Psychology and the Arts Part 2

Written by Kate Siner Francis Ph.D.

Art and psychology have a common history in early ritual and healing practices. This common history is an essential component in any complete understanding of art-related studies in psychology (Ellenberger, 1970). It demonstrates a link between art, psychology, the unconscious, and healing. (Dissanyake, 2000; Ellenberger, 1970; Jung, 1969; McNiff, 1992; Spencer, 1997; Taylor, 1997).  This is the earliest known link between psychology and the arts.

Early psychoanalytic inquiry acknowledged this connection made between the unconscious, altered states, healing, and the arts. Art-related studies have been a part of psychological inquiry since the beginning of the discipline  For example: In the 1800’s, cases of multiple personality disorder and amnesia were linked with the human creative function in both their understanding and often for their treatment.  Johan Christian Reil was among the first to incorporate art and the use of sign and symbols in therapy. (Ellenberger, p. 212, 1970) and Charcot wrote some of the first books on art and medicine (Ellenberger, p. 352, 1970).  Around this same time, Bergson made connections between hypnotism and the creative function (Ellenberger, p. 338, 1970) and Flournoy discussed the phenomenon of cryptomeisia, –a hypnotic regression that happens during the art of writing. Also discussed at this time was the mythopoetic function a term used to describe the similarity between mythic images and the expression of an artist (Ellenberger, p.318, 1970; Taylor, 1997; Hillman, 1991). While all these inquiries were important, some were more clearly influential in the work of later psychologists. Scherner, Maurey and Hervey de saint-Denis used dream analysis and this approach was eventually seen in the works of Jung and Freud (Ellenberger, p. 304, 1970). Justinius Kerner’s created inkblots and wrote beside them. This creative practice later inspired Rorschach to create his inkblot test (Ellenberger, p. 304, 1970).
Literature, language, and the arts were so much a part of the lives of early analytic psychologists, they played a major part in the way they understood their own lives and the lives of others. Ellenberger (1970) writes “One cannot begin to understand men like Janet, Freud, and Jung without realizing that they had been immersed from childhood in an atmosphere of intensive classical culture that pervaded all their thinking (p. 194).”  Examples of this can be seen in the mythic interpretation of the human experience, the use of word association, active imagination and other non-linear means of understanding the human experience.

Key Contributors
Sigmund Freud discussed the psyche of the artist in terms of unconscious fantasies and desires, fixations, complexes, and repression (Gannon, 2004). Freud believed that the artist was merely a talented daydreamer. The artist’s creations were glorified products of human fantasy that the average person would seek to conceal at all cost but that the artist would skillfully use to seduce others (Freud, p. 506, 1908). He also believed that the creative act was a function of the libido, a primarily sexual drive. His beliefs about artists are well demonstrated in his essay on Leonardo DaVinci (Collins, 1997). In essence, Freud states that Leonardo was both limited by his maladjustment and brought to greatness by it, that the subject matter of his painting was primary sexual in nature, and that his work developed out of his conflict over being fatherless and his relationship with his mother (Freud, 1908).
Freud’s theories have a notable influence on present day inquiry both inside and outside of psychology. Freud’s approach to literary criticism, at its peak in the 1920’s and 1930’s, is still used today (Spurgin, 2002). Freud’s work contributed to the recent development of art as a diagnostic tool, art therapy (Furth, 1988; Gantt, 1998; Gillespie, 1994). However, one of the most pervasive beliefs passed on by Freud and taken up by psychologists and non-psychologists alike is the belief that the artist is a pathological personality.
Carl Jung saw art as a unifying mechanism through which human beings understand their experience and he explored its use as a healing agent. His most notable contributions are his studies of active imagination (Jung 1961, 1990). The term active imagination describes the process of therapeutically interacting with a visual image. Active imagination is based on the belief that images have a life of their own and symbolic events develop according to their own logic (Jung, p. 290-354, 1963). Essential to the process is the ability to switch back and forth between the flow of thought coming from the unconscious and conscious thought. Active imagination represents a psychological use of a creative process.
Literary criticism developed from Jung’s work assumes that all of creative works–including literature, myths, and religious rituals & symbols, and dreams “emanate from the same inner psychic source, the collective unconscious (Gannon, 2004). Jung believed that much of art contains archetypal themes and that a symbol can be never endingly interpreted (Piedilato, 1999). Jung’s studies provide detailed descriptions of the function of art in the human psyche.  He remains one of the most commonly cited contributors to this area of study. The significance of his work on active imagination is evident in the practices of Expressive Arts and art therapy.
Otto Rank, an artist himself, was closely associated with both the arts and the artists. During his years in Paris, he briefly worked with Henry Miller became Ananis Nina’s therapists and lover (Decker, 2005). Rank’s most important work on art is Art and Artist (1968). One of the most significant aspects of the book is that Rank was able to inform his writing from his own experience of creativity. Rank’s work was especially influential for Humanistic psychologists.  A common experiential approach to the discussion of creativity can be seen in the later writings of Rollo May (1975).
Rank, a student of Freud’s, broke his ties with Freud because he did not agree with him about the libidinal origins of the creative drive (Boeree, 2006d).  According to Rank, the artist has an especially strong will and desires to remake the world to his or her image but also desires immortality which can only be achieved by identifying with his or her culture. In essence there is a continual battle between dependence and independence with in the artist. Rank also believed that there were different types of artists: the adapted type, neurotic type, and the productive type (Rank, p. 3-33, 1965)
Erich Neumann one of Jung’s students contributed to the study of art and consciousness. His work, Art and the Creative Conscious, is a four essay discussion of the role of art in analytical psychology (Neumann, 1959). Similar to Freud, he describes the development of the artist as the best of many maladjustments.  His writing implies that creativity is the domain of the feminine and that a creative man has experienced a different development of the anima than a non-creative man (p. 19). Neumann’s work contributes a description of the artistic recreation of archetypes. He puts forward the idea that the creation of meaningful art is based on the creation of new images based on the foundational images of the unconscious. This presents an important tool for art criticism as well as the conceptual development of artists (Neumann, p. 108-109, 1959).
Ernst Kris spent his life studying art, psychology, and archeology and was fascinated with Psychoanalysis and art. His book Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (1952) discusses both the strength and weaknesses of the psychoanalytic view with regard to the study of art. His central critique was that psychoanalysts had become mired in their own rhetoric because psychoanalysts had failed to continually question the beliefs on which their theories rest (Kris, p. 13-30, 1952). Psychoanalysis continues to be applied to art criticism in the form that Kris saw as a rote method of interpretation rather than the open method of investigation which he advocated (Kris, p. 13-30, 1952).

