The Age of Insight

The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present

Look inside
A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art.

At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Europe. Artists and scientists met in glittering salons, where they freely exchanged ideas that led to revolutionary breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel takes us into the world of Vienna to trace, in rich and rewarding detail, the ideas and advances made then, and their enduring influence today.

The Vienna School of Medicine led the way with its realization that truth lies hidden beneath the surface. That principle infused Viennese culture and strongly influenced the other pioneers of Vienna 1900. Sigmund Freud shocked the world with his insights into how our everyday unconscious aggressive and erotic desires are repressed and disguised in symbols, dreams, and behavior. Arthur Schnitzler revealed women’s unconscious sexuality in his novels through his innovative use of the interior monologue. Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele created startlingly evocative and honest portraits that expressed unconscious lust, desire, anxiety, and the fear of death.

Kandel tells the story of how these pioneers—Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, in turn influenced the founders of the Vienna School of Art History to ask pivotal questions such as What does the viewer bring to a work of art? How does the beholder respond to it? These questions prompted new and ongoing discoveries in psychology and brain biology, leading to revelations about how we see and perceive, how we think and feel, and how we respond to and create works of art. Kandel, one of the leading scientific thinkers of our time, places these five innovators in the context of today’s cutting-edge science and gives us a new understanding of the modernist art of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele, as well as the school of thought of Freud and Schnitzler. Reinvigorating the intellectual enquiry that began in Vienna 1900, The Age of Insight is a wonderfully written, superbly researched, and beautifully illustrated book that also provides a foundation for future work in neuroscience and the humanities. It is an extraordinary book from an international leader in neuroscience and intellectual history.

Praise for The Age of Insight


“Eric R. Kandel’s The Age of Insight is a monumental contribution to interdisciplinary studies by way of neuroaesthetics. . . . This is a prodigious book.” –Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies


“Eric Kandel has succeeded in a brilliant synthesis that would have delighted and fascinated Freud: Using Viennese culture of the twentieth century as a lens, he examines the intersections of psychology, neuroscience, and art. The Age of Insight is a tour-de-force that sets the stage for a twenty-first-century understanding of the human mind in all its richness and diversity.”
—Oliver Sacks, author of The Mind’s Eye and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

“In a polymathic performance, a Nobel laureate weaves together the theories and practices of neuroscience, art and psychology to show how our creative brains perceive and engage art—and are consequently moved by it. . . . A transformative work that joins the hands of Art and Science and makes them acknowledge their close kinship.”
—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

“A fascinating synthesis of art, history, and science that is also accessible to the general reader. A distinctive and important title that is also a pleasure to read
Library Journal (STARRED)

“Engrossing … Nobel-winning neuroscientist Kandel excavates the hidden workings of the creative mind. Kandel writes perceptively about a range of topics, from art history—the book’ s color reproductions alone make it a great browse—to dyslexia. … Kandel captures the reader’s imagination with intriguing historical syntheses and fascinating scientific insights into how we see—and feel—the world.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“A fascinating meditation on the interplay among art, psychology and brain science. The author, who fled Vienna as a child, has remained captivated by Austrian artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, each of whom was profoundly influenced by Sigmund Freud and by the emerging scientific approach to medicine in their day … [calls] for a new, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, one that combines the humanities with the natural and social sciences.”
Scientific American

“Eric Kandel’s book is a stunning achievement, remarkable for its scientific, artistic, and historical insights. No one else could have written this book—all its readers will be amply rewarded.”
—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“Eric Kandel’s training as a psychiatrist and his vast knowledge of how the brain works enrich this thoroughly original exploration of the relationship between the birth of psychoanalysis, Austrian Expressionism, and Modernism in Vienna.”
—Margaret Livingstone, Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School

“This is the book that Charles Darwin would have produced, had he chosen to write about art and aesthetics. Kandel, one of the great pioneers of modern neuroscience, has effectively bridged the ‘two cultures’—science and humanities. This is a task that many philosophers, especially those called ‘new mysterians,’ had considered impossible.”
—V. S. Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain


