- Purchase/rental options available:
American Imago 60.1 (2003) 116-121
[Access article in PDF]
The Power of Implicit Motion:
"It Goes Straight Through"
This communication aims to show how a working alliance of psychoanalysis and art can be mutually fruitful. Movement is of central importance to both art and psyche. Drawing on this realization enables me, in my capacity as a psychoanalytic aesthetician, to propose a theory of (1) how aesthetic responsiveness takes place, and (2) sometimes has therapeutic efficacy.
In The Survival of Images (2001), Louis Rose examines a small circle of art historians and psychoanalysts in the first half of the twentieth century who explored images of movement. This group of cultural scientists consisted, on the one hand, of Aby Warburg and his successors Fritz Saxl and E. H. Gombrich and, on the other, of Freud and his disciple Ernst Kris, himself trained as an art historian and the student of Emanuel Loewy.
Freud never referred to Warburg, and the latter opposed Freud's sexual theory. Yet, Rose argues, whether the link in question was between ancient culture and modern life or between the infant and the adult, "the object of cultural study common to the psychoanalyst and art historian [was] the image of movement" (22). And though the repository of images for art historians was the public archives, while for psychoanalysts it was the private stock of any individual's dreams, both "placed image-making at the center of their researches, exploring how visual pictures and scenes gained qualities of immediacy and living movement. According to both, those qualities of pictures and performances resulted from dramatic fragments of the past coming into renewed contact with the present" (26).
I would like to utilize Rose's research as a springboard to reflect on the temporary therapeutic miracles that music and art can sometimes accomplish with victims of neurological devastation. For example, listening to music, performing it, or just imagining it can restore motor ability, emotional range, and psychological identity for a period extending from moments to hours. This may be accompanied by a revival of normal EEG patterns. [End Page 116]
In one case known to me, a woman in a late stage of vascular dementia had become withdrawn and indifferent to music and the presence of intimates (whom she may or may not have still recognized). She rarely spoke and never completed a sentence. When she did utter a word or two, it was without any obvious referential context. This woman had been an avid painter and had twice run her own art gallery. Painters had been among her closest friends. Accordingly, one day she was shown colored illustrations of Monet and the abstract paintings of Jimmy Ernst, an old friend. She looked at them all intently for many minutes and with unswerving attention. Asked what she thought, she replied immediately and with the intensity that had once been so characteristic: "This is really beautiful!" Then, more astonishing still: "It goes straight through!"
What "goes straight through"? I suggest that the implicit motion of aesthetic form evokes implicit motion at the heart of affect. Implicit motion comprises both the tension and release of virtual motion inherent in visual art and music, and the tension and release of actual bodily responsiveness to the arts in the form of affect.
How does it go straight through? To borrow a metaphor from physics: art and music shape fields of perceptual forces of tension and release to create a virtual "moving" magnet that stimulates the spectator's or listener's imagination to generate currents of flowing affect, just as an actually moving magnet generates electric current inside a coil of wire.
Optimally, the therapeutic effect of art and music is manifested in a return to the normal range of motion and emotion, as well as in a resurgence of the sense of identity; they respond together. The basic ingredient of music is not sound but movement (Sessions 1950). As Louis Rose documents, the importance of movement...