Kenneth Wright (2009) Mirroring and Attunement Routledge; 1 edition (23 April 2009)
Mirroring and Attunement.
‘The form of some art corresponds truthfully to some felt pattern of our emotional life. In this sense every object with aesthetic import is potentially in tune with some elements of human feeling… every truthful work will be limited by its authors range of sensibilities, every truthful work will have its supporters because it resonates with them’. Kenneth Wright
Creative Production and Pre-verbal Communication
A fundamental aspect of psychodynamic work with patients is the shared understanding of symbolic gestures, often not verbalised, but ‘felt’. I am interested in the development of these communications through the production of self-portraits and the ability of being able to symbolise ‘feelings’. Where do they come from and what relationship do they have with artistic production?
Wright offers us an insight into the relationship between early pre-verbal relationships and the mother. He focuses on two aspects of functioning in the pre-verbal relationship provided by the mother, that of mirroring and attunement.
I draw these parallels with the relationship between client and analyst, as he feels his way into the patients’ world through identification and the artwork, both giving back to the patient/viewer his reflection of this world.
Both mirroring and attunement are pre-verbal forms of communication based on affective affirmation. Mirroring is confined to mothers facial expressions and is seen as a single modality (vision), attunement generates a variety of forms across many forms of modalities. Together providing a range of symbolic communication of the infants inner state.
How do we describe this feeling of being in touch? Can we draw parallels with art production and appreciation?
What is artistic creativity? Could it be the skill in accessing this rich imagination, a subjective state finding form for these inner feelings? A return, to the development of the mothers’ skills in holding and attunement, or perhaps, lack of them?
I will draw parallels with the artists’ and others identification with my work as a simile of the mothers’ early identification with baby.
Is psychoanalysis a science or an art.? Does is recollect the forgotten past, making ways of resurrecting and containing deep experience? Or does it create words from feelings, making the unconscious conscious, enriching meanings to events that may give meaning to the here and now? Or is this the artistic endeavour, to seek out these answers through continued development of these questions.
As Wright states ‘how much is analysis a science and how much an art, and is it closer to the sobriety of prose or the inspiration of poetry?’ It is the feature of poetry and of all arts that they have the power to reveal experiences never fully known, and arguably both attunement and analysis have a similar potential’.
My research will enquire into of three basic links, arguing that these are the precursor to this artistic endeavour, of art production and of art appreciation.
The adaptive attuning mother who reflects the forms of the subjective infant and during this process develops a language of shared symbolic gestures.
The psychoanalyst who helps the patient into being, by fostering a new provision of attuning forms as a way of a replacement of that early lack in that earlier relationship.
The photographer, compensating for this deficient in attunement, makes reflective forms of his own and gains an ability to exist and feel real through this process.
The roots of creativity start at the very start of life within the relationship with the adaptive mother. ‘The art object is a structure of non-verbal signals’ (Susanne Langer 1942)
Both in the therapy session and during the production of these photographs, there is the possibility of existence in a new world of newly created reflections. This may be seen as a way of reviving the process in the patient/artist that had died or failed to develop or simply the artists’ need to enquire, reform, reconstruct and search for any deficiency.
Subjective responses come from a place that pre-exists the use of language and it is this area of communication I am interested, in both the session and in the unconscious communication of, in particular, a self portrait photograph. Can these pictures be seen as portraying the shapes of non-verbal imagery? Can they in sequence produce an alternative family album?
From Mirroring and Attunement to Creative Expression
During this early and important stage, while the mother is so intently indentified with the infant, the baby internalises the maternal form and is experiencing an essential phase of early symbol-formation. This is the precursor for linking of inner experience with external forms. At the pre-verbal level, where image based forms are fashioned by the mother at a time when the baby is clearly differentiating himself from her and beginning the stage of separation from her and creating a sense of self.
Mirroring, in context of the emotional mirror, is where the baby sees his own face in the face of the mother. It marks out the mental space between mother and baby (Winnicotts’ ‘Potential space’). As well as the baby feeling an essential sense of connection, rapport, and through resonance and attunement (mother infant communication) it creates a direct line of conscious and unconscious communication between the two. This subjective engagement differs from language, in that this is an objective line of communication where the words conjure up learned symbols.
