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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Creativity through the prism of the unconscious in S. Freud's concept of psychoanalysis

Tomyuk Ol'ga Nikolaevna

Senior Educator, the department of Ontology and Theory of Cognition, Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B. N. Yeltsin

620000, Russia, Sverdlovskaya oblast', g. Ekaterinburg, ul. Mira, 19

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The modernizing global world with new socio-cultural practices actualizes the study of creativity as a constitutive phenomenon of human personality in the context of challenges of the modern era. The object of this research is creativity as a cultural phenomenon, while the subject is creativity in the S. Freud's concept of psychoanalysis. In the era of transformations and uncertainty, when the role of creativity is growing, the ideas of S. Freud acquire special significance. The article considers the unconscious in the context of social, in conjunction with social factors and as the key position in creativity. The theoretical and methodological framework us comprised of the cultural-historical and comparative methods. Systemic approach allowed considering the phenomenon of creativity as a system in the assembly of elements. The author also applies the methods of analogy, analysis, comparison, generalization. Sublimation mechanism, discovered by Freud, is viewed in the context of creativity, as a method for redirection of energy displaced into the field of the unconscious by social factors, into the sphere of creativity. The concept of psychoanalysis serves as the methodological basis for explaination of creativity as a complex process of cumulation of conscious and unconscious.

Keywords: constructive behavioral model, regulatory principle, pleasure principle, irrational, unconscious, conscious, psychoanalytic method, creativity, sublimation, impulse of creativity


The transformation of socio-cultural practices has caused not only a discussion around the problems of creativity, but also intensified research on the individual’s creative potential, the needs of the soul, internal reserves as means of self-realization. Today it is impossible to imagine the life of a modern person outside a virtual space, dynamically developing on the basis of digital technologies. N. B. Kirillova, a famous culturologist, explores a new media reality that has emerged relatively recently as a new socio-cultural practice [15], which requires understanding through the prism of creativity.

It should be noted that there is a wide range of approaches to the creativity’s interpretation: from understanding creativity as a type of human activity, different from all other activities, to defining creativity as an attribute of matter.

A critical understanding of rationality, justification of the rational methods’ limitations in cognition, set by the works of S. Kierkegaard, A. Schopenhauer, F. Nietzsche, provided an irrational turn in the knowledge of creativity. Transformations in the way of philosophizing have defined new vectors in the study of creativity. This has placed the responsibility on scientists and philosophers, on whom depends the comprehension of what is creativity.

Problem statement.

Creativity and its comprehension as a cultural phenomenon are reflected in many philosophical and cultural concepts. However, the modernizing global world with new socio-cultural practices actualizes research and philosophical developments of creativity in the context of the challenges of the modern era. In this regard, the research is aimed at understanding the S. Freud’s approach in explaining the creative process through the prism of the unconscious.

Research Methods.

The theoretical and methodological basis of the study is the cultural and historical method, which made it possible to present the space of socio-cultural values that are most significant for understanding creativity. In order to identify changes in the understanding of creativity (criteria, subjects, creation process), a comparative method was used. This method revealed the general and special in explaining creativity in the considered psychoanalytic concepts. The versatility of the studied problem has necessitated a systematic approach to the consideration of the phenomenon of creativity. The systematic approach in our study served as a basis for considering the phenomenon of creativity as a system in a set of elements (goal, object, subject, result), and allowed the study to be carried out in the light of its objectives. In addition, the study used methods of analogy, analysis, comparison and generalization.


A significant contribution to the study of the problem of creativity was made by the founder of psychoanalysis S. Freud (1856-1939), a psychiatrist and psychologist (Austria).

It should be emphasized that "Freudianism" has fundamentally changed perceptions of man and creativity.

The main provisions explaining creativity in the context of psychoanalysis are outlined in his works: "The Interpretation of Dreams" [9], "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming" [4], "Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis" [5], "The Ego and the Id" [1], "Civilization and Its Discontents" [6], "Basic psychological theories in psychoanalysis. Essays on the history of psychoanalysis" [7], "Archaic Remnants and Infantilism in the Dream" [2], etc. Based on S. Freud's work, we follow the author's logic in order to minimize the risks of interpretation.

