Spirit in Man, Art, & Literature
We have talked so much about the meaning of works of art that one can hardly suppress a doubt as to whether art really “means” anything at all.
Perhaps art has no “meaning,” at least not as we understand meaning.
Perhaps it is like nature, which simply is and “means” nothing beyond that. Is “meaning” necessarily more than mere interpretation—an interpretation secreted into something by an intellect hungry for meaning?
Art, it has been said, is beauty, and “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
It needs no meaning, for meaning has nothing to do with art. Within the sphere of art, I must accept the truth of this statement.
But when I speak of the relation of psychology to art we are outside its sphere, and it is impossible for us not to speculate.
We must interpret, we must find meanings in things, otherwise we would be quite unable to think about them.
We have to break down life and events, which are self-contained processes, into meanings, images, concepts, well knowing that in doing so we are getting further away from the living mystery.
As long as we ourselves are caught up in the process of creation, we neither see nor understand; indeed we ought not to understand, for
nothing is more injurious to immediate experience than cognition.
But for the purpose of cognitive understanding we must detach ourselves from the creative process and look at it from
the outside; only then does it become an image that expresses what we are bound to call “meaning.”
What was a mere phenomenon before becomes something that in association with other phenomena has meaning, that has a definite role to play, serves certain ends, and exerts meaningful effects.
And when we have seen all this we get the feeling of having understood and explained something. In this way we meet the demands of science.
~Carl Jung, CW 15, Para 121