Monday, February 24, 2014

Bill Viola and Carl Gustav Jung’s concept of archetypes

Bill Viola is a video and sound artist whose work has a timeless quality, as he chooses archetypal themes (reminiscent of Jung’s concept of archetypes) such as birth/death/rebirth, body/spirit, fire/water, light/darkness, the unfolding of consciousness etc. Viola’s work integrates knowledge from diverse sources (also a characteristic of Jung’s work) such as art history, psychology, religion, Eastern philosophies and Christian mysticism. “My work”, he says (, “is focused on a process of self-discovery and self-realization. Video is part of my body. It is intuitive and subconscious.” For Viola (Art in Question, 2003, p.82), the medium of video is the ideal way to present archetype images which have a very “direct” and intense effect on the viewer. His view is (p.74) that “the picture is more real than the thing itself” and what he aims to achieve (p.84) is “to bring the inner emotional spiritual eye together with the objective observer eye”.
Carl Gustav Jung was a psychiatrist whose research involved the fields of religion, alchemy, mythology and dreams. Jung was an advocate of Freud’s theories but at a certain point he reacted to Freud’s views which over-emphasized the role of suppressed sexuality as the root of all problems. He created “analytical psychology” and developed his own concepts which emphasized spirituality, the role of religion, dreams, art, cultural expression and the integration of the personality.
Jung proposed (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1968) that besides a personal unconscious there exists a collective unconscious, in which all of humanity’s symbols and experiences are stored- a kind of race memory or “psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals” (p.43). He encouraged the study of mythology and world cultures and located many similarities which he thought must reveal truths about the human mind- he named these collective truths “archetypes” (the word “archetype” derives from the Greek word “
αρχέτυπο” which means original pattern or original mould). Examples of archetypes include: birth, death, rebirth, the wise old man, the universal mother, the animus, the anima etc.
For Jung (Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype, 1968), the archetypes “(function as) living dispositions that perform and continually influence our thoughts and feelings and actions” and (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1968) “are by no means useless archaic survivals or relics. They are living entities, which cause the preformation of numinous ideas or dormant representations.” He also argues (p.40) that the archetypes are “relatively autonomous; they cannot be integrated simply by rational means.”
Jung’s theory of archetypes helped Viola understand archetypes as a kind of “visual archaeology” of the mind, and become aware that they have the power of transforming a person’s psyche; “that art articulates processes of healing, development or self-realization (and is) a kind of knowledge, an epistemology in its deeper sense, and not just an aesthetic practice”. (

                                       Viola, B. (1992) Nantes Triptych [Video Installation]

An example of Viola’s use of archetype images can be seen in his video installation “Nantes Triptych”. For this installation Viola recorded very personal and intimate moments (the birth of his child, the death of his mother) and presented these experiences as universal experiences/ archetype images. The middle pannel (an ethereal image of a man immersed in water) can be seen as the archetype of rebirth/ spiritual transformation. For Jung (C.G. Jung and the Humanities, p.191) water symbolizes “the spiritual rebirth of the individual through the change into a new individual.”

In Jung’s opinion (C.G. Jung and the Humanities, 1990) no subject is solely personal or solely archetypal, because subjects/images reflect common experiences which can be seen as both personal and archetypal. Stephen A. Martin comments (C.G. Jung and the Humanities, p.177):

What first tips the scale in favour of the archetypal is the experience by the art viewer of powerful feelings of timelessness and truthfulness that seem to emanate from the work itself. They are not attributable to specific subject or style but appear to belong to the very essence of the work and endow it with a living presence. Our response to this intrinsic aliveness is the compulsion to look again and again, as if enchanted by the work in some inexplicable way. This is the felt experience of the numinous, the hallmark of the presence of archetypal meaning in art.

                        Viola, B. (2001). Five Angels for the Millenium [Sound/Video Installation]

Viola not only uses visual archtypes in his work, but also elemental sounds. A characteristic example is his installation "Five Angels for the Millenium" in which sound (as well as image) plays a key role. There are two key elemental sounds (The Art of Bill Viola, 2004, p.158) in this installation: the sound of water (which evokes a sense of “inclusiveness”, “ceremony and ritual”) and the sound of night insects and crickets (which functions as a kind of “drone”). There is also a third elemental sound, a kind of primal noise/ roar, which Viola calls the “sound of being”. He describes it (p.155) as follows:

It is the sound you can hear when you’re standing on a bridge looking at the city, with the evening air still and nothing moving nearby. This under-sound exists at all times, even far out in the desert. Once I had heard it I could never not hear it again. I think of it now as the sound of Being itself.


