“There is no mythology,” Joseph Campbell was fond of suggesting, “without an image.” Devoted readers will recognize this idea within the dedication page of Time Crime. If you study mythology, then, you inevitably study imagery and it remains for me a keen interest; something, in fact, that both my fiction and non-fiction pivot upon.
I wrote an essay some years ago, formatted it MLA style and queried it to an online academic psychology website, with abstract and in compliance with all their submission requirements – a separate page identifying the figures and images, for instance – and it was promptly rejected, no surprise, no worries. I’d originally posted an informal version of it upon what used to be an active, moderated forum entitled Conversations of a Higher Order on the Joseph Campbell Foundation website https://www.jcf.org/ before the site was updated and the original forum itself archived – the link is still available here: https://www.coho-archive.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=5132.
The essay garnered 2,466 “views” and inspired some dialogue from other forum participants which I subsequently incorporated into the updated version. I’m publishing it here on the blog as a kind of bonus or freebie to readers who share my passion for the subject or may just be curious as what it is that perhaps drives the fiction, however obliquely.
It happens to include my first formal reference to a “Mr. Z.” before that moniker became attached to the fictional character. Rather than change the name in the essay I’ve left it because I think it’s a fun connection to draw upon (pun intended) all these years hence! Without further ado, then, here’s the essay:
Symbolic Forms & Fits of Tears: What’s In a Drawing?
An acquaintance of mine, let’s call him Mr. Z., an artist and educator, teaches an introductory drawing course to undergraduates at several two-year colleges. He said he had another student, his third this semester, break down in a fit of tears in class and while he cautions that such a frequency of incidents is atypical, he otherwise implies that it happens often enough to be unsurprising; in fact he’s quick to point out what he learned from his graduate advisor many years ago, by way of trying to prepare him for the experience:
I was taught to create an emotionally safe room, in the same manner a parent might create a safe world for a child. He said the act of drawing, and the teaching of drawing, is a very intimate and vulnerable activity, involving the self-revelation of the student and the physical and psychological proximity of that revelation to the instructor (the dominant, all-knowing instructor). He forewarned me about students attaching themselves emotionally – which isn’t an uncommon component of teaching in any environment – but in drawing, it’s something unique that’s going on. When I correct a student’s drawing, or I do a drawing for them as a demonstration, honestly, to some, it’s like magic; as if I’m some sort of magician – some special and powerful being. I’m not making this up. There is an awe factor. Some get angry and jealous and bitter. This happens particularly with linear perspective and also when drawing people, and to a lesser extent when drawing animals; a horse, for example.
Apparently, there’s something about attempting to draw, at least for the so-called non-artist students that seems to tear the lid off their vulnerability, occasionally conjuring a level of emotion that leads to tears. Most often the tears are of frustration, even anger (occasionally directed at Mr. Z.), but sometimes, conversely, a student will experience a positive form of release, more akin to a personal revelation:
I have had kids break down and cry because they surprised themselves at how good they are at drawing, or even that they simply got better – from lousy to less lousy – the exact opposite of crying because they sucked, or maybe it’s the same thing, I don’t know. They don’t bawl, but they tear up, sometimes their hands will shake, you can see them being overwhelmed with emotion. I have had kids hug me, give me presents – like bringing me art supplies, making me food – yes, one made me an entire meatloaf dinner with the sides and brought it in aluminum tins to class.
Of course any number of personal idiosyncrasies may be said to contribute to the emotional preparedness, so to say, of a student introduced to the craft of deliberate, un-trifled drawing; so-called socio-economic, cultural, racial and even gender aspects may be the most extant, obvious examples but any day-to-day vicissitude can serve to compound the challenge, sometimes hyperbolically. “Some of these students,” Mr. Z. explains,
are coming from low income backgrounds, violent backgrounds, broken families; some adults are divorced, some are trying to change their lives. One girl’s dog died the night before. I taught a Syrian fellow – who was good at drawing by the way – and who showed me a picture of his pregnant sister who had been recently shot and killed during the Syrian conflict as it was happening during our class. He stayed to draw, saying, “I can’t lose this too.”
Rather than being expected to leave their emotional cargo at the door, a safe room, then, allows for everyone to set their cargo down prior to departure, so to say, if the metaphor may be strained that far. I am not a visual artist, and my college education never included a drawing class. Yet, in conversation with Mr. Z., I’ve become gradually astonished at the volatile humanity initiated by learning to draw, of the remarkably potent individual experience of both student and teacher, each doing the work they’ve more or less agreed to attempt to do, some of which may legitimately be termed self-work. In this context, I believe it’s legitimate to ask how it may be that drawing, perhaps uniquely among the arts, should so reliably unravel one’s composure: what’s in a drawing and the act of creating it? What energies are being dealt with? It begs the question, also, as to what kind of expectations and responsibilities are being placed upon our college educators, most often artists themselves and not trained psychologists who have chosen, more or less enthusiastically, to engage the apparently psychologically loaded, emotionally torrid realm of the introductory drawing classroom?
In a 1980 essay, “The Interpretation of Symbolic Forms,” Joseph Campbell described, by way of Jung, “the four basic psychological functions by virtue of which we apprehend and evaluate all experience; namely, sensation and intuition, which are the apprehending functions, and thinking and feeling, which are those of judgment and evaluation” (Mythic Dimension 193).
The [above] cruciform diagram makes it evident that in this view of Jung’s “four functions” we are dealing with the claims and forces of two pairs of opposites; for as feeling and thinking are opposed, so too are sensation and intuition.
People aware only of the information of their senses, the most obvious actualities immediately present, may be disappointed or undone by unrecognized implications; whereas others, intuitive always of possibilities and implications, may be knocked down by a hard and present fact. In Jung’s view, based on his work with patients, each of us tends to favor in the shaping of his life but one of the two functions of each pair – sensation and thinking, for example, which would leave intuition and feeling undeveloped; and any activation of the unattended functions tends to be experienced as threatening and is resisted. Moreover, since the resisted functions are undeveloped – “inferior,” as Jung terms them – they are alien to the subject’s understanding both of himself and of his world, and whenever they do break through, they overthrow controls and with compulsive force take over: the individual is “beside himself,” out of control. (Campbell, Mythic Dimension 193-94)
While I appreciate the value of the four functions as represented in the diagram, I react to the implication of opposition between the pairs: it’s just as interesting to note that “feeling” and “thinking,” for example, while at opposite poles, are indeed connected by the line between them – drawn towards each other as much as away – and, indeed, it strikes me that whatever may be represented by the entirety of that line is perhaps worth considering. Also, it’s simple enough to embellish the cruciform diagram and transform it into a mandala by circumscribing the “functions”; in other words, by drawing a circle through them, thereby linking all of them in an unending round and otherwise assuaging the opposing energies established by the two pairs of “opposites.”
