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' DEEP CALLING UNTO DEEP: ARTISTIC CREATIVITY AND THE MATERNAL OBJECT Ken Wright
Introduction Transitional phenomena occupy a central place in the thought of Donald Winnicott ( Winnicott 1951, 1971), and Winnicott himself sketched a developmental path from such early creations to the larger worlds of culture and religion (Winnicott 1967a, 1971). In the present paper I want to build on this idea and draw out its implications for the creative process. According to Winnicott, transitional phenomena are constituted in the first year of life when certain ordinary objects become endowed with special significance. Winnicott regarded them as occupying a transitional place in symbolic development. Not yet separate enough to be fully fledged symbols, they are nevertheless more than mere objects, having been endowed by the infant with personal meaning. Typically, the transitional object is the comforting bit of blanket that the infant mouths and caresses. Winnicott called it the `first "not-me" possession' but he saw it as a very special possession which the infant had in some sense created. The notion that the baby under certain circumstances might be able to create its objects is central to Winnicott's theory of personal development. Only when the baby is allowed such an experience can the world be endowed with personal meaning; and only then can there be a lively and creative involvement with the world. It was not Winnicott, but another psychoanalyst, Michael Balint (1959), who coined the phrase `harmonious mix-up' to capture this interpenetration of subject and object in early experience. Balint's term referred to the early relationship with the mother but could equally be applied to the transitional object. Indeed, Winnicott sometimes called such an object a subjective object precisely because of the mix-up of subjective and objective in its constitution. In the bit of blanket, for example, it seemed that the experienced sensory properties of the object - its softness, warmth, and perhaps its smell - somehow embodied an earlier subjective experience with the mother. Like a shrine which the baby had unwittingly made, the bit of blanket preserved within its sensory qualities elements of an earlier experience which the baby still needed. In Winnicott's view, subjective (created) objects could only be formed under certain favourable conditions. Most important was the attitude of the mother who had to be able to mediate the world to her infant in a way that corresponded to infant need.
DR KEN WRIGHT is an Associate Member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society and author of Vision and Separation. A version of this paper was read to the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health (Vic), Melbourne, in May 1997 and will be published in the Australian Journal of Psychotherapy with the title: `Deep calling unto deep: Artistic creativity and mother-infant dialogue' . Address for correspondence: Dr Ken Wright, Slaney House, Magdalen Road, Hadleigh, Suffolk IP7 5AD. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 14(4), 1998 © The author
for Mead. For Winnicott. I shall return to both these notions later. Like mind and self it arises within the social process. If. The maternally mediated object is thus an instrument. the object becomes infused with the baby's feelings and is thus transformed into the object which the baby anticipated. Where there is maternal adaptation.which is precisely the way the impinging object presents itself to the infant. was deeply concerned with those intangible 'objects' called mind and self and he wanted to understand how such objects were related to the social process. on the other hand. then. by examining the relationship between language and experience. objects impinge into experience ( Winnicott 1952. or facilitator of the infant self. both of them important when we try to understand the nature of the art object from a psychoanalytic point of view. Subjective and Objective Language The social behaviourist. The etymology of the word object takes on a new significance in the light of these ideas. it is also intangible.454 BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY (1998) 14(4) The baby's spontaneous gesture. in the second. is the idea that objects of this kind can facilitate self-development. needed to be met and completed by the mother's response. the object is unrelated to the baby's needs and the baby can only submit to it.indeed creating . If the mother failed in this task. First is the idea that an object can be a 'mix-up' of subjective experience and actual physical object. the transitional object. it was the total social environment. George Herbert Mead (1934. we compare language to that earlier symbolic creation. and are thus social in their very constitution. The baby's needs can no longer mould the course of events (mould the object) because the mother's needs and schedules now dominate the situation. The Latin root means literally 'something thrown across the path as an obstacle' ( OED) . is softened and 'maternalized' by the mother's mediation. the crucial medium was the mother-and-baby mix-up. In its absence. His thesis was this: that mind and self do not exist prior to the social process. Mead and Winnicott came from very different places in their thinking but they converged on this point: they both realized that objects could be socially created. 1963). Only then could the crucial mix-up of subjective and objective occur. however. an impinging object is the opposite of a created object. In Winnicott's terminology.what is needed. they would remain foreign and external to the infant's experience. 1956). In the first case. on the other hand. This analysis throws up two notions. Where there is impingement. as Winnicott called it. the infant is obliged to deal with whatever the world throws at it. The created object. so the infant can have a sense of potency in relation to it. but first I want to approach the topic in a different way. there can be a sense of finding . language too is a socially created object. Mead's understanding of the social construction of objects is important but it is the way he extends his understanding to language that I want to explore. second. they are formed by it. Like mind and self. assaulting the baby with their excessive demands. we find the balance between . the baby would experience her ministrations ( originally her presentation of the breast) as alien and imposed (entirely `not-me'). The notion of maternal adaptation is thus central in Winnicott's understanding of healthy development and of creativity. Not being imbued with the infant's subjective anticipations. For Mead. The possible relations between words and experience are in some ways similar to those which Winnicott describes between the infant and his first objects.
