Monday, March 5, 2012

In Which Rembrandt is Accused of Being a Toddler

(NOTE: Please forgive me if this entry isn't exact in its closeness to the assignment; I've amassed clues from previous posts and am thus attempting an entry based on that. I feel like such a detective!)

The term "personality" refers to the pattern of behaviors, thoughts, mannerisms, and emotions that manifest in and define an individual personshape over time. There are myriad theories as to the exact source of one's personality. Some believe it is an issue of "nature," or that one's personality is inherent and largely dictated by genetics and heredity. Others believe the opposite- that humans are not much more than amorphous lumps of squalling putty for the first few years of their lives, and thus require constant molding and shaping from external forces, such as parents, school, and society on the whole. Then, of course, there is the idea that personality is formed from a combination of both (and there are probably also some theories that involve aliens, but until somebody makes contact with extraterrestrial life, I'll be a bit reluctant to support those).

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud proposed a theory that three separate parts constituted the thing called "personality"- id (primal, basic urges; what we want to do), ego (the inherent reason or self control), and superego (socially-imposed morality and conscience) - and how well we maintained equilibrium between them. Somebody who primarily gives into the inclinations of id may tend to be impulsive or crude, whereas somebody overflowing with superego may come off as an uptight stick-up-the-rear.

According to Freud, this equilibrium is formed during three distinct, formative "psychosexual" stages in a personshape's early childhood. The first stage, "the oral stage," refers to the first year of a child's life when its interaction with the world occurs primarily through means of the mouth. The second stage, "the anal stage," covers the second and third years, during which the world revolves around bowels and their control. The third stage, "the phallic stage," occurs in the fourth and fifth years, when a child is starting to discover differences in physical sex characteristics- that is to say "presence" versus "absence." Ahem.

If something goes wrong during one of these stages, the individual may become fixated, thus hindering the natural development of a healthy personality. In a previous psychology-based class (namely, Perception and Creativity), the adult symptoms of fixation were discussed at length. People who are orally fixated continue to interact via tactile sensations of the mouth, whether it be through gum-chewing, ice-crunching, or cigarette smoking. This is commonly-accepted, however, it was another sort of fixation that particularly interested me: Freud believed that artists are largely anally fixated (perhaps not entirely to their detriment). Artists are creators, they invent and produce. They take raw materials and from those raw materials, they "make." And, what biological human process does this resemble to a T? Exactly.

It isn't hard to see why many people (serious artists, especially) would be offended by this notion. Was Freud trying to say that Rembrandt and Rosetti were no more than toddlers, producing masterpieces the same way one would fill a diaper? Well, maybe, and maybe not. Freud's theories are slowly waning in credibility as the scientific method is honed to razor-precision, but it doesn't discount the impact he had on the study of psychology for a large part of the 20th century. While his ideas may not be hard-and-fast rules, they're still interesting food for thought and give me a way to make toilet humor sound sophisticated.

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