Art  Child-Adolescent Psychotherapy  Education

Deborah Shaer​: artist & Arts Therapist 



                                           Author: Deborah Shaer, revised 13 November 2016, London


I am curious about the pull toward the acquisition of art sold at Sotheby's and Christie's catering to billionaires willing to pay hundreds of millions in pounds or dollars for a single art piece by a brand name.  My thoughts often go to the struggling artist such as Van Gogh, whose blend of creative genius and passion failed to attract the art collectors of his day. Having recently read a few books on the business of art and being left with a cold sense of nothingness, I have given more thought to these high-end transactions from a psychological viewpoint.  From a perspective of narcissistic wounding in the earliest developmental stages where deficits in positive mirroring, safety and loving affection were lean and inadequate, the consequences can at least be imagined in. So in my imaginings I explore this idea that through the fractured lens of someone whose narcissistic wounds remain unconscious, that the scenario mentioned can be played out in the acquiring rare art as more like a game, a gamble and an addiction to the thrill of possessing something unattainable by the majority of the population.


I am also wondering whether the driving force behind the competitive interactions in the auction room provides some kind of replication from the past in the compelling need for an unfulfilled wanting for something out of reach, i.e. mother, until possessed?  Someone of this disposition may have an insatiable need to be lavishly and endlessly fed, perhaps like a very young child who, having been neglected, has found a transitional object to appease him momentarily (Winnicott, 2010).  Just as a baby whose dependency requires basic necessities and more, such as mother’s milk, nourishing food and the presence of caring, competent, attentive and physically safe and affectionate caregivers, these roots, when nurtured, allow a child to develop into a well-adjusted adult.  Freud expressed his strong convictions in this area of early infancy and the consequences of neglect and other unpleasant factors into the building of personality and characteristics in adulthood. I am not suggesting that this is a mark of emotional deficits in the relatively tiny portion of the global population that have managed to amass unimaginable wealth.  But within this sector it may be seen in individuals who have a sort of malady, like an inverse barometer, unable to distinguish between their internal and material worth as a consequence of inadequate parenting.  For example, is an extremely wealthy individual attempting to buy inspiration, or love, or a sense of self in an attempt to feel complete?  

The core of inspiration would seem to imply an internal experience that may be triggered by any number of things, evoking immense joy in the moment, with no compulsion to possess a thing or a person who is seen as a thing. In contrast to the allusions of grandiosity (an aspect that can manifest from narcissistic wounding), pure inspiration overflows with juice and joy without a price tag.  Feeling uplifted, inspired and energised are good reasons to engage with something that creates a sense of wellbeing and buoyancy. A lover of art, for example, finding inspiration at an art exhibit who is drawn to a particular art piece may experience such a powerful resonance as to transcend into a visceral elongated moment. The resonance is significant, as each of us attune to our unique repertoire of attraction, revulsion, indifference, or anything in-between.

Years ago I was doing some fashion research at the V & A and in one of the books (I didn’t make a note of the title or author) was a section on the history of high heels.  It explained that originally high heels were worn by men; those guys with the white wigs and shiny attire a few centuries back.  And the intention behind these heels was to distinguish their elite societal position in two ways, (1) a symbol denoting an elevated position and (2) the impracticality of the high heels as communicating their superiority by the very fact of its superfluous function.  The thing is that high heels as a status symbol, at least, can be considered an object of beauty in its design and craft and look appealing, depending on whether the shoes are aesthetically compatible with the wearer. Whereas the value of a branded artist's work, no matter how brilliant and original the creative thought in the interweaving of the idea onto an object, may have more to do with cultivated hype, targeting the higher echelons of the socio-economic elite as a mark of status. I link this idea of status to those insecure and self-doubting art buyers who hand over their power and commission to certain art experts. So having no real sense of self, having gone along with that advice, may in hindsight wonder what possessed them to spend millions on this prestigious but bewildering art-piece embodied in the stuffed backside of a horse, sticking out of their living room wall. 

And a larger question may arise, as it has again and again, as to what is art if the art itself does not evoke genuine inspiration? Confusion occurs by insecure spectators thinking that there is something to understand, but rather becoming aware somatically and emotionally what is being evoked for them in the moment, even if it is nothing. Taking the time to really look, be curious and connect with what an art-piece may evoke or not, over time develops the capacity for awareness. In a wider context it can also deepen cognitive awareness to notice that art is everywhere, whether embodied in a puddle or a dance of sunlight and shadows through the rustling of leaves.  Internally, so much can shift and change from a dull to an inspiring sense that the world with all its fractures, can transform into an alchemical moment. 





Martin, S (2011) An Object of Beauty: A Novel, London, Phoenix

Thompson, D (2012) The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, London, Aurum Press Ltd

Thornton, S (2009) Seven Days in the Art World, London, Granta Books

Winnicott, D W (2010) Playing and Reality, London, Routledge

​Copyright Deborah Shaer 2016. All Rights Reserved