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by Nicola Glover

| Introduction | Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Conclusion | Bibliography |


Psychoanalytic Aesthetics:

The British School



The impact of British Psychoanalytic theory on our aesthetics and criticism has not been explored in any systematic way. This study aims to examine important theoretical developments within the British School of Psychoanalysis, and the contribution of these to psychoanalytic aesthetics - both within in the clinical and non-clinical domain. A critical overview of the classical Freudian aesthetics will form the background against which these subsequent developments in British psychoanalysis shall be viewed.

This study aims to show that the dialogue between those clinicians such as Melanie Klein, Hannah Segal, Wilfred Bion, Donald Meltzer, Donald Winnicott and Marion Milner, and non-practitioners such as Adrian Stokes, Anton Ehrenzweig, Peter Fuller, and Richard Wollheim, has been extraordinarily fruitful in addressing the nature of artistic creativity, aesthetics, and has significantly influenced critical writing, particularly in the domain of the visual arts. It will be argued that taken as a whole, their contributions represent the development of a uniquely British psychoanalytic aesthetic, to be distinguished from the American school of ego-psychology, on the one hand, and the French tradition of Psychoanalysis, on the other.


I would like to express my gratitude to my supervisor, Professor Stephen Bann, for his patience and for giving me the space to develop my ideas; to Professor Robert Young, for his support and mentorship; to my mother, Mrs J. Knight and Mr J. Ives, for their much-needed emotional and financial support. I am especially grateful to Mrs Sally Macgregor and Mr Douglas Glover, whose love, good humour and common-sense have assured the continuity of my 'going-on-being'.

Copyright: The Author







part i the freudian legacy

Chapter One

Freud's Theory of Art and Creativity

1. Pathography and the neurotic model

2. The joke-mechanism


part ii klein, art and reparation

Chapter Two

Essentials of Kleinian Theory

1. The Kleinian Development

2. Symbols and symbol-formation

3. Unconscious phantasy and the inner world

4. The paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions

5. Innate Envy


Chapter Three

The Development of Kleinian Aesthetics

1. The aesthetics of Hannah Segal

2. Adrian Stokes and psychoanalysis

3. Carving and modelling


part iii developments in the british school

Chapter Four

The Kleinian Paradigm Transformed: the Legacy of Wilfred Bion 

1. The evolution of Bion's work

2. Bion's theory of creativity

3. The re-mapping of mental space

4. Meltzer and 'aesthetic conflict'

5. Psychoanalysis as an art


Chapter Five

The Hidden Order of Art

1. Ehrenzweig, Kris and the debt to Freud

2. The rhythm of creativity

3. The contributions of the British School


Chapter Six

Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Potential Space

1. The sagacity of the body: Milner's account of creativity

2. The dynamics of intrapsychic illusion: Milner and Winnicott


Chapter Seven

Painting as the Body: the aesthetics of Fuller and Wollheim

1. Evocative space: the art of Natkin and Rothko

2. Painting and corporeality: Wollheim's account of pictorial meaning





Although it will be argued that the theoreticians examined in this study are united by a number of important and fundamental assumptions and values (ostensibly those of the 'British School' of psychoanalysis) their approach to art is by no means homogenous, for as we shall see, each theorist construes the nature of, and the relationship between, aesthetic value, aesthetic experience, and creativity, somewhat differently. Thus, although this study is concerned with identifying a specifically 'British School' aesthetic, it should be remembered that the theorists discussed here are first and foremost individuals. Each of the protagonists examined here approaches art from the perspective of his or her own clinical and theoretical background, together with their own particular projects, preoccupations, and life experiences, and I shall endeavour to give due acknowledgement to these in this study.

However, before we examine the respective approaches of these thinkers, it would be helpful to consider the main areas of concern to both the aesthetician the analyst looking at the visual arts - the "terms of the dialogue" between aesthetics and psychoanalysis. We should ask what kind of dialogue is possible, and what does psychoanalysis contribute to the dialogue that is particularly valuable?

Broadly speaking, the discipline of aesthetics is concerned with exploring three overlapping areas: the nature of the creative process and the experience of the artist; the interpretation of art; and also the nature of the aesthetic encounter. The theorists considered here approach these three areas in interestingly different ways, construing the links between them differently, perhaps focusing on one of the categories at the expense another. What these thinkers make clear, however, is that these areas to be discussed are not entirely separate, but are mutually interdependent modes.

