Kris, Ernst

views updated May 21 2018

Kris, Ernst



Ernst Kris (1900–1957), art historian and psychoanalyst, was born in Vienna, the son of an attorney. In 1922 he received a PH.D. in the history of art from the University of Vienna. He served as assistant curator at the Kunsthistorische Museum and contributed important studies to the history of crystals, gems, cameos, gold work, and handicraft. In 1929 he was invited to study and catalogue the Milton Weil collection of postclassical cameos at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

In 1927 Kris married Marianne Rie, whose father, Dr. Oskar Rie, was the pediatrician for Sigmund Freud’s children. Kris met Freud and became an active participant in the psychoanalytic movement in Vienna.

Psychoanalysis and art. Kris brought to psycho-analysis his profound knowledge of art and from 1933 wrote many articles applying psychoanalytic concepts to the study of art, which in 1952 were collected in a book, Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art. The introductory chapter, written especially for this volume, is entitled “Approaches to Art” and begins significantly with a section on “The Contribution of Psychoanalysis and Its Limitations,” in which he stressed the need to validate hypotheses by documentation and clinical observation.

Kris sought to elucidate the relation of the life of the artist to his work, the role of art as communication, and, basic to any psychoanalytic study, the role of unconscious psychic forces in the creative act. His writings on art include biographical essays, the consideration of aesthetic problems, and several papers on the “art” of the insane in which he contrasted the spontaneous productions of the insane and the artist. The artist has the capacity to bring to consciousness what others, less gifted, keep repressed; in the insane, however, there is an uncontrolled irruption of unconscious mental content. In the case of the artist, the inspi-rational phase of the creative act, “regression in the service of the ego,” is followed by a second phase, “elaboration,” in which the artist’s ego molds his imagery and thought into a created work that will evoke an aesthetic response in his audience (1939). To the extent that the psychotic has lost the necessary ego capacity for elaboration, his productions do not communicate and can be understood only if they are analyzed in the same manner as the imagery of a dream. Kris’s demonstration of the role of ego functions in artistic creation led him to question the common association of artistic creativity and mental illness. He asserted that “Clinical experience . . . demonstrates that art as an aesthetic—and therefore as a social—phenomenon is linked to the intactness of the ego. Although there are many transitions, the extremes are clear” (Pappenheim & Kris 1946b, p. 28).

Analysis of wartime broadcasts. With the rise of Nazism in Austria, Kris migrated to England. During the war he served in the British Broadcasting Corporation, using psychoanalytic principles in the analysis of Nazi radio broadcasts. In an article, “The ’Danger’ of Propaganda” (1941), Kris described the factors that enter into the suggestibility of persons exposed to propaganda and also explained the techniques used by the German broadcasters to create in the listener a sense of infantile passivity and uncertainty, while at the same time portraying the German as a powerful and omniscient parental figure. Kris demonstrated that the best way to deal with propaganda is to reduce the passivity and uncertainty of the listener by giving him as many facts as is possible without jeopardizing national security. Subsequently he carried on similar work in the United States. In 1944 he published, with the collaboration of several other authors, German Radio Propaganda: Report on Home Broadcasts During the War (Kris & Speier 1944). A number of shorter papers on this theme appeared in different journals (see “Writings of Ernst Kris” 1958).

Studies in psychoanalytic theory. In his later years Kris’s interests centered on basic problems of psychoanalytic psychology, which he approached by clinical studies and by direct observation of child behavior and child development. His papers form a detailed elaboration and confirmation of early theories formulated by Freud. Some of these studies were carried out in collaboration with two other prominent psychoanalysts, Heinz Hartmann and Rudolph M. Loewenstein. In particular, Kris was concerned with the interrelationships and development of the different functional units of the psyche that are denoted structurally as id, ego, and superego. He made fundamental studies of the manifestations of instinctual drive impulses, the concept of psychic energy, and the ego functions involved in adapting the instinctual drives to the demands of reality, such as defenses and sublimation (Hartmann et al. 1946a; Kris 1950a; 1951).

Kris approached basic problems of psychology, such as thought processes and memory, from the viewpoint of clinical psychoanalysis. Papers especially characteristic of his approach are “On Preconscious Mental Processes” (1950b) and “The Recovery of Childhood Memories in Psychoanalysis” (1956), in which he related these fundamental psychological problems to the nature of the psychoanalytic process, all the while enriching his theoretical considerations with clinical examples. In these papers Kris indicated the relation of infantile experience to adult personality structure, the significance of the concept of psychic trauma in childhood, and the role of ego defenses in thought and memory.

