CREATIVE CONSTRUING - PERSONAL
CONSTRUCTIONS IN THE ARTS
|Jörn W. Scheer and Kenneth W. Sewell (Eds.)
|Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag, 2006, Paperback, 216 pages, €
|reviewed by David M. Mills
OF THE ARTIST AS A PERSONAL SCIENTIST
been reading about Personal Construct Theory and I get the
metaphor, but I'm not so sure about where the arts come in. What's
about construing? I mean, sure we are all something like an artist,
just as we
are all something like a scientist. But I'd like to know more about
connection between PCT and the arts. You are all artists of some kind.
Singer: Well, I
don't know that I'd say I am an artist. I enjoy singing, and that is
an important part of who I am. But I wouldn't call myself a singer.
Dancer: I think
if you sing, you're a singer. Just like I dance, so I'm a dancer.
Singer: In a way,
yes, but the difference between singing and being a singer is a
one—being a real singer, I mean. Vivien Burr talks about that in her
that book on creative construing.
Dancer: And Sara
Bridges says similar things about dancing. I know that I construe
myself as a
person who dances, and that is very important to me, but whether that
that I am a dancer is another question. It's a matter of who gets to
Actor: Of course
we actors are always construing ourselves in at least two ways at once,
character and as a member of the cast. I usually don't have time to
whether I construe myself as an actor.
Personally, I find all this autobiography to be a bit daunting. Do I
construe myself as a reviewer before I can throw my hat into this
Dancer: Well, you
could construe yourself as a recreational reviewer, I suppose.
reviewing an art form? Or something else?
question of how people involved in the arts construe themselves is just
the fascinating questions considered in the collection of essays, Creative
Construing: Personal Constructions in the Arts edited by Jörn
W. Scheer and
Kenneth W. Sewell. It is, like its subject matter, an eclectic and
of creative explorations. So I will construe myself as a person who has
involved in one way or another with all of the forms of art discussed
book and join the participants in wondering about the interplay of
psychological and artistic construing.
Construing opens “A PCT view of novel
writing and reading” by Don Bannister,
followed by Max Farrar's discussion of Bannister's own novels. The
seen as an extended form in which the constructive aspects—both in the
and in the reading—emerge slowly enough to be laid out for easier
Fransella contributes an essay on Kelly as a literary figure—his
and his poetry—in which she wonders whether we may find in them secrets
Kelly's own view of his psychological work.
Writer: So both
Bannister and Kelly seem to have used literary creation as a way of
things they couldn't reach in psychological mode.
Student: That is
consistent with what Kelly himself said about how the poor scientist
poor writer “both fail in their make-believe.” Kelly and Bannister are
willing to use both kinds of make-believe to get to what they had to
yes, and then in his essay, Chris Stevens lets a group of fiction
for themselves about their use of 'non-validation' as an important part
their creative process. They describe a kind of deliberate holding open
Experience Cycle to create a space in which their characters can find
path in ways the writer cannot anticipate. Or rather, it is a different
anticipating, “a bodily stance toward one's world” except in this case
the world they are creating. Stevens and the writers describe this as
'waiting upon' kind of anticipating than a 'looking for.'
writing is more like a personal natural history than a personal science?
Writer: Yes, I
suppose it is; it's like moving into new, unknown territory and just
see what comes along and making sense of it as it comes. And one of the
fascinating things about that is what it reveals about myself. As the
comes together, I find myself coming together in a new way as well. And
it actually 'feels' different. Interesting how such an obviously mental
activity like writing a novel reveals what a bodily activity construing
Dancer: Hmm. That's
interesting. I feel like that after I dance, but I never thought of
that way. And Personal Construct Theory can help us understand things
that? I wonder why this hasn't been looked at before.
premise of the book is that Personal Construct Theory can be useful for
a fresh look at the arts, and in particular how artistic activity
artist's self-construing. In the process, it also shows that the arts
fresh look at PCT. Richard Bell goes so far as to cast Poetry as
of Personal Construct Theory. But this is a group that takes the
Personal Construct Theory seriously, as we find in Sean Brophy's
account of writing haiku as a means of elaborating vitally important
Writer: As Brophy
says, “Reading and writing are acts of philosophy.” There is a close
between the construing involved in writing and the equally revealing
in reading. I wonder if this same parallel is present with other art
know, speaking of personal accounts, Jörn Scheer actually
interviews himself about
PCP and jazz. He says that being “a PCP person” and being “a jazz
a lot of similarities—both are somewhat out of the mainstream and both
some way “in between.” Anyway, talking about jazz rhythms, he cites
Coker's book on improvising, a book I happen to have myself. I remember
Coker received a letter from a jazz pianist named Browne who taught
Yale, and I think that Browne had some very PCT sounding things to say
Richmond Browne: The listener is constantly making
predictions; actual infinitesimal predictions as to whether the next
will be a repetition of something, or something different. The player
constantly either confirming or denying these predictions in the
As nearly as we can tell, the listener must come out right about 50% of
time—if he is too successful in predicting, he will be bored; if he is
unsuccessful, he will give up and call the music 'disorganized.'1
that was it. Isn't that what the writers were doing? And one way or
other kinds of artists are doing the same thing.
