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C. G. Jung’s Influence on Art Therapy and the Making of the Third

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Psychological Perspectives
A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought
ISSN: 0033-2925 (Print) 1556-3030 (Online) Journal homepage:
C. G. Jung’s Influence on Art Therapy and the
Making of the Third
Nora Swan-Foster
To cite this article: Nora Swan-Foster (2020) C. G. Jung’s Influence on Art
Therapy and the Making of the Third, Psychological Perspectives, 63:1, 67-94, DOI:
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Published online: 18 Jun 2020.
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Psychological Perspectives, 63: 67–94, 2020
# C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles
ISSN: 0033-2925 print / 1556-3030 online
DOI: 10.1080/00332925.2020.1739467
C. G. Jung’s Influence on Art Therapy and
the Making of the Third
Nora Swan-Foster
Art therapy and the image are active approaches to address the analytic third, an
idea that was mentioned by C. G. Jung in the Psychology of the Transference, but
was first experienced by him as described in The Red Book (2009). Jung’s artmaking was an impressive lifelong affair that relied upon mixed media, making it
reasonable for us to consider Jung as the father of art therapy. Prior to the 1913 publication of Symbols of Transformation, Jung visited America for a second time; on
this visit, the Jungian analyst Beatrice Hinkle introduced Jung to the Greenwich
crowd. Among the noteworthy artists and activists were Margaret Naumburg and
Florence Cane, who later established the field of art therapy in the United States.
Despite the tension created from the Freud–Jung split, Naumburg and Cane were
deeply influenced by Jung’s theoretical ideas, initially via Hinkle, with whom they
analyzed for three years. Requiring a safe passage for the birth of art therapy,
Naumburg navigated an independent third way, but drew from many of Jung’s
already established ideas to formulate her research and educational approach.
Because the historical details surrounding the development of art therapy in
America are being stitched back into an art therapy education, Jung’s early clinical
insights regarding specific theoretical ideas gain visibility and respect. This overview
acknowledges that analytical psychology remains a powerful and integral building
block in the field of art therapy and offers relevant resources for theoretical and clinical formulations when working as an art therapist.
ore often than not, analytical psychology and Jung’s work are extracurricular
affairs that people seek out because of their various encounters with the living psyche, but fail to find because of Jung’s relationship with Freud and the predominance of ego work within mainstream art therapy.
For those of us immersed in Jung’s work, we accept that we may live on the edges
of the collective because of our relationship with the unconscious and our various
notions of how images and symbols heal the psyche. Several years ago, the art therapist
and Jungian analyst Michael Edwards (1987) articulated the residual shadow within
the education system when he pointed out that most art therapy students are caught in
the original traumatic archetypal split that occurred between Jung and Freud, because
they are typically taught by professors who carry an inherited unconscious or conscious
negative theoretical bias toward Jung that is passed down to their students. The
A version of this article was first presented at the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian
Analysts meeting in April 2019.
Margaret Nielsen, Airborne, oil on canvas, 24 30 in., 1990.
intergenerational message might be that Freudian/post-Freudian methodologies are
clinically more robust and preferred, whereas Jungian methods are considered secondary or lack empirical evidence and clinical relevance. What I recognize now that I could
not know as a young art therapy student is that analytical psychology can both demonstrate clinical evidence of change and offer a profound way to live one’s life. Perhaps
more so now than ever before, Jung’s methods demand that even if we are not artists,
we cultivate an attitude toward the psychospiritual experiences rooted in the healing power of the symbol and the image. Although I have experienced the images as
living entities that spoke to me in various ways throughout my life, this was not the
usual academic focus.
Jung’s structure of the psyche remained a mystery in graduate school. My professors happened to emphasize Freudian-oriented perspectives or other spin-off theoretical models. Fortunately, at the time, I chose to enter Jungian analysis with an art
therapist. This decision set the trajectory for many professional years of diverse theoretical explorations that led to an unanticipated straddling of the tension between what
felt like two land masses of clinical thought, divided by fierce political and personal
biases. Without an adequate foundation beneath me, I was not always ready to respond
to those transmissions of collective stories and concretized concepts that had prevailed
from the original painful separation between Freud and Jung in 1913.
These early misrepresentations and misunderstandings of Jung, explained by
Edwards (1987), led to my analytic training and eventually my writing Jungian Art
Therapy, a book which focused on educating art therapy students and interested faculty. Further, by teaching a graduate-level transpersonal art therapy course, I could
introduce Jung’s model of the psyche and open the door for students interested in analytical psychology and its intersection with art therapy. Because I had visual learners in
mind, I used various spontaneous images in my book to illustrate Jung’s ideas and concepts. The metaphor of circumambulation was a pedagogical structure to encourage
confidence as we spiraled around Jung’s basic concepts.1 Clinical vignettes and examples from the collective were used to further amplify his ideas. The focal point was that
students were required to engage with and experience the dynamic nature of their
psyche through the creation of their own “Red Books.” The students reflected upon
where their inner process intersected with Jung’s theory, and the images offered concrete support. It was essential that the end result was not graded. This gave them
plenty of freedom for personal exploration and process without the haunting goal of
competition or a perfect end product that is approved by the hierarchical critique from
an outsider (professor). Most importantly, I wanted them to know that Jungian psychology is not just a theory but also an attitude they hold toward their inner life, a realm
that is greatly felt through personal story and images so it can be embodied and eventually carried back into daily life. What they came to understand was that Jung valued the
creative drive over the more Freudian ideas on repression (van den Berk, 2012).
As you might expect, art therapy students were exceptionally creative with their
“Red Book” process (see Figure 1). Some altered books, others sewed a book, while
others used simple sketchbooks as a place for their chosen weekly disciplines of working
with psyche–soma. Some recorded dreams or visions followed by a response image,
others used a weekly mandala, investigated symbols, or incorporated specific yoga positions with image-making responses. Whatever they chose, the committed discipline of
contemplation and reflection stirred the complexes and highlighted archetypal patterns.
They were encouraged to track the progressions and regressions of psychic energy that
revealed the ego’s habitual relationship to compulsive thoughts. Each student tracked
FIGURE 1. Selected “Red Books” made by art therapy students.
the canalization of psychic energy as a felt experience that could be transformed into
an image.
In this transpersonal psychology course I introduced the influence of William
James on Jung’s development as related to the religious psyche, particularly as James
was credited with the use of the word transpersonal in his first Harvard lectures in
1905. Absent from Memories, Dreams, Reflections (MDR) was how James’s original
work on defining the spiritual or religious aspect of the psyche was profoundly meaningful and highly influential to Jung’s professional and personal development and
understanding of the psyche (Shamdasani, 1999). Studying his own emotional experiences of depression, James determined that the transpersonal psychological state had
four specific qualities: noetic, transient, ineffable, and autonomous (James, 1902/1912).
Obviously, Jung was encouraged by James’s clarifications and how his method of taking
refuge in his contemplative practice abated his depression. Such results impressed
Jung, and he would soon commit to one of his own methods: that of picture-making.
In the background of this article that explores Jung’s influence on the development of art therapy, there are three key points that are particularly relevant for
Jungian art therapy. First, in 1916 Jung identified and named the transcendent function, although it was not published until 1958 (and then later, in Jung, 1972). The fact
that Jung was stretching to articulate and conceptualize this invisible psychic process
in psychological terms is absolutely pivotal for art therapists. The transcendent function provides not only an imagination for the teleological structure and creative
process, but also a structural explanation for how psychic energy lowers into the
unconscious to constellate and move from being implicit raw psyche–soma energy to an
image outside of the body (Chodorow, 1997). “This lowering of energy can be seen
most clearly before the onset of certain psychoses and also in the empty stillness which
precedes creative work” (Jung, 1985, par. 373).