For example, is many senses, the artist is both the creator and also the spectator of his own work - a point that is central to Wollheim's account of art (1987). In this role he must therefore continually step back to assess it critically: he engages in a dialogue with the medium, so to speak. Regarding the role of the critic, not only does s/he draw upon his/her general knowledge and experience, but also upon the rich reservoir of their unconscious phantasy life (Klein). The sensitive critic and the audience enter into the "potential space" between the art object and the private world of fantasy (Winnicott) and engage in aesthetic reciprocity with the object - thinking "with" the object rather than merely "about" it (Meltzer, 1988). And as far as the audience, is concerned, they, in turn, imaginatively re-create aspects of the work encountered; they employ the same kind of creative perception as that which produced the work (Ehrenzweig, 1967).

Before examining the general scope of the British psychoanalytic contribution, I would like to explore some of the ways in which this "dialogue" between art and psychoanalysis has evolved: how psychoanalytic ideas have been taken up by a number of eminent theorists, such as E. H. Gombrich, E. Kris, A. Ehrenzweig, and R. Wollheim. Their contributions will help us to identify some of the issues and problems which may arise from the interchange between art and psychoanalysis.

The study of art and the nature of creativity has been of great interest to psychoanalysts, ever since Freud (1900) gave an account of the dynamic unconscious and the psychic mechanisms which ground mental life. It was thought that the practice of dream interpretation could be applied to the domain of art - and the first attempts at psychoanalytic criticism meant that the artwork was subjected to a piecemeal analysis of individual symbols, involving the accumulation of a considerable amount of biographical material and analysis along the lines of detective work on the part of the interpreter.1. Yet, as Freud himself recognised, this kind of 'pathographic' approach was ill-equipped to analyse the formal qualities of the object, and explore the nature of aesthetic value.

The art historian H. Read (1951) was highly sceptical of the capacity of psychoanalysis to address the questions of aesthetic value and the formal nature of the artwork. He argues that the aesthetician's concern is essentially with products and the psychologist with the processes of mental activity, of which art is seen as perhaps 'merely' one expression. Read claims that the psychologist 'analyses the product only to arrive at the process' and is generally 'indifferent to literary values' (p. 73) and this is view echoed by the American analyst, L. Friedman (1958), who also distinguishes sharply between the concerns of the philosopher-aesthetician and the psychologist-psychoanalyst. In his view, the former is concerned with structure, whilst the latter is concerned with the origins of aesthetic response. However, this is not entirely correct, for as we shall see in Chapter two, the Kleinian approach to art is very much concerned with the formal, aesthetic qualities of the art work, and there are also aestheticians who are very interested in analysing the phenomenology of the processes in art and the origins of aesthetic feeling, for example, Langer (1953) and Dewey (1934).

However, despite significant developments in psychoanalytic theory, this scepticism concerning the fitness of psychoanalysis to address the formal aspects of art and the nature of aesthetic value2. still remains. For example, in her survey of psychoanalytic approaches to critical theory and practice, Wright (1986) maintains that although psychoanalysis 'contributes to an understanding of the creative process', like most other approaches, 'it has not been able to provide a satisfactory account of aesthetic value' (p. 5). Even though Wright devotes a section to 'Object Relations' aesthetics, it is clear that she has certainly not engaged fully with the rich possibilities of British School thinking regarding the arts, and seems more favourably disposed to a more 'ideological', post-structuralist approach.

However, the art historian, E. H. Gombrich suggests that certain aspects of Freudian theory are highly illuminating for the study of art. One of the ways he develops the dialogue between art theory and psychoanalysis, is to give a psychoanalytic perspective on connoisseurship in the visual arts. In 'Psychoanalysis and the History of Art'3. he examines the stages of psychosexual development formulated by Freud (1905) and Abraham (1927), arguing that oral gratification can be viewed as a genetic model for aesthetic pleasure. For instance, he draws an analogy between our response to easily readable, too immediately obvious or gratifying art, and the stage of passive, oral instinctual development. He speculates that a repugnance to such art may serve as a defence against its regressive pull. By linking the 'idea of the soft and yielding with passivity, of the hard and crunchy with activity' (p. 196), Gombrich accounts for the preference of sophisticated critics for art that is "difficult", that demands action on their part, that offers an opportunity to act on what is presented, to experience a challenge in the process of re-creation. Thus the critic's preference for demanding art may correspond to the second aggressive stage of oral development (Abraham, 1927).

However, Gombrich warns us about the dangers of pursuing this analogy too far. Although he has ingeniously applied an aspect of psychoanalytic theory of erotogenic zones to aesthetic enjoyment and preference, he counters this by saying that there are many ways of appreciating the 'soft' and the 'crunchy'. These differing responses, he argues, are dependent on 'the social context of the aesthetic attitude'. For example, after impressionism literary allusions no longer constituted the 'crunchy' challenge for the critic (p. 198).

