GUESTS: Isaac Stern, Lionel Trilling, Nathan Kline
AIR DATE: 11/17/1957
ANNOUNCER: The Open Mind, free to examine, to question, to disagree. Our subject today, “Psychiatry And The Creative Mind.” Your host on The Open Mind is Richard D. Heffner, Author and Historian.
MR. HEFFNER: Good afternoon, In a very real sense today’s program the subject for today’s program was suggested some weeks ago by a new book edited by William Phillips called “Art And Psychoanalysis.” I think, as a matter of fact, we didn’t even need the stimulus of the book with this title to know that the question of the relationship between the creative mind and
mental health or psychiatry, or neurosis, is a question that has disturbed a good many people for some time now.
As a matter of fact, in The New Yorker just I think it was last week in a profile of Marlon Brand° by Truman. Gapote, there is a quotation here that bears upon our subject. In this Mr. Brando was saying to Gapote, “Have you ever been analyzed? I was afraid of it at first. Afraid it might destroy the impulses that left me creative, an artist,”
And in this volume edited by William Phillips there is an article by Professor Lionel Trilling, reprinted from the
volume that he published some time ago called. “The Liberal
Imagination.” This essay is called “Art And Neurosis,” and in it Mr. Trilling says: “In recent years the connection, between art and mental illness has been formulated not only by those who are openly or covertly hostile to art but also more significantly by those who are most intensely partisan to it; the latter willingly and even eagerly accept the idea that the artist is mentally ill and go on to make his illness a condition of his power to tell the truth.”
Well this is an indication that a good many
people have thought over the question of the relationship between psychiatry and the creative mind; and now for our discussion let me introduce to you our guests.
My first guest is Mr. Isaac Stern, the renowned Concert Violinist; and joining him is Mr. Lionel Trilling, Author, Literary Critic, and Professor of Literature at Columbia Univer¬sity; and our third guest is Doctor Nathan Kline, Psychiatrist, and this year’s winner of the much-coveted Albert Lasker Award for his pioneering work with tranquilizing drugs. Doctor Kline is herenot only as a therapist but a creative scientist. And I think, Doctor Kline, that I would like to begin the program by asking you your reaction to this often-heard equation between neurosis and creativity.
DOCTOR KLINE: I suspect that part of this arises from the fact that many individuals who are unable to make an ordinary adjustment attempt to hide behind the guise of being artists and therefore the reputation has grown up that if a man can’t do anything else presumably he can go into art and get along. I think this is a gross misconception, that the true artist is obsessed with his subject and requires the highest kind of discipline.
MR. HEFVNER: You say the true artist is obsessed with his subject; doesn’t this hint at a compulsiveness that some people would equate with emotional disturbance?
DOCTOR KLINE: Some might feel so but I think one must distinguish between a neurosis which is disabling or painful
in the extreme and what one might call healthy preoccupation with a particular field or way of life. The individual who has the need to express himself can do so healthily even though at times it means he disregards some of the mores and formalities.
MR. TRILLING: I would like to take issue with you there, Doctor Kline. I wonder if we could say that the obsession or preoccupation of all artists, including some of the greatest ones, is what we would ordinarily call a healthy preoccupation? That is, whether it is not actually obsessive to the point of excluding almost everything else in life,
DOCTOR KLINE: Well then one is faced with what are the important values in life? I think that one of the great needs of mankind is to express himselfl to have new experience, and what characterizes an artist is his desire and his ability to do this..
MR. TRILLING: Yes, I quite agree with you in
everything that you have just said but it does occur to me that anyone looking at the spectacle, let us say, of Beethoven, or the spectacle of Franz Kafka would say that these people are obsessed in .a way that if we were to transfer the judgment to any one who is not a great creative artist we would say this is not healthy.
DOCTOR KLINE: Oh I think that certainly among the artists there are an equal share of neurotics and psychotics, but
I think that the art that they produce is in spite of rather than because of their mental or emotional disturbances.
