, I shall refer to mentalized affectivity, a sophisticated kind of affect regulation, which captures how it is possible to cultivate a deeper and more satisfying experience of the self. My conclusion in this paper will be that Freud failed to integrate scientific and artistic aspects of the study of affect, but that such an aspiration remains worthwhile.
No single work of Freud's is devoted to aesthetic theory, and he repeatedly insisted that he was merely an amateur concerning aesthetic matters. Yet, one should be cautious not to be too easily swayed by his disclaimers: not only did Freud write a fair amount about art and artists, his reflections on aesthetics are disseminated widely throughout his corpus.1 His emphasis on the primacy of psychology produced an interpretive style that was innovative and richly subjective, if not fully reliable.
Freud's writing on aesthetics can be summed up in the notion that art expresses psychic needs. This refers to both the psychic needs of the creator and those of the recipient of artworks. Creativity fascinated Freud, but he was also concerned with aesthetic reception. He registered his opposition, for example, to the Kantian idea that aesthetic contemplation is purposeless, an end-in-itself. Concerning the pure ideal of contemplation, Freud states in Jokes and their relation to the unconscious: 'I doubt if we are in a position to undertake anything without having an intention in view' (1905b, p. 95). He proposes in that context that the intention of aesthetic appreciation is pleasure, but he qualifies this in discussing the two principles that rule mental life, the pleasure principle and the reality principle. As Spector (1972) emphasizes, Freud was not responsive to the popular, contemporary idea of art for art's sake (also see 1912-3, p. 90).
The notion that art expresses psychic needs was a prevalent idea at the turn of the century; it has its source in the notion of Einfühlung [empathy], championed by Lipps and others and developed further by Worringer (1979) who specifically used the term 'psychic needs' in his work Abstraktion und Einfühlung . Interestingly, Freud's library in London includes copies of Lipps's Äesthetische Faktoren der Raumanschauung, Der Streit über Tragodie and Komik und Humor, the latter of which is filled with marked passages, as well as copies of Worringer's Formprobleme der Gotik and Griechentum und Gotik.2 It would be erroneous, though, to imply that Freud was merely borrowing from these scholars. Freud's view was derived from his own elaboration and differentiation of psychic functioning.
What does the claim that art expresses psychic needs mean for Freud? Two fundamental points can be delineated: 1) art is a product of the unconscious part of the mind; and 2) art manages to achieve a reconciliation of pleasure and reality. The first point is of sufficient importance to ensure a place for Freud's contribution to philosophical aesthetics. The second point, that art reconciles pleasure and reality, requires clarification and will require us to explore the pivotal concept of sublimation.
Let us consider the notion that art is produced from the unconscious. As Freud suggests in an important summary passage in 'A short account of psychoanalysis', a psychoanalytic approach to aesthetics affirms that myths and fairytales can be interpreted in a manner similar to dreams and that unconscious wishes underlie works of art (1924b, p. 208). Dreams are, in Freud's (1900) well-known formulation, the 'royal road' to the unconscious; so we can infer that myths and fairytales have unconscious sources as well. The unconscious wishes that underlie works of art belong to the artist him/herself. Freud believed that the artist is distinguished from others in being in touch with his/her primitive, childish, instinctual needs (Milner, 1987; Ricoeur, 1970). He also argues that the love of beauty derives from the sexual instinct (Freud, 1905a, p. 156; fn added 1915); thus, in creating works of art, the artist draws from his/her libidinal energy. In Totem and taboo, art is traced back to magic, which has its origins in the omnipotence of thought (Freud, 1912-3, p. 90), and so the image of the artist is of someone who is comfortable in embracing primary process thinking.
In Freud's often-cited formulation, the artist is capable of a 'certain degree of laxity in the repressions' (1916-7, p. 376). The artist, thereby, has access to material from the id, the agency of the mind, which is unconscious and contains instinctual contents. This use of unconscious material, however, is conceived by Freud as a necessary, but not sufficient basis for the creation of art. As Kris (1952) expounded, the artist must also rely upon the ego, the conscious agency of the mind that involves organization and self-control. Wollheim (1974, 1991) argues that the artist engages in mastery as well as in regression for Freud; a role for both the ego and the id is, therefore, essential. The enthusiasm that the Surrealists showed for psychoanalysis perplexed Freud, precisely because he was never inclined to valorize regression over mastery. The emphasis on mastery is important because it draws attention to a related issue, that of the artist's narcissism.
Underlying artistic creativity, Freud maintains, is a healthy kind of narcissism. The concept of narcissism emerged in Freud's writing once he sought to extend his account of subjective experience. In marking a distinction between object libido and ego libido, Freud took a step in the direction of developing a theory about the self as constituted by its relationship to objects (both internal and external to the self), or what came to be called an object-relations theory. Primary narcissism is a manifestation of the desire for self-preservation: its origins are instinctual, but it gives expression to a wish for mastery that is integral for the continuing evolution of the self. While art is a vehicle for the artist's gratification, it must be a form of communication, according to Freud, that transcends the artist's own experience.
In Freud's later works, a new notion is introduced: that art provides meaning in the face of loss. Consolation is gained through producing and receiving art, although this alleviates suffering only in a partial sense. As Freud puts it in Civilization and its discontents, 'Nevertheless the mild narcosis induced in us by art can do no more than bring about a transient withdrawal from the pressure of vital needs, and it is not strong enough to make us forget real misery' (1930a, p. 81). The psychic needs expressed in art are juxtaposed in this context to more fundamental ones. Aesthetics, in his view, provides 'fore-pleasure,' rather than real pleasure [Endlust], the latter of which is associated directly with instinctual satisfaction (1905b, p. 137, 1908, p. 153, 1913, p. 187). Yet, as will become apparent, the distinction between foreand real pleasure runs into difficulties once we consider emotions.