Would this affect the aforementioned interpretation? After all, why should Jung be convinced that we favor two of the four functions and not one, three or perhaps none or all, for that matter, depending on the individual? In any case, the idea that the “inferior,” otherwise undeveloped functions are capable of breaking through and overthrowing our controls, such as they are, resulting in one becoming “beside himself” is a compelling explanation for why a non-artist – a student taking an elective course for instance – could become so frustrated, ostensibly by way of the unexpected dynamics of a creative schism, to be brought to tears. And what in particular is it about the act of drawing that makes the frustration so acute versus, say, even painting or sculpting? Writing, conversely, can’t be said to bring people to tears (although reading certainly may), nor does one typically find an incompetent music student breaking down in front of his or her instrument. Mathematics, arguably, may perhaps compete with drawing in its ability to un-center the psyche in the direction of a deeply threatened, stymied condition and one is compelled to ask what it may be that the two fields of endeavor have in common, though that question won’t be considered here.
Given the well-established therapeutic nature of visual imagery – its power to release, retain, arrest, synchronize, ground or otherwise balance one’s psychology – and the even more intensely dynamic subconscious and unconscious power accessed through the craft of creating visual imagery oneself, one is perforce driven to acknowledge the particularly robust cognitive and psychological dynamism of this creative act; that is to say, drawing, especially for uninitiated, is perhaps a particularly loaded opportunity for a personal confrontation with the unknown both within and without, as such, and hardly the blithe pastime a beginning student may have anticipated when selecting their otherwise prerequisite courses. Writing, alternatively, may be said to release psychic energies more gradually, more easily perhaps, with less demand placed upon the mind-body dynamic; one can write, after all, as one talks. One can even experience athletic activity, creative in its own way, as more or less restorative: observe the glee of any clumsy child kicking a ball or the incompetent duffer of any age hacking joyfully away at his golf ball. Visual art, conversely, is, as Mr. Z., himself a professional artist has said, “a different form of communication” and it’s a rare skill, let alone talent, to be able to render images on paper with one’s hands that in any way effectively represent external reality, the internal mysteries of the psyche or in fact the personally unsettling, mythological dynamics of both cognitive arenas of experience at once. Photographers and filmmakers for example may not be as directly responsible for every nuance of their creations, relying as they do, at least occasionally, on recognition of serendipity and the accident of circumstance inherent in their medium; whereas in drawing, it’s perhaps the intuitive difficulty – the relentless cognitive challenge – of rendering three dimensions into two – the requirement to funnel and flatten the world onto paper – that may inspire an often unexpected surge of unconscious or subconscious energies. Could it be also that a student occasionally finds it an impossible shock to experience once familiar objects – pencil and paper – so benignly obedient day after day to the straightforward tasks of note taking, signing one’s name, filling out forms and any number of otherwise pedestrian, mechanical scribblings as having transformed themselves into seemingly intractable threshold guardians at once denying entry to the acceptable completion of an assignment (many students, after all, make their way successfully through academia by way of more or less rote regurgitation of instructions, exactly the solution that isn’t possible in the drawing classroom) and inviting entry into heretofore unrecognized dimensions and depths of experience within and without?
Is it possible to predict, from Mr. Z.’s vantage point for example, observing as he does an endless cycle of artistic initiates enter his classes more or less broadly dispersed between the poles on the one hand of enthusiastic, un-self-conscious self-awareness, self-compassion and sense of adventure, (regardless of skill level) and on the other hand, dread and advanced circumspection, which students are at particular risk of emotional overload, and then to somehow prepare for that, to otherwise mitigate the risk of a fit of tears? And can students of one emotional bent switch places, so to say, with that of another, so that the emotionally sturdy, otherwise dauntless explorer type transforms at some point in the semester into a stricken, beleaguered, unreachable cipher within the classroom and vice versa? And what of Jung’s four “functions?”
It’s perhaps not far-fetched to reconsider Jung’s cruciform diagram – his functional mandala – in mythological terms, by way of analogy with Campbell’s four functions of myth; namely 1) Awe = Intuition, 2) Cosmology = Thinking, 3) Sociology = Sensation and 4) Psychology = Feeling. Syncretizing in this way, one can perhaps begin to perceive the magnitude of life energies put into play in the introductory art classroom, (to say nothing of other creative experiences), and to recognize the volatile human biochemistry thereby established in the form of the Central Excitatory Mechanisms (CEMs), more or less dormant in each student, and the Innate Releasing Mechanisms (IRMs) activated, more or less capably, by an instructor.
Students of animal behavior have coined the term “innate releasing mechanism” (IRM) to designate the inherited structure in the nervous system that enables an animal to respond thus to a circumstance never experienced before, and the factor triggering the response they term a “sign stimulus” or “releaser.”
It is obvious, also, that in man, just as in the lower animals, there are certain “central excitatory mechanisms” (CEMs), which receive stimulation both from within and from without and move the individual to “appetite behavior” – sometimes even against his better judgment.
And who that has knowledge of the numerous vestigial structures of our anatomy, surviving from the days when we were beasts…, would doubt that in the central nervous system comparable vestiges must remain: images sleeping, whose releasers no longer appear in nature – but might occur in art? (Campbell, Mythic Dimension 30, 34, 37)
It’s often tedious and of little lasting interest to tease apart, by way of historical linguistics or philology, the architecture of words with an eye towards a more deeply rare or compellingly archaic meaning, but I indulged myself with the word “teach” as it’s defined in my Random House College Dictionary and there I find a reference to an Old English word, tǣcan, described as akin to “token.” Campbell has oft repeated the idea that there is no mythology without symbol; in other words, symbols are said to exist as mythology’s inherent aspect, and he’s gone as far as to define a symbol as an energy-evoking and energy-directing agent (Flight 178). It’s interesting, then, to find as part of a lengthy definition of “token” the oft-occurring word “symbol” and, as a compelling terminus, the suggestion: “See teach” (Random House College Dictionary). The idea of a teacher, instructor or professor existing, consciously or unconsciously on behalf of the student, as a symbol in the classroom (versus, say, a so-called sign, which can be said to be void of metaphorical reference) indeed begins to more properly allude to the oft-unwieldy power and attendant sweep of responsibility inherent in the vocation.