Winnicott (1967a) proposed that the mothers face, with its rich variety of emotional responses, was a principle means through which the preverbal infant obtained emotional ‘feedback’ about himself. Being the child’s first mirror, what the infant sees in the mother’s expression is related to what she perceives as the infants ‘experience’.
In a therapeutic session and during any empathic engagement, the analysand tries to put inner experience into words, although this can be done in many other non-verbal ways. In mirroring we attempts to reflect the perception of the inner state. In attunement we attempt to imagine what is the inner state being experienced. This identification provides the external view of the inner experience.
‘In attunement, a similar situation prevails. First the mother identifies with the baby’s experience (emotion), then recasts it in her own idiom and replays it to the baby. If the baby can experience the mothers enactment in a resonant way (ie corresponding to something in the infant), at that moment, baby and mother, like the artist and the audience, will be momentarily linked through the created (maternal) form’ p10
Attunement is effectively outside the mothers’ sense of awareness. It is spontaneous and intuitive. Stern states that the attuned mother ‘tracks the changing contour of the infants state and Spontaneously enacting the baby’s feelings’.
When one talks to a patient, he knows I am listening to him if I create an image or symbol that resonates with him, he will sense I am in touch with him. This is the nature of art and its affect on the viewer. Responsive dialogue involves a match, or ‘fit.’ The proposed research is less about looking for mother, than looking for my own reflection of myself in mother.
A Sense of Self. Winnicott
‘To put things in this way begins to make the link with art more apparent; there is an emotional reaching out towards the subject, with perhaps the expectation of a response; a medium that allows itself to be transformed; and a ‘finding’ or creating within that medium of significant forms that reveal the subject to himself. Winnicotts’ model readily transposes into the language of art’
The real focus for Winnicott is this notion of ‘fit’. A vital ‘something’ in our own experience. The creation of maternal nurturance within the objective canvas, often creating, what would be a subjective disturbance.
The critical importance of Winnicott maternal responsiveness runs through all of his work, but whereas in early theories he stressed the physical, he has more recently focused on the non-verbal, adaptive communication, thus shifting from the relationship between mother and breast to non –verbal dialogue with the mothers face. He likens the mothers face to an emotional mirror and suggests that the infant sees, and begins to experience himself, through the visual medium of the mother’s responsive expressions.
‘The infants initial world is made of symbols, created concrete objects made from his pre-verbal structuring, as language appears he now faces another world, made half by other, restructuring his world in the fashion of language that carries other meanings. Does the artist hang on to this unique much earlier code of communication?’
A Need For Reparation. Klein
In Klein’s view, the creative act is driven by guilt or concern. Segal, a Kleinian, states that symbolism within the artwork is based more on absence and the loss of the object. The rebuilding of these fragments of scattered objects, is the creative act. It is this attempt to repair, to make reparation to the object that becomes the artistic endeavour.
Segal, extends Klein’s theories into the study of art and writes of the fact that artistic creation is inextricably linked to the capacity to symbolise. Art involves representation- not necessarily of the external world but that of its interior, of inner experience. ‘The “Significant form”, where a viewer recognises an arrangement as an inevitable sequence.’
In a generalised way, the Kleinian concept of creativity comes from a sense of lack, and replacement of what is missing, it reinstates the missing experience, and replaces the adaptive mother with a more perfect version.
This differs from the Winicottian model of creative production, the development of mother –infant relatedness from a time that the mother and baby is merged as a single object. The assumption by Klein is that the mother baby link is broken and is already be in the position of the necessary reparation.
The Artistic Endeavour
Peter fuller perceived the relevance of Winnicott work of the painter Natkin, and is very eloquent as regards Winicottian theories on the relation between preverbal communication and visual expression. Fuller, (1980) suggested that the picture surface could be thought of as a face like structure, with which the artist communicates in ways that reach back to earlier experience with the mothers face. Where the maternal response is out of the infants control the artist can modify the surface until it gives back to him the responses that he needs
The artist operates in dialogue with the canvas and creates an illusionary and expressive surface through his technique. Eventually ‘the canvas surface’, wrote Fuller, ‘becomes a surrogate for the good mothers face. ’Through this, it would seem, artistic creation has a therapeutic function for the artist Winnicott states, that if the maternal mirroring fails, then the infant looks around for other ways of getting something of himself back from the environment.’