In fact, the notion that the transcendent function channels invisible psychic
energy into a visible and knowable forms and images precedes and supports Bollas’s
more recent term of the “unthought known” (Bollas, 1989, p. 4), wherein something is
known but not yet thought, and in this case, is nonverbal but often visual in the broadest sense of the word. Jung attributed the transcendent function to the unconscious
autonomous nature of psychic energy and complexes with their archetypal core. Art
therapists do not hold a consensus on how this works but may draw upon neuropsychology talk about presymbolic, preconscious, or unconscious material moving through
arms and out the hands (integrating heart and mind). Much of art therapy theory is
ego-oriented. Many do not know that it was Jung who first said that it is necessary to
clarify vague content from the unconscious by “giving it a visible form. This can be
done by drawing, painting, or modeling. Often the hands will solve a mystery that the
intellect has struggled with in vain” (Jung, 1972, par. 180). Thus, the unconscious has a
critical influence on egoic material and attitude.
Schaverien (1992) used the term “embodied images” because they are more than
signs and carry greater depth with the potential for a meaningful engagement.
Essentially, the transcendent function as a key concept responds to the questions from
art therapy students who already trust the power of the image, but are required to drill
into the enigmatic for art therapy theory and praxis.
Second, in 1912 Jung considered James’s differentiation of tender-minded and
tough-minded with his essay “Two Kinds of Thinking” (Jung, 1967), which was eventually followed by naming his method of active imagination. Along with affirming the
role of psychic energy, Jung emphasized the value of working with the opposites and
the dialectical bridge that can be built between the conscious and the unconscious
through, in his terms, directed and nondirected thinking.
Finally, Jung experimented and engaged with a wide variety of materials and took
the time to make his own images—this is an important prerequisite and subsequent
requirement for an art therapist in training. It is also vital for those who are actively
encouraging patients to make pictures or work with imagery in their consulting rooms.
In other words, if we ask our analysands to make images or art from their visions and
dreams, we also need to be working with our own visions and dreams through the making of our own images. It is the only way that we can have a felt experience of the construction, deconstruction, and rebuilding process that lines the path toward the
final image.
And so, with the publication of The Red Book in 2009, we can no longer overlook
the fact that because Jung was actively engaged in his creative process, it had theoretical and clinical implications that remain plentiful, identifying him very specifically as
the father of art therapy and the expressive arts therapies overall (Swan-Foster, 2018).
Clearly, Jung was deeply informed by the spontaneous arrival of the third thing that
made itself visible through the images he created, as well as those made by his analysands. This unexpected material that he intimately experienced and valued from this
creative psychical process permeated his thoughts, influenced his writing, and paved
the way for art therapy as a separate psychological profession.
FIGURE 2. Jung, Atmavictu, 1920, shell-limestone, Stiftung C. G. Jung Kusnacht (441=16 61=8 61=2 in).
Reprinted from The Art of C. G. Jung. Copyright # 2019 The Foundation for the Works of
C. G. Jung. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
Jung recognized that his early experiences of imagination and creativity were an
important part of working with the unconscious and healing the psyche. Throughout
his life stone was perhaps one of the most important mediums for Jung—in MDR he
refers to it as a medium that allowed him to find his foundation or “footing.” One of his
memories while sitting on a stone was of pondering the relationship between subject
and object that led to his question: “Am I the one who is sitting on the stone, or am I
the stone on which he is sitting?” (Jung, 1961, p. 20). And then there is the account of
his “secret” in the attic: the pencil case where he stored a personal black stone from
the Rhine, along with the little manikin he had made from his ruler, dressed in a top hat
and wool coat. As a 10-year-old anticipating the threshold into a new developmental
phase, his manikin was a comfort until it lost its psychic energy. Art therapy often
emphasizes the role of such spontaneous ritual objects or images as “anchoring
objects,” “talismans,” (Schaverien, 1992), “transitional objects,” or “spirit guides” that
can be a comfort, carrying and documenting what is treasured or disavowed. The
images express the transpersonal nature of the psyche, which includes the enigmatic,
inexpressible, as well as the dark, chthonic life force of the unconscious that brings to
light the other.
As we know, Jung’s reliance on stone expanded from the small black stone to
Atmavictu (a figure that appeared to Jung as the ‘breath of life’ or the creative
impulse), and the large stones used to build his tower:
Words and paper did not seem real enough to me. To put my fantasies on solid
footing, something more was needed. I had to achieve a kind of representation
in stone of my innermost thoughts and of the knowledge I had acquired … . I
had to make a confession of faith in stone. That was the beginning of the
tower, the house I built for myself at Bollingen. (Jung, 1961, p. 223)
Carving stone requires patience and focus (Figure 2). It’s also a medium that
demands a certain amount of physical strength and engagement so that the stone will
speak and be heard by the carver, thereby liberating the image of spirit (Swan-Foster,
2018). Shortly after Jung’s wife Emma’s death, he relied on carving in stone as a way to
work with his devastating grief. In a letter to his daughter Marianne, he wrote that the
stone he was working on offered a sense of “inner stability with its hardness and permanence, and its meaning governs my thoughts” (Clay, 2016, p. 342). Jung’s commitment to tending to his own nature, to an instinctive wisdom, as well as a reliance on his
inherent psychospiritual qualities was illustrated through his stone carving. From an
art therapy perspective, the material offered him a place to physically wrestle with his
suffering. The stone was resilient to the intensity of grief brought about by the death of
Emma, who had been Jung’s constant rock and foundation. Further, the stone offered
emotional containment while documenting his relationship with his inner world. Mellick
(2019b) summarizes that “Stone shaped Jung’s creativity as much as his creativity
shaped the stone” (p. 366).
Jung also was a painter. While in medical school and then at the Burgho
Jung’s creative work illustrated pastoral scenes with vistas, mountains, trees, and
pathways. The light, in some of his early paintings, depicted not just the beauty
of the countryside, but also the liminal moments between night and day. When in
Paris, Jung spent many hours visiting museums and painting his views of nature
(Figures 3, 4), which renewed his soul. While at the Burgh€
olzli, he said:
In my isolated, work-filled life [I have] an indescribable need for the beautiful
and the elevated; if I have before me the whole day long the work of the
destruction of the psyche and body and have to immerse myself in all sorts of
painful feelings, have tried to penetrate often abominable and tortured
thought processes, I need in the evening something from the highest level of
nature. (Fischer & Kaufmann, 2019, p. 20)
Jung also worked on refining his perspective through creating pencil drawings of
villages, buildings, and castles without much use of color. In particular, there are several drawings of his K€
usnacht home that illustrated the gradual development of his
drawing skills, including his ability to catch the correct perspective (Figure 5). These
various visual works can be found in Fischer and Kaufmann (2019).
During this early professional period, the contrast between Jung’s sensitive depictions of nature, with its changing light and color, and his skill of depicting physical
FIGURE 3. Jung, Country Road with Trees, 1902, Watercolor on paper. Jung Family Archive 51=2 87=16
in). Reprinted from The Art of C. G. Jung. Copyright # 2019 The Foundation for the Works of C. G. Jung.
Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
FIGURE 4. Jung, Forest with Small Pond, 1902, Watercolor and graphite on paper. Jung Family Archive
(51=2 81=2 in). Reprinted from The Art of C. G. Jung. Copyright # 2019 The Foundation for the Works of
C. G. Jung. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
structures such as castles or buildings were occasionally combined (Figure 6).
The integration may reflect his growing awareness of the tension between personality
one and two, the conscious and the unconscious, and perhaps his attempts to hold two
compatible but contrasting points of view within psychology (subjective and objective).
