Carl Jung: On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry

Illustrative image of sub conscious level

In his article “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry” C. Jung analyses the principles of psychology as a science, their relations to artistic work and the process of its creation. He admits that despite their obvious differences, these two realms are closely related to each other. However, according to the psychoanalist, this connection is not a profound phenomenon, but superficial, because every work regardless of its genre and gender, has a psychological side, moreover, it is made by individuals. According to Jung, psychology is a science, but artistic work is not. Hence, it can be observed only from the point of aesthetics, not from psychological principles[i].

Jung believes that art by its very nature is not science, and science by its very nature is not art: thus, both these spheres have something in reserve that is peculiar to them and can be explained only in its own terms. Hence, when we speak of the relation of psychology to art, we shall treat only of that aspect of art which can be submitted to psychological scrutiny. Whatever conclusion psychology draws after the analysis, will be confined to the mental process of artistic creation[ii] and will not refer to the innermost essence of art.

Analyzing the the principles of Freud’s psychoanalysis, he notices that previously poetical-artistic work was interpreted through simple psychological elements, such as trying to explain the artistic work through the relationship between the poet and his parents.. However, it is noteworthy that such information will not enable us to have a deep understanding of the work. In fact, with the help of this method one can analyze the work in parallel with other life phenomena, including mental illnesses, such as neurosis and psychosis, bad and good habits, beliefs, features of character, specific interests, etc. According to Freud’s theory, all these are the traces of the oppressed unconscious, which are closely connected to the relationship of the child with parents. However, the above mentioned various phenomena should not have the same explanation. If we take a work of art as a neurosis, then either the work of art is a neurosis or a neurosis is a work of art. This is why, it is impossible to put a work of art on the same level as neurosis.

All have had parents, all have a father – or a mother – complex, all know about sex and therefore have certain common and typical human differences. Jung brings the following example: if a poet was influenced more by his relation to his father, then, in case of the other it is by the tie to his mother, and the third may have been influenced by sexual maturity or experience. If we take a closer look, we will see that, surprisingly, all these peculiarities are typical of ordinary people as well.

The direction of medical psychology founded by Z. Freud, gave the literary historians new opportunities so that they could connect and draw parallels between works of art and personal, intimate emotions.

To be fair, it is noteworthy that, that Jung considered Freud’s theory a means to deeply understand the poet’s artistic worries deeply, which is more likely connected with early childhood. Jung does not completely reject his teacher’s beliefs, as he thought that they could be used and succeed, but not go into extremes.

To this extent, the psychoanalysis of art does not let us discover the nuances of the work, which can be noticed in literary and psychological analysis. No matter how interesting are the artist’s childhood, the relationship with his parents, they cannot be the keys to decode his works.

Freud used his psychoanalytic theory so that he could reach the secondary level of human psychology, that is subconscious. However, all his methods were more medical. He analyzed every phenomenon, and through associations and other methods led them to the oppressed unconscious or subconscious, which, in its turn, would have had a sexual code. It’s noteworthy, that not all realities, neurosis or ideas expressed in a work of art are connected with the sexual instinct, i.e. libido.

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On this occasion, in his article “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry”, Jung writes:

“analytical psychology must rid itself entirely of medical prejudice; for a work of art is not a disease, and consequently requires a different approach from the medical one”[iii].

When a botanist examines a plant, the plant can disclose the secrets of its type, but this does not give the whole picture of flora. So do psychology and psychoanalysis.

Artistic works can be planned or directed against any phenomenon. In this case, the writer concentrates his imagination toward the realization of the latter, so it is not connected with libido.

Although the writer planned and wished to write in that way, the work itself dictates its context, forms and means. In this case the writer is one step lower than the work, as he merely becomes a means between what is said and what is written. Jung pays much attention to the following: when the writer is not as important as the creative work and the finished artistic work.  He believes that the artist is under the control of the work, as the latter controls the writer and not the opposite. According to Jung, the belief that the artist is in control of the work is an illusion, as when one thinks they swim with the flow, while it’s the flow that takes them in its direction.

The theories expressed by the founder of analytical psychology gives literary and other critics wide opportunities for analyzing artistic works. Works known for a long time, that have their analysis, can suddenly appear in a completely new light and expose utterly different ideas. However, when elements appear in art that have not been noticed before, then they are not simply illusions of the artistic mind, since an individual would not be able to see them, if they did not really exist. Thus, everything has been in the work since the beginning, but was veiled with symbols and archetypes. Symbolic literature does not need to be disclosed as symbols, because according to Jung, it already assumes that whatever is said is not real, but has a secret, hidden meaning.

Finally, a question arises; do art and artistic work have a meaning? Maybe art does not have any meaning, and we ourselves draw conclusions and express opinions giving it a meaning. Jung’s answer, however, is the following: there is nothing without significance and meaning, and everything that seems to be meaningless, should be approached from the point of psychoanalysis and archetypes[iv]. Again psychoanalyst leads to the idea that everything is based on the unconscious with its archetypes.

After analyzing C. Jung’s article “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry” and the provisions of the psychoanalytic and archetypale school, we came to the conclusion that an individual and artistic work are closely connected, and this connection is often exposed through psychoanalysis , which divides the unconscious into parts and exposes the archetypes. The latter serve to the creation of the artistic work and analysis of its nuances.


1.Юнг К. Г. Аналитическая психология и психотерапия, Москва 2001, изд. «Питер», 505с.



Author: Arlina Sargsyan © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Liana Papyan