Patrick Weiler April 26th, 2013 02:56 AM

Neurotic Behavior
I read your salon and a few ideas come to mind. Basic geometric designs are universal: the square; the circle; the triangle; the oval. Combinations of these will produce stars, rectangles, polygons and more. There is nothing mystical, psychological or symbolic in these shapes. They are the basic building blocks of artistic expression and occur in nature. I would be surprised if someone came up with a novel shape, but I am not mystified by any of the common versions of these basic shapes.

Turning these universal conformations into representations of animal, vegetable, mineral and metaphysical figures does not mean artists are channeling " the "collective subconscious". It only means that they are using geometric patterns to represent reality.

Anyone can decide to use a specific design to represent a deeper meaning. A circle could represent the sun. Two superimposed triangles can represent a star. A $ can represent money.

The conclusion that these basic geometric designs can subconsciously represent archetypes is unfounded. The transformation of a symbol into a cultural archetype is a conscious determination which then is passed on to the existing culture. Only then does it "take on a life of its own". One example is the swastika. It had been used for centuries in India.

Wikipedia: a tantric symbol to evoke shakti or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness. The word "swastika" comes from the Sanskrit svastika - "su" meaning "good" or "auspicious," "asti" meaning "to be," and "ka" as a suffix. The swastika literally means "to be good". Or another translation can be made: "swa" is "higher self", "asti" meaning "being", and "ka" as a suffix, so the translation can be interpreted as "being with higher self".

A later culture co-opted this symbol and it now has a more base meaning.

If the Jungian position that this symbol is archetypical is correct, then both cultures would have invested it with the identical meaning.

The argument that "most mythological tales can be reduced to something like a "monomyth" that bears great similarities to the Jungian idea of individuation" is not necessarily incorrect. The belief that the symbols which characterize these "monomyths" are psychological archetypes cannot be substantiated. In my opinion, someone decided to use a design as a symbol and this is how they became synonymous with subsequent cultural traditions.
Some symbols are so directly related to their representations as to be universal, such as the sun or moon being a circle and a wave being, well, a wave, but assigning an "archetype" to these basic, visual representations is not the same as assigning more complex geometric designs a non-related yet specific meaning.

As to the rug you posted, coming up with 12 associations, while simultaneously keeping the subconscious archetype issue in mind, will be a rather complex task.
Patrick Weiler

Horst Nitz April 27th, 2013 01:37 AM

Hi Patrick,

what prompted you to title this thread 'Neurotic Behavior' ? It doesn't become clear in the unfolding of your argument.



Benjamin Tholen April 27th, 2013 04:43 AM

Sign vs Symbol
Dear Patrick,

I will try to address the issues from your post step by step, statring with the easiest, the last: you donīt have to or even should NOT keep the idea of archetypes in your mind when writing down your associations! your mind should be as unbothered by any kind of systematic thoughts as possible, however to achive that state is up to you;)

Regarding your example of the swastika, this is exatly what young means when making the diffrence between a sign and symbol (in his terminology, that my article is based on of course!): A meaning conciously assigned to a motif is a sign, the symbolic meaning is not identical with that! That is why in fact the swastica is a very good example! Its conciously assigned meaning may differ greatly from its symbolic meaning...
lets assume that the swastika on an archetypical level represents something like a "turning wheel of life" the dynamic movement of life and death in a centred universe (my attempt to define something that may come close to jungian interpretation of this) this idea may still be unconciously present even if the sign is used as an emblem by the nazis and subsequently gains new meanings - conciusly and unconciously. So: sure, both cultures could have used that implication, even if the role they played in world history may be very diffrent to say the least.

Now to the most difficult part of your positing (difficult for me to reply to):

In the beginning you say, that there is nothing "mystical, psychological or symbolic" to, for example, the shape of a square that is simply used by the artist to "represent reality".
Well, first off all, there is nothing "mystical" to psychology or even symbols, at least not in the common sense of the word, why I believe that combining these terms suggests something that I have to disagree with.