MR. HEFFNER: Let us ask an artist. Sir, how do you feel about this question?
MR. STERN: Well, I feel very much: in agreement with Doctor Kline and the articles of Mr. Trilling that I have read that an artist’s work is certainly basically a healthy one, that
a successful artist means a man who has learned a discipline in a very exacting field against a background of long tradition and with a great deal of competition in contemporary society and who despite whatever neurotic tendencies — which I think we agree we all have to a certain extent — has managed to have in balance those forces within him that are necessary for the kind of examination,
objective analysis, vision, and control of those ‘technical forces to create a successful artist.
MR. HEFFNER: What about the work though, again
coming back to the kind of intense kind of obsessive work that
goes into the practice of artistry?
DOCTOR KLINE: This I would like to ask my two
colleagues here. Why only in art? In almost any field, let us say medicine or mathematics or in one of the sciences, in criticism, in any field where there is success over a period of
6 time on :a basis of a great deal of past information from which one has to choose, to judge, and to study, and to learn and to discipline, isn’t there a need for a sort of obsessive push, drive, to get somewhere?
MR. TRILLING: I would say so, of course.
DOCTOR KLINE: And we take this then as a normal thing rather than. abnormality.
MR. HEFFNER: Oh, just one second. I think we
can’t distinguish between creativity in the arts and creativity in the sciences. Suppose we were to set the creative people of the world against or in contradistinction to those people who I
suppose the psychiatrists would not call normal but the rest of us would call normal. Suppose we were to say that scientists too, that the Einsteins and others who have created in science have the same obsessive necessity to work. Doctor Kline before talked
about need, the need to express oneself, and I wonder very fre-quently whether the word need can be applied except in the sense of something driving one which then again can be equated I
suppose with compulsiveness and with some kind of emotional if not
disturbance some pressure.
DOCTOR KLINE: Do you not think that everyone has the need to express themselves which is becoming more and more
pertinent as our society moves toward a state when food, clothing,
and housing will eventually be available to everyone; I think the fact that people take up painting or playing the recorder or wren
attempts at writing is an expression of this need to give expres¬sion to onets reaction to the life, so tthat the characteristic of
the artist is that although society in some extent is not set up primarily for these people therefore the only ones who persist to
the point of becoming successful artists are the ones who have more urgency than the usual.
MR. TRILLING: I would be inclined to question the description of the artist or the definition of the artist by his
need to express himself. It seems certainly when we project a society in which everybody is expressing himself, a society in which I would not want to live, I come to think of the artist rather as someone who has a more intense and more rigorous necessity but has a need to impose himself, it seems to me, and all that he wants to impose — as I think you yourself have said just a few minutes ago — impose his view of reality.
One of the reasons I think both artists and
scientists at various times have come under the imputation of being insane or neurotic, or whatever you want to call it, is that both categories have been concerned with the nature of reality,
and chiefly with altering and revising notions of reality. Any¬body who does that is per se exposed to the accusation of being insane because we don’t want our notions of reality changed. Don’t you think that perhaps better describes the truly creative artist?
DOCTOR KLINE: Yes. Well, I think he wants to share his version and have confirmation of it.
MR. STERN: You are making it too mild. I do not think he wants to share his version; I think he wants to impose his version.
DOCTOR KLINE: I must say I must agree with Mr. Trilling that if you would accept the idea of an artist, in saying an artist you mean someone who has. succeeded. You take it for granted it is someone who has exerted an influence of some kind.
MR. STERN: There are no unsuccessful artists,
DOCTOR KLINE: Well, in terms that we are using it today. It is absolutely true that to be a success in an artistic term it is an imposition of will, of your viewpoint upon one or more of a group of other people to make very clear what you believe whatever the subject may be, whether it be in art, science, or anything else, and again I must say that part of the background, the myth of the mad scientist, the mad artist, et cetera, wouldn’t you thirik that part of this may come from that group of people who
would perhaps be attracted to the so-called Bohemian pattern of life in an artist but who are not really an artist, they are as you heard once, the half-artists.
