freudian slide into nihilism

Maybe the problem is a mimicry of art historical forms without connecting to the poetic myths that animated and gave life to these forms. That is, the aura of the profound is a falsification in that the depth of the work is illusory. A phantom. Cut off and adrift from he past; a killing off or assassination of the past that can never die. …

Freud’s paintings are autobiographical. Almost all the people he chooses to paint tell a story about himself and his values Freud had an almost visceral hatred of almost all art of the Renaissance. It makes sense: the Renaissance was the period, above all, during which man was celebrated as the crown of creation. Freud’s belief was the opposite: man, he seems to say, must never forget the fact that he is deteriorating matter. It was Kant who first observed that an aesthetic encounter can be one that is mixed with pain, and Freud proves it eloquently. But not without controversy.

The question is whether Freud’s pathologies, his schtick is a fit form of aesthetic content, given that we say that art should be a mix of the aesthetic and non-aesthetic. What’s wrong with morbid and vulgar representations? Why do many find Freud’s art repellant? Perhaps the content appears to lack meaning and seems gratuitous with Freud’s dreamlife bordering on the manufactured and contrived hence failing to sustain or resonate appearing like a fake grotesque. So, it might come down to the issue of nihilism and making the world into a hell, the non-idealist fantasy of the brutal and grotesque.


---It was also an identification with masculinity: to paint was to be manly. Drawing was implicitly feminine for him -- literally drawing room art. Drawing also meant submission to the sitter, while in painting he could dominate the sitter -- forcefully overcome his or her inner resistance in what was in effect painterly rape. Painterliness was uncensored painting, as it were -- painting that was not censored or constrained by the niceties of drawing, and thus did not fit into the drawing room -- which is why the people Freud portrayed in a virulently painterly way seem like social outcasts, whether naked or not.--- Read More: image:

But, it was a peculiar kind of elegance. Almost a nihilistic elegance. All the paradoxes and contradictions of fatalistic, inevitable suffering embedded in the body, and ambling in all the glory of guilt and shame towards death. The feeling of death imbues the paint and the body, obsessively, compulsively, teasing the darkness and fragmentation to beckon forth. Like people who seem to relish, almost enthusiastically when announcing a death; the morbid energy mobilized by a funeral and the knowledge that they have moved up a notch in the queue.

But what saves it from falling onto its own sword? Is there a madness and humor innate to art, an uneasy co-existence that produces a flirtation with psychosis as long as we see the inherent humor in it? Humor comes to the rescue, like a saving grace, awakening us from the hallucinatory madness that makes artistic illusion convincing.

Richard Shiff:You feel you can breathe on Freud's paintings without making real contact; the painting is safe and so are you. Getting up against the glass, looking in as you regard the heavy, irregular surface and respond to Freud's myopic perspective, the body parts may indeed become "forms," but only of a local, degenerative sort - bits and pieces that evoke a fragmented, conflicted person, a body and even a soul wanting integration. The intensified familiarity at which Freud aims his art, both formally and psychologically, eliminates all generality in favor of this extreme particularity. Read More: image:

William Grimes:In paintings like “Girl With Roses” (1947-48) and “Girl With a White Dog” (1951-52), he put the pictorial language of traditional European painting in the service of an anti-romantic, confrontational style of portraiture that stripped bare the sitter’s social facade. Ordinary people — many of them his friends — stared wide-eyed from the canvas, vulnerable to the artist’s ruthless inspection….In 1938, he was expelled from Bryanston, in Dorset, after dropping his trousers on a dare on a street in Bournemouth. But his sandstone sculpture of a horse earned him entry into the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London….Mr. Freud was a bohemian of the old school. He set up his studios in squalid neighborhoods, developed a Byronic reputation as a rake and gambled recklessly (“Debt stimulates me,” he once said)….Read More:

---Freud painted many full-length portraits of him that emphasize his imposing, yet oddly graceful physique. Viewed here, however, seated from the back, his hulking body squats ungainfully on a low, wide stool in the artist's studio. The terrain of his fleshy mountainous back is almost sculpted by the artist's thick application of paint. In essence, this is not a traditional portrait, but a still life of skin. One is reminded of an observation by Willem de Kooning, another painter of grotesque figures: "Flesh is the reason why oil painting was developed." Source: Lucian Freud: Naked Man, Back View (1993.71) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

So, this romantic transgression into usually repressed human territory brought him full circle back to grandpa Sigmund where he could caress the taboo with the thick choppy strokes that pulled in opposite direction at the once: nude/naked, refined/raw, coarse/smooth. It can be said his paintings were chucked full of life in spite of them giving rise to a disquieting consciousness of our own death which we generally prefer to be exposed to in small, reflective doses or totally unconscious of for protracted spells. But,in going back to Freud we should consider one of his seminal writings, Jokes and Their Re

on to the Unconscious, in which Freud found similarities between jokes and works of art:

