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Is It Art?
Susan King

Creativity realized in an unusual setting


R.G. Collingwood poses a conundrum to the philosopher. Is it the work of art itself or is it the creative process, which cannot be analyzed in the usual sense, that counts as being creative?

When a man makes up a tune, he may and very often does at the same time hum or sing it or play it on an instrument. He may do none of these things but write it on paper. But all of these are accessories of the real work, though some of them are very useful accessories. The actual making of the tune is something that goes on in his head, and nowhere else. Hence, the making of a tune is an instance of imaginative creation. But what is written down or printed on music paper is not the tune. It is only something which when studied intelligently will enable others (or himself when he has forgotten it) to construct the tune in their own heads. (Principles of Art, pages 134-5)

Ronald Spark always wanted to ‘be creative’. At thirteen, he sat in his bedroom and learned American folk songs from a songbook, and sang to himself. At twenty, he studied drawing and drew still life, frustrated by a lack of talent. At twenty-six in Edinburgh, he rode a bike, wore a gendarme’s cape, a beret and once in a while a false moustache. He wrote poetry and plays, and was a medical student. Through the sixties in San Francisco, he smoked dope and searched for his spiritual and creative essence. At fifty-nine, he still wished he could ‘be creative’ and express his creativity.

Ron is a psychiatrist. He dispenses drugs to the anxious and the depressed. He listens as people tell him their psychological and social problems. He is disabled and in a wheelchair after an accident several years ago. The problems of most of his patients are insignificant compared to his own.

But some are larger and more serious, more complex, more tragic.

Some of his patients are ‘multiples’. They are women who, as adults, have discovered that they have multiple personalities developed in childhood because of very invasive sexual abuse initiated before the age of five. One patient has personalities of a child, an Italian man, a black woman, and an adult woman architect.

In the process of treating these patients with multiple personalities, Ron must allow the person to get to know herself, something she has never been able to do before. Her life has been terrifying and she becomes so dissociated that he must be very careful to encourage trust, self-revelation, communication from and eventually between personalities, and a slow recognition of her history and identity. It is a long-term relationship. The person may always be a ‘multiple’.

Few can appreciate the creative process Ron is engaged in. Even he cannot be objective enough to see this creativity. His patients are not aware enough to comprehend the dance that holds the two of them in a rhythm as intimate as a heart beat. His colleagues often don’t believe in ‘a multiple personality’. For the world at large, this is fantasy fit for disturbing novels.

This relationship between Ron and his patient is a creative one. The relationship between Pygmalion and Galetea comes to mind because Ron is attempting to nourish a mentally and emotionally healthy psyche in a person. However, he is not shaping a psyche, he is participating in a mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical exercise in which his mind catalyzes without self-consciousness the creation of an integrated, happy, healthy (in mind and body) human being. And his patient willingly interacts to become what she would most like to become – relatively sane. There is no product, no work of art; there is only process, and one that is intangible and unimaginable. It cannot be recorded. The record is a life that is lived and transformed constantly. It is a ‘work in progress’ and will last a lifetime.

Ron is engaged in the process of creativity when he interacts with a patient. Jane was badly sexually abused at age three and older by her uncle. Her mother didn’t know and was too busy to play close attention to behavior she didn’t suspect. Jane, a bright and imaginative little girl, created a second, inner self who helped her get through this bewildering, frightening and painful period of her life. She created others who played various roles in dealing with her difficult reality. She was a talented artist and musician as a child, and a good student. Today, at age thirty-four, she is an architect. She came to Ron as a patient five years ago. She had been treated by several therapists who didn’t start to suspect the nature of her psychological problems. She was depressed, dissociated, frightened, rocketing between personas and trying to hide these strange reactions, which surfaced from a distant past, not an immediate present. Ron noticed her subtle switching between personalities. Jane slowly revealed her memories and fears. As trust grew and a bond developed, Ron listened to her story, interacted with her reactions, and appreciated her courage. On the phone at night, he would talk with the child, the architect, and once in a while other mysterious personalities. Even while traveling on holidays, he would be in touch with her, to reassure her. Gradually, she decided to go on a diet, to start exercise classes, to learn to cook. She tried going out with a man on a blind date. She began to learn to play the flute. She became aware of her moods, which drop to self-destructive and have recently reached happy. She relates other factors to her moods - stress at work, exhaustion, monthly mood changes, memories. She is becoming self-aware and able to deal consciously with the other personalities, integrating them at the best of times.

She did not do this alone and Ron did not work magic on her. It was the interaction of a superbly trained, sensitive, profoundly compassionate doctor and a bright, scarred, person in pain. Between the two, a healthy, functional, person is emerging. But it took the heart and mind of a very creative man to allow this to happen.

Ron’s creativity has no product, no work of art. His creativity may receive no appreciation, but it is as active as an artist’s with a bulging portfolio. His dream to ‘be creative’ has been realized without his realizing it.



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