An online acquaintance of mine, Cindy B., is a Jungian scholar. “I’m curious,” she asks,
about what led you to conclude that learning to draw particularly elicits “frustration so acute” as compared to learning new skills involved with painting or sculpture? I’m not so sure, in that it seems to me, anyway, that individual differences come into play here, and including individual learning styles and any inherited talent (or not) for artistic expression of these sorts.
I could only respond that my tentative conclusion is intuitive – I keep poking at this topic because it keeps poking at me. I have some evidence as I’ve presented here, but I’m only now trying to dig into it and sort it out. As such, I finally asked Mr. Z. whether “fits of tears” were ever a part of his art-college days as a student. I also suggested that perhaps sculpture and painting were more intuitively therapeutic, even like child’s play, whereas drawing might be technically or otherwise perceptually, in the success/failure sense, challenging:
I never observed breakdowns in my classes as a student because I went to art school and everybody – in theory – was good at drawing to begin with, at least in a general sense. Most of the students I have now have never drawn before, other than as children, and don’t consider themselves, nor care to be, artists – there is no prerequisite, after all, for Basic Drawing 1. Why do some of them care so much that they suck so badly? And particularly, why get so dramatic about it? I never threw a fit in Algebra 2 even though I was a D+ student and it was as frustrating as hell and even a tutor didn’t help (it only humiliated me further) but I never blew up or fell apart about it. But drawing is a different activity entirely, just as art is a different language entirely. I guess you could say math is a different language as well, but it doesn’t reveal us to ourselves in the same way. Yeah, math exposed me to myself that I suck at it, but when these people find they suck at drawing, or have gotten better at it (again, just a percentage, not most) they get emotional, they “react.”
You are right about sculpture and painting that it is more playtime I guess. But also I think most people don’t expect to be good at sculpture or painting. I could be wrong about that. Maybe they don’t expect to have to “see” the world in a specific way. Painting and sculpture – unless you’re in a class that demands realism – seems to allow for a more interpretive view of the world at the most basic level. Most importantly, sculpture is also 3-D, just like the real world, so there is no obstacle between seeing the 3-D world and trying to replicate it in a 2-D world (paper). Everybody can make a pinch pot in ceramics class. But it’s mind-blowing how many people can’t draw that pinch pot with any sense of veracity. The simple idea that the circular shape of the bowl has become an ellipse is almost impossible for them to grasp. They want to draw what they “know”. I try to teach them to draw what they “see.” I think this is the difference – it’s that difficulty of transferring one world into another that creates such frustration, and sometimes, shock and dismay. “Why can’t I see what others are seeing?” Or, “I see the world in the wrong way”. If you make a student with no skill try to paint realistically, which is also transferring 3-D into 2-D, they don’t get as frustrated – I’ve taught Basic Painting at university. They just accept the fact they suck at it in a way some can’t accept when they draw. I can’t explain that other than they either perceive painting to be the realm of only gifted, “real” artists so they don’t expect much out of themselves, or maybe the playfulness of the medium, and maybe also the opportunity to rely on color as a crutch to distract from the lack of “correctness” in the draftsmanship relieves the tension. I don’t know.
I have found that many professional sculptors, or 3-D artists, cannot draw either. Many of my own teachers who were sculptors could not draw yet I, for whatever reason, can do both. Picasso admired sculpture in that it could be said to reveal all sides of a subject where in drawing and painting you have to choose which side to depict. He had an aspiration for painting to function in the same way sculpture does – he wanted to show all aspects of a subject at once. (In this way painting may be interpreted as superior to sculpture in a way as it is an instantaneously complete view of a subject – you don’t even have to move to see the whole thing – show the profile with the backside with the front and top and bottom all at once). Picasso drew and painted what he “knew,” not what he “saw.” Genius, actually, because as adults, many of us have forgotten this childlike spontaneity. That’s why kids, by drawing what they know, are really quite sophisticated – they just don’t know it. The problem arises when as adults they want to draw what they see and can’t. Some cultures, Inuit, Africans, Aborigines, for example, don’t find value in artistically representing things as they actually appear. They are only interested in making images of what they know, or want to know about a subject. Today, photography has rendered virtually useless the gift for being able to render things realistically. But we artists do it anyway and people still react to it positively.
I find compelling mythic image implications in the above ideas; namely, in creating what one “sees” versus what one “knows” and whether either act can be seen as more or less mythologically (in the myth-as-metaphor, non-colloquial sense that Campbell uses the word, viz., as something other than falsehood) significant, sophisticated or otherwise important. Of course the artist is free to cross back and forth across the realms of seeing and knowing at will, commensurate to his skill and inspiration. Mr. Z.’s input has lent, I think, some credence to my intuition regarding drawing as an emotionally provocative activity perhaps unique among the arts. The mythology of course speaks, as always, to the psychology, and here we are again at “what’s in a drawing?” Mr. Z. provided the following examples:
Another online acquaintance, C-Bear, whose interests, like mine, encompass comparative mythology, upon viewing these images said:
I look at the drawings above. The seeing is an observation of experience. The knowing is the dream.
“Indeed, C-Bear,” I replied,
Thank you for tugging at the knot of this. Yet observation may take place in dream and dream in observation of non-dreaming experience; can they not interchange in this way? Can one person’s “seeing” be another person’s “knowing?”