Lets return to the idea of geometric shapes "simply" being "used" to represent reality.
Sure, but does "used" always mean a concious process and what "reality" are we speaking of in - for example- an expressionist painting?
And why the need to decorate at all?

To "objetivley" represent the "reality" of landscape so that a another person may find the next pub, or to give an impression of an inner landsacpe, an inner reality so that the aritst may be "undestood" or share a feeling an idea about something in life?

There is a substantial diffrence in whether I draw a square or a triangle, not because one is better suitable to represent a table and the other a mountain, but also because they root in diffrent psychological impulses, they represent diffrent emotions and elements of life, may be as basic as "in balance, static" vs. "in motion"

I think your questions are right but you use them to suggest the opposite of what I believe is true:
Nearly every human action that I can think of has a "psychology" behind it, wheter we are aware of it or not: a smile, afrown, a clap of the hands and so on - and in a very basic way these actions are symbols, used to represent a reality, an inner reality. (and it ist important here that a "true" smile in opposite to a "fake" one, is something that appears on our lips before we are even aware of it)

So I have to admit that I am not sure wether I would see an archetype (in the strict term of Jungs relating to the process of individuation) wihtin every motif within a rug, but I think that the square and the circle (that in a pure form are actually rarely ever seen in "nature" at least with bare eyes) are not only buliding blocks used to represent an outer "reality", but that they do represent psychological impulses, thoughts, feelings, ideas on a very basic level and most often represent elements of an inner reality that they stand for - are symbols for.

May be we should really go back to the question, why people decorate (a textile) at all? The term "purely decorative" may be actually misleading.
Where does that need come from, to take all the effort of dyeing the wool, knotting a pattern and so on, on a very basic level, even before social status and signs of cultural identity?

best regards


Patrick Weiler April 27th, 2013 06:53 PM

Subconsciously neurotic behavior?

I copied the term "neurotic behavior" from the salon:
"Trying to discover the symbolic meaning of a certain motif or its impact on different recipients might require methods similar to those used in psychoanalytic work when trying to make the individual aware of suppressed emotions and ideas that cause a neurotic behavior."

The topic of the salon is not to determine the cause of our neurotic behavior, but whether or not the motifs in our neurotically-collected rugs embody or contain archetypal symbolism. This seems like a separate question from the usual issue of "what is the origin of these symbols".

As for "neurotic behavior" it is no longer a term being used in The American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Wikipedia: "The disorders once classified as neuroses are now considered anxiety disorders. These changes to the DSM have been controversial."

I suppose what we have would now be considered Rug Anxiety Disorder, or RAD. This terminology change may have the effect of popularizing rug collecting by younger folks!

Benjamin asks why people decorate a textile at all. That topic would seem to be more closely related to genetics than psychiatry. The people we see as being more naturally attractive are going to be more successful in mating and procreation. In nature this beauty is, in the case of people, in their hair, height, body type, health, age, coloring etc. With materials at hand to embellish our appearance, we have modified ourselves to be more attractive. We use suntans, lipstick, "decorated" clothing, hair styling and coloring, facial hair (or not), plastic surgery, good food and exercise to maintain and improve our appearance. We decorate our habitations to be more attractive to ourselves and to others. This creates a feedback loop whereby people artificially improving their appearance and surroundings are more successful, thereby breeding more preening, petulant pop stars whose genetic makeup includes a need to decorate, embellish, beautify and improve upon their surroundings.

There is the psychiatric aspect of what subconsciously makes certain aspects of appearance more attractive, as opposed to the culturally-created aspects of attractiveness which may not be universal. I am speaking of non-universally-attractive things such as Chinese foot-binding or the neighbors of the Flathead Indians who wrapped the heads of babies to make them more conical.
From Wikipedia:
"Despite their name, the Flatheads do not, and never did, have flat heads. This paradoxical statement is explained by the fact that the Indians of the Columbia region, most of whom formerly compressed the head by artificial means, considered their own (modified) heads as pointed, and contemptuously applied the term 'flat-heads' to their neighbors in the mountains, who had not the custom, but allowed the skull to retain its natural shape.
The early (American) travelers adopted the name without understanding the reason of its application, and thus it came that the one tribe which despised the practice was supposed to be above all others addicted to it."

