Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Eranos 3: Man and Time

[Erich Neumann on “Art and Time.”]

Art and time is a vast theme; I am sure you do not expect an exhaustive treatment of it in one lecture. Here we shall not concern ourselves with the phenomenon of time as it enters into man’s experience or into his actual works of art; in other words, we shall not concern ourselves with the relation of the ego to the living stream of time, to eternity or the moment, to the swirling eddies of time, or to repose in time. Our discussion will deal principally with the relation of art to its epoch; the second part of our lecture will take up the specific relation of modern art to our own time.

However, I shall speak neither as an artist nor as an art critic; I shall not even speak of the artistic phenomena with which I come into contact as a psychologist, the more or less artistic productions which arise in the course of analytical therapy. Our present inquiry lies within the psychology of culture; it aims at an understanding of art as a psychological phenomenon of central importance to the collectivity as well as the individual.

We shall start from the creative function of the unconscious, which produces its forms spontaneously, in a manner analogous to nature, which—-from atom and crystal through organic life to the world of the stars and planets—spontaneously creates forms susceptible of impressing man as beautiful. Because this substratum and background of the psycho-physical world is forever bringing forth forms, we call it creative. And to the unknown in nature which engenders its forms of the external world there corresponds another unknown, the collective unconscious, which is the source of all psychic creation: religion and rite, social organization, consciousness, and finally art.

The archetypes of the collective unconscious are intrinsically formless psychic structures which become visible in art. The archetypes are varied by the media through which they pass—that is, their form changes according to the time, the place, and the psychological constellation of the individual in whom they are manifested.

Thus, for example, the mother archetype, as a dynamic entity in the psychic substratum, always retains its identity, but it takes on different styles—different aspects or emotional color—depending on whether it is manifested in Egypt, Mexico, or Spain, or in ancient, medieval or modern times.

he paradoxical multiplicity of its eternal presence, which makes possible an infinite variety of forms of expression, is crystallized in its realization by man in time; its archetypal eternity enters into a unique synthesis with a specific historical situation.

Today we shall neither inquire into the development of specific archetypes in one culture, nor follow the different forms of the same archetype in diverse cultures. Anyone wishing to convince himself of the reality of this overwhelming phenomenon need only consult the Eranos Archive, a pioneer effort in this direction.

Nor shall we take up the aesthetic aspect, the history of styles, which enquires into the forms assumed by the archetypes in the various periods, although it would be exceedingly interesting to show, for example, how the archetypal world of Egypt was shaped by a static conception of eternity and time, while in Central America the same archetypal world is almost submerged in a jungle of ornament because here the all-devouring aspect of the Terrible Mother is dominant. Our effort will begin and end with the question of what art means for mankind and what position it occupies in human development.

At the beginning of the development of human consciousness the original psychic situation prevails: unconscious, collective, and transpersonal factors are more significant and evident than conscious and individual factors. Art is at this stage a collective phenomenon, which cannot be isolated from the context of collective existence but is integrated with the life of the group. Each individual is artist, dancer, singer, poet, painter, and sculptor; everything he does and his way of doing it, even where a recognized individual possession is involved, remains an expression of the group’s collective situation.

Although from the very outset the collective receives its primary impulse from “Great Individuals,” even they themselves, in accordance with the dialectic of their relation to the group, never give themselves as individuals I credit for what they have done but impute it to their inspiring predecessors, to the spirits of their ancestors, to the totem, or to whatever aspect of the collective spirit has inspired them individually.

Not only is the creative situation numinous, it is also experienced as such, for all existence was originally shaped by experience of the transpersonal. The festivals and rites are the nodal points of the numinosum, which shapes everything that comes into contact with its sacral sphere: cult implement and mask, figure and image, vessel and ornament, song and dance, myth and poetry. The original integration of all these into life and the numinous context as a whole is shown by the fact that a certain “style” is Oceanic or African, Indian or Nordic, and that it is manifested in the kinship between ornamented door post and ritual vessel, between tattoo motif and mask, fetish and spear shaft.

This unity is a symptom of the individual’s immersion in a group context that transcends him; however, when we say that the group is unconsciously directed by the collective psyche, we do not mean that it is directed by urges or instincts. True, the individual’s consciousness is almost blind to the underlying forces: his reaction to the creative impulse of the psyche is not to reflect, it is to obey and execute its commands.

But the psychic undercurrents which determine man’s feeling and image of the world are manifested through colors and forms, tones and words, which crystallize into symbolic spiritual figures expressing man’s relation both to the archetypal world and to the world in which he lives.

