May 18, 2020 at 6:15 pm #74026
Such a rich conversation, and so much I’d love to respond to everyone – but rather than just tossing out a stream-of-consciousness word salad (my default setting – Gemini, you know), I’ve been letting my thoughts simmer in the back of my brain.
What keeps coming to the surface for me, Mary, is something you said that sparks a personal memory:
This is the reminder that while sometimes an idea comes from outside of the artist, a lot of the process nonetheless has to come from within as one does the actual work and that sometimes it is a deep and difficult process. If it is not a quick poem that writes itself, then some of the continuing work that we have to do on a larger work (can you imagine writing a Finnegan’s Wake of your own or a War and Peace?) has to be dredged up from inside ourselves. The sediment we bring to the surface can be residue from yesterday or from a thousand yesterdays ago. It can be an ancient pain as much as an ancient joy or yesterday’s sorrow as well as yesterday’s joy.
“The sediment we bring to the surface” takes me back almost three decades, to a year when I roomed in a house owned by a local artist (we’ll call him Chris, just in case someone on COHO is from my hometown). Chris painted primarily in pastels, but also oils, created prints, etc. At the time I was staying there Chris hadn’t made the leap to full time artist; he was running a company his father had left him, but every waking moment not spent on taking care of business (and many waking moments that should have spent on that), he was sketching, drawing, painting. Every bit of wall space in Chris’ home was covered with his paintings – some 50 of them – and he had an inventory of hundreds of pieces..
I often helped hang and re-arrange those paintings, which is when I noticed something intriguing. All of his paintings connected visually – not in terms of subject matter, but when I would place two or more paintings next to each other (or above and below), if I slid the paintings slightly one way or another, the bands of color at the edge of the frame would eventually connect, as if planned. This worked regardless of content (whether the image of a teakettle boiling on the stove, or cats asleep on a couch on a covered porch, or a train speeding through the night) or medium (oils, pastels, prints); they all flowed one into the other, the way dream images do.
At the time I was deep into Jung and company and doing a lot of dreamwork (that hasn’t changed); I found myself thinking of Chris’ images as archetypal expressions of the collective unconscious filtered through his subjective experience of psyche – or, more simplistically, as pictures of his insides.
This perception was reinforced after I moved out, as Chris faced a deep and traumatic psychological crisis (one that mirrored my own experience a few years earlier). As executor of his father’s estate, Chris was not only running the family business, but administering the family trust, which quarterly dispensed significant sums to multiple extended family members (aunts, uncles, cousins, as well as siblings), neither of which was Chris’ bliss (in the Campbellian sense of following your passion). Life would have flowed so much better if he had handed those responsibilities off to others and focused on his art – a step he wasn’t willing to take. Eventually, the business failed and the trust fund dried up.
This triggered a dramatic break with reality. I’m not sure what the eventual diagnosis was; over time he made less and less sense as he fell into psychosis – a slow, gradual process that took many many months to fully manifest.
When I would visit Christ during that long, slow descent into madness, not once did I find him working on new art (which had been his constant mode for years). Instead, he would take paintings off his walls and re-work them, then re-work them again, and again. It wasn’t unusual for Chris to touch-up his some of his paintings before then, but now the process trended toward oblivion: bright red colors would deepen into a cherry red, then gradually morph into a mahogany, then brown, until many of his best canvases finally faded to black.
Chris’ art wasn’t therapy – quite the opposite. Once he had slipped all the way into the abyss, all intentional creativity ceased (including the “touch-ups” that covered entire canvasses in black). It was as if the collective unconscious had swallowed up all his artistic expressions.
Much more to the story involving lots of drama – restraining orders, police actions, court-enforced therapy, and such – that isn’t really relevant to this post. It took a few years for Chris to return to any semblance of “normality.” Over time he became involved with NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness), and served as an advocate for those suffering from mental illness – but even then, it took another couple years of doing the inner work before he started painting again. Today, he is a versatile artist who is widely recognized in our local community; he is far from wealthy, but makes a living doing what he loves (I’ve purchased several of his pieces).
I wouldn’t describe Chris as a “tortured artist” – he suffered the way we all suffer when out of sync with psyche. What fascinates me, though, is how his art seems to mirror unconscious dynamics – that which is “dredged up from inside.” Today in his artistic expressions he is more aware of and in sync with those stirrings within – an ongoing process.
