The images that constitute my arts-based research are in and of themselves, research. In such a capacity, the writing they provoked is of the circumstance, affect and theoretical and critical discourses sparked by their making. To quote Langer:
...the import of an art symbol cannot be paraphrased in discourse. (Langer 1957, p68)
Situated within a feminist interpretive paradigm as research which relates to my embodied experience; I was aware of feminist discourses on the body (Butler 1990, Mulvey 1989), and the literal objectification – in becoming contained within the object of a laptop or tablet within a client’s home – of my body and online presence in remote working.
The strongest themes I identified in my image making and its subsequent consideration, which spoke to my personal processing of the experience of my final year, were those of space, loss and becoming.
...if painting is concerned with the feelings conveyed by space then it must also be to do with problems of being a separate body in a world of other bodies which occupy difference bits of space: in fact it must be deeply concerned with ideas of distance and separation and having and losing. (Milner 1957, p67)
Materially this image allowed a play between the feeling of wet and dry, through ink on a paintbrush working on top of and into the painted ground or a pencil scratching its surface and finding dry areas of unpainted paper. These sensations were physical, felt in a bodily capacity whilst I simultaneously explored bodily forms in the image that emerged as feminine and masculine. In the first instance of feeling through making, these bodily experiences informed and directed the creation of the image. In considering the therapist as artist, it is this moment in making that Schaverian describes as the artist-self being allowed to work and the observer-self remaining peripheral (1992).
In its making, I understood that this image implied loss, or the presence of absence. The loss of the client in the space, the loss of contact in relationships with friends and family, the loss of my father as a student at art school.
My personal experience of loss and grief is one that is inextricably linked to formative experiences of learning, art making and education. My father died when I was twenty years old, in the summer between my second and third years of my undergraduate degree in Fine Art: Painting and Printmaking. Exactly half-way through my undergraduate studies, my most palpable experience of loss was at a time when my main occupation in life was making artwork. Contextually, through the presence of absence within the space of my placement, I have felt my deep personal relationship to loss, as well as to image making, as ever present.
In a paper concerned with the lifespan of images beyond their purpose in visual research (Temple and McVittie 2005) one art therapist describes client images that remain after therapy has ended feeling like ‘a guest’ in the space. The images become a placeholder for the body that made them, a lasting reminder of the presence of the client and the relationship shared. For me, the stark absence of the client in physical space and the loss of our ability to make work together, or to be witness to the tactile creation of artworks, made present a lingering feeling of loss. The presence of absence takes on form as a spectre, much in the way I attempted to find form within the physical surface of white acrylic on a white sheet of paper.
My most intimate relationship of my final year in training was with my images. In this bringing to life and intimacy of relationship, it is possible to consider the development of a maternal counter-transference with my images. Indeed the archetypal image of pregnancy (Jung 1978, Swan-Foster 2018) features multiple times within my diaristic research images. As the body of work exists as an entirety, a some of parts, much as the individual systems of the human body work cohesively to form a whole, it is important to observe that these images were isolated from their body of work to allow depth in my writing to them. Furthermore, it is of importance that this body of work exists in physical space, as tactile objects which bear the marks of my touch in their materiality. For their inclusion in my dissertation thesis these images had to be replicated as digital copies, losing something of their original quality, much as viewing paintings in books. However, the implication of their digital replication speaks to my experience of working remotely throughout my final academic year.
As well as forming a body of work, my research drawings often involved the body in work. This Is perhaps unsurprising given the clinical context of my work in Chronic Illness, often concerned with medical implications of bodies. To think about the body in art therapy it is possible to think of Aldridge’s (1996) writing on expressive arts therapies as a modality which allows the body to be sensed and not just spoken about. Working with the tactility of materials and feeling my image making as unconscious processing, my bodily sensations often drove my mark making. Learning to listen to and intuit subtleties in my physical body holds strong connection to my interest and practice in yoga. Yoga is deeply introspective and concerned with mind- body connection. In his research on physically held trauma in the body, Van Der Kolk (2014) recounts a case study using yoga in the treatment of women with PTSD and the connection between their physical and emotional challenges in working with their trauma. Many of my research images were made, or begun, with my eyes closed. In closing my eyes, the creation of an image is no longer aesthetic but embodied (Schaverian 1992). In focussing my attention on body perception, drawing becomes concerned with both motor impulses and sensory perception (Elbrecht 2018).
...immensity originates in a body of impressions which, in reality, have little connection with geographical information...One might say that immensity is a philosophical category of daydream. (Bachelard 1969, p.185)
In my ontological daydream, drawing with eyes closed, I was drawn towards the centre of the spiral Bachelard (1969) describes as the space within. The shape of this internal spiral is felt as the mark of beginning to draw a treble clef. As I drew, I was transported to a memory of being a child and making the sign of the treble clef on porridge with honey. The memory is one which smells warm and sweet, and takes place in the safety and comfort of my childhood kitchen, the space of expression supportively held by my mother.
I felt my image was simultaneously one of the intense silence I had initially acknowledged, which had led me to an internal space of recalling a childhood memory. Much of my clinical work at the time of making this research image was concerned with my clients’ adverse childhood experiences. Through transferring marks, and thus considering counter-transference, the influence of my clinical work at the time is felt in my unconscious need for reassurance of my own secure relationship with my mother, felt in the quality of the pre-verbal silence that lead to an internally held memory of a safe and loving home, the basis of my secure attachment (Bowlby 1969).
My aim in the research was to achieve understanding of my personal and professional development through the centering of image making in my art therapy practice. What transpired was a simultaneous process of personal autobiography and critical reflection concerning the body, space, loss and individuation.
ALDRIDGE, D., 1996. The body, its politics, posture and poetics. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 23(2), pp. 105-112.
BACHELARD, G., 1969. The poetics of space. Boston: Beacon Press.
BOWLBY, J., 1969. Attachment. London: Pimlico.
BUTLER, J., 1990. Gender trouble. London: Routledge.
ELBRECHT, C., 2018. Healing trauma with guided drawing. California: North Atlantic Books.
JUNG, C. G. 1978. Man and His Symbols. London: Picador.
LANGER, S., 1957. The problem of art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
MILNER, M., 1957. On not being able to paint. London: Routledge.
MULVEY, L., 1989. Visual and other pleasures. London: AIAA.
SCHAVERIEN, J., 1992 The Revealing Image: Analytical Art Psychotherapy in Theory and Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley.
SWAN-FOSTER, N., 2018. Jungian Art Therapy. London: Routledge.
TEMPLE, M., McVITTE, C., 2005. Ethical and practical issues in using visual methodologies: the legacy of research-originating visual products . Qualitative Research in Psychology. vol. 2, pp.227-239.
VAN DER KOLK, B., 2014. The Body Keeps the Score. London: Penguin.
With thanks to: Queen Margaret University, NHS Centre for Integrative Care, Dr Jacqueline Mardon, Margaret Temple, Thom Rees, Catherine O’Brien, Andrw Houston, Mum.