Thursday, 21 March 2013

Art Academy Reading Group: The Mother Archetype, Carl Jung

Following an Art Academy discussion on fairytales and myths and symbols, we collectively decided it may be of interest to read some writing by the twentieth century psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and a chapter on the Mother Archetype was put forward. On reading the text, it was apparent how embedded some of Jung’s ideas now are in popular culture, as well as critical and cultural theory.
Art Academy member Rachel Newsome had read a lot of writing by Jung before, and likes Jung as he was a paradoxical thinker who was really visionary. She explained that for Jung archetypes, of which the mother archetype is just one, are a representation of a collective unconscious. 

The mother archetype Jung describes is all encompassing, manifested in aspects of nature as well as concepts such as the mandala – although some of us were not familiar with the idea of the mother as an oven! – and has both positive and negative elements. Jung’s chapter on archetypes appears to approach the mother archetype in two parts: first, by describing some background to the mother archetype as found in myths and religions (Jung points out that the mother archetype is not necessarily your mother), and second by describing the uses of archetypes in psychoanalysis and what they can reveal about the patient, who projects them onto the psychiatrist. 

Whilst Jung uses ideas from religion and spirituality, as a psychoanalyst he approaches the idea of the archetype in a scientific way; Art Academy member Sara Nesturek suggested that whereas religion projects outwards, for analysts archetypes’ value is in their ability to reveal what is inside ourselves.

We also discussed other archetypes, for example the trickster: today, pranksterism is often used in social activism to make a serious point (see also the roots of carnival, when everything is turned upside down for a day to reveal truths about the social order). Rachel suggested that people have a bit of each archetype in them, but certain circumstances can knock them out of balance. She is a fashion tutor, and has used ideas about archetypes with her students. She previously taught journalism, and showed students how the media is all about archetypes (for example, it is easy to identify popular figures like the trickster and the virgin whore).We discussed whether, in fact, we can manipulate archetypes, and aspects of archetypes, to shape the way we project ourselves to others. It was suggested that only through Jungian analysis are we made aware of projecting these archetypes, which can be an empowering process.

We were also interested in Jung’s reference to the anima and animus: the idea that men possess a feminine aspect and women a masculine aspect. Rachel said that, as an author, the idea of the animus is a useful tool for thinking both about different sides of her characters and herself as an artist

We agreed that we would be interested in reading more writing by Jung in future, for example about dreams as well as other archetypes. It was suggested that Man and His Symbols could be a good starting point as it is accessible, and that there are some good three minute videos on Youtube by scholars of Jungian theory.