Gombrich thus wisely cautions the psychoanalytic critic that, at least as far as the visual arts are concerned, tradition and convention far outweigh personal elements. Even if we could disclose the unconscious meanings of an art work, this would not be relevant unless the most important aspect of a work of art were in fact its quality of being a 'shared dream' which he doubts. Further, he shows that if we take seriously the fact that art has a history (unlike perceptions and dreams) and recognise that this history is built through a 'constant extension and modification of symbols' (p. 187), we must acknowledge that all art is derivative, and that without recourse to the development of style, modes of representation, and so forth, we cannot play Pygmalion to any Galatea. Without, in other words, a thorough knowledge of the history of art, we are unable to re-create any work of art in terms of its personal meaning. Without the social factors, what we may term the attitudes of the audience, the style or the trend, the private needs could not be transmuted into art. In this transmutation 'the private meaning is all but swallowed up' (p. 200).

The ego-psychologist and art historian, E. Kris (1952), has offered one of the most comprehensive statements of the potentialities inherent in the dialogue between psychoanalysis and aesthetics. One of his main contentions is that most attempts to apply psychoanalytic theory to aesthetics have suffered from a tendency to equate psychoanalysis with one or two isolated remarks from Freud's early work, namely to equate art with neurosis. Kris believes that it is Freud's account of the joke which has the most scope for understanding the relationship between psychic mechanisms, economy of mental energy and the formal, aesthetic qualities of art.

The art teacher and theorist, A. Ehrenzweig (1962, 1967) agrees with Kris that Freud's account of wit had much to offer the analysis of artistic structure and aesthetic experience. However, as we shall see in Chapter one, the trajectory of their respective views differs in some important respects. Where Kris drove a wedge between 'higher' and 'lower' levels of the mind (between primary and secondary process functioning) and regarded artistic activity to be an adaptive function of the ego, autonomous from instinctual conflict, Ehrenzweig stressed that the id (primary process) was only 'chaotic' and 'primitive' from the perspective of the conscious, rational mind. As we shall explore in Chapter five, Ehrenzweig's theory of 'undifferentiated image-making' stresses the vital, constructive role played by the primary processes in art, and their partnership with the secondary processes.

It is also important to emphasise that Ehrenzweig's theory was partly developed from a critique of Gestalt psychology. This branch of psychology was pioneered in the twenties by M. Wertheimer, W. Köhler, K. Koffka out of a dissatisfaction with atomistic explanations in science, social science and art. As a theory of perception, it seeks to investigate the principles that govern the selection and formation of one particular figure in preference to others. From a number of possible constellations into which the visual stimuli can be grouped, Gestalt psychologists suggest that we will tend to select the most compact, simple and coherent pattern which is said to have the characteristics of a 'good' gestalt. The gestalt principle not only governs that selection of the best pattern from within the visual field, it will also improve on it by smoothing away little gaps and imperfections. It has been the psychologist, R. Arnheim (1943, 1949, 1954) who has most rigorously applied its insights to the study of artistic expression and style in the visual arts.

Generally speaking, this account of art has perhaps not been as productive as was hoped. For example, although Gombrich found Arnheim's (1954) account of child art and perceptual development very 'instructive', he felt that 'for the historian and his problems of style...  the book yields less'. (1960, p. 22). E. Kris was also sceptical of attempts to use Gestalt psychology to explain problems in aesthetics, arguing that the search (by those such as Arnheim) for a 'good' Gestalt, valid under all historical circumstances has not been successful. Nor has it not led to new insight into the psychology of style or expression (1952, p. 21-2).

Ehrenzweig (1953, 1967) was specifically concerned with elucidating the nature of perception and a major aspect of his work concerns the issue of how objects come to be selected for perception in the first place, and involves a thorough critique of the Gestalt view. He argued that this account of perception does not do justice to the facts of art and actual artistic practice. He regards it as crucial for the an artist, and for the creative individual in general, to be able to return to a state of child-like 'syncretistic' vision or 'undifferentiated' perception. The Gestalt account is criticised for its postulation of a firm and stable structure in perception - such a structure has to be learned first, says Ehrenzweig, for at the start of life, perception is uncertain in its ranging over a wide field of view. However reliable our mature perception may be, early sensing is fluid and unstable: vestiges of it are accessible in dreams, mental imagery and in the hypnagogic visions that occur between sleep and waking (1971, p. 87). He maintains that Gestalt psychology makes too ready an assumption that simple organisation, the so-called 'good gestalts', are inevitably selected from the beginning, and by a fortunate coincidence, just happen to correspond to the external objects of perception. Moreover, the so-called 'goodness' of a gestalt depends upon the aesthetic preferences at a particular historical moment, which implies that the Gestalt approach itself depends upon an implicit aesthetic view, and this is surely not a very firm ground for any theory seeking to address the nature of art.

