Francis Bacon and the Radicality of Free Association

BY JONATHAN SKLAR    Dec. 1st at 6 pm London time/ 7 pm Berlin time/
1 pm New York Time/ 8 pm Cape Town and Jerusalem time

 Part of the Psychoanalysis and Politics digital series Crises and Transmission

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It is a remarkable thing that the Ucs of one human being can react upon that of another, without passing through the Cs. (Freud, The Unconscious, SE XIV, p.194)

Real painters do not paint things as they are, after a dry and learned analysis. They paint them as they themselves feel them to be. (Van Gogh letters)

Looking at silent paintings can induce conscious and unconscious thoughts, free associations about how we look and think of art. I will examine the modern painter Francis Bacon by describing reactions, mine and others, to the experience of being under the gaze of his work. I am finding, in some of Bacon’s representations much about aggression as his painterly free associations detail the too and fro of object relationships within their frame as he is driven to represent something in his mind. Like most well known painters, he is recognised in the idiom of how he paints. This is the same for most artists and indeed for all human beings. Beethoven can be ‘known’ from hearing just a few bars of the opening of a symphony. We all have a representative form that is our character and it has shape. Communication is through our idiom that can evoke, through free associations, a many layered depth of meanings into our unconscious thoughts.

My intent is to return to the long known subject of Freud’s free association to show how radical and disruptive an idea it is that enables unconscious connections with our selves and the other.

Jonathan Sklar is a Training Analyst in the British Psychoanalytical Society.  He is also an honorary member of the South African and Serbian psychoanalytic societies and Founder of the Independent Psychoanalysis Trust. He is the author of Landscapes of the Dark: History, Trauma, Psychoanalysis (Karnac 2011), Balint Matters: Psychosomatics and the Art of Assessment (Karnac 2017), and Dark Times: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Politics, History and Mourning (Phoenix 2019).   

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