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Dealing with Fixations – by Robert Genn

Dealing with Fixations
by Robert Genn

"Laura" paints tough-looking, thick-necked women in tight skirts and high-heeled jackboots. She does lots of paintings like this, and they're not self-portraits. Laura turned out to be delicate and petite, with a gentle, apparently happy, thankful and optimistic nature. Now 40 years old, she told me she had been sexually abused as a child and had lived in a series of foster homes and was processed by a parade of social workers and psychiatrists.
For obvious reasons, I'll not disclose her real name or show her work, but I
have asked her permission to write about this.

The question of why some of us choose trees and rocks while others choose houses and barns while others choose figurative subjects or complete abstraction is a mystery worthy of study.

Laura's situation is what we might call obsessive. For her, the female Amazon
image is like a glass of wine that she can't help reaching for. While she loves
her work and relishes the joy of working alone, she knows she lacks a professional's touch. Laura feels stuck and would like to make progress away from her fixation.

I've drawn Laura's attention to some relatively new and easily accessed therapy known as Cognitive-bias Modification. CBM is based on the idea that some people have built-in biases that propel their behavior and influence their interests and attention. For example, a young woman who had been abused by a male might gain comfort from the sight of a strong and dominant woman. Fact is, we artists have a tendency to keep making and remaking our comfort. Laura may be creating visions of her own safety and thus reinforcing her power.

A typical CBM technique for treating fears and anxiety is to show the client two faces on a computer screen--one frowning and disgusted, the other neutral. A stressed client tends to become fixated on the frowning visage, mirroring feelings of disapproval or threat. CBM treatment involves superimposing a series of positive visual experiences near or on top of the fixated face. The idea is to neutralize the repetitious reinforcement and make the imagery benign by association.

While strong biases can make for compelling art, we have to keep in mind that some artists want to change. As a therapy, CBM is less time-consuming than talk therapy and less invasive than drugs. Best of all, an artist who employs CBM is more likely to understand and retain her free will.

Best regards,


PS: "CBM helps people take a step, before they have time to consciously think, 'Should I take a drink?'" (University of Amsterdam experimental psychologist Reinout W. Wiers)

Esoterica: Among my immediate acquaintances are artists who are fixated on dolls, cars, arachnids, girls, boys, flowers, horses and Martians. Goodness knows I'm fixated on trees and rocks myself. The idea is to live our passions well and to explore their potential. But when change and evolution are in the air or there's a need for a dumping of unpleasant baggage, new association is a valid ploy. These artists need a strong, self-managed program to overcome what has become an addiction.

Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to publish from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at ww.painterspost.com.

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