Testing my revised plan for ‘Making Sense: Art Practice and Transformative Therapeutics’

Here is an outline of my revisions to the plan I propose for the book I am writing, which is based on my doctoral thesis. My proposal is currently being considered for publication with Bloomsbury, and has undergone rethinking my original work and including new material, following recommendations from the Readers who reviewed my original proposal (and previous comments from my unsuccessful application for publishing this book with Edinburgh University Press). But the point of Making Sense remains, I hope? Tell me what you think…IMG_1598


This book is divided into two halves: the first considers how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics in a clinical sense (that is, either inside or outside of the psychiatric clinic) and in terms of healing for the individual subject. The second part of the book considers how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics in a larger, social context, as a critical method of thinking and epistemology about the world we inhabit. Both of these viewpoints then define how art helps us to make sense of the world.

In the introduction I present the main terms I use throughout the book (sense, making sense and transformative therapeutics) and also my methodology for establishing my central thesis: how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics that helps us to make sense of the world. To establish the critical and practical position for Making Sense I pave a path between contemporary art practitioners and poststructuralist aesthetic theories through psychoanalysis. The aim for this project is to instigate a process of (and desire for) discovery and healing (or ‘transformative therapeutics’), which is applicable to the reader who connects with and learns about themselves and the world by engaging with the investigative and critical approach, through the agency of art practice, that forms and fuels the content of this book.

The introduction begins to develop an understanding of how we can use art as a method of healing and as a critical method of research (the two ways by which I define ‘transformative therapeutics’). Firstly this is considered in relation to the subject, and an individual’s healing, which can take place both inside and outside of the clinic. I begin by using specific cases of art psychotherapy, with examples where making art has been therapeutic in a clinical, psychiatric setting. I then consider the therapeutic agency of art practice outside the clinic, via Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of schizoanalysis, which destroys the clinic (although I question this) and open out how art practice can provide an agency of transformative therapeutics on a larger scale that can instigate social change. At this point I develop Making Sense through making art as a critical method of ‘material’ thinking that can provide a sense of politics, territory and a real epistemology, beyond the subject who performs the act of creating or viewing an artwork.

In the introduction I also define my position with regards to the suffering, illness, or pain, which art is said to alleviate, heal or cure. Defining cure does not involve a teleological (mis)understanding of progress, but a neurodiverse understanding of self-awareness, and a politics of care. I am not approaching cure from the viewpoint of a clinician (although I go through pharmaceutics in the final chapter). I do not want to impose psychological normativity. Here I engage with Lucille Holmes’ work on art and perversion, and build a schizoanalytic (rather than psychoanalytic) trajectory.

Part One: Transformative Therapeutics as Healing for the Individual


1. Making sense of transference: how art can nourish the senses

This chapter considers what happens when we interact with an artwork and asks the question: how and why does art affect us? The purpose of this question is to begin laying out how an artwork can stimulate the agency of transformative therapeutics, which is seen in this chapter through the ways that an aesthetic encounter ‘nourishes’ the senses. I interrogate the sensory experience of visual perception, which happens when we look at an artwork. This involves considering phenomenology (through structuralist and poststructuralist thinkers such as Bergson and Deleuze), neurobiology (through Barbara Stafford), and the judgement of taste (through François Cheng and Kant). By using the sensuous example of viewing and being affected by a selection of paintings by French neo-Romantic painter Jean-Bernard Chardel, I show how encountering an artwork can nourish the senses and in this way provide an agency of transformative therapeutics.

I then consider how making an artwork can nourish the senses. This involves examining the psychology of the process of art practice, and considering what happens when, say, we paint an image. I develop the concepts of transference and countertransference, through Joy Schaverien, to understand how an artwork can transfer, hold, transform and evoke attributes and states, causing growth and transformation for the person who makes this object, and for the viewer who encounters and perceives it. I consider the picture as a ‘scapegoat transference’ and a talisman. I then situate this as an agency of transformative therapeutics, particularly in relation to French photographer Jean Frémiot’s work with disadvantaged adolescents. Frémiot shows how making art can provide special attention, a new worldview, and, indeed, an ethics of taking care that nourishes the senses and creates a new mode of existing.