we would feel we were finding the right words . as well as objects. to come back to Balint and Winnicott. For example. Merleau-Ponty (1964). At one time. he conceived of language as almost completely external to the individual. as answering to our needs. If we stay with such a distinction. however. If it is not thrust upon us in too rigid or forceful a way. we have to submit our experience to their measure. They spring up between us. According to this notion then. a word becomes a subjective creation. Words. it suggests that words.KEN WRIGHT 455 materiality and meaning has shifted: it now lies further from the concrete pole of the object's constitution. the philosopher Wittgenstein. words are much more than mere labels or ciphers. as it were. almost as though someone was there. When we spoke. his views had changed. in which our own fashioning plays a part. out of our involvement with objects and. or the bit of blanket be transformed into a silent shrine of the mother. even though the relationship with them has become attenuated. It was not so much an external tool as a part of life itself. he thought. When language operates in this way. Mead was not particularly concerned with the finer experiential aspects of language. In this later view. and in different mode. we could suppose that language would feel in touch with our experience and not in any sense imposed upon it. they are part of our living experience. they are infused with our experience and `mixed up' with what we are doing. to understand its meaning. although language is external and exists independently of us. In his later philosophy (Wittgenstein 1953). the rootedness of words in the concrete world is still apparent. they maintain some kind of connection with it. He now spoke of language as being a `form of life'.the very words we needed to express our thought. in one memorable phrase. words can be created and re-created by us. like the bit of blanket. adumbrated in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922). can present (or be presented) to us in different ways (a view which would certainly be accepted by the developmental psychologists). made to submit to us. our own subjective object. It does not. In his early philosophy. When this kind of transformation occurs. It may not be fruitful to discuss Mead further because he theorizes within a different and more social framework than that of Winnicott. complying. can be created and re-created by the baby. which also comes from the outside. but it did concern another investigator of language. Just as objects can be impinging and alien. or adaptive and containing of our experience. he states that `a word is a truncated act': this surely suggests that language is in some way derived from our actions. we experience them as flexible and adaptive. and springing up in response to them. offering them to us. Another philosopher. It is moving towards the way . For Mead. They remained entirely separate from it and were more like an external instrument than a part of the self. a word must be related to as a 'no-thing'. In spite of their distance from bodily experience. In other words. What I shall consider is the way in which language can be felt to relate to our experience in very different ways. to their meaning. so might it also be with words. in Winnicott's terms. This is a way of saying that the essence of words does not lie in their sensory qualities (their sounds or visual form) but in their meaning which is insubstantial and somehow removed from the sensory sound itself. in the same way that the mother's breast. so that it becomes. it yet contains the possibility of being created by us. Where it exists in such an adaptive mode. At another time. were like measuring rods brought up against experience from the outside. described language in this mode as satisfying a `speechless want'. we are able to infuse it with our own meanings and ` maternalize' it to fit our own need. allow its meaning to be grasped within its concrete sensory reality.
Even though his meanings reside largely in objects.they are unequivocally rooted in my experience. and provides potential access to the child's inner self. It offers power and control over increasingly specific elements of self-experience. Such a child already has his own organization of experience. of my experience will be born into language? The result is not a foregone conclusion. as it were. but words belong to everybody. My experience is unique and sacred to me. My symbols belong to me. thoroughly mixed up in his concrete world. and more.. but language has an existence that is independent of me. neither more nor less'. and how he wanted to repeat the experience. Preverbal symbols belong to the self . It is this potentially consensual aspect that differentiates language from preverbal symbols. We have then a child whose experience is already structured within the register of concrete objects he has created.456 BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY (1998) 14(4) Humpty-Dumpty thought of language in Alice Through the Looking Glass: `When I use a word.. . we need to consider a very important point. another in yours. inchoate and incommunicable though this may be. How much. so now the word gives to her (and others) a new kind of power over the child's self. Their meaning exists apart from my experience and is available to all. Through a kind of passion of need. Verbal and Preverbal Symbols When we think of the preverbal child moving into language. which indicated how much he had enjoyed whatever it was. so now. it means just what I choose it to mean. they are still his meanings and constitute the unique world which he has created from the flux of his own experience. this tendency is in continual dialectic with an opposite process . As he struggled to convey his intentions. with the meaning of the other person.an event which constitutes a kind of second birth. and we have to think of this child as now being born into language (a phrase used by Lacan) . to restructure me. it was as though he repeatedly re-created these words. she could usurp the infant's rhythms of desire with the nonverbal schedules and patterns of her own needs. If the mother of the preverbal infant has the power to allow or hinder the growth of the infant self into the concrete forms of the object world. which can also be thought of as the realm of preverbal symbols. then.the capacity of the word to bring its own meaning into me. Just as previously. For although I may struggle to infuse the words of language with my own meaning. the question of language. the word is a sharper and more penetrating instrument than previously existed. she has the power to allow or hinder the growth of this preverbal child into the forms of language. The transitional object is an example of such object-rooted meaning. together with an ever-widening social group. like the question of the baby's feed. it seemed that his few words were stretched to accommodate the entirety of his intentions. I recently watched my little great-nephew struggling to pack his intense subjective experience into a very limited vocabulary. He seemed to have just two words: that. which he accompanied by an urgent movement of his whole body towards the object that he wanted. Language has one foot in my experience. each time infusing them afresh with his whole being. In this sense. a meaning for the other person which may not correspond to my experience. And for this purpose. is a social one: is it my own meaning that infuses the feed or word? Or is it the meaning of the other person? But this question is now fought out on a different level and the weapon (language) is more lethal because it will be shared and consensual.
