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Carl Jung: Things that are neither useful nor beautiful usually have at least a meaning.


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Letters of C. G. Jung: Volume I, 1906-1950 (Vol 1)

To Hans Welti

Dear Dr. Welti, 23 December 1932

Best thanks for kindly sending me the photograph of your hieroglyphic object.

As an utter dilettante I am of course completely nonplussed by it.

It would be a lie if I said I liked it, because it does not move me aesthetically in the least.

On the other hand it has something that intrigues me, although this, as I have sometimes found,often appear absurd to the artist-I look for the meaning.

Things that are neither useful nor beautiful usually have at least a meaning.

Why, for instance, does this thing not have three, five, or more prongs but precisely four?

Why, when you photograph it, does it cast such a deep shadow?

Why is its base corrugated like that?

If I find such an object in the hut of a primitive, I know at once that it is ju-ju,1 i.e., medicine, and thus has a meaning.

A fetish is as a rule neither useful nor beautiful, but it has meaning, magical meaning.

This analogy helps me to gain some understanding of these things.

From the artistic standpoint, I have thoroughly understood your article in the N.Z.Z., but for all that I cannot approve of modern art, i.e., find it beautiful.

I find it perfectly frightful.

The reason for this, it seems to me, is that art, without being aware of it, has invaded the realm of the mind and is trying to work out the unconscious meaning pictorially.

I can understand modern works of art only as idols from the underworld, and they become accessible to me only through a knowledge of the psychology of the unconscious.

They do not affect me aesthetically.

It may very well be that my attitude is that of a Philistine, but God knows I can’t find them beautiful.

Perhaps other centuries will, in which case I am thankful to the Creator that man doesn’t live for 200 years, otherwise he would suddenly find himself in an age in which he would choke to death.

As to your concluding question, phenomena of decay naturally occur in all epochs, but in some they pile up.

High points are the decline of antiquity, and the 12th and 16th centuries.

With best regards,

Yours sincerely, c. G. JUNG ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Pages 114-115

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Great Sites to visit:

  1. Jenna Lilla’s Path of the Soul http://jennalilla.org/

  2. Steve Jung-Hearted Parker’s Jung Currents http://jungcurrents.com/

  3. Frith Luton’s Jungian Dream Analysis and Psychotherapy: http://frithluton.com/articles/

  4. Lance S. Owens The Gnosis Archives http://gnosis.org/welcome.html