Tag Archives: psychology

20 Seconds to overcome fear

rothko at Seagram

Marion Milner, a celebrated child psychoanalyst wrote of her own creative anxieties in her book On Not Being Able to Paint (Heineman, 1950, but still available). Fear is embedded in much of the writing on creativity, mainly because creativity is a public expression of internal life. It is a form of exposure, and ever mindful of judgemental others, we often are more afraid of what this exposure, than the actual creative results themselves. In most cases, despite self doubts, we are proud of our creativity, but know where it is deficient — we’re just nervous about hearing that from others.

Milner’s point rested on various assumptions about preconditions for the production of a work of art itself, namely technical mastery of materials. This is obviously in contrast to whether the creative results are personally satisfying, or articulate well what we are thinking. Art is form of expression, not just a meander across a canvas or a lump of clay deformed by idle hands.  This despite some art being of this form, of course.

Henry Peacock, in his excellent book  Art as Expression (Whalesback, 1995) observed that of his art students, the ones that drew well were the least creative as artists, as they were more intent on replicating the form of what they saw, whereas those who drew less well were more inclined to engage with and interpret the external world. Peacock’s book is important as it is provides inspiration for people to explore their creativity without the fear and anxiety of mastering technologies first (like pens and ink, and paint or clay).

All these issues are well-addressed in Art and Fear (Image, 2001) an excellent tonic by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

Taken together, the fear that drives many to avoid creativity is actually self-imposed and has no bearing on whether we are actually able to express ourselves through various artistic approaches.

I would like to encourage creative souls to shrug off their attachment to what things look like and think about how to let your inner perceptions work. The art world has its cycles, from loving the realistic paintings, with figurative precision through to inscrutible abstract constructions which for many may bring on a headache. Abstraction is the true form (sounds like a mantra…), it excites and challenges the mind, is obviously much harder to do, as it requires real honesty and elegant presentation of complex inner thoughts. For others, it is easier to paint the vase and the flower and I accept that for many people this is enjoyable and satisfying. I’m only saying, there can be more.

Art methodologists and historians may see artistic periods like the tide — new ideas come in and wash away the old. Once done, it can’t be done again. Some think of it as the shock of the new, as all art history must be constantly rewritten from the perspective of current artistic tides. That does not mean that these perhaps passe modes of expression have nothing to say, otherwise why do we keep them on show in art galleries and museums.

You need to look at a work of abstraction for a least 20 seconds in order for your brain to decide that you are really interested and then it starts to process in detail what you’re looking at. Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.


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And from a child … true abstraction

Aelita Andrea is very young and yet she is showing us what goes on in the mind of a child through her art. See her website here.

No pictures for this one. You just have to go and enjoy the insight and enthusiasm she shows for her work. Likened to a young Jackson Pollock, some describe her work as a combination of Absract Expressionism and Surrelism. Perhaps more of the former, than the latter.

And let’s reflect on Picasso who opined that he spent a lifetime trying to paint like a child.

What is just a delight is her chosen form is abstraction, some further evidence that the natural, unsocialised mind is comfortable with the abstract. It is only through the destructive process we call primary and secondary education, that our natural creative inclinations are stilled, in some cases forever.

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The mind in another cave

Another early scratching of an early human endeavouring to capture the external world has been found in Wales (2011). What was this person thinking, and why did he or she even do this?

English: English version of Brain in a vat. Fa...

hmmm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is particularly interesting, and assuming this is about 14,000 years ago, is that with visual forms, there is a need to abstract from the external reality an interpretation of that reality in the mind. Having done that, this person then had to decide what they wanted to represent and how. In addition, they had to choose something to do it with, which suggests perhaps that this wasn’t or might not have been the first time, either.

As an abstractionist, I encourage people to explore the mind’s natural way of seeing the world, rather than the highly socially constructed one we normally see. The brain naturally likes to construct patterns, and one assumes that a 14,000 year old brain did, too.

This is exciting not just for the discovery itself, but further affirmation that even in our earliest days as more than mere beasts but as maturing sentient beings, we sought to interpret the external world.

The other question, of course, is what did others at the time think they saw when they looked at this, and did it have a purpose? After all, if it was a form of communication, this artist needed to have some theory of mind — in particular, that those viewing it were like themselves mentally.

Intelligent Life

waste basket and jumble of letters

Now what to do with it. [Image by Torley via Flick

I subscribe to only one art magazine: Turps. Actually, I subscribe only to a few things anyway. I used to want to get one of each, like some artists who need to have one of each colour.

Knowledge is different, and I guess the fear is that you’ll not be reading the right material when something comes up in conversation. Art magazines can feel voyeuristic or worse, self-indulgent.