So that, for example, (and this brings in the idea of context), the “see cup” and the “know cup,” the “see table” and the “know table” are bound to each other in a form of overlapping experience or expression; drawn (pun intended!) to each other (arguably by way of Jung’s functional groups) inclusively, synergistically and not necessarily in terms of pairs of opposites. In other words, the artist can just as well draw the “see-cup” or the “see-table” with metaphorical intention and somehow open it, arguably, to transcendence, (at least within the cultures, as Mr. Z. has pointed out, that don’t disregard realism in their creative works). Likewise, the artist can render the “know-cup” and “know-table” observationally (I’d never say objectively), as Mr. Z. has, with earth-bound, practical, didactic emphasis and context, designed to instruct and to demonstrate a technique, rather than as an attempt to invoke something otherwise akin to aesthetic arrest. There is, after all, an aspect of craft to any art – the technical skills one deliberately practices antecedent to mastery and which serve to perhaps keep an artist on the hook, so to say, of their aspirations towards a perhaps perpetually ineffable level of accomplishment.
Northrop Frye, the Canadian literary theorist, whose ideas about writing dovetail effectively into all the arts, introduces the idea of identity when he writes in The Educated Imagination:
[The] story of the loss and regaining of identity is, I think, the framework of all literature. Inside it comes the story of the hero with a thousand faces, as one critic calls him, whose adventures, death, disappearance and marriage or resurrection are the focal points of what later become romance and tragedy and satire and comedy in fiction, and the emotional moods that take their place in such forms as the lyric, which normally don’t tell a story (21).
It makes sense to me that where Frye uses the word “literature” we can substitute “art” because the aspirations of the creative language are the same in all the fields of expression. The artist, then, renders, more or less expertly, masterfully or otherwise successfully, the expression of the world division – the window opening to transcendence, taking us up and past the metaphors – (as Campbell has oft-described) and at least occasionally un-grounding us by way of the experience of so-called aesthetic arrest. Likewise, as a means or guide for our psychic reorientation (in terms of Campbell), our individuation (in terms of Jung) or the regaining or reintegration of (in terms of Frye) our identity, a great work may serve to bring us home to ourselves. And perhaps the best artistic creations are capable of both at once.
Within the Japanese contemplative tradition of existential Shinto may be found the idea of a so-called holographic entry point, represented tangibly and metaphorically by the torii gate – serving as a point of departure and return, both physically and spiritually if you will – whereby one experiences the whole of the Mystery by way of the interrelated parts and then reintegrating oneself, returning home to oneself, so to say, spiritually invigorated, enhanced or otherwise healthfully restored to a sense of well-being and one’s place in the world (Kasulis 20-23). A work of art may therefore be said to function as a torii gate, a holographic entry point, a contextual frame of sorts and indeed a point of departure.
It’s worth pausing here to acknowledge that any competent artist will tell you they don’t do any of this on purpose of course – it’s an after-the-fact-of-creation kind of thing – it’s the boon we critics receive from the artist’s more or less demanding personal journey and our more or less receptive reception to it. For as Frye declares, “Literature,” (and here again I include the broader realm of art), “is a human apocalypse, man’s revelation to man, and criticism is not a body of adjudications, but the awareness of that revelation, the last judgment of mankind” (44).
Each of us is a critic after all, or can be, in Frye’s perhaps more egalitarian sense of the word, so that when we’re not bogged down in being merely critical, merely adjudicative, we’re open to what the artist has to say, even if it’s not anything particularly compelling.
The reader or critic, then, has a role complementing the poet’s [artist’s] role. We need two powers in literature [and all the arts], a power to create and a power to understand.
In all our literary [artistic] experience there are two kinds of response. There is the direct experience of the work itself, while we’re reading a book or seeing a play, especially for the first time. This experience is uncritical, or rather pre-critical, so it’s not infallible. If our experience is limited, we can be roused to enthusiasm or carried away by something that we can later see to have been second-rate or even phony. Then there is the conscious, critical response we make after we’ve finished reading or left the theatre, where we compare what we’ve experienced with other things of the same kind, and form a judgment of value and proportion on it. This critical response, with practice, gradually makes our pre-critical responses more sensitive and accurate, or improves our taste, as we say. (Frye 43-44)
It’s exactly what Frye suggests an “educated imagination” does for us. And perhaps I’ve finally stumbled my way back into the classroom and the knot of our topic: the problems of symbolic form and, by extension, metaphor. “[J]ust as the schizophrenic is unable to think in effective, consensually validated metaphor, so too is he unable to think in terms which are genuinely concrete, free from an animistic kind of so-called metaphorical overlay” (qtd. in Carveth, sec. II).
I’m willing to abuse, as a psychological layman, the word “schizophrenic” by putting quotation marks around it and suggesting that we’re all capable of behaving schizophrenically, or perhaps merely neurotically. As such, when we’re in possession of an under-educated imagination, so to say, at least in terms of visual art, of symbolic form and metaphor that hasn’t prepared us for the possibly challenging task, for instance, of drawing a cup or table as we “see it” versus as we “know it” (I’m pretty sure going in the other direction isn’t painful) we might find the experience apocalyptic and we’re beside ourselves, our controls overthrown by our neglected psychological functions, and I think we’re all understandably, temporarily at least, made a little crazy by the experience; our identity is threatened and we’re in an ontologically perilous situation. As such, I’m pondering whether the person unhinged by struggling to draw what they “see” instead of what they “know” isn’t also somehow stuck in the aforementioned animistic kind of so-called metaphorical overlay, indeed initiated by flattening 3-D reality into two dimensions – the problem of perspective in draftsmanship – otherwise un-assuaged, as Mr. Z. suggested, by the comforts of color. Carveth illuminates some of this by way of his own references:
If, in their metapsychological writings at least, Freud and his followers have frequently appeared to be in the grip of a metaphor of the mind as a steam engine or an electrical apparatus of some sort, Kohut and his students sometimes seem to regard “the self” – with its qualities of cohesiveness or vulnerability to fragmentation or disintegration under various circumstances – as something resembling a delicate ceramic artifact which may well have failed to harden properly in the kiln constituted by the early selfobjects [sic]. Such divergent guiding metaphors, particularly when literalized, are bound to significantly influence our ways of approaching our patients: one may occasionally take a hammer to a machine, but seldom to a piece of fine china, particularly if it is already cracked (sec. III).
