Common Misconceptions:

  • All about sex – Whilst psychoanalysis does position the role of sexuality, especially in our infancy, as a foundation of our adult lives, it is also about how we treat and examine other objects.
  • Mish-mash of psychology and psychiatry – Although it is linked to the two, it’s also a ‘way of thinking’ that can be applied to all aspects of society, including art and design.

Freud’s Definitions:

  • A discipline founded on a procedure for the investigation of mental processes that are otherwise inaccessible because they are unconscious – A mental concious we are aware of , a subconscious we have no control over.
  • A therapeutic method for the treatment of neurotic disorders
  • A body of psychological data evolving into a new scientific discipline- This third category comprises Freud’s work on culture, which is largely based on the view that culture is a product of the diversion or sublimation of sexual energy. (Sublimation – the conversion of sexual drives and energies into creative and intellectual activity)

The structure of the conciousness:

  • ‘consciousness’ has become synonymous with meaning ‘our awareness of “self”’
  • It is how we perceive the world
  • It can be visualised and defined in many different ways
  • Psychoanalysis seeks to analyse and structure our ‘consciousness’ through careful dissection of the ‘unconscious’ mind
  • The ‘unconscious’ is what lies beneath the conscious mind, although we often don’t have access to it.
Mind’s three structures:
  • ID – governed by the pleasure principle-  Our desires and drives such as sex, death, pain
  • Ego- governed by the reality principle –  the side that we show the world.
  • Superego- the conscious and ego-ideal – it is our ‘conscience’ (moral, social etc)

Iceberg Metaphor:

-this is the idea that conciousness is what appears on the surface, it is only a fraction of what goes on in the mind.


Freud suggests that to live in society we must repress instinctual desires (mainly sexual or aggressive) as we see them as taboos of a society- the ID. This provides a process of socialization- how an individual is formed through repressing desires usually controlled by the super-ego, which leads Freud on to argue that this ‘version’ of ourselves we willingly show to the world(ego) isn’t natural and instead suggests that the unconscious is far more natural.

The Borromean Knot:

bknot   The Self is the section highlighted in the centre

This idea suggests that the ego is constantly pulling and pushing towards and away from super-ego and id but can’t completely break free. Society expects that you wont give voice to desires and that they are always trying to get through.

Why Psychoanalysis?

  • Psychoanalysis is interested in art, design and the media precisely because it expresses ideas about ‘drives’ and ‘repressions’
  • Psychoanalysis interprets the motivations and drives together with the unconscious acts of making and meaning.
  • It attempts to look at how desires and their repressions are interpreted.

Psychoanalysis and Surrealism:

– The Surrealists (Breton, Dali etc) emerged themselves in psychoanalysis as a way of uncovering their unconscious and repressed desires.

1Picture3  Dali, Dream Caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before awakening (1944)

Brenton explored his subconscious through his poetry whereas Dali used visual interpretations of dreams as a view into the subconscious as seen in the image above.

Moses of Michelangelo:

One of the first examples of the application of psychoanalysis in art is Freud’s analysis of the Moses of Michelangelo (1914).


Freud looks at what motivated Michelangelo to portray Moses in such a way and supposes that Michelangelo wanted to find a representation of intellectual anger that matched his own (a self-portrait).

Freud on Leonardo:

Freud recounts childhood recollection recorded by Leonardo that as a child, whilst in his cradle, a large bird opened his mouth with its tail he imagines this is a later fantasy transposed on childhood and interprets it as expression of passive homosexuality, the bird’s tail substituting for the penis.
He also suggests that Leonardo’s sexual curiosity is sublimated into a spirit of intellectual enquiry, whilst this produced great works of art, the sublimation of libido into a general urge to know meant that a smaller quota of Leonardo’s sexual energy was directed towards sexual aims, resulting in a stunted adult sexuality.

Leonardo’s parents split up in his early childhood so he was brought up by his father and stepmother, his paternal grandmother also lived in the household. Freud comments on the similarity in age between mother and grandmother in the painting and suggests the subject was chosen due to his domestic setting, and the fact that in effect he had two mothers, his real mother and his stepmother.

Object relations and the Idea of the Fetish:

  • Object-relations is the psychoanalytic concern with how we view and use objects.
  • Because we can ‘invest’ emotional energy into an inanimate object, we can also appreciate art and literature.
  • The ‘investment’ is related to the fetish.
      Object relations:
  • Linus uses his blanket as a ‘transitional object’.
  • It is an object used that represents his transition from his mother (internal world) to the outside world.
  • Winnicott argues that because we can invest such feelings at maternity and safety in a blanket, we can also invest feelings in other objects such as art.
      The Fetish:
  • The Freudian fetish (different from the Marxist fetish) is the investment of sexual and psychical emotion into inanimate objects.
  • reassuring rather than dangerous
  • Freud suggests this originates in our castration complex. We’re seeking safe replacements for the missing female/maternal phallus.
Fetish Fashion –“Fetishism, Freud first pointed out, involves displacing the sight of the woman’s imaginary castration onto a variety of reassuring but often surprising objects – shoes, corsets, rubber goods, belts, knickers, etc – which serve as signs of the last penis but have no direct connection with it.” – Laura MulveyThe castration fear:

  • Realising at an early age about different sexual organs and boys see girls as castrated this creates fears that they will be.
  • The woman’s body reminds the male viewer of the possibility of being without their sexual organ.
  • This is uncomfortable and can cause anxiety, so often desire is projected on a fetishsised part of the body, (eyes, breasts, mouth, feet)

The abject:

Is that which society cannot accept and which we find repulsive, such as: bodily fluids-  urine, faeces, blood, pus, semen, mucus, vomit. It is these which we regard as dirty and are taught to feel distaste for. The abject therefore is anything which crosses boundaries- disturbs Identity.


“The abject is related to perversion. The sense of abjection that I experience is anchored in the superego. The abject is perverse because it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law; but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of them, the better to deny them. It kills in the name of life – a progressive despot; it lives at the behest of death – an operator in genetic experimentations; it curbs the other’s suffering for its own profit – a cynic (and a psychoanaylist); it establishes narcissistic power while pretending to reveal the abyss – an artist who practices his art as a “business.”– Kristeva