Of Broken Vessels, Art, and Repair
Len Cruz, MD, ME
“The more I am spent, ill, a broken pitcher, by so much more am I an artist.” – Vincent van Gogh
On Saturday July 27, 2013 from 12:00-2:00 PM the Asheville Jung Center will be presenting a conference titled, Art and Psyche: A Jungian Explorationwith Murray Stein, Linda Carter, and Lucienne Marguerat. The conference originates from Zürich, New England, and Asheville. Registration is still open. One subject that will be explored is the art of Adolf Wölfli
In preparation for Saturday’s conference I read two books on art, and one coffee table book compiled from artwork done by persons suffering mental illness. They are briefly reviewed below.
Creative Transformation: The Healing Power of the Arts by Penny Lewis is an exceptional book. Published by Chiron Publications, it is not strictly Jungian. Ms. Lewis is a dance and drama therapist with Jungian training from the C G Jung Institute of New York. Written in the 1993, its material remains timeless. Reading Creative Transformation: The Healing Power of the Arts is like taking a short course in psychoanalytic theory, Analytical Psychology, and Gestalt and the application of these ideas with patients. Ms. Lewis maintains that “the dance between conscious and unconscious is choreographed in the transitional space of the imaginal realm.” She relies heavily on Mahler, Winnicott, by personal field between patients and therapist.”
Section 2 of the book looks at the use of the arts from a perspective of developmental psychology. She leans heavily upon Margaret Mahler, D. W. Winnicott, James Masterson, and Nathan Salant-Schwartz. The rich use of black and white plates combined with a very expansive index, make this book an invaluable resource.
With patients who suffered trauma in early childhood, at a time that was preverbal or prior to the appearance of well-developed abstract thinking, the use of arts media can be a powerful tool for the healer. Creative Transformation: The Healing Power of the Arts is not a How To book, though the author provides ample illustrations of how she uses art in therapy. It is a clinical treatise, from someone well-versed in several psychotherapy approaches, in which the writer just happens to use the expressive arts media in addition to words.
The Creative Soul : Art and the Quest for Wholenessby Lawrence Staples , published by Fisher King Press, is a tightly composed, personal reflection by a seasoned sage and Zürich trained Jungian analyst. It is precise, yet comprehensive in its treatment of the creative process. According to Staples, “Psychic tension is at its highest just at the moment preceding creation, just as we experience at the moment of orgasm.” (P.25) The receptivity to the feminine is vitally important to the creative experience. Through extremely concise clinical vignettes, poems, short stories, and other examples of artistic creations, Staples explores an impressive expanse of the territory of the creative process. I have only one critique of this book; it was not long enough. About one third of the way through the book, Staples introduces a case of a man named Bert, whose story weaves through the remaining pages in an effective, cohesive way. In just over two pages titled Creativity As An Inner Parent, Staples uses Bert to explain how a good parent can be fashioned through creative expression for individuals whose actual parenting was deficient. In a section titled Therapy As Art, Staples acknowledges that “Therapists often envy the creative gifts of the people with whom they work.” He goes on to point out that the work of therapy is itself a creative expression; it is art.
Sunshine From Darkness: The Other Side of Outsider Art by Nancy Glidden Smith is simply put a coffee table book. However, the artists featured in this beautiful volume all suffer mental illness. The introduction to the book is written by Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. Her pioneering research along, with her testimonial about her own struggles with mental illness, have brought attention to the issue of stigmatization of the mentally ill. She opens the book with the van Gough helpful in reducing stigmas. The featured artists are all Americans. It appears the book is currently out of print but copies are available on Amazon.
by Len Cruz, MD, ME