Mr. Z., in the time-honored way of many visual artists, will make occasional forays to the local art museum with the intention of drawing the sculptures; that is to say, he sits down with his drawing materials in front of a sculpture – classical, contemporary or perhaps even a suit of armor, according to his inspiration – and renders it as a drawing. To me, this sort of activity doesn’t seem particularly odd (artists have always learned by copying the masters), until one begins to ponder the idea of creatively rendering a work of art – a work of creativity – creatively, so to say. The sculptor looks at the world and “sees” and “knows” and creates his piece. Then another artist comes along, somebody like Mr. Z. for instance, and draws that piece, “seeing” and “knowing” what he himself “sees” and “knows.” Thereby doing exactly what, may I ask, to the original work besides producing a 2-D snapshot of sorts?
Naturally, as Frye suggests, we view these images directly and pre-critically upon first observation, then consciously and critically, commensurate with the aptitude of our educated imagination. Campbell, in his essay, “Mythological Themes in Creative Literature and Art,” leans on the aesthetic architectures of Joyce (proper art is “static,” improper, “kinetic”) and Aquinas, established through the perception of “wholeness,” “harmony” and “radiance,” as a basis for critique, reminding us of the magical way archetypal images are washed clean of their baggage of meaning when we allow ourselves to “re-experience” and not “reinterpret” them (Mythic Dimension 235). What, then, besides deliberately practicing his craft, is Mr. Z. doing by drawing these sculptures? Is he reinterpreting them? Is he copying them? Is he simply rendering an observation of his experience when he draws what he “sees”? Or is he drawing what he dreams, what he “knows?” I insist there is more to the above images than draftsmanship because they are compelling in their own way, even though Mr. Z. might tell me otherwise – he might just call them practice or auto-therapy, or honing his skills for other, as he has said, “more creative” work. Then again, he reveals the following:
When I drew that marble sculpture of the Neo-classical bust of the woman, I began by wanting to simply document it, to render it with enough facility or veracity to have the viewer be able to “recognize” it as being a drawing of the sculpture. What happened in that drawing (and it doesn’t always happen, even if you do or do not want it to happen) is that some sort of transformation took place. The drawing looks nothing like the sculpture. It’s like I drew a different woman. It’s like it became a portrait of a woman instead of a documentation, so to speak, of a sculpture. I did not do this on purpose, and in many ways perceived it as a failure on my part. Having finished it, and being aware that I had not captured the likeness – for lack of a better term – of the subject (or object, so to say) I could have done one of two things: accept it as a failed attempt, or look at it in another way – that what I had tried to do became something else in the process of doing it. One could perhaps say that I didn’t have enough skill to render the sculpture accurately at that time. I went back to the same sculpture almost a year later, having drawn consistently in the museum all during that year, to try it again. The second time I feel I “captured” the sculpture, otherwise creating a “good” drawing. But in many ways, it’s a less interesting drawing.
In this way, Mr. Z.’s experience of his own work may be said to reinforce the unpredictably transformative nature of drawing; transforming both the object drawn and the person drawing it. And what happened to what the sculptor dreamed or “knows” by the way? Or what if Mr. Z. were to ask his students to draw drawings of his drawings, which are drawings of sculptures – would students have any easier time of it, rendering as they were images already in two dimensions? I certainly wouldn’t….
It’s typically an effortless process for us to interpret and relate one, two and 3-D images and objects to each other, to negotiate the fields of information they present us with; in that sense it’s rare to find oneself challenged by what one sees or to otherwise experience a sense of predicament in regard to our visual reality. However, our cognitive reliability, secure as it most often is, can indeed be threatened quite easily by any number of curious dimensional challenges, not least of which involves the process of attempting to represent three dimensions by way of two.
A representation of the process of stereographic projection, the above illustration by Rubens appeared in a work published in 1613 by François d’Aiguillon, Six Books of Optics, Useful for Philosophers and Mathematicians Alike (in wikipedia.org, “Stereographic Projection”).
Regarding our topic so far – to both review and move us along – I have the following concerns:
- So-called Euclidian space and especially the idea of so-called high-dimensional spaces: what are we referring to?
- The implications of the unsettling nature of so-called impossible objects and by extension the perhaps equally unsettling experience, for some of us, of negotiating between two-dimensional (2-D) and three-dimensional (3-D) objects when we draw: the challenge of transforming what we “know” into what we “see,” which in the most dramatic cases can result in a fit of tears. What energies are we dealing with and how?
- The mandala as a compelling demonstration of projecting (or perhaps imbedding) higher-dimensional (higher than 2-D) concepts (cognitive intuitions) in two dimensions, e.g. Time, Veritelos-space (v-space), Mystery-space, Spirit-space or Mythology-space. So that what we “know” about a 2-D mandala is somehow accessible by what we “see;” in other words, how the mandala implies more by way of less, so to speak.
- The arguably more complex (and therefore arguably higher performing) 3-D mandala and its questionable ability to indeed add psycho-spiritual or psychological or personal mythological value: first, because a 3-D mandala (as a form of sculpture, for example) is arguably more difficult to create from a practical, medium-based standpoint (be it stone, clay, metal, et al.) especially given its architectural requirements and secondly, because it’s not clear that additional information is presented over and above its 2-D counterpart; thereby reinforcing the compelling nature and potentially unique power of flattening, and in an arguable sense concentrating, higher-dimensional – hyper-spherical, hyper-dimensional – “images” into two dimensions.
From the modern viewpoint, there is essentially only one Euclidean space of each dimension. With Cartesian coordinates it is modeled by the real coordinate space of the same dimension. In dimension one this is the real line; in dimension two it is the Cartesian plane; and in higher dimensions it is a coordinate space with three or more real number coordinates.
Once the Euclidean plane has been described in this language, it is actually a simple matter to extend its concept to arbitrary dimensions. For the most part, the vocabulary, formulae, and calculations are not made any more difficult by the presence of more dimensions. (However, rotations are more subtle in high dimensions, and visualizing high-dimensional spaces remains difficult, even for experienced mathematicians. (wikipedia.org, “Euclidean Space,” retrieved 5.5.2014).
Below is a 2-sphere wireframe image as an orthogonal projection:
Orthographic projection (or orthogonal projection) is a means of representing a 3-D object in two dimensions. It is a form of parallel projection, where all the projection lines are orthogonal to the projection plane resulting in every plane of the scene appearing in affine transformation on the viewing surface (wikipedia.org, “Orthographic Projection”).
