Art and the Unconscious

The creative process consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work.
~ Carl Jung

Have you ever written a poem, painted a picture or created some other form of art and afterwards found symbolism and meaning in it that you hadn’t intentionally included? This happens to me sometimes and it always surprises me.  I know that dreams bring unconscious content to the surface and they do so in a very creative way. Thinking about this,  I began to explore the idea of the creative process being another method of bringing unconscious thoughts to our awareness.

I found myself writing my dreams into poems. By doing that I was able to discover insights that hadn’t come to me through thoughtful analysis of the dreams. The poems surprised me by ending with some twist or interpretation that I wasn’t thinking about when I began the poem. It became another tool to use while interpreting my dreams.

This led me to look at my non-dream poems in the same way.  I had noticed before that sometimes when I go back and read one of the poems that I’ve written, I find a deeper level of meaning than I had realized was there. I see things – connections – that I hadn’t intentionally woven into the poem.  I say to myself, “How clever!” I make that comment in a lighthearted way, but in reality I’m in awe of the workings of the unconscious mind.  I’ve learned I can discover things about myself by paying attention to these things that have surfaced from my unconscious through writing poems.

I think that the creative process does indeed work in the same manner of dreams.  I was able to understand this better when I read Carl Jung’s essay On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry from which the above quote was taken. It contains more detail than I have room to include here, but I recommend this for anyone interested in the subject.

I would be curious to hear what other poets and writers think about this. I’m also wondering how artists experience these unconscious revelations in their paintings – what it is like in terms of images and colors as opposed to words.

It’s fascinating to explore how art and poetry can be, in the words of William Shakespeare, “such stuff as dreams are made on.”


Jung’s essay On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry can be found in The Portable Jung edited by Joseph Campbell published by Penguin Books or in The Spirit of Man, Art, and Literature. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 15  Princeton University Press.


~ by calliopesvoice on April 23, 2012.

7 Responses to “Art and the Unconscious”

  1. this is so true, i often find the sybolism that pours itself out shocking, it’s why i say poems write themselves, i’m just there when it happens, holding the pen, or typing…thanks for the like. will check out your site more as i have time.

    • “I’m just there when it happens.” This is why I always have a pen and paper with me wherever I go. I never know when the muse is going to come calling and I better be ready when it does or I will lose the poem. 🙂

  2. Here’s my two cents:
    I never write what I think I should, it always becomes something I didn’t think
    it would, I guess I shouldn’t even if I could. – dpbowman


  3. You’ve touched something of importance here – I’ll now look up that Jung essay.
    I’ve found meditation can also unlock doors into the subconcious.
    Thank you for visiting my blog, 1513fusion.
    best wishes

  4. I love this article! I have Sun in Gemini, and Venus in Cancer in the 12th house — Neptune’s house of dreams and meditation!

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