Posts Tagged ‘archetype’

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Maiden, Mother, Crone, Not ME!

November 7, 2016

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Dani Mathers, the 29-year-old Playboy model who body-shamed a 70-year-old woman in the LA Fitness gym, has been charged with a crime and could face jail time. While this has been ongoing, and somewhat salacious news for a while now, I recently revisited the case and wanted to share some thoughts.

The caption reads, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either” and the image is seen over and over again as a side-by-side of the 70-year-old-woman and the laughing Mathers.

Traditionally in Mythology, there is the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. The Crone, or old woman, is portrayed as the archetypally as being withered and ugly, but as also being known as a Wise Woman. The Crone is the keeper of secrets and has the wisdom of old age. She is the final stage of the lifecycle and is held in reverence as she is she is associated with destruction, decay, and death.

In contrast, Mathers is not just apart of the Maiden archetype, but as a Playboy model she personifies the Goddess of Love through her beauty, which inspires love and passion. Ideally, the Maiden should represent enchantment, inception, expansion, the promise of new beginnings, birth, and youthful enthusiasm.

What happens with the Goddess of Love laughs at the Crone?

Obviously, there has been a hugely negative reaction from the community. Mathers failure to respect privacy is a social and legal transgression. Mathers thought it would be funny to play the role of a trickster by posting the photo, but found that she in turn, was made the fool.

However, beyond that, Mathers has also failed to understand the power of archetypes. She states, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either,” but clearly she isn’t really seeing what she is capturing. For whatever reason, the image portrays the message that Mathers thinks she is immune from becoming a Crone. Apparently she is truly a Goddess, blessed with eternal good looks and desirability. The sensuality and beauty that Mathers depicts is the other side of coin from the wisdom and maturity that of the Crone.

I think we all have a bit of Mathers in us and that is part of the horror that we feel toward this story. We would love to laugh at the Crone and say “hahahaha, not me!” But at the end of the day, that old woman is definitely going to get in the last word.

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Île de la Cité

April 19, 2015

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The city surrounds the island, the flow of the two rivers breaks the urbanscape of buildings and the crush of industry is composed of cars, families, machines. The island itself is the same. Surrounded by water, the buildings push against the limits of land and reach toward the opposing shore. Within these labyrinths of survival, we find that what is within the island is also without. One is the shadow of the other, refractions of light revealing lines on the portrait of civilization. But it is not the similiarities that engage us to cross these boundaries. It is the distance. The break that separates the one from the mass. The experience of the bridge that either prefaces the experience of one, an island alone in itself, or the one, whole, together, with all.

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The Symbolic Function of Color in the Art of Joan Miró

June 8, 2011

The symbolic vocabulary of color has many different languages. These languages allow the voyeur to understand their experience of art and the world within a variety of contexts. Color is a vocabulary of communication as well as a process of creating. It can be understood through techniques of degree, but also articulated as modes of emotion in the lexicon of psychology. The relationship between color and symbol is particularly strong in the work of Joan Miró.

The question of how to interpret art, literature, music, politics, and basically everything is one that has been postulated, revised, and argued for millennia. Strategies focusing on form, content, source, and context are all relevant and successful methods for extrapolating meaning from experience and creation. There is interpretation that happens on a personal level and works within the context of an individual’s unique world of perspective, and then there is interpretation that is formulated in an aesthetic vocabulary that interacts with critical conversations taking place within a larger community. Though different in their origin, both personal and critical processes begin from a point of engaged response. The piece of art must create a unique experience. How this experience is interpreted within a given context becomes the grand debate.

The discussion of art on a personal level is directly connected to the therapeutic arts and may often be a guided strategy. The inner world of the individual is projected onto an external object to reveal metaphors that are challenging the development or health of the psyche. Once externalized the collective symbology of the art may be researched, concretizing internal abstract concepts into a visual vocabulary. While this description is brief and reductionary, the process is intended to be organic and address both personal experiences and archetypal dynamics. Symbols contain both personal and collective meaning, or relevance.

