Archetype in Art

Have you ever wondered why it is that some art can bring you to tears, while some is simply boring? The secret is in the power of the archetypes the artist uses, whether or not s/he knows she is doing it.

Archetype in Art

In order to understand where this article is going, you will need to know the definition of "archetype" in Jungian Psychology.

Have you ever wondered why it is that some art can bring you to tears, while some is simply boring?  The secret is in the power of the archetypes the artist uses, whether or not s/he knows she is doing it.

Have you ever wondered why Tarot is so persistently popular, and some form of it has lasted for thousands of years?  The secret is in the power of archetype.  There is nothing particularly mystical or "magical" about this, except to be a good Tarot reader you must at least intuitively understand the archetypes.   I can enter an auditorium with 1,000 people present.  As long as  they will give me the benefit of the doubt that Tarot might work and might mean something to them, I can throw the Tarot cards across the stage (without any particular layout) and do a reading.  Everyone in the room will think that I did the reading specifically for them.  The reason is that Tarot relies on some of the most fundamental archetypes in our subconscious minds, like "Mother" "Father" "Teacher" "Wise Old Man" etc.

As I do my reading, the subconscious mind of each of my listeners will relate to some things I say and disregard the rest.  Astrology works in the same manner.  You can read your horoscope in the newspaper day in and day out.  You will remember the times the Astrologer got the prediction right, and forget those where s/he was wrong.  So it is with my Tarot audience. Everyone will "hear" a different reading, one tailored especially to them, because their subconscious minds will latch onto some of my observations and disregard the rest.  In my reading of the cards strewn across the stage, the object for the Tarot reader is to just give enough of a reading so that everyone will connect to it.  It doesn't take that much.

So it is with art, whether it is written, painted, sculpted or whatever. There's the famous photograph of the Catholic nuns pointing up to the statue of "David."  The caption reads, "I don't know what it is, but I know what I like!"   Michelangelo's spirit is surely immortal--he speaks to us through more than 500 years.  Michelangelo grabs us at the subconscious level, and shakes us to our foundations!  The same can be said for "Aphrodite of Rhodes."  These artists shake us to our foundations!  What is it that causes that reaction.  It is simply that they have activated the archetypes for man and woman at their most basic level.

Art need not be a recognizable figure either!  Jackson Pollock understood that in his "drip" paintings.  In his later work, Pollock intentionally tried to avoid any image that is recognizable.  And yet, I have attended an exhibition of the greatest modern artists of all time at the Boston Museum of Art, and I found that Pollock's work moved me far beyond any other.  It brought me to tears!  It talks to my subconscious mind in a way I cannot describe beyond these meager words.

Another piece in the same exhibition also moved me.  It was a simple wooden table and chairs, but executed at something like ten times normal size.  It consumed an entire room.  When you walked in, you immediately walked under the table, with the chairs surrounding you.  I was immediately transported to the feelings I had as a 2 or 3 year old child, walking under my parents' table.  That piece "constellated" the archetype of childhood.

This article is the culmination of 25 years of independent study of Jungian Psychology.  I have no degree nor any genuine official credentials in Jungian Psychology.  I am an artist in a variety of media, including paint, sculpture, business, and writing.  But I have made my living for my entire career, leaving aside 3 years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, as a writer.  These are my own observations of what I believe to be true. You can take them or leave them as you wish!  But, if you are an artist in any medium, you would do well to heed what I say. Your livelihood might depend upon it!

Skip Conover is an international businessman, author and artist. He is a Founder of the Archetype in ActionTM Organization and Golden Seeds of Wisdom.  You can follow him and his work on Twitter using @skip_conover.

Wikipedia is the source of the image of Michelangelo's "David" and it is presented here as a Creative Commons "fair use" presentation.  Other images of the statue and its long history since 1501 are provided on the Wikipedia site.

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