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Niki de Saint Phalle: Using Art to Express Rage

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) was a French sculptor, painter, and film maker. She was self educated, and learned from many of the Surrealists in Paris, such as Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, and Salvador Dali.

Among the challenges she faced were being uprooted from her mother for the first three years of her life, and being raped by her father at a young age. [Info from a biography page.]

One consequence of that kind of abuse may be deep rage, and art can help deal with that anger and spiritual wounding constructively.

Psychologist Stephen Diamond, PhD explains in his book, “Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity,” our impulse to be creative “can be understood to some degree as the subjective struggle to give form, structure and constructive expression to inner and outer chaos and conflict.”

It takes courage

But this isn’t an easy or comfortable process, he notes.

“To confront consciously one’s inner demons — the daimonic — takes great courage. It is an enormous struggle with one’s self, a coming to terms with who one really is and how one really feels, an arduous, demanding process in which pursuing or persisting in artistic work can be instrumental.”

In his book, Diamond writes about a number of prominent and accomplished artists who exhibit varying degrees of success in accessing and expressing their demons in positive ways.

Painter and sculptor Niki de St. Phalle, was able to find “a fertile outlet for her ferocious rage toward men — and the dominant masculine art establishment — via the creative expression of violence in her highly controversial work.”

“Her famous ’shooting paintings’ resulted from firing live ammunition at paint-filled, white-washed balloons mounted on a blank, virginal canvas.

“Thus, rather than becoming a crazed killer or vengeful victimizer of men, de St. Phalle’s fury — some of which stemmed from having been sexually abused by her father — fostered a fecund creativity, that served her well throughout her prolific career.”

More in my interview with Dr. Diamond: The Psychology of Creativity: redeeming our inner demons.

See examples of her art at Tarot Garden official web site.

Related pages on my main site:
Abuse & creative expression
Healing & art

Niki de Saint Phalle: Using Art to Express Rage

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2010). Niki de Saint Phalle: Using Art to Express Rage. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2018, from


Last updated: 1 Sep 2010
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Sep 2010
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