Can You Hear It?

Oct 7, 2009
Vincent Van Gogh (1854 1890)
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As Rashin mentioned, we recently interviewed Dr. Allen Bishop, who is one of our professors at Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as a musician.  Further in the interview (from what is written in Rashin’s post last week), we discussed the archetypal qualities of music.  By using the term archetypal in this way, we’re talking about things are universal in human experience- not only across cultures, but also across time.  Jung used the archetype term to describe a pattern of human experience that is consistent.  For example, there are some events like love, loss, birth, death that we all experience at some point.  When we experience these events, we feel a connection to a larger human realm.  For example, new mothers often report a feeling of being connected to all mothers, to motherhood, to the Great Mother, Mother Earth, etc.  In Jungian psychology, we call this the mother archetype and regardless of gender, each human will typically have an experience of it.

With Dr. Bishop we discussed how music can be a form of an invitation to that archetypal, mysterious experience that somehow invokes a desire for connection, and yet it is difficult to articulate why this is so.  We discussed how in making music, composers create a gateway to this experience.  In our discussion we started talking about those pieces of music that transcend time, and wondering about the composers who created them.
I asked him, “Do you think they are consciously creating an archetypally relevant piece at the time, or is that just what happens afterward?”

Dr. Bishop replied, “I imagine and do recall in my studies that Beethoven suggested he was aware of the muse and the call and the import of what he had to bear to the world in terms of art. He fought against dying until he could give all that he had to give. So what we are saying here is I think some artists and composers really do think about it as well and actually know they are part of a bigger experience.”

Brenda: “The reason I asked is that what you are describing, in terms of transcending time, does also apply to some other works of art like Van Gogh’s paintings, and Dante’s Inferno, for example.  I am pretty sure Dante wrote at the loss of a woman, and he just happened to hit on transcendental, archetypal experience because, in my opinion, he allowed himself to feel himself so deeply.  Van Gogh also lost love.  In his lifetime he only sold one painting, so perhaps he didn’t feel the impact of the legacy he created. I wonder if there’s something different about musicians than other artists where they are more cognizant of their impact.

Dr. Bishop: “I would have to say it’s hard for me to imagine a person who would paint or compose, who wasn’t aware of some special experience for which they are the medium. They’re not naïve, but there’s a tremendous seriousness. Beethoven, for example, was a very serious soul. He took his art as kind of a mission and would stomp out of prince’s homes and castles if that seriousness of purpose and respect was at all toyed with. So I think the great artists do bring that to it. My feeling is they are aware of being the vehicle for something very special. Not that they could completely explain it, but they know this is what’s happening.”

And so I ask you, do you agree that great artists know their potential impact, or hear a calling to create something that will transcend time?  What about you, have you heard such a calling?  What things are you willing to take seriously, so seriously that you consider them your mission?

Note:  I originally published this post on on April 9, 2009.

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