“To be a man of genius one must have the opportunity to see things from a different angle, to be alone, to be alienated from the crowd.”
~ Biologist Garret Hardin, Nature and Man’s Fate (1959) ~
There is something about Moonlit nights that affects a number of people in strange ways. The very word ‘lunacy’ even suggests a direct connection between the Moon and madness: a superstition that was in fact so widely believed at one time that it was once even written in to the law. Two hundred years ago a clear distinction was made in English Law between individuals who were diagnosed as ‘insane’ – those who were regarded as chronically and incurably psychotic – and those who were described as ‘lunatics’ and susceptible only to irregular periods of insanity brought about by the powerfully degenerative influence of the Moon. Indeed, for an extended period during the 18th century, ‘patients’ residing at her majesty’s pleasure in many of the institutions and asylums throughout England were beaten remorselessly the evening prior to a Full Moon in a bid to revoke the enchantment of mental disturbance expected to manifest during the following night. Thankfully such abhorrent practices are no longer a part of the treatment handed out to those in psychiatric hospitals and mental health establishments today.
However, should one ever stop to carefully consider in the broadest of terms the psychological make-up, character and general persuasion of the Artist, the Poet, the Writer, the Visionary, or indeed the Outsider, it might also appear as if they too are both helplessly predisposed to the aberrations produced by a full Moon and more easily troubled psychologically by a deepened sense of perplexing uncertainty at the reality of life as well. Such people often exhibit a greater degree of emotional fluctuation and greater extremes in the range of their unique temperament which are constantly expressed by their physical constitution and permanently affecting behaviour. They might also display very readily a psychology of dislocation that is predisposed to a combination of undiluted bedlam and unrestrained confusion that for the most part is uniquely representative of an overwhelming feeling of psychological alienation and social detachment. They see so much further than most, feel so much more deeply than others around them, and are moved by natural instinct and impulse as opposed to rationale and practised judgement. It is only the uncanny Artist whose visionary journey will begin time and time again by gazing out upon the world to scrutinize the unknown and contemplate the unnamed and which then always ends in withdrawal back inside themselves to hibernate and energise for the next trip outside the mind. And in the process of experiencing this outward journey, and with the bewildering deftness of a stage magician, the Artist has the necessary skill to render back to others that sense of unfathomable vacuity to create a work of art that has the power to deeply resonate within the hearts and minds of a viewing public. But the impelled Artist has no choice but to comply with the creative impulse and to give in to the moonstruck madness that overcomes him: his motivation to create, perpetuate, and evolve an art form is unbearable and overwhelming. If there are no images and there are no ideas forthcoming by which to lift the veil of the numinous mysteries that conceal the heart of Life itself, and if there are no artistic expressions by which he may offer revelation and absolute truth about the inner nature of man’s being or indeed the purpose of man’s existence on this Earth, then perhaps it is not just the Artist who would cease to exist and ultimately die, but civilization that would slowly and inevitably die along with him.
But what of the impetus to create and express, and how might such powerful forces come to reside in the psychology of the Artist. It is a difficult thing to sit and contemplate the inner life of an Artist: in how their make-up and nature’s differ from those who may simply feel unable to express themselves in words, symbols, colour, shape, line and form but who are still able to feel the influencing power of a piece of work run through them. It is however an unwise thing to evaluate the Artist as fundamentally alien to others by compartmentalising their nature’s and behaviour so exactingly when in reality Artist are no different to other people: they have simply been assembled with the mechanisms in place to allow themselves the opportunity to open doors and experience journeys of emotional investigation, to confront fears, doubts, hopes, dreams and explore realms sometimes long forgotten by a world preoccupied with the superficial and banal. And in living on the fringes of convention, in moving on the fringes of life, by viewing the world from a point of remoteness and detachment, Artists maintain a perspective based on honesty and truth. They see beyond the veil covering a contrived world to produce works of art that combine the individuality of subjective representation with the universality of abstraction in a unity made possible through the exploration of space. The artist must bring forth the mythology of a vision that has explored the true physical nature of the universe by expressing an emotive response to it. It is almost as though the artist reaches out to the world and with a prophetic vision finds a means by which to tell the world of its destiny. But to do that the Artist seeks unknowingly to walk an individual path of alienation and lives very much as a social outcast uncovered by the fabric of conventional living. It is only during the process of such a venture that true beauty and spiritual honesty become representative of both the mystery and the mantle of the eternal. It is only when a work of art is imbued with a sense of spiritual honesty and reflects back to the viewer a portrait of fundamental truth that an image becomes transcendent and a great work of art exists.
An Artist’s alienation from life is in itself a sacrifice of many conventional pleasures. To witness the world with a purity of vision untouched by bias or judgement and to repeatedly attempt to continue to express to others the wonder of life takes immense courage and self-discipline, sometimes to the point of religious fervour. Carl G Jung provided the following incredibly astute observation of the sacrifices the Artist makes to carry out his craft for the benefit of all in his work, Modern Man in Search of A Soul. Jung was describing the sacrifices an artist makes in order to create a work of art. It is a fascinating elucidation of an Artist’s striving endeavour to express himself. His reference was primarily the Poet, but the word applies generally across the entire artistic spectrum in all of its myriad forms. Jung understood not only the role that religion ought to play in our lives, but also understood that the artists, the poets, and the writers among us, are the banner bearers of spiritual wisdom and insight, born out of the womb of civilization and carried in the arms of Love.
‘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. Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. 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.’
‘All this being so, it is not strange that the artist is an especially interesting case for the psychologist who uses an analytical method. The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two seperate forces are at war within him, on the one hand the common human longing for happiness, satisfaction and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for creation, which may go so far as to override every personal desire. The lives of artists are as a rule so highly unsatisfactory, not to say tragic, because of their inferiority on the human and personal side, and not because of a sinister dispensation. 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, ruthlessness, selfishness, and vanity and even every kind of vice, in order to maintain the spark of life and to keep itself from being wholly bereft. 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 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. Whenever the creative force predominates, human life is ruled and moulded 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 working process becomes the poet’s fate and determines his psychic development.’
‘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, and 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. A dream never says: ‘you ought to, this is the truth.’ It presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow, and we must draw our own conclusions. If a person has a nightmare, it means either that he is too much given to fear, or else that he is too exempt from it; and if he dreams of the old wise man it may mean that he is too pedagogical, as also that he stands in need of a teacher. In a subtle way both meanings come to the same thing, as we perceive when we are able to let the work of art act upon us as it acted upon the artist. To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to shape us as it once shaped him. Then we understand the nature of his experience. We see that he has drawn upon the healing and redeeming forces of the collected psyche that underlies consciousness with its isolation and its painful errors; that he has penetrated to that matrix of life in which all men are embedded, which imparts a common rhythm to all human existence, and allows the individual to communicate his feeling and his striving to mankind as a whole.
The secret of artistic creation and of the effectiveness of art is to be found in a return to the state of participation mystique to that level of experience at which it is man who lives, and not the individual, and at which the weal or woe of the single human being does not count, but only human existence. This is why every great work of art is objective and impersonal, but none the less it profoundly moves us each and all. And this is also why the personal life of the Artist, (the Poet and the those influenced by the creative impulse) can be held essential to his art but at most 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 Artist or the Poet.
From Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl Gustav Jung – Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., London, and Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York City
DN – 16/03/14