The Unsatisfied Yearnings of The Artist

Painting by Andrea Kowch

Therein lies the social significance of art: It is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is more lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious, which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present. The artist seizes on this image and, in raising it from deepest unconsciousness, he brings it into relation with conscious values, thereby transforming it until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries according to their powers.

— Carl Jung


“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

— Louise Erdrich — The Painted Drum

It never fails that when I sit down to write I start by wondering what I could possibly have to say about my chosen subject, or even if something in me will want to talk about something else entirely. In the beginning of the creative process there’s a feeling of doubt, a little waiting period until I feel something take hold that needs to come through me. Once I feel that I’m on my way.

I can’t force it, but it does help to stick to a schedule. I think it’s important to show up at a regular time because the unconscious seems to respond better if I have a habit of opening to it at the same time every day. My conscious mind shapes what comes up but it can’t command anything to happen. I’ve noticed that I can help start the process with images and quotes, but even then I can’t predict where it will lead.

I believe that there are things waiting at deeper levels of ourselves that want to be said, want to come forth. For them to manifest in a creative work, there has to be a special kind of listening. There has to be a kind of partnership between the conscious and unconscious mind. Our job as artists is to see more deeply but the conscious mind can’t do that. We have to somehow encourage the deeper fund of knowledge and understanding that exists in all of us.

Creativity relies on intuition and animal instincts. The conscious mind is too small, its purview too limited to reveal a new vision of existence. The unconscious mind carries the whole history of creation and is privy to connections invisible to the conscious mind, which was built from a single lifetime.

If we have no troubles or challenges, if we have uninterrupted good fortune, we will probably not have the opportunity to develop much depth. In order to find out who we are and what we are capable of, we seem to need tests and difficulties. Like you I wish it weren’t so, but I’ve noticed that I will stagnate if I’m not given a few misfortunes from time to time. Error and sorrow are built in to this life. They can’t be completely excluded no matter how cautious we are. In fact, too much caution can be a mistake too.

Living fully is a gamble, a balancing act. Being creative means being hardy as well as flexible. It involves discipline and softness, being both active and passive. That worry at the start of the creative act that there is nothing there is the conscious mind sensing its limitations.

As soon as the voices from outside everyday consciousness start to speak, we realize we see and know more than we thought we did.

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