Painting Jung

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Jung Writes


" in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche, (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix ), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. (18)

The impact of an archetype, whether it takes the form of immediate experience or is expressed through the spoken word stirs us because it summons up a voice that is stronger than our own. Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he/she enthralls and overpowers, while at the same time he/she lifts the idea he/she is seeking to express out of the occasional and the transitory into the realm of the ever-enduring. He/she transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces that ever and anon have enabled humanity to find a refuge from every peril and to outlive the longest night." (19)

It is this process in the collective psyche that is felt or intuited by poets and artists whose main source of creativity is their perception of the unconscious contents, and whose intellectual horizon is wide enough to discern the crucial problems of the age, or at least their outward aspects.(20)

The psyche creates reality every day. The only expression I can use for this activity is fantasy. Fantasy is just as much feeling as thinking; as much intuition as sensation. (21)

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.(22)

Seriousness comes from a profound inner necessity, but play is its outward expression, the face it turns to consciousness. It is not, of course, a matter of wanting to play, but having to play; a playful manifestation of fantasy from inner necessity, without the compulsion of circumstance, without even the compulsion of the will. It is serious play. (22)


Active imagination is a natural, in born, dynamic process that unites the opposite position within the psyche. It functions as a mediator between opposites. (24)

Every creative individual owes all that is greatest in his life to fantasy. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable." (25)

Active imagination bridges the gap of the polarized opposites and mediates a fresh point of view which assimilates them into a new creation. The capacity to abide the stress of this oppositional encounter is the sum and substance of active imagination.

"A product is created which is influenced by both the conscious and unconscious, embodying the striving of the unconscious for light and the striving of the conscious for substance." (26)

The two positive attributes which emerge out of the activity of active imagination are aesthetic creativity and the will to understand.

Aesthetic formulation needs understanding of the meaning, and understanding needs aesthetic formulation. The two supplement each other to form the transcendent function." (27)



Active imagination is comprised of two parts:


  1. letting the unconscious emerge

  1. coming to terms with the unconscious.



1. Letting the Unconscious Emerge


As someone who paints images and writes plays and poetry, my first task is to look at a blank piece of paper with no preconceived notion about what is going to be created. Consciousness must allow the unconscious the freedom to bring forth. What emerges will be random, emotional, playful, and completely foreign to the rational mind. Scribbling comes to mind. It essentially involves the cessation of your normal reality in order to give fantasy a chance to play.


Jung in his commentary in The Secret of the Golden Flower by Richard Wilhelm discusses the idea of the "new thing". It is his contention that people who grow psychically do nothing but let things happen. It is the "action through non-action" of Meister Eckhart. This idea of play opens up the opportunity to discover "new things" from inside the unconscious. It is simply doing whatever occurs to you without reservation. Rarely, does consciousness speak this language.


Within this idea of letting things happen we are trying to get the unconscious to speak in its authentic voice. Sometimes it takes the form of an inner voice; a voice which is the anti you pushing you toward a destination resembling chaos. Embrace this noise and listen to its conversation of unbelievability as if it were your equal.


This dialogue with the unconscious is like communicating with a stranger. In order to remember what appears initially as nonsense, a physical form of imagery is produced through painting, drawing, sculpting, dancing, writing, or whatever you enjoy doing.


Jung states in 'On the nature of the psyche" that:


"The chaotic assortment of images that at first confronted me reduced itself in the course of the work to certain well-defined themes and formal elements, which repeated themselves in identical or analogous form with the most varied individuals. I mention, as the most salient characteristics, chaotic multiplicity and order; duality; the opposition of light and dark, upper and lower, right and left; the union of opposites in a third; the quaternity (square, cross); rotation (circle, sphere); and finally the centering process and a radial arrangement that usually followed some quaternary system."

"The centering process is, in my experience, the never-to-be-surpassed climax of the whole development,"

"And so it is with the hand that guides the crayon or brush, the foot that executes the dance step, with the eye and the ear, with the word and thought: a dark impulse is the ultimate arbiter of the pattern, an unconscious a priori precipitates itself into plastic form, and one has no inkling that another person's consciousness is being guided by the same principles at the very point where one feels utterly exposed to the boundless subjective vagaries of chance."

"Image and meaning are identical; and as the first takes shape, so the latter becomes clear." (28)(29)



2. Coming To Terms With the Unconscious


Once the unconscious has spoken the next stage of active imagination involves the ego consciousness. As images and conflicts babble in from the unconscious, the ego (consciousness) takes note. This is the beginning of the second stage of the transcendent function coming to terms with the unconscious. An excellent example of the dialogue that is necessary between these two psychic antagonists is contained in a letter from Rilke to a young poet. (30)

"And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become "knowing,' it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, 'why' something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don't give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when instead of destroyer, it will become one of your best workers - perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life. (31)

Once the unconscious thoughts have been depicted and deciphered, a query emerges as to how the ego can bring the opposites together. It is paramount to the process that the ego and unconscious viewpoints be consider equally.

"The confrontation of the two positions generates a tension charged with energy and creates a "new thing" out of the suspension between opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being, a new situation. The transcendent function manifests itself as a quality of conjoined opposites." (32)

In the beginning the ego suppressed the unconscious, but now the fear is that the liberated unconscious will overwhelm the ego. Hopefully, a balance can be struck through the give and take of equals. Resolving the tension of the opposites and giving birth to the mandala. An image which reflects aestheticism as well as being insightful.



How does Jung apply these ideals to art?


