A review of Standing at the Water’s Edge by Anne Paris

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Standing at Water’s Edge:
Moving Past Fear, Blocks, and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative Immersion
By Anne Paris
New World Library
Paperback: 272 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1577315896, April 28, 2008

Any artist/writer who creates from a deep seated place – a place of intensity and authenticity – will understand the fear at the point of immersion. It’s always scary and often confronting to work with our own deep seated material. Anne Paris’ book Standing at Water’s Edge looks specifically at the concept of creative immersion; encouraging the reader to take the plunge and providing tips to overcome the blocks and fear that come naturally to such an undertaking. The book is easily read and clearly written, using many anecdotes and personal accounts from Paris’ own experiences and perhaps more importantly, from her experience as a clinical psychologist specialising in the particular issues that artists have.

Understanding the fear at the base of the connection with ourselves and others that leads to creativity, we can begin to work on developing strategies and relationships that support rather than hinder our creative process. Paris’ prose is affirmative, compassionate and supportive and will help artists to take better care of their emotional needs. The book is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the whole notion of creativity, looking at where it comes from, and the internal drivers and fears that underpin how we create. The second part deals with the kinds of relationships that artists develop and require in order to work, and why they are so important. These include people that Paris has typed as “mirrors,” “heroes,” “twins,” and the “audience.” The third part looks at the stages of an artistic project and how to move in and out of immersion to heighten the quality of our work, and the emotional experiences that go along with it. At the end of each chapter is a “guide” which synthesises the chapter, and provides a series of steps to help artists put them into practice.

Each chapter begins with one or more quotations from a famous artist or artists, that focuses on the point of the chapter. At the end of each chapter, readers are offered “Guides” with helpful suggestions on how to put the ideas from the chapter into practice. The book ends with a series of incomplete sentence prompts which helps the reader explore their fantasies, self-perceptions, fears, and support structures.

The whole notion of creative immersion is a fascinating one and one which hasn’t been explored in a great deal of detail, and certainly not in way that takes high level psychological analysis, and puts it into a practical context for artists. Paris looks at the idea of creative immersion from as broad a perspective as possible, looking, not only at the notion of how we immerse in our own creative place to create, but also how we use the work of others:

…another way to experience immersion is by appreciating someone else’s art. I believe that it is the hope for an immersive experience that leads us to art galleries, concerts, and bookstores. Listening to music, looking at a painting or photograph, watching a ballet, or reading a book can be a vitalizing, strengthening, and transformative experience. Carl Rotenberg referred to this immersive experience as a “shared experiential space” between the viewer and the artist. We feel that the artist has expressed what we needed to express, that the artists has put into form what we experience and imagine. (22)

The work of many other artists and analysts are referenced and explored along the way, and Paris uses her own immersion in the work of Peter Gabriel as an example. She also references the impact of her own relationships and those of others that she has worked with to illuminate her points. This is well paced and inspirational book which artists and creative people of all kinds will find valuable. Creating real art from a place of honesty can be confronting and painful. Standing at Water’s Edge provides a deep psychological understanding of what is required, and how we can allow ourselves deeper immersion into the world of our art, regardless of what kind of art we practice. The end result will be not only more powerful art, but a better sense of who we are and how to overcome the many fears that block our creative impulses in all aspects of our lives.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.