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Interview With Anne Paris, PHD

I discuss my book, Standing at Water’s Edge, and share my clinical and theoretical ideas about the creative process. Click on each question to reveal my response, and get to know me a little better.

1 What do you want readers to get from this book?

I hope readers come away from this book feeling appreciated, understood, and less alone. I hope they feel strengthened, inspired, and comforted and that they gain a new awareness about how their internal world is affected by both real and imagined others. I hope they are left with a new appreciation of how the power of certain kinds of relationships can help them to grow as artists and as individuals.

2 How did writing the book affect you?

It was a wild experience because I felt I was living the book as I wrote it. Because I was involved in the very creative process I was writing about, it was an incredible mirror of my own internal states. Right along beside the artists I wrote about in the book, I experienced similar highs, lows, self-doubts, and grandiose fantasies. My family, friends, and colleagues were incredibly supportive. Throughout the long road to publication, I was confronted with my deepest hopes, dreams, fears, and dreads. I feel like I’ve stretched myself into many new horizons—professionally, artistically, and especially, interpersonally.

3 What does it take to be creative?

It takes feeling “connected in”, or immersed with the artwork. Sometimes it takes a great deal of courage to allow yourself to dive into that state of creative immersion—that state of being merged with the art form—because the whole process is very unknown and uncertain. I think that connections with others, whether in reality or fantasy, are what give us the courage to take that dive.

4 Is this book only for fine artists?

No! It is for anyone seeking to be creative, whether that is in fine art or in any endeavor that requires creativity, ingenuity, or scholarship.

5 In the book, you say that our sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency are illusions. Aren't we all trying to be independent? Isn't independence a good thing?

I say that self-sufficiency and independence are illusions because there is a dimension of interpersonal experience within us that is operating all the time but generally outside of our conscious awareness. When we tune into it, we see the powerful impact that our sense of connection with others has on our internal life—it can be good or bad, but when we pay attention to it, we discover that it affects our day to day, even moment to moment, behaviors, feelings, and productivity. Even when we’re alone, we have active imaginations and fantasies about longings and hopes for connection. This deep, even primal, longing for connection often goes unrecognized, or is dismissed as weak, needy, or defective. But I argue that we create in order to feel connected. We want to be seen and understood, to engage with and have an impact on others, and to have something valuable to offer. Although we have been taught that being strong and “grown up” means becoming independent and separate from others, this new perspective argues that we gain our independence, individuality, and self-confidence through our connections with others. Self-growth happens within connection, not apart from it.

6 These are bold statements that challenge our society's emphasis on being independent, strong, and self-sufficient. What is the basis for your radical argument?

I was trained in contemporary psychoanalytic theory, which has been coming to these conclusions over the past 30 years. The training that a therapist receives will certainly affect what kinds of things they tune into and “hear” when listening to a client. Because of this framework for understanding people, my clinical experience in talking with many artists naturally involved empathizing with, and inquiring about, their deeply felt hopes, fears, and dreads. Over the last decade, a plethora of scientific findings in neuroscience, primatology, and child development are supporting this new direction and are highlighting the power of interpersonal experience in propelling psychological development forward. I have applied these understandings to the artist involved in the creative process.

7 You say that connection with others is crucial in the creative process. Many of the artists I know are very private people who are most comfortable being alone. What about the isolated artist who produces a lot of work?

There are most certainly genetic and personality differences in how much connection we need to feel comfortable and at our best. Isolated or introverted artists often have a vivid and alive fantasy life of connecting with others that plays a powerful role in their creative productivity. Also, these artists may be turning to other types of connections (spirituality, play, pets, and other’s artwork) to sustain their work. For some artists at certain times, creative immersion may feel like the safest and most comfortable way of connecting with others, so their creativity flourishes even when they are isolated.

8 You argue that nowadays people have a much more difficult time attaching with others than being independent. What about people who attach too much and seem to lose their independence?

Healthy attachments involve mutuality—a give and take between people. When this give and take is relatively balanced, both people are strengthened. However, many of our struggles in life are about finding this balance. People who tend to give more than they receive, or putting the other person’s needs and feelings consistently ahead of their own, are likely to lose their sense of individuality and independence. It’s not that they should be less connected—it’s that they need to become more aware of their own needs and find ways to equalize the balance in the relationship.

9 You describe how all artists struggle with fear, vulnerability, and self-doubt. Many of the artists I know are arrogant and don't seem to care what others think. How do you understand these people?

The bigger the fear, the bigger the defense. These “arrogant” types are often the most sensitive and most insecure—they are emotionally fragile on the inside and cannot tolerate any hint of criticism or injury. They must hold tightly to their protective shell of grandiosity because negative responses from others are deeply threatening to them. The level of their arrogance equals the level of their internal fragility.

10 I've always thought I was supposed to be self-confident enough not to care what others think about me or my work. Isn’t it unhealthy to be reliant on the approval of other people?

No! We are social beings that constantly gauge what others think of us. It is normal, it is natural, and it is ok! When we can accept that we need others to be at our best, we can turn our attention and energy towards building mutual, give and take relationships with others that will propel us and them forward! Now we view “mental health” as the capacity to create and maintain relationships that will gratify and sustain us. Strength, inspiration, and confidence do not lie preformed in a person, covered up and waiting to be found. They are found in immersive connections with others, with the art, and with the audience.

11 What is the basis for blocks in the creative process? How does connecting with others help us along in our solitary creative endeavors?

Fear and a lack of connection with others are the basis for creative blocks and procrastinations. Developing and sustaining relationships with mirrors, heroes, and twins actually gives us the psychological nourishment—which we take in and make our own—to risk taking the dive. Finding support, inspiration, and comfort with others helps us to feel worthy, confident, and hopeful. These are the feelings that propel us forward.