Wright says the artist, in this space, is poised on the edge of ‘no mother’ (the un-attuned mother), so hence the compulsion to go on creating. From a certain perspective a transitional object can be seen as an external form of internal memory or feelings. The baby retrieves an experience in the absence of the mother, touching and observing this object brings her back, the infants way of remembering her.
‘The panic of facing the blank canvas is a re-enactment of the primitive anxiety of the non-adaptive mother, the distracted mother when the medium gives the artist what he needs then he experiences joy and self-realization’.
Finding This Voice
The therapist finds his voice with his client essentially as an artist does; creating a joint metaphorical and creative language. Ordinary language, is essentially practical and concerned with external reality, it is object related and it needs considerable adaptation before it can be used to embody subjective phenomena, like symbols and art.
Language, of course, offers us an important form of shared communication regarding external objects however, non-verbal communications of symbols offer us a much more profound insight into inner objects and feelings. It has the power to move, to pierce (Barthes term) the inner self and of others.
Finding this authentic voice is a not easy, never more difficult than in the therapist room, of finding a common voice with that of the client. A persons true self lies deep in this preverbal world, the world the artist accesses, it is here that the persons important and often most difficult feelings to communicate lay beyond the reach of ordinary language.
This core value of non-verbal communication convinces the client you are authentic, as with artwork, the showing of the true self is what’s authentic. We also achieve self-acceptance through this relationship; this recognition is a place where the self is made.
This joy of being recognised (by the artist) of being responded to (heard) is the confirmation that is so desired, a confirmation of self or the creation of the good enough even perfect maternal object. From the Winicottian perspective this is the adaptive mother giving what the child requires, as opposed to the Kleinian model where guilt and reparation are the motives for the production of the work.
Individual experiences are of course significant to the creator, but so often with creative work, there is a ‘fit’ or an unconscious ‘knowing’ with that of the work and the viewer. Shared pre-verbal experiences, shared attunement. If a portrait is based on this structure of non-verbal presentational of symbols the ability of the ‘fit’ between mother and child, the creative endeavour can provide fertile material. If this creative material is accessed, this pre-verbal symbol formation can it be assessed and used to offer an insight into our early life experiences.
Being of such an objective nature, photography is a particularly difficult medium to integrate ones subjective gestures of the individualism of the artist. Winnicott realised this integration of the objective and subjective view an important feature of the creation of symbols, he spoke of it as ‘primary creativity, a realm of illusion, a place of transitional objects and from a much earlier stage of the child’s omnipotence.’
Perhaps the work created by the artist, of a surrogate mother, creates a more perfect object and contains more of the artist self than the artist can communicate verbally. Through its formation, refining and experimentation, the reflections one would have preferred begin to emerge. A maternal extension of self.
Through symbols, the artist gives a voice to the inarticulate to communicate to the viewer, on one hand we raid the inarticulate and on the other wait for the mother (adaptive) to bring the form of the feeling to us. Like trying to recapture a lost memory, we will hope and wait to have it released, producing what Winnicott would call our transitional objects.
Through production of these photographs, I will bring external form from inner states., these transitional objects are the first ‘not-me’ objects, a subjective part of the infants memories of earlier experiences. The function is to recast subjective feeling states into more or less objective form as photographic objects. A bridge to our earliest experiences.
It is important to stress the importance of these photographic representations’ importance of the shared experience, rather than simply becoming a vehicle for self-examination, self-analytical exorcism and an individual journey of self-awareness. Winnicott saw this symbol communication as the primary form of communication in us all, the preverbal world being the foundation in the formation of self and of symbolic representation. These primitive communications are based on shared preverbal symbols and communicated non-verbally and not intellectually via words..
The joy of being recognised also serves all our narcissistic needs for recognition, acceptance and uniqueness. The artists inhabit these forms and continue to refine the process slowly in doing so, becoming more fully himself and have a more meaningful contact with other human beings.
Spencer Rowell 2011