“Eric Kandel has created a masterpiece, synthesizing brain, mind, and art like no one has before.”
Joseph LeDoux, NYU, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self

“[This book] offers not only a stunning organic (in every sense of the word) view of fin de siecle culture but also opens new vistas in bioesthetics. It explores the often shocking neurology of the beautiful. And it shows how artist and scientist interlace in the common quest to discover the innards of reality. ‘I don’t render the visible,’ said Paul Klee, ‘I make visible.’ He echoed Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Euclid alone looked on beauty bare.’ Eric Kandel is of that company.”
—Frederic Morton

“Nobel laureate Eric Kandel’s path-setting exploration of the connections between neuroscience and the painters Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka establishes a new frontier in the study of this all-important historical period. The shift toward a biological conception of self, which began in Vienna over a hundred years ago, has since decisively shaped our understanding of human nature.”
Jane Kallir, director, Galerie St. Etienne

“With infectuous enthusiasm and limitless reverence for his multiple subjects, Kandel deftly steers the reader through a vast and inviting territory of science, the creative process, the mind, emotion, eroticism, empathy, feminism, and the unconscious. Years in the making, this highly readable book presents a magisterial study of brain, mind, and art.”
Alexandra Comini, University Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita, Southern Methodist University
Eric R. Kandel is University Professor and Kavli Professor at Columbia University and a Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Kandel is founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, and recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on memory storage in the brain. He is the author of In Search of Memory, a memoir that won a Los Angeles Times Book Award, and co-author of Principles of Neural Science, the standard textbook in the field. He was born in Vienna and lives in New York with his wife, Denise. View titles by Eric Kandel

Chapter 1
 
An Inward Turn: Vienna 1900
 
In 2006 ronald lauder, a collector of austrian expres-sionist art and the co-founder of the Neue Galerie, the expressionist museum in New York City, spent the extraordinary sum of $135 million to purchase a single painting: Gustav Klimt’s captivating, gold-encrusted portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a Viennese socialite and patroness of the arts. Lauder first saw Klimt’s 1907 painting in the Upper Belvedere Museum when he visited Vienna as a fourteen-year-old and was smitten by the image. She seemed to epitomize turn-of-the-century Vienna: its richness, its sensuality, and its capacity for innovation. Over the years Lauder became convinced that Klimt’s portrait of Adele (Fig. 1-1) was one of the great depictions of the mystery of womanhood.
 
As the elements of Adele’s dress attest, Klimt was indeed a skilled decorative painter in the nineteenth-century tradition of Art Nouveau. But the painting has an additional, historical meaning: it is one of Klimt’s first paintings to depart from a traditional three-dimensional space and move into a modern, flattened space that the artist decorated luminously. The painting reveals Klimt as an innovator and major contributor to the emergence of Austrian Modernism in art. The Klimt historians Sophie Lillie and Georg Gaugusch describe Adele Bloch-Bauer I in the following terms:
 
[Klimt’s] painting not only rendered Bloch-Bauer’s irresistible beauty and sensuality; its intricate ornamentation and exotic motifs heralded the dawn of Modernity and a culture intent on radically forging a new identity. With this painting, Klimt created a secular icon that would come to stand for the aspirations of a whole generation in fin-de-siècle Vienna. 1
 
In this painting Klimt abandons the attempt of painters from the early Renaissance onward to re-create with ever-increasing realism the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional canvas. Like other modern artists faced with the advent of photography, Klimt sought newer truths that could not be captured by the camera. He, and particularly his younger protégés Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, turned the artist’s view inward—away from the three-dimensional outside world and toward the multidimensional inner self and the unconscious mind.
 
