The Sensational Psychology of Art
The origins of creativity, neurosis and the artist

Ever since Freud first ventured into the problems of creativity, psychoanalysis has stressed the darker, negative aspects of art. Plato, long ago, noted that the artist was divinely inspired and therefore mad. Freud's classical theory of the psychogenesis of art –art that arises from sublimation of troubling, repressed energy – is now highly accessible, but is its sensationalistic view of the mad “deviant” artist still relevant in today's world?


The creations of the artist, in Freud's view, are primarily an expression of the creator's unresolved neurotic conflicts. The artist (unerringly described as a deviant male) is pictured as a sexually-frustrated childish neurotic, who weaves his wild fantasies as a substitute for his unsuccessful attempts at meaningful fulfillment in the Real World. His painting may, in the Freudian interpretation, be compared to the symptoms of the neurotic. For Freudians, the artwork is ultimately a mere manifestation of a neurosis, and the artist is always a sick man.

Following in the footsteps of Freud's theory (while clearly overlooking its exceptions), many writers have sought to explain a work of art by delving into the disturbed emotional life of the artist to explain its hidden meaning. In their view, the theme of the composition is always autobiographical and reflects the artist's own unresolved neurotic problems. Freud started this trend with his epochal study of Leonardo da Vinci, which traced the relationship between Leonardo's inverted sexuality and his art. In its wake, modern writers continue to romantcize and fethisize the artist as a dangerous, neurotic deiant whose soul function in the modern setting it to warn good society of the dangers of delving too deeply into the world of passion and the mind.


Yet the point must be emphasized here that many people, not only artists, have endured suffering. A biographer who digs enough can always locate evidence of emotional instability and a pained psyche in everyone. Man's existential Angst is universal. But not all of us utilize this feeling for creative purposes. Why then seek the origin of art in the endless cesspool of man's constant anxiety?


The roots of creativity need not be sought in the artist's unconscious, because the act of creation is not, as is widely held, an abnormal function, but a basic natural potentiality of human existence. Creation is found at all levels of life and should be interpreted as indication of vigorous self-expression rather than a compulsive act of warped sexuality. The artist, instead of being a driven, unsatisfied person may be more correctly regarded as one who is fulfilled, who sees more profoundly into life. The true artist can communicate his vision to others; the neurotic, on the other hand, cannot.



The neurotic, whatever his hang-ups, is at least striving for growth and fulfillment, which places him in a sense above the "normals", who have given up and lost their capacity for self-expression. They have become merely part of the mass that take things as given. Passively accepting all, the dull “normals” of society merely go along with the conceptual framework imposed by the social environment. The neurotic (who is a kind of "failed artist") rejects this framework in an attempt to construct his own system of ideas.

The artist, rejecting the "normal" foundation, replaces it by building his own individualized vision of life, which he can then successfully express to others.

Text by: R. Litt.
Paintings by: Odd Nerdrum.

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