Barnaby, K. and D’Acierno, P. (eds.) (1990) C.G. Jung and the Humanities: Toward a Hermeneutics of Culture. London: Routledge.
Castro, F. Bill Viola (Aug. 15 2007). Available at:
Jung, C.G. (2005) Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Routledge Classics.
Jung, C.G. (1968) Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Jung, C.G. (1968) The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Routledge.
Raney, K. (ed.) (2003) Art in Question. London: Continuum.
Townsend, C. (ed.) (2004) The Art of Bill Viola. London: Thames & Hudson.
Townsend, C. (1998) Vile Bodies: Photography and the Crisis of Looking. Prestel Verlag.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"DMT: The Spirit Molecule" by Rick Strassman

In "DMT: The Spirit Molecule" Dr. Rick Strassman describes his medical  research at the University of New Mexico in which he injected volunteers with the chemical DMT. DMT (a psychedelic substance extracted from plants which is also contained in the human brain) consistently produced mystical, otherworldly, near-death and transcendental experiences. Strassman connects DMT with the pineal gland, considered by several wisdom traditions to be our “third eye”. He makes the assumption that DMT facilitates the soul's movement in and out of the body and may be the missing  link between science and religion.


Joel-Peter Witkin and Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject

Joel-Peter Witkin is an ambiguous photographer, whose photographic images bridge the sublime with the abject and deal with issues such as mortality, body/ gender/ sexuality and also integrate themes from Christian religion and the history of painting and photography.
Julia Kristeva is a philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst and novelist. The main theory which links her and Witkin is the theory of the abject. For Kristeva (Powers of Horror, p.15) abjection “is above all ambiguity” (p.9).
During the 1980's there was a general spread of the aesthetics of the grotesque and the abject, partly as a means of defetishising the female body and questioning identity. One of the most influential books concerning the abject was Kristeva’s book "Powers Of Horror: An Essay On Abjection". According to Kristeva, the abject refers to the reaction to a potential breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object. An obvious example for what causes such a reaction is a corpse (which raises issues of mortality and identity). The realization of mortality is an acceptance of the abject or, in other words, the negation of the self. For Kristeva (1982, p.3), “the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything” and is “the utmost of abjection”.
Kristeva argues in Powers of Horror that the abject is an absolute given of culture. It not only refers to what threatens our body but is also that which "disturbs identity, system, order". For Kristeva the abject has an element of ambiguity: it is that which both revolts and attracts; she compares the aesthetic experience of the abject to a cathartic experience, “an impure process that protects from the abject only by dint of being immersed in it”. She also establishes a connection with religion and art, which she sees as two ways of purifying the abject (p.17):

The various means of purifying the abject -the various catharses- make up the history of religions, and end up with that catharsis par excellence called art, both on the far and near side of religion.

Witkin’s art is infiltrated by his personal experiences -experiences which include witnessing the decapitation of a girl in a car accident (when he was a child) and photographing human corpses during his army service. His work is also connected to his spiritual beliefs: for him photography is a means to make visible his personal view of the world and especially his perception of God. He describes the creation of his art as a reactionary and simultaneously religious/cathartic experience (Revolt Against the Mystical, 1976):

I revolt against the mystical in order to be overwhelmed and won over by it. It is unfathomable, yet I attempt to understand it. It is invisible, yet I try to objectify it, hoping to find revelation and truth.

