Often derided as unscientific and self-indulgent, psychoanalysis has been an invaluable resource for artists, art critics and historians throughout the twentieth century. Art and Psychoanalysis investigates these encounters. The shared relationship to the unconscious, severed from Romantic inspiration by Freud, is traced from the Surrealist engagement with psychoanalytic imagery to the contemporary critic's use of psychoanalytic concepts as tools to understand how meaning operates. Following the theme of the 'object' with its varying materiality, Walsh develops her argument that psychoanalysis, like art, is a cultural discourse about the mind in which the authority of discourse itself can be undermined, provoking ambiguity and uncertainty and destabilising identity. The dynamics of the dream-work, Freud's 'familiar unfamiliar', fetishism, visual mastery, abjection, repetition, and the death drive are explored through detailed analysis of artists ranging from Max Ernst to Louise Bourgeois, including 1980s postmodernists such as Cindy Sherman, the performance art of Marina Abramovic' and post-minimalist sculpture. Invative and disturbing, Art and Psychoanalysis investigates key psychoanalytic concepts to reveal a dynamic relationship between art and psychoanalysis which goes far beyond interpretation. There is cure for the artist - but art can reconcile us to the traumatic nature of human experience, converting the sadistic impulses of the ego towards domination and war into a masochistic ethics of responsibility and desire.
Maria Walsh is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, Theory at University of the Arts, London.