As I return to my studio work I find myself struggling (once again) with the difference between drawing and reality. Although I make drawings of real people, what I draw is not real.
In his book Playing and Reality psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott discusses the creative possibilities inherent in the interchange between inner and outer realities. The mother (or other caregiver) creates a “holding environment” for the baby’s earliest exploration of these realities. The holding environment (hopefully) provides care and protection as needed. Within this space the child uses play to negotiate the differences and similarities between their perceptions and the external world. The transitional experience of play allows the child, the individual, to discover themselves as they adapt to the world.
Like play, artworks function within this transitional space and represents a link between our inner psychic reality and the outer world. Art making (and looking at art) provides an opportunity to function in the indeterminate zone between the inner world of the psyche and outer reality.
So when we think and talk about art it’s important not to confuse artworks with reality. Artworks are marked by the psyche of the artist and interpreted in and through the perceptions of the viewer. They do not represent reality, they represent the transitional zone between a number of different realities.
I recently encountered an excellent reminder of the difference beween art and reality in an anecdote described by the artist Marlene Dumas: “Someone was interested in these smaller paintings of a naked young girl, and asked, ‘What is the age of the child?’ I said, ‘It’s not a child, it’s a painting.’”*
Can I allow myself to fall into the transitional space of creativity as I produce these drawings based on photographs of my children? As I draw can I relieve myself of the responsibility I feel towards them in real life?
* From the essay “Less Dead” by Richard Schiff, in the catalogue Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave published by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008.