Thanks, Mary – I appreciate the way your own reflections triggered this chain of associations. Do they strike you as relevant, or have I wandered down my own personal rabbit hole?May 18, 2020 at 11:06 pm #74025
Your remarks about what areas of the body feel most affected upon viewing works of art is a fascinating topic to me. I find it interesting that some people would feel the gods of Olympus descending into their solar plexus while others like yourself say you feel that type of sensation in your gut. I am wondering if feeling things in your gut is an indication to an intuitive reaction for people who are deeply intuitive. I once heard a shaman practitioner say whenever she saw someone in physical pain such as an injury she would feel that pain strike her solar plexus. Other people have remarked that it goes straight to their gut, like being punched in the stomach. This could make a really interesting study and might go along with some studies of the chakras. I remember one time I was in an atmosphere where some people (a group of sisters) were all arguing/”fighting” with one another so vehemently and it got so angry and hateful among them that as I witnessed it I suddenly felt my “gut” sort of “leap” to tense up and then I felt it instantly freeze as if hardening and tightening into a rock. I felt like my stomach had turned to stone. It was so powerful a sensation that it utterly alarmed me in that moment as if I had almost had a shock of some sort. I had never seen people argue to terribly like that, so hatefully, and it seemed just a step or two away from becoming violent–at least in effect. From this I can relate to what you say about feeling things in your stomach/gut. Usually when something is painful or when I have a sudden “hunch” I feel it in my gut. but when taking in something more pleasant I feel it more around my solar plexus, and shoulders and neck. I don’t feel much in my feet as far as grounding usually as it seems I live mostly in my head! I usually have to get my walk out on nature paths or at the beach to feel the grounding that can enter or feel centered in my feet–or in meditation on grounding like when sitting under a tree.
Thanks so much for bringing this up!May 18, 2020 at 11:42 pm #74024
Thank you–this is so clarifying to what I had less clearly stated, as it was more a feeling I was trying to describe (INFP here). This really helped me understand more of what I was attempting to describe: “The thing with artists is that we use the word “personal” often as code for the archetypal and suprahuman.” They touch us “personally” yet they are way beyond the personal–from a “supra” force/energy. And James’ response in which he writes so much valuable information on the daimon seems to me to correlate to what you said (the quote of yours I included above). So the archetype comes from beyond the personal into the personal psyche. Would you say then that it is through the eyes of the beholder at all, or that the beholder is the daimon and beyond the individual also?
Also, when I think of Jung’s psychic “strata,” rather than visualizing it as a hotel or skyscraper building of some sort with floors in linear vertical position, I tend to imagine the “strata” as all imbuing one another and not actually vertical or linear, although the strata of the layers of ground beneath our feet are a common image for it. Maybe they are more like dimensions of psyche rather than vertical layers. I can understand Freud’s point, but yet I see Jung’s point about the strata also. I guess I find it a rather convenient way to image and describe the various aspects of psyche. And I so agree with you about how the personal is already a part of the collective–we are born into a family which is part of the societal/cultural collective already, soon as we are born. And then Jung also argues that we are born with the instincts as archetypal forces including ancestral memories.May 19, 2020 at 1:56 am #74023
I love your story about your artist-friend Chris and thanks for sharing it. I think it is extremely relevant and actually quite clarifying again for me on this topic. It is fascinating that when you would arrange his artwork on walls you saw that they would flow into one another as if sort of a continual image with their colors and lines. I imagine this would have been such a wonderful display at an art gallery. It is also interesting that you were involved in that process of discovery of putting much of his life’s work tapestry together. Writing this now reminds me of the Carol King song “Tapestry.” (Here is one toss of my own “word salad!” I am not a Gemini but I do often have a tendency towards “word salad” also!)
You give such a good example of how art as vocation is not therapy, to tell of how he stopped deliberating at his work and then kept re-working paintings and the colors in them to get darker and darker until fading into black as he became more and more in need of a therapeutic process. Here I think of the song, “Paint it Black.” (More word salad!–I am enjoying it!) So when you write that “Chris’ art wasn’t therapy,” I can see the defining line here between art that is more deliberate and objective and art that is more subjective. I do wonder about “inner demons” (if you can pardon the expression here) as sort of the anti-daimon, as if on a destructive path to destroy what was once created and being no longer happy with it. Did he ever express to you any of his feelings about this? Time seems an enemy to many artists, when they do not find enough of it for their art, and it sounds like he was so busy handling the trust funds and such with the estate that perhaps it took him away from his art. Here again I am indulging in that “word salad” type of commentary that you mention above–just putting my free-associative thoughts out here.
