In a remembrance of the writer Harold Pinter that appeared in the Los Angeles Times (and posted on Slow Painting), Charles McNulty included a memorable quote by D. W. Winnicott:
But for all his vehemence and posturing, Pinter was too gifted with words and too astute a critic to be dismissed as an ideological crank. He was also too deft a psychologist, understanding what the British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott meant when he wrote that “being weak is as aggressive as the attack of the strong on the weak” and that the repressive denial of personal aggressiveness is perhaps even more dangerous than ranting and raving. (All that stiff-upper-lip business can be murderous.)
Ah, that Winnicott wisdom. I’m not a student of his psychological theories, so many of you know his oeuvre much better than I do. But I am always provoked when I run into references to his work because of his ability to hit the deep spots where truth rings and you can feel it in your body.
Here’s another quote by him, one that I have referenced and thought about many, many times. This is one of the most apt and succinct descriptions of the quixotic quality of the artistic nature I have ever read:
Artists are continually torn between the urgent need to communicate, and the still more urgent need not to be found.
I spent some time this morning searching for more Winnicottisms. Among other references, I found a lengthy essay called Pictorial Space throughout Art History: Cézanne and Hofmann, by Maxson J. McDowell. This piece has more to offer than a few pithy provocations from Winnicott, so I’ve included a few apropos excerpts here. The author’s correlation of the visual model for individuation with Jung’s hero’s journey has had me thinking all morning about what that idea could mean. Worth sharing here, to be sure.
Pictorial space represents a visual model of individuation. While the myth of the journey models the process of individuation, pictorial space models the structural changes which are the results of individuation. We are more accustomed to describing individuation as a process, perhaps because our thinking is informed by the myth of the journey. When we look for structural changes in the personality, however, we find some that are characteristic.
Winnicott has described similar structural changes though he emphasized that, under favorable conditions, these changes begin in childhood. Like Jung, Winnicott linked these changes to originality and creativity. As mentioned earlier, Winnicott said that an [individuating] personality acquires ‘depth’, ‘an interior space to put beliefs in’, ‘an inside, a space where things can be held’, ‘the capacity to accept paradox’ (to contain opposites), ‘both room and strength’, and both ‘originality and the acceptance of tradition as the basis for invention’…
A person becomes more individual when he or she forms an individual relationship with the unconscious. He or she organizes more around inner reality and less around learned attitudes. Winnicott said that depth includes a ‘respect for … the substance of illusion’ by which he meant inner reality.
The parallels between Winnicott’s interior space, Jung’s individuation and pictorial space are too deep to be mere analogies. An evolving personality and an evolving plastic painting are apparently homologous systems organized according to a common set of principles. A plastic painting makes tangible a process which, in the personality, is slow and obscure: it models or symbolizes the structure towards which individuation tends. In part, this is why it moves us so deeply. Plastic art was first created more than 35,000 years ago. Just as we have always used myth to represent the inner life, so we have always used plastic art for the same purpose.
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