The integration of buildings into pastoral scenes may also illustrate Jung’s interest in
FIGURE 5. Jung, Southeast Façade, 1907, Graphite on paper, Jung Family Archive (33=4 45=16 ). Reprinted
from The Art of C. G. Jung. Copyright # 2019 The Foundation for the Works of C. G. Jung. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
human nature and how humans interface with nature as an internal and external
experience, and then find their own true nature. Also, the idea of the opposites is visible in Jung’s paintings through his use of warm and cool colors or his tendency to fill
space while other small areas are left unfinished as negative space. He would experience “again and again, the mysterious place between imagination and expression. He
was creating a space in which the numinous could be” (Mellick, 2019, p. 397).
FIGURE 6. Jung, Landscape with Castle, 1900, Pastel on paper, Jung Family Archive (12 143=8 inches).
Reprinted from The Art of C. G. Jung. Copyright # 2019 The Foundation for the Works of C. G. Jung. Used
with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
The year following his meeting with William James, Jung was invited back to
the United States for a rigorous lecture schedule that included the New York
Psychiatric Institute and Fordham University. There was great interest in the
results from Jung’s word association experiment and his pioneering ideas on stagnation and regression as “the basic donation for the act of creation” (1967, p.
180). During the same visit, the New York Times published an interview with
Jung believed to be written by Charlotte Teller (Sherry, 2015). It was the first
public article that acknowledged psychoanalysis in the United States and verified
that Jung was, at this point in history, the one who was highly sought after, not
Freud (Shamdasani, 2012). But this did not last long, for upon his return,
Symbols of Transformation was published in 1912/1913 and Jung faced the
“confrontation with the unconscious” that led to his own withdrawal and his simultaneous rejection by the psychoanalytic community in Vienna.
Up to this point, Jung's public life had been extraverted, successful, and powerfully heroic (Shamdasani, 2009) and so after the separation from Freud (Swan-Foster,
2018), he committed himself to a rigorous and exhausting schedule of personal
research on the unconscious, wherein he thought he might find answers through the
use of art materials and writing. “The material burst forth from the unconscious, and at
first swamped me. It was the prima material for a lifetime’s work” (Jung, 1961, p. 199).
Many years later, Jung reflected back: “I needed to absorb the overpowering force of
the original experiences … . and I knew nothing better than to write them down … and
to paint the images that emerged through reliving it all … .” (Jung, 2009, p. 360).
Mellick (2019a) makes the point that “by the time he penciled his first drawing on the
parchment of Liber Primus, he had been writing prolifically and had worked in pencil,
pen, ink, pastel, gouache, watercolor, clay, wood, stone, mixed media, and water-based
media, which he mastered in The Red Book” (p. 217).
What Jung experienced was that “everything of which we are conscious is an
image, and that image is psyche … a world in which the ego is contained” (Jung, 1983,
par. 75). An example of “image is psyche” is the painting from The Red Book (Jung,
2009, Image 55) of the Egyptian solar barge carrying the sun through the heavens and
fighting off the sea monster (Jung, 2009, p. 284, fn 128). It reflects Jung’s disciplined
commitment to move through each day, but at the risk of becoming too reductive or
definitive, Jung’s painting might also serve as a spontaneous image for the structure of
the psyche, with the relationship between the ego and the Self and the unconscious
experienced as a haunting monster.
But what about Jung’s actual visual-making process throughout his creation of
The Red Book? Jill Mellick’s impressive investigative work (2019a, 2019b) involved
extensive analysis and research into Jung’s creative process, his tools, the materials,
and how they influenced his creative process. Her compilation of material is a rich contribution for those interested in this particular aspect of Jung’s work, and it extends
beyond the scope of this article. However, Mellick (2019b) reveals that when Jung
began transferring material into the actual portfolio, he used a wood standup desk that
he had built and placed in his office. While using a range of materials and techniques to
create the outlines, he obviously aimed for intense full-bodied colors that reflected the
ancient texts. This meant he mail-ordered specific colored powders that he mixed like
an alchemist with substances to form the powders into brilliant liquid colors. Mellick
explains that later Jung used lacquer to preserve his images so they wouldn’t flake;
however, she points out that the flaking has allowed us to scientifically understand
more about his painting process. She reaffirms Jung’s intensity, which was intrinsic to
his character, as expressed through a precise and diligent painting method, using a
semi-transparent process to obtain the tension and playfulness between light and
shadow—which, when we look closely, is consistently visible throughout the images
within The Red Book.
Jung’s enthusiasm for experimenting with the process was integral to his therapeutic work with its innate destructive and constructive elements. Jung recalled: “To
the extent that I managed to translate the emotions into images—to find the images
which were concealed in the emotions—I was inwardly calmed and reassured. Had I
left the images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces” (1961, p.
177). In fact, Jung realized that had he split the emotions off, he would have probably
gone into a neurosis and been ultimately destroyed by them, but his method proved
beneficial. Identifying the visual qualities of affect is key to his complex theory and the
archetypal content that both anchored him and opened him to transformed states
of mind.
While working on the The Red Book, Jung was so “wrought up” (1961, p.
177) that he had to take breaks to move his body in nature, play, or do certain
yoga positions that could contain and regulate his emotions. Once he was slightly
calmer, he returned to his work with the unconscious, continuing to use himself
as a research tool through writing and painting of the images. In this dynamic
process, he discovered the therapeutic benefit of discovering “the particular
images which lie behind emotions” (1961, p. 177). This statement is a powerful
affirmation of what was then a courageous exploration and discovery of the
mythic narrative within the objective psyche. Because Jung began using the arts
with his patients early in his career, the Picture Archives at the C. G. Jung
Institute Zurich in K€
usnacht holds thousands of paintings made with various
media as visual responses to dreams and active imaginations.
And so it’s no surprise that we find key therapeutic tenets of the contemporary
profession of art therapy rooted in what Jung made visible through The Red Book.
Reflecting back, Jung says: “The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the
most important in my life—in them everything essential was decided” (1961, p. 199).
Mandalas are often used by art therapists to contain and regulate affect or close
difficult sessions. Many students don’t realize that Jung had already discovered the
beneficial use of mandalas over a century ago, in 1915, to center himself as he emerged
from what are known as his “darkest days.” It was not until 1929 that he began to write
extensively about mandalas …
when he composed the commentary to The Secret of the Golden Flower, a
Taoist alchemical manuscript that Richard Wilhelm had sent him the previous
year. The text provided the missing link between the ancient sources and
contemporary Western mandalas that Jung had been collecting and studying
for fourteen years … . Jung described the mandala—in its simplest state—as a
circle, especially a “magic circle.” (Zervas, 2019, p. 179)
Zervas analyzes and reveals in depth how Jung sketched in pencil various versions of his mandalas, prior to painting them in opaque blues and greens with opposing
red and black accents for The Red Book. In these initial sketches he followed the visual
movement of introversion and extraversion of psychic energy and understood the circle
as a “reconciling symbol” of the transcendent function that brought together the opposites. We see its shape repeated throughout the The Red Book (Zervas, 2019, p. 184).
Far more significant, according to Zervas (2019), is that the majority of the mandala
sketches were not produced as reported in MDR, but were deliberately thematic and
took place between 1917 and 1918, during the time he was writing the Scrutinies. The
mandalas “are the visual representations of Jung’s direct experience of the self and the
birth of the new God [the birth of Phanes within himself] (Zervas, 2019, p. 207) …
which explains why he entitled the final mandala The Cosmic Egg” (p. 205).
During World War I, Jung received a letter from a woman who was most likely
Maria Moltzer—his Dutch research assistant. She once again insisted that what he was
doing was art. Jung adamantly disagreed, revealing that this notion got on his nerves as
it was “far from stupid and therefore dangerously persuasive” (Jung, 1961, p. 195).
Jung admits to his vulnerabilities, but his reaction is complicated. Interpretations
include a violation of his own methods and a degradation or objectification of his anima
or the feminine. And yet Jung was in the midst of a deep process, differentiating art
and aesthetics from a new method that could capture the condition of the unconscious.