Ehrenzweig's main point is that the objects selected by perception are by no means immune from libidinal interest (p. 18). To substantiate his view, he deploys both by Freud's theories of libidinal development and the Kleinian account of unconscious phantasy. His theory of 'undifferentiated image-making', emphasises that what is selected for perception is closely geared to the needs of the developing id; as these become more precisely aimed, so do those of the ego. As he argues, the 'ego's perception is at the disposal of unconscious symbolic needs' and 'unconscious phantasy life during our whole lifetime is supplied with new imagery which feeds into the matrix of image-making' (p. 263). Ehrenzweig's account of artistic form and creative perception is discussed more fully in Chapter five.

The philosopher and aesthetician, R. Wollheim (1974, 1987) has also made major contributions to the interdisciplinary study of psychoanalysis and art. Like Kris, he also laments the tendency to reduce the significance of Freud's contribution to aesthetics. Wollheim argues that , contrary to the general view, Freud's account of the artwork is by no means a simple equation with joke, dream, or neurotic symptom, with a 'sudden vehicle of buried desires' that requires a lapse of consciousness and attention (p. 218). He sees Freud as recognising the work of art to be 'a piece of work', to be essentially 'constructive' rather than purely expressive.

According to Wollheim, Freud was aware 'that part of understanding how it is that a work affects us is recognising the confusion or the ambiguity upon which this effect in part depends' (p.217). What he is suggesting is that Freud shows us that an engaging work of art necessarily involves us in complex mental activities, which include have sophisticated as well as regressive aspects. Wollheim credits Freud's aesthetics with an awareness of mental functions that have subsequently been identified as synthetic, integrative, and adaptive (cf. Kris, 1952). Wollheim thinks it is unfortunate that Freud never developed this 'constructive' side of his aesthetic in theoretical terms, a side that Wollheim believes is shown as early as Freud's Moses study (1914). This omission can be explained (says Wollheim) by observing that during the early years, when the first studies on art were being written, Freud had sufficient leisure to pursue non-clinical interests. But by the time he had become interested in ego-functioning, he was no longer free to pursue his enquiries into the aesthetic and develop them in accordance with his later theory (p. 219).

It would seem that both Kris and Wollheim are on the right track in their emphasis that Freud's aesthetics gains considerable enrichment by developing the implications of his account of the joke-mechanism (a theme explored further in Chapter one, section two). But Wollheim's remark about Freud's 'lack of time' to pursue art surely needs qualification. It must be acknowledged that after his structural revisions of 1923, Freud did go on to write such non clinical works such as The Future of An Illusion (1927), Dostoevsky and Parricide (1928), and Civilisation and its Discontents (1930). Is it reasonable assume (as Wollheim does) that, had Freud any desire to review his previous account of art to bring them more into line with his later, structural theory, and with developments in ego-psychology, that he would actually have done so? Perhaps it would be better to gain a clearer understanding of what he did say (as Kris and Ehrenzweig have attempted to) rather than apologise for what he did not say. However, as we shall see in Chapter seven, not only did Wollheim elucidate the aesthetic theory implicit in Freudian thinking, he was also very much influenced by Kleinian theory, largely through the writings of the art historian and critic, Adrian Stokes, and has deployed them effectively in recent writing (1987).

Considering the remarks made above, a number of general issues arise concerning the applicability of psychoanalysis to the arts. First, as Gombrich makes clear, precisely how psychoanalysis (or indeed any psychological approach) tackles the problem of 'art history' needs exploration. In other words, how far can intrapsychic experience provide a model for what is essentially intersubjective and public? The art historian is no doubt right to emphasise that psychoanalytic approaches to art tend to ignore the fact that art is not like a 'shared dream' but has its own unique tradition and public frame of reference. For as Kris (1952) rightly says

Historical and social forces...  shape the function of art in general and more specifically that of any given medium in any given historical setting, determining the frame of reference in which creation is enacted. We have long come to realise that art is not produced in an empty space, that no artist is independent of predecessors and models, that he no less than the scientist and the philosopher is part of a specific tradition and works in a structured area of problems.4.

It is somewhat of a problem that classical criticism focused on the work as a 'carrier' for buried desires, conflicts and anxieties, that it concentrated on specific symbols and imagery and ignored the far more interesting and important question of why painting itself is precious to us. For as the art historian, M. Podro points out, 'the skills and traditions of painting must have been acquired. And not only acquired but acquired in such a way that enables us to make them into an art' (1990, p. 401, my italics).

However, particularly with the developments in the British School (pioneered by clinicians such as Klein, Winnicott and Milner, and aestheticians such as Wollheim and Fuller), psychoanalysis has evolved a set of conceptual tools which can look beyond the pattern of the art symbol and to analyse (as it were) the very fabric upon which it is printed, and most significantly, they can explore what the meaning of creating that fabric itself meant to the artist: the symbolic importance of the actual physical encounter with the medium and our corporeal response to the art work (a theme explored in Chapter seven).

