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How Art Creates the Artist
A Return Visit to Carl Jung's Vision of an Artist
By Katherine Yurica
I have been reading psychiatrist's and psychologist's works since my youth. They often provided insights into my own nature and because of their work, I have been able to integrate aspects of my personality that otherwise would not have happened. It's a terrible thing to compartmentalize one's self and be afraid to open some of the closet doors for fear of what might be found inside. So wise men became my mentors early on.
If, as an artist, I were alienated from others on one level, I could find solace in books like Modern Man in Search of A Soul by Carl G. Jung. But the other day, when I was thinking about the nature of creativity, I found it necessary to thumb through Jung's book again. I wanted a particular quote. I haven't found it yet, but I have found passages that I marked in the 1960's that leapt up at me. Jung was describing the sacrifices an artist makes in order to create a work of art. I became intrigued. Though he uses the word "artist" to refer to poets, I think the word applies across the spectrum of art and though he uses the word "he" to describe the artist--I think the "he" should also be read as a "she."
What Carl Jung wrote in 1933 is as applicable to the lives of artists and art students today as it is to playwrights and poets and writers on the web. Jung understood not only the role that religion ought to play in our lives, but also understood that the artists, the poets among us, are the bearers of spiritual wisdom and insights, born out of the womb of civilization itself.
We live in a time when mentally unbalanced men are driving toward the total control of our culture and civilization. In contrast to the politically-power-crazed, Jung describes what makes an artist tick! He wrote:
"Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory aptitudes. On the one side he is a human being with a personal life, while on the other side he is an impersonal, creative process...The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is 'man' in a higher sense--he is 'collective man'--one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic life of mankind. To perform this difficult office it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being.
"...There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of the creative fire. It is as though each of us were endowed at birth with a certain capital of energy. The strongest force in our make-up will seize and all but monopolize this energy, leaving so little over that nothing of value can come of it. In this way the creative force can drain the human impulses to such a degree that the personal ego must develop all sorts of bad qualities...in order to maintain the spark of life and to keep itself from being wholly bereft...[these negatives] of artists resembles that of illegitimate or neglected children who from their tenderest years must protect themselves from the destructive influence of people who have no love to give them--who develop bad qualities for that very purpose and later maintain an invincible egocentrism by remaining all their lives infantile and helpless or by actively offending against the moral code or the law. How can we doubt that it is his art that explains the artist, and not the insufficiencies and conflicts of his personal life? These are nothing but the regrettable results of the fact that he is an artist--that is to say, a man [or woman] who from his very birth has been called to a greater task than the ordinary mortal. A special ability means a heavy expenditure of energy in a particular direction, with a consequent drain from some other side of life.
"It makes no difference whether the poet knows that his work is begotten, grows and matures with him, or whether he supposes that by taking thought he produces it out of the void. His opinion of the matter does not change the fact that his own work outgrows him as a child its mother. The creative process has feminine quality, and the creative work arises from unconscious depths--we might say, from the realm of the mothers. Whenever the creative force predominates, human life is ruled and molded by the unconscious as against the active will, and the conscious ego is swept along on a subterranean current, being nothing more than a helpless observer of events. The work in process becomes the poet's fate and determines his psychic development. It is not Goethe who creates Faust, but Faust which creates Goethe....The archetypal image of the wise man, the saviour or redeemer, lies buried and dormant in man's unconscious since the dawn of culture; it is awakened whenever the times are out of joint and a human society is committed to a serious error. When people go astray they feel the need of a guide or teacher or even of the physician. These primordial images are numerous, but do not appear in the dreams of individuals or in works of art until they are called into being by the waywardness of the general outlook. When conscious life is characterized by one-sidedness and by a false attitude, then they are activated--one might say, 'instinctively'--and come to light in the dreams of individuals and the visions of artists and seers, thus restoring the psychic equilibrium of the epoch.
"In this way the work of the poet comes to meet the spiritual need of the society in which he lives, and for this reason his work means more to him than his personal fate, whether he is aware of this or not. Being essentially the instrument for his work, he is subordinate to it, and we have no reason for expecting him to interpret it for us. He has done the best that in him lies in giving it form, and he must leave the interpretation to others and to the future. A great work of art is like a dream; for all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is never unequivocal.
"....This is why every great work of art is objective and impersonal, but none the less profoundly moves us each and all. And this is also why the personal life of the poet cannot be held essential to his art--but at most a help or a hindrance to his creative task. He may go the way of a Philistine, a good citizen, a neurotic, a fool or a criminal. His personal career may be inevitable and interesting, but it does not explain the poet."*
In recognizing that the Culture of Corruption in the Republican Party from the White House to Congress to the state houses of America, it is time for the poets and artists to come forward, bearing their crosses and staffs of redemption, carrying their brushes, pens and lap-tops, for Americans and the people of the world are waiting to hear from the seers, the true prophets and the spiritually developed among us. We cannot let them down!
*Carl Gustave Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 1933, Harvest Book, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York, 1961 paperback, pp. 168-171.
Katherine Yurica has been painting all her life. She was educated at East Los Angeles College, the University of Southern California and the USC school of law. She studied art in Mexico where she worked in her studio in Marfil, just outside of Guanajuato. She returned to Los Angeles in 1967 bringing back over 80 paintings and drawings. She says of her art, "Henry Miller, the novelist, wrote a wonderful little book titled, To Paint Is to Love Again. Miller said that he wrote when he couldn't paint and he painted when he couldn't write." She says that she adopted that practice. She is the author of three books. And she is also the publisher of the Yurica Report.
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