And here I am too reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” (I cannot cite the source right now, I would have to look for it.)
Likewise, depth psychologist Marie Louise von Franz stated, “One of the most wicked destructive forces, psychologically speaking, is unused creative power … If someone has a creative gift and out of laziness, or for some other reason, doesn’t use it, the psychic energy turns to sheer poison. That’s why we often diagnose neuroses and psychotic diseases as not-lived higher possibilities.” Perhaps when his time/energy was taken by things he did not feel suited for and he spent less and less time on doing new art, he began to deconstruct what he had constructed of his life’s work, but as you say this was less and less deliberate and increasingly an abysmal phase.
I am happy to hear that Chris is painting again and enough to make a living at it, which most every artist dreams of. If there is any torture at all, I would say it is discomforting to have the urge to paint, write, make music, dance, etc. and then have to go to a so-called “real job” or regular job” or “day job” and not feel able to in your best way get around to telling those stories whether in writing or with a paint brush or guitar or piano strings. It might be irritating to the spirit to not be able to get out what wants to come out through the archetype, as the archetypes are continually developing and expressing themselves and have their own creative instincts which come through us as our own urge for expression.
One of my favorite stories I have heard (through the musicians grapevine and not something I have seen in print so I cannot verify it as authentic at this time) is something Michael Jackson said about music and its creative source. The story goes that his manager walked into his studio and asked him, “Michael, why are you trying to compose this new song right now when you have to be practicing for your next tour?” and supposedly Jackson said, “Because if I don’t get this written down now, Prince will get it!” This is such a fun story about how a creative archetypal energy seeks expression and sort of “floats” around up there in the “cloud” or “pool” and visits him/her/you/me/whoever at whatever time and perhaps wherever it happens to find expression, who it “happens upon.”
There is probably so much more I could say if I thought on this more and organized my thoughts more–my mind is feeling a little bit like mushy salad/wilted lettuce today!
Mary AnnMay 19, 2020 at 4:23 pm #74022
Thank you for this, Mary. I’m really enjoying the dialogue on this topic. Do you happen to know the source of the Von Franz quote?
AllisonMay 20, 2020 at 10:06 pm #74021
I am really enjoying this conversation too! Off-hand I cannot remember where the von Franz quote came from, I just typed what I could remember of it into a search bar to find it as I recalled reading something of its sort before, and it came up on Goodreads quotes. I would have to look up the source–or see if the source was given there, as at this moment I do not recall. When I think about the quote, I laugh in my recollections of at times telling people that if ever they see a little dark cloud over my head that it consists of or is because of all my unexpressed/unfinished work. I am in semi-retirement now and can find more time to, I hope/intend, finish some things that have been on the list for quite a while!
(Marie Louise von Franz stated, “One of the most wicked destructive forces, psychologically speaking, is unused creative power … If someone has a creative gift and out of laziness, or for some other reason, doesn’t use it, the psychic energy turns to sheer poison. That’s why we often diagnose neuroses and psychotic diseases as not-lived higher possibilities.”)May 28, 2020 at 1:41 pm #74020
I had written a response of decent length, and it disappeared in cyberspace.
What does it mean “to reject the stereotype?”
And what does that have to do with “accepting the call?”
If I could put a label on an overarching theme in my life, at 50, – the poem would start with this dilemma.
Peace y’all – thank you!!May 28, 2020 at 9:24 pm #74019
Hey There, aloberhoulser,
I’ll take a stab at your question “What does it mean ‘to reject the stereotype?'”
Recall that Norland’s remark about rejecting stereotypes was in response to my question about
the image of the ‘tortured artist.’ Some claim this is an unfortunate stereotype based on a few troubled souls (Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, and Kurt Cobain all come to mind), a stereotype that gives rise to an assumption that the greater the torment, the greater the art – but your essay suggests suffering is part of the creative process.
Stereotypes are sometimes confused with archetypes – but in general, stereotypes represent lazy thinking, reducing an individual to a clichéd “type.” Dr. Tellez clearly rejects the cliché of the “tortured artist,” as well as that of the pleasure-seeking, hedonistic artist – as do I. (Mine was what Perry Mason would call a “leading question” – in this instance, a means of launching discussion.) And Norland did not disappoint with his response.
