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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Artistic Dissertations


The Artistic Dissertation, as a depth psychological method, has been used previously by Montgomery (2002), Denney (2002), and Davin (2004), in a variety of ways, but all made a case for art as a depth psychological vehicle. Montgomery (2002) created and performed a one woman show, Kali’s Follies, a depth psychological view of women in “Midlife at the Millenium” that looked at theatre as a depth psychological praxis. Denney (2002) and Davin (2004) used essay as a vehicle in their dissertations. Davin used a research tool called “writing reversals” and images in crafting creative nonfiction essays to capture the ephemeral nature of her topic, “Spirit Lake.” Denney wrote a series of personal essays stemming from his experience as a physician, each one dealing with a different aspect of science and spirituality in the healing arts.


My dissertation follows in the footsteps of my colleagues, but my essays will themselves be a depth psychological explication of play, as seen through various different cultural creations, and will not contain a separate depth psychological analysis of the creative work. My dissertation is a hybrid of the artistic and the thematic theoretical methods. Montgomery (2002), Denney (2002), and Davin (2004) have provided me with greater insight into the artistic method, and I will briefly mention a few of their ideas that were important for me and have come into “play.”


For Montgomery (2002), the artistic method represents a demonstration of holding the tension of opposites. She observes that “the call to engage in the artistic method consists of struggle, surrender to the unknown, courage, patience, play, and Eros.” (pp. 54-55). Rollo May (1975), in The Courage to Create, writes of the need for creative courage because of the radically changing nature of many professions, and of the world at large. May writes: “we need to be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong . . . . “authentic creativity takes so much courage: an active battle with the gods is occurring” (pp. 22, 27). Montgomery (2002) notes that “the artistic method can effectively reveal the authentic nature of psyche—which is dramatic and dialogic in its psychic structure” (p. 52), and she stresses the importance of humor. In her dissertation and method, Montgomery sought to explore the paradoxical, multifaceted, multi-layered nature of humor, which shimmers, yet is impossible to pin down. Like Hermes, humor deceptively massages open the psyche and heart so that the most painful truths can be communicated; humor penetrates the defenses of collective denial. Hermes teaches, after all, that one must avoid head-on collisions with authority. Rigid structures must instead be seduced, turned aside, and out-smarted through laughter and compelling imagery. (p. 52)


Montgomery (2002) advocates adopting a polytheistic style of consciousness and emphasizes the importance of paradox and image:


Psyche is thus imagination and image . . . . What arises in multiplicity are paradoxes we can learn from, tensions that give us vitality and most importantly, a soulfully lived life rich in texture and complexity. . . . Hillman encourages us to be tolerant, patient, flexible, embracing, and courteous to our images—respecting their autonomy and unique messages . . . . respectfully listen and watch what they have to say and discover what they need from us not what we want from them . . . . “ . . . the psyche and the world’s psyche too [shows] its patterns in tales and images and the physiognomic qualities of things. The whole show [is] different, and indeed psychic life is a show, each appearance and imagistic essence, a showing forth, revelations, theophanies.” (Hillman, 1989, p. 43 as quoted in Montgomery, p. 62)

Montgomery (2002) also highlights play’s role in the artistic method. From the beginning of the call until the end, she reveals that the spirits of play and bricolage were present and necessary:


Impulse to play is essential to birthing the call. “Play is the taproot from which original art springs” (Nachmanovitch, 1990, p. 42) . . . . The spirit of bricolage, using what is at hand, being willing to pull a lot of rabbit from not so much of a hat, being willing to see the comic absurdity in the most abject states of consciousness keeps the call juicy, fluid and mercurial. Otherwise, we begin to take ourselves too seriously and thus soil our work with sanctimonious inflation. The spirit of play keeps the inevitable discipline of crafting and revision of the artistic project alive . . . the generous realm of spontaneous play actually forms a temenos, the Greek word for sacred space or magic circle, in which the numinous can appear, disappear and reappear. (p. 59)

Davin (2004) notes the importance of using images “as a form of depth psychological expression” (p. 129) and the central role of image for depth psychology. She also mentions that:


Bachelard (1960) and Corbin (1977) both remind us that image belongs to the imaginal realm of the soul, that intermediate world which is neither the empirical world of matter, perceptible to ordinary sense experience, nor the conceptual world of ideas, subject to the logical rules of the mind. Images have the power to operate as sites in which another world erupts into our own. (p. 129)

Like Denney (2002) and Davin (2004), I see my dissertation as speaking for the soul as well as scholarly, as an act of activism as well as an academic creation. Both Davin and Denney invoke the spirit of liberation psychology and the works of Anzaldúa (1999), Morales (1998). Martin-Baro (1994), Freire (1970/2000), Bohm (1996), and M. Watkins (1992). To this list I would add H. Lorenz (2000b), Anzaldúa (2000) and H. Lorenz and M. Watkins (2002a, b, c online).


Denney’s (2002) dissertation has been most influential, since it both explicates and is a beautiful example of essay as art, as depth psychological, and as a depth psychological tradition. Denney also discusses essay as research, poesis, and artistic method. Denney notes that that depth psychology’s founding fathers both wrote essays, mentioning that Freud, with the story of his psychoanalysis of Dora (Freud, 1905/1997),“wrote a new kind of essay called a ‘case history’ ” (p, 131). Loewenberg (2001) discusses Freud as a cultural subversive. Denney explicates that Jung connected the individual to the collective with his essays, developed from lectures, on synchronicity (Jung, 1951/1989, 1952/1989) and Psychology and Religion (1958/1989). Denney (2002) brings us forward in time by observing:


This methodology of confessing one’s own experience within the cultural context is now an established part of depth psychology as exemplified by Watkins (1984), Paris (1991), Miller (1991), and Hillman (1996). Nowadays, to find contrast to the more empirical, scientific publications of cognitive, behavioral, and clinical psychologists, one need only pursue edited collections of articles or such journals as Spring, Psychological Perspectives, and SALT to find depth psychologists expressing themselves not only scientifically, but intuitively and poetically, through essays. (p. 133)

Denney’s (2002) enthusiasm for essay led me to research the subject of essay further. As I did so, I became enchanted with essay and art. The more I learned, the more I found essay and art to be “practically perfect in every way,” to borrow a line from Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964, motion picture), as media for expressing my topic, play.


In his newest book The Terrible Love of War (2004) and also in his earlier book Re-visioning Psychology (1992), James Hillman takes frequent “excursions.” These excursions are mini-essays within essays, digressions, departures, detours, sidetracks and deviations, where Hillman takes us on a tour, traveling around and exploring a topic. With Hillman as a model, I will take an excursion into essay. In my dissertation, many other excursions occur along the way, which is only fitting, when dealing with play and bricolage.

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