At the Threshold: An essay on transformation within the internal culture of the artist.

Diane-Meyer-header-680x167About the Author

Diane Lucille Meyer, PH.D. received her doctorate in psychology with a concentration in Transpersonal Psychology and a Certificate in Creative Expression in 2013 from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University.  Her dissertation research focused on transformation through the creative process. 

Diane’s  evolution as an artist began at the very early age of 4 with dance, moving on to theater, and finally painting at the age of 22 with water and watercolor. It was 1975 when that creative urging, and what [Professor Emerita at Sofia University] Rosemarie Anderson (Anderson & Braud, 2011) calls “beloveds”, (art) found a home in me. “Beloveds” are not only intimates but those occurrences, places, and curiosities in life that claim a person before he even knows them well. This yearning to understand is Eros or love in pure form because the intuitive inquirer wants to know his beloved topic fully. (p. 16) The article below was partially reposted from her blog here Diane Lucille Meyer, Ph.D.


At the Threshold

“It seems one can pick up the art of a village through one’s bodily participation in its ceremonies” (May, 1985, p. 15). This quote speaks to the holistic and multimodal nature of culture as it connects to psychology and religion in that the experiences within these cultural frameworks are “socially shared illusions” (Belzen, 2010, p. 50). I would take this one step further and say that the experience in an artistic cultural framework is the same. Matsumoto (2001) contends that within the cultural psychological perspective, mind emerges in the joint mediated activity of people co-constructed and then passed on by the culture (p. 19). Culture emerges from individuals interacting with their natural and human environment. This is reflected in the art, music, architecture and literature as byproducts of this emergence.

street-art-1183812_1920A work of art carries the distinction of the artist’s internal culture. The artist’s internal environment is comprised of systems and beliefs developed and acquired through personal crises, and with that at play becomes the primary motivation to most creative endeavors.

Internal Cultures

With the understanding that mind and culture are in constant dialogue, the illusive and ever changing nature of culture comes to light. Culture is continuously developing in context and meaning as we advance as humans, and within each individual culture there exists constant change and evolution. It is in this movement toward individual culture that an artist evolves. In other words, within larger and colliding cultures individuals sculpt their own deeply personal internal cultures.

John Stuart Mill (Goldstone, 2006) believed that the ‘internal culture of the individual’ was ‘among the prime necessitate of human well-being’ (p. 1). Mill was a British philosopher, economist, moral and political theorist, and administrator. He is considered the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 1800’s. His writings are considered among the deepest and certainly the most effective defenses of empiricism and of a liberal political view of society and culture. His father, also a philosopher, who kept him home and isolated from other children, rigidly raised Mill. Emotion was regarded with contempt; Mill was confined to an environment of extreme detachment.

  • I thus grew up in the absence of love and the presence of fear: and many & indelible are the effects of this bringing up, in the stunting of my moral growth (Mill in Stillinger 1961, as cited in Goldstone, 2006, p. 2).

In Mill’s childhood there was no room for emotion. The immediate culture in which he lived was difficult, he grew to understand the value of developing his own internal culture, to turn his attention inward toward the cultivation of character. In doing this he recounted:

  • I found the fabric of my old and taught opinions giving way in many fresh places, and I never allowed it to fall to pieces, but was incessantly occupied in weaving it anew. I never, in the course of my transition, was content to remain, for ever so short a time, confused and unsettled. When I had taken in any new ideas, I could not rest till I had adjusted its relation to my old opinions, and ascertained exactly how far its effect ought to extend in modifying or superseding them. (Goldstone, 2006, p. 5)

Mill’s account of his process of creating a new and deeply personal internal culture perfectly illustrates this experience as it would happen for an artist.

Konner, (Kitayama & Cohen, 2007, p. 77) reminds us that no human child can develop without culture. Culture seems to be intimately connected to the life force on the planet. As life force being creative force, we then understand that creativity and art are the life force of culture.

Matthew Fox (2005) makes the point that creativity existed before humans, “[it] is not a human invention or a human power isolated from the other powers of the universe” (p. 30). Creativity is the universal energy that is activated by the provoking and prodding of life.  When we are confronted with sorrows and joys, as “deep heart” experiences (p. 45) we are broken open and made available creatively.