a nurturing role of the mother. Does this mean that the artist is struggling to look after himself and that artistic creation is a form of self-communion? . Firstly. they tend merely to indicate it. Because of this isomorphism of symbol and represented (or presented) experience. as the prime distance sense. look after the self in a maternal way? I shall develop this idea as I go along. or presentational form of symbol.it serves above all the needs of the self and its economy of well-being. non-verbal symbols can be thought of as maternal in function. The transitional object. If non-verbal symbols arise within the maternal relationship. So.they have arisen in response to the inner needs of the self. They less readily evoke experience. is related through textural and tactile similarities to comforting sensory experience with the mother. non-verbal symbols are made out of sensory forms which more or less closely reflect the forms of actual experience. Having a more arbitrary and conventional nature. one might say.KEN WRIGHT 457 This difference between preverbal and verbal symbols leads. This is different from the later relation between word and object which is arbitrary and dissimilar. A second point follows from the first: the relation between non-verbal symbol and object is one of similarity or isomorphism. on the other hand. presentational symbols to the art object. if language has arisen to meet the communicative need of separated subjects to bridge their separateness. In summary.the dream symbol is a case in point. Lacan 1953). too. might not the art object. looking after the self's well-being in the way the mother did (this would in fact be a way of talking about the transitional object). But because they have no shared meaning. may be particularly important as the infant acquires a more distanced relationship with the object. vision. like the generation of preverbal symbols. They can be thought of as coming under the aegis of the father (cf. for example. To think of the art object within this framework might. Such idiographic representations mean much to the person who creates them . although non-verbal symbols may be shared and conventional. and based on personal experience. then. towards communication with the other person. In this sense. and the progressive separation of looking and having may constitute an important step in the generation of more representational symbols (Wright 1991). We can now make the bridge from non-verbal or. verbal symbols. Later preverbal symbols almost certainly make use of different sensory modalities. I shall therefore summarize the salient features of non-verbal symbols. is a self-enclosed activity. they are not well suited to interpersonal communication. I believe. They perhaps help the subject to key into his own experience but not nearly so readily to convey it to others. non-verbal symbols are more selfcontained . the preverbal capability is directed inwards . but again in iconic fashion. however suggest that artistic creation. Thirdly. verbal representations are typically more distant from experience. basing my remarks on Langer (1942. This distinction is important when we try to understand the nature of the art object which is frequently non-verbal in its constitution. they are generally idiosyncratic. for example. Whereas the verbal capability is directed outwards. 1953) who has written extensively on the art object as a non-discursive. in Langer's terms. would seem to belong to a more radical separateness of self and other. non-verbal symbols are well suited to portray experience in a way that verbal symbols are not. perpetuating. to a fundamental difference in function.