The claim that art bears a relation to instinctual gratification, but cannot be reduced to this, brings us to the second point about how art satisfies psychic needs: it reconciles pleasure and reality. Freud explicitly draws attention to the 'betweenness' of aesthetics in connection with his discussion of the two basic principles governing our mental life-the pleasure and reality principles. In 'Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning' (1911), Freud proposes that art brings about 'reconciliation' between the two principles. Rather than accepting the renunciation of his/her instincts, the artist engages in fantasy and thereby seems to disavow reality. Freud adds, however, that the artist is able to return to reality 'by making use of special gifts to mould his fantasies into truths of a new kind, which are valued by men as precious reflections of reality' (1911, p. 224). According to this account, the artist is successful in opening a new space between the one-sided alternatives of pleasure and reality. Art represents, as Freud avers, a 'half-way region [Zwischenreich]' (1913, p. 188). The artist resembles the neurotic in feeling maladjusted, but differs in devising a novel path to mitigate dissatisfaction with the world.
Creativity allows the artist to hold on to pleasure without forsaking reality. A space is opened up for a version of reality that is invented, not found. Aesthetic pleasure is distinct from the pleasure provided by the instincts-just as aesthetic reality is distinct from the reality that is found in the external world. Freud remains enamored with the idea of the artist as a heroic genius who fashions meaning for him/herself and thus refuses to derive it from what simply exists in the world. Sterba's (1940) suggestion that the artist produces a 'pseudo-reality' too strongly implies that it is a false form of reality; Winnicott's (1967) notion of 'potential space' more plausibly captures how the artist contests the boundaries of subjective and objective experience. For Winnicott, the concept of 'playing' serves as the fundamental contrast to reality, rather than the instinctual and climactic aim of pleasure. In current psychoanalytic theory, there is now a much greater appreciation for the importance of play and how it spurs the capacity to symbolize and engage in self-reflexivity (Fonagy and Target, 1996a, 1996b; Fonagy et al., 2002). Play offers a way to forge a connection between the (special) creativity of the artist to the (everyday) creativity that characterizes a life of wellbeing.
Freud's explanation of how art reconciles pleasure and reality turns on the idea of sublimation. This key notion, which concerns the transformation of instinctual energy into higher, cultural ends, such as artistic or intellectual accomplishment, was amended by Freud several times, but never fully clarified (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1973). In sublimation, a withdrawal takes place from object-libido to narcissistic libido. Freud uses the tantalizing, oxymoronic phrase 'desexualized Eros' in explicating how sublimation works (1923, p. 44). It is fair to wonder, though, how to understand this complex idea: does the artist have greater energy for other (creative) activities by virtue of becoming liberated from sexual aims? Or does sublimation manage to render sexual aims more diffuse, but still active?
Loewald (1988) makes the illuminating proposal that sublimation allows the integration of higher and lower functions, rather than the overcoming of lower functions by higher ones. This suggests an alternative to the structural model which emphasized the artist's id and the ego; in Loewald's object-relations-influenced account, the artist symbolically achieves a newfound unity that replaces the sense of mourning for the original (dual) unity that defines the infant's primary experience to the world with his/her mother. The importance of sublimation, therefore, is that it denotes the prospect of achieving a deeper unity in psychic functioning.
For Freud, art reconciles pleasure and reality by virtue of the artist remaking reality without forsaking either (subjective) pleasure or (objective) reality. Through sublimation, the artist achieves a new kind of psychic functioning that affirms culture without disowning biology. An intriguing question remains: whether the artist's sublimation promotes sublimation in the recipient of the artwork and, if so, how-given that Freud tends to see sublimation as a special achievement (1912, p. 119). Another, related question is whether sublimation must channel energy in a socially accepted direction [as Freud suggests in a final formulation of the concept in The ego and the id (1923, p. 30)] or whether it allows the artist to produce outside of (and perhaps in opposition to) social norms (Whitebook, 1995).
Throughout his writings on aesthetics, Freud insists on a third component of the psychic needs satisfied by art: that it produces emotional effects on those who experience it. This has not figured in the secondary literature on Freud's aesthetics; it is less the case that no one mentions it as that no scholar has chosen to give serious thought to what Freud means.3 This is precisely what I plan to do here.
The notion that art produces emotions, of course, has a long history, going back to Aristotle. Freud borrowed this notion, giving it an original twist. Art gives us the opportunity to work on knowing what we feel-it is not merely cathartic in the sense of allowing emotions to pour out indiscriminately. As we will see, for Freud, emotions are invoked by art in an experimental way: they create the opportunity to practice regulating, enjoying and being enlightened by them. What makes this noteworthy is how much it departs from Freud's scientific thinking about affect. Freud's focus on emotions in art counterbalances and deepens his vexed theory of affect. I will return to this point following my discussion of Freud's theory of affect.
Let us seek a clearer picture of Freud's claim that art produces an emotional effect. In 'Psychopathic characters on the stage' (1905-6), Freud refers to Aristotle's theory of tragedy and then suggests that drama opens up 'sources of pleasure or enjoyment in our emotional life [Affektleben]' (1905a, p. 305). He has in mind, at this juncture, a conventional notion of catharsis wherein having emotions is equated with becoming free of them. In Totem and taboo, Freud draws attention to the fact that the artist himself attains gratification in the way that he/she 'produces emotional effects [Affektswirkungen]' (1912-3, p. 90). This is important because it underscores the relationship that exists between the artist and recipient.
