Painting and Our Inner World
The Psychology of Image Making

Published by Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers
(You can purchase a copy of the book directly from this Kluwer link.)

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THE ROLE OF PAINTING as at least a partial expression of the painter's personality is obvious from the differences between very impulsive and very controlled painters--between the paintings of a Picasso, for example, and a Piet Mondrian. These differences have not been looked at in a controlled setting, however. In this book, Machotka sets out to understand the images produced by a broad sample of students and to connect them to the students' inner lives--to their interpersonal relations, their wishes and fears, their impulses, and their inhibitions. Their image making was followed in detail and their personalities were studied in a long clinical interview, producing a rich, individual picture of the style and substance of the inner life of each.

The following excerpt from the book offer a glimpse into one participant's inner world as he created this image (click to enlarge).


Fig 65. Temple Cluster

Evan's image is unusally harmonious and unified, and it is filled with interesting tensions and carefully woven continuities; abstract yet suggesting the underlying landscape, it challenges the viewer to look hard. It was conceived in a manner suggesting the absolute primacy of style--a style chosen as a challenge to Evan's already considerable competence--yet it revealed a preoccupation with the substance of his life.

As he worked, his full response to landscape became like the trust one forms in a person as he becomes absorbed in him; the response to both was like a "full [kinesthetic] feel for the wholeness of the person." The response to a particular shape might reveal the painter's body, as his own liking for oak trees revealed his sense of himself as "tall and thin and lithe and slow." The response to converging lines might be a feeling of pressure at the point of intersection; and the sense of translucent surfaces, so much like Diebenkorn's "subverted" layers of color, was almost like not repressing a memory, letting what is underneath breathe through.

Commenting on the session when he was done, he made clear that his entire intention had been, as it is with his other work, to integrate the fluid, organic shapes with the more rigid, angular lines. Here, he wove "a web structure around the original pink temple, which for me was a real structural starting point.... My initial gestures were going out from the temple, then it gradually became a working back inward.... So I feel like it has certain elements of a balance that I look for."

In the psychodynamic interview that followed, we felt that we had gotten to know him and could understand the wellsprings of his painting. The need to interconnect and balance everything on the canvas was in part aesthetic, but it was also a reflection of the painful dissolution of his family life; trying to bridge between distant poles was somewhat like attempting to establish the family's former togetherness. At the same time it cannot help but be a recognition of the actual separateness and the clearly remembered pain of separating. His wish for a close union remains as strong as are the defenses against it, and this is perhaps what gives his close-knit composition a particular poignancy. And yes, he, too sublimates in a classical sense: he deflects the energy held back from others into his work.

(Condensed from pp. 151-156)