Envy This!

A deeper look at one of the mind's most misunderstood states.

Aesthetics and Envy

An Approach to Envy Management through Art

Aesthetics and technology are hallmarks of civilizations, namely, their defining accomplishments. Indeed, both may be used as tools to enrich life’s transformative and reparative journey. The entire range of aesthetic pursuits is one way that envy is uncovered and transformed. 

Individuals often find themselves identified with a misperceived Ordinary World where complacency and not a restless dissatisfaction is the norm. Some, however, break through callous perception and experience a rebellious impulse provoking a call to adventure — a wish to approach and explore the extraordinary. One such impulse may be an attraction to art with its appeal of universal human themes — concerns that transcend individual heritage and ethnicities. Art may also represent sacred and visionary themes--metaphors at the base of hidden impulses, personal attitudes, and subtle inclinations.

Reluctance to approach the mischievous Unknown — one’s unconscious mind — is an obstacle to exploring the aesthetic impulse. Misbelief in unconscious processes — hidden points of urgency — is triggered by fear and disbelief. For example, the query, “What do I tell myself about myself?” indicates the degree of openness versus denial of one’s private unconscious mind, especially if one questions its potential for goodness.

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Crossing the threshold into aesthetics and separating from the crowd is stepping outside the black box of conventionality. Plunging into aesthetics requires awareness, surrender, and a falling into art. Great courage is needed since one may be skeptical of embracing aesthetic experience, especially if conventional “beauty” is not apparent. The world of art may appear confusing, inconsistent, enigmatic, or even boring. The intimate encounter with art and its strongly provoked emotions may trigger a wish to dismiss facing one’s unconscious world--a horde of nemesis, fantasy, and personal flaws, all of which art can evoke. Understanding and refining the mind is an arduous journey.

Risk, however, may be offset with unparalleled benefits for self-development. Unexpected transformative feelings resulting from aesthetics and a greater penetration into one’s unconscious roots have the power to stimulate a creatively therapeutic entrepreneurship. Sudden insight may be followed by gradual cultivation. Perceptual, emotional, and thought elements gather together and form coalitions helping one begin to become acquainted with who they are or may become. Aesthetics, a reading of unconscious sources, calls forth awe and a reverence that may prompt personal change — openness to intellectual, relationship, and spiritual endeavors. Art counters one’s hidden sense of personal ugliness with a deeper sense of aspirational illumination, however fragile this insight may be. Art may provide a therapeutic spark that fosters self-reflection and budding moral relevance. Empathy, compassion for differences, sharing, generosity, and humane creativity become enhanced.

Aesthetics is a way of communicating — without words — aspects of the sublime unconscious with that of others. It is sensing the way others identify and relate to one’s own experience. Colors — dynamically organized — may evoke therapeutic processes that are healing and restorative. Art is both highly personal but also communal, and may be an underrated part of cultural transmission through family experience and childhood education.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming textbook, Biomental Child Development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting)

Frank John Ninivaggi, M.D., F.A.P.A., is an Associate Attending physician at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine. more...

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