In some works, Freud emphasizes the conscious aim of the artist to influence emotions. In 'Creative writers and day-dreaming', Freud suggests that art arouses in us emotions of which, in contrast to the artist, we are not aware (1908, p. 143). In 'The Moses of Michelangelo', Freud puts forth the specific formulation that the artist seeks to 'awaken in us the same emotional attitude [Affektlage], the same mental constellation as that which in him produced the impetus to create' (1914a, p. 212). Freud does not try to justify this idea, which bears a resemblance to his assertion in Jokes and their relation to the unconscious that jokes help us to be able to compare someone else's psyche to our own (1905b, p. 186). A distinct twist is found in 'The uncanny' where Freud places the accent not on the artist making us feel when he/she feels, but rather the capacity to manipulate our feelings:
But the storyteller has a peculiarly directive power over us; by means of the moods he can put us in, he is able to guide the current of our emotions [Gefühlsprozesse], to dam it up in one direction and make it flow in another. (1919, p. 251)
This passage gives more authority to the artist, and it confirms that the artist utilizes his own ego to function as a kind of external regulator of emotions.
In other works, however, Freud suggests that the emotional effect on the recipient of art stems from the artist's unconscious. A revealing summary is found in 'A short account of psychoanalysis':
We have shown that myths and fairy tales can be interpreted as dreams, we have traced the convoluted paths that lead from the urge of the unconscious wish to its realization in a work of art, we have learnt to understand the emotional effect [affektive Wirkung] of a work of art on the observed, and in the case of the artist himself we have made clear his internal kinship with the neurotic as well as his distinction from him. (1924b, p. 208)
Freud makes a link here between the artist's unconscious wish and the recipients' emotions. This passage culminates with the bold proclamation that psychoanalysis can claim to have the decisive word concerning the imaginative life of human beings.
As already observed, the artist must utilize both ego and id in creating works of art. Narcissism, the unity of pleasure and reality, and sublimation are also at stake for the artist. Emotions figure in Freud's writings on art primarily in terms of their effect on reception. Yet, because Freud is conceiving of emotions as conveying subjective experience and the search for self-understanding, they point back to the artist as well. In The future of an illusion, Freud asserts that art provides the occasion of 'sharing highly valued emotional experiences [gemeinsam erlebten, hochgeschätzten Empfindungen]' (1927, p. 14). Through a complex process of conscious and unconscious motivation, the artist invokes emotions that can be experienced mutually and that potentially move the recipient in a beneficial way.
In two of Freud's most controversial works on aesthetics, Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of childhood (1910) and 'The Moses of Michelangelo' (1914a), Freud addresses the above issues in some detail. Leonardo's character and Moses' character are interpreted as exemplars of sublimation-tempted by passion, they overcome it in order to accomplish a higher goal. It is notable that Freud chooses to portray sublimation in terms of emotions, rather than drives. Freud makes the struggle for affect regulation central to his interpretation of and personal response to the artists Leonardo and Michelangelo.
Freud directly connects Leonardo's creativity to his capacity to regulate his emotions. He tells us that Leonardo was able to control his emotions and to subordinate them to his work. As he states, Leonardo
...had merely converted his passion [Leidenschaft] into a thirst for knowledge; he then applied himself to investigation with the persistence, constancy and penetration which is derived from passion, and at the climax of intellectual labour, when knowledge has been won, he allowed the long restrained affect [Affekt] to break loose and to flow away freely, as a stream of water drawn from a river is allowed to flow away when its work is done. (1910, pp. 74-5)
In linking emotions to discharged energy, Freud seems to be borrowing in this instance from the language of his scientific thinking about emotions. He also observes that Leonardo's impressive capacity for sublimation is hindered by his alleged repudiation of sexuality. Freud does offer a different, and more positive, take on emotions here in his characterization of Leonardo's sacred figures as moving away from the Church toward a humanism that is represented by 'great and beautiful human emotions [Empfindungen]' (p. 124).
Freud's main focus in 'The Moses of Michelangelo' is on the figure of Moses, that is, on the work of art itself. Freud does suggest that Moses reflected Michelangelo's 'inner experience' (1914a, p. 221), that he 'added something new and more than human to the figure of Moses' (p. 233), and that ultimately the work was a kind of warning to himself (and to Pope Julius II whom it commemorates) (p. 234). The centerpiece of Freud's interpretation, however, is Moses' struggle to regulate his emotions. In Freud's reading, Moses is depicted at 'a special and important moment' in his life: when he returns from Sinai and witnesses the rabble worshipping the Golden Calf (p. 219). Unlike the Biblical version in which Moses throws down the tablets in rage, Freud claims that Michelangelo offers a version that is 'superior to the historical and traditional Moses' (p. 233). Allegedly, Moses restrains his rage and remains seated, thus overcoming 'temptation,' keeping his 'passion [Leidenschaft] in check,' and renouncing 'an indulgence of his feelings [die Befriedigung seines Affekts]' (pp. 229-30).
Freud endorses the suggestion, made by the commentator Thode (1908), that Moses is feeling a combination of emotions: 'wrath, pain and contempt' (1914a, p. 214). He discerns the tension in the sculpture as manifest in the peculiar gesture of Moses' hand in his beard, in the way he almost drops the tablets he is holding, and in his left foot, which is vertical to the ground, poised between action and reflection. Freud concludes that the 'giant frame with its tremendous physical power becomes only a concrete expression [Ausdrucksmittel] of the highest mental achievement that is possible in a man, that of struggling successfully against an inward passion [für das Niederringen der eigenen Leidenschaft zugunsten] which he has devoted himself' (p. 233). What attracts Freud, in particular, are Moses' 'inner emotions [(der) innere Aufruhr]' (p. 218)-the depth of his capacity to feel and the fact that he knows what he feels-even though he chooses not to act on this basis.4 For Freud, the sculpture depicts Moses' commitment to achieve affect regulation, and ultimately self-understanding. Moses exemplifies sublimation in the work-reflecting both the artist's and anyone who views and responds to it.
In Freud's interpretation of Leonardo and Moses, the capacity not to act on immediate feelings but to reflect on them and use them toward an intended goal is emphasized. The cases, though, are not exactly the same: Leonardo's affects are discussed in broad terms with an emphasis on how they are ultimately discharged, whereas Moses is depicted amidst a particular struggle to rein in his affects. Both this loosening and tightening of emotional expression are legitimate aspects of affect regulation. The cases are parallel in a further, problematic sense: that they rely on controversial, mistaken premises.