In contrast, a critical or aesthetic discussion of art focuses on an understanding of that those participating in the conversation have an understanding of what has been said in the past, how it has been said, and why it was or is no longer relevant. Critical interpretation accesses jargon specific to the medium, within the realms of both technique and content. Symbolism that is found in archetypes, geometry, color, and numerology all play a role within formal interpretations. In his book, Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary, Terry Bennett summarizes the principles of interpretation. These principles our listed below, however central to the action of interpretation is that the piece of art demands an interpretation and that feelings are the guide. Whether the feelings are understood as a collective or personal analytical process depends on the forum.

This relationship between feeling, interpretation, and symbolism is particularly visible in the art of Catalan artist Joan Miró. Born in 1893 Barcelona, Miró was a part of the surrealist and Spanish Civil War Parisian ex-patriot communities. However, while his work has often been interpreted as Surrealism, he resisted being defined as a Surrealist artist. His objective was to “assassinate art” or to break from the historical interpretation of what art is, or should be. Being labeled as a Surrealist would work would limit his ability to explore new territory, methods, and forms of expression.

While Miró resists categorical interpretation, throughout his work he asks questions. These questions take the form of color and technique and meditate on what the symbol has to say within a set amount of space. Specifically, Miró worked with strategies such as automatic drawing (where the hand is allowed to move freely as an extension of the unconscious), Surrealism (which philosophically strove to reveal authentic thought through juxtaposing unexpected symbols and forms), Expressionism (which applies emotional subjectivity to evoke moods or ideas), and Color Field Painting (that meditated on combinations, and or fields of color symbology). While each of these methods is accompanied and motivated by methods of critical thought, Miró’s resistance to one mode of exposition is consistent.

Which leads us to ask, just how does Miró want his body of art to be understood?

If we take away interpretation, what is left? Experience. What is the experience of viewing Miró’s art? Does this experience change? How can this experience remain active? How does one assassinate this historical concept of art? By striving to avoid classification, and by engaging the imagination.

Personnage EtoileFor example, what is the experience of viewing his 1978 painting “Personnage Etoile”? In English the title is translated as Star Person, or Star Character. On an abstract textured field of bright sky blue, minimalistic symbols work together and disjointedly to engage the imagination. Circle, star, curve, red, yellow, what is the message? Is the blue the color of the Madonna? Does it relate to Haitian Santeria, or is it inspired by the expansive Mediterranean beyond the walls of Miró’s studio? In his theory of Deconstruction, Derrida argues that the experience of deconstruction is as if, while following the inward curve of a fixed point toward a center, we suddenly find that the center has moved elsewhere. The spiral is destabilized and the interpretation is disoriented. Likewise, the experience of Miró’s “Personnage Etoile” provides just enough information to stimulate the process of interpretation, but the same stimulation resists conclusions and continues to evoke questions.

Through the interpretive resistance of Miró’s artwork we are better able to witness our own processes of interpretation for what they are, reflections and projections of who we are—internally and as a community. And what we find is that who we are is just as unresolved as the image that we meditate upon.

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Barrett’s Principles of Interpretation:

  • Artworks have “aboutness” and demand interpretation.
  • Interpretations are persuasive arguments.
  • Some interpretations are better than others.
  • Good interpretations of art tell about the critic.
  • Feelings are guides to interpretations.
  • There can be different, competing, and contradictory interpretations of the same work.
  • Interpretations are often based on a worldview.
  • Interpretations are not so much absolutely right, but more or less reasonable, convincing, enlightening, and informative.
  • Interpretations can be judged by coherence, correspondence, and inclusiveness.
  • An artwork is not necessarily about what the artist wanted it to be about.
  • A critic ought not to be the spokesperson for the artist.
  • Interpretations ought to present the work in its best rather than its weakest light.
  • The objects of interpretation are artworks, not artists.
  • All art is in part about the world in which it emerged.
  • All art is in part about other art.
  • No single interpretation is exhaustive of the meaning of an artwork.
  • The meanings of an artwork may be different from its significance to the viewer.
  • Interpretation is ultimately a communal endeavor, and the community is ultimately self-corrective.
  • Good interpretations invite us to see for ourselves and to continue on our own.

