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Carl Jung

June 10, 2013

There have been many experts that have focused on creativity at some point. Carl Jung, a psychiatrist (before they focused mainly on drugs), was one of these people.  I had heard about Jung’s archetypes (even if I may not completely agree with how those archetypes are created), but not his thoughts on creativity.  Well, now I have.

The thoughts below are a summary of some of Jung’s quotes in the book The Creativity Question, edited by Rothenberg and Hausman.  I also briefly contrast those ideas with the beliefs of other experts.  Jung’s thoughts are pretty heavy, so hopefully I distilled it enough.

Carl Jung focused a lot of archetypes.  An archetype is a pattern that reoccurs in history.  Often archetypes are a certain characters or roles (like the hero, the caregiver, etc.–here’s some more if you’re interested), but they also can be processes.  These archetypes come from the collective unconscious–an aggregation of experiences over many generations that are held in our brains, much like the way instincts are held inside us.  These archetypes are expressed in creativity.  When expressed effectively, archetypes bring emotional experiences for those who view the art.

Jung claims that the purpose of the collective unconscious, expressed as archetypes in art, is to educate nations.  Ideals that are important to the survival of our species, but have been forgotten, are brought out by the artist.  Current examples of this may be seen in the movies that become popular.  Superhero movies have grossed a lot lately; our culture may need more heroes. (Of course, the hero’s journey is always popping up.  That could be taken as either supporting or disproving Jung’s theory; maybe we always need more heroes.)

Jung believed that most creative people stay out of the main stream of society.  Being out of the main stream allows them to pick up on the missing ideals in society.  He also pointed out that many artists throughout history have been strange people.  Van Gogh is a perfect example–everyone loves to cite his cutting off his ear to give to his girlfriend.  These artists educate us through shaping the archetypes in their art and creating emotional experiences for the rest of us.

Carl Jung contrasted a lot with many of the other experts of creativity.  The oldest thoughts on creativity (Socrates) posited that creativity was a divine experience.  The most recent thoughts (Csikszentmihalyi, what a name) on creativity pointed toward the importance of mastery in creativity.  Even though we believe mastery is essential in developing creativity, that does not leave out the possibility of archetypes and the collective unconscious.  Some artists always wonder why an artistic work becomes more popular than another.  The popular work may have captured the archetype needed by society at that moment.  Maybe we are all learning from that popular TV show or the movie we paid $10 to see.  Or maybe the shows are degrading us like many of the psychologists think (or are we watching too many shows from the mainstream of society with no emotional experiences).  Either way, archetypes are a concept that keeps popping up, so it may be worth our creative time to understand them a little better.


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  1. volky permalink

    archetypes look just psychological and sociological complexes but Jung mention Archetypes something like bridge between human and GGODD if archetypes are just complexes -I am sorry but- who gives a **** Jung? This sick ******* ghost steal six month from my life and I have no idea what the archetype is mean

    • Archetypes are hard to understand, in fact a lot of what Jung and the older psychologists talk about is hard to understand. My personal take on archetypes is that each of us has important themes in our lives–sometimes positive: like supportive friends, loving parents, or success at work, and sometimes negative, like physical abuse, broken relationships, or being abandoned. Some of our themes happen across a culture: like motherhood, supportive mentors, the jokester, the hero, etc. Because so many of us relate to these themes, the themes become popular in our media (movies, novels, plays, music…). In essence, we love the themes, so we pay to experience them and feel again how much they mean to us. Vicariously experiencing the themes helps us remember what is important to us, and inspires us in our lives. (Unless it is a negative theme, which may help us process the negative emotion, relate to the suffering of that character, or find ways to overcome the challenges in our lives). I also believe there are certain principles that help us achieve happiness and fulfillment. When our culture strays from these ideas, there may be certain themes that pop up in our media to push us back to more productive paths. There may also be themes that push us away from productive paths (not what Jung would have said). In my view, these themes that cross a culture are what comprise archetypes. I hope that helps you understand archetypes a little better.

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