E. Betty Levin, M. A. (973) 763-1035
E. Betty Levin, M. A.
Psychotherapist and Psychoanalyst
Treating Individuals and Couples
Humanistic, existential, psychodynamic orientation
Private practitioner for over 38 years.

Freud and Cezanne: Psychotherapy as Modem Art

By Alexander Jasnow

(New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Co., 1993)

Reviewed by E. Betty Levin

How the modern self evolved in the present century through the process of creativity, expanded conscious-ness and transformation is the subject of this imaginative book. The author, an accomplished artist and psychotherapist, views this development through the twin prisms of modern art and psychotherapy. Seen also through the dynamic interaction of the individual and the culture, each creating and recreating the other, further stirs this hearty philosophic stew. The work ultimately poses the question: as we approach the coming millennium, what will be the impact of this evolution on psychotherapy and perhaps on humankind itself? To this daring journey, Dr. Jasnow brings a fresh integration with penetrating ideas for the reader to ponder.

Creativity inherently involves transformation and transcendence. Jasnow defines creativity as break(ing) through existing patterns of perception, thought and behavior, shattering forms of ideas ... to create new hitherto non-existent wholes;" transcendence as "go(ing) beyond boundaries of limitations, psychological as well as spiritual."

The author develops these ideas by highlighting the contributions of Freud and Cezanne in the watershed period of 100 years ago. Though Freud's publication of his seminal "Interpretation of Dreams" in 1900 and Cezanne's death in Aix-en-Provence in 1906 caused scarcely a ripple, their works altered irrevocably our 20th century thinking. Their impact still reverberates as we encounter the coming millennium. Cezanne's unique interpretation of Impressionism, a re-visioning of the human condition, forever changed art; Freud's psychoanalytic concepts burst open a profound self-awareness in human experience. The creativity of these two giants ushered in the modern consciousness and the modern self.

In the art experience, for example, artists push the boundaries of current trends to achieve transformation to a new art. The author describes how Picasso, stirred by insights from Cezanne's works, incorporated artistic ideas from one culture, i.e., African masks, to achieve a new form in Western culture, his famous "Les Demoiselles D'Avignon." And so Cubism was born. A totally new form was created through transformation and transcendence.

In psychotherapy, the process goes beyond healing to offer possibilities for self-transformation. Individuals draw on their creative capacities to transcend familiar known selves by probing their psychological inner space. They move with growing consciousness toward a newly-created self.

An example of healing and transformation: a patient comes for treatment with frequent panic attacks, almost no sense of herself, a "boat with no sail or rudder, adrift at sea", as she describes. She functions emotionally as a child, looking to her husband and other "authority" figures to guide and direct her. In fact, all people who cross her path, from neighbors to the carpenter hired by her husband to do house-repairs, become authority figures in her mind. Her massive dependencies numb her awareness of her fundamental capacities as a survivor and latent creative abilities to take charge of her life. After I encourage her to take small initiatives, larger and stronger steps follow. Constructive risk-taking emboldens her further. Over time, the panic attacks "heal" and a more solid self-image emerges. With an expanded consciousness, she subsequently transforms herself into an enthusiastic professional possessing much competency. Concurrently, she develops a more satisfying relationship with her husband, more egalitarian, with mutual respect and closeness.

Art and psychotherapy both emphasize individuality and creativity. Jasnow illuminates these parallels: in previous centuries, artists served mainly monarchs, churches and other patrons but in the modern self, individuality is paramount. This is also true in the psychotherapy. Art and psychotherapy are both rooted in liberalist, humanistic ideology, holding faith in the individual's potential "to discover meaning and achieve trans-formation from within the self." Stunningly, in both the artistic endeavor and in psychotherapy, artist and patient become nothing less than the artists of their own lives.

The author asserts that transformation and transcendence are also driven by forces beyond the creative process, namely, by the individual's awareness of mortality. The knowledge that we shall all die serves as a dynamic force to achieve the transcendent experience. Jasnow credits both Otto Rank, who places transcendence at the confluence of religion, art and psychology, and Ernest Becker who states: "The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else, it is the mainspring of human activity/'1

This consciousness drives the individual to find meaning in this turbulent world. Jasnow declares: "We.. . achieve a sense of coherence and meaning in our lives or else die in despair."

The author contemplates the impact of the creative process on both the practice of psychotherapy and on humankind in the postmodern world. He cautions that the inexorably creative drive that heralds new ideas contains destructive qualities as well. Artists function at the leading edge of culture, disassembling the old and reassembling into the new. Unchecked creativity can bring destruction — witness how humans have transformed Mother Earth into an environment with ominous overtones. We have all observed how the creative genius of science, in the absence of moral integrity, has placed humanity under a black cloud of potential nuclear annihilation. Jasnow states: "Modernism assumes that humans can impose meaning on the world . . . postmodernism raises troubling questions regarding the very nature and existence of meaning in a universe indifferent to humanity."

He suggests that art and the creative process will continue on a dynamic path, though tempered by tradition and other forces, expressing itself in unexpected and implausible forms. The next century may well be dominated by a new cosmology, reflecting a new cultural synthesis and a new vision of humanity.

