Psyche & Muse: Creative Entanglements with the Science of the Soul

Art Therapy: C. G. Jung and the Modernist Aesthetic

Art Therapy Checklist and Object Descriptions
Watch: Interview with C. G. Jung, excerpt

On the eve of the First World War, and shortly after his break with his mentor Sigmund Freud, the renegade psychologist Carl Jung took a plunge into the terrifying world of the unconscious that nearly drove him mad. “I found myself at the edge of a cosmic abyss. It was like a voyage to the moon, or a descent into empty space,” Jung later wrote. “First came the image of a crater, and I had the feeling that I was in the land of the dead. The atmosphere was that of another world.” For the next four years, Jung recorded his journey through this bizarre landscape, guided by two apparitions, one male, one female, with mythological and Biblical names: Philemon and Salome. Images were especially important. Convinced by his experience as an analyst that they were a key to unlocking a mode of “non-directed thinking” not accessible through language or rational thought, Jung took the advice he had been giving his patients. He drew what he saw. Sketched out in six black notebooks alongside a narrative account of his adventures and his conversations with spirit guides, Jung’s visual record became the source of both art and therapy, as he returned to it again and again, transcribing it into a dazzling collage and image, The Red Book.

Jung was not the first to turn to art in the name of psychological explorations of the unconscious, nor would he be the last. Charcot, Prinzhorn, the unfortunate Dr. Ferdière all looked to drawing and painting as an important clue to understanding and potentially treating madness. And not a few were tempted to cross the boundary of insanity themselves in the process. But the power of images went far beyond scientific interest or therapeutic effects for Jung. In his eyes, creativity and the symbols it produced took charge as autonomous forces over and above (or below) the individual artist, who was reduced to a “vessel” or “medium,” much like a shaman in magic rituals. Here Jung was treading ground eagerly explored by the radical avant-garde in the age of high modernism. Artaud’s visit to the shamans and his incantations at Rodez, the mediumistic trances of the Surrealists, Max Ernst’s alchemical novel, Une semaine de bonté, Hans Arp’s mandalas—such experiments paralleled Jung’s own investigations step by step in the 1920s and 1930s, and they reflect similar ideas about the source and power of art.

Creative entanglements between Jungian psychology and the modernist aesthetic were legion in Zurich, home to both Jung and the Cabaret Voltaire. Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber took dance lessons at the local Analytic Psychology Club, where Taeuber’s sister worked as librarian, and Hugo Ball specifically recognized the Club’s members among the audience at the opening night of Galerie Dada in 1917. But perhaps the closest link was Meret Oppenheim, the famous “muse” and “seductive faerie of the Surrealists.” With close family ties to Jung, Oppenheim had grown up under his influence and kept a dream diary from the age of fourteen. What drew her to Jung was precisely what drew the Surrealists to her—creative power of anima, the “eternal feminine,” which Oppenheim took as a huge advance over the “patriarchal” focus of Freudian psychology. Often criticized in later years, the idealization of woman as muse inspired a rebellious attitude in Oppenheim’s art. And not only hers—as the unruly Visions of another of Jung’s analysands, Christiana Morgan, reveal.

—Kevin Repp, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts

Images: C. G. Jung, The Red Book = Liber novus, New York: W. W. Norton, 2009.
Transcribing his journey into the abyss of the unconscious in the 1920s, Jung betrays his fascination with archaic forms in the illuminated Gothic script of The Red Book. Jung Captionshimself later expressed chagrin that his guiding spirits—Philemon and Salome—spoke to him in such exalted, archaic language. But Jung was hardly alone in turning to pre-modern forms of expression (and perception) for inspiration in the modernist era. Kept out of circulation for decades by the Jung family, The Red Book was finally published in 2009.

Art Therapy Checklist and Object Descriptions
Watch: Interview with C. G. Jung, excerpt

Written by Rebekah Irwin

January 29, 2011 at 1:53 am

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