The Suffering of the Arts

One of the most important writers in my life has been the psychologist James Hillman, whose books The Dream and the Underworld, Suicide and the Soul, The Myth of Analysis, and others, helped reshape my inner world, and whose insights even ended up working their way into many a Village Voice column. I even met him once! – and we corresponded a little afterward. This morning, similarly psychologically inclined microtonalist Kraig Grady sends out a paragraph, typical of Hillman’s therapeutically upside-down view of the world, from the 1991 preface to an earlier book Emotion. I can’t imagine anything more inspiring to get up and read on a Sunday morning (thanks, Kraig):

The field of art therapy has always imagined the use of the arts to be
therapeutic either for the expressive release of the blocked psyche or
for symbolism, sublimation and communication, which thereby allow the
patient to give creative formulations to the disordered soul. I want to
reverse this relation between art and therapy of emotion. I want now,
and finally as a last thought, to suggest that therapy is useful to the

Let us assume that the arts in our western world are in as much disarray
as the patients we encounter. The Arts themselves are suffering from exploitation, commercialism,
delusions of grandeur, low self esteem, dried out rationalism, addictive
careerism, fascination with success, vulnerability to criticism, loss of
direction and intention, personalism, and so on. What seems lost to the
arts is precisely what therapy deals with everyday: soul. Through art
therapy soul returns to dance and painting, to poems and sculpture. Each
gesture the patient makes attempts to place into defined form the
emotional influxes that assail a human life. Each gesture is made for
the sake of the gesture and not for anything external to the gesture itself.
I dance my woe as fully as I can and paint my wild madness with a rich
palette as I can attain, not for reviewers of my product, not for
recognition, not for the increase in size of the letters of my name.
I do it for soul’s sake, and this gesture, encouraged by the art
therapist in studios, practices, and clinics in the city after city,
town after town, may be more than a therapy of the patient. It may also
be a therapy of the arts themselves, restoring to them the archetypal
gestures of the soul.


  1. says

    Thanks Kyle.
    I’ve been tripping over my own stereo-narrow-typed thoughts on the relationship of music & emotion, knowing that musical emotionalism is a partial take on the sea of music, and wondering how to find the open door of my self-made cage.
    This helps.

  2. says

    I was just thiking about therapeutic chats which prompted to post Strange Wisdom…In the midst of all the possible pitfalls of creative endeavor, the worst ones being the traps of either too much success or too little of it, I am inviting those who would like to discuss the composer’s psychology or even philosophy… with a wee bit of irrational at time…