The controversy in the case of Leonardo devolves around Freud's adoption of (and failure or refusal to correct) a mistranslation of the Italian word nibbio for 'vulture,' rather than 'kite,' which occurred in a childhood memory of Leonardo's, to which Freud added speculations about the connection between vultures as mother-figures, and then formulated his grand hypothesis about Leonardo's homosexual character as a product of the absence of his father and overdependence on his mother. This interpretation of Leonardo is brazen and provocative, but, as Schapiro (1994a, 1994b) has demonstrated, Freud shows a remarkable indifference to cultural and historical factors that ought to have been brought to bear upon the interpretation of Leonardo's work and character. Regardless of how indulgent it might seem to an art historian, Freud is engaging in a form of experimental play through his response to Leonardo's work and apparently felt little compunction to adhere strictly to the cautious standards of academic scholarship.
Freud's response to Leonardo was a deeply emotional one. He voices the fanciful idea in the work that he might have 'succumbed to the attractions of this great and mysterious man' (1910, p. 134). He unabashedly referred to the work as a jeu d'esprit and as his 'favourite,' and, in a letter to Lou Andreas-Salome on 9 February 1919, as the 'only beautiful thing I have ever written' (quoted in Gay, 1988, p. 268). In a letter to Jung on 11 November 1909, while he was writing the work, Freud suggestively alludes to Leonardo as 'posing for me.' The wildness in Freud's response to Leonardo is best understood in terms of Freud's own unconscious, creative impulses.5 Ultimately, Freud is confronting himself in the interpretation of Leonardo-playing with a homosexual identification, anxiously considering success and failure and the question of what it means to achieve greatness, and reflecting on the theme of being both an artist and scientist.
Freud's interpretation of Moses has also been seriously challenged. Macmillan and Swales (2003) offer a devastating attack on Freud based on several points. They argue that the moment depicted by Michelangelo is taken from a precise passage in the Bible that Freud ignored: after Moses' second ascent, necessitated by the breaking of the tablets as a response to witnessing the rabble worshipping the Golden Calf, in which he glimpses the posterior of God. They claim that Moses' facial expression corresponds to the splendor and awe of such an encounter, supporting their case by relying on Rosenthal's (1964) simulated positioning of what the statue might have looked like atop the tomb of Pope Julius II in which case Moses' facial expression appears quite different from the vantage point that Freud (and the rest of us) have. Macmillan and Swales also challenge other aspects of Freud's interpretation such as the positioning of the tablets under his left arm and the fact that there is nothing written on them (which for them affirms that what is depicted occurred after Moses had destroyed the tablets and before God bestowed them again).
While Macmillan and Swales offer an array of illuminating detail for assessing Freud's interpretation, their overall conclusions are unwarranted. They seem to advocate a kind of iconic fundamentalism in locating the single, correct Biblical moment that the sculpture represents, while failing to entertain issues concerning the artist's creativity and interpretive license. They assume, for example, that, given that the statue was intended to honor Julius II, Michelangelo must wish to defend traditional religious belief rather than the humanism that Freud claimed. Although Macmillan and Swales acknowledge how ambiguous it is to interpret facial expressions, they come down one-sidedly on the notion that Moses is expressing positive, rather than negative affect. For Freud, Moses conveys a complex emotional state: strong, internal negative affect along with outward calm. Freud's most crucial claim, that Moses is depicted in a state of intense struggling to understand and master his emotions, is hardly invalidated. Why could it not be possible that Moses had complex feelings about his encounter with God-joy, awe along with a sense of being overwhelmed? Finally, Macmillan and Swales use Freud's interpretive zeal as an occasion to render gratuitous judgments about his clinical work.
The response that Freud had to Moses was as deeply personal and emotional as his reaction to Leonardo. At the risk of anachronism, it is tempting to say that Freud makes full use of his countertransference in this response. It is well known that Freud identified strongly with Moses as a struggling hero who was forced to contend with the waywardness of his followers. As Blum (1994) and Yerushalmi (1991) contend, though, Freud also responded to Moses as a son to a father-marking oedipal conflict. It is intriguing, too, to contrast Freud's interpretation of Moses to another figure with whom Freud powerfully identified, Oedipus, whose life was wrecked by his own transgression (Rudnytsky, 1987).
Freud construes Moses as almost a Greek figure-as one who prevails over his passionate nature to achieve sophrosune-the preeminent Greek virtue, which means moderation, self-control and self-mastery, and has to do with the harmonious regulation of pleasure. In another sense, Freud furnishes us with a fantasy in which righteous restraint prevails over the lure of transgression, which might be read suggestively as a vindication of Hebraism over Hellenism. Freud's extremely personal response to the sculpture marks his own struggle to hold the psychoanalytic movement together and to restrain the rage he felt at the time to the defectors from his movement, Adler and Jung (E. Jones, 1953-7; Spruiell, 1985). In a letter to Sándor Ferenczi from 17 October 1912, Freud pointedly complained that his current mood made him feel more like the historical Moses than Michelangelo's Moses.
Freud's willingness to approach art through himself is significant because, unwittingly perhaps, it heralds a new style of aesthetic reception (Holland, 1992; Spector, 1972). Aesthetic reception, thus conceived, becomes a more active, and hence creative enterprise. Indeed, it is preferable to regard Freud's response as subjective, rather than as providing a generalizable theory of aesthetics in terms of emotions. A host of hermeneutic issues are raised by his tacit encouragement of variability in aesthetic interpretation. For one thing, the standard for aesthetic reception no longer would reside exclusively with the authority of the so-called expert. The meaning of objectivity in aesthetic reception is loosened, but not necessarily undermined. Freud never argued explicitly in favor of using oneself as a legitimate part of aesthetic reception; his use of his own reactions, I suspect, derives from his clinical experience, where transference and countertransference reactions are inescapable. Although my interpretation ascribes a meaning to countertransference that transcends Freud's own understanding of the concept, no one could doubt his expressive response to works of art.
