Analyzing Art for Self-Exploration

“Vogel Selbsterkenntnis”
(“Bird of Self-Knowledge”)
Today, I would like to talk about art and how we can use different pieces of art for self-exploration. I use the term art very loosely here; it involves literature, music, movies, paintings, photography, video games, sculpture, etc.

Probably most of us notice that for some reason we like a particular song, movie, painting, picture, fictional character, and so on. It connects with us on a psycho-emotional level. Sometimes we can even name exactly what it triggers in us and what it means to us. For example, we hear a song and we consciously think, “Oh, this song reminds me of a day I met my first girlfriend.” Or, “When I was watching this movie, I could connect with the sadness protagonist was feeling when his dog died, because my dog is dead too.” I mentioned this in my video where I analyze three of Eminem’s songs – often people like something or connect with something without even exploring why, but I would argue there's a deeper reason why this happens.

So, with this article I would like to invite you to explore in greater detail what a specific piece of art means to you and why do you feel drawn to it – positively or negatively. (By positively, I mean that it triggers pleasant emotions, memories, or thoughts in us, things like joy, playfulness, strength, connectedness, hope, and so on. By negatively, I mean that it’s related to emotionally unpleasant things, like loneliness, sadness, despair, anger, hurt, loss, etc.)

This process is somewhat similar to dream analysis, since art often uses indirect, metaphorical, symbolic communication. This process, like dream analysis, can be very useful and help us to understand ourselves better. I can give you a couple of personal examples.

I always knew that I like a particular song for a reason. I somewhat knew what those reasons are, but one day I decided to open my playlist and write down songs that I connect with the most. My list was close to 100 songs. I attentively listened to each one of them and let myself feel and think what came up. Different songs triggered different things for me, and I was consciously aware what was going on for me.

In the past, I remember listening to music, and out of nowhere I would feel this big lump rising in my throat. I couldn’t connect it with a specific emotion or experience. It seemed like a mix of many different things. And then I would listen to another song, and again I would feel this lump of repressed, unknown emotions coming up, just rising. And then I would see something on TV, and the same thing would happen....

Sometimes it was somewhat clear that, let’s say, listening to Marilyn Manson in my adolescence helped me to feel my feelings of pain, hurt, despair, loneliness, anger, and so on. But sometimes this lump could even end with tension in my face and stomach or tears in my eyes, but I still wouldn’t be quite sure what specifically was I feeling and experiencing while listening to this particular song, observing a particular character, or watching that particular scene.

So, one day I consciously made a song list and wrote down my emotions, experiences, memories, and thoughts related to each song. I was surprised and satisfied by the clarity and awareness this process gave me. Firstly, I had a great opportunity to understand and process a lot of stuff that was coming up during that process. Secondly, it helped me to connect with my feelings better. And thirdly, now I have a list of triggers that I can use when I want to connect with a specific emotion or thought, or memory. Because in the past my defenses were very strong, and I had a very hard time connecting with my emotions and feeling them – I could only feel them unconsciously, or mixed in a form of this lump in my throat, or I would act them out without consciously realizing what’s really going on on a deeper level.

I got a lot out of this process. Now I know that, for example, this song helps me to connect with a part of me that feels contempt for society; that song helps me to process my relationship with my brother better; this song helps me to feel energized and empowered; and that song I connect with healing and self-searching.

So now if I want to, let’s say, work on my ancient feeling of loneliness, but for some reason I can’t quite connect with it, I can find a couple of songs that would help me get in the mood, so to speak, and connect with my lonely inner child better.

Same thing applies to movies, TV shows, poems, books, video games, paintings, and other pieces of art.

I mentioned this in my video about a narcissistic mother, that I sometimes analyze art I don’t even like that much. I like analysis and introspection in general. For instance, this example of a narcissistic mother I use in my video is from a TV show “Twisted.” And it’s a pretty bad show, to be honest. These days I in general watch movies, TV shows, or read fiction very rarely. But one day I was tired and started watching “Twisted,” very loosely. And eventually I’m glad I did, because it had these amazing scenes about a narcissistic mother and her interaction with her son.

Also, I just remembered, one day I was playing a Batman video game. In it, there was an interaction between Batman and The Riddler. For those who are not familiar with Batman’s universe, The Riddler is a villain who has a very high IQ, is skilled, creative, logical, great at pattern recognition, knowledgeable – but he’s very insecure and tries to prove his superiority by outsmarting everyone around him and trying to prove himself. I’m not into comics, so I wasn’t deeply familiar with the character before. I just knew that he is smart, he likes riddles and to challenge people intellectually. So I was playing, I saw his character develop, I felt my interest in this character growing, and at some point I thought to myself, “Hey, wait a minute, I have these great qualities too, and part of me also feels insecure and undervalued, because I was raised by a mother who was very narcissistic, demanding, and controlling.”

(For example, I was pretty much always either at the top of my class or in the top three. And I remember one time at the end of the year I came home with a grade point average of 9.6 out of 10 (10 being the optimal grade). My mother said, “Yeah, it’s good, but next year do better.” I was in my teens at that time, and I felt I had enough of this crap, I was boiling inside, so I expressed my anger and discontent to her without caring too much about the consequences. But part of me felt very hurt and undervalued for being treated like this for years – and in my adult life this part was still afraid of “not being good enough” and yearning for proper recognition and validation.... So, going back to Batman and The Riddler, at some point I realized why I feel interested in the interaction between them and why I find The Riddler an interesting character. It's because I have a part that on some level can connect with him. This instance helped me in my self-work on my struggles of perfectionism and insecurity, and in becoming more vulnerable, relaxed, less competitive, and less anxious.)

Why do I find The Joker to be an interesting character? Why do I like horror movies so much (I did in the past)? Why don’t I like this shallow, unintelligent female protagonist? Why am I so repulsed by this scene? Why is this picture so heartwarming for me? And so on. These are the questions I raise to myself and answer when I interact with a particular piece of art.

So, I would like to invite you to write down ten or twenty songs you like the most. Or ten of your favorite TV shows and movies. Or ten of your favorite books. Or ten of your favorite video games. Or ten fictional characters you like the most. Whatever you prefer.

Then try to analyze it piece by piece. What this song means to me? What do I feel when I listen to it? What thoughts come up? Do I have any specific memories when I listen to it? What do I like about that TV show? What do I think about this character? What is he or she like? What are their 5 positive and 5 negative qualities? Do they remind me of somebody – of my parents, teachers, friends, acquaintances? Do I have or had any qualities and attributes that this character portrays – be it virtue or vice? Do I have some parts in me that feel or act or think like this character – positively or negatively?

You would be amazed what you can learn about yourself. It’s really worth it!

If you want to share your experience with this process, you are always welcome to do that in the comment section below.

Have a self-knowledgeable day,

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