On not being able to paint

My brother is a painter. He paints trompe l’oile - which means fool the eye. Here is one of his paintings. 

battle-of-fredericksbuerg-ken-fuller

Not my style but he is good at it. Somehow that he is an artist and was also my mother’s favorite led me to avoid art, focusing instead on intellectual pursuits. Still something in me kept wanting to paint and draw. My brother once said that anyone could draw, which was not encouraging to me at all. I took the art classes in school that were required but once finished with them I turned away from painting or any kind of art for many years. I think the last thing I made was a paper mache dog that I meant to be a dachshund but looked sort of like a weird brown worm with legs and ears.

I lived in Portland, Maine for a long time. Portland is the home to a well regarded degree- granting art college. In the early 90’s I decided to take a drawing course through their continuing studies program. I hoped to find it a class for people who did not think of themselves as artists, a class that would support and encourage people like me who wanted to draw but were intimidated by the doing of it. I did not find that — the people in the course saw themselves as artists and then there was the critique of every assignment. I dropped out.

A couple of years later my good friend and I found two wild wonderful women artists who were offering classes for people just like us. And it was just what I needed. Supportive, encouraging, full of laughter — a place where my very timid artist self could creep out and start to experiment, to express myself in paint.

Along the way I discovered that I love art supplies. I loved accumulating tubes of watercolors and oil paints. Lots of them. Brushes. Paper. Canvases. I was a very well supplied pretty unproductive artist. After a while the class died out. I painted a little more. I used them in my analysis. But away from the class, just on my own I struggled to paint anything. And then I stopped. And then I gave away all my supplies.

Fast forward to the last 3 years when I discovered the wonderful world of online art courses. I did Life Book 2016. I began again to accumulate art supplies. My lust for paints and brushes and the like was reawakened. I even did a few of the projects. But I still felt inhibited. And besides I was finishing my book. I watched every video. I liked the idea of mixed media. Images of potential projects would come to me but they never came to life on paper, mostly because I hated that I couldn’t bring into being what my mind’s eye saw.

I stumbled onto Effy Wild and fell in love. I signed up for her Book of Days in 2017 and again this year. I have watched every video, read every PDF.  But no projects done. Lots of ideas. Same old inhibitions. 

In addition to being a therapist, I have also been in Jungian analysis for a long time. It is where I can struggle with my demons and learn more about myself. You might think that therapists make good therapy patients but really, not so much. The very same things that make it hard for me to paint make it hard for me to surrender to the process of analysis. But unlike with painting, I have kept at it. And I guess that despite my lack of painting, I actually have kept at that too, just in a slightly odd way.

This past week I remembered a book I read at least 30 years ago — and truth be told, did not really understand when I read it. It is a bit of a classic published in 1950, written by Marion Milner, herself an analyst. I dug out the book, On Not Being Able to Paint. And began to read it. There in the foreword was this:

It is fascinating for the reader to follow the author’s attempts to rid herself of the obstacles which prevent her 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 therapeutic 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 the 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 recognisable whole when, in fact, the thought or mood seeking expression had not yet reached that stage’. Nothing can resemble more closely than 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’.

Milner, Marion. On Not Being Able to Paint

 

© Cheryl Fuller, 2016. All  rights reserved.