Carl Jung: “A great work of art is like a dream…”



Carl Jung, on the Healing Function of Art


In this way the work of the poet comes to meet the spiritual need of the society in which he lives, and for this reason his work means more to him than his personal fate, whether he is aware of this or not. Being essentially the instrument for his work, he is subordinate to it, and we have no reason for expecting him to interpret it for us. He has done the best that in him lies in giving it form, and he must leave the interpretation to others and to the future. A great work of art is like a dream; for all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is never unequivocal. A dream never says: “You ought”, or “This is the truth..”

It presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow, and we must draw our own conclusions. If a person has a nightmare, it means either that he is too much given to fear, or else that he is too exempt from it; and if he dreams of the old wise man it may mean that he is too pedagogical, as also that he stands in need of a teacher. In a subtle way both meanings come to the same thing, as we perceive when we are able to let the work of art act upon us as it acted upon the artist.

To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to shape us as it once shaped him. Then we understand the nature of his experience. We see that he has drawn upon the healing and redeeming forces of the collected psyche that underlies consciousness with its isolation and its painful errors; that he has penetrated to that matrix of life in which all men are embedded, which imparts a common rhythm to all human existence, and allows the individual to communicate his feeling and his striving to mankind as a whole.  

  Modern Man in Search of a Soul


2 Responses to Carl Jung: “A great work of art is like a dream…”

  1. I saw this painting by Rousseau in a book when I was very young. It has “haunted” me ever since [as have many other works of art]. I mean it has just floated beneath consciousness and has very likely played a part in my writing upon me wihout my being aware of it. One might very well have a dream which acts upon one in that way. Very powerful!

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