Kris thought that Psychoanalysis had helped to demonstrate that artists’ works were influenced by their past and that certain themes existed that were common to the human experience. However, he questioned why there was no inquiry into these themes such as: how they have changed over time due to cultural or socio-economic conditions and which themes had become more or less common. He also thought psychoanalysts failed to understand the relationship between an artist and his or her media (Kris, p. 64-86, 1952).  These questions remain powerful questions for art-related studies.
Henry Murray began as an American Experimental psychologist. It was at Jung’s prompting that Murray began to study Psychoanalysis (Murray, p. 4, 1985). It was through this connection, and in conjunction with his colleague and lover Christina Morgan, that the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) was developed (May, 1975; Taylor, 2006). This test uses images to help draw forward the material of the unconscious and is an example of art as a diagnostic tool.  The TAT, like the process of active imagination, is another conceptual predecessor of art therapy and expressive art therapy.
Murray believed that creativity exists in almost everyone. He believed it required the following factors. A person must devote a sufficient concentration within a given region to different entities with mutual affinity. These entities must have never previously been combined. They must be sufficiently circulated, which requires a ample source of energy. Finally, there must be favorable conditions for combination (Murray, p. 317, 1983). He also stated the following, “Although I have consciously attended to it [creativity] for 30 years as it occurs in lower organisms, in literature, in science, and in interpersonal relations –I have no statistical findings to report, and most of what I have to say is either self-evident, well-known, speculative or hypothetical (Murray, p. 314, 1983)
Hillman, a renegade depth psychologist, formed an alliance with writer Michael Ventura and together they created a diatribe that equally in form, spirit, and subject matter displays the desperate need to bring back the artists –not only to psychology but to our culture. In his book (1992), We’ve had 100 years of therapy and the world is getting worse, Hillman discusses his belief that members of the field of psychology have made some grievous errors (Hillman, 1992). He puts forward the idea that the psychological ideal is fraudulent and detrimental and does not adequately discuss the deeply personal, erratic and creative; he conspicuously uses a literary rather than an academic approach to make his points. Hillman’s work helps portray what has been lost through inadequate understanding of the arts (Hillman, 1989; Hillman, 1992).

Current Applications
The influence of the psychoanalytic tradition is evident in current arts-related studies. Depth psychologists continue to explore how symbol, myth, and archetypes are used in personal growth and understanding (Samuels, 1985). Art therapy largely descends from analytical psychology (Cohen, 1994, Furth 1988, Halprin, 1988) and uses art to diagnose and to heal. Common tests include the Draw a person test, Mother and Child, and House-tree-person technique (Oster. 2004). Some of the contributors to the study of art therapy include: Silver (1990), Yalom (1995), Oster (1987), and Riley (1993). Other art-based techniques derived from psychoanalytic theories such as active imagination, word association, and mandala art are still in common use. However, there has been a substantial amount of confusion because the discipline is derived from a psychoanalytical perspective, developed from and experiential base, and legitimized through experimental means (Tibbetts, 1995).

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