The Essence Of Art-Portrait Of My Psyche 

I believe that mapping our psyche with different techniques gives us a blueprint. It shows us what we should and should not embrace.
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Portrait of My Psyche (2024) by N.M. Stephens. All rights reserved.

 

What is it that scares you? Who makes you afraid to take off that mask you wear daily and show the world who you really are? What do you believe in? What skeletons are you hiding in your closet?

Does life frighten you so much that you seek out darkness and suffering? Why do you hate yourself so much that you have to belong to feel whole? 

Whence did you lose your innocence and faith in the dark abyss that is existence? Your will to live?

These are but the endless stream of questions that plagued my consciousness when I had a manic episode earlier this year. Dark visions overwhelmed me, causing me to fall into a profound depression.  

Language lost its meaning in this sphere of existence. 

The poems no longer rhymed, and the white pages of my journal tormented me.  

I’m no old master, and calling myself a painter would disgrace all the artists who put their blood, sweat, and tears into the craft. But I needed something to try and understand what was going on with me and why everything around me had lost its meaning.

So I picked up a brush, and with a raw explosion of artistic expression and manic obsession, I created this painting called “Portrait of My Psyche.” 

I never wanted to be a painter; I wanted to understand myself. To map out the source of my suffering- my darkness. I couldn’t learn everything about painting in so little time. After all, I would have lost the fire of creativity and anger inside me if I had chosen mastery. So, I chose the path of implementation. 

Jean Michel Basquiat, the pioneering neo-expressionist painter, grabbed my attention with his captivating life and style. Basquiat masterfully combined text, visuals, and symbols to confront complex societal issues head-on, including racism, colonialism, and the agony of existence. His life story proves how he preserved his childlike spirit, infusing it into his art with unbridled passion. 

That is what I was looking for truth. My own truth. So, I took inspiration from his “Untitled” painting to map out my psyche. 

Untitled (1981) by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Acrylic and oilstick on canvas, 205.74 cm × 175.9 cm. The Broad, Los Angeles. Fair Use.

I had no idea what I wanted to say, so I implemented it as I went on. Every compartment in the skull represented a certain period in life, a transformation, or an event that affected my outlook on life. I mapped out the skull in a way that represented the day I was born to the present and used symbols to present major events that shaped my being.

 I used Adinkra Symbols, a verbal and visual medium used to communicate ideas in the Asante people of Ghana. I mapped out dark, repressed memories that haunted my existence, using codified language that only I understood.

The day I lost my faith after my mother took me to a “Faith Healer” because my grades were slipping. She told me that I had lost a chemistry book and that it had landed on someone who practiced ‘Black Magic.’ Of course, I never lost a chemistry book, and even if I did, what high school kid never lost a book?

Wonderful memories of my childhood, especially my connection to the sea. Then there was that one time my dad almost hanged me because they thought I had sold my mother’s phone. I never did! The skull’s a pit of repressed memories that fortified my psyche, and while facing them is painful, it’s redemptive.

Looking back, I didn’t know what I was doing. But when I look at the painting today, it reveals my entire life journey and the composition of my psyche. I understand where my darkness stems from and how to embrace it. 

Rollo May says, “You will betray yourself if you do not express your original ideas or listen to your being.

Whether it’s Goya’s solitary figure giving us a backward glance from a not-so-starry night or Kahlo’s colorful portraits that reflected on redemption through suffering, Kafka’s dark stories on the loss of self, Sylvia Plath’s obsession with death, or Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, Art can help us stitch every thread into our exploration of what it means to exist in nothingness.

How Does One Map Out Their Psyche? 

Curl Jung- The Red Book, Readers edition- Image Source

There lies in every subject a power to transcend its meaningless existence. Consciously or subconsciously, we all have insights into what it is that haunts us and stops us from becoming higher men: knights of faith.

Most of us run from ourselves, so we don’t find this inner gold within us. We live in the past and think about the future so much that we can’t savor the present.

I believe that mapping our psyche with different techniques gives us a blueprint. It shows us what we should and should not embrace. My goal is not to teach the framework you should follow to map out your psyche’s anatomy but to showcase how I mapped out my own. In fact, once I reflected on my blueprint, I felt embarrassed by my own arrogance and cluelessness.

Creating a portrait of your psyche gives you a true reflection of your being and what you’re all about. It gives you the tools to face your demons, stare into the lake of fire, and give life to darkness and madness.

Now, how does one map out their psyche?

This question is beyond my psychological and philosophical insight, but I will try to denote the method I used and what went through my mind when I created that painting.

First, you must choose a medium to visualize your mind’s, body’s, and spirit’s insights. It should be something you can be true to yourself. I find writing unreliable because you are tempted to romanticize certain events that define your existence. You risk creating a hero of yourself, which isn’t the essence of this setup. But if you believe in the power of your will, then you can go ahead and give it a try.

There is no limit to the mediums you can use. Music, poetry, painting, digital images, or even a hobby you like.

Let me expound on this.

Let’s say I love animation or 3-D worldbuilding. I can create a digital world of my existence from my past, present, and even the future if I am committed to transcendence.

I can share the events that shaped my childhood, the good, the bad, and the ugly. What did I love? Who were the people I interacted with? How was my schooling experience? Are there any events that shattered my world and exposed me to the real? These are just some things you can map out.

Authenticity is key here because the experiment loses its essence once you elevate or downplay any element. I have no guide on how to go about this because it’s not something I have figured out, as much as I stumbled upon.

If you need a similar framework, you can check out Dr. Peterson’s program on Self-authoring. It’s built on the same idea I am trying to communicate but from a scientific standpoint. I have never tried out the program, but I believe it has a much-warranted structure and research that is lacking in what I did.

You can also draw upon Carl Jung’s idea of active imagination when trying to map out the portrait of your psyche.

Active imagination, as developed by Jung, is a method to bridge the conscious and unconscious mind, allowing for a deeper exploration and integration of the self.

It’s a process where one engages with the images, symbols, and figures that arise from the unconscious in dialogue, giving them form and allowing them to unfold.

In his memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung recounts his encounter with the figure known as “The Red One” during his own practice of active imagination. This figure challenged and conversed with Jung, revealing profound insights and confronting him with aspects of his psyche he had not fully acknowledged. He writes;

The years… when I pursued the inner images were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me.

C. G. Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflections).

To engage in active imagination, you must allow yourself to enter a meditative state, free from distractions, and let your mind wander. Visualize a scenario or invite a figure to appear. Engage with whatever arises without judgment or censorship. Speak to these figures, ask them questions, and listen to their responses. Draw, write, or express these encounters in a medium that resonates with you.

Jung’s Red Book is a profound example of the power of active imagination.

In it, he writes, “My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you—are you there? I have returned; I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you.

C. G. Jung (The Red Book)

These words reflect the intimate dialogue with the unconscious, a quest to reconnect and understand the depths of the psyche.

Moving Forward  

Looking back, I wouldn’t say that mapping out my psyche significantly affected my life. That, I believe, is just the first step towards transcendence.

In the conventional psychoanalytic process, the second step is what determines if the subject overcomes obstacles and becomes who she is. This is where you use all those insights to work on your trauma, integrate your shadow, and elevate your awareness of who you are.

If you don’t know how to go about that, I highly recommend working with a psychotherapist to help you put back that worldview that will be shattered once you confront the darkest corners of your psyche.

Am working on a piece Called “Sessions- Let’s Talk About Therapy“, where I talk about my experience with Therapy. I explore my previous diagnosis, my encounter with other forms of therapy, including Faith healers and sex workers, and what I believe is the essence of psychotherapy, especially during this age marked my Neurological disorders.

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