Indeed, Podro emphasises that it was the work of those in the British School such as the analyst, Marion Milner, who 'questioned within the language of psychoanalysis the relation between representing the perceived world and the feeling with which painting could be imbued and with which it must be imbued in order to be an art at all' (ibid.). As we shall see in Chapter six, Milner is one of the first analysts to raise this question of what it is that gives painting its vitality, what distinguishes it from being just the deployment of mechanical skills, or merely the rendering of a mundane copy of the world. In the non-clinical domain, Wollheim (1987) also explores under what conditions that painting becomes an 'art' (and he draws heavily on Kleinian theory to do this).

What I hope will become increasingly apparent in this study, is the extent to which a British School aesthetic is grounded in a corporeal account of art and aesthetic experience; it offers a corporeal theory of meaning. Yet this point needs explaining further, for as the British analyst, Charles Rycroft points out :

The statement that psychoanalysis is a theory of meaning is incomplete and misleading unless one qualifies it by saying that it is a biological theory of meaning. By this I mean that psychoanalysis interprets human behaviour in terms of the self that experiences it and not in terms of entities external to it, such as other-worldly deities or political parties and leaders, and that it regards the self as a psychobiological entity which is always striving for self-realization and self-fulfilment.5.

Indeed, I shall argue that it is this broadly humanistic view which is one of the distinguishing hallmarks of the British School approach to human behaviour - and art. What Rycroft is saying is that psychoanalysis is not merely interested in physical causes but, more importantly, the meaning of those causes to individuals who have their own projects and desires, their own psycho-history. Rycroft's qualification is thus of great significance, for it indicates how far removed such an approach it is from the linguistically-orientated model deployed (for example) by post-structuralists such as Althusser, Derrida and Lacan. Their account is radically sceptical of humanism and questions the very concept of a unified self as being the locus of 'meaning' and 'value', and it is a view which is popular in much current academic thinking.6.

In the light of the above, we may ask what can psychoanalysis can offer the study of aesthetics? To respond, we can say that, broadly speaking, psychoanalysis offers both a highly refined map of the mind and a method for investigating its functioning - thus it offers both a metapsychological as well as a clinical theory. The model it provides has a number of aspects: dynamic, economic, structural, adaptive and developmental. Its method involves an approach which is highly sensitive to the way in which meanings are metaphorised through the play of language, as well as via the actual materials of the visual arts. It addresses the art work with an evenly suspended, 'free-floating attention', based on the model of 'free-association'. Psychoanalysis is thus a rich, many-faceted conglomerate that, when applied to the three areas of aesthetic functioning outlined on page 1above, has the capacity to yield insights unobtainable in any other way.

As this study intends to show, it is British psychoanalysis which seems to yield the most possibilities in tackling both the intra-psychic processes involved in creativity and how these are implicated in the formal structure of art. Because British psychoanalysis is primarily concerned with the relationships between human beings and their objects, it would seem particularly well-suited to address the visual arts, for these are concerned (amongst other things) with the impact of outward objects upon inner experience - the artist's physical engagement with his medium, and the spectator's response to the art object qua object.

However, a number of different psychoanalytic schools have developed since psychoanalysis was first discovered by Freud at the turn of the century, one of these being the British School of psychoanalysis. Before looking at the general contribution of the latter to the dialogue between art and psychoanalysis, I shall give a brief overview of the main trajectories taken by psychoanalytic theory since Freud, so we can see precisely how the British School is 'placed' on the map.

We may consider the evolution of psychoanalysis falling into three main stages, beginning with Freud and Breuer's Studies in Hysteria (1893-5) and Freud's Interpretation of Dreams (1900). Here was set out his discovery of the dynamic unconscious, the account of repression and the nature of the primary and secondary processes - the opposing set of dynamic mechanisms which ground our psychic life. In this first stage (referred to as 'orthodox' or 'Classical' psychoanalysis) artistic form is regarded as essentially a neurotic and wish-fulfilling activity for both artist and viewer, and it shares the same structure as that of dreams, symptoms and parapraxes.

The perspective changes with the development of ego-psychology pioneered by Anna Freud, H. Hartmann, and E. Kris - a tradition that has largely flourished in America. The production of art and its enjoyment is deemed to represent the relatively autonomous functioning of the ego - artistic form can develop more or less independently of drives and instinctual energy. Kris (1952) has been the leading exponent of this view, although there are some insights of ego-psychology which Ehrenzweig has deployed (1967). Yet as we shall see below in chapter five, Ehrenzweig found that his theory of artistic creativity was particularly well corroborated by insights from British psychoanalysis.