Spheres can be generalized to spaces of any dimension. For any natural number n, an “n-sphere,” often written as S^n, is the set of points in (n + 1)-dimensional Euclidean space that are at a fixed distance r from a central point of that space, where r is, as before, a positive real number. In particular:
S^0 : a 0-sphere is a pair of endpoints of an interval (−r, r) of the real line
S^1 : a 1-sphere is a circle of radius r
S^2 : a 2-sphere is an ordinary sphere
S^3 : a 3-sphere is a sphere in 4-dimensional Euclidean space.
Spheres for n > 2 are sometimes called hyperspheres.
Impossible objects: An impossible object (also known as an impossible figure or an undecidable figure) is a type of optical illusion. It consists of a 2-D figure which is instantly and subconsciously interpreted by the visual system as representing a projection of a 3-D object. In most cases the impossibility becomes apparent after viewing the figure for a few seconds. However, the initial impression of a 3-D object remains even after it has been contradicted. There are also more subtle examples of impossible objects where the impossibility does not become apparent spontaneously and it is necessary to consciously examine the geometry of the implied object to determine that it is impossible.
The unsettling nature of impossible objects occurs because of our natural desire to interpret 2-D drawings as 3-D objects. This is why a drawing of a Necker cube would be most likely seen as a cube, rather than “two squares connected with diagonal lines, a square surrounded by irregular planar figures, or any other planar figure.” With an impossible object, looking at different parts of the object makes one reassess the 3-D nature of the object, which confuses the mind. Impossible objects are of interest to psychologists, mathematicians and artists without falling entirely into any one discipline. (wikipedia.org, “Impossible Object, retrieved 5.5.2014).
The above images provide an example of a Necker Cube (left) and an Impossible Cube (right). Below, as additional examples, Waterfall, 1961 by M.C. Escher (left) and the Penrose Triangle (right), are demonstrations of so-called “impossible objects”:
Escher’s lithograph shows an apparent paradox where water from the base of a waterfall appears to run downhill along the water path before reaching the top of the waterfall. While most 2-D artists use relative proportions to create an illusion of depth, Escher here and elsewhere uses conflicting proportions to create a visual paradox. The waterfall’s leat [artificial watercourse] has the structure of two Penrose triangles. (wikipedia.org, “Waterfall (M.C. Escher)”.
We’re most familiar with 2-D mandalas, although one can assume, (in the absence of my own research regarding this topic) that 3-D mandalas have been produced for perhaps as long a period.
The creation of 2-D mandalas has a rich history, extending throughout Celtic, Christian, Islamic, Indian, Navajo, Aztecan, and Tibetan cultures to name merely the perhaps most renown examples, and it was Carl Jung who is credited for introducing the mandala into the field of psychology, where today it continues to exert an arguably formidable influence. Regarding origins, the following appears within Kumar’s “Mandala – Sacred Geometry in Buddhist Art”:
The mandala idea originated long ago before the idea of history itself. In the Rig Veda (India) and its associated literature, mandala is the term for a chapter, a collection of mantras or verse hymns chanted in Vedic ceremonies, perhaps coming from the sense of round, as in a round of songs. The universe was believed to originate from these hymns, whose sacred sounds contained the genetic patterns of beings and things, so there is already a clear sense of mandala as world-model.
The word mandala itself is derived from the root manda, which means essence, to which the suffix la, meaning container, has been added. Thus, one obvious connotation of mandala is a container of essence.
Of note, it has been asserted that within the Paleolithic art of the great caves of southern France and northern Spain, dated 30,000-9000 BCE, which contain an ordered, aesthetically accomplished mythology of painted figures, there exists no evidence of a concept of geometrical organization (Campbell, Flight 140).
The organization, that is to say, is mythological and three-dimensional – architectural, as it were; and the figures are, for the most part, beautifully alive. We do not find anywhere in this cave art aesthetically conceived signs and abstractions, symmetrically arranged in a closed, geometrically organized two-dimensional aesthetic field – no mandalas or anything of the kind.
[W]e do not find… anything… suggesting the concept of a definitely circumscribed field in which a number of disparate elements are united and fused into one aesthetic whole by a rhythm of beauty. Whereas suddenly, in the period of the high neolithic [4500–3500 BCE] towns, there breaks into view, from a number of centers, an elegant display of the most gracefully and tastefully organized mandalas – in the painted ceramic wares of the so-called Halaf and Samarra styles. (Campbell, Flight 140-41).
Below are polychrome Halaf ware pottery designs, Iraq, 4000 BCE:
The anthropological and inherent psychological associations of cultural change, whereby an earlier hunting age developed into that of a primarily agricultural one, have been arguably assigned the responsibility for the delay in the appearance of the mandala until such a late period in human history.
For, whereas in the camps of the hunters the community was constituted of a group of practically equivalent individuals, each in adequate control of the whole inheritance, in the larger, more greatly differentiated communities that developed when agriculture and stock breeding had made for a settled, more richly articulated social structure, adulthood consisted in acquiring, first, a certain special art or skill, and then, the ability to support or sustain the resultant tension – a psychological and sociological tension – between oneself (as merely a fraction of a larger whole) and others of totally different training, powers, and ideals, who constituted the other necessary organs of the body social.
The problem of existing as a mere fraction instead of as a whole imposes certain stresses on the psyche which no primitive hunter ever had to endure, and consequently the symbols giving structure and support to the development of the primitive hunter’s psychological balance were radically different from those that arose in the settled villages, in Basal [7500–4500 BCE] and the High Neolithic, and which have been inherited from that age and continued into the present by all the high civilizations of the world (Campbell, Flight 144).
Utilizing the symbolic power of the mandala as a therapeutic psychological tool, a technique ostensibly attributed to Jung, became of course for Campbell a mythological one as psychology merely resides (along with a sense of mystical awe, a cosmology that supports that awe, and a sociological framework) as one of the aforementioned four functions of mythology, be it cultural or personal. Traditionally, and perhaps now archaically, the central figure within a mandala was a god whereas now, in the modern form, one might say “that man himself, or at least his innermost soul,” is the “protected inhabitant” within (Campbell, Flight 156). And as Jung declared:
A modern mandala is an involuntary confession of a peculiar mental condition. There is no deity in the mandala, and there is also no submission or reconciliation to a deity. The place of the deity seems to have been taken by the wholeness of man (Campbell, Flight, 156).