cajoles and forces to expression. then. the artist is both supplicant and provider. which he coaxes and attacks. and gives up to him what he wants. Successful art does. in a very deep way. or regathered. In this sense. Taking the practical and communicative instrument of language. the poet 'sound(s) his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world'. In what way does he relate to it? Not. Based on this experience. but more power than the word to move the emotions. of being confirmed as a self. the infant goes on to create his comforting bit of blanket. When the medium yields. Creativity and Maternal Responsiveness I can now link back to the beginning of my paper and make some statements about artistic creation. seem to communicate something. the artist's inward-looking forms do somehow reach out towards an audience. the artist in words has a different task. this story is not about instinctual passion and its satisfaction. Bending its outer-directed and limiting forms. through persuading or coercing it to conform to the pattern of his emerging sensibility. as opposed to the world of private symbols. who in turn resonates to their expressive forms. The artist's medium corresponds to the 'not-me' world out of which the infant creates his first objects. I want you to consider the artist facing his medium. he is the more or less adaptive. object-mother. It seems. . In the intensity of his passion. that in the work of art. In this way. With these thoughts in mind.458 BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY (1998) 14(4) There certainly may be some truth in this contention. he relives the primitive anxiety of not being held and responded to. which allows itself to become a fitting container or vehicle of the self. it is not about the pleasure principle. and the artist's private symbols do seem to be fashioned in such a manner as to evoke a response in others. yet perhaps it is not the whole story. the artist's medium is heir to the adaptive mother . As Winnicott so often stressed. they seek out the inwardness of the other person. that the artist forces his private symbols to breach his alienation. and of being gathered. In his hands. he starts from a different place. with the despair of one who had to comply with an impinging. It is about something which psychoanalysis is only now finding a way of talking about . If this is the case with non-verbal forms. to make deep contact with another person. But with the faith and hope and determination of one who believes the medium will somehow provide him with what he wants. he experiences the joy of self-realization. into a maternal object. With less specificity. As Walt Whitman has put it: although unique and `untranslatable'. baby and mother. they acquire an expressive function which is not their primary nature and he too becomes a portrayer of the feeling self. or unadaptive. As in the first experience. When the medium refuses him. unalterable world. through his medium. the object complies. The infant creates the mother's breast because the mother allows to the infant the experience of a compliant world. And so it goes on: we transform the object world into our world because we have learned that it allows this transformation and we need it to be this way. he has to turn it inwards. he forces them to adapt to his inner needs. He blazons forth his essence through common words and touches the deep in other people through the medium of language which he has transformed.the artist creates his art object out of his medium. I think.the joy of being recognized and responded to. he is like the baby in a state of subjective need. Although his motives may be the same.
and with luck. consider these to be the mainsprings of creativity. the medium will provide a holding and containing place for the self to be. in more than a metaphorical sense. I need to open up the question of what constitutes a visual object. In our formative experience of objects. To me. 1991). I shall pursue this question in my own way (Wright 1991). What you have produced is a schematic visual symbol of the screwdriver. what is more important than the need to make reparation is the quest of the artist to refind. I mention this because Kleinian analytic writers. the question must be asked as to what kind of dialogue could be constitutive of a specifically visual object? In trying to answer this.or recalcitrant . or perhaps discover for the first time. in forcing the medium to respond to him in this way. and only then. I have developed the idea that the art object is formed through a kind of dialogue or dialectic between the artist and his chosen medium. And if you wanted to convey that `more'. This idea is central to my thesis but. I shall consider two further questions. What would it mean to think of the self as an integrated object? And what special problems or difficulties might there be in achieving such a complex entity? It is. before we can go further in applying it to the visual arts. If I am right in thinking that dialogue with a (maternal) medium/ object is central to the creative process. of course. In what I have so far discussed. The second question transposes the first into the arena of the self. I have suggested that this medium is some part of the sensorily perceived external world. the basic responsiveness and adaptation of the mother . the primary project of art has little to do with guilt and reparation. You could draw this. I need to do some more groundwork. the artist is obliging it. Looking and Integration I now want to back off from the process of creation and consider more closely the object which the artist creates. anyone would recognize it. information from different sensory channels.in Winnicott's terms.KEN WRIGHT 459 I shall develop these ideas further. a necessary condition of the self feeling alive and real. but already you will see that in my view. From this point of view.which now fits the artist's self because he has made it that way . you would soon be wrestling with the problems of representing . It has a particular visual form .an object in which a person has synthesized. Guilt and reparation may be a part of this process but they are not sufficient motives of the artist's endeavour. With regard to the first question: let us imagine a simple object. a responsive mother through its responsiveness. for example? These considerations lead me to the idea of an integrated object . Only through that holding medium can the artist's self be gathered in. According to such a view.can the work of integration be accomplished. such as a screwdriver. the artist's struggle with his medium is the struggle to invent.mother of infancy. and only in that place .a certain outline or shape. But there is more to the screwdriver than its visual form. to be the adaptive . and coherently accommodated. Since I shall take as my paradigm the visual arts. how do we integrate the different inputs we get through different sensory channels? How do we join together touch and vision. which the artist manipulates in such a way that it brings to realization the forms of his emotional life. or create for himself. notably Hanna Segal (1952. in relation to the self that we come back to the social dimension and the idea of struggling with a medium within a dialectic or dialogue.