2. Making sense inside the clinic: episodes of art psychotherapy

In the second chapter I situate the agency of transformative therapeutics of art practice as it may take place inside the psychiatric setting of the clinic. This chapter is about art psychotherapy, which I introduce and describe how it can help people overcome difficulties, illness, and suffering. I do this by including vignettes of my own formal experiences of art therapy and psychoanalysis, showing how art practice involves desire and subjectivity, and leads to growth and transformation, with the influence of (and problematic dependence on) the art psychotherapist. This enables me to further consider and define the concepts of healing, growth, transference, subjectivity and desire. In theoretical terms I use Joy Shaverien (via Jung), Lucille Holmes (via Jacques Lacan) and Griselda Pollock (via Kristeva) to analyse my experiences of art therapy in terms of its clinical setting. This setting raises problems, and at the end of this chapter I question whether art’s agency of transformative therapeutics is dependent on the clinic. My critique here raises Deleuze and Guattari’s efforts to destroy the clinic and, in particular, psychoanalysis with their practice of schizoanalysis.

3. Making schizo sense: destroying the clinic

This chapter is about Deleuze and Guattari’s project of schizoanalysis, and the concepts of ‘counter-actualization’ (which is a synonym of healing) and the ‘desire machine’ (the motor and fuel of counter-actualization). Deleuze and Guattari’s intent with these ideas is to destroy the clinic, which they argue causes rather than cures psychiatric illnesses. In this chapter I define schizoanalysis, going through Freud, Klein and psychoanalysis, and Kant, questioning how this is a useful or applicable practice beyond its task to destroy Freud and the clinic. Schizoanalysis wishes to source ‘a place of healing’, or agency of transformative therapeutics, by engaging with the schizophrenic and liberating them from their clinical detainment. There are problems with Deleuze and Guattari’s argument for this position, with their dependence on (and exclusion of) the schizophrenics Artaud and Schreber. I raise these problems, and then use Deleuze’s morality in The Logic of Sense to resolve them and source the transformative therapeutics of art practice, using the example of the schizophrenic artist Adolf Wolfli, and the movement of Art Brut.

4. Making sense outside the clinic: Lacan’s sinthome

Now that we are outside the clinic I show how art can take the place of the analyst for the ethical treatment of the symptom. This chapter is about Lacan’s concept of the ‘sinthome’, which he raises in his work on James Joyce. I engage with another schizophrenic artist, Kyle Reynolds, who uses painting as a method of healing that has enabled him to evade hospitalisation and manage his psychosis for over a decade, outside of the clinic (and without any formal intervention of an assigned art psychotherapist). Lacan’s sinthome helps me to define how art practice makes sense outside the clinic. The inclusion and application of Lacanian theory is potentially problematic to Deleuze and Guattari (based around Lacan’s defining desire as a lack, whilst Deleuze and Guattari define desire as inherent production), although Guattari was trained by Lacan and his influence is still apparent in the schizoanalytic project. I use Zizeck here, to question and resolve the difficulties of juxtaposing Lacan with Deleuze and Guattari, and to continue building the independent agency of transformative therapeutics. I then utilise another example, from Brazilian psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik, who talks about how she initiated an episodic practice (and healing) of schizoanalysis, by the intervention of Deleuze, outside the clinic.

Half way through the book we are outside the clinic and can build, transfer and expand this agency of transformative therapeutics beyond providing care and healing for the individual subject. Now we can establish the transformative therapeutics of art practice as a critical method of research on a larger scale, which can instigate social change and help us make sense of the world at large.

