Jung’s Concept of Nekyia as Seen in Picasso

Categories: Carl Jung Pablo Picasso

Carl Jung, who lived from 1881-1964, was a famous Swiss psychoanalyst who popularized the theory of the unconscious and explored more realms than merely the psychological ones. Researching the concepts of archetypes or symbolic themes existing across cultures; anima and animus, male and female opposites of the self; shadow, representing aspects of the self that a conscious person does not wish to acknowledge in themselves, and synchronicity into a balanced wholeness, Jung’s work became more popular in humanities classrooms than psychology ones (Wikipedia, 1).

Although he was a practicing psychoanalyst, Jung was also interested in other aspects of life, such as alchemy, astrology, philosophy, and the arts and literature. One of the components of literature which held great interest for him came from Homer’s Odyssey in which Odyssesus journeyed to the underworld to meet with the blind Tieresias and gain instructions on how to get home again. His journey was important to him, but he didn’t know how to get back and needed help.

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Jung appropriated this concept, entitled nekyia ,and used it in his own work.

Jung’s notion of nekyia is as a dark journey through life which hopefully, ends in a state of integration. The traveler through life may have to endure hard, even hellish, times, before coming out on the other side, and integrating into a complete and whole self. (Jungatlanta, 1). Because balance is of the utmost importance to Jung, he believed that modernity placed too much emphasis on logic and science and would benefit greatly from integrating spirituality and the unconscious.

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The life of the individual, complete with archetypes, dreams, symbols, and religion were all necessary for this encounter with the unconscious and with the broader world in learning symbolic language and producing psychic growth and maturation, ending in individuation where a person questions assumptions rather than just aimlessly living life. This is also termed integration into a whole self, which the journey through nekyia sometimes prepares an individual for. Jung believed that a drive in the unconscious propelled an individual toward the process of individuation/integration.

This drive functions off the opposite poles of the psyche, a combination of good and evil, persona (mask) and shadow. (Wikipedia, 1). Relating these theories to the greater world involving art occurred after Jung went in 1932 to an art exhibit of Picasso’s at the Zurich Kushaus. After viewing his work, Jung published an article in the Neve Zuricher Zeitung. This article, seemingly critical of Picasso, termed him a Schizophrene. So vehement was the reaction to Jung’s article, which caused an uproar among Picasso’s admirers, that he was forced to issue an explanation of what he meant. (web. org.uk Picasso/jung, 1).

Jung meant that Picasso had journeyed into the night; he had entered the underworld of the nekyia. The experience, which involves emptiness, is a necessary precondition to spiritual transformation; it is a door leading to a larger vision of experience and communion. This emptiness, being without: hope, power, or love; is a path that leads to an individual’s realization of rootedness in a transcendent dimension (Doggen, 2). To Jung this voyage was very important. Only by undertaking such a journey could a person hope to come to terms with himself spiritually and psychologically.

Because Picasso had such a intense interest in symbols, that is the means by which Jung recognized that he was on a journey. These symbols provided Jung the authority with which to speak about Picasso, although he was careful not to predict the outcome (Harris, 30). Based on clinical research, Jung’s observations of Picasso were interpreted from a psychological perspective. He used the same method of interpretation for his own patients’ pictures. Picasso’s disturbed and fantastic imagery demonstrated that such images were coming from his subconscious.

Examining these qualities, Jung deemed them schizoid. These images were indicative of Picasso’s descent into nekyia. Both Jung and Picasso practiced forms of alchemy, although this is frequently not noticed by Picasso’s biographers. Jung was interested in introducing the alchemist principle in human psychology and it has since been embraced the world over by later psychologists. Picasso also concealed alchemist meanings in his paintings in the hope that one day his work might be better understood. (Jungatlanta, 1).

However, when asked about the meaning of symbols, such as in Guernica, he responded, “It is what it is. Make of it what you want and I‘ll make of it what I want. ” (Koppelman, 2). The year 1901 started Picasso’s descent into the underworld. His friend Carlos Casagenas had just killed himself. Picasso was understandably distraught. Many of the paintings he executed during this period, particularly self portraits, directly connect him to nekyia. This period was also known as his Blue Period. He had just moved to Paris from Barcelona.

Soon after the move he began suffusing whole works in shades of blue. Still in his late teens, away from home for the first time, Picasso was also very poor. This poverty seemed reflected in the world around him. Everywhere he looked there were street girls, beggars, old, sickly people and alcoholics. These figures, along with despairing lovers and mothers and children fit the mood of his somber blue period. Despondent because he often dealt with the themes of misery and human destitution, Picasso nevertheless conveyed the sensitivity of the subjects because he had a grasp of their circumstances.