I shall argue that. So we could say that the visual image becomes a container and organizer of our close-up. In relation to the self. It seems reasonable to suppose that through development we build up. `what I touch'.are subsumed within our visual impression. say that what is packed into the visual image of the object is a summary of our experience with it. I cannot see my own self. I could stop at this point.and remembers . an object of aesthetic contemplation rather than a blueprint for action (Langer 1953). and the task of integrating selfexperience as we move into and through the social world is an important and neverending goal. to speak of the self as an integrated object? What elements of self-experience might have to be integrated? I want to suggest that because the self is a social creation. however. it seems. . all its practical possibilities . then. and progressively modify. When language is brought to bear on this visual organization of experience. even more. the word in turn will subsume it. The visual can thus be thought of as an organizing envelope for other forms of experience and it is in this sense that I would call the visual object an integrated object. but only through your eyes or those of someone else. Thus. If the aim of this paper was merely to discuss the representation of experience with external physical objects. the task of integration is above all a social one and the elements to be integrated are social elements. `hands on' experience with the object (vision leads. the elements to be integrated are all generated within the child's own experience: for example. there is an essential disjunction within experience. we often need help to achieve it. because of its social nature. Each new organization.460 BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY (1998) 14(4) solidity and mass and how to find a visual form for tactile and bodily experience. It was his total physical apprehension of the object which he wanted to convey in his visual forms.the things we could do with it . Looking. is anticipatory touching. I would still have to consider how the schema or image of the object might become unhinged from practical action. Self-integration and the Other's View What might it mean. each implies . Here. the schemata of looking subsume the schemata of touch. when we look at an object. A contrast can be made with the integration of experience in relation to physical objects. because this task is intrinsically difficult but. and `what I do' form a continuous sequence in relation to the object. But my main concern is to apply the notion of an `integrated object' within the context of the developing self. Renoir once said he was only satisfied with his paintings of nude women when he felt he could slap their bottoms. `what I see'. action follows). implies a greater distance from the object and a greater complexity of organization. with some truth. For the self too never ceases to develop. yet at the same time. Perhaps the creation of art objects is one of the means which human beings have discovered of progressing towards such a complex goal. as John MacMurray (1957) said. The visual image of an object is the representation of that anticipation. And because vision is such a leading sense. Eventually I can see it. It' s not so much `what I see' and `what I do' that have to be integrated. the world of action becomes subsumed within the world of vision. innumerable schemata of this kind. This is one meaning of the self being a social structure. only you can see it. developing out of the social matrix. it is `what I do' and ` what you see' that have to be brought together.earlier modes of relating to the object. We could.
Prompted by the sounds inside the room and his own curiosity. then. his own project slips away from him.in other words indirectly . It comes from JeanPaul Sartre's classic work. No longer a subject. the gap between other-derived image and inner self-experience can never be closed completely: it is a function of our ultimate separateness. was one of the first to write about this discontinuity of self-experience. though he explored it. As a result. on account of his uncoordinated motor behaviour. Lacan thought that this disjunction created a fundamental split in the self that haunted the person for the rest of his life. when we experience ourselves as understood by the other person. he has crept furtively to the door and he peeps through the keyhole. Not only does the external image or appraisal of the self fail to match the self's subjective experience. he stands transfixed and transformed in the Other's eyes. According to Sartre. though it seems more probable that such a state of affairs is a function of self-fragility. There is always a gap between how I feel and how others see me. He has been transformed into this object that the Other sees. these two elements come from different sides of the great divide between self and other. He noted the discrepancy that existed. A twoyear-old is reputed to have said to his mother: `Mummy! I haven't got a head!' The point is that we cannot see our own faces and heads in a direct fashion. The Other's looking is then . unloved and abandoned. we feel loved. Where the self feels more firmly grounded. accepted and recognized. We can touch and feel them.KEN WRIGHT 461 The problem of seeing myself exists first on the level of my physical being. We are utterly dependent on an image from the outside in order to know fully who we are.can we see how we look and complete the picture. the child's sense of himself. such disjunction does seem to lie at the heart of human experience. to be a dialectic in the self between inner subjectivity and social reflection and I want to illustrate this with a rather extreme example. Jacques Lacan (1949). But at times it can be made bearable. but only in a mirror . by contrast. The reflected image. and what might have been his experience of himself from the inside. at least initially. Be that as it may. life-destroying power of the Other's view. If the discrepancy is small. would be fragmented. In moments of such closeness. we feel outside of the human fold. In this example. A person is looking through a keyhole. would be complete and clear. between the image that the child saw. The moment he realizes this. there may be greater capacity to withstand the Medusalike. All is subjectivity drains away. It is so overwhelming that the result is catastrophic: the subjective sense of self is swallowed up all together. thought Lacan. in relation to the image in the mirror. our social reflections (from the outside) can never link up completely with our subjective experience (from the inside) and the width of this gap is one factor determining how we feel about ourselves. He becomes immersed in what he is doing. Whether or not mirrors play a critical role in development. they would always lie beyond a person's reach. we may feel an illusion of oneness and we then can say that we do feel accepted and recognized. this danger is inherent in the Other's look. at the time the event occurred. like the image in the mirror. The perfection and completion of the reflected image were elusive. the dialectic has moved to one extreme. Suddenly he realizes that he himself is being watched: someone has surprised him in the act of peeping. The French analyst. There seems. Being and Nothingness (Sartre 1957). he has become an object and appearance for the Other. If the discrepancy is large.
