Have you ever wondered if we are somehow unique?
What if our way of being, behaving, thinking and believing is unique for everyone? They often tell us: “You are unique and you are perfect like this!” True.
For genetics, we are like many snowflakes, and no one can be alike. True.
It would be a lovely thought, if you don’t take things like:
religion for example: the commonality in believing all together in things instead of others.
Or the simple imitation of external models that we consider ideal.
Homologation and the desire not to be unique, because sometimes “unique” means “different”.
In short, we are all unique and special; but we want the same things and think the same way.
Have you wondered, however, how do you work with the images that appear before us?
That is, because sometimes in front of a painting, a photograph, a work of art, even without knowing the scene, nor the painter, nor the title we are able to interpret it but above all we are able to grasp some elements and some figures that give sense to the totality.
Without being sure of knowing why.
The reasons can be many and they involve different areas of expertise.
I would like to speak of a purely image-related response. Of the unconscious recognition of some community elements in the artistic discourse.
Using a parallel with psychoanalytic theory. That of Carl Jung in particular.
For this we will talk about Archetypes: art forms.
Their presence in our interior tries to find an answer to things like:
“Why in representations we found sun’s imagine as male and the moon’s one as always female?”
Why is the witch always old and ugly?
Why is the princess always young and beautiful, or the wise man is always old; the newborn is always tender and cute and still today they say “the children are all beautiful”?
In short, questions like these, which overlap in everyday things, sometimes without even realizing it, from the fairy tales we have red from the childhood to the labels we find on supermarket products.
Following the line of an author that I personally appreciate, the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, the answer can be found rooted in centuries of tradition and culture and also in different parts of the world, without there ever having been anyone who physically operated something. to influence all of this.
The answers are found in words like Archetypes and Collective Unconscious.
We will try to find some of the most famous archetypes, directly from our wonderful history of contemporary art, very contemporary, to demonstrate how the wave of the collective unconscious does not stop.
This is after explaining them, of course.
An archetype, according to Jung, is a personification of a certain human behavior.
There are millions of behaviors, but there are some, with such generic, recognizable and multiplying characteristics.
So clearly recognizable that they have crossed the boundaries of human cultures and centuries of belonging, until they are found on a graphic – first – and verbal – then – level (if you can describe something, you can rework it, design it until it is transformed according to need ).
In short, it is a “genetic” inheritance of our psyche, which however does not belong to the individual but to larger groups. Groups, societies, cultures, countries, up to all of humanity.
Do you know in the Greek theater? There are a whole series of masks that, depending on the facial expressions, describe without words or costumes, a very clear character with clear and unique characteristics. The rich man, the servant, the stupid, the philosopher, the prostitute, the bad guy etc …
Archetypes are a similar thing, except that, they concern characteristics that have been rooted for centuries and deeply embedded in everyone’s unconscious (collective unconscious, precisely). They do not deal with the external image and the description of everyday behavior.
Their clarity has always made us all aware of certain behavioral patterns, which, unwittingly, are instinctively recognizable in the people around us.
In the images we see, in the stories we are told, up to the primordial myths of which each culture is overflowing.
And even in the dreams we have.
Their commonality in the psyche of each of us also tends to create an emotional bond with them; this is why when we read a book we become attached to a certain character or when we see a film we identify with it (or believe we identify ourselves).
In more current articles, such as those that can be found on internet, the archetypes are listed and explained, sometimes simplified; but they are gladly interpreted through cinema, characters, even through logos and cartoons.
This is also to demonstrate its effectiveness. However, the more modern figures evoked today tend to generalize the archetypes a bit and translate them into almost stereotyped characters: the Hero, the Magician, the Lover, the Sovereign etc..
Not that these were wrong, but they are a simplification of the primordial characteristics of the first archetypes theorized by Jung, who argued that
“No archetype is reducible to simple formulas. The archetype is like a container that can never be emptied or filled completely. In itself, it exists only in potentiality, and when it takes shape in a given matter, it is no longer the same as before. . “
Speaking of art in general, Jung argued that the work of art had its own autonomy; an intersubjective value.
