Art - Philosophy - Psychotherapy

Month: September 2022 (Page 1 of 2)

life is too short

The older I get the more I become aware of how rapid life passes, and perhaps how much of mine has been wasted on meaningless chatter. I am less and less inclined to spend time with anything or anyone who does not inspire beauty within me. If it does not sustain the life I want to live then I let it go. I have realised that thinkers are generally not welcome in social gatherings. There is a freedom in this, but also the realisation that I am seeking meaning in a world which is in essence meaningless. I create meaning for myself, through my relationships, though my work as a therapist, and through the creative outpouring I call my art. It has taken me a long time to understand what Erich Fromm meant when he said “man’s task in life is to give birth to himself”.

I have started drawing again of late, after a long time in abeyance. Painting will come again soon. The most difficult moment is the one just before the start, in leading up to it there is procrastination and fear, but as soon as the brush hits the canvas all that falls away.

I think we are all responsible for the creation that is us, we can change what we were into what we want to be, but first we must accept ourselves just as we are and let go the idea of what we should be. in doing so we might be able to change, but not before.

Art and the here and now.

I am aware of feeling absorbed when I create. In the here and now effort of creating. As soon as I hope someone will like this thing I am creating, or imagine selling my work, or perhaps attach any personal value to my art, at that point creativity stops and I can no longer make a mark on the paper.

It is true to say that we are not what others think we are, we are not here to meet another’s expectations. We must accept ambivalence in order to be creative, accept that nothing is certain, I can control nothing. Once I accept this I am free from the fear of failure and able to create. In essence I begin to allow contact with myself which was subverted by the fear. Most of my best work is really just happy accidents created when I just didn’t give a fuck what anyone would think of my art. And in retrospect, me and my artistic ability.

I think this was a hard one for me to let go of because growing up it was one of the only ways I knew to garner others approval, and approval was important to me then. Now I have let that fall away I think, mostly at least. Or perhaps have just become more aware of its limiting grasp.

Be uncertain, accept that we can control nothing, and suddenly peace appears, along with creative possibilities

Everyday objectification

It seems the world tries to tell people, women in particular, that they are ugly, inside or outside. Then it tries to sell them crap they don’t need to alleviate the dis-ease they have just caused. It feels as though everywhere we look people are being objectified either to force consumption or to coerce response.

The average women’s magazine content…

1. why you are perfect just as you are…. (But here are some tips on how to be a better you.)

2. here is a celebrated person (and how to compare yourself to them or be more like them.)

3. here is our ideal of beauty (and some make up adverts or adverts for sliming brands.)

4. why self improvement is important (if you want to get that man of your dreams…)

and so and so on nauseatingly ad infinitum.

All over town we see adverts for pretty much anything with beautiful people in not much clothing, as if I need to see a nearly naked woman to buy shoes, or a watch, or sports gear.

This kind of objectification is pretty much endemic and accepted by most of society as a norm we can do nothing about. I am not convinced we even need 90% of the shit we are being peddled. And, I am more and more unsettled by the ease with which we accept objectification of others and of ourselves.

I so wish that when we walk in the street and heard people talking about philosophy, or art, or how to eradicate poverty… rather than comparing ourselves to celebrities or talking about the latest soap opera and how so and so looked in this dress or suit. We have been fed on a mediocre diet of insipid platitudes. Our schools have forced us to introject that which we should be chewing over, we are encouraged to worship things of no substance, and now people seem unable to think for themselves. We have sacrificed our brains to the gods of TV and fake realities. We are afraid of the truth, afraid of discussion, silenced by political correctness. We have driven discussion underground and censored the minds of our children. It is horrific to see the wasted potential, like a battleground strewn with dead corpses that are still walking around as though they are alive.

The artist and the muse

To understand this relationship clearly we must first understand the concept of transformational objects. The first and original transformational object in each of our lives was our primary caregiver. We were unable to do much more than objectify at that stage because our brains were not equipped with apparatus to clearly differentiate between people, or even self and other. As infants we were sometimes distressed and we had no way to sort this distress for ourselves either. So we screamed and someone came and changed our nappy, or we were hungry so we cried and mother put us on her breast and we gained both warmth and nurture, of food and contact with human skin. Our distress was alleviated, transformed by this other, who we perceived and used as an object as though they were an extension of us and there as a means to an end. If we had good primary caregivers then at some point we would learn to solve our own distress and separate from the primary caregiver, initially through the use of a transitional object such as a teddy bear or blanket. When I talk of the transformational object in adult life I speak of a person relegated to the task of alleviating someone else’s internal distress.

