Fifteen years ago, Randy Carden became a painter.
He’d already spent 20 years of his life devoted to the study of psychology, and though the discipline interested him beyond any other, he felt something was missing. Sources of inspiration are not as evident in diagnostic manuals and behavioral analysis, it seems. At least, Carden said, maybe not at first glance.
Now, after almost four decades in the field of psychology, Carden said he sees that even the most clinical of diagnoses can be reflected in art.
“Most everything we do is a projection of the self. Painting, in many ways, is a projection of the personality onto the canvas. Our personal history, personality, emotions, thoughts and learning experiences all influence the expression of art,” he said. “Painting may sometimes be a response to the environment or a response to our mood or emotions. Or painting could be an interaction between our perception and the individual. We may perceive something in the environment and attempt to express that perception on the canvas. In between the actual perception of the visual stimulus, like a landscape, for example, and the product on the canvas lies the person as a kind of filter.
“Viewing art can produce strong responses internally for which there may not be words,” Carden continued. “A person may be emotionally moved by a piece of art and may cry during the experience or feel a sense of ecstasy. And, of course, various art forms affect individuals differently.”
Earlier this year, Carden was one of 10 artists from around the country whose work was chosen to be exhibited in the Arts Mid-Hudson Gallery in New York. Five of his pieces were exhibited, and Carden said he used warm and cool colors to illustrate his theme of impulse control across the developmental lifespan.
At Trevecca, Carden has found a way to blend his loves of painting and psychology by teaching a course dedicated to examining the connectedness of the two disciplines. As one of only a few psychology of art classes offered in the country, opportunities for this form of interdisciplinary study are few and far between. At Trevecca, this course is one of many that allow for the blending of seemingly disparate disciplines.
Among the areas of study are the ways in which art relates to the projection of self, Gestalt’s perceptual principles, personality, creativity, the relationship between different biological and psychological abnormalities, and the role of a person’s unconscious mind in art.
“Art has become such a big part of my life since I started painting, and to have the space to study how it all kind of goes together and works together is rare,” Carden said. “In the course, we look at things like whether there is a relationship between your personality and your art preferences. … It’s one of my favorite courses to teach.”
Frances Gary, a retired elementary school teacher who has taken Carden’s psychology of art class, spent most of her professional career in a classroom, working as a common core instructor during the last five years of her career. In her work, the connections between disciplines were everywhere, Gary says—and when she retired, she was interested in further exploring those connections.
“I think that’s the way the real world works. We are surrounded by beauty and people all the time. We are in conversations daily. In everyday life, disciplines overlap,” Gary said. “In Dr. Carden’s class, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. I learned how the colors we put into our gardens can make a difference in our moods and how landscape artists use colors to affect viewers. I love flowers and work in my yard all the time, but it took taking Dr. Carden’s class for me to realize that I had been omitting the art principles. Nature is interwoven, and the beauty of Trevecca’s curriculum is that our classes can be too.”
Carden enjoys exploring that interconnectivity during the class.
“Our natural tendency is to separate domains, but psychology relates to almost everything. The psychology of art class is all about looking at the intersections,” he said. “It is about bringing things together instead of separating things.”
For Gary, an artist herself, the class helped her learn more about herself as well as her art.
“Every day was different in that class, and, ultimately, I learned both about the psychology of art and about myself as an artist,” Gary said. “I was just soaking up knowledge every day.”
To learn more about Trevecca’s psychology program or art minor, visit www.trevecca.edu/artsandsciences.