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Williams, M.H. (2008). The Role of Incantation: Life Drawing as an Analogue to Psychoanalytic Process. Psychoanal. Rev., 95(3):463-472.

(2008). Psychoanalytic Review, 95(3):463-472

The Role of Incantation: Life Drawing as an Analogue to Psychoanalytic Process

Meg Harris Williams

If we are among those who accept that the practice of psychoanalysis is an art form, as well as being a descriptive science, then it makes sense to consider in what ways the older art forms can contribute in their distinct individual ways to our understanding of psychoanalytic process—that is, to what happens in the consulting room. The art form that is the subject of this paper is the traditional discipline of life drawing, and I focus specifically on the function that the Kleinian art critic Adrian Stokes described as “incantation.” I suggest that a clear mental image of this process may, by analogy, help to enhance our awareness of the emotional pull of the transference-countertransference: its inspiration and its pitfalls.

Stokes (1965) first formulated the role of incantation for use as a contemplative tool in the field of art criticism, where he wrote about “the invitation in art” and our complex projective-introjective response to the aesthetic object. He saw the term as applying equally to the experience of the artist and the art viewer, and I believe it to be an essential feature of our aesthetic response in any area, and that we need to find ways of describing its operation in different contexts. The idea of focusing on the practical activity of life drawing in this paper is not to suggest that all psychoanalysts should immediately rush to the lifestudio—although my own life-drawing teacher, like many people with a sense of mission, would certainly have recommended this quite literally.

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