Jasnow sees the universe in a perpetual state of transformation, unstable, with no hope of achieving a constant harmony. Individuals seeking coherence will need to develop an inner balance in the manner of "acrobats" or "jugglers." He challenges that humanity's task shall be to "establish human meaning mat gives names to that which is unnamed and perhaps, unnameable." A perplexing question we might ask: with the coming of the new century with expanded consciousness, what are the possibilities for a new transformation that can transcend destructive forces?

A hopeful path is suggested by the writings of Robert Jay Lifton. He invokes the concept of the "protean self" based on the Greek god Proteus who was able to change shape in response to crisis. Lifton presents examples of individuals who embrace the protean self by holding firm to one's ethical core and commitments, all the while remaining resilient in the face of society's breathtaking historical change. He points to Vaclav Havel as the most dramatic exemplar of public proteanism — from an absurdist playwright to his country's leading dissident and political prisoner, to becoming the first postcommunist president of Czechoslovakia; then with the breakup of the country, its retired elder at age 56, and later, the first president of the new Czech Republic. Lifton sees the individual protean self becoming a "bridge between the modern and the postmodern, a source of continuity that (even) takes in radical discontinuity."2

Returning to his theme of the common cultural roots of psychotherapy and modem art, Jasnow creates a new synthesis, "psychotherapy art," as a future model of psychomerapy. He singles out leaderless group therapy as a modality for continued self-transformation and pays tribute to his peer group experience which contributes significantly to his own growth. This genre has extended to include lay people as well, in a proliferation of self-help and support programs.

This view of the future of psychotherapy seems to me to be a narrow perspective. I believe a true transformational model, hewing more closely to the process the author develops so diligently in his book, should be more far-reaching. Some models might include Third-Wave Psychology as expressed by Abraham Maslow in "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature" suggesting possibilities for a higher and more holistic consciousness: transpersonal psychology integrating mind/body/spirit; and other models synthesizing Western psychology with Eastern spiritual traditions.

Some see aspects of these models as part of "soul psychology" which connect with Freud's original concept of the psyche. According to Bruno Bettleheim, in the German culture knowledge divides into two important divisions: the natural sciences (Naturvrissenschaften) and "science of the spirit" (Geisteswissenschaften). Freud regarded psyche as soul and placed it clearly in the science of the spirit. In a serious mistranslation of his work, this concept was categorized as a natural science and renamed "ego."3

This difference is profound, opposed in content and method. In psychotherapy reflecting Freud's concept of psyche/soul, individuals are regarded in their deepest nature, in the full range of being human. This concept allows for exploration of a person's capacity for imagination, passion and reverence as well as the darker chaotic side, with opportunity for neutralizing and sublimating destructive tendencies into constructive paths. On the other hand, the natural science construct represents a mechanistic, medical model seeking adjustment and "cure " This rational model of therapy has flourished in modem psychotherapy, a sharp departure from its original roots and meaning. It clearly has value but generally underplays understanding the deeper aspects of being human.

According to David Elkins, Carl Jung in Modern Man in Search of a Soul made spirituality the center of his therapeutic work, stating that of all his patients over the age of 35, not one was healed who did not develop a spiritual orientation to life. Whether theoreticians ascribe the identical meaning to expressions of "soul," "spirit," and "spirituality" is less important than the awareness that the larger and deeper meanings of being human go beyond what Western psychology usually addresses. In pursuing a strictly "spiritual" model of psychotherapy, however, some theoreticians caution of the danger of this approach with those individuals not solidly grounded with a healthy self-structure.

With the onslaught of managed care driven by the corporate profit motive, two sharply delineated modes of therapy may develop — one for clients requiring crisis work and the other, a transformative, holistic model for those individuals exploring growth, depth and transformation. As a practicing psychotherapist for over 20 years, I have integrated both models, helping people with their life crises, helping mem build a solid ego structure and helping them explore the larger meanings of their lives.

The question arises: how will people pay for transformative therapy in an age of managed care? In my own practice, the motivation of both client and therapist are primary. My clients, in almost all cases these past years, have paid for their psychotherapy out-of-pocket. I have cooperated by keeping my fees at a moderate level. For the motivated clients eager to understand themselves and become the artists of their own lives, financial considerations are generally not allowed to deprive them of this seminal work. This stimulating book reconnects with my personal ideas of almost 30 years ago when I delivered my maiden lecture on quality of life, "Art as a Way of Life." After immersing myself in Jasnow's ideas, I am newly energized by my potential for transformation in life and work. To approach the millennium in the elder years, rich with life experience, on the cusp of cronehood, offers possibilities to savor. In "cronehood," I refer to Barbara Walker's definition of a crone as a "woman of age, wisdom and power."*

The impact of this book's dynamic ideas is somewhat reduced by repetitive material and excessive wordiness. Tighter editing would have better served this important work. Nevertheless, thoughtful and introspective individuals will discover sagacious ideas to consider in their own lives. Some will accept the challenge: to mobilize one's personal creative process for achieving transformation and meaning in the postmodern world.


  1. Becker, Ernest, Denial of Death (New York Macmillan 1973.)
  2. Lifton, Robert J., 77k Protein Self. Human Resilience in the Age of Fragmentatwn,(New York: Harper Collins, 1993).
  3. Bettleheim, Bruno, Freud and Man's Soul, (New York Alfred Knopf 1983).
  4. Walker, Barbara, The Crone, (New York Harper & Row,1985).
  5. Jasnow's book can be ordered direct from Ablex Publishing Co., (201) 767-8455 ($19.95ppd).