Women were drawn to Jung, perhaps because of his stature and charismatic
personality, but historically relevant was his pioneering exploration of the anima/animus and the feminine and masculine principles. At that time in history, his ideas were
liberating for many women. Jung did not hesitate to tell a woman that if she wished to
be creatively productive, she had better acquaint herself with her internal masculine.
Often viewed as supportive and encouraging, Jung’s maverick perspective led women
to shift their allegiance to their inner purpose.
Certainly, Jung had a uniquely personal relationship with his anima, which was a
private matter that has now become even more publically scrutinized through The Red
Book. In the final pages, he says to her: “I thank you for your love. It is beautiful to hear
you speak of love. It is music and old, far-off homesickness. Look, my tears are falling
because of your good words. (Jung, 2009, pp. 181–182). According to the analyst
Andreas Schweitzer (private communications, 2019), this section was added in 1959.
Of this detail, Schweitzer says: “For me this is important, because we can see from this
that the anima is a problem that concerns a man almost for his entire life.” Jung’s private wrestling paved the way for the consciousness we have today and the dialectical
process that is essential for any creative venture.
We are obligated to consider the context of 1916 when Jung stashed the essay on
the transcendent function in a drawer because he thought no one would understand it.
As unfortunate as this was, perhaps Maria Moltzer’s insistence that he concur that he
was making art only further reinforced that his ideas were not yet ready for the world.
The empirical Jung perhaps thought further research would clarify and validate the
power of making pictures outside of the world of aesthetics and art. He did not know
that the discussion could continue 100 years later. Perhaps there is another perspective. As we’ve heard, Jung believed that what he recommended was actually far more
than just art—today we would call it art therapy.
Jung gave space to the image in all its forms but he made a clear distinction
between “art” and products of the unconscious … . He is emphatic that the
pictures which he himself made, in exploration of his own unconscious
processes, were not “art.” In fact he made it clear that he considered the
temptation to regard them as such to be a perilous inflation. (Schaverien,
1992, p. 80)
From the perspective of art therapy, Jung’s resistance is reasonable; it was a protection from the risk of distraction and inflation. Most importantly, the boundary created a private space to gain insight into his paintings before they were defined or
named. His instinctual reaction was perhaps a defensive compensation for the risk of
falling prey to hubris, inflation, flattery, and/or idealization, but his sturdy rejection also
illustrates that the final decision on the product must be made by the patient. Jung’s
reaction is not surprising; patients in my office will differentiate between their pictures
being images and not art—and this personal assessment deserves respect.
Again attempting to differentiate aesthetic art from image-making as a healing
therapeutic process, Jung said:
Although my patients occasionally produce artistically beautiful things … I
nevertheless treat them as completely worthless … . It is essential that they
should be considered worthless, otherwise my patients might imagine
themselves to be artists, and the whole point of the exercise would be
missed. It is not a question of art at all—or, rather, it should not be a question
of art—but of something more and other than mere art, namely the living
effect upon the patient himself (Jung, 1985, par. 104, emphasis added).
Jung’s reference to the patient’s products as “worthless” sounds dismissive, but
in my view Jung is being overly dramatic to make a vital point in response to the pressures he had received to call his own images art. In addition, he is indirectly reminding
us of the archetypal energy hidden within the images: to invest too much positivity into
an image can be blinding, especially prior to gaining separation and perspective. How
we respond can either lead to further unfolding or throw off the psychological and emotional method of investigation and possibly inhibit further engagement by repressing or
depleting the new image of its potentiality. Schaverien (1992) explains further:
Pictures made in art therapy are not great art and so they cannot, in
themselves, evoke such an authentic response in the viewer … . In the case of
analytical art psychotherapy, the pictures do have a similar aesthetic effect on
the viewer/therapist. This is because the dynamic component which is
essential for this quality of experience, extends outwards from the picture to
the boundary of the frame of the therapeutic relationship. This is one case
when the context in which the picture is made and viewed is a fundamental
aspect of the aesthetic experience … . The appreciation of the qualities in
the work is conditioned by the therapeutic purpose of the encounter.
(pp. 126–127, emphasis added).
Whether or not Jung’s images are art is an endless discussion and a distraction
from recognizing the deep implications of what Jung had endured and discovered. In the
simplest terms he confronted and responded to the objective psyche with its spontaneous
expression and autonomous life. When incorporated, Jung realized that the expression of
psychic energy contains seeds that lead to a veriditus or a divine healing. This cannot
occur without a solid container that respects the sacred deliveries from the soul.
In so many ways, Jung was presenting new information to the psychological
world. Jung’s concentrated efforts and thoughts with picture-making and active imagination led to magnificent shifts in liberating consciousness and therapeutic practices. By
the time Jung was finished with his personal process in The Red Book, he had come to
accept art as another possibility when he stated: “To paint what we see before us is a
different art from painting what we see within” (Jung, 1985, par. 102). The therapeutic
value of picture-making is explained by Jung this way: “A patient needs only to have
seen once or twice how much he is freed from a wretched state of mind by working at a
symbolical picture, and he will always turn to this means of release whenever things go
badly with him” (1985, par. 106). Later, in the Vision Seminars, Jung admits to his
uncertainty and the delicate and complicated truth of art therapy:
In order to hold an inner experience, it is … a necessity for certain people to
see it expressed in external physical form. That is such an important point
that one really might be tempted to call it a method, but I do not feel quite
safe because these things are very delicate and complicated. (Jung, 1997a,
p. 6) [emphasis added]
However, ultimately, based on his own withdrawal from the world, Jung emphasizes
that the unconscious images create an ethical obligation and that a failure for us to understand them deprives us of our wholeness and “imposes a painful fragmentariness on [our]
life” (Jung, 1961, p.193). According to Jung, we remain in service to consciousness.
There are letters that reveal that Jung showed his own Red Book to analysands,
perhaps to inspire and encourage. Jung’s words to Christiana Morgan are an example of
how much he had learned from his own art therapy process:
I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can—in some
beautifully bound book. [Jung instructed his patient]. It will seem as if you
were making the visions banal—but then you need to do that—then you are
freed from the power of them … . Then when these things are in some
precious book you can go to the book and turn over the pages and for you it
will be your church—your cathedral—the silent places of your spirit where
you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you
listen to them—then you will lose your soul—for in that book is your soul.
(Jung, 2009, p. 216)
Jung knew that his procedures, whether through writing, drawing, or painting,
were beneficial for patients who could actually “express their peculiar contents … .
There are so many incomprehensible intuitions in such cases, phantasy fragments that
rise from the unconscious, for which there is almost no suitable language”2 (Jung, 2009,
p. 217). Other relevant declarations for art therapists are Jung’s thoughts on materials:
“Colors are feeling values. Mostly to begin with, only a pencil or pen is used to make
rapid sketches of dreams, sudden ideas, and fantasies. But from a certain moment the
patients begin to make use of color, and merely intellectual interest gives way to emotional participation” (Jung, 1970, par. 333). Such a visual release effectively allows us
to see in a shared way what is occurring in the unconscious.
With his insistence that analysands paint their dreams, Jung encountered common remarks like “I can’t paint,” “I’ve never been creative,” or “I’m not an artist.”
According to Mellick (2019b), when Miss X did not like the way she painted, she told
Jung, “The eye was not satisfied.” Jung apparently replied “Truly? Then paint it the
easiest way you can, as fast as you can—with vivid colors.” He told his patients to use
vivid bright colors because that is what the unconscious likes. “Miss X used watercolors,
metallic colors to produce over one thousand paintings preserved in the archives” (pp.
416–417). Jung expressed his faith in the process when he declared: “The patient
struggles to give form, however crude and childish, to the inexpressible … . A patient
needs only to have seen once or twice how much he is freed from a wretched state of
mind by working at a symbolical picture, and he will always turn to this means of
release whenever things go badly with him” (Jung, 1985, par. 106).
