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My Interview with Sigmund Freud: Art as a Palliative Measure in These Chaotic Times

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Since my last blog post "Making Sense of Senseless Violence" nine short days ago, the nation has borne witness to a litany of horrible violence, evidenced by yet another terrible tragedy in Boulder, Colorado.

Amidst all of this unfolding chaos, there is hope. I turn to history, philosophy and the creative arts to not only ground me - but also to teach me - in times of uncertainty like these.

One of my favorite philosophers and true innovators in his field is Sigmund Freud. His ideas may be viewed by some to be extreme, but do we not live in an extreme world currently?

Certainly, there can be no argument that extreme discrepancies exist in today's day and age: income equality and standards of living across the Earth come immediately to mind, and I wonder what Freud might think of our world in 2021. We can watch Dr. Freud in his original, turn-of-the-century, Viennese element thanks to Netflix’s 2020 drama entitled Freud, which is worth viewing in its original German language.

For Sigmund Freud, achieving pleasure and avoiding unhappiness were the strongest motivators in life. Imagine if I could interview him now for this blog!

Here is what he would likely say, based on a reconstruction I have created given actual quotations (as marked by the single quotation marks) from his 1929 seminal paper titled Civilization and its Discontents:

AustinFromAustin: Dr. Freud, what do you think of our modern society?

Freud: I used to comment on society by saying, ‘What do people demand of life and wish to achieve in it? The answer to this can hardly be in doubt. They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so.’

AustinFromAustin: (looking wistfully away from the Zoom camera, as if in a state of hypnosis) Yeah, that would be amazing to be happy…

Freud: AustinFromAustin, are you alright?

AustinFromAustin: (gaze returns to camera, scrambling to recover) Sorry Dr. Freud, I had you on mute. Anyway, how do you make sense of what the last year has been like?

Freud: Unfortunately for humanity, ‘Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks.’

AustinFromAustin: (SMH) You can say that again...

Freud: Therefore, humanity, ‘in order to bear’ this unhappiness, must use ‘palliative measures’ consisting of: ‘powerful deflections, which cause us to make light of our misery; substitute satisfactions, which diminish it; and intoxicating substances which make us insensitive to it.’

AustinFromAustin: Wait a second, that sounds like an amalgamation of everyone's pandemic year as far as I have heard. Tell me more.

Freud: One of the most powerful substitute satisfactions is ‘offered by art’, which are ‘illusions in contrast with reality’. Art can actually satisfy multiple palliative measures. The first is through the enjoyment of art, which can bring about a ‘mild narcosis’. ‘At the head of these satisfactions through phantasy stands the enjoyment of works of art — an enjoyment which, by the agency of the artist, is made accessible even to those who are not themselves creative.’

AustinFromAustin: AWESOME, so those of us who can’t even draw a stick figure can get a benefit from it?

Freud: ‘People who are receptive to the influence of art cannot set too high a value on it as a source of pleasure and consolation in life.’ Similar to other diversions, the process of creating art can also be pleasurable, ‘such as an artist’s joy in creating.’

AustinFromAustin: Thank you so much for joining Social Musings by AustinFromAustin, Dr. Freud, can I call you Siggie? and can you accept my Instagram request please, I have been waiting like a week...


So, if you are looking for your weekly Freudian narcotic fix from some of history’s most famous artists brought to you by a few of the world’s top-notch cultural institutions, here are this week's great programs you can watch online:

Pablo Picasso (Yale University Art Gallery):

James Turrell (Harry Ransom Center):

Many of you know that I am an UT-Austin Alum. James Turrell, one of the world's foremost Light and Space artists, has an installation you can visit on the 40 Acres campus in Austin; it is called SkySpace on top of the Student Activities Center. Below is a view from inside as you look up towards the sky:

This is a visitor sitting, looking up at the sky through James Turrell's SkySpace at the University of Texas at Austin:

I was unaware of its existence until I watched this broadcast, which is part of a monthly series. I can't wait to check it out!

Have a great weekend all!

Connect with me on Social Media:

Instagram: austinfromaustin1

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