(Artchive, 1). As he states: “We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth, at least the truth that is given to us to understand. ”(Artcyclopedia. com, 1). During the early 20th century Picasso continued to be poor. He often complained of having to scrape pesetas together to go to the tavern or buy a meal. “I am forced to deal because of interest or need, but ought not to have to waste so much time…it teaches you a stupid but important lesson: one anyone in Barcelona knows with a little effort: grab what you can.

” ( McGregor, 45). During that time the various artists would help each other with food, art supplies or small amounts of money. Picasso would conveniently forget that he had borrowed from others. As his friend Otto van Rees later reminisced: “Picasso may have been a wonderfully gifted artist, but he was always out for his own ends. All of us were as poor as church mice and would help each other. Picasso was the only one who never paid anyone back” (Richardson, 376). His living conditions were primarily abject squalor. He dwelt in a studio in Bateau Lavoir.

A friend described it in the following manner: “There was a box mattress on four legs in the corner far end of the room, a little rusty iron stove on top of which was a mustard colored basin that doubled as a washstand, with a piece of soap lying beside it. A single window fell on festoons of cobwebs hanging from the ceiling. Two dilapidated chairs completed the furniture. Because Picasso liked animals, he kept a tame white mouse ( later devoured by a cat) in a partially opened drawer. In spite of the squalor, this abode was the gathering place for impromptu dinners, readings and even drug sessions.

This was also the time in which he started hashish. (Vallentin, 51). Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo were Americans who became Picasso’s patrons. Whenever he was short of money and his finances got beyond him, she would persuade a friend to come along with her to his house and buy some works for $20. 00. Her friends were more than willing to indulge this romantic fantasy. (McGregor, 28). At some point during this period Picasso became fascinated with the circus and started painting harlequins and saltimbanques because of “ the strength and durability of their passions. ”(Picasso/tamu.edu, 2).

Then he entered into a less sober period, termed the Rose Period. From 1905-06 his subject matter lightened up as he continued painting circus performers and clowns. Nudes also remained a dominant theme of his work. Colors such as the pinks of flowers or the tilt of a woman’s head caused one critic to exclaim: “ Paintings are a wonderful language that no literature can express… for our words are already made. ”( McGregor, 64). At this point Picasso entered into a movement which caused him to become the king of painters: analytical cubism. The beginnings of cubism were truly revolutionary.

Influenced by the flat planes of Cezanne, Picasso and Braque totally embraced this movement, deconstructing objects into components that showed a differing viewpoint simultaneously. Instead of mimetic imitation there were simply facts. This is evident in such paintings as The Guitar Painter. He even began placing real objects into his works, such as with the pasting of an oilcloth onto the canvas in Still Life with Fruit. (Koppelman, 5). Yet the critical analysis of his works were not devoid of sarcasm. Leo Stein termed these works: “Utter abomination! It’s not mad- not as interesting as that.

Only stupid. ”(tamu. edu/Picasso, 5). 1914 saw the rise of surrealist cubism . Picasso began working in not only cubism, but also pointillism, mannerism, and neoclassicism. The dejection of France after WWI caused him to search for a calmer, more uplifting style. He did this through arcadian scenes and boys on horseback. The neoclassicism produced a more harmonious style that that of his radical cubist days. He began frequenting the Ballet Russe, where he met and married one of the dancers, Olga. Picasso returned to circus themes with paintings of Pierrot and other theatrical personalities.

Olga refused to lived in Picasso’s home because it “smelled of two many women. ” (Vallentin, 64). After a vacation in Biarritz, they settled in another Parisian quarter. Picasso entered the married phase of his life with vigor. No longer a victim of poverty, he squired his wife around town, he in an evening suit, she dressed in Chanel. He became a father for the first time, at the age of 39. Paolo was his first born, and only legitimate son. Picasso also distances himself from the prewar Communist activities of which he had been a part. His personal life made him tranquil.

“ He was to be seen at every cocktail party and first night, dining with Olga. ” (O’Brian, 242). Yet eventually the marriage grew thin. Picasso often felt that women devoured men, just as he felt that Olga was devouring him. He depicted gnashing teeth in a lot of his paintings, conveying the pain of relationships. Additionally, he painted horses, some disemboweled, and bulls, thought to be Olga and him, fighting. Picasso startrd a secret life with a young girl named Marie-Therese. Although he snuck around in his rendezvous with her, not wanting Olga to find out, Picasso soon put her in an apartment across the street from their house.

Updated: Mar 15, 2022
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Jung’s Concept of Nekyia as Seen in Picasso. (2017, Apr 03). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/jungs-concept-of-nekyia-as-seen-in-picasso-essay

Jung’s Concept of Nekyia as Seen in Picasso essay
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