Barrett, T. (1994). Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company

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La Luz y El Campanero: Symbolism in 1925 Burgos, Spain

June 7, 2011

 “ In the fields with which we are concerned,

knowledge comes only in lightning flashes.

The text is the long roll of thunder that follows.”

[On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress]

Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project

The above photograph was taken from the bell tower in Burgos, Spain in 1925. This photo was included in a photo retrospective on Castilla Leon, published in the Spanish periodical El Pais, June 7, 2011 . In Spanish the bell tower is called el campenar and the bell-ringer is el campanero. Throughout Spain, bell towers are found in the central part of each town and city. While graphically striking, this photo also has strong symbolic meaning.

In the picture you see the inside of the bell tower. A man is actively ringing one of the bells and gazing into what is being illuminated beyond the interior walls of the tower. An additional bell makes up part of the window frame directly facing the photographer. Through this window the outline of the grand gothic cathedral of Burgos is clearly visible.

Traditionally, a tower is a symbol of hope and freedom. Throughout history, the tallest building within a community is also the most important. Originally, the church, or spiritual house, held this position. Then the government, or political power, strategically moved higher. Now, the economic skyscrapers reign from on high. One can easily imagine how hope and freedom has been executed and disillusioned by each institution. Ranging from existentialism, to corruption, and the sustainability challenges of consumerism that now define capitalism.

However, in this photograph, we find that the church is still the central tower within the community. Symbolically a tower represents high hopes and aspiration. It strives to connect the earthly with the heavens. The individual who is looking out from the tower prevails over the environment below with a sense of superiority. However, in this image, the environment within the tower is dirty and broken, the face of El Campanero is not turned downward, rather outward, suggesting an alternative reading. To hear a bell, which is certainly a signified by the picture, represents a warning, or a call to order. It can also be the beginning of something new, both literally and figuratively as a method of the unconscious to prepare for the future. Finally, the symbolism of seeing the outside of a church denotes sacredness and spiritual nourishment. The church is equated with the things you revere and your value system.

While the initial instinctual response to viewing this photograph is positive, understanding the symbolic relationships reinforces this impression. Inside the tower of hope and freedom and man rings the bells as a call of attention to the future. El Campanero does not look downward in superiority, rather his face is fully illuminated and looks outward, slightly smiling into the intensity of the light. The church in the background reinforces the overwhelming feeling of optimism. However, the hope that is being discovered in the sound, light, and squalor of the bell tower is directly juxtaposition with the distanced splendor of the church. In this image, the light that captivates the ringer of the bells asserts a greater authority.

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Man Ray: Nude Dialectics

June 7, 2011

The Dada movement was founded on anti-war politics and was a direct response to the established standards and manifested these ideas by responding to accepted concepts of art with the creation of anti-art cultural works. The goal was to reveal meaning it what was being discarded as meaningless in the modern world.

Continuing after WWI, Surrealism evolved from original Dada manifestation. Defined by Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, Surrealism is:

Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.

The concept of Surrealism was explored in photography, art, film, literature, music, and continually addressed the question of what is conscious and unconscious, often with strong socio-political themes. Deconstruction and Post-Modernism are descendents from Dada and Surrealist thought.

Writing in the 19th century, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a philosopher whose approach has been critical to the course of 20th century thought. Hegel asserted that there is an original argument, a Thesis. This Thesis automatically generates an opposing argument, the |Antithesis. The interaction between Thesis and Antithesis bring forth a third, and new idea called the Synthesis. Furthermore, the foundation for Hegelian Dialectics is developed from four concepts:

  1. Everything is transient and finite, existing in the medium of time.
  2. Everything is composed of contradictions (opposing forces).
  3. Gradual changes lead to crises, turning points when one overcomes its opponent force (quantitative change leads to qualitative change).
  4. Change is helical (spiral), not circular (negation of the negation).

Dialectical reasoning has been a central strategy for communicating philosophical challenges since it’s conception. As a written strategy, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis are a familiar framework for essays. Likewise, there are reverberations in art, literature, music, etc.

