C.G. Jung on Modern Art

Discuss the descent into the underworld motif and its relationship with the creative impulse. – Week 3 of the Expressive Power of Archetypes

Audrey Hepburn – Roman Holiday

I remember vividly visiting the Bocca della Verità (the mouth of truth) in Rome when I was a teenager. I waited in a s short line and then stood in front of this large round stone sculpture in the form for a mans face. I was told to place my hand inside the mouth of the man. They say that if you tell a lie with your hand in the mouth it will be cut off. Despite the reality that I was visiting a tourist attraction, the experience still sent chills down my spine as I put my hand in the mouth of truth. I think it’s an interesting idea that even a small part of the body or ones being can descend and return, like the hand in the mouth of truth. I also think it is interesting that the underworld is a place of authenticity / knowledge but that it is feared and demonized.


I’m a painter, artists, and graphic designer. I was interested in the topics discussed by Jung in relation to art. I agree that art grabs you – and notice this phenomenon when I sell art. A person seems to be immediately taken or grabbed by the image. I was confused by some of the concepts – like how a person can become possessed by an archetypal image.

People are exposed to archetypal images in art, dreams, and visions. My understanding is that the creative impulse to personify archetypal energies is a mentally healthy way to interact with and access energy in the collective unconscious – flowing down and up from the underworld/creative impulse. It is more dangerous, leading to madness, when a person represses the energy or identifies with it – getting stuck.

Quotes from C.G. Jung on modern art

Introduction to Jungian Psychology: Notes of the Seminar on Analytical Psychology Given in 1925 – Link to Book

Lecture 8

See quotes from 9-12

The criterion of art is that it grips you. – Dr.Jung Pg.57

Just as the dream seeks to maintain a psychological balance by filling out the daytime conscious attitude by the unconscious elements, so art balances the general public tendency of a given time. – Dr. Jung pg.57

Very often it is assumed that an experience is subjective because it takes place within the mind of a subject, but it is not then necessarily in opposition to objective, because the images of the collective unconscious, from their collective character, are just as truly objects as things outside the psyche. p57

Now, I think modern art tends to be subjective in the sense that the artist is concerned with his individual connection with the object, rather than with the object per se. p 57

There is no doubt that sentimentalism catches the public and blinds it to its own sensuality and brutality. p58

And the same thing, of course, goes on in the case of the individual artist–that is, he uses sentimentality to cloak brutality. p58

There was once exhibited in New York a painting called the Nude Descending the Staircase. This might be said to present a double dissolution of the object, that is in time and space, for not only have the figure and the stairs gone over into the triangles and squares, but the figure is up and down the stairs at the same time, and it is only by moving the picture that one can get the the figure to come out as it would in an ordinary painting where the artist preserved the integrity of the figure in space and time. The essence of this process is the depreciation of the object. – Dr. Jung pg.59

The process (of modern art) inevitably drives the interest away from the object to the subject, and instead of the real object, the internal object becomes the carrier of the values… So modern art leads us away from the too great scattering of the libido on the external object, back to the creative source within us, back to the inner values. In other words, it leads us by the same path analysis tries to lead us, only it is not a conscious leadership on the part of the artist. – Dr. Jung pg. 59-60

Moderns art, then, began first by depreciating these external values, by dissolving the objects, and then sought the basic thing, the internal image back on the object–the eidolon. We can hardly predict today what the wrist is going to bring forth, but always a great religion has gone hand in hand with a great art. – Dr. Jung pg.61

The same thing is going on in art, that is, the killing of one function in order to release another. p62

The rain that fell is a symbol of the release of tension; that is, the forces of the unconscious are loosed. When this happens, the feeling of relief is engendered. The crime is expiated because, as soon as the main function is deposed, there is a chance for the other sides of the personality to be born. p62