On Not Being Able to Paint – Marion Milner 1950

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against...

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against Fascism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Foreword by Anna Freud

Marion Milner‘s treatment of psychic creativity differs in several respects from those well-established approaches to the subject to which psycho-analytic readers owe whatever familiarity with it they possess.  She chooses as the object of her scrutiny not the professional and recognized artist but herself as a ‘Sunday-painter’; not the finished masterpiece but her own fumbling and amateurish beginner’s efforts to draw and paint.  In short, she analyses not the mysterious and elusive ability of the genius who achieves self-expression through the medium of painting, but – as the title of the book suggests – the all too common and distressing restrictions by which the creativity of the average adult individual is held in check.

It is fascinating for the reader to follow the author’s attempts to rid herself of the obstacles which prevent her from painting, and to compare this fight for freedom of artistic expression with the battle for free association and the uncovering of the unconscious mind which make up the core of an analyst’s work.  The amateur painter, who first puts pencil or brush to paper, seems to be in much the same mood as the patient during his initial period on the analytic couch.  Both ventures, the analytic as well as the creative one, seem to demand similar external and internal conditions.  There is the same need for ‘circumstances in which it is safe to be absent-minded’ (i.e. for conscious logic and reason to be absent from one’s mind).  There is the same unwillingness to transgress beyond certain reassuring limits of the secondary process and ‘to accept chaos as a temporary stage’.  There is the same fear of the ‘plunge into no-differentiation’ and the disbelief in the ‘spontaneous ordering forces’ which emerge, once the plunge is taken.  There is, above all, the same terror of the unknown.

Evidently, it demands as much courage from the beginning painter to look at objects in the external world and see them without clear and compact outlines, as it demands courage from the beginning analysand to look at his own inner world and suspend secondary elaboration.  There are even the same faults committed.  The painter interferes with the process of creation when, in the author’s words, he cannot bear the ‘uncertainty about what is emerging long enough, as if one had to turn the scribble into some recognizable whole when, in fact, the thought or mood seeking expression had not yet reached that stage’.  Nothing can resemble more closely that this the attitude of haste and anxiety on the analyst’s or patient’s part which leads to premature interpretation, closes the road to the unconscious and puts a temporary stop to the spontaneous upsurge of the id-material. On the other hand, when anxieties and the resistances resulting from them are overcome, and the ‘sur-render of the planning conscious intention has been achieved’, both – painter and analysand – are rewarded by ‘a surprise, both in form and content’.  It is at this juncture only that we meet the essential difference between the analytic process and the process of creation.  The legitimate result of analysis is the inner experience of formerly unknown affects and impulses which find their final outlet in the ego-processes of verbalization and deliberate action.  The creative processes in art, on the other hand, ‘remains within the realm in which unknown affects and impulses find their outlet, through the way the artist arranges his medium to form harmonies of shapes, colours or sounds’;  whether deliberate action is affected or not in the last issue, the main achievement is, according to the author, a joining of that split between mind and body that can so easily result from trying to limit thinking to thinking only in words.

…  Readers who have personal experience of any form of creative work, whether literary or artistic, will welcome the enlightening description of ’emptiness as a beneficent state before creation’, and will acknowledge willingly, although shamefacedly, the truth of her brilliant explanation of the confusion in the creator’s (especially an author’s) mind between the orgiastic feelings during creation and the value of the created.'”

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3 Responses to On Not Being Able to Paint – Marion Milner 1950

  1. Pingback: Object relations link | Cool lady blog

  2. coolperson1 says:

    Reblogged this on Cool lady blog and commented:

  3. Katherine says:

    Reblogged this on How my heart speaks and commented:
    Very good

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