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.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

An Essay on Shame

‘When I draw, I’m in oblivion. I don’t see what I’ve done because I can’t see my own face- I don’t know what I look like. ‘
A schizophrenic patient (1991 p.265)

Paper On: Vision and Separation; Between Mother and Baby  Kenneth Wright (1991)
In his book, Vision and Separation; between Mother and Baby (1991), Kenneth Wright offers us insight into the importance of early visual interaction alongside a discussion in psychoanalytic theory. It is at this early stage of development of infant experiences where the first view of self is experienced and through this early interaction and identification that the concept of consciousness (coming into being) and self-consciousness (of being seen) can be traced. I will discuss this in the conjunction with an interim response to the interpretation of Session 2’, by ‘The Guild’; an image largely interpreted as representing a symbol of shame.

Session 2’

The facial engagement is a rich source of emotional messages and is a very important part of the process of early human interaction. This first infant-mother visual contact should be seen as not necessarily as a literal visual interaction, but more of a shared reverie; a knowing based on seeing or being, rather than looking or being looked at. It will be argued that, the self-portraits presented to ‘The Guild’, along with their psychoanalytical interpretations, reach back into the artist’s early experience of this early facial interaction.

All art, according to Langer (1942) is concerned in ‘giving form and articulation to human feeling, and a re-creation of such early feelings and states of relatedness to the mother (p20). Fuller (xxxx) suggests, using Natkin as an example, that artists strive to recreate a dialogue with mother. ‘I am suggesting that, for Natkin, the canvas surface became a surrogate for that reciprocal encounter he had lacked with the good mother’s face’ (p211)

I would certainly be in keeping with this view. It is unimaginable, I believe, that this early encounter could leave no trace in creative expression and self-representation. I am enquiring whether a suspension, latent or potential, of mother infant interaction remains in the self–portrait/analyst engagement and that symbols of this early reflection can be re-covered through the viewing and psychological assessment of them. This article is an opportunity to respond these early interpretations of artwork offered to ‘The Guild’.

Wright comments that his book is primarily,

'An attempt to tease out [….] that may be written of myself, an autobiography. An internal self I feel but have not been able to describe. Or explain. To pursue my reflection in search of knowledge to illuminate my darkness ‘giving ease to unknowing’ and create a form of knowing of oneself. Seeing gives form and understanding, previously felt but not understood'. (1991 intro pxii)

The Conscious to Self-conscious
Consciousness comes into being during this short and yet so important stage of visual development or mirroring. First the child sees the mother’s face as himself in the mirror; this emotional reflection is seen as the infant’s complete internal world, the omnipotent ‘I’, merged and ‘as one’ with his carer. As the development of consciousness continues and through partial separations, a realisation of ‘Me’ occurs, of being both a physical and emotional separate entity. From this intense visual didactic relationship comes a sense of both mother and infant being looked upon. A view from beyond the maternal bond, of being seen from the position of the ‘Other’. It is during these last stages, that a sense of self-consciousness evolves.

In Searle’s view (1963p.xx), the central issue is that the ‘mother’s face is the child’s first emotional mirror and that it is through her responsiveness, that the child is able to know his own emotions’. This first emotional reflection that he experiences and along with symbol formation brought about by this psychic conflict, can also be seen as the beginnings of consciousness, a ‘looking and thinking space’ Wright (1991 p. xx).

During this interaction, there are many opportunities for the maternal reflection to develop distortions. If this is the case, during this early process of experiencing separateness between infant and mother, a feeling of alienation can be created; the realisation that the mirrored distortion, along with the infant’s fears of separation, confirms a look of non-affirming, coldness, filled with anxiety, this reflection becomes something to fear.
'The first face confirms and strengthens the child’s subjective being, amplifies it through reverberating circuits of reflection and response. The second face disconfirms, puts the child at distance, arrests the continuity of subjective feeling, and offers in its place a spectacle of the bad self that puts the continuity of love in question’ (Wright 1991 p27)

The presentation of image ‘Session 2’ can be seen as a search for this experience or of the visualisation of a deformed or distorted reflection. This is what the artist is trying to access, foster and adapt, in the production and presentation of the self-portrait; a form of synthesis of these feelings. If, not a loving face, but that of a more terrifying reflection is experienced, a reflection that perhaps brings a sense of distance and of non-affinity, the internal self image will be distorted. Projecting this distorted view out on to the ‘Other’, who looks in on to the maternal Dyad, confirms this distorted external appearance of self from the outside, this now distorted internal world. Shame.

In this sense we dread the faces of the onlookers. A look that could be accepted as a distorted view of an earlier self, a pre-verbal crisis, in the sight of the ‘Other’. What I see is a re-intrajection of an initial projection of a distorted view, which has been experienced from this initial visual engagement.

'There was someone, myself, raging against a controlling and constricting object, at a distance from, and unrecognised by, the one I loved. I saw myself there through the eyes the ‘Other’ as this awful, nearly subhuman sort of creature'. (Wright 1991 p115)

Lynd (1958), in Shame and the Search for Identity, says that shame can be described as the ‘exposure of oneself to oneself’’. It is an aspect of the ‘Other’s’ view, ones external view of self from this original distorted reflection. Shame could be described as being looked at, rather than being seen. My personal experience of finding it difficult to hold a stare, is this distorted view from the ‘Other’ and is shame based. To explore this territory for myself and get this more objective view of my internal world, this alternative angle of view, I exhibit self-portraits and ask for interpretations.