Between artist and muse there is always an element of objectification. The muse is used for, or as, inspiration. The inspiration is bestowed upon the artist via the muse as though it is a divine gift, an external source which allows for the removal of creative blocks and productivity follows. The exterior object “muse” is in this case a transformational object. The muse is employed to produce within the artist a transformation which he/she can not produce for themselves. For the most part, initially at least there is at least a contract, a negotiated objectification with consent. Though these are often ignored later in the relationship and the objectification takes on a more unpleasant guise.

This transformation allows contact between the artists felt experience and the art, the muse enables the connection via inspiration. As a transformational object the muse likely replaces the artists primary caregiver, or the original transformational object. The artist is happy to accept the gift of inspiration and temporarily casts the muse aside in order to create. There is a coming back together to maintain the inspiration. Call that excitement, love, contact, call it what you will. Simultaneously the artist will understand through the unthought known that this is not entirely him creating the work and that he is not independent. The relationship to the muse takes on a symbiotic or obsessional character. An entanglement and a knowledge that independence has been lost. This is at the very least transference, as the muse replaces and represents the primary caregiver or aspects of what was required from the primary caregiver, be that comfort, acceptance, sustenance, excitation, calming or any other function of parental support.

The artist will at some point begin to need separation from the muse in order to feel peace again, to feel as though he can create on his/her own; but again without this external stimulus, creative expression will be hindered once again. Blocked entirely or half-heartedly expressed in mediocre work which the artist has no love for. The need for separation being a direct mirror to the separation of child from primary caregiver and the need for muse an attempt to transform ones internal dis-ease into something else.

When apart from the muse the artist is likely to experience separation anxiety or even remorse for abandoning the muse. If the muse is replaced the new muse is unlikely to live up to the expectations of the original muse, unlikely to inspire much more than impasse and frustration. The artist lacks connection with his world and can not allow the new transformational object to exist. He has projected his own creative potency out into the first muse and the obsession is set.

It is quite possible the artist also uses the muse as a sex object, lacking in the input of idea and discourse, just existing as a libidinal object to enable flow of libidinous energy expressed in graphic form. When this is the case the muse is still a transformational object, transforming the artists internal distress and frustration into relief and expression. But clearly not a separate individual with agency, autonomy, separate boundaries or a voice.

If the artist has conflated his hunger to create with other hungers such as sex and the muse has become both muse and mistress an intense exchange will likely ensue. Ideas and creative energy will combine to provide inspiration for masterful work, be that stunning poetry or powerfully embodied sculpture. But as the person has been lost in the muse and the boundaries merged, the outcome for artist and muse is rarely harmonious. Conflict between self and creative urge, confused with libidinal passions render rational thought improbable. Satisfaction, in the sense of mutual coexistent satisfaction sought within a contactful relationship can not be created as confluence and objectification have taken place.

After the person has been reduced to an object the objectifier, on achieving the goal, may experience disgust toward the object, a projected self loathing, given away with responsibility to the muse in this case, but it could be any objectified person. For example you will hear it a lot from people who use pornography, in that after achieving orgasm, they become disgusted with the person they were looking at. What these people rarely see is that they are in effect disgusted with themselves and projecting it away. Much like when the artist gives away responsibility for creative effort to the muse and then rejects the muse shortly afterward, lest the artist become too aware that the muse was needed to create the art.

So the need for muse and the need for a sexual object come from the same source. The transformational object, and more than likely an inadequate transformational object in the objectificer’s past has left an unfinished situation the artist is attempting to complete through repetition.

Still we have another issue. Clearly the traditional muse has a purpose and within the construct of consent can be the catalyst for the release of creative force and productivity. But the effect of objectification stretches outside the boundaries of consent when the muse is discarded, boundaries are ignored or sexual entanglement becomes part of the relationship. Often resulting in harm, particularly to the muse. That part should not be ignored or underplayed.