There may be subliminal (sensory stimuli below an individual's threshold for conscious perception), psychological, cultural and genetic influences in our appreciation and interpretation of decorative motifs. The ability of psychiatric testing for these interpretations, from Jung to the field of Pattern Recognition to Rorsach tests, to conclusively reveal underlying, subjective archetypal symbolism would be controversial at best. And there is no way to go back in time to the origin of these symbols to ask the artists what they intended to convey.

Patrick Weiler

Benjamin Tholen April 28th, 2013 04:50 AM

The sexiness of rugs

while I of course like the idea that rugs are sexy, I am not sure if being more attractive to possible sexual partners is the only, or even the main reason for creating the motifs and patterns we find on them.

Another approach: Do you believe that rugs are (or can be) art and if so, is attracting sexual partners the only motivation to create artworks? If not, what other needs are satisfied here?

I would want to draw the comparison to a religious painting. Certainly such a painting may be used to show off social satus and wealth to enhance the attractiveness of the owner on a secondary level, but before this and during the process of its creation, there may be other issues that are addressed.
Now, while some of the shapes and colors in the painting may be directly sexually arrousing, the concept of "beauty", wich for now I would translate as creating a pleasant emotion, would just lead us on to the question, where these emotions come from and what needs are satisfied here or brought into a harmonic/beautifull state of balance?

Lets put it diffrently: I would suggest that decorated textiles came into being as part of religious practice. Now as sex is a driving force in life, it is of course an important issue in religion (no matter how directly it is expressed or even repressed) but others (like death) are involved too and the attraction of possible sexual partners is probably not the main or only reason to perform religious actions. (unless we mean a very basic level on wich due to freudian theory most actions have an unconcious sexual aspect or motivation to it)

So to me the question why people create decorated textiles leads back to the question why people develop relgious beliefsystems and rituals?
Now one usual answer is: to explain the things in life to themselfs that they do not understand, but this only adresses the rational part of it (wich may not have been the initial one, as suggested by jung in his research on african tribal rituals that I mentioned in the original post).

More generally I would say - to cope with important and stressfull situations in life (birth, death, mating) and, very importantly: to get a grip on their fears. Wich is where we are back to the anxiety issue and to your original title: neurotic behaviour ;)

Letīs just think about all the motivs in rugs that even nowadays are described to us as "protective" symbols! Now while a "scorpion" motif on a rug may not actually scare off the scorpion, it helps to "ban" the fear of the scorpion as an actual thread, but also as a symbol for more general fears (death). A bit vaguely expressed: by creating an outside manifestation (a picture) of an inside fear people try to get a grip on it -> say its name to ban the demon!

Yet, fears are only one aspect of religion. Due to Jung Demons, gods and ghosts are projections of what is inside the human psyche into an external idea or picture on an archaic level of conciousness.

To illustrate that Idea, there is a very nice story (claimed to be true) about an abroginee and a european scientist travelling together through the outback to look at some ancient wall paintings that the scientist wants to research.
When they arrive there the paintings are in very bad condition and the aboriginee gets very, very sad to see that.
As the scientist wakes up the next morning, he finds all the ancient wall paintings newly painted over by the aboriginee, who, when accused of destroying the ancient artifacts, claims that it was not him, but the spirits that moved his hands and painted the pictures...

This leads back to the basic Idea of archetypes, wich may hopefully become clearer now, as in my original post:
Human beings share over many generations the same crucial experiences: birth, adulthood, mating / sexualitiy, death.
Now while animals have an instinctive behaviour to guide them through these stages of life, humans may have similar instinctive impulses, but can become aware of them (or not) and decide to follow them, or supress them.
Now the "collective subconcious" is nothing that needs to be "chanelled" from an outside spiritual source, as Patrick suggested before, but it maybe be compared to genetically inherited experience or instinctive patterns of percieving the world and reacting to it.

Jungs original idea sprung from dream analysis. He stated that during certain stages of life, similar pictures appear in the dreams to influence and guideline our behaviour and I would suggest that these pictures are symbolic representations of instinctive impulses, a language of pictures in wich the unconcious (partly instinctive) part of our mind communicates with the concious.

