Psychological Studies of Art and Artists
Email this review


 Written from a variety of clinical viewpoints, these thumbnail sketches of notoriously unbalanced artists draw links--sometimes tenuous, sometimes provocative--between their personality disorders and their creative productions. As Leon E.A. Berman (Psychiatry/Wayne State College of Medicine) points out in the only case study here not focused on a celebrated figure, the artistically creative ``tend to dramatize and mythologize their histories.'' Such artists have willing accomplices in many of Berman's fellow contributors. Co-editor Panter (Psychiatry/USC), for instance, offers a cogent overview of Van Gogh's tragically interrupted career, but doesn't do much more than elaborate on a myth by speculating that for Vincent ``the act of painting was a way to merge with his mother.'' This problem of perspective aside, however, some of the elaborations here are elegant. Intriguing notions of the therapeutic functions of symbolic creation inform essays on Jackson Pollock, Frida Kahlo, and the late-blooming painter Elizabeth Layton. The contributors frequently diagnose narcissism. Richard Wagner, for example, becomes an exemplar of what Heinz Kohut called the syndrome of ``the grandiose self.'' Other specific syndromes--alcoholism for Pollock, mid-life crisis for Gioacchino Rossini, manic-depressive illness for Virginia Woolf--get an essay apiece. All contributors attend to their subjects' family romance or process of individuation. The locus classicus for such discussion of artists is of course Freud's famous book on Leonardo da Vinci, revisited in a notable effort here by Warren Jones (Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute), for whom Freud is the bridge between da Vinci and RenÇ Magritte in an exploration of the two artists. C. Kate Kavanagh's (Psychiatry/Univ. of Wisconsin) discussion of Picasso and his women offers a satisfactorily iconoclastic note by citing Jung's observation that Picasso was less mad than evil. Co- editor Evelyn Virshup is author of Right-Brain People in a Left- Brain World (not reviewed); Bernard Virshup teaches behavioral sciences at UCLA. The analyses here too often boil down to conventional wisdom about art's roots in madness, but these diverse case studies of psychological disaster coupled with artistic achievement can't help but make for diverting reading.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-9641185-1-3
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994