In addition to this break with the artistic past, the painting shows us how modern science, particularly modern biology, influenced Klimt’s art, as it did much of the culture of “Vienna 1900,” or Vienna during the period between 1890 and 1918. As the art historian Emily Braun has documented, Klimt read Darwin and became fascinated with the structure of the cell—the primary building block of all living things. Thus, the small iconographic images on Adele’s dress are not simply decorative, like other images in the Art Nouveau period. Instead, they are symbols of male and female cells: rectangular sperm and ovoid eggs. These biologically inspired fertility symbols are designed to match the sitter’s seductive face to her full-blown reproductive capabilities.
 
the fact that the Adele Bloch-Bauer portrait was magnificent enough to fetch $135 million—the most ever paid for a single painting up to that time—is all the more extraordinary considering that at the beginning of Klimt’s career his work, although highly competent, was unremarkable. He was a good but conventional painter, a decorator of theaters, museums, and other public buildings who followed the grand historicist, conventional style of his teacher, Hans Makart (Fig. 1-2). Like Makart, a talented colorist who was called the new Rubens by the Viennese patrons of art who idolized him, Klimt painted large portraits dealing with allegorical and mythological themes (Fig. 1-3).
 
It was not until 1886 that Klimt’s work took a bold, original turn. That year, he and his colleague Franz Matsch were each asked to commemorate the auditorium of the Old Castle Theatre, which was about to be demolished and replaced by a modern structure. Matsch painted a view of the stage from the entrance, and Klimt portrayed the last performance at the old theater. But rather than painting a view of the stage or the actors on it, Klimt painted specific, recognizable members of the audience as seen from the stage. These members of the audience were not attending to the play but to their own inner thoughts. The real drama of Vienna, Klimt’s painting implies, did not take place on the stage, it took place in the private theater of the audience’s mind (Figs. 1-4, 1-5).
 
Soon after Klimt painted the Old Castle Theatre, a young neurologist, Sigmund Freud, began treating patients who suffered from hysteria with a combination of hypnosis and psychotherapy. As his patients turned inward, freely associated, and talked about their private lives and thoughts, Freud connected their hysterical symptoms to traumas in their past. The paradigm for this highly original mode of treatment derived from Josef Breuer’s study of an intelligent young Viennese woman known as “Anna O.” Breuer, a senior colleague of Freud, had found that Anna’s “monotonous family life and the absence of adequate intellectual occupation?.?.?.?[had] led to a habit of daydreaming”—what Anna referred to as her “private theater.”2
 
The remarkable insight that characterized Klimt’s later work was contemporaneous with Freud’s psychological studies and presaged the inward turn that would pervade all fields of inquiry in Vienna 1900. This period, which gave rise to Viennese Modernism, was characterized by the attempt to make a sharp break with the past and to explore new forms of expression in art, architecture, psychology, literature, and music. It spawned an ongoing pursuit to link these disciplines.
 
in pioneering the emergence of Modernism, Vienna 1900 briefly assumed the role of cultural capital of Europe, a role in some respects similar to that assumed by Constantinople in the Middle Ages and by Florence in the fifteenth century. Vienna had been the center of the Habsburg dynastic lands since 1450 and gained further prominence a century later, when it became the center of the Holy Roman Empire of the German-Speaking Nation. The empire comprised not only the German-speaking states, but also the state of Bohemia and the kingdom of Hungary-Croatia. Over the next three hundred years, these disparate lands remained a mosaic of nations that had no common unifying name or culture. It was held together solely by the continuous rule of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors. In 1804 Francis II, the last of the Holy Roman Emperors, assumed the title Emperor of Austria as Francis I. In 1867 Hungary insisted on equal footing, and the Habsburg Empire became the Dual Monarchy, Austria-Hungary.
 
At the zenith of its power, in the eighteenth century, the Habsburg Empire was second only to the Russian Empire in the size of its European landholdings. Moreover, the Habsburg Empire had a long history of administrative stability. But a series of military losses in the latter half of the nineteenth century and civil unrest in the early twentieth century diminished the empire’s political power, and the Habsburgs reluctantly turned away from geopolitical ambitions and toward a concern with the political and cultural aspirations of their people, especially the middle class.
 
