On Digging for Sources

The endeavor to examine the origins of art is fraught from the get-go, and yet.

blue and white floral trowel

Notes while reading Jung’s 1922 essay “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry.” The following includes phrases borrowed from Jung’s text, assembled while reading with certain questions in mind. 


There are parallels in process, but a psychological approach when it comes to art or religion is permissible only with emotions and symbols. The essential nature of each is another matter and can’t be touched by psychology. Artistic, scientific, and religious propensities may yet slumber together in the small child, when the distinctions between fields of activity in the mind remain invisible. A work of art and a neurosis may swell from the same soil, but to link them causally would be a mistake. In tracing common lines, let’s not be like moles with our noses buried in the dirt. To be so reductive is to strip the gods of their robes and mock their naked forms, extinguishing the sheen of creation. 

The subterranean background is not to be conflated with the art. To study well demands ridding oneself of medical prejudice. Art is not disease, and it would be a mistake for a botanist to assume they know a plant just because they have studied its habitat. Art is a creation, not a personality; its special significance comes from having escaped the limitations of the personal. 

Is it like a tree in soil or a child in a womb? All comparisons, in the end, are lame.

Divine frenzy comes perilously close to pathological state, but the two are different. Speaking of which, consider the difference between a body of flesh and blood and any abstract frame.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I keep watch and listen, mostly in dark places.

2 thoughts on “On Digging for Sources”

  1. Thank you for the reminder about the gift of negative space. So often we remain focused on ourselves, the subject of our lives, that we forget how our environment feeds, nurtures, and supports our behavior, emotions, and thoughts. Our beliefs and philosophy are revealed thematically by our action, inaction, silence, and words. So many concepts and emotion is expressed through text. At the same time, the embers of my love for my maternal grandmother glow brighter whenever I find the Mickey Mouse watch she gave me as a child. When I strap it around my wrist and wind it up conveys more than saying, “I love and miss you so much.”

    1. Jef, thank you for sharing this beautiful reminder, and the image of finding the Mickey Mouse watch she gave you. I smile to picture you placing it on your now-bigger wrist, and also to think how often we make similar gestures with found artifacts, tangible and intangible. Thank you for bringing me to this.

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