I got a complimentary copy of the magazine, Intelligent Life, published by the Economist the other day, hoping I’d subscribe. I’ve read this magazine before. I can only say it feels like a intelligent version of the FT’s How to Spend it. But not something to subscribe to.

Sorry Economist.

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Medicine for Body and Soul

Histopathogic image of senile plaques seen in ...

Senile Plaques: what goes on here can change your life

Art of England (issue 66, 2010) has published a short piece of mine. It is some commentary on a conference in London on arts and health.

This is an interesting area. Research is beginning to show that arts can have therapeutic value, can trigger memories in people with Alzheimer’s, or be of rehabilitative value in treating stroke victims.

Near where I live is the Sydney de Haan Centre, which is focused mainly on music and health, but art and health groups are active around the world.

What to know more?

This journal, Arts and Health, is a good beginning as is the Journal of Applied Arts and Health.

There are many arts and health groups around the world, and well as many arts and health research groups. I can provide a list if you’re interested.

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Abstraction in China

I am delighted to see the further development of Sumi-e into strong abstraction. Chinese and Japanese brush painting has tended to bucolic, naturalist imagery, for obvious

Pilgrim’s Journey

reasons from its historical development. But some artists, particularly in China are exploring new ideas. An artist to consider is Lei Hong, who recently participated in a show “Mind Space” in China.

I look forward to new developments as this traditional approach to painting enjoys a rebirth in the contemporary abstract.

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Art in historical/social context: The Stolen Kiss

The Stolen Kiss

Is she really having such a good time?

Do you ever read a critique of a painting that you don’t agree with? Of course we all do. A recent review of The Stolen Kiss by Jean Honore Fragonard in the UK’s Independent bothered me.

So, The Stolen Kiss: I think not.

The painter is trapped within the ways of his time and produced infantile paintings designed to delight. But in historical context, they reveal attitudes of mind in play at the time.  Observing the behaviours of his time, this painting depicts a forceful male act against an unwilling woman disguised in the coded social language of the day.

It is his kiss, not hers, and by stolen in the (English) title, clearly not something he is entitled to.

Her posture is clear: she is off balance, not balanced, find her left foot, and it seems she is actually being pulled. Indeed, he has obviously stepped into the room as she opened the door or moved in his direction, since his left foot is stepping on her hem. More evidence of control? I suspect her right leg is bent and braced against his pull.

She has also been interrupted in what she was doing as she has not let go of her handiwork and apparently intends not to, which one would have done if one were going to greet the visitor willingly — he is a known person, but an intruder nonetheless.

Her right arm suggests she is searching for a place to put it, to steady herself against his force as he is gripping this arm with both his hands; more control.

Her mouth is pursed and eyes are averted — I don’t think she is having any fun.

There are people in the other room but she is not part of that crowd, preferring to sit quietly in a separate room  — perhaps they are discussing whether she should be matched with the man, gossip around the card table and he, emboldened by the discussion,  has decided to invade her private space.

She is hardly heroic. There is no sexual furnace in the middle of this painting only the flash of male fantasy, of hidden delights and the need to use force over persuasion.

She just wishes he’d be gone. There is no moral ambiguity here.

Art and Identity

Subtitled, What can we learn from art about our sense of identity, this short article explores some of the themes of the Wellcome Collection’s (London) show Identity: 8 Rooms, and appeared in Art of England (issue 67, 2010).

In today’s world, people have multiple identities, particularly with the Internet — our Facebook persona is not the same as our LinkedIn persona, and that is different from my Twitter persona, but then who goes to work, is a parent, does the chores, types this blog?

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End of Kodachrome and a way of seeing the world

English: Kodachrome 200 reversal film package,...

Gone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kodak has announed the end of production of Kodachrome film.  Those who still use film will know Kodachrome film for the quality of the colour and indeed I suspect many of us used Kodachrome as our reference film for documenting the world around us.

Film tracked the industrial revolution, documenting virtually all of the past 150-odd years of history.  The information revolution we are now in is less sentimental, images are chopped and cropped mercilessly in computers all over the world, and for many film is in the too-difficult box, while digital is almost trivial.

Is digital an art form?  Who knows, but film certainly produced enduring images over the years.

A worthy history lesson is to look at the photography books produced in 1920s-30s for sheer tour-de-force black and while images, and the discovery of colour itself producing excitement and experimentation — kids with new toys — look for books published by Kodak, in particular a short-lived series on applied photography in the early 1930s, with images that while dated still resonate.  Think of O Winston Links trains from the 1950s, and then look at product photographs of farm machinery taken at night.  Makes some advertising today look positively primitive.  Browse back copies of Vogue for the cutting edge of fashion photography, and then marvel at the Magnum’s photojournalism — still going strong.

End of an era, and perhaps an end of a way of seeing, too.

And on the way out, let us remember Paul Simon’s song Kodachrome.

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