Have you ever wondered why it is that some art can bring you to tears, while some is simply boring? The secret is in the power of the archetypes the artist uses, whether or not she knows she is doing it. There is nothing particularly mystical or “magical” about this, if you understand Jungian archetype. It applies to any artistic endeavor, whether it is written, painted, sculpted or whatever.
There’s the famous photograph of the Catholic nuns pointing up at the statue of Michelangelo’s “David”. The caption reads, “I don’t know what it is, but I know what I like!” Michelangelo’s spirit is surely immortal–he speaks to us through more than 500 years. Jungian Concepts
Michelangelo grabs us at the subconscious level, and shakes us to our foundations! What is it that causes such intense reactions? It is simply that the great artists activate the archetypes for man and woman at their most basic level.
The art need not be a recognizable figure either! Jackson Pollock demonstrated this in his “drip” paintings. In his later work, Pollock intentionally tried to avoid any image that is recognizable. And yet, I have attended an exhibition of the greatest modern artists of all time at the Boston Museum of Art, and I found that Pollock’s work moved me far beyond any other. It brought me to tears! It talks to my subconscious mind in a way I cannot describe beyond these meager words.
Another piece in the same exhibition also moved me, “Under the Table” by Robert Therrien. It was a simple wooden table and chairs, but executed at something like ten times normal size. It consumed an entire room. When you walked in, you immediately walked under the table, with the chairs surrounding you. I was immediately transported to the feelings I had as a 2 or 3-year-old child, walking under my parents’ table. That piece “constellated” the archetype of childhood.
A great place to start to study the concept of the use of Jungian archetype in art is to read Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Estes is a life long Jungian analyst, who explains in explicit detail how the psychology of the subconscious mind manifests itself in a wide variety of archetypes, whether in images, stories or in life. We react with tears and laughter and other ways we might not understand at the conscious level.