Positive Disintegration: Memories, Morals, and Other Combustibles
Thigpen, Trent A.
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This practice-lead research and the resulting exhibition of paintings are the product of an investigation into personal experiences of cognitive dissonance caused by emotional conflict and traumatic events. Expressing these points of conflict in fine art paintings creates the opportunity to identify defense mechanisms, coping methods, and positive resolution potential. It serves as a model for bringing these emotional experiences from the unconscious into self-directed awareness. Following the precedent of the Surrealists’ who applied Psychoanalytic Theory to art, I applied psychoanalytic concepts and two additional contemporary psychological models to guide and interpret my painting practice. The Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) provided a model for viewing emotional conflict and neurosis as triggers for personal growth. The Vienna Integrated Model of Top-down and Bottom-up Processes in Art Perception (VIMAP) includes a similar scenario of personal growth from conflict that an art viewer may experience. Together these naturalistic, cognitive models allowed me to consciously examine, reflect upon, and translate mental states at the cusp of change. Collage and automatic writing practices like that of the Surrealists provided an intuitive way to evoke emotional memories and explore source images that recall points of conflict and emotional states. In the painting process, I employed stylistic elements of Romantic landscapes, Neo-Expressionism, Pop Surrealism, and Magic Realism to communicate tension and to balance emotion with objectivity. This mix of styles creates flexibility in aesthetic distance within the paintings allowing the examination of emotional memories, defense mechanisms, and conflicting values and beliefs. Expressive mark-making, the psychology of landscape, metaphorical narratives, and traditional painting formats help communicate these difficult to describe mental states. A viewer may experience these feelings through triggered memories or empathy with the mood and narrative. Combining psychological models with fine art provides a relatively safe environment and perspective within which to view anxiety, depression, and other emotional tension caused by conflict and trauma as a positive means for personal growth and transformation. Viewing neurosis as a catalyst for positive change is relevant to overturning the stigma of mental “illness” and contributing to collective empowerment in response to pervasive feelings of personal, environmental, or other socio-cultural existential threats.
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