Actor: So art is
always a sort of conversation between the artist and the audience—a
conversation of setting up anticipations and then validating or
Dancer: Or a
there is really quite a bit going on in this little book. The essays
generally into three categories, though as might be expected from a
psychologist/artists, few of them will hold still and fit into only one
category. Basically, though, there are those, like Bannister's that
an art form or its personal or social uses in PCT terms. Other essays
group are Eric Button's “Music and the Person,” about how we use music
self-construction, Devorah Kalekin-Fishman's “Construing sounds,
music and non-music,” about how kindergarten children are taught to
music and non-music, and Jonathan Raskin's “Sociality and the sitcom.”
A second group collect
the views, or
consider the experiences, of individuals involved in the arts to reveal
that personal reconstruing through creative activity is extended across
people's lives. In “Stand at the back and pretend – the experience of
to sing,” Mary Frances gives us the story of a group of people who were
convinced in early life that they “could not sing,” and who had the
experience of reconstruing both what singing is and who they were.
Cipolletta does a similar thing with a group of students in dance class
“Construing through the body: The dancing experience,” showing through
analysis of the dancers' experiences just how embodied personal
surprisingly, some of the most
lively essays are those that are personal accounts of construing and
reconstruing in artistic form. In addition to those already
“Haiku poetry: Escape from constriction,” Burr's “Becoming a singer:
voice,” Bridges' “Music and mirrors: Dance as a construction of self”
“Living with jazz: Construing cultural identity”—co-editor Kenneth
contributes “Construing characters and cast: Personal constructs on the
and in the dressing room.” Each of these is a personal reflection in
author's story as a PCT person is inseparable from their story as an
traces her own journey from being a person who sings to embodying her
self-construction as “a singer.” Bridges tells a multidimensional story
which she returns to dance and yet never left it, and in which she
question of who gets to decide whether construing oneself as an artist
with others' expectations. Sewell's story is explicitly
exploring the layers of construing of an actor—as simultaneously a
a story being performed for an audience and a member of a cast, both on
The collection rounds
out with C.T. Patrick
Diamond's reflection on years of working toward a constructivist and
approach in higher education and Jörn Scheer's helpful “A short
Personal Construct Psychology” for readers who are coming to the book
Actor: It seems
that everyone in this book is playing out multiple layers of
in itself says something about the constructive nature of art. I mean,
Vivian Burr says about the postural aspects of playing the role of
how that affects the singing, and the relation to the audience, is
what Kenneth is saying.
Dancer: Yes, and
the way those dancers were embodying their self-construing in how they
space and time is like that too.
Writer: But it's
also like what the writer does. In fact, I've written a haiku about
writer, I am.
Singer: Not fair.
You're the only one who can put any of what you do here.
That's true. But that's a whole other set of questions about
between art forms—like how with writing both the creation and the
the reader are more extended in time and space. Anyway, what I think
is the similarities. But I do like how so many of the contributers are
telling their own stories. Is that what artists are always
telling their own stories?
is a strong emphasis in several of these essays on the ways in which
reveals the embodied quality of personal construing. This is naturally
evident in the performing arts, but to go along with the writer's
the 'feeling' of a story coming together, I remember a comment by
American artist, Bill Reid, about the life of a piece of sculpture.
we look at a particular piece of Northwest Coast
see the shape of it, we are only looking at its afterlife. Its real
life is the
movement by which it got to be that shape.2
takes me back to the questions I began with. I suppose a person can't
a scientist without being an artist. Of course, construing must be
and it is by observing the arts that we see that in practice most
seems that not only does PCT reveal something about the arts, but the
reveal important things about PCT. They are where we can see personal
construing right out in front of us.
Dancer: And respond to it with personal construing of our own.
a good idea to finish with. It seems in the end, that every artist,
they construe themselves to be Artists or not, is actively engaged,
to action through which the person, as Kelly puts it, “becomes a
event” in their own experience. And it appears that this is true for
who engages with art as well as the one who creates it.
1 Quoted in
Coker, J. (1964) Improvising
Jazz, New York: Simon & Schuster
2 Reid, B. (1971)
Visions exhibit at Seattle Art Museum
is a founding member of The Performance School in Seattle, Washington. He has
been investigating how personal constructs are embodied in performance,
theoretically and in practice with performers for more than 25 years.
Mills, D. M.
(2006). Portrait of the artist as a personal
scientist: A review of: Scheer, J. W., Sewell, K. W. (Eds.) (2006) Creative Construing -
Personal Constructs in the Arts. - Personal
Construct Theory & Practice, 3, 34-37, 2006
(Retrieved from http://www.pcp-net.org/journal/pctp06/mills06.html)
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|Received: 16 December 2006 - Accepted: 16 December 2006 -
Published: 17 December 2006