“Picasso once said that every good work of art is a kind of joke. Diego Rivera, the revolutionary Mexican muralist, agreed. Every piece of worthwhile art, properly understood, is not only like a joke, it is shocking. It must connect its elements in a new way; the world comes to be seen in a new way. A punch line of a joke may get a laugh, or perhaps only a smile. A first view of a great work of art may make one smile, more likely not. But it will be shocking, often without the viewer knowing quite why. “So art may not be a joke,” Rivera said, “but it is always like one.”—Read More:

---The people watching Jerry Springer and eating twinkies by the case are not the same people waltzing into Soho galleries and sipping Perrier. The avant garde is simply annoying the choir. It is informing precisely no one. And in order to make art it's mouthpiece, it has destroyed art history. In order to make art into one more cog in the propaganda machine, it has killed art's original definition. For you see that art in the last fifty years has not been a case of, "you are free to make political art, if you like." It is a case of, "you must make political art, and if you don't we will know you are a boob or a traitor." Read More: image:

and how does this humor, the joke, get embedded into the art:

Kuspit:But I think there is something ironical in Freud’s use of Ingres. He has said that “Ingres’ history painting has the humor of madness,” which reminds me of Winnicott’s remark that we are “able, so to speak, to flirt with the psychosis” so long as we see the humor in it, for humor gives us a certain defensive distance from insanity, whether our own or society’s. It is the hope at the bottom of the Pandora’s Box of emotional evils that the psyche seems to be.Read More:

…But getting back to those pathologies. With Freud its a direct expression through the art. An inability to love? That would seem intuitive since almost everything reeks of the horrid including friends and lovers.  The human body is also abominable, more like rotting meat. So, its plausible criticism to conclude the work as a falsification in the sense of ugly; the anti-idealization of beauty found in the classics such as Raphael.

---Which brings us back to non-aesthetic content. The sort of art that fetches the highest prices, that gets into the biggest shows and galleries, that gets written up the most is still art that is defined completely by its non-aesthetic content. This non-aesthetic content is socio-politics. But, as I have shown, this content, and most other contemporary content, is logically indefensible. Political art fails as both art and politics. Shock art fails because it fails to shock, fails to inform, and fails to support a consistent theory of progression. Furthermore, it fails because in order to achieve this massive failure it supplanted a much richer history of art....Read More: image:

So, the implication of nihilism is a logical argument. Just another conniver kneeling in the temple of Marcel Duchamp.  Given, that some of the classicists were trying to transform the world into a celestial paradise  and the moderns into a hell. Obviously, it is neither or both heaven and hell. The truly great artists understood this: Van Gogh,  Baudelaire , Goya, Rodin, Rembrandt. And they had the talent to articulate the interplay between the two nodes. That’s what greatness is.

It has to be mentioned that Van Gogh’s pathology was not of the same stripe as Freud’s. Van Gogh’s was centered on  an inability to socialize, and a growing mental deterioration that may have been accentuated from that condition as well as an acute inability to deal with the problems of the world, which no matter the size or importance all became internalized. Still, none of this appears in his canvases which are  neither anti-social or misanthropic. In fact, They are loaded with bright links to his surroundings.Its as if his disturbed mental  state could be moved an inspired by the potential of  connections and the tinge, bittersweet melancholy of unfulfilled expectations, and desires. But the quest to look for meaning never diminished.

…Good art makes the madness of the mistake evident, while allowing it. I am suggesting that Freud unconsciously regards his own art with more than a grain of humor, for otherwise he could not handle existential terror — the madness of the body, indeed, the trauma and curse of having a body (which is what Grünewald¹s Isenheim crucifixion is about) — with such troubling dexterity. That is, with a painterly cunning more than equal to our cunning body, which is traumatized and stigmatized when its sexuality is repressed by society, which is why Freud blatantly expresses its animality. Read More:


In “harmless” jokes, the pleasure is like the “harmless” play with words in childhood and the more obvious forms of “harmlessness,” i.e., the supposedly non-sexual play of older children and adolescence. In “tendentious” jokes, which always have to do with more genitally organized erotic and aggressive sources, there is a sudden organization of the pregenital components into foreplay, with a surprising, even shocking, climax, an orgastic-like discharge. Such jokes allow access to ordinarily suppressed unconscious fantasies, and combine them with preconscious fantasies on other levels. The result is a discharge and a saving of energy equivalent, Freud thought, to the forces ordinarily maintaining the repression. “Harmless jokes,” according to Freud, resemble the non-orgastic play of children more directly….

…What dreams, fantasies, humor, wit, symptoms, creative acts — what psychic acts have in common — is that all emanate from a psychic structure shared in qualitative essentials by almost all human beings. Following Waelder (1930), we would say that every psychic act obeys the principle of multiple determination and function. More specifically, what creative acts and jokes, and to a lesser extent, dreams, share is the sudden, shocking, joining, by the viewer or listener, of previously buried sexual and aggressive fantasies with fantasies more closely related to everyday, conscious perception. Read More:

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