In 1848 Austria’s liberal middle class became energized and forced the country’s absolute, almost feudal monarchy, dominated by the Emperor Franz Joseph, to evolve along more democratic lines. The ensuing reforms were based on a view of Austria as a progressive, constitutional monarchy modeled on those in England and France and characterized by a cultural and political partnership between the enlightened middle class and the aristocracy. This partnership was designed to reform the state, to support the secular cultural life of the nation, and to establish a free-market economy, all based on the modern belief that reason and science would replace faith and religion.
 

 



 

Advance praise for The Age of Insight
 
“Eric Kandel has succeeded in a brilliant synthesis that would have delighted and fascinated Freud: Using Viennese culture of the twentieth century as a lens, he examines the intersections of psychology, neuroscience, and art. The Age of Insight is a tour-de-force that sets the stage for a twenty-first-century understanding of the human mind in all its richness and diversity.”
—Oliver Sacks, author of The Mind’s Eye and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
 
“In a polymathic performance, a Nobel laureate weaves together the theories and practices of neuroscience, art and psychology to show how our creative brains perceive and engage art—and are consequently moved by it. . . . A transformative work that joins the hands of Art and Science and makes them acknowledge their close kinship.”
—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

“A fascinating synthesis of art, history, and science that is also accessible to the general reader. A distinctive and important title that is also a pleasure to read
Library Journal (STARRED)


“Engrossing … Nobel-winning neuroscientist Kandel excavates the hidden workings of the creative mind. Kandel writes perceptively about a range of topics, from art history—the book’s color reproductions alone make it a great browse—to dyslexia. … Kandel captures the reader’s imagination with intriguing historical syntheses and fascinating scientific insights into how we see—and feel—the world.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“A fascinating meditation on the interplay among art, psychology and brain science. The author, who fled Vienna as a child, has remained captivated by Austrian artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, each of whom was profoundly influenced by Sigmund Freud and by the emerging scientific approach to medicine in their day … [calls] for a new, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, one that combines the humanities with the natural and social sciences.”
Scientific American

“Eric Kandel’s book is a stunning achievement, remarkable for its scientific, artistic, and historical insights. No one else could have written this book—all its readers will be amply rewarded.”
—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
 
“Eric Kandel’s training as a psychiatrist and his vast knowledge of how the brain works enrich this thoroughly original exploration of the relationship between the birth of psychoanalysis, Austrian Expressionism, and Modernism in Vienna.”
—Margaret Livingstone, Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School
 
“This is the book that Charles Darwin would have produced, had he chosen to write about art and aesthetics. Kandel, one of the great pioneers of modern neuroscience, has effectively bridged the ‘two cultures’—science and humanities. This is a task that many philosophers, especially those called ‘new mysterians,’ had considered impossible.”
—V. S. Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain


“Eric Kandel has created a masterpiece, synthesizing brain, mind, and art like no one has before.”
Joseph LeDoux, NYU, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self

“[This book] offers not only a stunning organic (in every sense of the word) view of fin de siecle culture but also opens new vistas in bioesthetics. It explores the often shocking neurology of the beautiful. And it shows how artist and scientist interlace in the common quest to discover the innards of reality. ‘I don’t render the visible,’ said Paul Klee, ‘I make visible.’ He echoed Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Euclid alone looked on beauty bare.’ Eric Kandel is of that company.”
—Frederic Morton

“Nobel laureate Eric Kandel’s path-setting exploration of the connections between neuroscience and the painters Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka establishes a new frontier in the study of this all-important historical period. The shift toward a biological conception of self, which began in Vienna over a hundred years ago, has since decisively shaped our understanding of human nature.”
Jane Kallir, director, Galerie St. Etienne

“With infectuous enthusiasm and limitless reverence for his multiple subjects, Kandel deftly steers the reader through a vast and inviting territory of science, the creative process, the mind, emotion, eroticism, empathy, feminism, and the unconscious. Years in the making, this highly readable book presents a magisterial study of brain, mind, and art.”
Alessandra Comini, University Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita, Southern Methodist University

About

A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art.