Kris saw psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline and sought validation of psychoanalytic propositions by detailed observation in the psychoanalytic situation and by direct observation of children. He considered the psychoanalytic interview, despite the many variables, especially the involvement of the analyst-observer, to be a useful tool for scientific study and one which would increasingly be sharpened (1947). He initiated two research projects, the Child Study Center at the Yale University Medical School and the Gifted Adolescent Research Project at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

Unlike Gesell, who simply observed children and set up scales of development, Kris studied the dynamic factors which influence development, both normal and pathological. Kris’s emphasis was on child-parent relationships, the effects of parental attitudes on behavior, and the interrelation of constitutional and environmental factors. His studies are intensive and focused on individuals, rather than being concerned with the collection of statistics. In Kris’s view, the study of a child begins before it is born, with the observation of the mother: of her reaction to the pregnancy and to the prospect of having a child (Kris 1955; Ritvo et al. 1963).

The gifted-adolescent project at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute was carried out by placing in full psychoanalytic treatment with different analysts a number of carefully chosen individuals who had demonstrated talents in various fields. The analysts met with Kris in monthly seminars to discuss their findings. This study is now inactive and did not go far enough to yield definitive results; however, it did indicate the closeness of sublimation to the instinctual life and the importance of identification with parental figures in the development of talent (Loomie et al. 1958).

An important aspect of Kris’s activities in psychoanalysis both in Europe and the United States was his editorial work. In 1933 Freud invited him, along with Robert Waelder, to editImago, a journal devoted to the application of psychoanalysis to other disciplines. Kris was also one of the editors of the German edition of Freud’s writings (1924–1934). With Anna Freud and Marie Bonaparte, he edited Freud’s letters to Wilhelm Fliess, which Princess Bonaparte had rescued from destruction by the Nazis; the letters were published in 1950 under the title Aus den Anfangen der Psycho-analyse. Kris stressed the need for a publication devoted to child psychology, with the result that the widely read annual, The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, eventually appeared.

Psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline is still in the phase of its development where personal contact between teacher and student plays an important role. Thus, Kris’s influence as a teacher of psychoanalysis both in New York and at Yale was immeasurable. His contributions to psychoanalytic theory and practice and his emphasis on the unremitting need for validation have become integral parts of psychoanalytic thought in the United States.

David Beres

[For the historical context of Kris’s work, see Psychoanalysis; for discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeAesthetics; Attitudes, article onAttitude change; Creativity, article onPSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS; Literature, article OnTHE PSYCHOLOGY OF LITERATURE ; Propaganda ; Psychiatry, article onCHILD PSYCHIATRY.]


1939 On Inspiration. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 20:377–389.

1941 The “Danger” of Propaganda. American Imago 2: 3–42.

1944 Kris, Ernst; and Speier, HansGerman Radio Propaganda: Report on Home Broadcasts During the War. Oxford Univ. Press.

1946a Hartmann, Heinz; Kris, Ernst; and Loewenstein, Rudolph M. Comments on the Formation of Psychic Structure. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 2:11–38.

1946b Pappenheim, Else; and Kris, Ernst The Function of Drawings and the Meaning of the “Creative Spell” in Schizophrenic Artists. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 15:6–31.

1947 The Nature of Psychoanalytic Propositions and Their Validation. Pages 239–259 in Sidney Hook and Milton R. Konvitz (editors), Freedom and Experience. A New School for Social Research publication. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

1950a Notes on the Development and on Some Current Problems of Psychoanalytic Child Psychology. Psycho-analytic Study of the Child 5:24–46.

1950b On Preconscious Mental Processes. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 19:540–560.

1951 The Development of Ego Psychology. Samiska 5:153–168.

1952 Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art. New York: International Universities Press. → Contains modified versions of Kris 1939; 1946b; 1950b.

1955 Neutralization and Sublimation: Observations on Young Children. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 10:30–46.

1956 The Recovery of Childhood Memories in Psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 11:54–88.

1962 Decline and Recovery in the Life of a Three-year-old: Or, Data in Psychoanalytic Perspective on the Mother-Child Relationship. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 17:175–215. → Published posthumously.


Freud, Sigmund 1924–1934 Gesammelte Schriften. 12 vols. Leipzig, Vienna, and Zurich: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag.

Loomie, Leo S.; Rosen, Victor H.; and Stein, Martin H. 1958 Ernst Kris and the Gifted Adolescent Project. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 13:44–63. → Contains five pages of discussion.

Ritvo, Samuel et al. 1963 Some Relations of Constitution, Environment, and Personality as Observed in a Longitudinal Study of Child Development: Case Re-port. Pages 107–143 in Albert J. Solnit and Sally A. Provence (editors), Modern Perspectives in Child Development: In Honor of Milton J. E. Senn. New York: International Universities Press.

Writings of Ernst Kris. 1958 Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 13:562–573.

