SIGMUND FREUD

Dates: 1856-1939

Nationality: Austrian

Freud had great reverence for the arts, and his writings on them consist partly of general, rather sketchy, accounts of what art is, which belong very largely to the first part of his career and are uninfluenced by either the structural theory or the postulation of aggression, and partly of much fuller studies of particular artists or works of art (Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo’s Moses, Dostoyevsky). However, these latter works are, despite their brilliant aperçus, mostly illustrations of some fragment of psychoanalytic theory. In ‘Der Moses des Michelangelo’ (Imago, iii/1, 1914, pp. 15–36; Eng. trans. Complete Works, xiii, pp. 209–38) Freud said that he found himself almost incapable of gaining pleasure from a work of art unless he could explain what its effect was due to: the art he collected seems not to confirm this.

Freud took virtually no interest in contemporary art, though the Surrealists tried to gain his approval for their special appropriation of his views (see Surrealism and Automatism). In his famous meeting with Salvador Dalí in London in 1938, Freud is said to have wryly remarked that it was Dalí’s conscious mind that interested him. Freud had a passion for ancient art and was an avid collector, acquiring most works from dealers in Vienna. He brought his collection, which included Etruscan pieces, ancient Roman pots, heads, figurines and glassware, ancient Greek pots, heads and figurines, and ancient Egyptian figurines and fragments of wall painting, to London when he fled Vienna after the Nazi occupation in 1938, and it is now housed in the Freud Museum, London. Freud professed to have read more archaeology than psychology, and over the decades he used archaeology as a metaphor for the psychoanalytic process. He visited many archaeological sites in Europe, and a lifelong friend was Emanuel Löwy (1857–1938), a professor of archaeology in Rome and later in Vienna.

Freud’s son Ernst Freud (1892–1970) was an architect practising in London, and Ernst’s son was the painter Lucian Freud.

Wollheim, Richard. “Freud, Sigmund.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 12 Mar. 2010 <www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T029880>

…Consider the interesting case in which happiness in life is predominantly sought in the enjoyment of beauty, wherever beauty presents itself to our senses and our judgement–the beauty of human forms and gestures, of natural objects and landscapes and of artistic and even scientific creations. This aesthetic attitude to the goal of life offers little protection against the threat of suffering, but it can compensate for a great deal. The enjoyment of beauty has a peculiar, mildly intoxication quality of feeling. Beauty has no obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization could not do without it. The science of aesthetics investigates the conditions under which things are felt as beautiful, but it has been unable to give any explanation of the nature and origin of beauty, and, as usually happens, lack of success is concealed beneath a flood of resounding and empty words. Psychoanalysis, unfortunately, has scarcely anything to say about beauty either. All that seems certain is its derivation from the field of sexual feeling. The love of beauty seems a perfect example of an impulse inhibited in its aim. ‘Beauty’ and ‘attraction’ are originally attributes of the sexual object.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. trans. James Strachey. Norton, 1961. pp. 29-30.

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