However, psychoanalysis in France has evolved yet another distinctive stance of its own, one that has a particularly strong link French intellectual life - for example, the influence of those intellectuals such as R. Barthes, J. Derrida, M. Focault, is very significant. (This interchange is no doubt an index of the privileged role philosophy plays in French intellectual life, where it is integral to the school curriculum.)

Compared to the British School and the Ego-psychologists, French psychoanalysis does not represent a unified and homogenous body of thought, although it has loosely grouped itself around the teachings of the psychoanalyst, J. Lacan.7. In contrast, there is only one Institute of Psychoanalysis in London, which provides a professional and ordered training, but this has had not quite the same impact on cultural life as its French counterpart. The British Society is also much more clinically orientated, where concepts are discussed mainly in a therapeutic context. Indeed, the contrast between French and British psychoanalysis is made clear by Benvenuto and Kennedy who remark that, in France 'the organisation of analytic practice seems as ordered as a heated conversation in a French café'! (1986, p. 14).

The main distinction between the French psychoanalysts and their British and American counterparts, lies in the former's emphasis on the role of language and more specifically, the play of desire through language (Kristeva, 1980) and how the human subject is constructed through the linguistic register (Lacan). Compared to the British School, theirs takes a radically anti-humanistic stance, where the human subject is regarded as being fundamentally fragmented, thus calling into question the whole notion of the unitary self as a locus of 'meaning' and 'value'.

It is to the British School of psychoanalysis that we now turn, the main focus of this account. As we shall see, this School construes the nature of the human subject very differently. The focus is on the importance of the pre-verbal realm of experience - the interchange (reverie) between mother and baby, and its role in subsequent psychic development. As the analyst, Adam Phillips remarks, 'in British Psychoanalysis...    there was not so much a return to Freud, as there had been in France with the work of Lacan, as a return to Mother' (1988, p. 10, my italic).8.

However, it must be made clear that the term 'British School' refers not to one, but to a variety of different approaches. Yet although these have their distinguishing features, there is a common ground, a shared sensibility which unites those who work within this School, which sets it apart from any of the aforementioned traditions. Indeed, in the view of one British analyst, theirs is an approach which is 'a humanistic, decent-minded, democratic, kindly philosophy, and it is strong enough to inspire a way of life' (Rayner, 1990, p. 10).

Like the French School, the British Psychoanalytic Society has encountered the storms of great upheaval and dissent, but has weathered them much more successfully. In 1926 Anna Freud and Melanie Klein came into conflict, one that resurfaced as the bitter 'Controversial Discussions' of 1941-5; and then in 1951 Winnicott and Klein came to blows, resulting in a parting of the ways. However, it was the 'Controversial Discussions' which most powerfully threatened to fragment the British Society. Yet despite the huge theoretical gulf between the rivalling groups, the Society managed to contain its differences, and a 'Gentleman's Agreement' was forged between the rival factions (much of this was due to the tact and diplomacy of Winnicott. Out of this, two separate groups emerged specifically for training purposes: the 'A Group' (led by Klein), and the 'B Group' (led by Anna Freud). A third group also emerged (although more informally) and this became known as the 'Independent' or 'Middle Group', comprising those who had no desire to align themselves with either side, such as R. Fairbairn, J. Rickman, M. Milner, D. Winnicott, C. Rycroft and more recently, C. Bollas, E. Rayner, and A. Phillips.9.

Those working within the British School theory emphasise the relationship between individuals, the reciprocity between self and other - hence the term 'object-relations' - a term sometimes used to describe these thinkers. Because their theory is concerned with the structural dynamics (not just the content) of psychic experience, it can approach the structural, formal nature of the artwork and the way that specific psychic mechanisms are implicated in these. Their theories are also well-equipped to address the nature of the aesthetic encounter and the artist's interchange with his medium. For both the artist and the spectator are concerned with the negotiation between the private inner world and that of the outer - and since this School of psychoanalysis is very much concerned with the specific ways in which the structure of inner experience shapes the perception of reality, then it would seem to have a great deal to offer aesthetics.


Outline of thesis structure and its trajectory

Although we are not concerned specifically with an analysis of Freud's aesthetics, his account of art will be the starting point from which to evaluate subsequent developments in psychoanalytic aesthetics pioneered by the British School.

Part One, Chapter one: 'The Legacy of Freud', will examine two distinctive approaches to art discernible in Freud's writings. Section one will explore Freud's 'neurotic model' and the nature of 'pathography'. Section two will look at Freud's theory of the joke, which a number of theorists have developed into a possible model for understanding the formal qualities of art, aspects that the first model left addressed. However, although this approach has yielded new insights (Kris, 1952; Ehrenzweig, 1967), I concur with J.J. Spector's view that 'Freud's choice of subjects had less to do with central aesthetic questions than with his own personal needs and obsessions' (1972, p. 34).

