As soon as you enter the world of fairy tales or myths, you become aware of recurring types of characters. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called these characters “archetypes.” He felt that the human race had a shared heritage and a collective unconsciousness of understood characters that acted in a certain way. Myths held important keys to the understanding of why we live and act the way we do.
The character types can be herald, threshold guardian, trickster, shapeshifter, shadow, mentor, hero, or others. Some characters combine more than one or include further types. A Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, ostensibly a handbook for writing film-scripts, tells film writers what mythical qualities they must build into their characters in order to make engaging films. Vogler writes, “Being aware of archetypes can expand your command of your craft.” His book is also an example of carrying Jung’s ideas to the crafting of life.
Carrying the idea further, it’s not surprising that we artists are ourselves built around mythical types. Furthermore, understanding these types explains why some artists are indifferent or hostile to branches of art other than their own. The “herald” artist, for example, may wish to announce new happenings, break new ground or warn of trouble ahead. The “threshold guardian” artist, on the other hand, holds a conservative and traditional rein on taste and license. Persistence of “quality” is the desirable goal. To her, newness for its own sake is a temporary cult. The “trickster” artist works by joking, deceiving, and having sport with the minds and sensitivities of others. The “shapeshifter” artist modifies her direction and even her personality in order to achieve goals. She does commissions and can pretty well do what’s required. And then there’s the “shadow” artist — the true-to-herself villain who sees the dark side. “Life,” says the shadow, “is depressing, and I’m not going to let you forget it.” The “mentor” artist is the Obi Wan Kenobi of the art world — the wise old man or woman who passes the golden brush to the “hero.” I like to think of artists as heroes. “Hero” artists fight against odds that may include indifference, tyranny, stress, competition, poverty, as well as the artist’s own shortcomings. Hero artists overcome and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Hero artists tend to be tenacious, patient, thorough, passionate, strategic and focused.
PS: “This is the tale I pray the divine Muse to unfold to us. Begin it, Goddess, at whatever point you will.” (Homer, The Odyssey)
Esoterica: Without getting carried away, the artist’s life is a hero’s journey. From a state of ordinariness and relative ignorance, the hero is “called to action” and proceeds through a variety of obstacles, alliances and learning experiences until, after much struggle, she reaches a kind of epiphany. Fulfillment, joy, and success can be the natural outcome of this journey.
by Alev Oguz, Caddebostan, Istanbul, Turkey
Regarding choosing your archetype, during this heroic journey, the artist’s work reflects his/her life path. The persistence of failure teaches not to be carried away with early success. When one fails, there is no more to lose. Therefore, once accepted, failure opens a gate to new horizons: recharges and teaches patience. Patience neutralizes ambition, clears the mind, clears the soul, invites connection. Connection brings pure joy. Joy leads to creative energy. One creates and succeeds. Success heals the wounds of failures. Success brings self confidence which cures insecurity and fear, leads to power: the heroic power. However, if this feeling of power is in overdose, she fears losing the gained success. Fear of losing? The outcome is evident: one loses. One is back to the start of the journey. “Success is a journey, not a destination.
Inner “bad girl”
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
I have done a study in the realm of archetypes. I’m fascinated by the theory that each positive model has a negative, or shadow, manifestation. For instance, the shadow side of heroism is tyranny. The shadow side of the Mother is the Smotherer. The Mirror can become the Scapegoat. Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way At Work, explores the way individuals in any group will unconsciously take on archetypal roles and how that affects the creative process. Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert Johnson, is an absolutely wonderful little book that I think every artist should read. We all want to be ‘good’ archetypes, but there’s a lot to be learned from our inner ‘bad boy’ or ‘bad girl’ if we can just find the courage to make his or her acquaintance.
by William Fahey
As a painter of gods and myths, I’ve known for quite a while what my main archetype was — the psychopomp, the leader of souls, the crosser of boundaries and breaker of taboos, the bringer of news and ideas from the other side, sorcerer, shaman. This is best exemplified by the Greek god Hermes.
“Hero” fits her
by Sharon Voyles, Belle Rive, IL, USA
I have never particularly thought of myself as a hero, but your description was almost shocking as it describes me all too well… constantly fighting, all too aware of my own shortcomings, but still focused and passionately determined to be the best artist I can be no matter what it takes… sometimes my boots are sunk a foot in the mud… but I have only one life to live and if I must be a hero, then so be it! Thanks for the definition. Your letters always strike a chord within me.
Who am I?
by Jan Woodford, Oregon, USA
What kind of artist am I? What kind do I want to be? Am I indifferent to the art of others — work that is different from my own? Am I as supportive and understanding to them as I would like them to be toward me?
(RG note) Thank you to all the artists who wrote to tell us what kind of archetypes they felt they represented. Not surprisingly, most identified themselves as heroes, although there were quite a few shapeshifters.
The hero’s struggle
by James Genn, Vancouver, BC, Canada
In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler’s take was that we (artist or audience) identify ourselves with the hero of the story, and throughout human history we’ve enjoyed watching that hero struggle against the archetypes along the way that help or hinder them and help them learn. You seem to be saying that we identify ourselves with the archetypes of the story. It’s all up for interpretation. I like the notion that a writer must pass through the same death-defying ordeals that the heroes of their stories do, in order to reach their goals, and they thereby create their own heroic journey as a writer. The best films are about “someone who struggles to achieve something and winds up changed as a result.”
