Artist + Analyst : An Introduction


I have, as of late, grown bored of simply offering up criticism of the biological model of mental illness and have, instead, found myself pondering ways of expanding this conversation—questioning how both our theories and practices can be enlarged to more befittingly address the human experience.

I find I keep returning to this suffocating awareness that—from the very young to the very old—we are struggling under the weight of a utilitarian world that ascribes value only to those things that clearly have a practical use and meaning. This emphasis on the functional can readily be seen in an educational system that ‘teaches to the test” at the expense of a more expansive liberal arts education that encourages the development of critical thinking for its own sake, typically drastically cutting arts and physical education programs in favor of the “pragmatic” maths and sciences. It is likewise keenly felt by our retired seniors, scores of whom have confessed to me over the years that they feel they are a “burden” and “irrelevant” because they are no longer of practical benefit to society. We increasingly exist within a means to an end mindset that fails to grasp Einstein’s dicta that imagination is more important than knowledge and that the most beautiful experience we can have is of the mysterious. Indeed, it often appears we have lost the ability to invest our world with any sense of the playful or the sublime. There is a persistent defeated feeling that there is no magic to be found, no secrets left, only the drudgery of the everyday—yet another polarizing political battle waged, another Twitter argument to be had, another dollar to be made that, inevitably, fails still to stretch far enough to ever feel one is doing more than simply surviving..

We are besieged by a world that has begun to feel too knowable, too predictable, and perhaps, for the first time, we are beginning to realize how very awful it is to know too much, to be too certain. We long for something to astonish us, for a feeling of transcendence—anything to break up this pervasive.monotony—to wake up and perhaps not know what the day will bring. Anything, anything, to bring some sense of MAGNITUDE, some feeling that life could possibly still hold an element of surprise. We, perhaps unknowingly (likely unknowingly), long for a touch of the beautiful to enter these lives of daily grind, so that there might at least be some payoff for our toil. We quietly puzzle whether there is any point to all of this struggle? Lives lived indoors, staring at screens, divorced from anything that truly captures us or makes us feel alive. Where is the poetry? The joy? Has our ability to be inspired—to encounter awe—somehow left us?

This is, of course, the nature of complaint of many patients who seek analysis longing to jump start lives that feel deadened and unfulfilling, struggling with relationships that seem to not quite offer all the patient had hoped—all they thought was somehow promised..An omnipresent feeling of dissatisfaction and an often excruciating inability to escape the repetition of one’s life—the terrible feeling that every single aspect of daily existence has been planned, conditioned—leaving one without an experience of choice, spontaneity, or of a singular contribution to the world that feels meaningful. Ultimately, the driving question of “Wasn’t it supposed to be something more?” Symptoms developed to avoid the vague and uncanny premonition that there might just be a gigantic gaping hole in the center of it all, an endless emptiness that, perhaps, cannot be reconciled, no matter how desperately one clamors. A resulting generalized anxiety that settles in one’s bones, seemingly not attached to anything specific, just a constant nagging suspicion that somehow, we must be missing the point. Symptoms as avoidance of a fear one does not wish to know anything about yet cannot escape. Symptoms far preferable. Easier than the alternative.

But Freud, long ago, pointed to a different way of tarrying with this void. Rather than trying to escape this gnawing sense of inescapable loneliness, one could instead look within and draw upon it to produce something profoundly original and innervating, something completely untouched by the dictates of the social world. One could create. Rather than avoiding the felt absence through flight into symptoms, one could instead amplify it through creation: in effect, making a presence of the absence. Rather than stuffing the hole full in an always-failing attempt to disappear it, one could instead inhabit it as one’s own.

With such thoughts swirling through this heart/mind that rarely pauses, I began looking toward those who create, not as a hobby, but as life. Painters, writers, sculptors, musicians, composers, tattoo artists, chefs, pianists, poets, fashion designers, hair artists, singers, dancers, psychoanalysts (yes, psychoanalysts), those creatures on this earth engaged in bringing forth something indelibly new. And I began to wonder about the creative process itself—how a deeper exploration of creativity and aesthetics could broaden analytic theory and practice, perhaps offering a powerful counter corrective to all of this endless “logic.” I speculated why some people feel completely devoid of any creative spirit or rhythm while others know nothing but—indeed, feel they would die without it—and how those committed to the creative life falter and feel when they lose this creative connection. What are the tortuous aspects of creativity and how do artists wrestle with this?

In short, are there secrets to be gleaned from those driven by the creative rhythm?

And, if so, is it possible that the development of creativity could impact one at both the level of the body and the soul, perchance offering some peace to our turbulent minds and overburdened bodies? (Re)aligning us in some way, affording a feeling of universal connection—a bit like a Tetris game where, post-creative act, one experiences oneself and the world, if only for a moment, as just...right….all of the puzzle pieces falling exquisitely into place?

Is creativity our highest nature? And, if so, what tragedy are we enacting upon ourselves by relegating it the dustbin, secondary to all things “practical?”

What damage are we doing, and what can we learn from those who refuse this demand of society to conform, to be subjugated by the routine of capitalist society? It is with these questions in mind that this project was undertaken. I initially began conversing with a handful of artists whose lives are dedicated to their art(s). Through these conversations, a set of questions was developed to which each artist was asked to respond. My desire is to simply insert into the world conversation something diametric to the aim-driven repetitive discourse in which we are currently ensnared. I long to promote the beauty that is here amongst us, the beauty of the meaningless.

Artist responses will be posted as they are received.