MR. TRILLING: Yes, I think that is true, certainly, there are elements in the life of the artist which have a certain charm for people of a certain psychiatric disposition. On the other hand I think that we have to admit that there can be, there is very often deeply subversive in the intention of the artist and perhaps therefore in his life. May I ask you a question? I have heard recordings of the same composition by a number of violinists. When you say that the artist has the need to impose his version -¬if you listen to a version by another violinist are you irate or do you feel that this is a misinterpretation? Do you feel that your interpretation is the correct one? In science of course we do this. We feel that there is only one possible interpretation and we therefore argue against each other, but is it true with you?
MR. STERN: Deep down I would imagine that every artist when he interprets, when he does the work of examining the
work of art as it was written and what he thinks is right and what
he thinks is the idea of the composer, must of necessity come to a definite conclusion. That conclusion may not be permanent. It can change as he changes and as he experiences more, but at the moment
when he is doing it he is perfectly convinced; therefore, that
extent he will not accept openly or completely the interpretation
of someone else. He may say that there is another viewpoint, it is not his, but it can be just as valid, which is the very life of
musical art because there is not only one side of interpretation, there is not only one basic truth in music. There is a basic line
beyond which you cannot go but upon that comes the individual interpretation which makes for the whole life of art.
MR. TRILLING: But surely when the interpreter says there are of course possible other interpretations he is being
rather abstract and consciously civilized.
MR.. STERN: Oh, he is being polite yes.
MR. TRILLING: Deep in his heart he knows there is
only one and that is his.
MR. STERN: His way, of course.
MR. TRILLING: And if, for example, you just take
great masters of modern literature. You find that Joyce has no respect for Lawrence; Lawrence despises Joyce; Joyce despises
Proust; Proust is unaware of any of these people, and it is the most undemocratic awful situation, and quite necessary.
MR. STERN: No, them is one difference and I would like to emphasize that here. You are spegking of actual creative
people, and Doctor Kline was asking me as a recreator. Now as the
recreative artist, as interpreter, there is more of a possibility of various interpretations, each having their own validity, than there is in the basic idea of a creative man. A creator has one basic idea, After all, we have to imagine many things. We have what we call tradition, but the tradition comes to us through human beings. Each of these human beings have their own neurotic prob
lems. They add their little excess, they vary a little bit from the norm, and that comes down to us as tradition.
Well, we know that these are not the true traditions because they have passed through too many hands, so that we have
to try to distill from all this what we find to be the original creative idea, let’s say, of a Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, or Schubert. MR. TRILLING; May I ask you a question along those
lines? Since we have been at this for a number of years in
discussion, the acceptance of one interpretation rather than another is in part dependent on the times in which one lives. I
think this introduces another one of the misconceptions. We live in an age which is full of conflicts and therefore much of modern
art, literature, and music, and to an extent even science, expresses the characteristics of the age inwhich we live. If it is true that we live in an age of more acute conflicts may it well not be that
the artist who tends to be accepted is the one who expresses what is being felt by the mass of people? In other words, the attempt to impose his ideas is dependent on the acceptance.
MR, HEFFNER: What about Mr. Trillines statement there is something subversive? He used the word in quotation marks, but what about the subversive element of creativity, which I think implies not the acceptance of’society but quite the contrary. Hasn’t this civilization been to a considerable extent our signpost of creativity, of genius, the subversiveness?
DOCTOR KLINE: Well, this is an attempt I think to push ahead the Promethean idea as opposed to the Epimethean one, the conservers of the past, that the artist frequently attempts to impose a new version of existence whether he is a scientist or a writer or a musician.
MR. HEFFNER: Well, if he does doesn’t this imply then that while others in his society accept the world around him this single person or these people have a tremendous and over¬whelming need which goes against the normal patterns and which therefore lead us to label them as neurotics, make them of
necessity rebel against their surroundings?
DOCTOR KLINE: There is such a thing as healthy rebellion too. I don’t think merely because one rebels one is thereby labeled a neurotic.