I’m not sure that has anything to do with “accepting the call.”
Of course, pain, suffering, malaise, or discomfort of any sort could indeed be a Call to Adventure – anything that serves to invite, inspire, or drive you to step out of your comfort zone. In my case, like my artist friend Chris I mentioned a few posts above, that pain had to grow incredibly intense before I was motivated to do something about it and change my circumstances.
My friend Chris’ psychotic break with reality was a reflection, or perhaps a consequence, of his Refusal of the Call. He never arrived at a moment where he knowingly stated, or decided, “I am accepting this call” – but he did reach a point where he stopped struggling to maintain a life that was poison for him (running his late father’s construction company, administering the family trust, etc.) and embraced a completely different reality, one in which he was “following his bliss” (not that he know he was following his bliss – he was just living a simpler, more fulfilling life).
That movement was indeed “accepting the call,” whether he knew that or not – which is when his psychological crisis resolved itself and he was able to paint again. He had died to his old way of life and the expectations family and society placed on him, and segued into a reality where he valued his art enough to devote his energies to it. Of course, life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries for him; roughly every ten years he does have another episode, but usually nothing so long lasting and debilitating as that initial descent into madness.
That too was my experience. (I’d recount my tale, but that would pull us into the weeds; Chris’ story covers essentially the same ground, with the advantage that he is a creative artist – much more relevant to the topic than my own experience.)
You mention you are 50, and those questions seem your overarching theme at this point – which raises the question of where you feel you are on your path. Are you bogged down somewhere on the Road of Trials (to borrow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey framework), or have you not left the village yet, not sure where you bliss lies or what your call is?
Those may be questions you have to answer for your self. None of us have the ability to determine what another’s bliss is (no matter what I see on the outside, each of us is alone on the inside; I have no sense of your interior life, of what might be missing and what your bliss might be). Those are questions only you can answer . . .May 29, 2020 at 12:07 am #74018mythistorianParticipant
Good to see that the conversation keeps going and going, which is precisely what we want given that we are attempting to break into the archetypal ground of creativity, which is ceaseless and unrelenting, again obeying the “compulsion to repeat” which attends the constellation of every archetype. Archetypes are after all patterns of historical repetition, the reason we say that “history repeats itself,” and not platonic ideals of perfection that live somewhere in heaven. That is why the true nature of the archetype is not sub specie aeternitatis, as we used to say, but thoroughly MYTHO-HISTORIC in their none-essence. Unless of course you want to fall prey to the trap of essentialisms that are fixed transhistorically as stereotypes.
Stereotypes are truly “timeless” in the sense that no process of becoming enters into them, whereas archetypes in their concrete universality are quite the opposite: they ARE this very process of becoming and historic change. Of course, in terms of creativity, stereotypes and cliches are not only rejected but in a sense “murdered” by the breakthrough of the New. Originality is always the killer of fixed notions and ideological fantasies. It “deconstructs” such notions and breathes soul in motion back into them. This has to do with the metaphysical violence of creativity, the aspect of death-drive I tried to highlight in my contribution.
In this connection, then, I could see a link between this psychoanalytic move with the hero’s “call”—for the adventure can only begin once we are brave enough to reject the palliatives of conventional wisdom and its fixed stereotypes…June 5, 2020 at 11:13 am #74017
Somewhere from the ether, I started thinking about catharsis.
Cathartic writing ~ art as catharsis
So I went to the definition – “derives from Aristotle’s Poetics”
“Our brains recall memory and information with a different wiring than when we verbalize that information. Simply put, the recollection is operating on a different plane than The Story.”
So many things are wrong with our “public” story right now – the U.S. Went into a collective panic mode over the POSSIBILITY we might not have enough hospital beds and ventilators but we are now confident that we have enough jail cells to slam people into for protesting racism and inequality (and, hopefully a whole lot more!).
Offices and cubicles with desks sit empty and hospitals aren’t filled to capacity. Courts are bound to be overrun. Our “back to normal” Will be measured by the collective gallons of fuel we burn every month.
Welcome to the new machines!
Does a global pandemic like Covid 19 require a collective catharsis? Is that even possible in our modern society?June 5, 2020 at 2:29 pm #74016jamesn.Participant
Aloberhoulser: “Does a global pandemic like Covid 19 require a collective catharsis? Is that even possible in our modern society?”