However, just as the structure of Dialectics argues for an antithesis, so is there a counter-response to this approach. Though acutely articulated in Derrida’s theory of Deconstruction and in the Post-Modern exploration of film and literature, there is a unique space in the early twentieth century where the conception of an antithesis to Dialectics is being visualized adjacent to it’s origin.

Photographer Man Ray was born in Philadelphia in 1890. Arriving in Paris between WWI and WWII, Man Ray was a central figure in the practice and philosophy of Surrealism. Central to the socio-political experience of Europe during this period is the question of how to live in a world after the devastation of war. Not only the destruction of infrastructures, but the knowledge that that destruction was generated and enabled by the continental communities. The horrors of war could not withstand cultural boundaries. All types of hell were made possible by the hands of man.

First Dada and then Surrealism emerged as expressionist responses to this new psychological realization. Dada is a Dialectical response to being the anti-war to war, and the anti-art to traditional art. The emphasis on automatism in Surrealism opens the discussion to both cultural and personal exploration. Automatism is defined as the performance of actions without conscious thought or intention. If war is the strategic plan to conquer, divide, and/or destroy, than surrealism is the unconscious response. But, unlike Dada, this response is not obviously anti-war (or peace). Though consciousness and unconsciousness are practically a dialectic opposition, their content does not necessarily follow the same rules. What is found in the unconscious may be better explored through the process of Dialectics, but it resists definition, categorization, or compartmentalization.

A visual example of this is seen in Man Ray’s photographs “Le nu en photographie,” or “Two Nudes” composed in 19 37. In this image we see two nudes, one facing the viewer the other with her back to the audience looking into the distance. The portraits are not mirror images, but the juxtaposition of a light and dark background establish that the images are linked, representing united, but contrasting concepts. Black is the antithesis to white and vice versa. Put them together and the visual contrast creates an experience that is not achieved when viewed separately.

Likewise, one nude faces forward, the other showing her back. This is another example inviting a Dialectic comparison. Though, here is where it becomes clear that this strategy is being intentionally broken. While the black-white backgrounds and poses lead the interpreter toward their familiar Thesis, there are several factors that disorient this process. Almost mirror images of each other, the differences in poses convey different messages. The lighted nude faces forward, intimately meeting the eyes of her audience; Her arm is raised to reveal her breasts and the curve of her figure. She is fully conscious of her physicality and allurement. The second nude shows her back to the viewer and looks into the darkness. Her figure is highlighted, but it is not being displayed for an audience. Both arms are lowered and her focus is unknown.

A simple interpretation would read this as the lighted nude represents what is conscious and the darkened nude is the unconscious. However, Man Ray’s technique of inducing photographic polarities deconstructs the obvious. The light nude is highlighted in black; the black nude is highlighted in white. Each nude displays characteristics of the unconscious and conscious. The direct sexuality of the first is generated in the primal ID, clearly nestled in the unconscious. The reflective gaze into darkness implies active cognition. Though the initial invitation is to define each woman as being black or white, conscious and unconscious, this Dialectic interpretation is destabilized the more one participates in the portraits as a conversation between opposites. The more one tries to define the images—both technically and symbolically, the more impossible it becomes to reduce the images to a single narrative.

Man Ray’s photograph, “Le nu en photographie” (“Two Nudes”), is an example of how Dada and Surrealism struggled with the strictures of Dialectic thought in the 20th century. It is an exemplification of an experience that is both defined by opposites and irreconcilable to being pruned into familiar and rational forms.

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Modern Fairy Tales: Archetype vs. Stereotype

June 19, 2009

Since 1923 The Walt Disney Company has been making animated films, building theme parks, and accessing all other forms of entertainment. Much of the Disney Company’s box office success has come from their re-visioning of fairytales into animated events. Typical childhood memories include Disney’s renditions of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, and many others. Marie Louis Von Franz describes the position of fairy tales in society in the following statement from The Feminine in Fairy Tales:

Fairy tales express the creative fantasies of the rural and less educated layers of the population. They have the great advantage of being naïve (not “literary”) and of having been worked out in collective groups, with the result that they contain purely archetypal material unobscured by personal problems (1).