At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Europe. Artists and scientists met in glittering salons, where they freely exchanged ideas that led to revolutionary breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel takes us into the world of Vienna to trace, in rich and rewarding detail, the ideas and advances made then, and their enduring influence today.

The Vienna School of Medicine led the way with its realization that truth lies hidden beneath the surface. That principle infused Viennese culture and strongly influenced the other pioneers of Vienna 1900. Sigmund Freud shocked the world with his insights into how our everyday unconscious aggressive and erotic desires are repressed and disguised in symbols, dreams, and behavior. Arthur Schnitzler revealed women’s unconscious sexuality in his novels through his innovative use of the interior monologue. Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele created startlingly evocative and honest portraits that expressed unconscious lust, desire, anxiety, and the fear of death.

Kandel tells the story of how these pioneers—Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, in turn influenced the founders of the Vienna School of Art History to ask pivotal questions such as What does the viewer bring to a work of art? How does the beholder respond to it? These questions prompted new and ongoing discoveries in psychology and brain biology, leading to revelations about how we see and perceive, how we think and feel, and how we respond to and create works of art. Kandel, one of the leading scientific thinkers of our time, places these five innovators in the context of today’s cutting-edge science and gives us a new understanding of the modernist art of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele, as well as the school of thought of Freud and Schnitzler. Reinvigorating the intellectual enquiry that began in Vienna 1900, The Age of Insight is a wonderfully written, superbly researched, and beautifully illustrated book that also provides a foundation for future work in neuroscience and the humanities. It is an extraordinary book from an international leader in neuroscience and intellectual history.

Praise for The Age of Insight


“Eric R. Kandel’s The Age of Insight is a monumental contribution to interdisciplinary studies by way of neuroaesthetics. . . . This is a prodigious book.” –Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies


“Eric Kandel has succeeded in a brilliant synthesis that would have delighted and fascinated Freud: Using Viennese culture of the twentieth century as a lens, he examines the intersections of psychology, neuroscience, and art. The Age of Insight is a tour-de-force that sets the stage for a twenty-first-century understanding of the human mind in all its richness and diversity.”
—Oliver Sacks, author of The Mind’s Eye and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

“In a polymathic performance, a Nobel laureate weaves together the theories and practices of neuroscience, art and psychology to show how our creative brains perceive and engage art—and are consequently moved by it. . . . A transformative work that joins the hands of Art and Science and makes them acknowledge their close kinship.”
—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

“A fascinating synthesis of art, history, and science that is also accessible to the general reader. A distinctive and important title that is also a pleasure to read
Library Journal (STARRED)

“Engrossing … Nobel-winning neuroscientist Kandel excavates the hidden workings of the creative mind. Kandel writes perceptively about a range of topics, from art history—the book’ s color reproductions alone make it a great browse—to dyslexia. … Kandel captures the reader’s imagination with intriguing historical syntheses and fascinating scientific insights into how we see—and feel—the world.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“A fascinating meditation on the interplay among art, psychology and brain science. The author, who fled Vienna as a child, has remained captivated by Austrian artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, each of whom was profoundly influenced by Sigmund Freud and by the emerging scientific approach to medicine in their day … [calls] for a new, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, one that combines the humanities with the natural and social sciences.”
Scientific American

“Eric Kandel’s book is a stunning achievement, remarkable for its scientific, artistic, and historical insights. No one else could have written this book—all its readers will be amply rewarded.”
—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“Eric Kandel’s training as a psychiatrist and his vast knowledge of how the brain works enrich this thoroughly original exploration of the relationship between the birth of psychoanalysis, Austrian Expressionism, and Modernism in Vienna.”
—Margaret Livingstone, Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School

“This is the book that Charles Darwin would have produced, had he chosen to write about art and aesthetics. Kandel, one of the great pioneers of modern neuroscience, has effectively bridged the ‘two cultures’—science and humanities. This is a task that many philosophers, especially those called ‘new mysterians,’ had considered impossible.”
—V. S. Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain


“Eric Kandel has created a masterpiece, synthesizing brain, mind, and art like no one has before.”
Joseph LeDoux, NYU, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self

“[This book] offers not only a stunning organic (in every sense of the word) view of fin de siecle culture but also opens new vistas in bioesthetics. It explores the often shocking neurology of the beautiful. And it shows how artist and scientist interlace in the common quest to discover the innards of reality. ‘I don’t render the visible,’ said Paul Klee, ‘I make visible.’ He echoed Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Euclid alone looked on beauty bare.’ Eric Kandel is of that company.”
—Frederic Morton

“Nobel laureate Eric Kandel’s path-setting exploration of the connections between neuroscience and the painters Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka establishes a new frontier in the study of this all-important historical period. The shift toward a biological conception of self, which began in Vienna over a hundred years ago, has since decisively shaped our understanding of human nature.”
Jane Kallir, director, Galerie St. Etienne

“With infectuous enthusiasm and limitless reverence for his multiple subjects, Kandel deftly steers the reader through a vast and inviting territory of science, the creative process, the mind, emotion, eroticism, empathy, feminism, and the unconscious. Years in the making, this highly readable book presents a magisterial study of brain, mind, and art.”
Alexandra Comini, University Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita, Southern Methodist University

Author

Eric R. Kandel is University Professor and Kavli Professor at Columbia University and a Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Kandel is founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, and recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on memory storage in the brain. He is the author of In Search of Memory, a memoir that won a Los Angeles Times Book Award, and co-author of Principles of Neural Science, the standard textbook in the field. He was born in Vienna and lives in New York with his wife, Denise. View titles by Eric Kandel

Excerpt

Chapter 1
 
An Inward Turn: Vienna 1900
 
In 2006 ronald lauder, a collector of austrian expres-sionist art and the co-founder of the Neue Galerie, the expressionist museum in New York City, spent the extraordinary sum of $135 million to purchase a single painting: Gustav Klimt’s captivating, gold-encrusted portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a Viennese socialite and patroness of the arts. Lauder first saw Klimt’s 1907 painting in the Upper Belvedere Museum when he visited Vienna as a fourteen-year-old and was smitten by the image. She seemed to epitomize turn-of-the-century Vienna: its richness, its sensuality, and its capacity for innovation. Over the years Lauder became convinced that Klimt’s portrait of Adele (Fig. 1-1) was one of the great depictions of the mystery of womanhood.
 
As the elements of Adele’s dress attest, Klimt was indeed a skilled decorative painter in the nineteenth-century tradition of Art Nouveau. But the painting has an additional, historical meaning: it is one of Klimt’s first paintings to depart from a traditional three-dimensional space and move into a modern, flattened space that the artist decorated luminously. The painting reveals Klimt as an innovator and major contributor to the emergence of Austrian Modernism in art. The Klimt historians Sophie Lillie and Georg Gaugusch describe Adele Bloch-Bauer I in the following terms:
 
[Klimt’s] painting not only rendered Bloch-Bauer’s irresistible beauty and sensuality; its intricate ornamentation and exotic motifs heralded the dawn of Modernity and a culture intent on radically forging a new identity. With this painting, Klimt created a secular icon that would come to stand for the aspirations of a whole generation in fin-de-siècle Vienna. 1
 
In this painting Klimt abandons the attempt of painters from the early Renaissance onward to re-create with ever-increasing realism the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional canvas. Like other modern artists faced with the advent of photography, Klimt sought newer truths that could not be captured by the camera. He, and particularly his younger protégés Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, turned the artist’s view inward—away from the three-dimensional outside world and toward the multidimensional inner self and the unconscious mind.
 