At the same time, we should pay attention to the fact that long before the psychoanalytic concept, European philosophy not only expressed ideas about the presence of the unconscious in the act of creation, but there were serious studies of creativity in conjunction with the unconscious, which were later developed in the psychoanalysis of S. Freud. In this regard, the concept of creativity of the German philosopher I. Kant is noteworthy I. Kant correlated creativity with amateur activity, the activity of the knowing and acting subject. In the teaching of the productive ability of the imagination, I. Kant analyzes creativity through the prism of imagination as an ability of human consciousness, bringing all "diverse [content] contemplation into one image <...>": "The first thing that must be given to us a priori for the cognition of all objects is the manifold of pure intuition; the synthesis of this manifold by means of the imagination is the second thing, but it still does not yield cognition" [13, p. 511]. Imagination as an element of a person’s creative activity makes it possible to imagine something that isn't there yet, but what is thought to be obtained as a result of activity, "blurs" the line of being and non-being. The conscious, where the prefix "co" indicates "the openness of human consciousness to the world (external and internal) in activity, in action", plays a crucial role in creativity: "being is something that requires understanding and that only in the blink of understanding becomes" [22, p. 29].

However, the consideration of creativity only through the concept of "productive imagination" does not give a complete picture of Kant's perceptions about creativity. In the work "Critique of judgment", I. Kant, through the prism of the unconscious, gives a detailed theory of creativity [14]. In § 46, "Fine art is the art of genius," the philosopher says that genius is "an innate faculty of the soul (ingenium), by which nature gives art rules" [14]. Genius is not aware, writes I. Kant, "how these ideas came to him, and it is not in his power to arbitrarily or systematically invent them and inform others in such prescriptions that would allow them to create such works" [14]. The philosopher unfolds the idea of the role of the unconscious in creativity, justifying that fine works can be created by a genius, who is collectively characterized by "imagination, reason, spirit and taste" ("Critique of Judgment", § 50 "On the relation of taste to genius in works of fine art") [14].

As an argument "for" can also be cited the appeal to the sphere of the unconscious of the Russian writer, philosopher F. M. Dostoyevsky. For example, the dreams of R. Raskolnikov in his novel "Crime and Punishment". The writer justifies the connection of spiritual being, external behavioral strategies with the unconscious, which is not regulated by the sphere of consciousness. The modern culture researcher R. Lauth in his work "Dostoevsky’s Philosophy in a Systematic Presentation" emphasizes the importance of F. M. Dostoyevsky's approach in creating an integral spiritual life in all its complexity and contradictions in comparison with the "photographic unilateral" of natural-scientific, rational knowledge, which "grabs only a small part of the integral reality" [16, p. 23, 25].

The idea of the unconscious was reflected in the philosophical concepts of A. Schopenhauer, S. Kierkegaard, F. Nietzsche, in studies on art, artistic creativity, in general in the humanities of the 19th century. The irrationalist concept of A. Schopenhauer justifies the provision that it is possible to penetrate into the essence of the universe only in aggregate by the forces of reason and intuition, faith and feelings [21]. Works in which an attempt is made to solve, to penetrate the essence of the act of creation, to understand the personality of the creator in the act of creation are interesting [18].

Comparing S. Freud 's approach with the concepts of predecessors, it should be noted that in psychoanalysis, the unconscious as a component of the mental structure of the individual is considered in the context of social. This is not accidental and is explained by the characteristic for the end of the 19th century consideration of all problems through the prism of social.

At the same time, thanks to the works of S. Freud, the 20th century in the study of creativity’s issues defines a new vector. Mechanisms of creative thinking, creative potential of the individual, psyche and its role in the process of creation, role of social in the artist's creativity are studied.

The psychoanalytic teaching of S. Freud gave a different interpretation of creativity, including the unconscious as irrational, having timeless character, and in a social context.

It should be specially noted that many philosophers of the 20th century – T. Adorno, E. Bloch, A. Breton, G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, J. Derrida, E. H. Erikson, M. Foucault, H. Hesse, H. Marcuse, W. Reich, R. Rolland, J.-P. Sartre, J. Habermas and others, noted that "Freudianism" fundamentally changed perceptions of man, proposing a structural approach to psyche, justified the role of the unconscious in creativity.

Among the modern researchers of Freud's psychoanalytic concept are the works of Alfred I. Tauber [24], Ken Frieden [10] and others.

The initial position in S. Freud's concept of creativity is the statement: a person, having a desire to satisfy his or her drives, comes into conflict with a society that, through the moral and/or legal limitations of the society, forces a person to extinguish them in himself or herself. The creative process involves the entire human psyche, structurally represented by three components – the conscious (Ego – "I"; the action regulator), unconscious (Id – "It"; libido, instincts, drives), pre-conscious (Super-ego – "Super-I"; norms, memory, thinking). This provision is justified in the work "Civilization and Its Discontents". Marion Milner draws attention to the significance of the unconscious, as evidenced by Kelley A. Raab: "Marion Milner understanding of the relationship between creativity, transcendence, and the unconscious" [20].