MR. HEFFNER: And yet there are so many instances of artists, of writers, I think lesser necessarily of musicians, who have been identified as the great, as the geniuses, as the creative people, and as creative and great and, geniuses because of
their neurotic ways.
MR. STERN: Ah but there is a. great deal of differ
ence between perceptivity perception of advance of truth, and neurotic drive. I would like to defer to Mr. Trilling and Doctor
Kline a little further on the technicalities of this, but why con¬fuse perceptiveness in seeing a truth in being able to advance an
idea in the cause of art, with a neurotic drive?
MR. TRILLING: Well, I would incline to agree with Mr. Stern in most situations. On the other hand, I would like to remark that very often neurosis does give to the individual a particular kind of perceptivity. It is a question that I imagine a psychoanalyst must often ask a patient, “Well, granted that the fact is as you say it is, granted that objectively it is so, what
led you to see. it?” Because not everybody is seeing it. Perhaps it was not even to your advantage to see it. Why did you see it?
And I think that perhaps the explanation would have to lie with the
patient’s particular neurotic constitution.
Now all we can say is that neurosis has certain
gains and certain advantages that we have to recognize.
MR. HEFFNER: Doctor Kline is Shaking his head. DOCTOR KLINE: I would say that the individual who
is neurotic as a general rule tends to be a more sensible individ¬ual than the individual who is not a neurotic. This is true even of the individuals who become psychotic.
MR. HEFFNER: Not the other way around?. That individuals who are more sensitive tend to be neurotic?
DOCTOR KLINE; No, I think it works the more per-ceptive, the more feeling individual will tend to be more subject to developing neurosis, but I think it is in spite of this neurosis rather than because of it. It is because he possesses this basic sensitivity and ability to react that he wants to reorganize the world nearer to his heart’s desire.
MR. TRILLING: Isn’t it a little difficult to know
how to separate sensitivity from:neurosis, granting that they go
together? This-may-be a matter of terminology and when you begin to try to take the two layers and say this is sensitivity, this is
neurosis, you find that they are enormously. implicated with each
other, that you can’t separate them out. And that when you, for example, speak of healthy rebellion and non-healthy, sick rebellion, the phrase you use, then I am inclined to ask you whether there is such a thing as healthy neurosis and unhealthy neurosis.
DOCTOR KLINE: Well perhaps we are playing with
MR. HEFFNER: May I interrupt just one second? I know you want to quote from this, Mr. Stern, but what about the patient then? What about the patient who has been subjected to or given himself over to therapy? What happens to his creative in¬stincts? And this may be a clue to the answer to our question. Doctor Kline, what is the result?
DOCTOR KLINE: I don’t think you can generalize. I have had a fair number of various kinds of artists as patients at one time or another. In deference to the question you asked, there have been occasions when — but rarely — when the resolution of some emotional problem removes some of the neurotic drive.
MR. HEFFNER: The artistic drive?
DOCTOR KLINE: Well, yes, the general drive. But as a general rule the opposite is the case.
MR. HEFFNLR: Wait a minute. Do I understand correctly, you say with a resolution of the neurotic conflicts there has been a lessening of the creative drive?
DOCTOR KLINE: This is the exception. I mention that because you can’t generalize to say that this is true in all cases. As a rule the people who come to me come because they can’t write or they can’t paint or they can’t do what they ought to be doing, and the usual course is that as a result of whatever kind
of therapy one chooses to use if it is successful they are then freed and able to express themselves more fully than before.
MR. HEFFNER: Is the fear of losing one’s creativity
DOCTOR KLINE: Oh, I think it is quite common. Another very common thing is the fact that usually after a success¬ful piece of art almost every good artist goes into a depression, so that there have been numerous instances of people who after struggling years and finally coming up with a success then go out and commit suicide. It varies paradoxically from the point of view of the average person. So that most of the artists I know who are successful will be so far along in their next piece of work that they don’t really much care what happens to the previous one, so that I think this is characteristic not only of artists; it is true of people in other walks of life too.
