In Freud's 'The Sexual Aberrations,' the first essay of his famous 'Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,' he lists numerous sexual deviations in hope of determining what constitutes normal sexual behavior and what constitutes perversion. While the 'normal' sexual aim is usually considered the unification of different genitals, Freud notes that there are many cases that seem to contradict this popular notion and he devotes an entire section solely to concentrate on how looking and touching work as a catalyst towards copulation. Freud seems to almost equate the two senses and proclaims, rather ambiguously, that looking is "an activity that is ultimately derived from touching." Freud concludes that both seeing and touching are necessary in the sexual process, to a certain extent, and that the procreation of the human race even requires the involvement of these senses. He declares "Visual impressions remain the most frequent pathway along which libidinal excitation is aroused; indeed, natural selection counts upon the accessibility of this pathway - if such a teleological form of statement is permissible - when it encourages the development of beauty in the sexual object." This "pleasure in looking," is often referred to by Freud by the more official name of scopophilia. Freud takes the opportunity, in this brief section, to speculate over the relationship between sex, beauty, and art and asserts that it is "usual for most people to linger to some extent over the intermediate sexual aim of a looking that has a sexual tinge to it; indeed, this offers them a possibility of directing some proportion of their libido on to higher artistic aims." Freud goes farther to say that he has "no doubt that the concept of 'beautiful' has its roots in sexual excitation and that its original meaning was 'sexually stimulating.'" This definition of beauty is very radical, especially when one tries to explain what exactly Freud means when he says, "beautifully reflected in the poetic fable" to describe Plato's myth, earlier on, in the first page of this essay. Freud's previous use of the word beautiful, and its context, tends to suggest that the lyrical beauty found in poetry is not necessarily caused by sexual excitement but can, instead, be found when complex concepts are elegantly presented to us through the use of metaphor. At least in this translation of his text, Freud seems to contradict himself. However, Freud's sexual definition of beauty is, in a way, a refreshing alternative to the overly optimistic nineteenth-century view that beauty is, somehow, indicative of the truth or the morally good. While often criticized by many feminists, Freud does also begin to shed some light on the history of the male gaze, as well as the quassi-pornographic nature of academic art that was so often justified in the guise of mythology. Freud states that sexual curiosity is "diverted ('sublimated') in the direction of art, if its interest can be shifted away from the genitals on to the shape of the body as a whole." Sublimation, which often has negative connotations, is the unconscious displacement of instinctual energy into a more civilized behavior. Freud, whether he realizes it or not, therefore paints a primitive and bleak picture of the role of art in society.


Thomas Cummins art philosophy