In addition to this break with the artistic past, the painting shows us how modern science, particularly modern biology, influenced Klimt’s art, as it did much of the culture of “Vienna 1900,” or Vienna during the period between 1890 and 1918. As the art historian Emily Braun has documented, Klimt read Darwin and became fascinated with the structure of the cell—the primary building block of all living things. Thus, the small iconographic images on Adele’s dress are not simply decorative, like other images in the Art Nouveau period. Instead, they are symbols of male and female cells: rectangular sperm and ovoid eggs. These biologically inspired fertility symbols are designed to match the sitter’s seductive face to her full-blown reproductive capabilities.
 
the fact that the Adele Bloch-Bauer portrait was magnificent enough to fetch $135 million—the most ever paid for a single painting up to that time—is all the more extraordinary considering that at the beginning of Klimt’s career his work, although highly competent, was unremarkable. He was a good but conventional painter, a decorator of theaters, museums, and other public buildings who followed the grand historicist, conventional style of his teacher, Hans Makart (Fig. 1-2). Like Makart, a talented colorist who was called the new Rubens by the Viennese patrons of art who idolized him, Klimt painted large portraits dealing with allegorical and mythological themes (Fig. 1-3).
 
It was not until 1886 that Klimt’s work took a bold, original turn. That year, he and his colleague Franz Matsch were each asked to commemorate the auditorium of the Old Castle Theatre, which was about to be demolished and replaced by a modern structure. Matsch painted a view of the stage from the entrance, and Klimt portrayed the last performance at the old theater. But rather than painting a view of the stage or the actors on it, Klimt painted specific, recognizable members of the audience as seen from the stage. These members of the audience were not attending to the play but to their own inner thoughts. The real drama of Vienna, Klimt’s painting implies, did not take place on the stage, it took place in the private theater of the audience’s mind (Figs. 1-4, 1-5).
 
Soon after Klimt painted the Old Castle Theatre, a young neurologist, Sigmund Freud, began treating patients who suffered from hysteria with a combination of hypnosis and psychotherapy. As his patients turned inward, freely associated, and talked about their private lives and thoughts, Freud connected their hysterical symptoms to traumas in their past. The paradigm for this highly original mode of treatment derived from Josef Breuer’s study of an intelligent young Viennese woman known as “Anna O.” Breuer, a senior colleague of Freud, had found that Anna’s “monotonous family life and the absence of adequate intellectual occupation?.?.?.?[had] led to a habit of daydreaming”—what Anna referred to as her “private theater.”2
 
The remarkable insight that characterized Klimt’s later work was contemporaneous with Freud’s psychological studies and presaged the inward turn that would pervade all fields of inquiry in Vienna 1900. This period, which gave rise to Viennese Modernism, was characterized by the attempt to make a sharp break with the past and to explore new forms of expression in art, architecture, psychology, literature, and music. It spawned an ongoing pursuit to link these disciplines.
 
in pioneering the emergence of Modernism, Vienna 1900 briefly assumed the role of cultural capital of Europe, a role in some respects similar to that assumed by Constantinople in the Middle Ages and by Florence in the fifteenth century. Vienna had been the center of the Habsburg dynastic lands since 1450 and gained further prominence a century later, when it became the center of the Holy Roman Empire of the German-Speaking Nation. The empire comprised not only the German-speaking states, but also the state of Bohemia and the kingdom of Hungary-Croatia. Over the next three hundred years, these disparate lands remained a mosaic of nations that had no common unifying name or culture. It was held together solely by the continuous rule of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors. In 1804 Francis II, the last of the Holy Roman Emperors, assumed the title Emperor of Austria as Francis I. In 1867 Hungary insisted on equal footing, and the Habsburg Empire became the Dual Monarchy, Austria-Hungary.
 
At the zenith of its power, in the eighteenth century, the Habsburg Empire was second only to the Russian Empire in the size of its European landholdings. Moreover, the Habsburg Empire had a long history of administrative stability. But a series of military losses in the latter half of the nineteenth century and civil unrest in the early twentieth century diminished the empire’s political power, and the Habsburgs reluctantly turned away from geopolitical ambitions and toward a concern with the political and cultural aspirations of their people, especially the middle class.
 
