- Creative States of Mind: Psychoanalysis and the Artist's Process by Patricia Townsend, and: The Outwardness of Art: Selected Writings of Adrian Stokes ed. by Thomas Evans
Outside In: Art and Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is often criticized as incorrigibly introspective. Nor is this any surprise given its origin in Freud's focus on his inwardly-occurring dreams, and on the focus of today's psychoanalysts on the inner world of their patients. Yet, even in his very first work of psychoanalysis, Freud drew attention to the external stimuli causing dreams. Examples included a medical student who, hearing as he slept his landlady calling him to wake up, dreamt he was already at the hospital where he worked so there was no need for him to wake up and go there.
Impressed by the external and other stimuli provoking dreams Freud likened their effect on the unconscious mind to the relation between an entrepreneur and a capitalist of which he said
[T]he entrepreneur, who, as people say, has the idea and the initiative to carry it out, can do nothing without capital; he needs a capitalist who can afford the outlay, and the capitalist who provides the psychical outlay for the dream is invariably and indisputably, whatever may be the thoughts of the previous day, a wish from the unconscious.(Freud, 1900, p. 561, emphasis in original)
Freud famously went on to describe ways that psychoanalysts can evoke more or less unconscious feelings in their patients about other significant people in their lives. He first described these outwardly-evoked, inwardly-occurring feelings [End Page 809] as "transferences" in trying to understand why his patient, Dora, gave him notice just as she did a family friend, Herr K (Freud, 1905, p. 116). This passage in Freud's 1905 case study of Dora is well known by many Freud enthusiasts. Much less well-known and often overlooked is Freud's speculation, in a book published in 1909, about the external stimuli shaping the art of Leonardo da Vinci. In particular Freud speculated that meeting the subject of his painting, Mona Lisa, evoked in Leonardo's memory "the smile of bliss and rapture which once played on his mother's lips as she fondled him." It was this, said Freud, which caused Leonardo to give the same smile "to Leda, John the Baptist and Bacchus" in his paintings of them (Freud, 1910, p.117).
I am reminded of this aspect of Freud's psychoanalytic account of dreams, transferences, and the art of Leonardo by the artist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist Patricia Townsend's recent book Creative States of Mind: Psychoanalysis and the Artist's Process. In it she draws on the psychoanalytic work of Marion Milner, Donald Winnicott, Christopher Bollas, and others in reporting results of her interviews with thirty-three artists, several of whom described their artwork being inspired by 'finding something in the outside world' which for them had "a special meaning" (2019, p. 7).
The same is true, it seems, of several of Townsend's own artworks inspired by seeing England's Morecambe Bay from nearby mountains, a sight of which she says
There was something troubling about this landscape. Was it the history of the Bay, the fact that many lives have been lost here to the quicksands or to fast incoming tides? Looking out over the great expanse of the Bay at low tide, I imagined myself walking out alone towards the horizon until I could see no land. I imagined what it might feel like to be out in this wet desert, far from help. This sense of isolation and lack of containment seemed to be one aspect of my emotional reaction to the Bay. Another had to do with the imagined experience of being sucked beneath the ground by quicksands. Or being swept away, engulfed, by the incoming tide which [End Page 810] is said to be as fast as a galloping horse. But I felt that...