Kris, Ernst (1900-1957)

views updated Jun 11 2018

KRIS, ERNST (1900-1957)

Ernst Kris, an American psychoanalyst and art historian, was born on April 26, 1900, in Vienna and died on February 27, 1957, in New York. He was the son of Leopold Kris, a Jewish lawyer, and Rosa Schick. During and even before his studies at school, he became interested in art and art history. In 1918 he enrolled in the philosophy department at the University of Vienna and graduated in 1922 with a degree in art history. His dissertation was published in 1926 as Der Stil "Rustique" (Rustic Style). That same year he was appointed curator at the Museum of the History of Art in Vienna. His fiancé, Marianne Rie, introduced him to Freud in 1924 as an expert for his collection of antiquities. The Freud and Rie families were close friends: Oskar Rie, a pediatrician, was one of Freud's tarok partners and also a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

When Marianne Rie, after finishing her medical studies, began training in analysis in Berlin, Freud recommended analysis for Kris too. Kris completed his psychoanalytic training in Vienna with Helene Deutsch as his training analyst. In 1928, a year after their marriage, Ernst and Marianne Kris were made associate members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

Aside from his psychoanalytic practice, Kris worked as an art historian and published articles on art history. In 1929 he was appointed chief European expert for cameos and gems at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to help catalog their new collection. As a psychoanalyst, he made important contributions to the psychology of the artist and the psychoanalytic interpretation of works of art and caricature. In the review Imago he published his first psychoanalytic study, "Ein geisteskranker Bildhauer" (A mentally ill sculptor) on Doctor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. In 1932 he became coeditor of the review with Robert Waelder.

In 1933 Kris became an affiliate member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, and in 1936 a delegate to the education committee. After the annexation of Austria by Germany, Kris was able to escape to London with his family. There he became a member of and training analyst with the British Psycho-Analytical Society, and he worked with the BBC on the scientific analysis of Nazi propaganda.

After 1940 he continued this propaganda work in Canada and the United States, where he settled in New York. In September 1940 he was appointed professor at the New School for Social Research and began, with Hans Speier, a research program on totalitarian propaganda. In 1943 Kris became a member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and began teaching at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. In his long collaboration with Heinz Hartmann and Rudolph Loewenstein in the United States, he made essential contributions to the development of ego psychology. His longitudinal study on early infancy, done at the Child Study Center of Yale University, has remained famous. In 1945 he cofounded, and became coeditor of, the journal The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child and, with Anna Freud and Marie Bonaparte, edited the first edition of Freud's letters to Wilhelm Fliess.

Elke MÜhlleitner

See also: Ego; Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, The ; Gesammelte Werke ; Kris-Rie, Marianne; Lehrinstitut der Wiener Psychoanalytischen Vereinigung; Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, The ; Shakespeare and psychoanalysis; United States; Visual arts and psychoanalysis.


Kris, Ernst. (1952). Psychoanalytic explorations in art. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1975). Selected papers of Ernst Kris. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

. (1979). Psychoanalytische Kinderpsychologie. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Suhrkamp.

Mühlleitner, Elke. (1992). Biographisches Lexikon der Psycho-analyse: die Mitglieder der psychologischen Mittwoch-Gesellschaft und der Wiener psychoanalytischen Vereinigung, 1902-1938. Tübingen, Germany: Diskord.

Kris, Ernst

views updated Jun 11 2018


KRIS, ERNST (1900–1957), art historian and psychoanalyst. Kris was a junior keeper at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in his native Vienna when in 1924 he met *Freud, who sought his help with his collection of intaglios, and by 1927 had become an associate member of the Vienna Institute of Psychoanalysis. In 1933, at Freud's request, he gave up his medical studies and assumed the editorship of the journal Imago. In 1929 he wrote the standard work on the art of stone cutting. After the Austrian Anschluss in 1938, Kris and his wife Marianne (née Rie; 1900–1980), also a psychoanalyst, followed Freud to England. Shortly after the outbreak of World War ii he organized a government department for the analysis of enemy broadcasts. He was sent to Canada and then to the United States to perform a similar task. In America his interest in psychoanalysis predominated over his profession of art history which, however, continued to influence his work.

Kris's first important analytic writing, "A Psychotic Sculptor of the Eighteenth Century" (1933), was the beginning of a series of papers applying analysis to art. He pioneered group research in psychoanalysis and made many contributions together with Heinz *Hartmann and Rudolph *Loewenstein. The work in which the three men collaborated, which included Comments on the Formation of Psychic Structure (1946) and Some Psychoanalytic Comments on Culture and Personality (1951), extended and integrated the newer developments of psychoanalytic theory. In 1950 Kris formulated some of the ideas underlying the interdisciplinary child study project at Yale University in which he participated under the aegis of Milton Senn.

In 1952 he collected his papers in Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art. In these essays he stressed the contribution of the study of the creative process to psychoanalytic psychology, to communication, and to the understanding of the ego development of the child.


S. Ritvo and L. Ritvo, in: F.G. Alexander et al. (eds.), Psychoanalytic Pioneers (1966), 484–500; A. Grinstein, Index of Psychoanalytic Writings, 2 (1957), 1130–34.

[Louis Miller]