Archetypes at the 108 Contemporary

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I’m thrilled to be teaching my workshop Personal Archetypes as Artistic Inspiration –sponsored by the 108 Contemporary Gallery in Tulsa, OK, March 11 - 15, 2019. There are still a few spots open, and I love the Arts District in Tulsa as well as their fabulous facilities. I want you to come and be part of this workshop because it will help your creative life flourish!

Archetypes are an incredibly rich resource for artists, but I know the concept of working with them isn’t familiar to most people, so I’d love to explain a bit more about what I mean by archetype and how they can become guides to taking what we make as artists to a deeper level.

Archetypes are universally recognized symbols of human behavior found in every form of storytelling across different times and cultures. The use of archetypes to explain behavior was introduced by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and has been expanded by other theorists including Caroline Myss. Archetypes offer a rich symbolic language through which we can define, refine, and understand life experiences. 

You can choose archetypes to explore in your work, and by doing so you can begin to actually see how they work together in your life! Archetypes inspire specific projects and unravel the blocks that shut down active creating. Aligning with your archetypal team means you’re never alone. The uninitiated may scoff and refer to archetypes as your imaginary friends, but once archetypes are understood symbolically you'll value this approach to creativity, and wish everyone could speak the language!

NOTE: It’s important to understand that archetypes aren't actually living beings when we use them to narrate life experiences or contribute to the process of creating. They are a symbolic language we use to identify or name fears and motivations; hopes and desires. It's also important to recognize that any discussion of archetypes has to include two sides. Archetypes are inherently neutral, that is, neither good nor bad. Each has a negative outworking and a positive outworking. The positive or shadow role an archetype plays in your life is up to you and the choices you make– whether you are fully aware of the archetype’s attributes or not. 

Case Study: The Indentured Servant Meets the Hedonist

Here’s an example of how archetypes worked in one student’s life. 

Jimmy attended one of my workshops and was charged with reading about archetypes and selecting his team. One of the archetypes he chose was the Indentured Servant. He defended this choice by explaining that in his regular life he was the caretaker for elderly relatives who had fostered him upon the death of his parents when he was a young boy. 

Jimmy was sure his relatives would disown him were they to discover that he was gay. He’d made the conscious decision not to reveal his homosexuality publicly until these relatives died. In the meantime he was paying a price. The only time he could "be himself" was at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or in a class like the one he took with me. 

Jimmy chose the Indentured Servant because he felt he was literally "buying his freedom" by caring for his elderly relatives until their lives ended. Their deaths meant his freedom in both the literal and figurative sense. He didn't resent the care-taking but he anticipated the freedom that would eventually be his. 

In addition to the Indentured Servant, Jimmy chose the Hedonist as part of his archetypal team. His Hedonist was the part of his personality that loved the sensual, colorful and daring. At the time of our workshop Jimmy couldn't explore the Hedonist openly, but his Hedonist archetype inspired vibrant, colorful artwork. These two archetypes– the Indentured Servant and the Hedonist– allowed Jimmy to express his unique story and put the events at work in his life in context.  He found comfort in this new archetypal point of view and it energized him to work with his reality– anticipating his freedom while making symbolic, colorful art quilts in the meantime. 

I often work with the Saboteur. One negative outworking of the Saboteur is what happens in the studio if I never let voice mail pick up phone messages. Instead I answer the phone when it rings. The interruptions keep me from working steadily because they break my train of thought. I used writing to explore how I sabotaged myself when I didn’t get any work done and then I saw a pattern that could be broken or adjusted. When I decided to let voice mail pick up my messages from 9:00 a.m. until noon, the Saboteur actually helped me resolve a studio problem. In that setting, the Saboteur acted positively on my behalf. She had my back!

So as you can see, archetypes can provide insight into who we are and why we do what we do in ways that are sometimes surprising, and always helpful! Archetypal explorations can lead to creating art work that’s magnificently personal while deepening your understanding of yourself. It’s a win-win.