In short, Fairy Tales are organically grown with the creative material of a collective group. Though immensely popular, The Disney Company has also been subject to continued criticism by a variety of interest groups. From religion to gender, sexuality to animal rights, and pro-life to racism, Disney has been accused of promoting an agenda beyond simply making a profit.  Von Franz continues on to state:

Until about the seventeenth century, it was the adult population that was interested in fairy tales. Their allocation to the nursery is a late development, which probably has to do with the rejection of the irrational, and development of the rational outlook, so that they came to be regarded as nonsense and old wives’ tales and good enough for children (1).

Von Franz’ statement helps to clarify why so many parties other than children are interested in discussing, interacting, and engaging with the fairy tales depicted by the Disney Company. According to a recent New York Times article, “Her Prince Has Come. Critics, Too” written by Brooks Barnes, the latest Disney film is being received and questioned by the American public. Specifically, the article reveals and questions the hidden narratives and unconscious motives of both creator and audience, and how von Franz’ structural method of reading fairy tales can re-orient the imagination in new mythic and psychological ways.

“The Princess and the Frog” is due to be released in December 2009 and may be one of the studios’ last hand-drawn animated films since the company’s acquisition of Pixar in 2006.The basic plot of the film is described by ImDb as follows:

A fairy tale set in Jazz Age-era New Orleans and centered on young Princess Tiana, a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again, and a fateful kiss that leads them both on an adventure through the bayous of Louisiana. (ImDb)

Princess Tiana is Disney’s first African-American princess to grace the royal Disney court. Her suitor, Prince Naveen “hails from the fictional land of Maldonia and is voiced by a Brazilian actor; Disney says that he is not white.”  The film is being celebrated by some for its return to classic animation,  plurality of races, and imaginative use of classic fairy tales. One African-American mother applauds Disney’s efforts to add diversity, “I don’t know how important having a black princess is to little girls—my daughter loves Ariel and I see nothing wrong with that—but I think it’s important to moms.”  However, the film is also being severely criticized. In her article, Barnes interviewed a number of people regarding the film’s reception and shares their concerns with her readers, “Disney obviously doesn’t think a black man is worthy of the title of prince,” “The princess’ story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community,” and “We finally get a black princess and she spends the majority of her time on screen as a frog.”  Disney executives respond to this criticism by stating that “people should stop jumping to conclusions about [the film]. In regard to the development of the film, characters and plot one writer states “that the idea for a black princess came about organically. The producers wanted to create a fairy tale set in the US and centered on New Orleans, with its colorful past and deep musical history. ‘As we spent time in New Orleans, we realized how truly it is a melting pot, which is how the idea of strongly multicultural characters came about.’”

The critical debate that is surrounding “The Princess and the Frog” reveals that the issue of race, mixed races, and class are issues with which Disney viewers are engaged. Over the years Disney has been accused of perpetuating stereotypes, and it is currently argued that this film is continuing to do so. Which leads us to ask, what is the difference between a stereotype and an archetype? A stereotype is defined as a “widely held but fixed and over-simplified image of a particular type of person or thing.”  In Interpretation of Fairy Tale,s Von Franz explains that fairy tales “represent the archetypes in their simplest, barest and most concise form. In this pure form, the archetypal images afford us the best clues to the understanding of the processes going on in the collective psyche” (1). Clearly, it is the perception of the receiver that recognizes an archetype rather than a stereotype. Disney’s ability to become successful has been in its ability to negotiate the boundary between fairy tale as archetypal art, and bigotry. The question is whether it will be able to continue to do so within the current cultural climate.