'The move to the triadic view is more transforming, it mediates to something closer to knowledge a new vision of self, each new position gives a new vision; each new vision throws a pattern on reality; each new pattern revitalises the previous ones'. (1991 p230)

Shame is ‘where ones experience (inner) and the ‘Others’ view (outer) meet’ ‘An interface between persons’ (1991 p29). Our internal world continues to be dictated by this view of our external self; it is defined by the outside view of this original traumatic reflection. In the case of shame, the internalised distorted reflection looking back on to self, I look into the mirror; but it is not as everyone else sees. This shame is but the distorted reflection of the early catastrophe experienced. This built distorted view of a frightening distorted reflection becoming not only an internal feeling, but also the view of ‘Other’.
John Paul Satre, says In Being and Nothingness, Me, ‘Shame is by nature recognition. I recognise that I am as the other sees’. As I produce the work, and offer the work for analysis, to be looked at, probed and ‘spat out', I experience being looked at, from many different angles. It is how I feel I am seen, and as I know myself, however, this process of self-witnessing allows a re-forming of inner image and a way of redefining self.

Reflections and Symbols of Feelings, as Interface to Communication.
It is this interaction between artwork and viewer that lets us into their world. Are these self-created symbols a search for a fit with that remembered reflection? Is it the interface to verbal expression of this feeling-state? Perhaps it is this symbol formation that we engage with during the viewing of any artwork, the viewer searching in their past for an image of this pre-language imagery, visualising these shared pre-verbal symbols.

Hannah Segal, notes, in her book Symbol Formation (xxxx)
'Not only the actual content, but also the very way in which symbols are formed and used, seems to reflect precisely the egos state of development and its way of dealing with its objects'.

This symbol formation is the coming together to this outer form and inner knowledge. Metaphor allows us to define our feeling in our way. In the therapeutic engagement, a client may use metaphor as a personal language, as precious to ones own world. However, if a combined communication is found through this connection then connection is more empathic, as with abstract art, it feeds directly to the world of connection before words, before language.

'The glimpse of the baby’s and child’s seeing the self in the mother’s face and afterwards in a mirror, gives a way of looking at analysis and the psychotherapeutic task. Psychotherapy is not making clever and apt interpretations; by and large it is a long term giving back to the patient what the patient brings. It is a complex derivative of the face that reflects what is there to be seen. I like to think of my work this way, and to think that if I do this work well enough the patient will find his or her self, and will be able to exist and feel real. Feeling real is more than existing; it is finding a way to exist as oneself, and to relate to objects as oneself'.
Winnicott, Playing and Reality. (Xxxx pxx)

It is through the counter-transferential process of assessment, that shared symbols are brought to the surface by the analyst, their subjective state is forged into this work. Perhaps we can put it this way, I, as the portrait, am in the room with the analyst; though receiving a written interpretation the photographs analyse the analysts. (See future essay) This become part of the work, they identify, get close, juxtaposing a part of themselves into the image. As a way of integrating some of their inner form of experience, personal and theoretical, with that of the work. A shared pattern where the analyst and artwork resonate.

The viewer wants to find something of himself within the work, along with their integration of selected theories (those that resonate with the anylist), it enables the viewer to view something of himself that may not have been resolved or cannot be verbalised other than though the language of theory. Wright claims that ‘all psychodynamic theory is a piece of auto-biography, a symbolic form of the own therapists self’ (p313)

As a series of photographs, these self-portraits can be seen as external observations of one person from many different angles, observations of the internal self, viewed from all angles. Changes of perspective in relation to ones own self. ‘Session 2’, and its interpretation, is one such angle, giving more of an understanding and knowledge.

Art expression, which may of course include the written word, are these shared symbolic images. Clients in therapy, will grope about using words that seem to fit, often using language creatively, including metaphor and symbols to communicate. Language, then, along with unconscious material, becomes the way one becomes visible in the session. As an artist, exhibiting is the way we are seen and the way other’s will view us. The artist’s lexicon of the world becomes these symbols of the past built upon through mirrored reflections of self.

This image produced and its part in the collection, progression, their assessment and feedback create a part of a narrative of experience and can be seen as symbols or metaphors that form an interface to expression of pre-verbal communication. Perhaps, through this process, the external image is reformed, in a similar way with therapy, as a process of renewal; a possibility of finding new forms a more acceptable form of self.

Through the interpretation of a symbol ‘Session 2’, I have attempted to create a dialogue with shame. It was recognised as such through interpretation and I have explained through theory its relevance to early interaction and infant relation. Where curiosity prevails, exploration will always follow and this process, perhaps being a representation of a form of artistic regression, into the search of this primal catastrophe. I have discussed the image and its interpretation from the position of being potentially a symbol of distortion, part of a narrative, or one image, taken from one angle, of a person’s internal world.

This rich immediacy of pre-verbal language from our early and first experiences of the world are expressed through artwork, they languish in all our pasts in this repressed state. Although unique and personal in their associations with the artist, it is perhaps a relief, also, to find that these symbols represent a much more common language. These remnant’s are vivid and real, timeless and as in dreams, primal stirrings, often being incommunicable through language.

As we grow though childhood, language appears and there is a distancing from these early forms of communication, these buried memories of a maternal presence.

Spencer Rowell 2012

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