A common understanding

Stumbling across the web this morning, (literally,http://www.stumbleupon.com/), I linked to the wonderful Victoria Gallery in Australia http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/tjukurrtjanu/painting?accept=1, where I found these fantastic aboriginal paintings from the 1970’s

Billy Stockman

The powerful iconographic language and philosophy of these paintings is tjukurrtjanu (from the Dreaming): it communicates the artists’ intimate connection with men’s ritual, hallowed sites in their country and the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming). But it referenced to art that had probably never been seen by some of them.  It provoked a curiosity in me, and an excitement in the idea of Jung’s collective unconscious.  I can explore what I mean by showing some of the aboriginal images, and then showing some of the images that they reminded me of. Here goes;

The above images are aboriginal, and below are some of the Western paintings they made me think about.

The Jungian concept is that there are ideas which resonate with people living about in different countries and through different time periods. These  archetypes often take the visual form of a graphic or symbol – i.e., a wheel, a sword, a flame, etc. Such archetypes are supposedly part of our makeup even without our needing to know about or experience them, much like instinct in animals. (For example, baby chicks know the shapes of the shadows of predatory birds as they fly overhead, and start to panic without quite realizing why.) I know this feeling personally, and imagine many of you reading this do to,( I like the many!)  Of course, some of artistic endeavour is simply drawing on similarly experienced ‘stuff’ , and thus we are drawn to expressing them creatively, as in these images;

Eugene Jansson The Gymnast


This appears to me to be significantly different than when the artist is using part of an unconscious collective memory that appears to crop up in all sorts of places. It is the ‘primal eye’ recording states of feeling that resonate with us, the viewer, and allow us temporarily to inhabit a more spiritual plane. That is the excitement of art, the way in which it can make us feel more alive, more intuitively engaged with the world, and its inhabitants. Likewise, it can provoke deep feelings of alienation, and fear, connecting us to levels of ourselves mostly hidden. In a similar, but different way, I am reminded of Keats ‘negative capability’  in which we are “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason …[Being] content with half knowledge” where one trusts in the heart’s perceptions,,” – John Keats.  We are indeed mystery, and unreason.


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