Freud's emotionality affects the quality of his scholarship, but what he has to say transcends the idiosyncratic and constitutes a charged arena in which he confronts himself. On the one hand, Freud deserves credit for anticipating a kind of postmodernist mentality that questions absolute meaning and welcomes playful, personal expression. On the other hand, we should not forget that Freud was antimodernist in his aesthetic taste and, given the emphasis on emotional edification, seems to be signaling his debt to a version of 19th century Bildung. The latter is difficult to accept because it requires the antiquated notion that art ought to serve to affirm morality.
It is fair to conclude that the conventional view of Freud's aesthetics needs to be modified in order to account for what he says about emotions. Freud's repeated emphasis on the emotional effect of art cannot be brushed aside. A comprehensive reading must consider three components of how art satisfies psychic needs: by giving expression to unconscious wishes, by unifying pleasure and reality, and by producing emotional effects. These three components are not independent. Sublimation, as I see it, is the link among them: transforming drives, fostering a new version of reality, and regulating emotions. In particular, sublimation captures how we are not subject to our emotions, but can use them towards valuable ends.6 It is clearly the case that sublimation is manifest in Freud's response; it pertains, therefore, not just to the artist, but to the recipient as well.7
So far, I have argued that our understanding of Freud's aesthetics ought to be amended in light of his interest in emotions. But it is worth pondering why this aspect of Freud's aesthetics has been overlooked. As I see it, the answer is found in the uncertain and confusing place that affects have had in psychoanalytic theory. Freud changed his mind repeatedly about affects, and, for a long time, the prevailing atmosphere in psychoanalysis was defensive: paying attention to affects was perceived as threatening to the primacy of drives. This atmosphere has changed, but the influence of Freud's views endures, and so, in this section, I revisit Freud's theories of affect. I specify my claim that Freud's take on emotions in art makes a significant contribution to what he says in his scientific view. In addition, I clarify how his understanding of emotions in art can be used as a critique of his scientific view.
Freud revised his theory of affect numerous times without ever successfully integrating its diverse aspects into a unified whole. In presenting some of its main features in outline here, I will not try to do justice to all its complexity. Rapaport (1967) remains the most detailed theoretical account of the vicissitudes of Freud's views. Stein (1990) covers Freud's views in individual works, and then follows the influence of his views in different schools of psychoanalysis. Neither Rapaport nor Stein mentions Freud's description of emotions in art.
Freud's theory of affect can be divided, roughly, into three periods. In the first period, affects are construed as residues of painful experience-if they are not discharged, there is a danger that they will continue to have a contaminating effect. Prior to the formulation of the notion of libido, affects are simply equated with quantity of energy. Throughout the Studies on hysteria (Breuer and Freud, 1893-5), this negative and bodily aspect of affective experience is dominant. Freud pays little attention to the mental aspect of affects, especially given that his material was derived from clinical material. In the Project (1895), the link between affects and pain is sustained in terms of a contrast to the link Freud makes between wishes and satisfaction. This view is modified in the 'Two principles' (1911), where Freud suggests that affect discharge is a shortcut to tension decrease; in other words, that affects emerge in deference to reality, when there is a demand for the inhibition of action. Affects are thereby conceived of in a less negative way, although the emphasis remains that they are alterations of the body without reference to the external world.
In the second period, affects are comprehended as the psychical manifestation (along with ideas) of drives. In the metapsychological papers, in particular the essay 'The unconscious' (1915), Freud stresses the relation between drives and affects, taking a further step away from the strange supposition that affects are pathological in nature. Affects are construed as marking internal conflict. The shift to the view that affects are the manifestations of drives, of course, leaves Freud to struggle against the misconception that affects must be conscious while drives are unconscious. Another unfortunate result of this second view is that the primacy of drives means that affects are too easily understood to be epiphenomenal, as not being motivational themselves, and that Freud is left without an account of affects that are not drive-related.
According to the third view, affects are signals and are subject-at least to some degree-to the control of the ego. This certainly carries the implication that affects are regarded as contributing to adaptive functioning, and thus can be regarded as anticipating the emergence of ego-psychology. Freud places particular emphasis on a single emotion, anxiety, although there is an issue of whether we ought to conceive of anxiety as an affect (Wong, 2000). The third view has its source in Freud's Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety (1926) and has been extended even further with the introduction of the language of the self and the concept of affect regulation in psychoanalysis. Through the influence of object-relations theory and particularly developmental theory, the third view has flourished in recent years.
Although the subject of affects was once relegated to be marginal in psychoanalysis (Alexander, 1935; Brierley, 1937; Glover, 1939; Novey, 1959; Rangell, 1967), from the 1970s on, there has been a proliferation of interest in affects (Basch, 1976; Blum, 1991; Brenner, 1974; Emde, 1983; Green, 1999; J. Jones, 1995; Kernberg, 1976, 1984, 1990; Krystal, 1988; Sandler and Sandler, 1978; Schafer, 1976; Schore, 1994; Westen, 1997). The proliferation of interest in affects is a result of several factors: dissatisfaction with the state of drive theory, enthusiasm about developmental theory, a new focus on the self, and, more recently, a new receptiveness to neuroscientific conception of emotions. In particular, there has been interest centering on the idea that affects and affect regulation contribute to the unfolding of a sense of self (Fonagy et al., 2002). Nevertheless, the only consensus that exists is that there is no universal consensus, and there remains a sense of unease between some psychoanalytic theories of affect and theories that come from other intellectual fields (Green, 1999).
