Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Creative Soul

The Creative Soul: Art and the Quest for WholenessReview of The Creative Soul, by Lawrence H. Staples, Ph.D.
(2009, Fisher King Press, www.fisherkingpress.com,
ISBN 978-0-9810344-4-7)

Reviewed by Joey Madia

Eighteen months ago, I reviewed Dr. Staples’s Guilt with a Twist, a book with which I had some reservations. In the case of The Creative Soul (subtitled “Art and the Quest for Wholeness”), a relatively short book (91 pages including the Index), he has expanded on my favorite section of Guilt, dealing with the process of creativity as it applies to mental health and the integration of the Shadow, a core idea in the work and writings of Carl Jung (Staples is a Jungian analyst who trained in Switzerland after making a mid-life career-switch at the age of 50). 

Inherent in the process of integrating one’s Shadow is the first step of acknowledging that it exists and exploring the push and pull of opposites at play within us all. It is this dynamic tension between good and evil, light and dark, loyalty to other and loyalty to self that feeds and fuels our creative impulses. For those whose denial of the Shadow is so deep as to cause a psychic wound, the creative act can also be the healing act.

The Creative Soul employs a successful mix of scholarship, anecdote, and writings created by Dr. Staples patients (a formula he also uses in Guilt).

At the start of it all is the alchemical process—the manipulation of the prima materia, the first spark, the subconsciously implanted seed. In line with St. Thomas, if you bring what’s in you forth, it will save you; if you do not, it will kill you—or at the very least, it will result in the endless depression and suicidal thoughts that bring many people to therapy in the first place.

Any time you are talking about opposites, you must also talk about balance, and Dr. Staples spends a good deal of time sharing anecdotes about the button-down type whose true passion is painting, on the one hand, and the artist with no sense of stability at all. Both lifestyles are unsustainable and ultimately lead to similar ends. It is “the contrast between the opposites, not merely one of the individual opposites itself, that produce(s) the consciousness of the good feeling” (p. 39).

One technique discussed in the book is the use of dream material to fuel our creative endeavors. Dr. Staples mentions Mel Mathews, whose trilogy about the character Malcolm Clay I reviewed five years ago (also from Fisher King Press) and another book I have reviewed that readers might find of interest is Jon Lipsky’s Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out (Larson Publications).

Another area of interest is the cyclical nature of the creative process, and its different phases—for writers, there is the brainstorming and writing (the free creative act) and the editing and revision process (the technical work). Mix these up, and you get “writer’s block.” The pure creative act and the technical work are another set of opposites that are each severely limited in isolation.

Other areas covered in The Creative Soul are Art as Therapy and the true risk we take as artists when we put the deepest, darkest pieces of ourselves out into the world for criticism.

This book is highly recommended for anyone who works in the creative arts, especially teachers and therapists seeking to better express to students and analysands the joys and challenges of the creative process and the great value for healing, expression, and communication it has in our lives.

Joey Madia is the author of Jester-Knight, a playwright, and the founding editor of www.newmystics.com .

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