In S. Freud’s understanding, Western European culture is a set of traditions, moral and legal norms that, acting as a regulator of relations in society, also act as a restrictive mechanism, a "taboo" of human natural instincts - Eros and Thanatos. As a result, a negative (hostile, aggressive) attitude of a person to society that stands in the way of the drives’ implementation is formed. The justification of the influence of society on a person, the suppression of his desires, is the work of Ken Gemes "Freud and Nietzsche on Sublimation" [11].

The principle of pleasure (exclusion of pain, suffering) and the principle of reality or regulatory (prohibitions, limits in the satisfaction of drives) formed the basis of Freud's constructive behavioural model. The essence of which is the desire of a person to implement a program of actions in accordance with the principle of pleasure, to minimize, through the mechanisms of psychological protection (repression, regression, rationalization, projection, sublimation), naturally occurring tensions, to ensure a balanced state, a state of satisfaction. The regulatory principle forms the "Ego" seeking, on the one hand, to avoid displeasure and, on the other hand, to take into account reality and understand the benefits of this.

Thus, in a situation of displacement of unrealized drives due to existing social restrictions or prohibitions into the sphere of the unconscious, negative emotions are transformed into other types of socially approved or personally significant activities, for example, science, art, sports, creativity. The mechanism of sublimation, otherwise transformation and redirection of sexual (aggressive, asocial), discovered by S. Freud, is understood as a key position in creativity: "We must be content to emphasize the fact – which it is hardly any longer possible to doubt – that what an artist creates provides at the same time an outlet for his sexual desire" [4, p. 209].

"Sublimation, of a kind that is healthy and creative rather than repressive and pathological, is the artist's memory work writ large. It is narcissistic memory in operation, creating symbols and, by extension, a congenial cultural environment by evoking the forgotten resources within the unconscious" [25], – writes Ban Wang. Sublimation as an idea arises in S. Freud as a result of analyzing the creative process and identifying the dependence of creativity on the social environment: "A genuine sublimation should be nothing less than the euphoria of libidinal impulses intimately consonant with cultural pursuits and social institutions" [25].

S. Freud chose artistic creativity as a model for justifying the role of the unconscious in the creative process. According to S. Freud, to understand "the meaning and content of what is depicted in a work of art, that is, to interpret it" is possible due to the psychoanalytic method [4, p. 218]. Since in each work the "secret traces" of the Creator leading to the sphere of unconscious are hidden. Thus, studying Leonardo da Vinci’s work as an artist and researcher, S. Freud saw in his works a reflection not only of an early tendency to observation, but also of the fact that "total repression of a real sexual life does not provide the most favourable conditions for the exercise of sublimated sexual trends" [4, p. 209], which led to regression and reflected in his painting. Leonardo, according to Freud, having ceased to receive the required pleasure from art, immersed into technical creativity. Here, as noted by S. Freud, "features which distinguish the activity of unconscious instincts: insatiability, unyielding rigidity and the lack of an ability to adapt to real circumstances" were visible [4, p. 209]. On the example of the great Leonardo, psychoanalyst Freud shows that the transition of libido energy into the sphere of unconscious and its redirection to creativity is the most important property of sublimation. Gina Masucci MacKenzie emphasizes Freud’s idea "that the sublimation of the sex drive was more satisfying than a temporary sating of it" [17]. More significant, from Freud’s point of view, is the redirection of negative or sexual energy to the field of creativity: "sublimation of the drives in favor of creative activities" [17].

In the act of creation, negative, unrealized erotic fantasy, instinctive urges are sublimated, being objectified in works of art, scientific discoveries, and technical solutions.

In this work "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming" S. Freud proves on empirical material the presence of hidden drives, impulses that could not be realized in real life, but were embodied in works of art. The energy of unrealization, internal disharmony of the creative personality, conflict with society, according to S. Freud, is a necessary condition for creativity: "We may lay it down that a happy person never phantasies, only an unsatisfied one. The motive forces of phantasies are unsatisfied wishes, and every single phantasy is the fulfillment of a wish, a correlation of unsatisfying reality" [4, p. 130]. On this basis they analyzed the creations of the great Leonardo, "Moses "by Michelangelo, "Faust" by J. Goethe, the tragedies of W. Shakespeare ("Hamlet", "Macbeth", "King Lear"), tales of romance by E. Gofman, etc.