Each of Freud's three views has merit; none by itself is fully satisfactory; and together they do not form a whole. They concur in several respects:
1) in featuring the biological aspect of emotions and paying little and incomplete attention to the mental aspect;
2) in emphasizing that affects are internally generated over how they are processed; and
3) in sharing an absence of attention to a full range of specific emotions, and, in particular, positive emotions.
Freud's many perspectives are at odds with a Darwinian paradigm, which regards emotions in terms of being primary motivating mechanisms with very specific characteristics that occur across species and that are manifest especially in facial expressions. The emphasis on emotional experience as internally generated coincides with the mistaken notion that psychoanalysis had about infants as being unresponsive to external stimuli (Gergely, in press).
Freud's third view comes closest to scientific views that are widely accepted. There is acknowledgment of the healthy aspect of emotions, and also an implicit connection between affective experience and the sense of self. Yet, as noted, it remains bound to a single negative affect, viz. anxiety. It is surprising that Freud fails to grapple with crucial aspects of emotional experience such as its function in fostering self-regulation, self-understanding and communication. Jacobson (1953) was perhaps the first to stress the curious omission of a positive role for emotions. Indeed, there has always been a perplexing disparity between the somewhat marginal role affects have had in the theory of psychoanalysis in comparison to the unquestionable importance and attention they claim in the clinical realm.
Freud's focus on emotions in art is remarkable because it underscores what is missing in his scientific theory. There is an unquestionable richness to Freud's interpretation of Moses, for example, that is unmatched in his other writing. His interpretation is focused on Moses' facial expression and body language as a response to the noxious (external) stimuli of seeing others worshiping the Golden Calf: 'wrath in his threatening contracted brows, pain in his glance and contempt in his protruded under-lip and in down-drawn corners of his mouth' (1914a, p. 214). Moses is engaged in fathoming a range of emotions, which indicates Freud's interest in and appreciation of complex emotional states. Most importantly, Freud spotlights Moses as absorbed in processing his emotions. Moses knows he is aroused in an angry way and must strive to appease himself, which he is able to do successfully. He feels intensely and yet is able to get to a state of outward calm; this is a product of self-understanding, not displacement or repression. Meaning is featured over economics in this account. In being able to regulate his emotions, Moses demonstrates his capacity for sublimation and his worthiness of our admiration. He represents, as Freud sees it, a cultural ideal. Art provides a context, therefore, of witnessing emotions live and as they are processed, which directs the spectator beyond the work to his/her own emotional world.
Freud's writings on aesthetics incisively depict emotions as a form of communication that abets our self-understanding and wellbeing, not just as discharge, the manifestation of drives or adaptive signals. The subjective aspect of emotional experience is given full weight here. Freud's ambition might have been to offer a theory of affects that might be scientific and yet remain sensitive to subjective experience, but he never realized this project.8 In the end, Freud's focus on emotions in art reveals the weakness in his theory of affect and his failure to integrate artistic and scientific perspectives. There is good reason to bemoan the flaws in Freud's scientific approach, which has cast a long shadow over the history of psychoanalysis. In the final section of this paper, I want to move beyond Freud and sketch some priorities for a psychoanalytic theory of affect.
To recap: my argument has been that our understanding of Freud's view of aesthetics needs to be expanded to include the consideration of emotions, and that what he says about emotions in art supplements, but also highlights, problems in his theory of affect. In this section, I want to venture further and speculate about a contemporary theory of affects in psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis needs to make greater acknowledgment of the Darwinian paradigm, which has the merit of being based on a growing body of empirical evidence and being widely accepted. Yet, this is only part of the solution: psychoanalysis also needs to defend its emphasis on fathoming the subjective aspect of emotional experience, which means that there remains room for a hermeneutic approach. In recognition of both the scientific and hermeneutic aspects of affects, I introduce the concept of mentalized affectivity. Although Freud failed in his attempt to integrate a scientific and artistic approach to emotions, I end here by supporting his aspiration.
In order for psychoanalysis to develop a scientific theory of affects, it must follow the path of contemporary neurobiology, as Kandel (1999) has urged. This means revising the idiosyncratic emphasis on affects as internally generated and making room for the paradigm of basic emotions: that emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear and disgust are biologically motivating mechanisms that exist across species (and cultures). There are controversial aspects to basic emotions, but not to the notion that emotions are, first and foremost, responses to external stimuli.9 Let me be precise here: I am not arguing that it is impossible for emotions to be internally generated; my point is that one should not thereby ignore the extent to which they are externally generated and subject to regulation. In so far as one wants to sustain the notion that affects can be generated internally, one is obliged to seek new kinds of evidence-examples might be found in Edelman's (1992) emphasis that the brain constructs maps of its own activities, not just external stimuli, and Damasio's (1994) description of somatic markers, automatic signals from the body that prompt gut-level responses, but can also occur in 'as if' loops.
The basic emotions paradigm, in my view, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an adequate theory of affects. Ekman (1992, p. 175) has acknowledged that he is not attempting to study the subjective experience of emotions. Moreover, cognitive theories of emotion have drawn attention to the importance of appraisal mechanisms that enable us to process and modulate emotional responses. Ledoux (1996) has proposed the idea that two emotional response systems need to be distinguished, one of which is automatic and approximate; the other of which utilizes cognition, and is both subject to voluntary control and more accurate. There is no good reason to suppose that psychoanalysis ought to concern itself with the former, but not the latter.
Freud did not conceptualize emotional processing adequately, although it is important to recognize that psychoanalysis has already moved in this direction with the concept of affect regulation. Psychoanalytic accounts of affect regulation are distinguished by their emphasis on the link between such regulation and the development and evolution of the sense of self. It is interesting, for example, that Ledoux's behavioral approach presumes involvement of the self in connection with the second emotional response system, yet he fails to grapple with the implications of this. Psychoanalysis can make a valuable contribution by formalizing knowledge gained from the clinical realm, where the subjective experience of emotions and emotional processing are at the heart of the process.
