Pictures of Childhood
Alice Miller, author of The Drama of Being a Child
(1995) Virago Press Limited, London
Looking back, I would say that the child in me, who wanted to paint, knew far better than I – with all my years of academic training – what she needed to express herself. Her total refusal to accept society’s demands, to put up with its beliefs and conventions, was a sign of her strong urge to speak only in her own language, no matter how awkward and strange.
This urge of hers has an inescapable influence on my style, which I would describe as one of improvisation. I must continually search for and find what is new, feel my way, experiment. I can never work slowly or stay with what I am doing till it’s completed, nor can I take advantage of what is already familiar to me. I have to give myself over to the undertaking of the moment, for it seems to follow its own laws and to elude any supervision or censorship. As soon as I attempt to give it direction, to reflect, to work more slowly, my progress is impeded; the end result may look technically proficient, but it bores me, probably because it does not speak the language of the unconscious, which, by its very nature, becomes silent in the face of my knowledge and skills. (pp. 24-25)
Painting Myself In
(1997) University of Otago Press, Dunedin, New Zealand
This painting is no new wonder therapy. Certainly it is no cure or happy-ever-after, no new wave/age therapy or primal scream to end them all, no rebirthing in colour. All the changes for me are probably quite hidden and even meaningless for most people. The changes are mostly inner ones, about how I feel. It is slow, slow change and obviously an ongoing process for me. I’ve no idea if or where it will end, even if it will, or what I might feel about the painting in five, ten years’ time. It doesn’t seem to matter much. It’s like I’ve finally come to grips with my childhood, all these years on. I haven’t solved it or resolved it, but I can now say I’ve started to touch and recognise it. What it is for me is a certain knowledge of me. I can’t be painted out or in, into different colours; what was started in my childhood walks alongside me as an adult, will always be there. This is a journey you don’t finish and don’t come out the other side of. It’s so hard to describe, because this painting doesn’t have a clear outcome. It doesn’t mean it’s despairing or gloomy (even though that is part of it). It’s just so different from the usual expectations of therapy groups, etc., quite at opposite ends of the happy-ever-after stuff, and certainly very different from my own expectation when I started to do this work. And it is work, it is very hard to do, to look and see, to feel what the paintings bring up. (p. 84)
Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul
(2004) Shambhala, Boston and London
As a beginning art therapist I was incredulous when first exposed to catalogs for the interpretation of art, which reduced images to negative character traits and various forms of psychopathology. Drawings and paintings were analyzed according to narrow theoretical frameworks. The resulting interpretations were simplistic and literal, imposing a caricatured and laughably pornographic sensibility on the individualized expressions of patients. With an insistence on finding hidden conflicts and motives, they discussed imagery and gave no attention to the sensibility of the artist. Everything was assumed to be something other than what it was. Artists were debased, and the healing effects of the art experience were degraded.
Sometimes the interpretations were imaginative and even humorous. I should actually be thankful to them since they have provided me with provocative lecture material throughout my career. I marvel at a mind that sees a phallus in every tree, serpent, or projectile; the vagina in every opening, lake, and circular configuration; sexual repression in closed doors and crossed lines; oral deprivation in vacuum cleaners; masturbatory guilt in smudged hands; obsessive-compulsive tendencies in detailed compositions; and toilet conflicts in the color brown. (p. 75)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections
C. G. Jung
(1995) Montana Press, London
Extract from Confrontation with the Unconscious
My mandalas were cryptograms concerning the state of the self which were presented to me anew each day. In them I saw the self – that is, my whole being – actively at work. To be sure, at first I could only dimly understand them; but they seemed to me highly significant, and I guarded them like precious pearls. I had the distinct feeling that they were something central, and in time I acquired through them a living conception of the self. The self, I thought, was like the monad which I am, and which is my world. The mandala represents this monad, and corresponds to the microcosmic nature of the psychic.
I no longer know how many mandalas I drew at this time. There were a great many. While I was working on them, the question arose repeatedly: What is this process leading to? Where is its goal? From my own experience, I knew by now that I could not presume to choose a goal which would seem trustworthy to me. It had been proved to me that I had to abandon the idea of the superordinate position of the ego… I was being compelled to go through this process of the unconscious. I had to let myself be carried along by the current, without a notion of where it would lead me. (pp. 221-222)
On Becoming An Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity
Ellen J Langer
(2005) Ballantine Books
Too much of the time we are not seeing, hearing, tasting, or experiencing what would turn lives troubled by boredom and loneliness into lives that are rich and exciting. We unwittingly give up our potential for creative endeavor and in the process lived sealed in unlived lives, where monotony is the rule rather than the exception. Creativity is not a blessing some special few are born with or receive from above. Our creative nature is an integral part of our daily lives, expressed through our culture, our language, and even our most mundane activities. “Art,” wrote the painter Robert Henri, “when really understood is the province of every human being.”
Engaging in our creativity more fully, giving it a form that holds some innate interest, ought to be part of every day life for each of us. How often have we neglected activities like art, music, writing, dance — or a host of other creative endeavors — as we pursue careers and families? We might regretfully add them to the list of things we’ll get to later, but we think little about why we are doing so. Then one day we realise that now is yesterday’s later. We typically regard such creative pursuits as “leisure” activities, and that word suggests that they are rather unimportant. They may well, however, hold the key to the problem of finding meaning and fulfilment in the rest of our lives. (pp. 3 – 5)