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Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development

Otto Rank, an Austrian psychoanalyst and one of Sigmund Freud's early colleagues, had a unique perspective on the artist's role in society and their psychological makeup. In his works, especially in "Art and Artist" (1932), Rank explores the psychological processes involved in creativity and the artist's struggle with artistic expression.

Rank proposed that there are three types of people concerning their approach to life and creativity:

The Average Person: This type conforms to societal norms and expectations, often suppressing their personal creative impulses to maintain social harmony and personal security.

The Neurotic: According to Rank, neurotics are individuals who feel the impulse to create or express themselves but are overwhelmed by the anxiety it causes. They may retreat from their creative impulses due to the fear of the unknown and the potential disruption to their sense of self and their societal roles.

The Artist: The third type, the artist, manages to harness their creative impulses in a way that both expresses their personal vision and communicates universally relatable truths to others. Unlike the neurotic, the artist confronts and integrates their anxieties into their work, using creativity as a form of therapy and self-realization. Artists are able to live with the tension between their individual needs and the demands of society, transforming personal conflicts into expressive and often socially accepted artistic creations.

Rank's theory highlights the artist as someone who not only produces art to satisfy personal needs but also transforms personal suffering into something that has universal appeal. This transformation is a key aspect of what Rank saw as the therapeutic value of art, both for the artist and for those who engage with the artist's work.

Understanding Rank's view helps to appreciate how he saw the artist as a pivotal figure in bridging inner psychological realities with external social expressions, contributing deeply to the cultural and emotional life of their communities.


Truth and Reality

Rank’s development of will psychology led him to a philosophy of the psychological, outlined in Truth and Reality. Here he explores the psychological determinants of the relationship of inner world to outer reality.

Anticipating one of the central findings of post-Freudian psychiatry, he argues that “truth” is irrelevant to the work of therapy. He contrasts the negative externalization of will, which leads to denial and guilt, with the creative power of will, tracing this conflict in both the individual and the history of human society.


Personality and the realization of creative potential

In view of this earlier exposure to Rank, it is
hard to realize that when a few years ago I turned
my attention to the problem of creativity I did so
without once thinking of the implications of Rankian theory for the work I was about to undertake.
Insofar as I thought about what psychoanalytic theory or the theories of derivative schools of psychoanalysis had to say about creativity, my thoughts
turned to Freud's theory of primary and secondary
process and his concept of sublimation, to Kris's
notions concerning regression in the service of the
ego, and to Kubie's emphasis on the role of preconscious processes in creative thought and action.
I recalled vividly Jung's ideas on the reconciliation
of the opposites: the dichotomies of consciousunconscious, rational-irrational, sensation-intuition,
thinking-feeling, extraversion-introversion, personaanima, the individual versus the collective, and the
archetypal images and the processes of individuation. And, of course, I thought of Maslow's notion
of the self-actualizing person, of Rogers' concept of
the fully functioning individual, and of Allport's
description of becoming. I was aware of the influence of all these ideas on my own thought as I
planned and undertook my research on creativity.
I even vaguely recalled Adler's concept of a creative instinct, but found not much help in that. But
not once did I consciously think of Rank's theories


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About Eric

I'm an award-winning artist who's been innovating in Web3 since 2019. Prior to that I was a program manager at Twitter and consultant at Google, where I specialized in operationalizing service design and customer experience. Read more