In viewing culture as an ethos of an organism, an outcome of process, dialogue, and emotion it is easy to see how these dialogues flow and evolve outward into the art and symbols that are reflected within the indigenous environment. Returning to the concept of a socially shared illusion, a vision of visions (Belzen, 2010, p. 50), and emerging from history and narrative, I am tempted to envision the comparative analogy of a painting environment. Each stroke of paint, containing color, weight, emotion builds up the surface until a culture, in a sense, is compiled. Within that environment a dialogue takes place, stroke responding to stroke, artist to image and memories, and emotion to human spirit.

It is the dialogue between culture and emotion that is the essence of our artistic inquiry, and externally expressed to create further dialogue. Within these dialogues we examine nature of beauty and the essence of the human spirit, Maja Rode (2000) offers that “it is our willingness to continue asking, to continue inquiring that provides the fertile ground for these repeated, deepening insights” (p. 70). Our concept of beauty evolves with culture and human emotion through our willingness……….

The creative break

  • People scream and gasp at horror movies, cheer when the underdog clobbers the evil power, cry when the lady dies bravely. If you ask people whether what is happening on the screen is really happening, most of them will look at you askance and say, “Of course not!” (The intellectuals will ask what you mean by “real.”) Cognitively, they “know” that no one was hurt, that the monster was just a special effect, yet their emotions seem real. Their own well-being as never at stake; they do not need to cope with the perils before them; they are sitting in chairs in a comfortable environment surrounded by other people sitting in chairs. How can they be experiencing emotion if they lack the essential cognitive appraisals? (Ellsworth, 1984, p. 192)

woman-2526183_1920Phoebe Ellsworth (1984) presents an interesting phenomenon when she discusses the emotional responses we experience when we view films or listen to music. Ellsworth views emotion as a process that begins with a distraction or a change, registered at the point of entry into the body (i.e. listening, seeing, physical sensation, or smell). She refers to this as the “state of preparedness,” “alert attention,” or the beginning of emotion (p. 193). Once the change is recognized and named (culturally or contextually) the feeling is changed. Ellsworth maintains that emotion begins at the precognitive level and is a process that takes place over time. So by this we are led to suppose that emotion originates in a pre-rational, suspended state only to be sorted out by cultural explanations, expectations, and experiences:

  • One’s answer to the question of minimal cognitive prerequisites depends on one’s definition of cognition and on one’s definition of emotion. . . If sensory information processing is considered cognitive, then most if not all emotions will show some “cognitive” contribution. If one defines cognition as involving conscious propositional analysis, then a larger proportion of emotional experiences will be defined as noncognitive, at least at their onset. (Ellsworth, 1984, p. 193)

Some would argue that emotions are based on appraisals, or cognitive associations and values instilled in an individual through cultures, environmental factors, memories; Ellsworth presents that there is also evidence against the proposition that there are any cognitive prerequisites to emotion. Although I believe both are true, for the artist and one experiencing art of any medium, emotion begins at a level where one agrees to suspend their cognitive prerequisites, agrees to accept the “distraction or change” in an open and minimally systemized pre-rational state, in other words, a cognitive process to suspend cognitive rules or patterns. At that point, the work of art sets the “cultural rules” the allowable appraisals evoking emotion through the artistic environment. We can then participate using the cognitive processes we use in “real” situations.

Where appraisal theorists have difficulty is in coordinating passages in music with particular emotions (Ellsworth, 1984, p. 195). We know people experience emotions from listening to music such as “sad,” “fearful, “ “triumphant,” and “happy”. Ellsworth suggests that these responses would not be accounted for by appraisals of the music, that stimulus appraisals do not cause the emotions, but become part of the emotion. She suggests that eventually there may be a way to find cross-cultural commonalities in emotion by looking at pre-appraisal responses.

As one who experiences art, we can validate the influence of deliberately employed appraisals, but as one who is making art this presents a greater mystery.

Did you find this section of her paper intriguing? You can read the full article on Diane’s website blog.


ITP-logo_smallAbout The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University

Since 1975, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University has continued to be an international leader and pioneer, moving humanity forward in the areas of transpersonal research and transpersonal education. training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings.  The ITP/Sofia educational model offers students not only a solid intellectual foundation, but an extraordinary opportunity for deep transformational growth and personal experience of the subject matter. How does the University accomplish this? The university builds upon its strong, whole-person psychological foundation to give students a greater understanding of the human condition. Learn more about our university

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