For Kristeva, artistic creation and all creativity requires revolt. Revolt (2003, p.217-8) has to do with the restructuring of the psyche and “can involve a return to the subject’s past in order to displace it, and, in a therapeutic sense, to find release from it.” She also establishes a connection between the abject and the sublime because in her opinion (1982, p.11) both involve a sense of loss of the self. For her (p.9) “the time of abjection is double: a time of oblivion and thunder, of veiled infinity and the moment when revelation bursts forth.”
A typical example of Witkin’s attempt to be “purified” by the means of abjection, art and religion can be seen in his photograph “Penitente”. “Penitente”
is a rather ambiguous image which portrays his view of God in a negative/abject manner. Witkin has mentioned (Revolt Against the Mystical, 1976) that his intension is to create positive images, “but in the process…the very thing that is sought becomes twisted and represented as something else.” Chris Townsend (Vile Bodies, 1998, p.52) has commented that “Witkin’s art (is) the product of an uncertain spiritual quest rather than religious conviction”. His photography (p.52) “invites us to share in uncertainty…(his) allegories of suffering should guarantee an assurance of faith, but never quite succeed.” He also suggests (p.47) that “the desired reaction (to Witkin’s photographs) is not an understanding of our ‘superiority’, our bodily integrity, but a sense of inadequacy, of our spiritual failure.”

                                                  Witkin, J.P. Penitente (1982)


Kristeva, J. (1982) Powers of horror: an essay on abjection. New York : Columbia University Press.
Kristeva, J. (2000) The Sense and Nonsense of Revolt. New York: Columbia University Press.
Lechte, J. and Zournazi, M. (eds.) (2003) The Kristeva Critical Reader. Edinburgh University Press.
Townsend, C. (1998) Vile Bodies: Photography and the Crisis of Looking. Prestel Verlag.
Villasenor, M. C. (1996) ‘The Witkin Carnival’. Performing Arts Journal. 53.
Witkin, J.-P. (2001) Joel-Peter Witkin. Phaidon Press Ltd.
Witkin, J.-P. (fall 1997) ‘Danse Macabre’. Aperture. 149, p. 37.
Witkin, J.-P. (1976) ‘Revolt Against the Mystical’, in Celant, G. (ed.) (1995) Joel-Peter Witkin: A Retrospective. Scalo.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The visionary art of Alex Grey and Ken Wilber’s integral theory

Alex Grey is a painter/sculptor/performance artist whose work deals with issues such as death, spirituality and the synthesis of life’s polarities. His work integrates knowledge from diverse sources such as art history, science, religion and philosophy. Grey is also an author of books such as The Mission of Art (2001), in which he analyzes the history of art and his personal journey (especially in relationship to spirituality).
Ken Wilber is an author, psychologist and philosopher, mainly concerned with the evolution of human consciousness and the discovery of the transcendent self. He has developed an “integral vision” which incorporates elements from Eastern and Western scientific and spiritual traditions. Wilber defines the term “integral” (Ken Wilber: Thought As Passion, 2003) as following:

The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, nonmarginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that-to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are “meta-paradigms”, or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching.

Wilber describes integral theory (The Marriage of Sense and Soul, 1998) as a pluralistic approach which embraces important ideas from various disciplines/wisdom traditions, and also includes the major levels of existence such as matter (physics), body (biology), mind (psychology), soul (theology) and spirit (mysticism). He uses the term “The Great Nest of Being” to describe these various levels of existence- as seen in the diagram each level/dimension envelops and integrates the other levels/dimensions, much like a series of concentric circles.

Wilber’s integral art theory includes existing modern and postmodern theories and also incorporates “consciousness” or a spiritual dimension. For Wilber (Sacred Mirrors, 1990, p.14) the experience of spirituality which can be evoked when contemplating art is an “experience (of) nonduality, the union of the subject with all objects and the discovery of universal or transcendental awareness”.
Integral art theory incorporates major art theories (intentional, formalist, reception-and-response, symptomatic) into a single, “holonic” model. Very much like “The Great Nest of Being”, it can be visualized as concentric circles of enveloping theories and interpretations. In Wilber’s opinion (The Eye of Spirit, p.102), "any specific artwork is a holon, which means that it is a whole that is simultaneously a part of numerous other wholes. The artwork exists in contexts within contexts within contexts, endlessly."
These contexts include (2001, p.121):
-the original intent of the maker, which may involve numerous levels of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious
-the formal relationships between elements of the work itself
-the history of reception and response to the artwork
-the wider contexts in the world at large (economic, technical, linguistic, cultural).
Wilber says (p.121) that each context “brings with it a new meaning, a new light in which to see the work, and thus constitute it anew…any particular meaning of an artwork is simply the highlighting of a particular context.”. Therefore, Wilber points out, there is no single correct interpretation of art, but a multitude of contexts/ viewpoints; each theory (p.102) “is part of a nested series of truths.”
For the author Keith Martin-Smith (, integral art "sees a continuum of sliding truths, sliding contexts, sliding meanings. These, though, do not land the artist and the critic and the viewer in aperspectival madness, but rather orient them to an important insight: there is no single standard for great literature, great art, great music, etc".
Grey embraces Wilber’s “integral vision” as he attempts to interweave multiple aspects of existence in his work (physical, emotional, spiritual etc.). For him (Transfigurations, 2001, p.102) integral art is:

A work of art that integrates…the greatest range of form and content and the greatest span of being to serve the greatest good. The most inventive and harmonious diversity of forms, sounds or sensations; the broadest type of content including scientific truths, deep emotions, moral questions, and the complete span of being from matter, body, mind, and soul to spirit.

In Grey’s painting “The Soul Finds Its Way” one can see his interpretation of death, mainly influenced by Tibetan Buddhist theories. A recurring motif in his work is his “X-ray vision”, where numerous layers of the human body’s material and spiritual components are pictured. Grey says (2001, p.104) that his work “bridges the different levels of reality; the physical anatomy of Western medicine interlaces with subtle energetic systems of Eastern medicine”. For Grey (2001, p.128), dying is the dissolving of the essence of five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space), one into the other, which manifests with definite external and internal signs; after bodily death the human soul either becomes one with “Universal Awareness” or reincarnates into another physical body.

                                            Grey, A. (2001) The Soul Finds Its Way

Grey says (The Mission of Art, p.207) that the creation of art can be a spiritual practice:

A spiritual practice is an activity that enables you to develop the qualities of mental clarity, mindfulness of the moment, wisdom, compassion, and access to revelations of higher mystic states of awareness…An artist’s craft can become a contemplative method and his or her creations can provide outward signs of an inner spiritual journey.

Wilber suggests (The Eye of Spirit, p.122-126) that not only the creation but also the contemplation of art can be a spiritual experience as it “suspends our will” and our “egoic grasping in time comes momentarily to rest.” He describes spirituality in general (The Integral Vision, 2007) as an attitude of love, compassion, understanding, and a form of awareness or transrational intuition which can be experienced by everyone (a subjective, transpersonal experience of the sacred- unique to every person). For him, spirituality represents (Integral Psychology, 2000, p. 130) “the very highest capacities, the noblest motives, the best of aspirations; the farther reaches of human nature.” As examples of spirituality (2007, p.28) he cites cases of “peak experiences”/ altered states of consciousness/ “mystical” experiences (such as feeling united with nature, experiencing a sense of primordial emptiness, sensing universal love, becoming one with the “flow” of things etc.).


