The Art of Pathography

The artists’ creation of a ‘true self-portrait’ is bound up in meanings of self-hood and individuation; by means of his/her practice becoming a method of developing the artists’ need for self-discovery. Through this self-exploration, the artefact becomes an attempt to reveal something of the artist, a therapeutic tool perhaps, by which the photograph is used as a form of depth psychology. A mixed methodology of autoethnography and thematic analysis is undertaken of the language of response – language generated from the viewing of purely visual data – to examine and record patterns or themes within this information that is relevant to the research question. Through this form of removed analysis - the interpretation of the photograph and not the artist - can a new internal world of the artist be revealed? Is there a particular reading that could be universalised or is this unique to me? Or is the analysis a series of projections, a more of an understanding of the readers? The concerns of this thesis are with the ways in which the production of these photographs and their reception can be incorporated into an art practice and a new self-portrait is revealed.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Paper On: 'On Not Being Able To Paint' by Marion Milner

Marion Milner (1950) On Not Being Able to Paint Routledge; 2nd Edition (23 Sep 2010)

In Anna Freud’s introduction to 'On Not Being Able To Paint', she writes,

‘The legitimate result of analysis is the inner experience of formally unknown affects and impulses, which find their final outlet in the ego processes of verbalisation and deliberate action. The main achievement is, according to the author, a joining of that split between mind and body that can so easily result from trying to limit thinking only in words.’ P. xiv

Through the production of self-portrait photography, can one, through a constant unravelling and then reconstruction, find a version of the true self? Marion Milner uses her book, ‘On Not Being Able To Paint’, as a record of personal experience, ‘in order to understand becoming able to see’, and as a way of documenting her stages of process and discovery.

To engage with the world through photographic expression is, of course, a logical process for a photographer. As in a way of producing symbols of representation, conscious and unconscious, a way of verbalisation without words. This process of image production, when followed and perhaps seen as a series of growth, offer us a consensus, ‘another form of seeing’. Within this self-observation and discourse, just as in the analytical situation, the revealing of new insights into the photographers’ inner world are revealed. These comparisons with the representations of the inner reality provide awareness, allowing progression to more insight, which then lead to further creative expression. This creation and production of symbols of lost objects, running parallel with newly found awareness, can create not only the lost object but a replacement object that may never have been made available. It is this battle for free association and non-verbal expression, leading to the uncovering of the unconscious mind, which makes up the core of an analysts therapeutic work. One image informing another, as with one session with a client would reveal some underlying defence mechanisms, this, however, takes time, through dialogue and consistent availability, before an overall picture emerges. But over time one looks back and sees intuitive work practice and process being underpinned by theory. In photography, it is the representation of these objects in the internal world, shown in the external world that becomes part of this therapeutic dialogue.

Symbol Production

We have, of course, words to bridge this gap between our experience of the inner and outer realities, a way of inner ‘realities’ coming to terms with there ‘external’ surroundings. Perhaps as an image-maker, it is useful to distinguish between these two worlds by images and symbols, rather than words. These portraits can be like going back, not necessarily in retreat, but as a conscious search into the past, just as in psychoanalysis, a search for something lost which, if revealed, may be of value in the present or future knowledge.

My interplay between the inner and outer interpretation of reality, sheds light on a seemingly lack of presence of significant others, my search for lost objects, this is the key area of my concern.

‘Looked at in these terms the problem of the relation between the painter and his world then became basically a problem of ones need and the need of the ‘other’, a problem of reciprocity between ‘you’ and ‘me’: with ‘you’ and ‘me’ meaning originally mother and child’. P134

‘The definition pointed to the fact that their relationship of oneself to the external world is basically and originally a relationship of one person to another, even though it does become differentiated into relations to living beings and relations to things, inanimate in nature. In other words, in the beginning one’s mother is, literally, the whole world.’ P134

This transfiguration[1] of the object occurs in the light of ones dreams. There is no sharp line between daylight and darkness, there is only twilight and it is within this twilight of dream, memory and desire, where the search usually occurs. This underpins self-awareness and the photographer’s ability to bridge this gap, often with symbols.

As Milner states:

‘It is a tendency of the mind to make broad distinctions, to split problems viewed into two extremes, and that this splitting is necessary. Certainly one has to make the distinction between dreams and reality, for instance, or between outside and inside, body and mind, doing and thinking. But having done that it is necessary to bring the two halves together again, in a complex rhythmic interplay and exchange,’ p100

The placating of ones external reality and its reconciliation with ones internal experience has becomes my main preoccupation through my work in both image production and therapy. This discrepancy between what was seen and what was felt, this belief in the distorted view of the outside world, has become an incalculable feat to bridge, certainly just in a purely verbal sense.

