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Freud and psychoanalytic aesthetics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M055-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

The contributions to aesthetics made by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), and by other practitioners of psychoanalysis, focus principally on the origin and the function of the work of art. Art’s origin, Freud contends, lies in daydreaming and in the activity of a child at play; as an expression of daydreaming and fantasizing, an artist’s work is the product of someone essentially unsatisfied, even neurotic, and can be analysed according to the methods of psychoanalytic dream interpretation. With regard to art’s function, Freud highlights again the disappointments of human life, with art providing a kind of substitutive satisfaction and having the quality of a palliative. Freud speculates also that the sense of beauty has its roots in sexual stimulation and principally in the libidinal excitation produced by looking at a sexual object; the appreciation of artistic beauty is a sublimation of this earlier sexual excitation. Critics argue that Freud overemphasizes the wish-fulfilling and escapist elements of art, and that he pays insufficient attention to genuine aesthetic questions, preferring instead the exercise of psychography and appealing to art mainly for its perceived usefulness in illustrating and confirming psychoanalytic theory.

Citing this article:
Clack, Brian R.. Freud and psychoanalytic aesthetics, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M055-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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