To which idea Campbell provides a lucid capstone by way of Paracelsus: “I under God in his office, God under me in mine” (Campbell, Flight,156).
Let us fast-forward in time, so to speak, to today, wherein computer technology allows for sophisticated modeling of otherwise complex 3-D images. Below are two examples of orthogonally projected (three-dimensions represented in two), computer-designed mandalas, which perhaps demonstrate an advantage over more traditional, that is to say, non-computer-generated sculptural mandalas by way of their semi-transparent, spherical nature:
I’m compelled, then, to recall my concerns regarding what, if any, additional informational value is provided by a mandala otherwise rendered in three-dimensions (orthographically or as a sculpture). Intuitively, I find the 3-D images no more compelling than their 2-D counterparts and, moreover, they can arguably be said to obfuscate the cognitive-structuring – the metaphorical power – of the 2-D versions. For example, in the case of the above computer-designed images, if one were to draw the left-hand image flattened orthographically, the image would be rendered aesthetically and metaphorically (mythologically) far less compelling as all the information, so to say, is piled on top of itself (this is a side view):Alternatively, discarding the requirements of orthography and thereby freeing us to unfold, as completely as possible – Picasso-style, if you will – the same image, without regard to any Euclidian correctness, what we “see” into what we “know,” we’d get something spread across the page (the 2-D plane) more or less aesthetically, commensurate with the talent of the artist, with all the information previously imbedded in the 3-D version, as Mr. Z. has said, available all at once. After all, whenever we change our perspective towards a 3-D object – walk around a sculpture for example – we lose as much information in the visual field as we gain (how much cognitive hyper-dimensional accumulation occurs in our heads when we “process” or “map” a 3-D object in this way is another matter).
So, this is at least one indication as to the mythological, metaphorical power (and perhaps cognitive challenge for many of us) of rendering what began as higher-dimensional images into two dimensions. For if we live most often, at least visually, in a 3-D world, we’re indeed missing a great deal of information available to us. The artist, then, when he or she draws, unfolds, more or less compellingly and perhaps unsettlingly, hyper-spherical or hyper-dimensional reality. In the most compelling, unsettling examples, those perhaps functioning more adeptly as holographic entry points or torii gates, we are therefore captured in aesthetic arrest and either released into a kind of expanded wholeness or shattered and forced to look away or psycho-spiritually regroup. I’m reminded of Arjuna’s difficulty, in the Bhagavad Gita, of withstanding the terrifyingly complete, otherwise hyper-dimensional aspect of Krishna; requesting as he did that Krishna mercifully return to his human aspect.
All this only serves to address the predicament of transforming hyper-dimensional space into 2-D of course, still begging the question of why it appears psychologically easier to paint it versus draw it. Is there something in the geometrical or otherwise technical rigor of drawing that compared to all other mediums remains unassuaged?
Regarding impossible objects: it strikes me that while their unsettling nature doesn’t preclude our sort of back and forth apprehension of them, so that we’re capable of existing at least somewhat comfortably within the perceptual paradox they present – allowing both their fact and illusion to exist at once – it indeed can prevent or otherwise hinder our ability to reproduce these images, to draw them. Everyone can “see” and “know” the paradox, but not everyone can reproduce it graphically. There is the talent of an Escher, say, or any other capable artist, to “see” not only what they “know” but what they imagine is the case, what they dream, which in the Escher example is an absurdity. Surrealists often make it their job to capture the nightmarish aspect of contextually absurd scenes – everyone has seen the work of Salvador Dali for example – while others like Escher, considered a graphic artist, accentuated mathematical and, specifically, geometrical, perhaps cognitively conscious dilemmas. Below is Drawing Hands, 1948:
In the end, considering all I’ve discussed, I’m left even more impressed with the cognitive ease with which some artist’s minds transmit to their hands what for many, if not most of us, is an impossibility. What orthographical cognition takes place and then, perhaps just as remarkably, is successfully transmitted to their physiological extremities (hands of course, but some otherwise physically handicapped artists can draw with a pencil in their mouth or between their toes) that does not occur in the non-illustrator? Or are they successfully eliminating information where the non-illustrator cannot? Is drawing what one “sees” a process of elimination or perhaps an ability to segregate two aspects of perception, two aspects of knowledge of the world; two forms of communication? I’m also left fascinated by the magic (for lack of a better word) of two dimensions in general; its ability to absorb and effectively render hyper-dimensional space; of how explanatory it can be; how helpful – psycho-spiritually, psychologically and therefore mythologically – in the form of mandalas, for example, not to mention all other 2-D art. Rather than being made obsolete, so to speak, by three dimensions, 2-D seems as vital as ever to our experience of the world. Why is it for example that people seem to prefer movies – a 2-D experience – over theater (or even over so-called “3-D” movies)? Is there some valuable aspect of “magic” added to the experience in 2-D? How much of the appeal of 2-D is based on contextualization – of selection of perspective, say, on behalf of an artist – and how much is based perhaps on the all-at-once visual field advantage – the immediate optical availability of the information?
Mr. Z. has described the apparently not uncommon attitude amongst his peers (which he admits has been his own default position when he becomes most beleaguered) that art therapy is not, after all, the job of someone teaching a drawing class, and it can of course be argued that so-called psychological therapy of any type should never be the responsibility of anyone outside a doctor’s office. As such, some instructors perhaps work to dismantle the opportunity (which may legitimately be beyond them) to block the vigorous life energies that nevertheless manifest themselves in plain sight. Others may embrace it with an attitude of wholehearted engagement, despite their own admitted lack of professional psychoanalytical expertise and resources, applying at least the sort of determined pluck the situation demands, learning as they go, negotiating pitfalls and the unsettling, unnerving amplitude of adventure presented by the free sea – the mare liberum – the navigable water, open to all nations, both geographically and metaphorically, of the introductory drawing classroom. If its depths are indeed occasionally made richer by tears, then I’m compelled to ask why and how best to address, if not in fact exploit them in each individual case, for it’s clear they’re signs and symptoms (not symbols) of a perhaps astonishingly welcome nature; of the unsettling, dynamically transformative potential of drawing. Instructors, then, may be said to become symbols or tokens themselves: energy-evoking and energy-directing agents more or less successfully navigating the inevitably revelatory experiences, within and without, whenever we deliberately attempt to unfold three-dimensions into two.
