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d7ad8 paint

The Practice of Psychotherapy: Essays on the Psychology of the Transference and Other Subjects

I have turned these hints to practical account, urging my patients at such times to paint in reality what they have seen in dream or fantasy.

As a rule I am met with the objection, “But I am not a painter!”

To this I usually reply that neither are modern painters, and that consequently modern painting is free for all, and that anyhow it is not a question of beauty but only of the trouble one takes with the picture.

How true this is I saw recently in the case of a talented professional portraitist; she had to begin my way of painting all over again with pitiably childish efforts, literally as if she had never held a brush in her hand.

To paint what we see before us is a different art from painting what we see within.

Many of my more advanced patients, then, begin to paint.

I can well understand that everyone will be profoundly impressed with the utter futility of this sort of dilettantism.

Do not forget, however, that we are speaking not of people who still have to prove their social usefulness, but of those who can no

longer see any sense in being socially useful and who have come upon the deeper and more dangerous question of the meaning of their own individual lives.

To be a particle in the mass has meaning and charm only for the man who has not yet reached that stage, but none for the man who is sick to death of being a particle.

The importance of what life means to the individual may be denied by those who are socially below the general level of adaptation, and is invariably denied by the educator whose ambition it is to breed mass-men.

But those who belong to neither category will sooner or later come up against this painful question.

Although my patients occasionally produce artistically beautiful things that might very well be shown in modern “art” exhibitions, I nevertheless treat them as completely worthless when judged by the canons of real art.

As a matter of fact, it is essential that they should be considered worthless, otherwise my patients might imagine themselves to be artists, and the whole point of the exercise would be missed.

It is not a question of art at all or rather, it should not be a question of art but of something more and other than mere art, namely the living effect upon the patient himself.

The meaning of individual life, whose importance from the social standpoint is negligible, stands here at its highest, and for its sake the patient struggles to give form, however crude and childish, to the inexpressible.

But why do I encourage patients, when they arrive at a certain stage in their development, to express themselves by means of brush, pencil, or pen at all?

Here again my prime purpose is to produce an effect.

In the state of psychological childhood described above, the patient remains passive; but now he begins to play an active part.

To start off with, he puts down on paper what he has passively seen, thereby turning it into a deliberate act.

He not only talks about it, he is actually doing something about it.

Psychologically speaking, it makes a vast difference whether a man has an interesting conversation with his doctor two or three times a week, the results of which are left hanging in midair, or whether he has to struggle for hours with refractory brush and colours, only to produce in the end something which, taken at its face value, is perfectly senseless.

If it were really senseless to him, the effort to paint it would be so repugnant that he could scarcely be brought to perform this exercise a second time.

But because his fantasy does not strike him as entirely senseless, his busying himself with it only increases its effect upon him.

Moreover, the concrete shaping of the image enforces a continuous study of it in all its parts, so that it can develop its effects to the full.

This invests the bare fantasy with an element of reality, which lends it greater weight and greater driving power.

And these rough-and-ready pictures do indeed produce effects which, I must admit, are rather difficult to describe.

For instance, a patient needs only to have seen once or twice how much he is freed from a wretched state of mind by working at a symbolical picture, and he will always turn to this means of release whenever things go badly with him.

In this way something of inestimable importance is won the beginning of independence, a step towards psychological maturity.

The patient can make himself creatively independent through this method, if I may call it such.

He is no longer dependent on his dreams or on his doctor’s knowledge; instead, by painting himself he gives shape to himself.

For what he paints are active fantasies that which is active within him.

And that which is active within is himself, but no longer in the guise of his previous error, when he mistook the personal ego for the self; it is himself in a new and hitherto alien sense, for his ego now appears as the object of that which works within him.

In countless pictures he strives to catch this interior agent, only to discover in the end that it is eternally unknown and alien, the hidden foundation of psychic life. ~Carl Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy, Pages 47-49.