MR. TRILLING: Well, it happens to mothers after the birth of their children.
MR. HEFFNER: Mr. Stern, I stopped you before; I
MR. STERN: I just thought that perhaps there is one thing that we may not have made very clear and perhaps why I was so vehement with you before about the difference between sensitivity and neurosis. The common acceptance of the word
neurosis, neurotic, implies basically ill:health,mental ill health.
And I do not think that we agree that this is really basic. A neurosis is a conflict, an inner conflict, an active conflict inside which has nothing to do actually with ill health as such. It is how strong is the conflict? To what extent does the ego fight back, et cetera, which creates either a neurosis that makes an aberration in the psychic or which is controlled and is part of our everyday life. You wrote in your article “Art And Neurosis,f’ Mr. Trilling: “Of the artist we must say that whatever elements of neurosis he has in common with his fellow mortals the one part of him that is healthy by any conceivable definition of health is that which gives him the power to conceive, to plan, to work, and to bring his work to a conclusion, and if we are all ill we are ill by a universal accident, not by universal necessity.”
MR. TRILLING: I agree.
MR. STLRN: I hope you do agree with yourself in
this case. Therefore, the neurosis in art is a part of the artist’s
approach but is not basic to his artistry,
MR. TRILLING: Well, let me remind you of what this
authoritative author said before, which is that, following Freud, I put it forward that you cannot stipulate that the artist alone is neurotic, that the nature of the psyche according to Freud is that it is a neurotic, that it is ill, that we are all ill in a
certain particular sense of that term, that the artist is not unique in that situation. And if he shows a good deal more — and by the way I think the artist does exhibit more neurotic manifes¬tations than let us say the banker or the statistician — if he shows more, still it does not make him uniquely neurotic.
DOCTOR KLINE: May I pick you up on that word “show more”? I think you yourself may have pointed out it is to the nature of art to exhibit oneself and therefore the banker who has any neurotic conflicts doesn’t dare show them because that would be a heck of a state for the president of a bank to be; whereas the artist is privileged to do this.
MR. HEFFNER: Not only privileged but if I remember correctly from the quotation from “ArtAndNeurosis,” your article, Mr. Trilling, you say that we now put a premium.
MR. TRILLING: We do, and we must put a premium on it because this is the stuff that he works with. This is his function.
MR. HEFFNER: Neurosis or creativity.
MR. TRILLING: Neurosis. His neurosis is the material that he is dealing with. I am using the word neurosis, healthy neurosis or unhealthy neurosis, but whatever the conflicts are that are going on inside him cause him pain, genuine pain, this is what he is dealing Vdth, and this is why we read him.
MR, HEFFNER: Then do you think there can be creativity without this neurosis?
MR. TRILLING: I can’t imagine there can be life without neurosis.
DOCTOR KLINE: Well, if you will substitute the word conflict or inner conflict for neurosis I think we can resolve our disagreement. I would stick to a neurosis as something that is disabling.
MR. TRILLING: Yes, but when you have a neurotic artist in that sense then you don’t have an artist. If you have a disabled artist then you don’t have an artist. All artists, as we said before, are successful.
DOCTOR KLINE; Within limits. There are some who are partially disabled.
MR. TRILLING: Some of them are partially disabled and according to their neurotic tendencies, but this has nothing to do with their basic artistic abilities.
MR. STERN: Of course. Obviously Franz Kafka is not a whole man. He is a terribly disabled, crippled, and perhaps to some people a particularly attractive kind of man.
MR. HEFFNER: And successful. And I think at this point we have to end our conversation.
Thank you Mr. Stern, Mr. Trilling, Doctor Kline.
Next week on 4RCA-TV at this time you will see “Ask Congress,” when the guest will be Representative Paul Fino,
Republican of New York.
The Open Mind will be back on December 1, when our
subject will be in a sense a continuation of today’s discussion, “The Intellectual Or Egghead In American Life.” That will be on
December 1, The Open Mind, See you then.