So how do we represent beauty? particularly beauty which inspires us, and when that beauty is portrayed with nudity? How do we portray that without resorting to objectification? Or is it that the objectification will always exist for the viewer, even if the intent of the artist was simply to create? I am assuming here that the model has given consent and understands what is being requested and portrayed. If you have thoughts about this quandary I would very much welcome your input.

Human beings are for me intrinsically beautiful. I want to be able to capture that beauty and express it through art. But I want to avoid blatant objectification too. I have spent a number of years working on my own psyche and the effects of transformational objects, both healthy and unhealthy. And yet, I do want to express my profound connection to humanity and the beauty we embody.

Her (poem)

well I did warn you, there would occasionally be bad poetry as well..


It was not her physical beauty.
I met her inner child,
And everything fell into place.
When I anticipated nothing,
To remain unmoved.

I haven’t stopped yearning for her since.
Her wit
Her crooked smile
Her innate grace
Her casual beauty, and her bright, keen mind.

And dear god..
Those eyes! I will never be free of their depth.

She is the tear
That lingers in my soul.

By her personal complications;
And my fear I could never be enough.

Can you forgive me?
For every aching thought,
For wanting you…
When I can never have you.

loss of love in the suppression of self

After writing that post yesterday I was reading my Kahlil Gibran anthology and came across this little gem:

“Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.”

which pretty much sums it all up. And with far more eloquence than I could muster. I have long thought that when we censor ourselves the greater part of our authentic self is lost in the act of suppression. I know we do this to protect ourselves, and often we project this onto the other and say “it will hurt them so I wont say it.” When really we are avoiding our own discomfort or pain.

Similarly, when we suppress an emotional response to protect someone else, Really that is just the lie we tell ourselves to avoid the full expression of our distress and the accompanying pain. Which ironically, if we allowed ourselves to feel we would move through, and in allowing our distress we might even enlist the support of others in that journey.

Ironically by supressing our own feelings we prevent the possibly loving interaction, as well as avoid our fear or rejection.

why is so much truth left unsaid?

Have you ever wondered why so much of what is not said seems to be truth?

I’ve been sitting here pondering this after the last session where my client was torturing herself over not saying something so fundamentally necessary. This is usually because we are afraid of losing someone.

In my experience, it seems that those we are afraid of losing this way are the people we should not really be afraid to lose. If you have caused hurt, I want to be able to say, and if you are not willing to accept your part in the equation, perhaps it is time we parted ways. Holding back truth for fear we may be left, seems like a terrible idea. You are enough as you are, you do not need another’s approval or presence to be enough. Maybe we need to surround ourselves with people who want to hear the truth and who give us truth in return. I guess we need to accept ourselves first and let go of the need for the cloudy mirror we have given to others in our lives.

The truth does not have to hurt, we can be gentle, compassionate even, but give ourselves to honesty and authenticity and others may not wish to meet us there; so let them miss out.

Is there Healthy sexual objectification?

I am going to start with a quote which I think has been taken as gospel in pretty much every document I have read which sited it.

“Outside rape, it is rare to treat our sexual partners as objects: not only are we aware of their humanity; we are also mindful of it.” Halwani 2010, 193

I think it has been accepted too readily because it is comforting; and there is an element of truth within the quote. Yet, I am going to say I don’t believe this to be the case. I strongly suspect that in order to get what we need from a sexual encounter there must be some ruthlessness and we must treat each other as objects to some extent. And, most importantly, I think it is totally different to rape, not even in the same ball park. The most basic difference being consent but also the level of objectification from total to mindful.

The kind of ruthlessness I envision is simply what is required for you to achieve satisfaction. Within the safe bound of consent there is negotiated ruthlessness. You can not put something into another human, be that a finger, tongue, a penis or dildo, without first objectifying them. I do not think you can ride your partner until you achieve satisfaction without treating them as an object and maintaining some degree of ruthlessness for the period of that ride. You certainly can not spank someone without temporarily treating them as an object. The consent makes this form of sexual objectification “OK” for this limited time period, that is all.

Think of any sexual act you might perform with a loving partner and you are really looking to achieve some form of self satisfaction, even if you are simultaneously facilitating satisfaction for your partner. I would argue that within a loving relationship it is pretty much essential that from time to time we give permission to be treated as an object and that we objectify ourselves also. If you ask your self this question when you reach out to stroke your partners hip, are you reaching out because they want you to touch them or is it because you want them to touch you? And yet here you are touching them.