So, deferring to neuroscientific accounts of emotions does not mean that psychoanalysis must sacrifice its expertise in fathoming complex emotional states. Psychoanalysts know that affective experience is hardly transparent-it is as likely that we do not know what we feel or that we are deceived about what we feel as that we are aware of our feelings. We are prone to ambivalence and conflicted feelings. Moreover, psychoanalysts appreciate the inherent mutability of emotions, that is, how easily they attach themselves to mental phenomena like ideas and memories. It follows, then, that it takes work to understand our emotions. To a certain degree, one can make the assumption that our evolutionary history has designed us to be able to understand and use our emotions. The challenge of doing this, though, should not be overlooked.
It is possible to improve our capacity to regulate our emotions, that is, to tailor regulation to fit with our deepest wishes for ourselves. I am not supposing that we can do this perfectly or even consistently, given the overpowering nature of some emotions and given the unconscious. However, the fallibility of regulation should not obscure its desirability: it is, as I see it, a fundamental aspect of psychoanalytic treatment.
Let us take a closer look at what affect regulation means in the context of psychoanalytic treatment. In contrast to other fields, like developmental psychology, psychoanalysis does not assume that the aim of affect regulation is to reduce negative affect. There can be a value in tolerating negative affect states, and we also should not underestimate the difficulty of tolerating positive ones. Affect regulation has one connotation that is closely tied to homeostasis, wherein it is not subject to awareness, control or alteration, such as the co-regulation that occurs in early biology of attachment described by Hofer (1990) and Schore (1994, 1999). This sense of affect regulation is amenable to scientific study through physiological measures and new assessments of the brain like the fMRI.
As I have argued elsewhere, affect regulation has multiple connotations (Jurist, 2005). In its most challenging instantiation, affect regulation is not merely a matter of adjusting affects upward or downward; it requires thick interpretation: that we reflect upon our affects in light of our own representational history and our sense of ourselves as biological organisms. Freud's reading of Moses, for example, seems to suggest something along these lines: he tells us that Moses had a 'hasty temper and [was] subject to fits of passion' (1914a, p. 233). Thus, we can suppose that Moses must have had a strong inclination to lash out, and that, in getting himself not to repeat such acting out, he must have been mindful of his history and character.
The term that I have used to capture this sophisticated, adult form of affect regulation is 'mentalized affectivity' (Jurist, 2005; Fonagy et al., 2002). Mentalized affectivity specifies the value in reflecting on one's own affective experience. Such reflection entails awareness and knowledge of one's own history. It also entails a degree of comfort and familiarity with one's affects, as much as this is possible for human beings. Mentalized affectivity can mean that one changes or refines what one feels, but its most important function, I would argue, is in the creation of new meaning. In addition to familiar things like naming, altering and acting on one's affects, we should acknowledge the value of reinterpreting their meaning. This might lead us to express affects in new ways, although it is crucial that a distinction marks the choice between outward and inward expression. With the latter, one feels and feels deeply, but one opts not to manifest affective display to the world-as in the case of Moses.
Mentalized affectivity incorporates both the hermeneutic and scientific aspect of the study of emotion. There is no reason why mentalized affectivity cannot and should not be studied scientifically. Yet, the concept does reinforce the point that affects have an irreducible, meaning-bearing, cultural function. It reminds us, once again, that, while Freud failed to resolve his impulse to deal with affects in both art and science, this ought to guide the search for an adequate theory of affects in psychoanalysis.
Freud needs to be updated, but his hope of balancing science and art deserves admiration. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to have a scientific theory of affects that remained sensitive to subjective experience. But it is crucial to recall how attached Freud was to figures like Leonardo and Goethe who had 'dual natures' as both scientists and artists.10 It is fitting to conclude with a question posed by Freud's fellow Viennese Robert Musil-a scientist who turned artist, thus reversing Leonardo's development-which Freud must have posed to himself: 'A man who wants the truth becomes a scholar; a man who wants to give free play to his subjectivity becomes a writer; but what should a man do who wants something in between?' (1995, p. 274). Freud's aspiration to be both scientist and artist led him to test the boundaries of these alternatives, altering and reconstituting them, and ultimately questioning their separateness. Freud was not successful in integrating the artistic and scientific study of affects. In no way ought this to diminish the ego ideal of being an artist and scientist. Indeed, such a fantasy remains persuasive, if elusive: it defines the parameters for formulating an adequate theory of affects.
Translations of summary
Kunst und Emotion in der Psychoanalyse. Freuds Auffassung, dass die Kunst psychische Bedürfnisse befriedige, wird im Allgemeinen dahingehend verstanden, dass Kunst im Unbewussten wurzele und dass sie Lust und Realität in sich vereine. Der Autor vertritt die Ansicht, dass Freud wiederholt einen dritten Aspekt betont habe, den man nicht übersehen sollte, nämlich dass Kunst unsere Gefühle beeinflusst. Er untersucht, was Freud damit gemeint haben könnte, und konzentriert sich insbesondere auf seine Interpretation von Michelangelos Moses. Durch Freuds Fokussierung der Gefühle als Basis der subjektiven Erfahrung, der Regulation der Gefühle und ihres Potentials, als gesunde Kommunikationsformen zu dienen, werden seine affekttheoretischen Ausführungen nicht nur ergänzt, sondern sogar in Frage gestellt. Der Autor schließt mit Schlussfolgerungen für eine moderne psychoanalytische Theorie der Affekte: Diese sollte sowohl die Naturwissenschaften berücksichtigen (die Neurobiologie rezipieren und ihre Bindung an Freud lockern) als auch die Kunst (bei fortbestehender Fokussierung des subjektiven Erlebens und insbesondere der Verarbeitung komplexer Emotionen). Er illustriert dies anhand des Konzepts der mentalisierten Affektivität.