Clearly, art was not the purpose—instead, by 1919, Jung regularly expected his
patients to use his methods so he could study the unconscious in more depth. As the
pioneer of art therapy, Jung had his analysands paint duplicate pictures so that he
could keep one and they could keep the original and live with its effects on them.
Today, art therapists use a variety of technologies to document the images. Jung
undoubtedly noticed that his methods shifted dissociative states and brought the fragmentation of emotional parts into one contained space. Certainly Jung discovered that
the images could be compensatory responses to the ego’s attitude, a concrete place to
work with the opposites and explore the tension that is required for transformation.
Using the instincts of action and reflection, there was an inherent invitation to attend
to the church, the temple, the “silent places of your spirit where you find renewal.”
This is when we hear how James’s notions of the transpersonal become an art therapy
method and even a clinical intervention that contain and funnel dissociation or neurotic
fantasies into a personified imagination and living image. As Mellick (2019a) clearly
summarizes about Jung’s Red Book process: “He devoted years to exercising technical
and artistic skills, focus, and patience. In so doing, he became not only his own master
and student but master of matter and method” (p. 230).
Jung had a far greater influence on the lineage and formation of art therapy than
we have been led to believe. In the United Kingdom, Jung’s influence was direct and
transparent, particularly with the formation of Withymead in the 1940s, a Jungian community for the healing arts that was founded by Irene Chapenrowe and supported by H.
G. Baynes (Stephens, 1986). But, in the United States, the path was more politically
disguised and strategic.
The story begins with Beatrice Hinkle, an MD who moved to New York City from
San Francisco. She trained first as a Freudian and attended the Third International
Psychoanalytic Congress in 1911. In the famous photo taken of the congress participants, she can be found sitting in the center of the front row, next to Emma Jung, with
Freud and Jung standing behind her. Hinkle shifted her analytic approach toward
Jung’s model because she preferred his perspective on the feminine; it confronted the
patriarchal assumptions that she herself had rejected. Hinkle was a mother of two children who divorced and remarried. She was charismatic feminist and an avid social
organizer in the Greenwich scene of New York City, mingling with an array of artists,
writers, social activists, and philosophers (Sherry, 2013). Her own books expanded on
Jung’s typology and the role of the feminine in analytical psychology as well as having a
tremendous influence on Jungian groups and progressive education in New York City
(Sherry, 2013; Staring, Aldridge, & Mcfadyen Christensen, 2018).
In The Re-creating of the Individual, Hinkle (1923) provides a comprehensive
exploration of individuation and typology and took an interest in spontaneous drawings
and how they revealed the relationship between the creative libido and typology: “[T]he
character of the forms and conceptions spontaneously created in the drawings and
images of adults who have no technical training or knowledge of art creation, but who,
nevertheless, frequently produce work of great beauty, and always of a peculiar affective quality, could never be produced by conscious control or willed effort. Indeed, only
after one is able to withdraw conscious attention and direction and become sufficiently
free from self-consciousness and willed intention, can the unconscious express itself.
However, when this is possible, the archaic nature of the productions that come forth is
convincing and effective, and to any one previously unacquainted with this activity the
work is often amazing” (Hinkle, 1923, pp. 126–127).
Hinkle further refers to the therapeutic role of art as “picture writing” a process
in which the individual is “ceaselessly busy with finding modes of expression for the
moods, feelings, and various psychic reactions … that oldest form of expression … quite
spontaneously and without the necessity of conscious learning … they [the images]
have a quality of truth, of living power, which is recognized immediately. It is this quality that contrasts most strongly with the ordinary drawing … the effect on the individual
producing these creations is … characteristic. He recognizes a significance and validity
in these expressions … which no words can define and which are quite independent of
external influence … unmistakably [they] reveal the psychological condition of the individual producing them … they are analyzable just as are dreams (1923, p. 127).
Jay Sherry (2013) reports that when Hinkle died, at the direction of her will, all
of her written material was burned, including assumed letters from her exchanges with
Jung, yet Hinkle remains recognized for her English translation of Symbols of
Transformation—a publishing sensation of Jung’s work—which impacted her professional associations. Sherry (2015) emphasized that this made her “the key figure in promoting Jung’s new approach to psychology in America” (p. 70). But once her
prominent allegiance to Jung’s ideas and analytical psychology became apparent, she
was blackballed from the Freudian psychoanalytic community in New York City. This,
however, did not stop her from continuing to influence the Jungian community and
beyond. Two of the individuals she influenced happened to be founders of art therapy:
Margaret Naumburg and her older sister Florence Cane.
Margaret Naumburg was a powerful visionary in her own right and was well
known for her forceful personality. Early on she was a social activist who also mingled
with well-known Greenwich artists, writers, and social activists. Two sultry palladium
prints, taken by Stiegliz in 1920, can be found at the National Gallery of Art. Eventually
she shifted her focus from collective issues to the individual (Karier, 1986), so as to
carry the banner for art therapy within educational and clinical settings, beginning in
New York City. The first art therapy training program at Hahnemann Hospital in
Philadelphia was opened in 1967 due to her visionary energy. Naumburg taught art
therapy at New York University until she was in her 80s. As an art therapy student I
had the impression that she had a Freudian lens, particularly as my professors reinforced her psychodynamic approaches and ideas. In the shadow was the fact that
Naumburg and Cane both analyzed with the Jungian analyst Beatrice Hinkle from 1914
to 1917, overlapping with the period when Hinkle was translating Symbols of
Transformation into English. Naumburg later analyzed with the Freudian, A. A. Brill,
who was also a parent at the Walden school (Staring et al., 2018) and an early colleague
of Hinkle prior to her shift in theoretical allegiance.
First studying education at Columbia University, Naumburg was exposed to the
ideas of John Dewey, who advocated for art as experience. According to Dewey’s
model, creativity, exploration, and self-motivated learning were most successful without competition or grades. Naumburg also studied with Maria Montessori in Italy, but
found her approach too rigid for her liking (Karier, 1986). It seems Naumburg gleaned
much from her mentors, but had her own ambitions.
In 1914, the same year she began her analysis with Hinkle, Naumburg, together
with Claire Raphael (Staring et al., 2018), opened the Children’s School in Manhattan,
which then became the well-known Walden School. It was the first of its kind as a progressive school. Consistent with Jung’s idea of a training analysis, Naumburg encouraged
her teachers to get to know themselves psychologically by entering psychoanalysis so as
to better support the spiritual health of the children (Karier, 1986). As an advocate for
spontaneous painting and scribble drawings at the school, Naumburg eventually took the
process into the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where she conducted 3 years of
art therapy research working with psychosis in children.
Although she was influenced by Freudian theory, the Jungian analyst and art
therapist Michael Edwards (1987) pointed out that Naumburg did not fully agree with
all of Freud’s ideas, nor did she appear sympathetic to all of Jung’s theoretical notions.
What was evident to Edwards was that “Jung’s ideas seemed to have been absorbed
into her own theories of art therapy, which she steadfastly contrasts with more reductive approaches” (1987, p. 95). Cane Detre et al. (1983) refers to Naumburg’s thoughts
from The Child and the World (1928) “The emotional development of children, fostered through encouragement of spontaneous creative expression and self-motivated
learning, should take precedence over the traditional intellectual approach to the
teaching of a standardized curriculum” (p. 113, emphasis added). Clearly Naumburg
valued the role of the unconscious and found ways to honor its contents.