Priests of the eternal imagination
by Marney Ward, Victoria, BC, Canada
A couple of my favorite quotes about the artist, not quite as hero but more as prophet, are from James Joyce and William Blake. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce calls the artist “a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.” Blake calls his artist hero Los, an anagram of sol with reverberations of both soul and light, and refers to him as “he who kept the vision in time of trouble.” Los is a blacksmith who creates out of iron and fire and who carries a light through the sleeping body of the giant Albion (humanity), crying “Awake, Awake, Awake.” For both Joyce and Blake the artist is a visionary whose job is to awaken man to a newer, clearer, more profound vision of life. The artist, having cleansed his own doors of perception, has the role of leading us to see more clearly, through the eyes of the eternal imagination. A bit humbling, but also inspiring.
Use of myth in troubling times
by Irvane Spracklin
I and four other artists definitely feel that myths hold important keys in understanding how we live and act and that the human race has a shared heritage and collected unconsciousness. As a result we have created a multimedia installation called ‘Spiritual Symbolism’ incorporating life-size sculptures, mandalas and masks in a meditative setting. The symbols that we use represent the universal language and the many images that occur across cultures, religions and civilizations. The public response to this art form has been very satisfying — probably because so many people are seeking solutions to the troubling times of today.
Archetypes in the Tarot
by J. Bruce Wilcox, Denver, CO, USA
Since you’ve recently been writing about healing, and now you’re writing about archetypes, I thought I’d share. Though many people believe the Tarot to be of an occult nature and are therefore afraid of it, it is possibly the most powerful tool for self-healing presently available on the planet. And for those who don’t know the true definition of the word occult, it is quite simply, hidden knowledge. Knowledge of the Self is often hidden until one decides it is necessary to discover it and therefore, gain a new understanding.
Many traditional Tarot decks from the past are immersed in a positive/negative bind. Newer ones, take the Voyager deck by James Wanless, have shifted to an evolved/unevolved tone, and are far less negative than most older decks. There are also newer decks available that no longer follow the more traditional pattern of Major and Minor Arcana, yet still deal profoundly with Archetypal Energies and Entities.
The Minor Arcana resembles a deck of playing cards, comes in 4 suits, Ace through 10, plus 4 (instead of 3) Court Cards. No matter what these suits are called, they all reflect the 4 elements, Air (mind), Water (emotions), Earth (the physical) and Fire (spirit). The difference in a Tarot deck is simple, as a Tarot deck has 22 other cards, the Major Arcana. And they are all Archetypes… 0- The Fool, 1- The Magician, 2- The Priestess, 3- The Empress, 4- The Emperor, 5- The Heirophant, 6- The Lovers, 7- The Chariot, 8- Balance, 9- The Hermit, 10- Fortune, 11- Strength, 12- The Hanged Man- 13- Death, 14- Art or Temperance, 15- Devil’s Play, 16- The Tower, 17- The Star, 18- The Moon, 19- The Sun, 20- Time/Space or Judgment, and 21- The Universe.
What happens when you use a Tarot deck relentlessly and religiously on yourself is very simple, yet completely profound. You begin to interact with all of these Archetypes. If you do it often enough you begin to see a pattern to how these Archetypes exist and are at play in your everyday life. And if you do it long enough you begin to grow up. And if you commit yourself to this inner growth and self-healing process something quite amazing happens. You don’t align with one Archetype, or another, you align with all of them. One day, you become all of them. Simply stated, you evolve.
Unfortunately, you can’t do this kind of work on yourself if you are unwilling to go into your negative belief structures to find your dysfunctional patterns. And even more unfortunately, you can’t do this kind of work on yourself if you don’t believe in yourself. But most unfortunately, no one but you can do your work. In the end, what you discover is that you can’t blame anybody else for your unhappiness, or unfulfilled expectations, or unexamined life. Going into the Self is a lot of work, but it is truly worth it.
Behind the cows
by Rodrica Tilley, Pennsylvania, USA
With regard to people wondering where all the outdoor painters are, they’re in Pennsylvania and New York and New Jersey, too. I belong to three groups of plein air painters. “Once they’ve seen the outdoors it’s hard to keep ’em in the studio!” Next weekend I’ll be part of a small plein air show in Waverly, PA and at the end of the summer I’ll have a one-woman show of mostly outdoor work done over the past year as artist in residence at Salt Spring State Park in Susquehanna County, PA. We’re here, under the trees and behind the cows!
Art and Healing
by Diana S. Boehnert, Hartford, CT, USA
I’m glad to read that artists are beginning to understand the original purpose of art — its function as a healing tool. I work in an inner city hospital facilitating art sessions with patients. It is an extremely rewarding experience and the results are phenomenal! Expressive Art = Access, Release, and Transformation — an acronym developed by Art and Healing author Barbara Ganim — reduces stress and anxiety, while allowing the deeper self to surface and transform life’s experiences. And yes, it is the process that reduces stress and puts us in that “zone” of spiritual connection. Si Valus Valius (If you are well I am well).
(RG note) Diana Boehnert is Artist in Residence at the Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
Conversation with the Sky
mixed media on panel
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004. That includes Girish Kumar, of Kerala, India who wrote, “I live moment by moment. I know this trip is marching to death. For me painting is a trip to humanity and non-violence. But where is the peace?”
Excerpts from recent letters to webmaster Andrew Niculescu regarding Painter’s Keys Links page effectiveness.
“When I listed with you I was getting about 35 visits a month. Now for the last two months I’m getting over 200.” While this does not seem much by some standards, it has resulted right away in a sale to someone I have never met. Thanks Andrew for providing this service.”
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“Your connections are done with decency and taste. I am so glad I found out about you and our community of artists.”
“Your listing for me is at the very top on Google and that’s just fine.”
“The Painter’s Keys links pages are bringing frequent visitors to my dealers’ sites and they love that.”
“I think you are putting some secret ingredient into your website work. (The Painter’s Keys links page) continues to be very valuable for me. Thank you Andrew and thank Robert for keeping you in bread.”