In 1848 Austria’s liberal middle class became energized and forced the country’s absolute, almost feudal monarchy, dominated by the Emperor Franz Joseph, to evolve along more democratic lines. The ensuing reforms were based on a view of Austria as a progressive, constitutional monarchy modeled on those in England and France and characterized by a cultural and political partnership between the enlightened middle class and the aristocracy. This partnership was designed to reform the state, to support the secular cultural life of the nation, and to establish a free-market economy, all based on the modern belief that reason and science would replace faith and religion.
 

 



 

Praise

Advance praise for The Age of Insight
 
“Eric Kandel has succeeded in a brilliant synthesis that would have delighted and fascinated Freud: Using Viennese culture of the twentieth century as a lens, he examines the intersections of psychology, neuroscience, and art. The Age of Insight is a tour-de-force that sets the stage for a twenty-first-century understanding of the human mind in all its richness and diversity.”
—Oliver Sacks, author of The Mind’s Eye and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
 
“In a polymathic performance, a Nobel laureate weaves together the theories and practices of neuroscience, art and psychology to show how our creative brains perceive and engage art—and are consequently moved by it. . . . A transformative work that joins the hands of Art and Science and makes them acknowledge their close kinship.”
—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

“A fascinating synthesis of art, history, and science that is also accessible to the general reader. A distinctive and important title that is also a pleasure to read
Library Journal (STARRED)


“Engrossing … Nobel-winning neuroscientist Kandel excavates the hidden workings of the creative mind. Kandel writes perceptively about a range of topics, from art history—the book’s color reproductions alone make it a great browse—to dyslexia. … Kandel captures the reader’s imagination with intriguing historical syntheses and fascinating scientific insights into how we see—and feel—the world.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“A fascinating meditation on the interplay among art, psychology and brain science. The author, who fled Vienna as a child, has remained captivated by Austrian artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, each of whom was profoundly influenced by Sigmund Freud and by the emerging scientific approach to medicine in their day … [calls] for a new, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, one that combines the humanities with the natural and social sciences.”
Scientific American

“Eric Kandel’s book is a stunning achievement, remarkable for its scientific, artistic, and historical insights. No one else could have written this book—all its readers will be amply rewarded.”
—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
 
“Eric Kandel’s training as a psychiatrist and his vast knowledge of how the brain works enrich this thoroughly original exploration of the relationship between the birth of psychoanalysis, Austrian Expressionism, and Modernism in Vienna.”
—Margaret Livingstone, Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School
 
“This is the book that Charles Darwin would have produced, had he chosen to write about art and aesthetics. Kandel, one of the great pioneers of modern neuroscience, has effectively bridged the ‘two cultures’—science and humanities. This is a task that many philosophers, especially those called ‘new mysterians,’ had considered impossible.”
—V. S. Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain


“Eric Kandel has created a masterpiece, synthesizing brain, mind, and art like no one has before.”
Joseph LeDoux, NYU, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self

“[This book] offers not only a stunning organic (in every sense of the word) view of fin de siecle culture but also opens new vistas in bioesthetics. It explores the often shocking neurology of the beautiful. And it shows how artist and scientist interlace in the common quest to discover the innards of reality. ‘I don’t render the visible,’ said Paul Klee, ‘I make visible.’ He echoed Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Euclid alone looked on beauty bare.’ Eric Kandel is of that company.”
—Frederic Morton

“Nobel laureate Eric Kandel’s path-setting exploration of the connections between neuroscience and the painters Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka establishes a new frontier in the study of this all-important historical period. The shift toward a biological conception of self, which began in Vienna over a hundred years ago, has since decisively shaped our understanding of human nature.”
Jane Kallir, director, Galerie St. Etienne

“With infectuous enthusiasm and limitless reverence for his multiple subjects, Kandel deftly steers the reader through a vast and inviting territory of science, the creative process, the mind, emotion, eroticism, empathy, feminism, and the unconscious. Years in the making, this highly readable book presents a magisterial study of brain, mind, and art.”
Alessandra Comini, University Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita, Southern Methodist University

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