Arte y emoción en psicoanálisis. La visión de Freud de que el arte satisface necesidades psíquicas ha sido interpretada como que el arte tiene sus fuentes en el inconsciente y que une el placer y la realidad. El autor sostiene que hay un tercer punto en el que Freud hace hincapié repetidas veces, y que no debería ser soslayado: el hecho de que el arte influye en nuestras emociones. El autor examina lo que Freud quiere decir con esta afirmación, en particular examinando el Moisés de Miguel Ángel. La insistencia de Freud en este trabajo sobre la importancia fundamental de las emociones para la experiencia subjetiva, sometidas a regulación, y a formas de comunicación potencialmente sanas, sirve para complementar y cuestionar lo que él dice en su teoría de los afectos. El autor concluye proponiendo una teoría psicoanalítica contemporánea de los afectos: ésta debería estar incluida en el dominio de la ciencia (más receptiva a la neurobiología y menos dependiente de Freud), como también al arte (manteniendo el foco en la experiencia subjetiva, sobre todo en el procesamiento de emociones complejas), lo cual es ilustrado con el concepto de mentalización de los afectos.
Art et émotion en psychanalyse. La position de Freud que l'art satisfait à des besoins psychiques a été ramenée à signifier que l'art a ses sources dans l'inconscient et qu'il unit plaisir et réalité. L'auteur soutient qu'il existe un troisième point, sur lequel Freud à insisté de façon répétée, et qui ne devrait pas être ignoré, selon lequel l'art influence nos émotions. L'auteur examine ce que Freud entend par cette assertion, notamment à travers sa lecture du Moïse de Michel-Ange. Le point de vue de Freud sur les émotions comme fondamentales au vécu subjectif, susceptibles de régulation, et comme constituant des formes potentiellement saines de communication, sert à compléter voire à mettre au défisa théorie de l'affect. L'auteur conclut par certaines propositions pour une théorie psychanalytique contemporaine des affects : celle-ci devrait être incluse dans le domaine de la science (plus réceptive à la neurobiologie et moins liée à Freud), tout comme l'art (en préservant le regard sur le vécu subjectif, et en particulier le traitement des émotions complexes), ce qui est illustré par le concept d'affectivité mentalisée.
Arte e emozione in psicoanalisi. Freud sosteneva che l'arte soddisfile esigenze della psiche. Ciò è stato interpretato come significare che l'arte ha le sue origini nell'inconscio e che coincilia il principio di piacere con quello di realtà. L'autore sottolinea un terzo punto che è stato ripetutamente espresso da Freud e che non dovrebbe essere trascurato: il fatto che l'arte influenzi le emozioni. L'autore esplora il possible significato di questo punto, in particolare esaminando il 'Michelangelo di Mosè'. L'insistenza di Freud, in questo lavoro, sull'importanza delle emozioni in quanto fondamentali per l'esperienza soggettiva, soggette a regolazione e forme di comunicazioni potenzialmente benefiche, apporterebbe un ulteriore elemento, e forse anche una sfida, a quanto afferma nella sua teoria degli affetti. L'autore conclude facendo inferenze su una teoria psicoanalitica contemporanea degli affetti. Quest'ultima dovrebbe subire un maggiore influsso scientifico (in particolare essere più permeabile alla neurobiologia e meno dipendente da Freud) nonché un maggiore influsso artistico (mantenendo l'accento sull'esperienza soggettiva e soprattutto sul processo di emozioni complesse) che viene illustrato con il concetto di mentalizzazione degli affetti.
1 See 1930b, pp. 213-4 for an appendix listing Freud's works that are relevant to aesthetics.
2 I would like to thank the Freud Museum in London for allowing me to examine Freud's library in May 1995.
3 To take notable two examples, Kris (1952) and Spector (1972) mention the notion that art has an emotional effect on the recipient without pursuing its significance. Tellingly, 'emotions' or 'affects' are not included in their indices.
4 Aufruhr is better translated as 'turmoil,' rather than emotions. My citations of Freud in German show, however, that his use of terminology about emotions/affects was hardly precise.
5 A recent article by Thanopulos (2005) argues that Freud's mistaken interpretation of Leonardo reveals his own unconscious fantasy. For useful summary reviews of the literature and history of conflicts concerning Freud's Leonardo interpretation, see Schröter (1994), Wollheim (1995) and Birmele (1994).
6 Although Loewald does not address the relation of sublimation to emotions, he voices regret for not dealing with sublimation in terms of our 'higher' emotions in his Epilogue (1988, p. 82).
7 It is possible to connect the sublimation of the recipient to the paradigm experience of catharsis: according to some interpretations of catharsis, it has the connotation of intellectual clarification (Nussbaum, 1986). I do not mean to imply, though, that this was Freud's understanding of catharsis.
8 Perhaps a glimmer of how Freud might have sought to integrate his thinking about affects can be found in 'The economic problem of masochism' (1924a), where Freud defends the 'qualitative aspect' of affects, thus picking up on a distinction from Project (1895) between science as quantitative and consciousness as defined by qualities.
9 Two kinds of criticisms of basic emotions have been made: 1) that there are dimensions such as approach and withdrawal that are even more basic than basic emotions; and 2) that basic emotions might be similar across cultures, but that we ought to be careful not to assume that they are identical.
10 I am borrowing here from Freud's description of Leonardo's 'dual nature' as artist and scientist (1910, p. 73). For an interesting historical discussion of perceptions of Leonardo as an artist and scientist, see Hope (2001). For reflections on Freud as a writer and creative artist, not just a critic of art, see Mahony (1987), Kofman (1988) and Phillips (2001).
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ELLIOT L. JURIST
The Graduate Center, City University of New York, CCNY, 138th St/Convent Av, NAC Building, Room 8/109, New York, NY 10031, USA - firstname.lastname@example.org
(Final version accepted 8 May 2006)…