The inner dream and memory is continually tested and compared with the experience of external reality. There seems great difficulty in these two worlds meeting; there is, perhaps, a profound fear of something being lost in the process. However, this process of loss is indeed of value, in the hope that a gain will be made during this experience.

Often the inner tension and frustrations can be intolerable in this situation. Perhaps it would be better to retreat to defence mechanisms after all, living things go on behaving as they behaved in the past. The capacity to change through production of photography, however, offers us an exciting new experience. As we produce work we break away from the reparation of routine hoping to perhaps ‘bump into’ the self. Using intuition, I am looking to plunge into the unknown. Similar to the delight we experience as children drawing, although this is not so much a plunge, ‘it delights children because they are used to this visual representation of communication’. p113 This underpinning of intuitively imagined ideas are how judgements are made in scientific theory of course. Starting initially with intuition, and then developed by logic. There seems little recognition of the documentation of this process within art, of lived experience combined with logical thought.

In Kleinian theory and as a way of restoring the split and bringing the subject and object together in a new kind of unity, is explained through her theories of the Paranoid Schizoid position to Depressive Position.[2] Through the revisiting of this theory and through the concept of projective identification[3], another Kleinian theory, artist’s can construct a new reality. But how can this enquiry into psychic creativeness be discussed? Perhaps the issue is the ability to make a symbol. As art is, as Marion Milner states ‘the capacity for making a symbol.’ p173 Ultimately the capacity for that symbol to be communicable to others, ‘thus creativeness in the arts is making a symbol for feeling, and creativeness in science is making a symbol for knowing. P173 Photography can be a way of creating symbols dreamed up in the internal world and through photography, make it an object in the world of reality. Just as a client, in the therapeutic session, has to communicate his feelings through, words, can photography use symbols to make the unknowable, real and knowable?

The Return of the Lost Object.

The function of this ‘psyche-photography’, can be seen as being the recreation or restoration of the lost object and well as its creation, through the re-enactment of the transition to the Depressive Position over and over again. The family album can also be seen as a way of this restoration. ‘In psychoanalytical terms this process of seeking to preserve these experiences and can certainly be described in terms of the unconscious, as “an attempt to preserve, recreate, restore the lost object; or rather, the lost relation with the object conceived of in terms of the object”’ p187

As children we are encouraged to daydream, play, invent and live in fantasy. This is our way of believing in the world and finding our place in it. We become lost in these worlds. As in therapy, we attempt to distinguish between the ‘me’ and ‘not me’, we replay our inner world, to distinguish between our own and perhaps our ‘others’ problems.

The importance of this process is the return of the lost object that this photographer re-creates. As with a patient, in the therapeutic space, or as Marion Milner puts it, ‘I think the essential point is the new thing that has been created, this new bit of the external world that he has made significant and “real”, through endowing it with form’. The photographic unmasking of these old symbols and the making of new ones, the continuous process of destroying and remaking and the constant integration of the exterior world with that of ones interior, is new knowledge.

There are, of course, two sets of happenings, in this dyad of communication, that of the producer and that of the viewer. During her production, Marion Milner writes of the interplay between the two partners, the partners of imagination and action, of dream and reality. But what of the viewer?

‘Such a setting, in which it is safe to divulge in reverie, is provided for the patient in analysis, and painting likewise provides such a setting. Both for the painter of the picture and for the person who looks art it’ p193

[1] a large change in appearance or form; a metamorphosis

[2] Melanie Klein describes the earliest stages of infantile psychic life in terms of a successful completion of development through certain positions. There are two major positions: the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position. The earlier more primitive position is the paranoid-schizoid position and if an individual's environment and up-bringing are satisfactory, she or he will progress through the depressive position.

[3] Projective Identification (or PI) is a term first introduced by Melanie Klein of the object relations school of psychoanalytic thought in 1946. It is a concept 'more and more referred to in psychodynamic work', especially in circumstances 'where A experiences feelings that belong to B but that B is unable to access; and instead "projects" them into (not just onto) A'.[1]

Projective identification thus designates a psychological process in which a person engages in the ego defense mechanism projection in such a way that their behavior towards the object of projection invokes in that person precisely the thoughts, feelings or behaviors projected. It has become accepted that 'Projective identification may unconsciously aim to get rid of unmanageable feelings but it also serves to get help with feelings'.

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