Part Two will explore the work of Melanie Klein and her contribution to developments of the British School and its aesthetics. Chapter two will explore how Klein's account of (for example) infantile development, unconscious phantasy and symbol-formation significantly developed the Freudian paradigm and created new possibilities in psychoanalytic aesthetics. However, because Klein did not herself develop a systematic account of art, Chapter three will explore how Klein's ideas were taken up by Dr. Hannah Segal (Klein's main standard bearer), and also through the work of the art critic and historian, Adrian Stokes (an analysand of Klein). I will examine how their work lays the foundation of what can be identified as a 'traditional' Kleinian aesthetic.

Since Klein and Segal's contributions, however, there have been significant developments in British School thinking which has had consequence for aesthetics. Part Three of this study: 'Developments in the British School', will explore how Kleinian ideas have progressed since Klein's death in 1960, primarily through the clinical contributions of 'post-Kleinians' such as Bion, Meltzer, Milner and Winnicott. 10.

Chapter four will explore Wilfred Bion's insights concerning thinking, creativity and his re-mapping of the Kleinian account of mental space. Although his work does not deal specifically with the visual arts, it will become clear that he has played an essential role in the development of Kleinian aesthetics. For as we will see, his insights have considerably enlarged the Kleinian paradigm with wider, literary and philosophical dimensions. Indeed, his writings increasingly stress the importance of the veridicality of aesthetic experience and its necessity for our meaningful apprehension of the world. In many ways this represents a return to the traditional (Neo-Platonic) view that art concerns 'the True, the Good and the Beautiful' - the belief that it is through art that we apprehend the order and harmony of the world, and our place within it.11.

The implications of Bion's thinking for psychoanalytic aesthetics and criticism have been developed mainly through the work of analysts such as Meltzer and Williams (1988), Waddell and Williams (1991). Section four will explore the contribution of these authors to what can be identified as a 'Bionian' approach to literary and aesthetic criticism, which they combine with a n appreciation of Stokes's critical writings. Section five will look specifically at the 'dialogue' between Meltzer and Stokes concerning the social basis of art, for it an interesting example of the fruitful interchange possible between the clinical and non-clinical spheres directed specifically towards the understanding of art. Section six will give an overview of the trajectory and scope of Bion's thinking, and will emphasise the way in which post-Kleinian psychoanalysis seems to be increasingly identified as an art form, rather than a 'mirror' of scientific objectivity, which classical psychoanalysis emphasised.

Turning to the non-clinical domain, in Chapter five, I explore the work of art teacher and theorist, Anton Ehrenzweig. His concern is primarily with the unconscious, 'hidden order of art' and the undifferentiated nature of creative perception. However, he can be regarded as somewhat of a 'Flying Dutchman' figure here, for (as his Appendix to The Hidden Order of Art makes clear) he deploys psychoanalytic theory a little idiosyncratically, "mixing and matching" various concepts, combining insights from: Freud, Kris, Klein, Bion, Milner and Winnicott to suit his purposes- there is even a strong Jungian resonance in his account of 'poemagogic imagery'. Broadly speaking, his view that the essence of art is not reparative, concurs with that of Milner and Winnicott. He regards the paradoxical, "in-between" phase of undifferentiation between inner and outer, the 'manic-oceanic womb of rebirth', as he matrix of all artistic creativity and aesthetic perception.

Chapter six will turn once again to the clinical domain, exploring the respective contributions of Winnicott and Milner, two 'Independent' analysts who have focused less on the formal structure of art and its reparative elements, than on the nature of the interchange between viewer and object, the reciprocity between artist and medium, the "potential space" of illusion believed to characterise 'authentic' artistic experience.

Chapter seven will return to the non-clinical domain, examining the aesthetics and criticism of P. Fuller and R. Wollheim, and the overriding theme will be the corporeal basis of painting and aesthetic appreciation: 'painting as the body'. As discussed above, this is a major element underlying the British School account of art, and thus I have chosen to look specifically at its development within the context of actual critical practice. However, where Fuller believes the 'post-Kleinian' ideas of Bion, Milner and Winnicott are the most fruitful, Wollheim's loyalty is primarily to the insights of Klein and Stokes. Yet as I shall argue, the combined contributions of Fuller and Wollheim not only show how successfully a range of British School concepts have been deployed in the criticism of art, they reveal that the fundamental link between the thinkers in the British School is the emphasis on the body - the corporeal basis of what Stokes called the 'image in form' - that structure of art which is 'container for the sum of meanings' (CWS III, p.334). The work of Fuller and Wollheim reveals how British School theory can account for the material, corporeal basis of aesthetic appreciation, and can also address the question of why it is that the activity of painting is itself meaningful - a theme which most 'ideological' and structural-linguistic theories of art seem unable to explain (Fuller, 1980, p.183).