I would agree that we are, even in this state of objectification, mindful of our partners humanity, as per the quote above; but I would add that sometimes objectification is healthy; Even outside of the sexual context we see clear examples of healthy objectification. I do not believe for one second that a surgeon can plunge a knife into an inert body without first seeing them as an object to be dismantled and fixed. The boundary of consent again plays a massive part in making this act legitimate. Usually we frown on the idea of someone taking a knife to us. Or and perhaps more meaningfully, the way an infant treats its primary care giver as a transformational object is essentially healthy, but only within a specific time frame to which we as the care giver consent.

Coming back to sexual Objectification, I would go further and say most sexual fantasy we come across in psychotherapy has its feet firmly grounded in relieving guilt about ruthlessness. The fantasy serving as a route to allow what we need to express, but ordinarily repress.

I think, that what we ordinarily see as sexual objectification is almost always the act of treating the other as a transformational object. We all seek to transform our internal state of imbalance , need or desire into satisfaction, via an external object, so that we can withdraw from that need. Coming again to expectations, we already know we can not expect sex in any form with anyone, we have laws to protect people from unwanted sexual advances. The expectation reduces the other to the status of object in order to make them a means to an end

You are the end, not the means…

The first reference to objectification I can find is Immanuel Kant 1724-1804. He was a German enlightenment philosopher. Kant started to discuss the idea that people are the end not the means, and if we treat them as a means to an end we treat them as objects to be used rather than as people. A removal of aspects which make them fully them.

His description in Lectures on Ethics uses the term “Object of appetite” and makes the comparison with a lemon, which once squeezed for what we desire is then cast aside. “All motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an Object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by every one” p163 Lectures on Ethics.

I dare say he may not have been the first and there would have been other people I am not aware of, so feel free to let me know of any. Later I came across the term in Object relations theory, specifically in reading Melanie Klein, she was a Psychoanalyst who primarily worked with children. Object relations is at the heart of her work, fair warning, its not easy reading.

Then I found Gestalt psychotherapy and Fritz and Laura Perls in particular, and the Gestalt concept of expectation. You may be familiar with the Gestalt prayer? Its not a prayer as such, it was a gimmicky motif used to start group sessions and spark interest in contact. It goes something like this: “I am me and you are you, I do my thing and you do yours, I am not here to meet your expectations and you are not here to meet mine, and if we meet it will be beautiful.”

In principle we are saying, in order for us to really meet we can no treat another as an object, and as soon as we have an expectation of the other we are no longer in contact with them as a person and we begin treating them as an object. A thing we can control, or expect to be a certain way rather than a separate autonomous being. I am going to argue its not as clear cut as this… another day though.

By way of example, lets say you expect me to not swear, because it is against your morale values, or maybe because you have a notion that professional people will not swear. So, when I swear you are outraged and have stern words with me. You expect me to behave a certain way, and now you feel you have the right to control me by telling me to censor myself, you are attempting to take away my voice, you are unable to meet me as the person I am. Though this lack of contact and objectification is established because of your expectations. It has nothing to do with me and my use of language.

People are the ends not the means. We do not exist to fulfil other peoples expectations. If we are ever to meet them fully, we must let go our expectations of what they should be, lift the veil of expectation and see people with unclouded eyes.

Ok, so maybe next I should discuss sexual objectification in a healthy relationship and how it functions to increase contact and intimacy. There now, that sounds like a total contradiction right?!

Self actualisation

Often, people strive to become what they think they should be. This is not self actualisation. Quite the reverse. It is also clear that many people are uncomfortable with accepting themselves as they are.

It is allowing our authentic self to be, which is at the heart of self actualisation. If you put all your effort into trying to be what you think you should be you are in essence treating yourself as an object. As I understand it, this is the basis for self objectification. It is an attempt to become the concept of what you should be, rather than allow what you are to be. But there is no should. When someone tells me I should be such and such, I understand they do not accept me as I am and attempt to coerce/manipulate me into being something other.

My self actualisation has nothing to do with trying to be something else, rather it has everything to do with accepting myself as I authentically am and allowing myself to be.

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