Mondrian’s Search for Geometric Purity: Creativity and Fixation

Bennett Simon, MD


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

 God geometrizes.

-attributed to Plato


This essay derives from my larger interest in “Geometry and the Mind.” That interest has arisen from a confluence between my clinical work as a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist and my longstanding extra-clinical interests in literature and the arts. I begin the essay by tracing the course of my curiosity and by outlining a working hypothesis about geometry and the mind, emphasizing both conflictual and adaptive aspects of that relationship—geometry as a defense against disorder and geometry as an act of creation. The essay then moves to a detailed examination of the life and work of Piet Mondrian. I discuss elements of his cultural, artistic, and political milieu that help locate him among his artistic contemporaries—abstract geometric artists—but also help demarcate his distinctive personal and artistic characteristics in comparison with those contemporaries. Part of that discussion involves an excursus on Platonic and Neo-Platonic influences in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century abstract art, including Mondrian’s relation to these Platonic traditions. I argue that with this background before us, it is possible to discern more readily which elements of his life and work reflect the idiosyncratic conflictual areas that might have contributed, paradoxically, both to his creativity and to a constriction in his work. Mondrian’s search for some transcendent, artistic, abstract purity involved a theory of male and female principles in art, with the female as the inferior and the main obstacle to attaining that transcendental purity.

Before concluding the essay, I discuss the limitations of what one can say psychoanalytically about the person Mondrian, and present reasons for these limitations. A reflection on the wide critical disparities in judgment of his work, both by art critics and by the general public, leads to the question: How do we define his fixed creative vision and the fixation in his work? I conclude with a resumé of what has been energizing and enlarging and what has been disappointing for me in the course of constructing this essay.<…>

American Imago, 70/3: 515-555, Fall 2013.

Link to Online Publication


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Elsa Ronningstam, PhD; Arielle R. Baskin-Sommers, MS (2013). Fear and decision-making in narcissistic personality disorder—a link between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 15(2): 191–201.

Phillip S. Freeman (2013). ARGO: Actuality in Cinema. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 10/2: 178-180 (posted under Film Series)

Dan H. Buie (2013). Core Issues in the Treatment of Personality-Disordered Patients. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 61/1: 10-23.

Ana-María Rizzuto, MD (2013). Field Theory, the “Talking Cure,” and Metaphoric Processes.Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 33:3, 210-228.

Phillip S. Freeman, MD (2012). The Resilience of Illusion. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies (First Brief Communication, 9: 78-83; Second Brief Communication, 9: 344-349).

Paul Ornstein, MD (2012). The Novelist’s Craft: Reflections on The Brothers Karamazov. American Imago, 69/3, p. 295-316.

Stephanie R. Brody, PsyD (2013). Entering Night Country: Reflections on Self-Disclosure and Vulnerability. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 23:1, p. 45-58.

Ellen Pinsky, PsyD (2012). PHYSIC HIMSELF MUST FADE: A View of the Therapeutic Offering through the Lens of Mortality. American Imago, Vol. 69, No. 1, 29-56.

All articles are available in the library.