Our Conclusion will give an overview of the main elements which comprise a British psychoanalytic aesthetic and some of the broader, philosophical ideas implicated in these. We will also examine how British School theory invites us to rethink the classical account of the relation between art and madness, creativity and psychoneurosis, and the distinction between the primary and secondary processes.


The overriding goal of this study will be to demonstrate that the work of the British School presents a significant contribution to psychoanalytic aesthetics and criticism. Given the various different approaches within this School (Kleinian, Bionian, Winnicottian, for example) it will become clear that there are a number of fundamental, shared assumptions which characterise what is an essentially humanistic and material (corporeal) aesthetic. In this account, aesthetic and cultural experience are regarded as being central to both our psychic health and the continuation of our 'going-on-being' (Winnicott). By looking at the respective contributions of both the practitioners and the non-practitioners who have furthered the debate between aesthetics and psychoanalysis, it is hoped that we will be in a strong position to identify a uniquely British psychoanalytic aesthetic.



1.  attempts at pathography include, 'Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva' (1907), 'Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood', (1910).

2. For an excellent account of the background to Freud's thinking and his approach to art, see J. J. Spector (1972). A critique of Freud's aesthetics will be the subject of Chapter one below.

3. Published in Nelson (1958), pp. 182-293, and in Gombrich (1963): references are to the former text.

4. Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (New York, 1952), p. 21.

5. Psychoanalysis Observed (1965), p. 20.

6. I am indebted to M. Sarup's (1988) clear introduction to the themes and characteristics of post-structuralism and postmodernism.

7. Other analysts who have contributed significantly to psychoanalytic aesthetic and cultural criticism include: J. Kristeva, J. Chasseguet-Smirgel, M. Mannoni, J. Laplanche, L. Irigaray, G. Deleuze.

8. For an account of the development of French psychoanalysis and its vicissitudes, see S. Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics (New York, Basic Books, 1986), and T. Zeldin, France: Intellect and Pride (Oxford, 1980).

9. For an account of the history of the British School, see J. Hughes (1989); for an excellent account of the 'Controversial Discussions', see P. King and R. Steiner (1992). The history of 'Independent' tradition in the and its main theoretical approaches have been explored by G. Kohon (1986), and by E. Rayner (1990).

10. In this study the term 'post-Kleinian' is sometimes used and a distinction must be made between its clinical, theoretical reference and my own use of the term, which is largely historical. Clinically speaking, the term 'post-Kleinian' refers to a group of analysts who have taken up Bion's ideas and who believe that he has essentially moved beyond Klein and pioneered a new paradigm or school of his own. (Those include A. Hyatt Williams, M. Pines, M. Waddell, D. Meltzer, M. Harris, J. Grotstein and J. Grinberg). My use is somewhat different. I include with Bion and Meltzer the 'Independent' analysts, Milner and Winnicott. For they (like Bion) were pupils of Klein and also went on to develop new insights after her death - and in this historical sense, they deserve to be called 'post-Kleinian'. However, most clinicians would take issue with my inclusion of Milner and Winnicott in the 'post-Kleinian' tradition because the two analysts disagreed with the fundamental Kleinian view that the child is born with an innate sense of an ego boundary and that unconscious phantasy operates from the very start of life. But it is for ease of reference and grouping that I have included them with Bion in the category 'post-Kleinian'. Indeed, I would disagree with those who see a stark division between the ideas of (say) Bion and Winnicott, for even Winnicott himself saw a number of resonances between his thinking and that of Bion (see The Collected Letters of D.W.Winnicott, ed. Rodman, 1987). Milner (1987) also noted resonances between her work and that of Bion, especially his regarding later ideas concerning reverie, aesthetic experience and mystical states.

11. However, there is a debate as to how far Bion has established a new, 'post-Kleinian' paradigm of his own, or whether he is part and parcel of a more general development of Kleinian thought that includes Segal's development d Kleinian theory of symbolism and aesthetic experience and the work of others such as E. Bick and H. Rosenfeld on the schizoid personality and narcissistic disorders. Hinshelwood (1989) is inclined to view Bion in the latter category, while my own view (following Meltzer) is that Bion represents the coming-of-age of psychoanalysis, and has transformed the Kleinian model by aligning psychoanalytic insight with literature and philosophy. Milton, Shakespeare, Keats, Coleridge, the Old Testament, and the Bhagavadgita are among the classical texts that inspired Bion's thinking and helped provide models for his psychoanalytic theories.




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