Balancing Art

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Direction implies exclusion, and exclusion means that very many psychic elements that could play their part in life are denied the right to exist because they are incompatible with the general attitude.

The normal man can follow the general trend without injury to himself; but the man who takes to the back streets and alleys because he cannot endure the broad highway will be the first to discover the psychic elements that are waiting to play their part in the life of the collective.

Here the artist's relative lack of adaptation turns out to his advantage; it enables him to follow his own yearnings far from the beaten path, and to discover what it is that would meet the unconscious needs of his age.

Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, 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.

Thus, just as the one-sidedness of the individual's conscious attitude is corrected by reaction from the unconscious, so art represents a process of self-regulation in the life of nations and epochs.

[C.G. Jung]
On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry
found in The Norton Anthology: Theory and Criticism
, p.1001-2


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[On modern art] ... though seeming to deal with aesthetic problems, it is really performing a work of psychological education on the public by breaking down and destroying their previous aesthetic views of what is beautiful in form and meaningful in content.

The pleasingness of the artistic product is replaced by chill abstractions of the most subjective nature which brusquely slam the door on the naive and romantic delight in the senses and their obligatory love for the object.

This tells us, in plain and universal language, that the prophetic spirit of art has turned away from the old object relationship and towards the - for the time being - dark chaos of subjectivisms.

[C.G. Jung]
The Undiscovered Self, p.77


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The great project of modern art was to diagnose, and cure, the sickness unto death of modern humankind [...]

[Its artistic mission] is to identify and strip away the false sense of routine experience and interpretive framing provided by conformist mass commercial society, and to make us experience nakedly and anew the immediacy of reality through our peeled and rejuvenated senses.

This therapeutic work is also a spiritual mission, in that a community of such transformed human beings would, in theory, be able to construct a better kind of society.

The enemies of the process are cooptation, commercial exploitation and reproduction, and kitsch ... Fresh, raw experience - to which artists have an unmediated and childlike access - is routinized, compartmentalized, and dulled into insensibility by society.

[Frederick Turner]


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The merit of the theory of the arts as safety-valve is that it keeps them within the syntax of the engine while giving them a special function. It doesn’t exaggerate their function, since the inaugurating force and momentum of the engine don’t issue from the valve.

The best text I know on this matter is [William] Epson’s poem ‘Your Teeth are Ivory Towers’[…]:

“The safety valve alone
Knows the worst truth about the engine; only the child
Has not yet been misled.”

Epson says that ‘the relation of the artist to his society may include acting as safety valve or keeping the fresh eye, etc., of the child, and therefore can’t be blamed out of hand for escapism or infantilism.’

Still, to say that poetry is like a child’s babble makes a concession as much as a claim. From a public point of view, the child is just a pretty form of anarchy. The poem takes up the question and says, ruefully, that it was feasible to carry anarchy so long as the official values of a society were sustained; by Christianity, for instance, or by secular power:

“We could once carry anarchy, when we ran
Christ and the magnificent milord
As rival pets; the thing is, if we still can

Lacking either.”

That is: ‘it is not clear that in the new great machine or mass societies, which accept neither ideal, there is the same room for the artist.’ Epson means, I think, that the poet’s anarchy had its meaning in a particular relation to the order it challenged.

It accords with my own feeling that the best way in which an artist can be present is in conflict with his society.

Conflict, in that formula, means a specific engagement, necessarily now on the margins of a society which typically like to pretend that it has no margin at all, every square inch of the space of experience being already filled.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 89-90


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It is, however, possible that the remedy for ills of conscious purpose lies with the individual. There is what Freud called the royal road to the unconscious.

He was referring to dreams, but I think we should lump together dreams and the creativity of art, or the perception of art, and poetry and such things. And I would include with these the best of religion.

These are activities in which the whole individual is involved. The artist may have a conscious purpose to sell his picture, even perhaps a conscious purpose to make it. But in the making he must necessarily relax that arrogance in favour of a creative experience in which his conscious mind plays only a small part.

The arts, poetry, music, and the humanities similarly are areas in which more of the mind is active then mere consciousness would admit.

We might say that in creative art man must experience himself - his total self - as a cybernetic model.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Conscious Purpose versus Nature' & 'Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation'), p.444, 453


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Related posts:-
Pressure Valve
Step toward madness
Wild Things
The Shadow & Projection
The Larger Mind
I'm in Control
Walk a Straight Line
Maintaining the balance
Get it together 
Do Not Disturb 
Postmodern Soup
Levels of Meaning 

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