Naumburg published four other books describing and discussing her ideas about
art therapy: Schizophrenic Art (1950); Dynamically Oriented Art Therapy (1966/
1987); An Introduction to Art Therapy (1950/1974); and Psychoneurotic Art
(Naumburg & Appel, 1953/2013). Although she attributed her lifelong interest in Jung
to Hinkle, when Naumburg published the first art therapy book, Schizophrenic Art in
1950, she showed a clear preference for Freudian thought and terminology. In particular, she quoted Nolan D. C. Lewis of the 1920s as the first psychiatrist to employ analysis of art productions of patients either singly or in a series (Naumburg, 1950, p. 13).
Undoubtedly, we might deduce her strategic decision to navigate an environment that
had blackballed Hinkle had heightened her awareness of also being a woman entering
the male-dominated medical world with a declaration of a new method to work with the
unconscious. Although sociopolitical tensions have shifted, they have not been eradicated, so it seems timely to consider the underlying facts that provided the foundation
for Naumburg’s passion and convictions.
€lzli and was
Jung’s original research had focused on psychosis at the Burgho
widely published and readily available to her. Furthermore, the Withymead community
in Britain was now well established, and Jung’s essay, “The Aims of Psychotherapy,”
first delivered in 1929 and published shortly thereafter, had discussed painting as an
essential method for psychotherapy. Naumburg referred to H. G. Baynes’s book
Mythology of the Soul (1940/2015) and the case material of schizophrenic art, but her
comments oversimplified Baynes’s approach, suggesting that her theoretical understanding of such elements as the transcendent function and unifying symbols was
incomplete. She referred to the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) but omitted the
psychological orientation of its creators, Christiana Morgan and Henry Murray, who
were at the Harvard Psychological Clinic and had spent several years in Zurich gaining
direct and extensive knowledge of Jung’s theories and methods. In fact, it was Morgan’s
personal process and paintings that were studied in the Vision Seminars, illustrating
the depth of Jung’s clinical work from an archetypal perspective.
Naumburg’s main complaint was how psychoanalysis interpreted and defined the
meaning of individual symbols and visual content rather than giving preference to the natural healing process innate within art-making: namely, the emergence of spontaneous
images. “Such conflicting interpretations point to the need of giving further attention to
encouraging patients to make more interpretations of their own symbolic material”
(Naumburg, 1950, pp. 33–34). Naumburg wanted the artist to develop her own visual
vocabulary about her symbolic creations when spontaneous painting is used as a primary
approach to therapy. This philosophy toward patient artwork echoed Jung’s already published recommendations: Encourage patients to provide their own associations and interpretations for their dreams and images, and recommend the use of spontaneous painting
to personify the unconscious. Jung’s aim for active imagination was that the method
would allow patients to work independent from analysis. If she had remained current
with analytical psychology, she would have known that Jung had differentiated himself
from psychoanalysis and, through The Red Book process, eventually declared a preference for analysands’ perspectives of their dreams (or paintings) because it represented
what they were closest to in their unconscious. Moreover, Jung saw the purpose of analysis as a process that educated individuals to eventually find their own inner analyst—
this was the ultimate goal of active imagination. Thus, he advocated the essential freedom
associated with his notion of individuation, something with which Naumburg was clearly
aligned and encouraged through her art therapy research and teaching.
To be fair, Naumburg did credit Jung for his symbolic work and his idea of the
shadow and the collective unconscious. And later in life she admitted to how Jung’s work
with the collective unconscious and the transpersonal had impacted her personal work
(Karier, 1986). But in her early formative days (10 years before Jung’s death), when she
was conceptualizing art therapy, Naumburg lumped Jung with all psychoanalysts. The
absence of acknowledgment regarding his early influence on the art therapy field suggests perhaps a protection of her own ambitious goals, mixed with an avoidance of political conflict and rejection. Nevertheless, what was seeded in those decisions and passed
down through the generations is a deficiency in art therapy’s theoretical understanding
and discernment regarding Jung’s pioneering ideas and concepts that actually deserve to
bear witness. When art therapists learn about Jung’s model, it brings a theoretical depth
to their work. Naumburg’s drive to create a profession that escaped the tensions of the
past had lasting repercussions for art therapists who might never gain a clear sense of
the sacrifices made by the ancestors, let alone a true understanding of the healing nature
of the unconscious. However, given the fierce theoretical allegiances in the New York
psychoanalytic community from the 1920s through the 1950s, this was absolutely impossible. Naumburg was strategically wise because, knowing what we know to today, if art
therapy were to live and breathe, it needed to be free of theoretical ties to psychoanalysis
of any persuasion; most importantly, it required a differentiation from Jung and analytical
psychology (Swan-Foster, 2018).
Finally, Naumburg, perhaps caught in the original painful divide of opposites
between Jung’s and Freud’s theories (possibly the result of her own Jungian and
Freudian analyses), may have been motivated to find a third option. As an innovative,
intelligent professional woman moving in male-dominated circles, Naumburg was naturally driven to find her individual path, which she found by traveling the edges of analytical psychology, drawing support from Jung’s courage as well as his most popular
concepts, while speaking with a more Freudian tongue. Clearly, Naumburg was greatly
influenced by Jung’s work, but it is her silent adaptation of Jung’s ideas into American
art therapy to provide a fresh, independent path that could garner respect for its own
creative identity and clinical expression.
Studio art therapy, as opposed to art psychotherapy, is an approach that many
art therapists have aligned themselves with as a way to emphasize the innate healing of
art-making. As an art teacher and painting instructor who was influential in her own
right in New York City, Florence Cane’s aim was to liberate creativity and individual
expression through movement and emotions along with painting. In The Artist in Each
of Us, Cane (1951/1983) outlined her teaching method, which focused on the functions
of thought, feeling, and movement by way of rhythm and breath, and she expanded on
spontaneous painting and scribble drawing. On the first page of her book, she sounded
like an advocate for Jungian art therapy when she said: “Nature and art have this in
common—a form comes into existence by the union of two opposites. In nature, male
and female create a new life. In art, two opposite states of being within the artist are
needed to create form” (p. 21). Cane clearly integrated Jung’s ideas on the psyche–
soma connection, typology, the opposites, and his notion of psychic energy.
Specifically, Cane’s teaching contained some of Jung’s theory on complexes as well as
his pivotal two kinds of thinking when she wrote: “The active and receptive states must
alternate to produce and complete a work” (p. 21). Cane encouraged a child to solve a
problem, not through action, but by covering the eyes with the hands to introvert and
see what the unconscious might offer. Not only do we hear echoes of Jung’s reliance on
the unconscious in Cane’s intervention, but her method also illustrates how much she
valued what Jung named the reflective instinct.
Without hesitation and with clear influence also from Hinkle, Cane upheld specific
ideas as an approach found in Symbols of Transformation to facilitate the innate development of her students, such as sound and rhythm that arises from the body. She firmly
echoed Jung’s departure from the singular mechanical reductive approach to include the
spontaneous and symbolic. For instance, Jung referred to the early rhythmic sucking of
the infant as symbolic of a generative creative process, while Cane followed with the use
the early rhythm of breath that awakens the force from the unconscious. She used four
different techniques in her work with children: (1) In the Scribble Technique the child
used his non-dominant hand to make a scribble and then find an image within the scribble
and flush it out. (2) The Limited Color Palette involved a specific process of choosing two
colors and finding a relationship between them through making an image. (3) The Body
Liberating Movement Exercises involved moving the arms in various ways to relax and
then, when ready, using those same movements to create marks. Finally, (4) Add-aMark-Composition game was a process in which the therapist and child alternated making
marks to create a picture. These techniques incorporated Jung’s ideas of spontaneous
images from the unconscious, the opposites, and relational aspects not just between the
ego and the Self, but also within the therapeutic dyad.