Grey, A. (1990) Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey. Inner Traditions International.
Grey, A. (2001) The Mission of Art. Shambhala Publications.
Grey, A. (2001) Transfigurations. Inner Traditions International.
Smith, M. Art, Postmodern Criticism, and the Emerging Integral Movement. Available at:
Wilber, K. (2007) The Integral Vision. Shambhala Publications.
Wilber, K. (2003) ‘Foreword’ in Visser, F. Ken Wilber: Thought As Passion. State University of New York Press.
Wilber, K. (2001) The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad. Boston&London: Shambhala.
Wilber, K. (2000) Integral Psychology. Shambhala Publications.
Wilber, K. (1998) The Essential Ken Wilber. Shambhala Publications.
Wilber, K. (1998) The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion. New Leaf.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Concerning the Spiritual in Art" by Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was one of the pioneers of abstract painting who sought to free art from its traditional bonds to material reality. With his creative practice and theoretical work he attempted to bring together the spiritual idea of art with the aesthetic idea of art.
"Concerning the Spiritual in Art" is a text that revolutionized twentieth-century painting and continues to influence artists up to the present day.  It opposes materialist attitudes and "demands" an art that is an expression of an "inner need". The "inner need" is built up of three "mystical" elements: the personality/ idiosyncrasy of the artist, the "spirit" of the age (the current styles and tendencies) and "pure artistry" (the "eternal" aspect of art).
Influenced by the Theosophical movement (which sees life as an evolutionary process, a kind of geometric progression divided into different stages), Kandinsky suggests that society can be represented in diagram as a triangle. The base of the triangle represents the majority of people -the masses- who have no interest in promoting spiritual issues; moving towards the peak of the triangle there is a rise of spiritual awareness (and a subsequent drop in the number of people). In Kandinsky's opinion, the artist (or other charismatic people such as the philosopher) stands alone at the peak of the triangle -a kind of misunderstood genius whose task is to promote cultural and spiritual growth. For Kandinsky, "art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul."
The relationship between music and painting is of central importance to the text -it is no coincidence that Kandinsky names his spontaneous paintings "improvisations" and his carefully planned ones "compositions". Kandinsky proposes that the "language" of painting should be abstract/ non-objective and analogous to that of music (eg. rhythm, mathematical/ abstract construction, repetition of colour-tones, compositional structure of forms etc.). He also investigates the effect of colours on the viewer (as "vibrations of the soul") and assigns each colour a spiritual quality which he illustrates with musical examples.
Kandinsky emphasizes the importance of colour, which he describes as "a power that directly influences the soul". He divides colours into light and dark, warm and cold and analyzes their combinations and psychological effects; he suggests that they either have a physical effect on the viewer (a superficial impression which is not long-lasting) or a psychic effect (a "corresponding spiritual vibration" which has a long-lasting impact on the viewer's psyche). Examples are mentioned in which colours produce "synaesthetic" effects (a kind of blending of the senses where one possibly tastes/ smells/ hears/ feels a colour).
Kandinsky also analyzes the connection between colour and form. In his opinion, colour cannot stand alone as "it cannot dispense with boundaries of some kind". Form can stand alone "as representing an object...or as a purely abstract limit" -it has both an "outer meaning" (as a kind of dividing line which seperates surfaces of colour) and the power of "inner suggestion" (an "inner meaning" which has a psychological effect on the viewer). Therefore, Kandinsky says, form is the "outward expression of inner meaning" and emphasizes that "mastery over form is not (the artist's) goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"The Mission of Art" by Alex Grey

The "Mission of Art" is a book written by contemporary visionary artist Alex Grey, in which he traces his personal development and discusses art history, aesthetics, religion/ spirituality, mysticism, postmodernism, transpersonal psychology, perennial and idealist philosophy, processes of art reception/ interpretation, and also promotes the possibility of the transcendental potential of art.
Grey argues for a renewed spiritual content in contemporary art pointing out that in the present age artists have lost touch with the search for transcendence that infiltrated the work of great artists of the past (such as Michelangelo, Hieronymous Bosch, William Blake and Vincent van Gogh). For Grey (p.231-2) "art is a people's collective mind. Art is not a mere amusement, distraction, or fashionable investment... Art has a function and a mission to interpret the world, to reveal the condition of the soul, to encourage our higher nature and awaken the spiritual faculties within every individual".
Grey observes that (p.15) "an overemphasis on ego-driven artworks has lead to a culture of narcissistic spectacle and nihilist fragmentation". He also observes that "(although) artists are individualists of uncommon integrity, driven to be themselves and express themselves no matter what the cost" (p.179), "(their) unlimited freedom makes no demands of personal and social responsibility to honor or portray the interdependence of the individual within the larger context of humanity and the planet" (p.46). In his opinion, art should not merely aim towards personal gratification or rely on its aesthetic/monetary value, but should -and could- aim to promote the evolution of human consciousness and worldwide compassion.
According to Grey, art (and society at large) needs to adopt a globally-centered attitude which takes into account individual, collective and planetary needs. A spiritual art, which acknowledges all sacred paths and wisdom traditions, drawing upon a diversity of cultures, is what Grey is working toward. Discovering the truths that underlie human existence, accessing transpersonal archetypes in visionary states and expressing them through art is, as he says, his "mission" as an artist.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Time" Photography Exhibition

 Time/Χρόνος is α photography exhibition held at Vafopouleio Cultural Center
 (Γ. Βαφόπουλου 3, Θεσσαλονίκη), 8-31 March 2014. Opening hours are Tuesday
  to Friday 9:00-14:00 & 18:00-20:30, Saturday 18:00-20:30.

More information at: 

PPOTY 2013

The photograph “Asleep 3” was chosen as a finalist in the “Professional Photographer of the Year 2013” competition (medium format category).