Psychology & Emotion
Russels- Communicating meaning (Jun 2013)
One issue I had with my work was how to make my concerns more apparent. I wanted to convey my personal anguish, but at the same time not be too specific. My piece 'Opaque Diary' containing overlapping cut-out diary pages was not readible. I realised that the trauma I wanted to show was not being conveyed at all. So I had to make it more obvious, yet at the same time not be self-indulgent.
After the first peer assessment it was noted that my piece 'Home' had a child-like whimsical quality, which is influenced by illustrating children's books. Did this undermine the serious underlying messages though? I thought it represented a vulnerability, disempowerment and imaginary world. But it did not represent the despair that I felt. In the 2nd year I made my work more abstract and serious with darker imagery.
After talking about the trauma in my art it was noted that I did not convey this despair visually enough in my cut outs, so in the 2nd year I would add darker imagery like thorns and words. But these alone were still fairytale-like so I added expressive facial features and tense hands along with a barbed wire pattern to give it a more serious and disturbing feel.
Terry Barrett writes of Louise Bourgeois "Art is a gift of access to the unconscious and also an ability to sublimate through art the painful aspects of what one finds there" (p83 'Why Is That Art?'). For me this is a huge part of what I use art for, as an outlet to release as well as of being self-analytical.
The motives behind psychoanalysis are to improve mental health and to relate it to social conditions. When I looked at Freud and his ideas of trauma I felt this resonated with my own work. The notion of regression, looking into oneself in order to understand one's psychological and emotional life. Herbert Read describes this as the “struggle for existence is within the mind of man” (p32) and that it is the “perception of feeling”(p36). The text in my art is a way to regress and relive the past to deal with it.
Psychoanalysis highlights the problem of living with 'chronic' psychological damage; it is the treatment for a person who cannot release their difficulties. My work deals with this and the pragmatic idea of needing a resolution and 'cure'. The idea of haunting memories that cannot be erased, which are embedded deep within the psyche, is the journey I record within my work.
Children and memory
When I came across the artist Christian Boltanski I realised why I like to use a child-like storytelling because of its moral aspect and social conscience. Boltanski says that children’s fables are a “bedrock of society”. He looks at human experience and suffering and the persistence of memory and how it can comsume a person, define them and become a way of life. He says that memory is a subjective perspective, and within my work I look at the fact that it is so easy to remember negative experiences.
'The Shadows', Christian Boltanski
Dylan Evans' book 'Emotions' reaffirmed what I was doing, when he describes emotions as a universal language, “appealing to feelings offers a way of making people change their minds without having to provide a good argument or evidence... to draw people together” (preface). He also relates this to a “cultural identity” in terms of needing to communicate and belong within a community.
Herbert Read and Caterina Albano are 2 art writers who have written about the idea that art has lost its soul and humanity, saying human emotion is a fundamental feature of art. Albano has said that art is becoming increasingly too scientific, intellectual, ‘cold’; an “amoral endorsement of pop culture and technoscience” (p16) with the aim to shock the viewer. She goes on to say that as a result this may be having an opposite affect to the one intended by the artist. She feels it is vital to retain some humanity and emotion in art in order for it to have a positive effect upon the audience. She quotes the French Art historian Paul Virilio who accuses contemporary art of being “pitiless,... violence and voyeurism devoid of empathy” (p15).
Emotions are spontaneous and responsive and activate the humane part of us rather than the intellectual, physical and logical. I wish to direct the viewer towards the emotions to provoke more directly an idea and feeling. To include the viewer through empathy.
Evans states that "Emotions like shame have social functions and take longer to build up and let go of… emotions help to etch more deeply in our memories” (p81). My work is very much about the emotion within the memory. Evans relates this to Freud’s ‘de-briefing’, releasing what is bottled up. He wrote that emotions “obtrude persistently into consciousness, perturbing us when we would rather forget them… in severe cases this is known as post-traumatic stress disorder” (p81). It is this emotional disruption and recollection that I am interested in portraying.