mark-making and psychiatry


……………………The Transcendentalist tradition includes Thoreau and Walt Whitman. My understanding of art making is based on the foundational process of meaning making. Walt Whitman in his great long poem “Song of Myself”, catalogs the many extensions and manifestations of the life force he perceives through the fog of his experience. Walt Whitman had been a nurse or orderly during the Civil War and had witnessed the trauma of the “real” world. His ability to nurture a sense of wonder in a life that included exposure to great trauma is instructive. In “Song of Myself”, he lists the many activities and old world occupations in the same way he describes the power of Nature to instil awe and wonder.

Thoreau describes the wonder and peace he cultivated in himself by living in the woods. In “Walden”, he lives in simplicity and lists the subtle changes in the ecosystems around the lake. The meaning of his life emerges from these days he spent away from the crowd. He died soon after leaving his stone edifice on the edges of the lake.

For me, art making is like this : being awake to the numinous lustre of Nature, the inspiration of sincere people, the integrity of honest creativity, the possibility of escaping the hierarchies of the narcissistic society we have inherited.

This is how what I do in the therapy room is similar to what is done in the studio. I am hoping for meaning to emerge out of the detritus of our lives. I go further and act as an instigator of meaning. Textures of paintings are like the rough edges of my patients’ narratives. Colours are like the nuances of mood as they flow and fluctuate in the lives of my patients. Structures in a painting are like the cognitive formations and relationship systems in the stories my patients tell.

This is how psychiatry and art inter-integrate into a single experience.


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we have a yellow series it seems

It’s fascinating as a psychiatrist to see how people react to particular paintings in an immediate, visceral and nonconceptual way. That’s an indicator yet again of how the Unconscious reacts to something instantaneously and the Conscious Mind plays catch up, trying to verbalise and analyse what is causing the sense of attraction (or repulsion). This is the link between art and psychiatry / neuroscience.


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The purposeĀ 

This is one of the few posts you will ever see here that involves knowledge obtained directly from putting in many hours as a psychiatrist (as well as an artist).

I just read an article by some self-appointed and probably well-intentioned authority on how to be successful as an artist. It Ofcourse boiled down to the thesis “keep building your reputation, your prestige, your rating and your profile”. In other words, keep working away at making yourself known by as many art people as possible . Then you will become a successful artist. In the Age of Celebrity, it’s not surprising advice . It’s not even wrong. It’s just boring. And likely a good way to become another lost soul.

Our world is full of depressed, struggling souls with and without the following : money, recognition, reputation, artistic talent, charisma, brilliance, etc etc. These things don’t bring what the real core of a healthy human being wants : an authentic , creative and alive existence. Success ultimately is about living a creative and authentic life that is not dependent on the recognition of others, especially authority figures and the judges of the successful life. The main person you have to satisfy is you (ofcourse it’s nice for others to get joy from what you do as well).

In other words, I am interested in writing about how to live an authentic and creative and invigorating life. Painting and photography just happen to be my close at hand forms of creativity and authenticity . I hope they are not considered the only or even main ways to live a creative and authentic life .

Therefore , advice on how to make it in the art world might be interesting for those who see this as the ultimate goal. I do not. I wonder whether seeing “making it in the art world” may even be often anti-thetical in the quest to “make it in the art world”. Many consumers of art desire to buy a material manifestation of this desire to be creative and free. Egotism and narcissism are don’t usually sell well, do they? Not when they are nakedly revealed anyway.

This blog is not about that narrow goal of success in the art world.

It is about living and appreciating what it is to live a creative and authentic life. It is about the feeling of freedom that creating can give you.

I will try to clarify more and more the differences as we go between motives for art-making.

In a world of broken souls, of searing clinical depression, living a creative and authentic life must be nearer the ultimate goal than the somewhat self-torturing aim of becoming a successful artist. Success as an artist derives (in my value system at least) from pursuing more profound and humanistic paths toward the true and beautiful, the free and playful.

You’ll see what I mean as we go, I hope.

New abstracts

“Wearing Short Sleeves at Work”…I have a dear friend, a leader in his medical speciality. He once reminded me that even though we put on a certain professional role at “work”, the power of healing in psychiatry comes from maintaining authenticity to oneself and therefore to our patients. It was exactly what I thought in my own mind. Wearing short sleeves at work refers to being a little more open and less hidden behind a role, a uniform, a tone. It’s good to have friends like this…they are like angelic guides (and this, even though he is a strong atheist). The painting exudes happiness because it is about a sense of ultimate freedom.

“Not Everyone Will Like You”…and this refers to the reality that the authentic self may invite criticism, but that’s okay. So the tones are again joyous.