The state of displeasure and dissatisfaction is typical for any person, however, the scenarios for overcoming such situations are different that is explained by a number of factors. S. Freud concludes that the state of collision of drives and reality can lead a person "to health, to neurosis or to compensating higher creativity" [8, p. 377]. In psychoanalysis, accordingly, creativity is considered as a method of psychotherapy, a way to get rid of suffering, their "splashing out". The unconscious, having found a way out of the sphere of the unreal in art, realizes the function of relieving tension as an individual’s salvation from internal disharmony: "Satisfactions of this kind, such as the artist’s joy from creativity, from the embodiment of his imagination’s images, as the researcher’s joy from solving problems and from knowing the truth, have a special quality…" [4, p. 306]. Thus, creativity is a way to achieve an inner equilibrium state of the artist's personality. The study of the problems of the unconscious, as well as the analysis of works of art, myths leads Freud to the idea that "Oedipus complex" as the main one, defining actions and deeds in the triad "Mother – Love – Death". This is the key to dramatic plots, such as "Oedipus the King", "Hamlet". Eric Matthews writes that S. Freud's psychoanalysis suggests "a different philosophical view of the human mind, and of the way in which its disorders could be treated" [19].

Creativity as one of the vectors of the sublimation of psychosocial energy is not available to everyone, as this kind of activity "... involves special, not so often occurring abilities and gifts" [4, p. 306]. S. Freud gives the artist freedom, the ability to give free rein to ideas when the mind "… has withdrawn its watchers from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell", the ability to experience a state of passing madness [9]. Based on the confessions of H. Helmholtz, a doctor and a physicist, the philosophical reflections of I. Goethe, Freud concludes that "… the most essential and original part of their creations came to them in the form of inspirations, and offered itself to their awareness in an almost completed state" [9].

Every work of art as an objectified suffering, the creator’s imagination is "a source of pleasure for the hearers and spectators at the performance of a writer's work" [4, p. 129]. This is another view of creativity research that leads to the problem of artistic influence: "Kindly nature has given the artist the ability to express his most secret mental impulses, which are hidden even from himself by means of the works that he creates; and these works have a powerful effect on others who are strangers to the artist, and who are themselves unaware of the source of their emotion" [4, p. 197]. S. Freud repeatedly writes that the artist's idea embodied in a work of art cannot be understood in a rational way, but only when "the artist's emotions, the special state of his psyche, that stimulated him to the creative act and is again reproduced in us" are felt [4, p. 218]. In this regard, we can cite Freud’s work "Dostoevsky and parricide" [3], where he speaks about the amazing ability of the writer to influence the reader’s imagination.

In S. Freud, we find a justification for the role of dreams as an impulse of creativity, the similarity of the creative act with dreams, in which he saw a hidden meaning, deepening understanding of creative act. The dream, due to poetry and amazing irony, represents "… earthly beauty in a truly heavenly radiance, the sublime in its supremest majesty, and that which we know to be terrible in its most frightful form, while the ridiculous becomes indescribably and drastically comical" [9]. Dreams are woven from human thoughts and are characterized by the unconscious construction of impressions and associations, which also takes place in creativity. The creative process is implemented in accordance with the principle of translating motives from consciousness to the subconscious when impressions are subject to unconscious processing by analogy with dreams.

We should draw attention to the attempt of modern researchers to critically comprehend the psychoanalysis of S. Freud, his concerns about the presence of media and communication technologies in the psychoanalytic scenario. Thus, Hannah Zeavin suggests «the paper argues for a revision of the conception of the analytic dyad as an analytic triad: clinician, patient, and medium» [26].


In the era of globalization with its characteristic features of nonlinearity, variability, S. Freud 's ideas have become particularly relevant. The psychoanalytic concept serves as a methodological basis for explaining creativity as a complex process in the aggregate of the conscious and unconscious.

Psychoanalysis has made a significant contribution to the comprehension of the creative process, focusing particularly on the role of the unconscious in the act of creation. The sublimation mechanism, discovered by Freud, is considered by us in the context of creativity, as a way of relieving internal tension, redirecting energy, displaced by social factors, to the field of science, art, or any other field of creativity.

Speaking generally about S. Freud's contribution to science, today they not only talk about the need to make S. Freud’s legacy accessible, but also take concrete steps to make the scientist’s work available to everyone: "In 2017, the United States Library of Congress announced that it had completed, with the support of The Polonsky Foundation and with assistance from the Sigmund Freud Archives, the digitization of the Sigmund Freud Papers" [23].

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