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Perversion in art

Parent categories: art - perversion

Related: degenerate art - fetish art - erotica

Beginning with Manet's Olympia, 1863 (for many the seminal modern picture) and jumping to Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 (another "breakthough"), and then to the dolls that Hans Bellmer made in the 1930s and the somewhat different looking but equally perverse dolls that appear in Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, 1979 -- her later grotesquely dismembered dolls are explicitly Bellmeresque, especially when they are composites of fragments that don't add up to a complete body -- and throwing in Egon Schiele's nudes, Balthus's adolescent girls, Piero Manzoni's canned shit, and Gilbert and George's shit cookies (many other works can be mentioned), one realizes that many of the masterpieces of modern art depend on perversion to make their dramatic point. --Donald Kuspit http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit6-10-02.asp [May 2004]

Perversion in modern art

...the number of perverts involved in the field of art is probably much greater than the average for the population in general.... It can be supposed ... that the pervert inclines in some particular manner to the world of art.

Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Creativity and Perversion, 1984

It is usual for most normal people to linger to some extent over the intermediate aim of looking that has a sexual tinge to it; indeed, this offers them a possibility of directing some proportion of their libido on to higher artistic aims. On the other hand, this pleasure in looking [scopophilia] becomes a perversion (a) if it is restricted exclusively to the genitals, or (b) if it is connected with the overriding of disgust (as in the case of voyeurs or people who look at excretory functions), or (c) if, instead of being preparatory to the normal sexual aim, it supplants it.
Sigmund Freud, "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality," 1905

The most common and the most significant of all the perversions -- the desire to inflict pain upon the sexual object, and its reverse -- received from Krafft-Ebbing the names of "Sadism" and "Masochism" for its active and passive forms respectively.
Sigmund Freud, "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality," 1905

First, perversion is the result of an essential interplay between hostility and sexual desire.... Second, people with perversions feel (are made to feel) an unending sense of being dirty, sinful, secretive, abnormal and a threat to those finer, unperverse citizens who are supposed to make up the majority of society. Third, the word itself reflects the need of individuals in society to keep from recognizing their own perverse tendencies by providing scapegoats who liberate the rest of us in that they serve as the objects of our own unacceptable and projected perverse tendencies.
Robert Stoller, Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred, 1975

We also find many versions of anal defiance, the urge to exhibit excrement and to flaunt it before the eyes of the world. In some exhibitions in London there was a great show of "dirty knickers," underpants with faeces, piles of excrement on the floor made to look very life-like. We can take this to be a defiant gesture of the self which has been made to feel dirty and bad by parents and by the "clean and ordered" world at large.

The narcissistic self that wants to be admired and loved but encountered rejection or disgust is hitting back at its tormentors, gaining revenge by outraging them with obscenities and by breaking their rules.... Indeed, what is the meaning of old bits of iron, broken chimney pots, old bicycles, fragments of machinery, unwanted sewing-machines and such like exhibited as sculptures? They obviously serve to disturb and outrage the onlooker by claiming artistic significance for what most people regard as discards. We see here a declaration of war against the cultural Superego, a demand for a right to express any impulse previously considered taboo. Sublimation itself, the very foundation of culture, is declared a barrier to freedom, an instrument of repression.

This new kind of libertarianism is not at all what the founders of modern art had intended.

George Frankl, Civilisation: Utopia and Tragedy, 1990

[Kitsch] is perhaps most clearly visible where love poetry changes into pornography ... perverting the infinite goal of love ... into a series of finite sex acts..... Whoever produces kitsch ... is not to be evaluated by esthetic measures but is ethically depraved; he is a criminal who wills radical evil.
Hermann Broch, Evil in the Value System of Art, 1933

Who has no Kitsch in his unconscious, can throw the first stone.
Wilhelm Worringer, "Thoughts On Kitsch," 1951

Perversion was implicit in modern art from the beginning, and remains a vital factor in it today. In fact, one can regard modern art as by and large the history of the representation of Perversion . What makes it innovative -- "modern" -- is its perverseness, both in attitude and form. Curiosity about perversion, supposedly the most novel, adventurous sexuality, motivates many modern artists. Certainly some of the most famous, innovative works deal with perversion, more or less openly. They also tend to be structurally perverse, at least by traditional standards. And perverse in method, if automatism is any indication.

This is an excellent article with lots of yummy links for jahsonic.com. Although I am not a regular customer at artnet.com, I do come across them quite often while trying 'combinations' in Google. --Jahsonic, [May 2004]

Creativity and Perversion (1984) - Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Otto Kernberg

Creativity and Perversion (1996) - Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Otto Kernberg Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This psychoanalytic work is fascinating reading and frequently cites and interprets Marquis de Sade .

...the number of perverts involved in the field of art is probably much greater than the average for the population in general.... It can be supposed ... that the pervert inclines in some particular manner to the world of art. --Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Creativity and Perversion, 1984

About the author
Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel is a member of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris and honorary member of the Philadelphia Psychoanalytical Society, and a former holder of the Freud Chair at London University and the Chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychopathology at Lille University.

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