Part Two: Transformative Therapeutics as a Critical Method of Thinking


5. Making sense of territory: the painting event

In the fifth chapter I propose art practice as a method of ‘material thinking’ (via Paul Carter), which is informative about how the world exists and is territorialized. In this chapter I examine art practice as a critical method of research and develop the concept of ‘the painting event’ to define the process of creating any artwork. I show how this process marks territory and, in so doing, provides a method of thinking (or practice as research) that offers a transformative therapeutics. I look into the movement of ‘Process art’ and Robert Morris’ ‘Anti-form’, to move our understanding of how an artwork has its affect away from the final object formed, and onto what might be achieved or provided, as a method of thinking in itself, during the process of its creation.

This chapter offers the dual perspective of the aesthetic (or the reception, consumption and reflection of artworks) and the artistic (or the production and the creation of artworks). Between both these perspectives lies a way of thinking about sense that helps us to think about territory and how we inhabit the world. Here transformative therapeutics is sourced from art practice as a method of thinking about and marking territory. In this chapter we use art to learn how we inhabit the world. We consider our place in the world through the process of making art. In this sense, meaning is practice-based and it provides an aesthetic ecology. I establish these ideas by utilising Simon O’Sullivan’s Deleuzian-inspired work on ‘geoaesthetics’, through the paintings of Caroline Rannersberger.

6. Making political sense: String Games

In Chapter 6 I consider how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics through the technology and politics of play. To start, I examine a new media performance-installation by the Canadian artist Vera Frenkel. During the creation of this work in 1974, String Games: Improvisations For Inter-City Video, there is a sharing of the sensible, an invention, improvisation and transmission of meaning, and a technology of play, which is how I demonstrate that the artwork makes political sense. Playing String Games provides inter-personal (and inter-state) healing that demonstrates topical social change. This is political sense.

During the event of this work Frenkel choreographed space, time and the senses through playing a game of cat’s cradle, via inter-city video, between two rival cities in Canada. I show how the process and installation of this performance makes substantial insight through its political sense: we learn how to improvise language, with its gaps for expressing the dissensus and difference of identity, and create a holistic sense of space that forms a ‘community of sense’. In this way Frenkel’s artwork provides a transformative therapeutics and a political community for its participants. The work is set in relation to the capitalist monopoly of the medium, governed by Sony’s overbearing control with this elementary form of ‘Skype’, and also in the economic rivalry between the two cities, Toronto and Montréal, which Frenkel here engages diplomatically, on each side of String Games.

I use Rancière’s notion of the ‘partage du sensible’, or the ‘distribution of the sensible’ to consider the boundaries of our active participation and place within the world. Rancière helps me think about what is fundamentally at stake in Frenkel’s art performance, seeing its political sense as a sharing of the sensible and in terms of its technics – the technology of the game and of the inter-city video facility. I then show how such a technics provides transformative therapeutics, which demonstrates how this artwork offers a Making Sense of, and in, the world. The point is to find a method and way of thinking that helps us understand and extend the emancipatory potential and transformative, therapeutic power that can be gained from the political sense of Frenkel’s work.

Donna Haraway’s work on playing string games becomes a useful way of thinking about politics and the primacy of technology and game-play in our definition of politics. In all these cases I develop how the artwork offers an affective therapeutics and transformative sense about the world. The psychology (and transformative therapeutics) of play involves Joy Schaverien’s work on Sand Play and helps us understand the political sense and opportunities for transformation provided by playing and performing String Games.

7. Making sense at the limit

In this chapter I show how art practice provides an agency of transformative therapeutics as a method of palliation, mourning, and ‘being in the present’. Firstly, I consider how an artwork can offer us an intimate sense of the ineffable threshold of existence, or an experience at the edge of our existence, at the limit of what is real. Secondly, I demonstrate how the process of making an artwork can provide a form of therapeutic palliation, as the capacity to enable a method of ‘being in the present’ in relation to this limit. By examining an encounter with Sophie Calle’s installation Couldn’t Capture Death, Calle’s artistic process, and then turning to American video-installation artist Bill Viola (who also works on the threshold), through the aesthetic theory of Jean-Luc Nancy, this chapter aims to develop the ongoing hypothesis that engaging with art can provide the transformative therapeutics that defines our Making Sense of the world.