Al; this is a great question to add to the mix of this conversation; and one I think is very relevant to what the world’s collective unconscious is experiencing right now. It brings a number of issues into play which I think have deep resonance within the global psyche that are demanding to be addressed and will no longer sit on the back burner for another time and place to be heard.
There are two in particular which I think have collided that have added an extreme urgency to this demand for catharsis here in the US; (1.) as you mentioned is the coronavirus; and; (2.) is the long overdue acknowledgement of slavery grievance from the African-American community that has long kept the American psyche from becoming whole. (Race has never been adequately addressed and like a deep wound infected with gangrene has brought this concern to a boiling point that is threatening to tear this country apart.) There will be other issues no doubt that will begin to surface as time and the state of this pandemic moves forward; but at the moment radical social change is demanding to take place.
I particularly like the thoughtful way you have framed this question for it raises many possible factors that “catharsis” as a psychological dynamic can play into this topic. Not only the physical components of the economic realities human beings must have to live; but the emotional and psychological concerns that are tethered to the spiritual dimensions of myth.; (the biggest of which asks the question: “where do we go from here?”; because as you have suggested: (something has changed that may forever alter life as we once knew it; and we must adapt to this new normal going forward if we are to survive).
As economic instability and growing social unrest; (highlighted most recently by the race riots taking place across the US and in other places across the globe); continue to take center stage with the issues raised by social inequality and are no longer something to be seen as minor concerns. And indeed a sociological catharsis may be just be what is happening right before our very eyes. American protest movements brought on by the collective outrage of the public murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota are being expressed with a vehemence not witnessed since the 1960’s when the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy; his brother Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King sparked a race war never before experienced by the American people. Not since the American Civil War that threaten to destroy the entire country have we as a people understood what was at stake.
The growing concerns of the lasting impact of the coronavirus with it’s increasing uncertainty of what may lie ahead is no less urgent in it’s demands. We are now facing a new paradigm of how to fight a virus that continually presents new challenges to overcome; whether medically, economically, or sociologically; and how we are to navigate something that has no roadmap looking ahead. (We also have not even begun to address issues involving: Climate Change or Global Warming; but that opens another completely different can of worms. So for now this is enough for the moment to deal with.)
My point is that we are experiencing a “collision” of issues of extreme importance where a “catharsis” within the human psyche may be just what is call for to address them. (An example of this I saw last night as proposed on one of the late night news interviews where the question was posed: “How does the American position on Race differ with that of South Africa and the way the handled the transition from: “Apartheid” when Nelson Mandela was elected as President of the country. His answer was a complete dedication of the social consciousness to equality; and that this meant the white population had to acknowledge “their” part within the horrific tragedy of violent injustice that had been endured by the African population and could no longer be hidden from public view. (A crime the American white population has never completely acknowledged and allowed as a hidden racist view of superiority to be used as a weapon of fear. This absolutely must be abolished if we are to move forward toward real equality within all races if the promise of it’s documents is to be fulfilled and realized as one people.)
Again; Al this is a great compliment to this topic. And I’m sure others will be more than happy to add their impressions and thoughts on how they see it’s application to this discussion.July 3, 2020 at 5:10 pm #74015
Offices and cubicles with desks sit empty and hospitals aren’t filled to capacity.
So much has changed in just a month. Hospitals in Arizona are nearing capacity, as they are in multiple jurisdictions in Texas and Florida, and elsewhere (my nephew, a nurse, tells me his hospital is getting slammed, working extended overtime shifts as multiple co-workers have been infected).
Offices and cubicles are no longer empty – so in the building where my wife works, the department across the hall from her office has a cluster of infected employees – and we have just learned one of her co-workers in her office is sick with a serious case of Covid. Des’ job is IT, which means greater exposure as she often has to interact with employees and their equipment at their workstation; as a result, we have both been approved to be tested – right as our county is in the midst of a surge and our hospitals are near capacity, a result of widespread local noncompliance with guidelines as our community was opening up in late May and early June.
Disconcerting, yes, as I have multiple underlying conditions (though we are starting to lose young healthy people as well, with the first deaths of individuals under age 50 reported just last week). Even though I hope for the best, the virus does not really care how positive my thinking is or what’s in my heart, is I am addressing matters I have been putting off in case the worst occurs.
I’m not sure “a collective catharsis” is what’s required – but I do believe that what is happening is a collective death-and-rebirth experience (the metaphorical significance underscored by half a million deaths worldwide so far). Curious what will emerge the other side of that . . .
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