Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

10.
Freud's Aesthetics

E. H. Gombrich

IF CONFIRMATION WERE NEEDED for the conservative and traditional character of Freud's approach to art it would be found in the utterances on modern movements which are contained in his post-war letters. The uncompromising hostility that is expressed here must indeed have surprised those who saw in Freud the champion of all contemporary trends. In June 1920, Oscar Pfister had sent Freud his pamphlet on "The Psychological and Biological Background of Expressionist Patinings." In his introduction Pfister states that the movement of Expressionism had by now outgrown the stage in which it caused horrified spinsters to shriek. True, he continues, there still exist philistines who think that they have done enough if they affix the labels of ghastly, barbaric, bungling, perverse, or pathological to this new movement. The author wants to remind the reader that Expressionism is a movement that embraces all the arts and includes masters who cannot be accused of incompetence. Pfister proposes to approach the problem through psychoanalysis. The bulk of his pamphlet concerns the work of an Expressionist artist whom Pfister had in analysis. We are given the associations of the artist to his own drawings, which are treated like dreams. Asked for his associations to the angular cheek he drew, for instance, the artist said:

The cheek of my father, a beautiful strong bone. . . . Now I must think of something nonsensical. The angular rhythm of the cheek reminds me of the square chair on which my father used to sit.

From Encounter ( 1966), 26(1): 30-39. Copyright © 1996 Encounter. Reprinted by permission.

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