Book Review: On Not Being Able To Paint

This past week, I listened to On Not Being Able to Paint by Marion Milner. Not to be mistaken for a how to book instead it's a discussion on the psychoanalytical benefits of art making both from the author and her patients experiences.

The book was originally written in the early 1950's and was reprinted several times. I read the version above with a very good forward by Janet Sayers, in which she explains the authors life and how she came to writing this book. 

Overall this book has some great conceptual questions that will influence the how and why's of an artist's practice. I must admit I had a hard time getting engaged in this book. Something about the way it was written and the way I consume books just didn't pair up well. However, the parts that did click with me were really interesting and have been creeping into my art process. Here are some of my take aways from the book:

  • The author describes approaching situations saying "I want nothing." That frees the thing you're looking at to become what it is. Saying the above allows the artist to remove all ideals and just start creating without any expectations.
  • A recurring theme in the book is the use of art to connect the internal and external world. As soon as you put a line on a sheet of paper the artist is taking something from the internal/imagination and making it part of the physical/external world. The author then goes on to explain how this is a helpful activity for those who don't feel they have a voice in the external world or feel powerless.
  • A goal in art is expression but the amount of expression in a piece is much broader than we give it credit for. Because even an image of a still life where an object sits on another there is gravitational force.  A color pushing against another creates energy. A lot of subtle marks and observations can give a piece "expressive energy".
  • "psychic creativeness" is the act of making a symbol.

The author quotes some other books on the subject. There are soooo many good ones, the bibliography is expanding my reading list. While the book wasn't as engaging as I had hoped it did have an interesting perspective. I'm going to keep it on hand to reference and read from in smaller portions.