Thus from the very outset man is a creator of symbols; he constructs his characteristic spiritual-psychic world from the symbols in which he speaks and thinks of the world around him, but also from the forms and images which his numinous experience arouses in him.

In the original situation man’s emotion in the presence of the numinosum leads to expression, for the unconscious, as part of its creative function, carries with it its own expression. But the emotional drives which move the group and the individual within it must not be conceived as a dynamic without content. For every symbol, like every archetype, has a specific content, and when the whole of a man is seized by the collective unconscious, his consciousness is included. Consequently we find from the very start that the creative function of the psyche is accompanied by a reaction of consciousness, which seeks, at first in slight degree but then increasingly, to understand, to interpret, and to assimilate the thing by which it was at first overwhelmed. Thus at a very early stage there is a relative fixation of expression and style, and so definite traditions arise.

In our time, with its developed or overdeveloped consciousness, feeling and emotion seem to be bound up with an artistic nature; for an undeveloped consciousness this is by no means the case. For primitive and early cultures, the creative force of the numinosum supports or even engenders consciousness; it brings differentiation and order into an indeterminate world driven by chaotic powers and enables man to orient himself.

In the creative sphere of the psyche, which we call the unconscious, significant differentiations have been effected in the direction which will be characteristic of subsequent elaborations by the consciousness. The very appearance of a psychic image represents a synthetic interpretation of the world, and the same is true of artistic creation in the period of origination.

Artistic creation has magic power, it is experience and perception, insight and differentiation in one. Whether the image is naturalistic or not is immaterial; even the extremely naturalistic animal paintings of the Ice Age are, in our sense, symbols. For a primitive, magical conception of the world, each of these painted animals is a numinosum; it is the embodiment and essence of the animal species.

The individual bison, for example, is a spiritual-psychic symbol; he is in a sense the “father of the bison,” the idea of the bison, the “bison as such,” and this is why he is an object of ritual. The subjugation and killing, the conciliation and fertilization of the animal, which are enacted in the psychic sphere between the human group and the image which symbolically represents the animal group, have a reality-transforming—that is, magical—significance, because this image-symbol encompasses the numinous heart and center of the animal living in the world, whose symbolic figuration constitutes an authentic manifestation of the numinous animal.

In the period of origination, the forms of expression and driving archetypal contents of a culture remain unconscious; but with the development and systematization of consciousness and the reinforcement of the individual ego there arises a collective consciousness, a cultural canon characteristic for each culture and cultural epoch.

There arises, in other words, a configuration of definite archetypes, symbols, values, and attitudes, upon which the unconscious archetypal contents are projected and which, fixated as myth and cult, becomes the dogmatic heritage of the group. No longer do unconscious and unknown powers determine the life of the group; instead, transpersonal figures and contents, known to the group, direct the life of the community as well as the conscious behavior of the individual in festival and cult, religion and usage.

This does not mean that man suspects a connection between this transpersonal world and the depths of his own human psyche, although the transpersonal can express itself only through the medium of man and takes form in him through creative processes.

But even when the cultural canon develops, art in all its forms remains at first integrated with the whole of the group life, and when the cultural canon is observed in religious festival, all creative activity is articulated with this integral event. As expressions of archetypal reality, the art and music, dance and poetry of the cult are inner possessions of the collective.

Whether the epiphany of the numinosum occurs in a drawing scratched on bone, in a sculptured stone, in a medieval cathedral centuries in the building, or in a mask, fashioned for one festival and burned after it, in every case the epiphany of the numinosum, the rapture of those who give it form, and the rapture of the group celebrating the epiphany constitute an indivisible unit.

But the breakdown of this original situation in the course of history is revealed also by the phenomenon of the individual creator in art. With the growth of individuality and the relative independence of consciousness, the integral situation in which the creative element in art is one with the life of the group disintegrates.

An extensive differentiation occurs; poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, actors, architects, etc. become professional groups, practicing particular functions of artistic expression. The majority of the group, it would appear, preserves only a receptive relation, if any, to the creative achievement of the artist.

But neither is the individual so isolated—nor are art and the artist so far separated—from the collective as first appears. We have learned to see the consciousness of the individual as the high voice in a polyphony whose lower voice, the collective unconscious, does not merely accompany but actually determines the theme. And this reorientation is not limited to the
psychic structure of the individual: it also necessitates a new approach to the relations between men. ~Erich Neumann; “Art and Time;” Pages 1-6; Eranos Yearbooks; “Man and Time.”