The Uncanny: where psychology meets art

The White Cube Diaries

The uncanny, a Freudian term which describes an instance where something is simultaneously familiar and foreign, resulting in a feeling of discomfort. The idea of the uncanny was first identified by Ernst Jentsch in his 1906 essay, On the Psychology of the Uncanny, where he defines the uncanny as being a product of “intellectual uncertainty.” In 1919 Sigmund Freud published his essay, The Uncanny, in which he elaborates on the uncanny through aesthetic investigations. Freud’s aesthetic investigations on this psychological phenomenon have intrigued artists since its publication; from the Surrealists to contemporary art, artists have tried to visually represent and fabricate objects which provoke an uncanny effect.

Freud states in his essay that the uncanny lies in the realm of the frightening and evokes both fear and dread. Though the uncanny is not clearly definable, because it relies on a personal experience, Freud outlines circumstances that would be considered uncanny…

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