A past student of Mr. Z’s, a young mother of four children and of Middle Eastern heritage whom, as not every Westerner can perhaps be expected to understand, was culturally obliged to restrain her emotions in public: “I tried ʻhigh-fivingʼ her once,” admits Mr. Z., “when she made a good drawing and she said she could not do that – she couldn’t show emotion like that.”
I was quite hard on her when she drew – she had a tendency to accept a mediocre drawing or an incorrect drawing, even though I knew she could see it was wrong, which is the first step in learning to draw well: to see what is wrong, not just that it is wrong. So I would sit and make her tell me what was wrong with it, and she would; and then I would tell her to fix it. She would want me to do it (most students are this way) and I would say, “No, you have the ability, now apply it.” Some students simply can’t see it, may never see it, but she did. I always felt I was too hard on her, but as you can see, in the end, she took it as a positive:
The note reads: “Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one…. Thanks for everything you are an amazing teacher.”
Symbolic forms, then, allowed to work on us, allow us to work on ourselves. There are perhaps many tools available to those compelled to tug at the cosmic knot of our personal mythologies, such as they are: mandalas, once the illustrative seat of the gods, have come to serve the orientation of the psyche; impossible objects celebrate the imaginatively absurd and cognitively disconcerting, and ideas of hyper-dimensional space vigorously conflict with the perhaps unholy comfort we so often insist upon projecting onto a universe rife with unsettling contradictions and paradoxes of perception, perspective and interpretation. In the end, we so often get only part of the picture, lacking the imperative, the important, the essential information on how to go about things, how to proceed, what steps to take, what perils to avoid, what battles to engage, what to hold on to and what to let go of. We spend our lives acquiring impossibly insufficient snippets of the story, yet assuming all the while we have exactly enough acumen, enough perspicacity and comprehension, enough data – perhaps by way of our smart phone, internet, television or latest electronic gadget – to get what we want and do what we have to do. Meanwhile our best life waits impatiently in the wings; our veritelos – our true nature – confounds us; what we seek continues to seek us, in vain. Rabindranath Tagore, who in 1913 was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, expressed our dilemma thus: “Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed” (Feuerstein, xxvii).
If drawing has the power to establish awe, to reveal us to ourselves and project us into the world; to take a hammer to our perhaps cracked metaphorical china and reassemble it; to invoke transformative anxieties – unsettlingly enlightening cognitive states – and to evoke unrestrained emotion – fits of tears; to unfold and remold the formidable, formative energies – the mythological magma, so to say, of our humanity, of what it means to address the mystery of life, and helps open us to the experience of being properly alive, of navigating the free sea, then I offer encouragement to those who engage in the craft and art of it and especially to those that bravely sail those classroom ships.
As an inequitable postscript of sorts, the teaching opportunities within two-year colleges, especially for the so-called humanities for whatever reason, often run counter to the improving fortunes of our economy and it’s with a sense of tragic irony I think that Mr. Z., already two-hours into the first day of his most recent class, received notice (ignominiously enough by way of a student who received a text message from some administrator and obligingly handed him her cell phone) that the very course he was teaching that day to eight students had just been cancelled due to insufficient enrollment. There was a woman in that class, a nursing student and non-artist, who’d already suffered a fit of tears while struggling to comprehend the difficulties of linear perspective. Flummoxed, perhaps impatient and otherwise beside herself with anxiety, she had been agonizing over not being able to receive the “A” she apparently needed to continue in her nursing studies. Afterwards, Mr. Z., disappointed and understandably rueful in the face of his cancelled class, also managed a measure of arch resilience when he said, “It’s funny how things work out for some people.” In the end I’m troubled, even unsettled, by the thought of what classes each of those eight students, interrupted as they were exactly at the beginning of their adventure, indeed eventually found themselves attending, by way of substitution, for the remainder of that semester.
 For a more thorough examination of IRMs and CEMs, see the chapter entitled “The Enigma of the Inherited Image” within: Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, Penguin Compass, New York: 1991, pp.30-49. (Originally published 1959, Viking).
 For more on this topic, and by way of reference to the idea of “knowing” versus “seeing,” Mr. Z. cites: Edwards, Betty, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Penguin Group, New York: 2012.
 This is an interesting point on its own and raises the question of what may be said to constitute metaphorical art across different cultures.
 I developed the word “veritelos” by combining the ideas of the Latin veritas, meaning truth, and the Greek telos, meaning, in this context, one’s natural or intuitive goal, so that veritelos is defined as true nature, or one’s true nature. Veritelic space or V-space, then, is the zone within which one’s true nature resides: in a mandala it is the space surrounding a central image and bounded by the circumference of the mandala; it also metaphoric of that same psychological region.
 Affine: of or pertaining to a transformation that maps parallel lines to parallel lines and finite points to finite points. Of note, “affined” is defined as “closely related; obligated.” Which leads of course to “affinitive” and “affinity”: inherent likeness or agreement.” (Random House College Dictionary).
“Affine.” Random House College Dictionary. Rev. ed. 1988.
Campbell, Joseph. The Flight of the Wild Gander. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.
—. The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-1987. Novato: New World Library, 2007.
Carveth, Donald, L. “Metaphor and Psychoanalysis: The Analyst’s Metaphors: A Deconstructionist Perspective,” PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. December 15, 2009, http://www.psyartjournal.com/article/show/l_carveth-metaphor_and_psychoanalysis_the_analysts, 5.5.2014.
Feuerstein, Georg. The Yoga Tradition: It’s History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. Prescott: Hohm Press, 2008.
Frye, Northrop. The Educated Imagination. Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 1963. Print.
Kumar, Nitin. “Mandala – Sacred Geometry in Buddhist Art.” exoticinida.com/article/mandala. September 2000. Web. 9 May 2014.
Kasulis, Thomas, P. Shinto: The Way Home. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2004. Print.
“Teach.” Random House College Dictionary. Rev. ed. 1988. Print.
Wikipedia.org. “Euclidean Space.” 5 May 2014.