I will make for myself through the created object. recognize me. and given a place to be in the maternal view. so now. which convinces me that you are who you say you are. The word symbol comes from the Greek word symbollein which means literally to throw together. Something similar lies at the heart of empathy. is where creative activity has a part to play. we become held and contained within the loving ambience of this other person. you find a resting place within my heart. It was this secret recognition that gave to the individual the needed sense of certainty. . Once again. I have to be able to feel your understanding in my heart. at root. I am talking colloquially because I think it makes the point more strongly. Integration of the self.e. because of the child's extreme dependence on the mother. say something. the mother's view is the medium out of which the self will be made. analysts try and understand their patients and express this understanding in words. correlatively. I need you to show it in some way and then I will believe you. You show me something. Human beings make love to each other. My experience finds an allowing place within your consciousness.' The key ingredients in syntonic understanding are empathy and identification. every single piece of the child's inner life has to negotiate this contact with the mother's view. It poses additionally the task of integrating the Other's view of all these bits. but there is always a shortfall and this. as Dame Julian of Norwich once said.462 BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY (1998) 14(4) syntonic with our own feeling and. is more or less harshly disallowed from being. know me. does not merely involve the integration of all the different bits of my own experience. friends sympathize with each other. and the means by which they recognized each other was by a revelation of their seals. or it clashes with this view and. It is no good your merely saying that you love me. I will be guarded: you may not be a member of the right society. Just as the mother herself is the infant's first medium out of which the rudiments of self and world are created. of course. empathic recognition) of all these bits. I suggest that in the relation to the art object. not by a prosaic statement of fact. I think. The word is said to have its origin in the practices of a secret society: members carried a medallion which had been broken in two halves. Each piece of subjectivity must reach out into it: either it is seen and embraced. do something.if the form you enact fits with the person I feel myself to be . There are. unlike integration of the external object. and. etymology is helpful.then `all manner of thing shall be well'. both the artist's and our own. and thus within the maternally accepted self. In the empathic response there is good match or fit between my subjective experience and the bit that comes from you. From a developmental point of view. You are the person who loves me and recognizes me because you are able to make the necessary correspondence. Acceptance is best conveyed by a resonating identificatory response. If I feel you resonating to me . And what each one of us yearns for is a state of complete acceptance (i. All these ways are more or less successful. Each person showed his seal to the other and the two halves had to join together to make a whole. many interpersonal ways of trying to bring about such a state of affairs. If I do not feel this to be the case. there is an attempt to make good the deficit in human understanding: `What I cannot get from the other person (originally the mother) in the way of syntonic reflections.
give back to the baby a rich portrayal of its state of being at any particular moment. in essence. responding with patterns of sounds and gestures of her own. all of which. it gives form to the baby's experience. The self that can be in the world (in an original sense) is a self which has put the question of being to the mother. Every gesture of the self or. the infant discovers and becomes the self that potentially he is. the mother's facial expressions are a later medium of selfrealization. The mother reads these changing states in a more or less continuous fashion. Winnicott (1967b).the mother's gestures and exclamations . in a pioneering way.although recognizably the same as the baby's rhythm. Stern describes how the mother intuitively reads in her baby the signs of its changing subjective states. It enables one to see how the early processes of facial confirmation and feedback are amplified and extended through the later preverbal period. It is thus that the mother could be said to re-create the baby's experience. his whole being . each spontaneous gesture must pass through the medium of the mother before it can come to be. which bears the stamp of this particular mother. For example. it is at the same time a transformation. In his account.KEN WRIGHT 463 The empathic view is thus heir to the adaptive mother. of excitement and satisfaction which the baby displays as it engages in particular tasks (he calls these `vitality affects'). What such newer formulations make possible is a view of the self and selfdevelopment which is fundamentally social. Stern describes how the mother develops a whole range of non-verbal responses. or utter cries whose rhythm expresses his arousal and satisfaction. which repeat in their form the forms and patterns of the infant's arousal.all his vital functions . being at its height in the later preverbal period.within which the baby's self may come to be realized.the state and rhythm of the baby's being alive. as Winnicott says. if the baby is reaching for a toy. Attunement then. reflecting to the infant a lively image of its own mood. provides a new and more diverse maternal medium . Together with the field of the mother's facial expressiveness. The mother provides the resonating medium and. within that resonance. . Yet her portrayal is never mere mimicry . All this reveals to the attuned observer the infant's vitality affect . and carries with it a stamp of her acceptance. The mother responds to such expressive signs with a portrayal or enactment of her own which manifestly reflects the baby's rhythms. Daniel Stern's (1985) work on attunement is a further development of this way of thinking. it is formed out of dialogue. This is the sense in which the self is essentially dialogic.will be expressive of this task. he is not so much concerned with the big explosions of affect ('categorical affects') as with the lower key. The mother's breast is the first realization of the infant self and the infant's first creation. has written of the importance of the mother's face as the child's first mirror. He may hold his breath in concentration and then suddenly release it. while the harsh and unaccepting view (the Sartrian `Look') is heir to the impinging object-mother to which the self must give way. but more ubiquitous rhythms. Empathic Dialogue and Self-realization A chapter of psychoanalytic theory is beginning to be written which places more emphasis than previously on empathic seeing and dialogue for the development of a sense of self.
