Dancing with the Unconscious

The Art of Psychoanalysis and the Psychoanalysis of Art

In writing and lecturing over the past two decades on the relationship between psychoanalysis and art, Dr. Danielle Knafo has demonstrated the many ways in which these two disciplines inform and illuminate each other. This book continues that discussion, emphasizing how the creative process in psychoanalysis and art utilizes the unconscious in a quest for transformation and healing. Part one of the book presents case studies to show how free association, transference, dream work, regression, altered states of consciousness, trauma, and solitude function as creative tools for analyst, patient, and artist. Knafo uses the metaphor of dance to describe therapeutic action, the back-and-forth movement between therapist and patient, past and present, containment and release, and conscious and unconscious thought. The analytic couple is both artist and medium, and the dance they do together is a dynamic representation of the boundless creativity of the unconscious mind. Part two of the book offers in-depth studies of several artists to illustrate how they employ various media for self-expression and self-creation. Knafo shows how artists, though mostly creating in solitude, are frequently engaged in significant relational processes that attempt rapprochement with internalized objects and repair of psychic injury. Dancing with the Unconscious expands the theoretical dimension of psychoanalysis while offering the clinician ways to realize greater creativity in work with patients.

“Danielle Knafo has written a compelling and enlightening book, a testimony to the depths of the creative spirit. Explorations span psychoanalysis, art, literature, and dance, with special emphasis on what art can contribute to understanding psychoanalysis and vice versa. Processes that go into art-making also go into psychoanalysis. She brings out dimensions of the creative unconscious that add to our appreciation of being alive.”
–Michael Eigen, Ph.D., author, Contact with the Depths and Faith and Transformation (2011)

“Over the past 100 years, psychoanalysis has fundamentally altered our understanding of art. Danielle Knafo’s new book is proof that psychoanalysis continues to be a vital means to investigate the psychology of creativity and art appreciation. In addition, she uses her analysis of art to shed light on clinical processes, revealing the commonalities among treatment, psychological healing, and creativity. In lucid, beautifully constructed prose, she reinvigorates psychoanalytic aesthetics, reasserting the primary function of art in human psychological life.”
— George Hagman, LCSW, author, The Artist’s Mind (2011)

“Danielle Knafo consolidates her extensive knowledge of art, artists, and creativity to invite the reader into a deeper understanding of psychoanalysis as a creative endeavor. Wedding an evocative and lyrical prose style with a deep and penetrating understanding of the human condition and imagination, Knafo’s voice rings clearly throughout the text, reminding us that psychoanalysis becomes transformative to the extent that it is practiced creatively.”
— Marilyn Charles, Ph.D., Austen Riggs Center, and author, Working with Trauma: Lessons from Bion and Lacan (2012)

“Knafo stands on the shoulders of analysts in a long tradition, starting with Freud and his work on Leonardo, to offer a new interpretation of the relationship between art and psychoanalysis. Knafo believes that images do heal, whether they belong to the figurative arts or other creative genres. In the consulting room, images arise from the engagement of the analytic couple in a creative and generative mental field. As in no other book, the therapeutic nature of art is elucidated and placed at the center of the mental functioning of the analytic couple. The open, receptivity-reverie functions of the analyst allow for the transformation of the patient’s emotions, but also enable the analyst to continuously travel through the richness of his or her own world of imagination.”
— Antonino Ferro, M.D., author, Avoiding Emotions, Living Emotions (2011)