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.
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.
This is a favourite Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letter previously published as “Choose your archetype” on June 1, 2004.
by Lionel Bradley, Timaru, South Canterbury, New Zealand
I think Carl Jung read too much into things but I suppose he had to in order toformulate a thinking process that would give credence to the psychological labyrinth.
Gathered together in another reality
by Carol Spicuzza, Indianapolis, IN, USA
Jung tells us that, strictly speaking, what we experience is the image of the archetype, because the archetype itself is unconscious and unknowable. They are the forms — one could even call them images of instincts – through which our experience of life is shaped. The archetype not only structures our animal reactions but also has a spiritual aspect in that it determines the forms through which the transpersonal may present itself. In looking at a painting that has expressed an archetype, a peculiar feeling of familiarity may arise. It is as though the artist has pulled something from our own dreams and united it with an eternal, mythical world. Unaware that we are on stage, we are revealed as being embedded within a larger drama. The image has gathered us together in another reality. In a previous age it would have been considered a feat of magic; it is the numinous, the mysterious quality of a shared experience of the archetypal realm and the collective unconscious.
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Truth vs myth
by Sandy Robinson, Jasper, AB, Canada
For a moment I thought you were speaking about the Bible! Speaking of myths, that is… and certainly much of the modern day art is in a mythical vein or total fantasy. This is found not only in two-dimensional work but video and movie genres, much of it with heavy violence.
And, speaking of the Bible, I like to quote Pope Leo X who said in 1513, “It has served us well, this myth of Christ.” Then Pope Leo XIII added in 1881, “The Church needs nothing but the truth.”
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Archetype? Painter true to self
by Edna Hildebrandt, Toronto, ON, Canada
I don’t know what archetype is as a painter. What I know is that I respond to the world around me and I paint where I get inspiration whether it be a person, a place or an idea. I strive to express my aspirations and be true to myself as much as I can be. I may take a long time to discover my archetype. If I could be something, it must be what I am supposed to be. I will continue to paint and be inspired and hopefully will inspire others.
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Agenda for manipulation
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
Regarding the archetypes, I always wondered if Little Red Riding Hood was commissioned by an equivalent of the NRA. I suspect that archetypes are not just “keys to the understanding of why we live and act the way we do,” but also intentionally nurtured by those in power in order to manipulate people into a certain way of living and acting.
Use of myth in troubling times
by Irvane Spracklin, Mt. Holly, NJ, USA
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.
This is a valued vintage response.
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by Alev Oguz, 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, which 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.” (Arthur Ashe)
This is a valued vintage response.
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It’s hard, kiddo
by David Martin, Las Vegas, New Mexico, USA
I recently moved from a very large studio in Las Vegas, New Mexico to a very small studio in Oakland, California. (Yes, relative rents had a lot to do with the change in size.) I have never felt the necessity to “lighten the load” as intensely as now. But gosh darn and %#@*^$& just the thinking about it hurts. It is hard, kiddo, no doubt about it. So, feeling as a kindred spirit to your Dad, I haven’t done it.
Scotch would definitely help, but I had to give that up years ago. I know it’s coming but that doesn’t make it easier. Your email helped, though. Gotta have a burning party.
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“The Internet is here”
by John Mast, Vancouver, BC, Canada
You do a remarkable job leveraging the Web for good. It’s interesting but when I think of it I cannot come up with many better, more “great” uses of the Internet than your Twice-Weekly letters and the Painter’s Keys website. I was in university when the Web showed up in the library one day for the first time with a big sign over it with an arrow pointing at a PC — it said “the Internet is here.” I remember thinking… I wonder what that is?… who cares? Early courses in IT theory taught me that it would become a leveler for the people and that information would flow freely and that the people would be better off for it. While that is likely true in a lot of ways — The Painter’s Keys is one of the best really pure examples of how one remarkably passionate artist leveraged the Internet to share his passion in a generous and bold way. I have been a subscriber for a long time and, while I work in advertising and am not an artist by definition, I have gotten a tremendous amount out of them over the years. I have found many tips on creativity and colour and perseverance and have even upon occasion “gone to my room” when I really needed to focus.
So this is me expressing my sincere gratitude to you for sharing your world and doing what you do each week! It’s easy to see from all the responses in the forum that you have been a profound positive influence on many artists and people around the world. Not many can say they lived a life and career so focused on progress and betterment of both their personal craft and their chosen profession. Very well played sir!
(RG note) Thanks, John. With my daughter, Sara, gradually taking over, I’m excited that we’re going to see an even wider range of connectivity for creative people. And yes, John, we’re absolutely thrilled that this effort has been valuable to so many. For me, it has been such a joy (with the significant help of younger and brighter people) to make my contribution and that it has gone as far as it has. There will be some changes ahead, but believe me, we’re going to make it even better.
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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, 2013.
That includes M. Frances Stilwell of Corvallis, OR, USA, who wrote, “Anyone who has the guts to destroy substandard paintings is a hero. One of my misguided mentors told me never to throw anything away. Sometimes I’ve been glad for his advice, but as my studio fills up, taking space from new art, I wish I could throw out that mentor’s advice as well as some of the paintings.”
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