" I have used active imagination on myself and can confirm that one can paint very complicated pictures without having the least idea of their real meaning. While painting them, the picture seems to develop out of itself and often in opposition to one's conscious intentions. (33)

"Indeed, the special significance of a true work of art resides in the fact that it has escaped from the limitations of the personal and soared beyond the personal concerns of its creator."

"For a symbol is the intimation of a meaning beyond the level of our present powers of consciousness."

"A symbol remains a perpetual challenge to our thoughts and feelings. That probably explains why a symbolic work is so stimulating, why it grips us so intensely, but also why it seldom affords us a purely aesthetic enjoyment.

"The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. Therein lies the social significance of art, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present. The artist seizes on this image, and in raising it from the deepest unconsciousness he/she brings it into relation with the conscious values, thereby transforming it until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries according to their powers." (34)



A closer look at some of Jung's later writings reveal that he may of had a better appreciation and understanding of the idea of mystical spirituality than some of his critics acknowledge.

In the Commentary by C. G. Jung of Richard Wilhelm's, The Secret of the Golden Flower Jung has this to say:

"So-called scientific objectivity would have reserved the text of the Secret of the Golden Flower for the philosophical acuity of Chinese specialists, and would have guarded it jealously from any other interpretation. But Richard Wilhelm penetrated into the secret and mysterious vitality of Chinese wisdom too deeply to have allowed such a pearl of intuitive insight to disappear in the pigeonholes of the specialists. I am honored that his choice of a psychological commentator has fallen on me." (35)

"The East has taught us another, wider more profound, and higher understanding, that is, understanding through life. This text, for instance, does not consist of exaggerated sentiment or overwrought mystical intuitions bordering on the pathological and emanating from ascetic cranks and recluses. It is based on the practical insights of highly evolved Chinese minds, which we have not the slightest justification for undervaluing. (36)

"When I examined the way of development of those persons who quietly and, as if unconsciously, grew beyond themselves, I saw that their fates had something in common. The "new thing" came to them out of obscure possibilities either outside or inside themselves; they accepted it and developed further by means of it.

"What did these people do in order to achieve the development that liberated them? As far as I could see they did nothing (wu wei) (action through non-action) but let things happen. The art of letting things happen, action through non-action, letting go of oneself as taught by Meister Eckhart, became for me the key opening the door to the way.

We must be able to let things happen in the psyche. For us, this actually is an art of which few people know anything. Consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, and negating, and never leaving the simple growth of the psychic processes in peace. It would be simple enough, if only simplicity were not the most difficult of all things. (37)



Jung writes:


The principle on which the use of the I Ching is based appears at first sight to be in complete contradiction to our scientific thinking. For us it is unscientific in the extreme, almost taboo, and therefore outside the scope of our scientific judgment, indeed incomprehensible to it.

"The science of the I Ching, indeed, is not based on the causality principle , but on a principle which I have tentatively called the synchronistic principle. I found that there are psychic parallelisms which cannot be related to each other causally, but which must stand in another sort of connectedness. This connection seemed to me to lie mainly in the relative simultaneity of the events, therefore the expression "synchronistic'." The connection of events may in certain circumstances be other than causal and requires another principle of understanding.(38)

"The philosophical principle that underlies our conception of natural law is causality. But if the connection between cause and effect turns out to be only statistically valid and only relatively true, then the causality principle is only of relative use for explaining natural processes. This is as much as to say that the connection of events may in certain circumstances be other than causal and requires another principle of explanation."

The experimental method of inquiry aims at establishing regular events which can be repeated. Consequently, unique or rare events are ruled out of account. Moreover, the experiment imposes limiting conditions on nature, for its aim is to force her to give answers to questions devised by man. Every answer of nature is therefore more or less influenced by the kind of question asked, and the result is always a hybrid product. The so-called "scientific view of the world" based on this can hardly be anything more than a psychological biased partial view which misses out on all those, by no means, unimportant aspects that cannot be grasped statistically. (39)

The causality principle asserts that the connection between cause and effect is a necessary one. The synchronicity principle asserts that the terms of meaningful coincidence are connected by simultaneity and meaning.

We must remember that the rationalistic attitude of the West is not the only possible one and is not all-embracing, but is in many ways a prejudice and a bias that ought perhaps be corrected. (40-43)

The meaningful coincidence or equivalence of a psychic and a physical state that have no causal relationship to one another mean, in general terms, that it is a modality without a cause, an acausal orderedness (Transmuting ether/Spirit). Synchronicity is a special instance of general acausal orderedness. Into this category come all "acts of creation." (44)

It is only the ingrained belief in the sovereign power of causality that creates intellectual difficulties and makes it appear unthinkable that causeless events exist or could ever occur. But if they do, then we must regard them as creative acts, as the continuous creation (17) of a pattern that exists from all eternity, repeats itself sporadically, and is not derivable from any known antecedents. (45)

(17) "An immutable order binds mutable things into a pattern, and in this order things which are not simultaneous in time exist outside time."

(Prosper of Aquitaine,Sententiae ex Augustino delibatae, XLI {Migue P.L.,col. 433}

For these reasons it seems to me necessary to introduce along with space, time, and causality, a category which not only enables us to understand synchronistic phenomena as a special class of natural events, but also takes the contingent partly as a universal factor existing from all eternity, and partly as the sum of countless individual acts of creation occurring in time. (46)

"Whatever is born or done in this moment in time has the quality of this moment of time." (The NOW) (47)