Flower Mandalas

Flower Mandalas

Part I: Art and ‘Madness’

Melencolia_I_600x766.jpg

Melencolia I, Albrecht Dürer

Part I: Art and ‘Madness’

Copyright 2013, David J. Bookbinder

As both an artist and a therapist, I tend to attract, as clients, people who identify themselves as artists, either professionally or as an avocation. This is the first of a series of posts about doing psychotherapy with artists.

Artists, and their mental health, have been the subjects of study in Western culture since the age of Plato and Aristotle. Writers and researchers have avidly conjectured about a possible relationship between art and madness, and artists themselves have exhibited an inventive variety of aberrant behaviors. Since Freud, the psychological community has tried to define creativity, and in the past fifty years, psychotherapies that make use of drawing and painting, dance, music, writing, theater, and other arts have become full-fledged professions. But in all this time, little attention has been paid to the process of healing the wounded artist.

Are artists ‘mad’?

Have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but the overacuteness of the senses?
– Edgar Allen Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Researchers have associated creativity with atypical brain organization, increased right-brain activity, left-handedness, language-related disorders such as dyslexia and, since ancient times, with what has variously been called madness, insanity, and mental illness. The list of books and films devoted to the madness of artists is long and varied.

The debate goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks and Romans. Plato, in his Phaedrus, wrote of “an inspired madness” which is “a noble thing.” Aristotle wrote, in his Poetics, “Poetry implies either a happy gift of nature or a strain of madness.” Seneca — Roman statesman, tragic poet, and Stoic philosopher — wrote: “There is no great genius without a tincture of madness.”

Artists, from Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I (1514), through the idiosyncratic Renaissance artists and the moody Romantic poets, and on to the surrealists and the postmodernists, have also explored the relationship between madness and creativity. Beneath the engraving Melancholy, by Jacob de Gheyn, is a Latin inscription which, in English, translates as: “Melancholy, the most calamitous affliction of soul and mind / Often oppresses men of talent and genius.” Shakespeare, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, wrote: “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact.” Dryden observed: “Great wits are sure to madness near allied / And thin partitions do their bounds divide.” And Wordsworth wrote: “We Poets in our youth begin in gladness / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.”

In the field of psychology, the alleged relationship between madness and artistic creativity has been seriously investigated since Freud wrote about creative writers, daydreaming, and Leonardo da Vinci. Recently, it has become the subject of hot debate among psychological researchers.

Is it true that there is a link between madness and art? Or is that a social construction which is of no real help either to the culture at large or to individual artists themselves? What are your thoughts on this question?

To be continued…

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

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Mandalas, healing, and Carl Gustav Jung

Jung

Stone Wall X, Jamaica Plain MA
Copyright 2013 David J. Bookbinder

Making mandalas, which I began to do in 2001 shortly after I acquired my first digital camera, was one of the main ways I was able to integrate the “me” I was prior to a near-death experience and the “me” I was afterward. Post-NDE, I had been taken apart and put back together surgically, but on both physical and emotional/psychological levels, the Humpty Dumpty I had been before was not the same as the one I had become. Mandalas were a way, at first unconsciously and later as a conscious meditation, to connect my fragmented parts to a central core.

Unwittingly, I had stumbled on a process that psychiatrist Carl G. Jung had developed in the early 1900s. Jung painted his first mandala in 1916 and mandalas soon became central both to his personal development and to his work with his psychiatric patients.

Jung believed that mandalas — which occur in many religions, in dreams, in schizophrenic drawings, in nature, and in industrial designs — are archetypal forms. They are part of what he called the “collective unconscious,” and as such are an organizing principle built into all of us. The central point of a mandala is symbolic of the center of our being, a still, calm point about which the chaotic elements of our lives revolve. Creating mandalas, Jung believed and I was rediscovering, provides a way to get in touch with our still, central point and to symbolically bring order to our internal chaos.

Jung referred to the mandala as an “archetype of wholeness.” In the mandala, opposites are united, a sense of wholeness is achieved, and the result is esthetic harmony. A parallel process occurred in the lives of the mandala makers. In his work with his patients, Jung was able to trace the progression of this dual harmonious state by correlating the coherence of the mandalas his patients drew with their psychological recovery.

In my present work as both psychotherapist and mandala artist, I seek to carry out my variant of Jung’s work. Although I don’t often work directly with mandalas with my clients, I continue to create them as a way to process the feelings stirred up in me by my work with them, and I encourage, in my clients, mandala-like activities such as dance, pottery, and drawing to help them organize the chaotic elements of their lives around their own still, calm centers.

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

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Hidden mentors

Hidden mentors

30,000′, Boston to Albuquerque
Copyright 2013 David J. Bookbinder

When I began the Flower Mandalas project, I was dimly aware that I had been influenced by the work of Harold Feinstein, with whom I had briefly studied. And I eventually figured out that Harold, in turn, had been influenced by Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings, and in particular by her book One Hundred Flowers. But what I had not understood until years later, when I visited the Abiquiu region of New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, was how pervasive her influence on me was.

I have been drawn to that part of the world on a deeply emotional as well as a visual level in ways unlike any I have previously experienced, and when I saw the mesas and mountains, even from the air on my first trip to New Mexico, I could not stop photographing them. It was only when I toured the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe on my second trip there that I saw how the landscape that had mesmerized me had also mesmerized her. For instance: Black Mesa Landscape.

Recently, I have also learned that O’Keeffe created a series of paintings that captured the bands of color of seascapes when she lived near Lake George, New York: Lake George, NY, by Georgia O’Keeffe. This, too, is a subject I have been drawn to for many years, and is the impetus behind a series of hundreds of sunrise photographs I took off the shore of Independence Park in Beverly, MA.

Independence_Park_II
Independence Park II
Copyright 2013 David J. Bookbinder

This has got me wondering whether our attraction to artists goes beyond a particular body of work to include their whole sensibility. Which has got me wondering about the artists among you. Has some kind of art — visual, performance, expressive — had a significant influence on you? Inquiring minds want to know….

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas essays: WattPad
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Text and images © 2013, David J. Bookbinder. All rights reserved.
Permission required for publication. Images available for licensing.
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Art, for me: Part I

Art for me

30,000′, Boston to Albuquerque
Copyright 2013 David J. Bookbinder

Growing up, I was a kid scientist, apprehending my part of the cosmos through experiments first with magnets and electricity, soon thereafter with chemistry,  and by high school with electronics and model rockets. I identified math and science as my strengths, and my family and I both assumed I would grow up to be some kind of engineer; I hoped to work for NASA.

By the time I reached college, it became clear to me that I had grown up lopsided, my logical left brain dominating. The catalyst for realizing this was the poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake, which I read in a freshman English class. “Those who restrain desire,” Blake wrote, “do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling. And being restrain’d it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.”

I had, I understood, been living the shadow of desire. I set about to change all that, and to the extent I have balanced left brain and right, art and science, I credit Blake with getting me started.

Has some kind of art — visual, performance, expressive — had a significant influence on you? Let us know!

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas essays: WattPad
Discussion: Facebook Flower Mandalas page
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Text and images © 2013, David J. Bookbinder. All rights reserved.
Permission required for publication. Images available for licensing.
flowermandalas.org

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posted 10:43:51am Dec. 23, 2013 | read full post »

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Part III: Art and 'Madness' - Schizophrenic art
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posted 10:21:24am Dec. 16, 2013 | read full post »


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