The Artist’s Unconscious And The Metaphor Of Birth
From the first “glimmer in the eye” to the conception of a specific work, the artist embarks on a process that continues to develop and grow even in the absence of conscious attention.
Even so, bringing the project to term requires making mindful, intentional choices along the way in order to protect and make space for the art to come into being.
I am continually amazed at the work of the unconscious in the minds of creative artists.
The capacity to hold many details in the conscious, wakeful mind may seem limited; the unconscious is capable of holding far more.
An actor prepares for a new role, learning to truthfully inhabit the imaginary circumstances under which the character lives.
Perhaps the role requires honing specific skills, such as a regional dialect or dancing like a prima ballerina.
The actor may need to appear completely at home with CSI-like laboratory instruments, less-than-comfortable period costumes, or unpredictable exotic animals.
Many actors will attest that their best performances are born out of careful preparation, followed by a period of incubating (or gestating) the new information, and then “throwing it all away” – meaning letting go of the need to hold all the details in the conscious mind, freeing the actor to be fully present, alive and spontaneous in performance.
This is an excellent example of preparation and gestation leading to a multilayered unconscious processing that allows for a fresh, spontaneous flow state in performance.
Psychologists have long made the connections between the unconscious material communicated to us through our patients’ dreams and fantasies, and the conscious intentions, thoughts and feelings of waking life.
Making those links allows us to mine the riches of our unconscious mind, bringing into our awareness the conflicts and inner obstacles that may be in our way so we can do something about them.
A novelist is overwhelmed by the effort to hold in mind the first two-thirds of his book as he struggles to weave the various subplots into a coherent climax.
By trusting the workings of his unconscious mind, the artist becomes capable of holding all of the elements he needs.
The vastness of the unconscious capacity to process, associate and make meaning of ideas and experience is the life force of the creative process.
These layers reveal themselves through the artist’s work, whether or not there is conscious intent to reveal them.
In my work with various artists I have often observed a stage at which the artist feels like he or she has reached a point of no return, deeply committed to a project and invested, but unable to see the way out.
They wonder how on earth they got themselves into this predicament, and whether they will ever be able to get through it. They cannot yet imagine how it will all come together.
We are likely to recognize a pregnant woman as someone who is creating life. We gaze at the visible evidence of gestation, and perhaps offer her our seat.
When the artist is able to respect and honor the process of incubating her ideas, it allows her to “make room” for what is growing, and to bear the temporary discomforts and accommodations that often come with the territory.
She may have a support system, but she is ultimately the only one who can do what needs to be done.
There is a leap of faith required to stand in that discomfort long enough to allow the path to reveal itself.
Conceptualizing the work of the artist as bringing a new life into being can give the creative artist a stance which encompasses self-respect and regard for the creative process.
Any pain, if present, can be recognized as existing in the service of something greater.
Once the labor is complete, the artist may be unprepared for the intensity of feelings about how their nascent progeny will be received as it ventures out into the world.
Will its resemblance to its creator be evident? Will this be the source of pride or shame? Will it be judged, or found wanting?
Hope, protectiveness, elation and dread may coexist.
Many feel like a parent sending a child off to the first day of school.
Only when approached by others, who point out themes and symbolism outside the artist’s conscious awareness, are the workings of the unconscious mind revealed.
Many are surprised when others inadvertently illuminate the unconscious themes and metaphors their work contains.
The artist may be oblivious to such themes, or may recognize them as deeply, personally their own.
It is the unconscious that has been storing these symbols and creative layers, creating the legacy the artist passes down through the art.
The work may have its creator’s eyes or heart.
Yet this ‘family resemblance’ may reach far beyond any of the usual boundaries of family, culture or even time and place.
Often, it is the deeply personal and specific nature of what is revealed through the art that elicits the strongest universal human response.
The more deeply and fearlessly an artist reveals who they are, the more others experience their work and say “Yes, that’s me, too.”
Art connects us.
Such moments render conscious our common humanity.