and creates a place in which elements of subjectivity can coexist and interrelate with each other. in terms of the baby's ontogenesis. I have described two different kinds of maternal response. But in all these senses. facilitates the realization of the self's potential. the fabric of the artist's self. Thus. albeit in progressively less concrete ways as development proceeds. a maternal container or home for the baby's self. Every art object is unfinished and merely the stepping stone to a further attempt. but the task of shifting the boundary towards such an outcome will surely continue. the second facilitates it. Within the structure of the art object there are continuing dialogue and conversation which enshrine and perpetuate the maternal relationship but never completely define the self. rooted in maternally sensitive and adaptive behaviour. it is that which makes the baby feel real . he now attempts to integrate those subjective elements.the maternal answer to the infant's gesture. the artist retrieves elements of his subjectivity which were in danger of being lost. A spontaneous gesture is held within a containing form. The art object is the result of this essay. which is a kind of resurrected self. with the help of this medium. It is. It provides a medium out of which the subjective self can be realized in an external form (as a subjective object). to create an object which furthers the realization of the artist's self. precipitating the child as an objective object and banishing subjective experience beyond the fold of maternal acceptance. Within his developing creation. the mother's portrayal is a non-verbal symbol of the baby's self at that particular moment. each in their different ways formative of a sense of self.464 BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY (1998) 14(4) From the point of view of semiology. but this is certainly not the case. The Sartrian type is external to. It is here. as though it were a kind of surrogate mother. within the art object: containing form and resonating experience. which through his medium have come to inhabit the non-verbal forms which he has fashioned. The process of creation can be seen as a struggle on two fronts: firstly. call and answer. Complete recognition and acceptance may be unrealizable. I may seem to have suggested that the art object is a finished. What I have emphasized in the development of the self is the way it is created through a kind of dialogue with the mother: it is a structure of gesture and response. with the help of his medium. a structure which resonates. to create a medium which is more adaptive and responsive to the artist's need than the mother originally was. There is one further more point to be made. in Balint's term. which is heir to the mother's attuning and reflecting response. Whereas the first type of situation is hostile to the task of self-integration. A similar situation prevails. From yet another point of view. it offers forms for feeling which may facilitate the child's handling of his own experience. it provides a place for the baby's experience. The second type. Art as Maternal Object It can be assumed that each person's experience is balanced between these opposing tendencies and modes of maternal response. . and destructive of subjective experience. secondly. a mix-up of artist and object. I suggest. and therefore static object. It not only provides a containing place under the aegis of the mother. and is in continuity with. that I would place the creation of the art object. where the self is searching for maternal containment. the resonating maternal form can be said to look after the baby's self.
therefore. only one chance. and the multiplicity of forms he is able to try on for fit. In approaching this topic. For the viewer too. it is certainly the case that the successful work of art transcends the limits of the artist's own life. I believe that our . in this sense. It may be. and in the objects he creates. and finds in his medium. The mother. If we emphasize the likeness of the art object to a transitional creation. If. struggling to find forms for his own experience. We have. The baby reaches out . From this point of view. we are always aware of there being an Other who created this object. If we found. But compared to the artist's ongoing relation to his medium. the art object is a medium for self-realization. they have in the end transcended his solipsistic circle and made meaningful contact with other human beings. within them each viewer may experience an enlargement and confirmation of his being. It seems. It is true that we can see the art object differently through multiple viewings. on the other hand. Even if the artist' s efforts were driven primarily by the need to restore his own self. Where a work of art is successful. for example. we stressed that the baby's creation of a transitional object arises from a need for dialogue with the mother . a satisfaction of his yearning to be recognized and confirmed in his deepest self. important to ask whether this communicative aspect of artistic creation is part of the artist's deepest drive. it would follow that our relation to it mirrors. it is a finished product.the needed maternal response within the new object which he has created.something which is threatened by her absence .KEN WRIGHT Art as Communication 465 It would take a further paper to discuss the relation of viewer to art object within the terms of the discourse I have established. for the viewer. Although there is no biographical specificity in our response. the artist's own relationship to his work. I would have to say that. the artist will be seen as self-involved.and finds . the artist reaches out. the finally created object is one of a myriad possible forms which were tried and rejected. The baby's need is to preserve the forms of a needed experience within an object of his own creation. it is heir to the mother whose responsive forms were never sufficient for the self's realization. however. To return to the experience of the viewer. Such awareness is part of our experience of the object. we are thrown back on the self-enclosed and selfpreserving aspects of the object. or merely something contingent and circumstantial. and it may be hard to say whether this fertility lies in the artist's own forms or within ourselves. that a certain painting had been done by a dog. It is clear from this analysis that an art object which is valued by the audience has broken out of its self-enclosure and achieved a kind of communication. has made her response. Whereas for the artist. In the same way that his forms have for him become the living substantiation of his own self. so also do they offer to the viewer a multiplicity of forms which he can inhabit. that one of the things that determines our judgement of a work of art is the degree to which we are able to experience it as having a richness of resonance with our own self. for the viewer too. the viewer's experience is limited. But I would also have to speak of the relative fixity of the art object for the viewer as compared to the artist. you might say. as it were. There are two ways of approaching this question. in important ways.the communicational matrix of art comes closer into view.