Cane’s (1951/1983) educational approach clearly valued the unconscious and the
synthesis of the psyche–soma through working with the opposites. She aimed to both
educate and strengthen the child, and to soften defenses (complexes), so the purposive
nature of the unconscious could be expressed through the art (scribble drawings). In
teaching color, she might offer limited choices so as not to overwhelm the mind. She
also encouraged the child to turn inwards so the answer could arise from the unconscious (p. 22), or to use the body, reflective skills, and deep listening to “draw the creative force to her” (p. 111).
While Cane certainly observed specific formal qualities such as line quality, balance, quality of feeling, richness of color, imagination, and use of space for each factor
(p. 178), she also integrated what we might consider a psychological assessment, using
four factors, as part of her pedagogy. These four factors are (along with my addition of
the paired functions) (1) body (movement and quantity) (sensate); (2) psyche (contrasts, value, and quality) (feeling); (3) mind (organization, strategy, and intensity)
(thinking); and (4) spirit (emanation and expansion) (intuition). Cane considered
the four essential factors (body, psyche, mind, spirit) in terms of skill and development,
each paired with typology and undoubtedly impacted by the child’s type (introversion
or extraversion). Hinkle’s exploration of creativity and typology undoubtedly influenced Cane’s conceptualization of the individual child’s need in terms of teaching style.
Not only was Cane sensitive to the emotional content in the child and her pictures, but she also considered the spirit of the child as “some outside source of wisdom”
(1951/1983, p. 22). She noted: “If [the child] is functioning well and simultaneously on
the first three factors, it is very likely that the fourth will follow, because when the
whole child functions, the spirit awakens” (p. 179). Without naming it as such, her philosophy implies that the Self is the organizing principle of the whole personality. These
assessments and interventions are applicable when working with adults and encourage
an often long-dormant playful and spontaneous nature to emerge.
While Jung’s ideas are perhaps more accepted by and integrated into the collective today than was the case in the 1950s, clinical settings remain biased toward a more
ego-oriented approach, with emphasis on the psychodynamic lens. Professors and
supervisors remain unprepared to accurately articulate Jung’s theoretical model as it
relates to art therapy and the purposive nature of the unconscious, so it is unlikely that
they can differentiate where his ideas were absorbed or appropriated within an art
therapy clinical approach. Because art therapists are typically unaware of some of the
above key historical factors, Edwards (1987) suggests that the original split between
Freud and Jung is more often than not reenacted or at the very least reinforced. As history is revealed, we can fill in the holes and reinforce the original foundation structured
by Jung’s seminal recommendations.
Art therapy has a clear relationship with Jung’s idea of the third thing—in fact,
perhaps it emerged as the third thing out of the tension and subsequent divide
between Freud and Jung. The psychological notion of Jung’s third thing seems to have
originated in The Red Book when he speaks about Elijah and Salome, saying, “I found
the serpent as the third principle” (Jung, 2009, p. 247). The serpent moved between
the opposites, masculine and feminine. Eventually Jung referred definitively to “the
third thing” in Psychology of the Transference, after having steeped himself in ancient
texts and mythology. It is no surprise that the notion of the third has archetypal roots
in Hermetic philosophy, with Egyptian and Greek manifestations. As archetypal figures,
Thoth and Hermes come together to form the third thing: Hermes Trismegistus.
Briefly, Thoth was the Egyptian ambassador maneuvering between the opposing
armies of Horus and Seth, and he mediated the opposites through a peace treaty. Across
the Mediterranean the Greek equivalent of Thoth was Hermes, the god of communication, consciousness, and the arts. It is said that Hermes’ theft of Apollo’s cows led him to
offer a relational repair by inventing the lyre, which he offered to Apollo. Hermes action
gives value to imagination and intuition through this relational repair process. Like Thoth,
Hermes is also known for mediating between and unifying the opposites.
When these two gods were worshiped as one god, the reference was made to
Hermes Trismegistus, the figure who combined features from both the Egyptian and
Greek gods. Hermes Trismegistus is purported to have written the Hermetica, the
Egyptian–Greek wisdom texts discussing the divine, alchemy, cosmology, and other
related esoteric topics from the 2nd century CE and later. The teachings are presented
as dialogues in which a teacher, thought to be the “thrice-greatest Hermes,” enlightens
a disciple. In this brief encapsulation, we can hear the unification of the opposites
joined by the thrice-greatest Hermes. We might also consider Jung’s Philomen as the
wisdom teacher with whom he dialogued. Today, examples of the third within analysis
might be referred to using following terms:
The third thing (C. G. Jung)
Transitional or potential space (Donald Winnicott)
Reverie (Wilfred Bion)
Analytic third (Thomas Ogden)
The third (Jessica Benjamin)
Associative dreaming (August Cwik)
We might be curious how the third thing as a clinical notion showed up for Jung
through his picture-making. I return to Mellick’s research (2019b, p. 228), where she
explores Jung’s image of a tree from The Red Book (p. 131, Fig. 84) with its notable use
of light and dark through a dominant blue tone. She explains that Jung painted into individual cells that contained their own space. As if miniature mandalas, Mellick explains
Jung used a rarely used wet-on-wet technique. Wetting a small area of the vellum, Mellick
imagines that Jung probably dipped his brush into the pigment and then quickly dabbed
the wet on the paper to watch the pigment flow through the water to meet the boundaries
created by the dry paper. Because of the level of detail, it is easy to imagine that Jung
worked slowly with the patterned bark of the tree, with concentrated precision so the light
of each diamond would be accurately contained and its own sacred space.
Offering an illuminating image for the underlying archetype that supported
Jung’s process, Mellick (2019b, pp. 391–393) refers to the “ma” from Harry Wilmer’s
book Quest for Silence (2000). Amplifying the negative space within each diamond of
the tree bark, the “ma” might be experienced by the artist as both emptiness and possibility. Mellick described how Jung repeatedly painted each circle as its own inner world,
and then carefully outlined or filled it in with further detail to create a whole. Out of
this immersion, we might imagine that Jung experienced the transpersonal state
notated by James, eventually integrating the idea of the third thing.
We can easily imagine Jung’s engagement with “ma” or the “pause” found within the
negative space of the diamond shape, in the same way the Japanese refer to “ma” as the
interval, pause, or a poetic place in the imaginative process. Roughly, the belief is translated as “space,” “gap,” or “consciousness of place” where two very different things can
simultaneously coexist. Reverberating in this description of “ma” is the original definition
of the symbol (two things thrown together), and Jung’s method of active imagination in
which an image becomes a living symbol, or carries into consciousness the symbolic
third. In the moment of possibility, if we return to Jung’s tree, each circle or diamond in
the tree is an awareness of form and non-form at once. Essentially, we experience the
empty spaces on the canvas as an experiential moment with an emphasis on a pause in
time or an interval that poetically expresses the emptiness full of potential within a single
moment of the analytic process. Precision and focus matter as much as emanation and
expansion. We experience “ma” in art, music, poetry, and dance, and we experience it in
our consulting rooms. We wait for a brief moment when there is a convergence of opposites, a breath, a negative space, a silent pause. Rather than being torn asunder, the opposites find an ineffable moment to coexist—nothing joined with possibility—just long
enough so that the third thing can become known by the dyadic couple.
Art therapy provides the images for the underlying archetypal patterns that reference the third thing. The following is a selection of ways in which the materials create
the third space, where the thing becomes knowable and even visible.
Initiation process and the number three in pictures (change)
Pre-liminal—materials, empty paper
Liminal—sacred space for active expression
Post-liminal—final image and reflection
Glue: binds two things to make the third thing
“Third hand” (analyst participation and analyst response art)
Simultaneity—visible states of consciousness coexisting
Scapegoat—picture holds and carries what is intolerable, not ready for
brings wholeness
In Jungian art therapy, the third can be found and expressed in various ways.
