Giacometti’s Genius: Understanding the Artist’s Creative Process

February 3, 2015
Lecturers: Oren Kalus, MD & Laurie Wilson, PhD

Over the early twentieth century, Alberto Giacometti’s psychosexually-charged surrealist sculptures evolved into his iconic, peculiar, stretched-thin figures, often considered existential statements about modernity and the horrors of war. Using slide images of his works, two Giacometti scholars explore his creative process through more intimate lenses. Dr. Kalus, a psychiatrist who studies neuroaesthetics, stretches the traditional (pathological) conceptions dissociative phenomena to suggest the artist’s recurrent episodes of derealization emerged from and enhanced his creative process. Defamiliarization or dissociating served to distill his perceptions by stripping away pre-conceptions and banal associations thus allowing him to see freshly and as if for the very first time. Dr. Wilson takes a psychoanalytic approach to Giacometti’s life, notably the role of his relationship with his artist father (for whom Alberto and his siblings posed nude) in the development of his attenuated style. A history of conflicted relationships (especially with women), obsessional tendencies and preoccupations with death also provide fertile areas of comparing and contrasting Giacometti the psychologically flawed “man” vs. the Giacometti the supremely accomplished “artist,” and open a dialogue between phenomenological/perceptual and psychoanalytic perspectives.

Laurie Wilson, PhD is a psychoanalyst, art historian, and art therapist. She is Professor Emerita at NYU and serves on the faculty at the Psychoanalytic Institute for Psychoanalytic Education affiliated with NYU School of Medicine.

Oren Kalus, MD is a psychiatrist who writes about the psychological and neurological aspects of visual art, and the artists who make it, informed by both a background in academic psychiatry (formerly on Mt Sinai’s faculty), art history and as a practicing visual artist.

Learning objectives: After the lecture, participants should be able to

  • Recognize differences and similarities in aesthetic and defensive forms of derealization.
  • Describe psychoanalytic theories of the role of dissociation and trauma in creative expression.