Segal. (1952) A psycho-analytical approach to aesthetics. Langer. (1951) Transitional objects and transitional phenomena: a study of the first not me possession. In Collected Papers . In The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. J-P.466 BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOTHERAPY (1998) 14(4) experience of the object would be significantly diminished. G. D. S. it presents to us .W. . Strauss). MA: Harvard University Press. (1967b) Mirror role of mother and family in child development.the forms we did not know we needed until they called out a resonating response within us. London: Tavistock.H. H. (1934) Mind. A. Lacan. In Ecrits: A Selection (trans. If suddenly one were to be alone in the world. (1959) Thrills and Regressions. In Ecrits: A Selection (trans. Also in Playing and Reality. there would be little comfort from non-human creations. A. 1971. J. Self and Society (Ed. References Balint.W. Winnicott. Stern. pp. 1977. In Playing and Reality. The artist sounds his `barbaric yawp' with an unspoken question into the void. MacMurray. The artist is a master at creating non-verbal forms embodying his experience. (1963) From dependence towards independence in the development of the individual. 1965. 1971. (1957) The Self as Agent. J. Lacan. R.K. 1958. 229-242. (1953) The function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis. Is there anybody there who will answer? The viewer who responds to this call and resonates to the artist's work. London: Hogarth Press.the audience . 214-42. M.Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis. and this places him in continuity with the mother. 1977.he becomes the Other. A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. Norris). London: Faber and Faber. C. Barnes). London: Tavistock. (1964) On the phenomenon of language. or mother.human deep unto human deep . Phantasy and Art. S. McCleary). pp. Through this bridge of the artist's form there arises a sense of deep communion. (1952) Psychoses and child care. (1991) Dream. London: Tavistock. D. D. M. who confirmed and resonated to his experience long ago. H. London: Free Association Books.W. Segal. London: Hogarth Press. Sartre. D. who confirms the artist as a vital member of the group. 83-92. It begins to explain how such a sense of intersubjective communication is achieved and the importance of the nonverbal vehicle (originally the forms the mother created) in bringing it about. London: Methuen. Winnicott. (1957) Being and Nothingness (trans. (1967a) The location of cultural experience. The work of Stern and Winnicott underlines the importance to human beings of being recognized and responded to from a very early age. New York: Basic Books. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mead. Langer. pp. Winnicott. London: Tavistock.Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis.is perhaps an essential part of our response to art. Winnicott. London: Tavistock. Merleau-Ponty. Mead. J. H. (1956) On Social Psychology -Selected Papers (Ed. 1-25. Evanston. pp. Sheridan). In Collected Papers . 1986.W. D. London: Tavistock. 1971. A. The desire to feel a sense of communication . London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. D. London: Routledge. (1953) Feeling and Form. completes the circle . In The Work of Hanna Segal. (1949) The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I. The artist's creative activity not only keeps alive for himself this maternal function. Winnicott.K.H. Sheridan). In Signs (trans. (1985) The Interpersonal World of the Infant. IL: Northwestern University Press. In Playing and Reality. G. 1958. (1942) Philosophy in a New Key. London: Tavistock.W. Cambridge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.W.
Wittgenstein. (1922) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (trans. Wittgenstein. L. Oxford: Blackwell. G. Pears and B.E. 1961. (1971) Playing and Reality. . D. Anscombe). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.M. (1991) Vision and Separation.F. L. Between Mother and Baby. D. London: Tavistock. K.W.KEN WRIGHT 467 Winnicott. London: Free Association Books. McGuiness). (1953) Philosophical Investigations (trans.F. Wright.
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