In her books, von Franz outlines her psychological method of re-orienting the imagination in new ways in order to perceive a phenomenon in a more mythically attuned manner, rather than in a purely reactionary one. She explains that there are many different ways of looking at a fairy tale including literally, ethnically, archeologically, mythologically, and historically. However, she also adds that, “If you start with the world tree, you can easily prove that every mythological motif leads to the world tree in the end” (7). Likewise, if you begin to look at the new Disney film for signs of racism, sexism, or class-ism, then you will find support for your argument. By doing so “you just get lost in the chaos of interconnections and overlapping of meanings which all archetypal images have with one another.” To avoid the chaos, confusion, and deterioration of seeing, von Franz suggests looking at the fairy tale through the four functions of consciousness, thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. By developing these four perspectives, interpretation becomes more engaging and colorful (11).  In reading the criticism and counter-criticism of  “The Frog and the Princess,” it is clear that while the creators were using an intellectual or thinking lens, many African-Americans are responding from a feeling perspective and creating a hierarchy of values. An additional complication for the existing interpretations is that only a short preview of the movie exists. This preview could be considered a sensate interpretation in that it just looks at the symbols of the film and amplifies them into a generalized conception of plot, conflict, and personified ideas. For the film to be a success, it must be viewed as a whole and interpreted intuitively by synthesizing all the different perspectives. If the writers and producers did their job well, then there will be substantial content to sustain a plethora of perspectives. If they did not do their job thoroughly, then the film will tend toward stereotypes and succumb to criticism.

© 2009 Cerena Ceaser

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Volver: A Return to Memory

May 23, 2009

 

 

Volver

Director Pedro Almodóvar portrays a pantheon of archetypal female persona in his 2006 film, Volver. From Spanish, volver means ‘to return’ and can be used in both literal and figurative contexts—the physical return to a place, or a metaphoric return to experience. Located in modern day Spain, the film shares its time frame between suburban Madrid and a rural village of the La Mancha region. La Mancha is famously recognized from Miguel de Cervantes’ classic tale, Don Quixote. Though chronologically centered in modern times, the reality of the La Manchan village is immediately identified as being a liminal, or threshold between what is present and what has passed. It is important to clarify, that though Almodóvar uses cinematic and narrative techniques to convey the innate ‘otherness’ of the village, he did so not as a false construction, but as an amplification of what is already present in rural Spain. Specifically, La Mancha is characterized as being a place of fantasy and insanity, the film elaborating on the strong winds that bring fire and lunacy. In contrast, life on the edges of Madrid is characterized by stark urbanization and the necessity of hard work. In both locations, loneliness is a familiar neighbor. The film centers around the relationship of five women and their challenge to return to memories that they prefer to keep repressed. Central to their struggles is the relationship to the Mother and to Death: the womb and the tomb.

The various layers of mystery, memory, and wounding present in the film are more clearly understood through the perspective of psychological structures and persona described in Archetypal Psychology, specifically through the personification of Athena, Hera, and Demeter. Personification “implies a human being who creates Gods in human likeness much as an author creates characters out of his own personality. These Gods depict his own needs; they are his projections” (Hillman 12). Hillman compares the process of creating God-images to the authorial process of character development. In both instances, the personification is a projection of the author. Understanding that personification reflects aspects of a personality and is also a creative process is important. In Virginia Apperson and Jon Beebe’s upcoming book The Presence of the Feminine in Film, the authors describe the relationship between cinema and analyst in the following way: “The film director’s job is to tell a compelling, captivating and credible tale. The Jungian analyst’s job is to tap into the archetypal possibilities that lie within their analysands’ dreams and neurotic symptoms, helping them discover that which blocks them and that which will lead them into a more meaningful existence.” The tool of both the cinematographer and the analyst are found in archetypes. Apperson and Beebe explain:

With a shared reverence for image, the movie director and Jungian analyst carry a confidence that this instrument that they most rely upon, the archetypal image, ‘is a living, organic entity which acts as a releaser and transformer of psychic energy’ (Edinger 1972, 109). Without the symbolic possibilities found in the many layers behind the image, neither could do their job. Without the vitality of the symbolic, there would be no growth, no dynamism, no effective movement, no transformation, and no redemption. (Apperson and Beebe, Publishers Preface)

Archetype becomes the metaphoric palette for both the artist and the healer. As with any creation, it is important to clarify from the beginning of this analysis that the intention of the exploration is not to reduce the plot to a single argument; rather, it is to acknowledge that the very nature of femininity is to resist absolute definitions, to allow for each woman hold her own pantheon of goddess within her psyche, and to inspire future explorations. [Excerpt from Larger Piece]

© 2009 Cerena Ceaser