Spontaneous images or pictures are created to discover and hold the inexpressible or
what is not yet known by the conscious psyche. At times the spontaneous pictures illuminate a prognosis or a future aspect of ourselves that remains unknowable to us even
as the image holds its “known thing” until we are ready to experience what is presented. The purposive energy from the unconscious finds its place through image,
destructive or constructive, regressive or progressive. We may or may not pay attention
or fully understand, yet psyche continues to do its job.
The third can be found when we are presented with loose materials like paints or
more structured materials like pencils or pens. The type of glue, clay, blank paper, or collage supplies matter. Inherent in every picture-making process is the archetypal pattern
of initiation with three stages: pre-liminal (separation), liminal, and post-liminal (integration). The pattern illustrates an image for the third when we separate from the world as
we contemplate our emotions, gather our art materials, and consider an empty piece of
paper. When we cross the threshold into the liminal space, we actively engage in expressing the un-worded and invisible. Within this liminal sacred space an image or form is
worked with, while the image or form also works on us. There may be a tension, a tempering, a complete immersion in the bath of the creative waters as we engage with what is
enigmatic and ineffable, as both past and future coexist in the present. The image shifts
and evolves. Once the image is completed, we “return” from the liminal space to reflect
upon what we experienced “back then,” what “lives” documented before us, and what we
carry forward into our future. What has been spontaneously revealed and what we bring
back from the liminal space may become a living symbol through active imagination.
The three stages are important because they highlight the archetypal nature of
not just initiation, but also of the number three and what Abt (2005) names as the evolutionary process and irreversible aspect of time (p. 123): “The number three becomes
connected to this inner determination … understood as fate … for instance, the Fates
… Norns … usually … in triadic form [p. 123]. Whenever the number three appears
in a … picture, we can assume that whatever is connected to this number is now
actively influencing or possessing the ego … [and] can also point to the beginning of a
fateful new development” (Abt, 2005, pp. 125–126).
A version of the “third hand,” developed by the art therapist Edith Kramer, is
meant to suggest when the therapist/analyst is enlisted to offer assistance. This might
mean helping to sharpen pencils or finding the right color. It can also be the hand that
holds the paper so it doesn’t move. When asked to draw how she was feeling, Ellen
depicted the spontaneous image of feeling suffocated (Figure 7). She requested that
I help her get out from underneath the yellow grid by drawing something on the picture. In a new picture (Figure 8), I added a crane with an arm that could lift the yellow
grate so that she might escape in order to preserve the original image or “complex” for
future reference. Out she ran, escaping with the help of my offering “a third hand.”
While the depiction of this process may sound reductive and overly simplified, the psychic energy within the room was intense and urgent, laden with early childhood memories. Her ability to access an “inner agent” and to ask for help, although not necessarily
life-changing, was reparative and enhanced her confidence around making choices,
coping with change, and engaging in movement versus habitual collapse, paralysis, or
frozen emotional states.
FIGURE 7. Yellow Grid, Water soluble pastels, Caran d’Arch on paper (12 18 in).
Another example of the third hand highlights how there may be an intersection of
transference–countransference. When paints are left over from a session, I might use
them in a third-hand response image with the patient’s chosen colors. I happened to
do this after a teenager, who struggled with family and social issues, left my office. Her
internalized anger and sorrow were understandable; when she verbalized her emotions,
she was often repudiated, leading to further internalized anger and intensifying selfharming behaviors. On this particular day, I felt disappointed and discouraged with her
fierce determination of being “right” and shutting me and others out.
The painting that emerged (Figure 9) offered a healing image of the “third thing.”
As I put the paint on the paper, a brown circle emerged that reminded me of her hair
and the peach skin color looked like hands, and so I worked to bring these two aspects
together into an image of a young figure holding a golden ball. The dripping of blue
paint happened unexpectedly, by accident, and forced me to accept the loss of the path
I thought I was taking, of the perfect image. My own recent loss of failing an exam put
me in touch with our over-lapping disappointments. Painting this image brought forth
the third, documenting an intimate and private space that revealed the connection
between the two of us; a shared space around disappointment, sorrow, and pain. At the
same time the golden ball illuminated what was possible, what could be found within
the suffering. I did not share the image with her until our therapeutic work ended. I
showed her the painting and gave her a photo of it, a reminder that she held a golden
ball and that while she was struggling, there were still possibilities. She was touched
that I had held her in mind through the image. I later learned that she had carried the
photo of the painting through residential treatment because it reminded her to look for
the gold within her emotional struggle.
Another example of the third is simultaneity. Very often pregnant women will
draw themselves pregnant, but when they do, we see their body, the fetus, and then
their clothes. This layered imagery illustrates the layers of consciousness, the third
being the fetus that exists between the privacy of the body and the clothed world of the
collective. The placenta is a powerful biological organ of mediation between the mother
FIGURE 8. Crane Lifts Yellow Grid. Water soluble pastels, Caran d’Arch on paper (12 18 in).
FIGURE 9. Golden Ball, Acrylic on paper, painted by author (36 24 in).
and the fetus and has been called “the third brain” (Yen, 1994). The research suggests
a powerful somatic image for the intermediary space that holds potential and possibility
within the communication process of birthing a new consciousness.
The image serving as the scapegoat (Schaverien, 1992) is another example of the
third thing because it carries away for the patient that which is intolerable and
unacceptable. A woman who lost her baby in the hospital due to medical negligence
created a collage of black and white paper that she called “garbage,” as it documented
the tremendous wordless betrayal and grief of leaving the hospital without her baby.
Symbols also illustrate the third, the effects of the transcendent function, and
present a sense of wholeness. For instance, the image of the tree can have various
meanings, all of which bring forth the personal relationship with the tree as much as
the archetypal quality of the tree. One woman thought she had messed up her picture,
but then she realized that what was trying to become visible was the tree from her
childhood, something she had not considered in many years but now thought was the
missing puzzle piece. Another woman who was pregnant and preparing for birth drew
herself as a tree with deep roots and outstretched branches (Swan-Foster, 2018). A
student who had negative views about trees then realized this was her critical voice
speaking and decided to embellish the tissue paper image of the tree with evergreen
trimmings so that it could weather the internalized “monster” voice.
Jung’s personal process and creative work are a profoundly important contribution
to art therapy’s history and development. He was well aware that his process stirred the
energy of the unconscious. He discovered that the regulation of this energy meant confronting the internal opposites until they could become visible. Through his commitment
to the deep processes he recorded in The Red Book, Jung learned that his images offered
containment, emotional over-stimulation as much as regulation and emotional relief, documentation, and meaning. The symbols could verify and facilitate the movement of psychic
energy and the innate construction–destruction–reconstruction process. The powerful
outcome was that the internal emotional tension between the ego and the unconscious
could give way to a visual dialogue or vision that furthered individuation and supported
the development of consciousness. Jungian art therapy makes the journey visible as the
images and subsequent symbols remind us of wholeness and possibility.
Symbolism arrests your attention immediately. You are unable to just glide
over it and dismiss it … It says: “I give you the keys to locked doors.” … I
quite recognize that the aeasthetic attitude is necessary for art, but this is a
vision; it is not art, it is symbolism. (Jung, 1930–1934, 1997b, p. 930)
Nora Swan-Foster, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, is a Jungian analyst and art therapist
in private practice in Boulder, Colorado. She is an analyst member of the IRSJA
and recent seminar coordinator for the Boulder Jung Seminar. Nora has presented and published on several topics and is the author of Jungian Art Therapy:
Dreams, Images and Active Imagination and edited the forthcoming book
Childbearing Issues and Art Therapy. She is Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of
Analytical Psychology.
Because Jerome Bruner (1960/1977) endorsed the idea that motivation for learning is based on
interest and not external competition, he advocated for learning structure over facts with the
goal of creating a spiral curriculum. “A curriculum as it develops should revisit these basic
ideas repeatedly, building upon them until the student has grasped the full formal apparatus
that goes with them” (p. 13).
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