In theoretical terms this chapter aims to open and develop the dimensions of Nancy’s aesthetic theory on how an encounter with an artwork presents the ‘threshold of existence’, and also how an artwork provides a ‘technique of the present’. With critical reference to Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics and by examining the enclosed space and aura of works by Calle and Viola, set in Robert Storr’s curation of the 2007 Venice Biennale, this chapter thinks about how encountering these works provides a poignant sense of our finitude during and beyond their event in Venice. We gain a sense of how an encounter might provide a making sense of the world at the limit, our limit. Then I open this discussion onto how the process of making these artworks provides an ethos and technique of existing, or ‘being in the present’, by using direct interviews with Calle and Viola, and developing a discussion about technology through Jean-Luc Nancy and Heidegger. I also utilise the psychoanalytic theory of Darian Leader, which considers art in relation to mourning and the mother figure, and helps us to understand the transformative power and therapeutic sense of Calle and Viola’s works. We discover how art practice can provide transformative therapeutics in the way that it offers a way of life, and here conclude with Foucault’s hypothesis of seeing the artwork as a ‘technique of the self’.

8. Making sense with the Pharma

In this chapter I use the term ‘Pharma’ to account for pharmaceutics and the drug industry, and also the ‘pharmakon’, which is a dual sided concept that can indicate both a poison and a cure. Sourcing the curative pole of the pharmakon is the object of this chapter. Stiegler partakes in this search in his What makes life worth living: Pharmacology. The title of this book captures the extent of our situation: Stiegler says that the misery of the present (the ‘disenchantment of the world’) has led us to lose the sentiment to exist, and now we just don’t know why life is worth living. This situation introduces our need for the curative pole of the pharmakon.

The search for cure leads me through Winnicott and Schaverien on the transitional object. Winnicott shows us how we can use an artwork to supply a resource for re-enchantment and the curative situation of the pharmakon. We see how art uses creativity and play to define meaning, sense and healing.

Winnicott’s psychanalysis raises the clinical setting and leads us to consider the role that pharmaceutics has to play in the search for a cure. Although, by now in the narrative of the book, we are supposedly outside the clinic, healing and therapeutics might seem to rely to some extent on the drug industry, which can resolve the ‘chemical imbalances’ that are said to cause some mental illnesses. Here I consider whether, as Stiegler argues, the use of psychiatric drugs is amplified to make people functional members of the workforce, so that ‘normality’ is controlled or manipulated by capitalism and consumption (via Stiegler, and also Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma). This continues my critical questioning of psychological normativity, healing and cure. I use Stiegler’s pharmakon to build a politics of care, Taking Care, which employs a neurodiverse perspective that is fuelled (again) by art practice as a sensuous, hands-on process of transformative therapeutics. In relation to this pharmaceutics are still necessary and important, although controversial and problematic. Making Sense has limitations: it can’t replace drugs, but it can still occur outside the clinic, independent of the professional, and be applicable for everyone.


Conclusion: Making Sense of the World

In this book we have developed an understanding of how an artwork can have an affect on us, and we have been through different kinds of art psychotherapy that provides healing, psychological self-awareness and growth. We have then located therapy outside of the clinic, and our agency of transformative therapeutics has extended beyond the individual case examples to provide a critical method of thinking about society that can affect the world at large. At the end we question the remaining disenchantment of the world, and the influence and dependence on the drug industry, which pose limitations to Making Sense. But we have still located and begun to understand how art practice can provide both a method of being in the world, understanding it, and an agency of transformative therapeutics that is applicable to all.

The purpose of this book is to inspire and stimulate this accessibility and encourage the reader to experiment with art practice as research and locate this agency. The proof of its potential to offer a way of being in and transforming the world that is universally accessible depends on continued stimulation and experimentation, which is an on-going, nascent inquiry that extends beyond the confinement of this book.

My conclusion is that we are all artists and we can all access and stimulate the desired-for growth and transformation that is provided by art practice. At this point my book launches a new and equally-accessible aesthetico-therapeutic paradigm. Here the world Makes Sense.


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