By saying something to the audience, it went beyond the subjective sphere of the artist’s individual experience (which, on was of great interest to Freud). The work of art goes beyond what the single individual is, since it has a collective psychological meaning, as a language common to all humanity.
What emerges in art is the collective unconscious. And archetypes, as a result, can be recognized as art forms.
This is why we will consider some of the original Archetypes of Jungian theory. Archetypes: art forms:
Among the archetypes at the base, there could not but be one that, even before all the profound dimensions of the psyche and personality, described the Persona for what he is.
Jung noted that the human being tended to show only a certain part of his personality, often in relation to the context. The PERSONA is the archetype of our public image. A mask we wear every day to live in one area or another.
This archetype is a filter that we use to function better in society, to protect ourselves or even to create a compromise between who we are and what we want to be.
It is not identifiable with the whole person.
Thousands of artists have used the artistic medium to address their Arch. PERSONA to the outside world. Above all because the PERSONA is divided into two parts: ANIMA & ANIMUS, respectively the female part of every man and the male part of every woman. (maybe someone has heard of Ying and Yang?).
The characteristics of the Soul are represented by the most traditional image of the woman over the centuries: beautiful, sensual, intuitive, spontaneous, in tune with nature, caring, sweet, sometimes more fragile. From there, characters such as the nymph, the princess, the goddess, the seductress, the fairy, the femme fatale, the 50s mother etc.. to extremes such as Helen of Troy or the Virgin Mary.
In the same way ANIMUS represents what today we could define a stereotype of the type of alpha male, protagonist of stories, of heroic events: beautiful, strong, fair, correct, knight, savior and romantic seducer.
From these characteristics, rises the more “modern” Hero archetype, which we can recognize in a painting with men with sword and shield, or when we see a “male” saving a “girl” from a dragon or a monster. Nobody tells us who they are, if they are a hero or a princess, but our unconscious knows it, because we recognize our archetypes.
As in St George and The Dragon fairy
Speaking about artistic representation dedicated to the Arch. PERSONA as a whole, there is an artist – or rather a work that has embodied him in a surprising way.
This photo was the beginning of a complex, beautiful and deeply symbolic game / staging with the aim of creating a real performance of “doubling” or rather of tripartite.
If the persona archetype represents the “side” that each of us shows in the conditions of social coherence or because it is unconsciously considered more suitable, it means that – to quote prof. Stefano Ferrari, professor of psychology of art – identities are divided into:
real – social – ideal identity
It was for this reason that Marcel Duchamp created in the 1920s and beyond a living archetype, as well as an alter ego, which managed to condense both his ANIMA and his ANIMUS into a single alchemical, self-congratulatory and even self-mocking figure. The disturbing Rrose Selavy.
With a series of artistic and non-artistic references, cleverly hidden in puns and double entenders through works from “The Big Glass” to “L.H.O.O.Q.”, but also “Fresh Widow“, this beautiful and smart alter ego, took shape becoming always more real, to the point of having an identity, a profession, friends and even an apartment in New York!
This definitively crowned Duchamp’s dilemma about which identity to present to the world, remaining the original and brilliant person he was and remaining faithful to his principles of “… going beyond the retinal ….”.
Without knowing it (or perhaps yes, since Duchamp was interested in countless things, including psychoanalysis) he had created the perfect example of the Jungian Archetype PERSONA.
For the moment we stop here. As you can see the discourse on Archetypes, it is not only fascinating, but its references to other things are innumerable.
In the second part of the article, we will recognize in other works of contemporary art Archetypes such as:
THE SELF – THE GREAT MOTHER – THE INFANT – THE SHADOW
However, remember to be UNIQUE, even if the depth of your psyche (according to Carl Gustav) says otherwise.
Appointment in a few days with Archetyps: art forms
This post is also available in: Italian