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The Impact of Psychoanalysis on Art

The Impact of Psychoanalysis on Art
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  • 0:00 Freud & the Unconscious
  • 2:05 The Art of Dreams
  • 3:45 Automatists & Veristic…
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Explore the art and artists associated with the Surrealist movement of the early 20th century: Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Man Ray, Joan Miro. Discover how the new mode of psychoanalysis pioneered by Sigmund Freud influenced the world of art.

Freud and the Unconscious

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian psychologist, made a profound impact on his field in the beginning of the 20th century with his groundbreaking views on the unconscious and dreams. Freud's legacy lives on today, and he's recognized as the father of psychoanalysis. Unlike his predecessors, Freud used a therapeutic clinical approach in which he would talk with his patients to better understand their thoughts and feelings. He believed that dreams were the reflections of a person's hidden feelings, and that the unconscious could communicate through imagery and symbolism.

Freud's model of consciousness is often depicted using the metaphor of the iceberg, in which the small portion rising above the water represents the conscious, aware self. The portion just below the surface represents the pre-conscious, which includes memories.

The largest, bottom-heavy chunk of ice in this scenario stands for the part of the psyche that controls the body's rhythms and impulses. Freud called it the subconscious, or unconscious. It includes the drives, instincts, repressed traumas, and painful emotions that are not immediately accessible or apparent.

Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, his major work on dream psychology in which he explained how dreams showed the path to understanding the unconscious. In it, he explained how symbols and imagery in dreams could not only reveal the dreamer's hidden feelings, but lead the way to helping them attain what they truly desired.

Freud explained two types of content in dreams: manifest and latent content. Manifest content describes the memory one retains of a dream in the conscious mind. Latent content refers to the hidden meaning within the imagery of the dream that needs to be interpreted to be understood.

For example, you wake up from a dream and remember that you were running from a scary monster. That's the manifest content. Later, when you think more about it, you might recognize that the scary monster relates to the feelings of anxiety over having to take your dog to the vet. The latent content takes time to coalesce and percolate in the conscious mind.

The Art of Dreams

The art movement of Surrealism came about as a reaction to Freud's psychoanalysis. It arose in the 1920s, an offshoot of Dada, influenced by Freud's psychoanalytic principles, especially those that explained how the unconscious mind worked automatically and how dreams conveyed inner, hidden desires.

Like the Dada artists before them, Surrealists used juxtaposition to draw attention to the irrationality of everyday life. The Surrealists took juxtaposition to the next level, using it to convey dream imagery. Common motifs found in Surrealist art include floating objects, transparency, repetition, and exaggerated proportions.

Andre Breton's Surrealist Manifesto of 1924 was the treatise that launched the movement. In it, the French poet presented a new way of looking at the world. He defined Surrealism as 'Pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason, and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.

He advocated for a new art that could bypass the conscious mind, using automatic processes and tapping into imagery found in dreams. Breton suggested that the artist should listen to the unconscious as a guide and remove all expectations of the final product. Stated another way, the manifesto urged the artist to relinquish control to the untamed and unexplored reaches of the mind.

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