Carl Jung, Faltering In The Dark, And Choosing To Dive.
first published November 21st 2018
“The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purpose through him.” Carl Gustav Jung I was looking for a half remembered quote of Jung’s, when I came across the above. My reaction was one of ambivalence, and yet, with the sense of waiting for something to emerge as I try to find my way from one creative movement to the next, something in it does resonate. After a period of making a series of paintings where each evolved from what came before, and variations on a theme allowed for a continuity in the making, it seems that now I might be at the end of something. I'm in a gap, floundering about, trying to find my way into the next phase, not knowing if I’m in it already or on a false start. The lack of certainty and the faltering in the dark are uncomfortable; I don’t know what’s coming next. I’m not choosing to leave the last chain of making behind; it’s leaving me. The longing for clarity is strong, along with the desire to make a definite decision and to have control over where I’m going next. In the early eighties at Cyprus College of Art, we had a friend, ‘Gas’ Andreas – he delivered calor gas - who enjoyed telling us that when war broke out a few years earlier, the Cypriot government had broadcast over the radio, “Everything is under control.” The illusion of there being a possibility of getting everything under control, especially in times of chaos, is a compelling one, and it seems that waking up from that particular dream requires learning and re-learning, removing one layer of illusion after another. I keep finding more layers. So yet again, I’m seeing evidence that less is under my control than I’d hoped. But I do have choices about how to move with it. The quote of Jung’s that I was looking for included a French phrase, “au dessous le niveau”, which lodged itself in my mind many years ago. Although I couldn’t track it down, I remember that it was about descending to a level below consciousness, and that accessing that realm could involve a depression, as the energy goes underground. I had a sense of it relating to a part of the creative process, an uncomfortable type of incubation that involves meeting a felt darkness to touch something unknown. Sometimes sleepiness can be enough of a descent to allow the movement. I’d taken an hour’s nap yesterday afternoon just after arriving in the studio, and had subsequently been able to feel my way forward in a painting just a little bit more. But sometimes, the descent involves an oppressive mood, like the heaviness in the atmosphere before a thunderstorm, and while my conditioned response to this mood can be alarm, and the feeling “I must get rid of this,” I am learning to approach uncomfortable moods with a quieter curiosity, to see what else of interest lies inside the darkness. And so this morning, I was feeling around to discern what the mood connected with, with events or personal history. And just as I would walk through my teenage daughter’s messy bedroom in the dark, having to feel carefully with my feet for what I might trip over or break, I can feel my way through the dark space inside, remembering that it’s often from this place that creative impulses or access to life energy can come. I can take a deep breath and choose to dive a little deeper. Diving, not drowning. “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” C.G. Jung I surfaced and was surprised by a wave of joy, then sensed the need to dive again into the dark and queasy place. Then I returned to the studio, knowing nothing, but with the expectation that I would sit down to reflect and write. But instead I was pulled immediately to the new painting, now seeing that it needed a particular mix of colours in a particular place. Then the next marks called me to make them, and the next. And this listening for the call might indeed be similar to Jung’s description of the artist’s job being “to allow art to realize its purpose through him.” When I coach, I hear about very different processes and outlooks of other artists, writers and designers. For many there’s a different relationship to direction. For designers, the brief immediately defines the direction of the work, for a photographer it’s different again. And yet, for all of us, there are times of faltering, and there’s also a magic that we sometimes feel and that we always yearn for. But for all of us, during those times when we don't know what the hell we’re doing, this last quote of Jung’s might be comforting. “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”