Now there are some situations in life that are so basic to human existence that the inhertied experiences or instinctive patterns of behaviour that relate to them, are shared by all mankind.
If these experiences or instinctive steering impulses manifest themselfs in the mind as pictures they are called archetypical pictures. Yet they are influenced and modified by the concious of the individual creating different, but similar shapes.

Therefore similar motifs may appear in textiles from diffrent sources, as similar tales appeared all over the wolrd, because on a level that is underlying the more concious cultural ones, the life of all human beings raises similar crucial questions and these pictures spring from similar instinctive answers or solutions to these problems.

I am not sure if the assumption that these ideas are "controversial at best" suggests that we should ignore theme, otherwise I donīt think we have to question the artists who created the motivs decades ago about their meaning, because - as mentioned before - their concious idea of what they create is not necassarily identical with the "symbolic" meaning, as, from my limited experience, many artists nowadays will confirm: the reason you give to somebody why you painted this picture is something that you "invent" after the process of creation to satisfy their and your own need to intellectually explain your creation, sometimes even leading to a complete "misunderstandin g" of your own work.

If we want to question or research this field we should rather try to research the process of creation, maybe under conditions where "pre individualisitic art" is still created nowadays or has been created a not so long time ago, before being extinguished by commercial reproduction type of work?


Patrick Weiler April 28th, 2013 01:55 PM

Pablo Picasso, sex, religion

Starting with Jung, you say he found that the topic of dreams correlated with age. Also correlated with age are biological phases of life: Infant/toddler;prepubescent/childhood;teenage/sex-fighting-juvenile behavior etc; young adulthood/mating-child bearing;mid-life/supporting;old age.
These life phases also probably (my assumption here, never having read Jung) compare with related dream phases which include "Archetypal Pictures" specific to these various life phases.
The "collective subconscious" may be related to these phases, but this subconscious is probably also related to the makeup of the "collective" as it is transformed by behavior-induced changes in the collective. This is what I was getting at when I said that making ourselves, our surroundings and "pimping our ride" more attractive has had a genetic effect over time.
As for sex versus religion driving art, consider these very rugs and trappings we collect. Many of the cultures that have produced these things teach them to their young daughters as part of a dowry which is used to do what? Attract a better suitor. And on the male side, having the better horse, more cattle, finer clothes, these are also used to attract a better mate.

Religion has had a way of co-opting things in our cultures or societies which are important, from birth to marriage to death and the living that goes on during all of that. In early times, religion was the structural glue that held small communities together in the absence of political entities, countries or armies. So in that respect, yes, religion is a great factor in art. Sometimes to the extent that it may seem to overtake, or become the outward expression of the "base" or "subconscious" influences which we share.

A recent study indicates our culture is incontrovertibly transforming into one of more openness, less segregation, more tolerance and less divisiveness. This trend, which includes more inter-racial marriages and universal access to other cultures around the world, will just as certainly change this "collective subconscious" over time just as it changes the "Archetypal Pictures" formed in our subconscious due to these "behavior-induced changes".

Patrick Weiler

Steve Price April 28th, 2013 03:57 PM

Hi Folks

One of the things that makes me uncomfortable about deciphering our subconscious is that the minute we become conscious of it, it stops being subconscious. I don't doubt that it exists. Brains are complicated organs, and they do all sorts of things at a subconscious level. I don't have to pay any attention to my heart, but my brain is monitoring it and regulating its activity to keep my mean arterial pressure around 100 mm Hg every moment of every day. Likewise for even the simplest activities, like sitting in a chair. So, there's every reason to believe that there things going on that are much more profound, psychologically speaking.

I've long believed, and still do, that motifs on rugs (and all tribal arts) mostly represent the things that were important or awe-inspiring to the folks who developed them. I'm not quick to discount decoration - it's pretty widespread in nature - and the underlying principles are probably discoverable and probably differ in different cultures. I'm highly skeptical about a collective subconscious unless we restrict it to relatively small groups that share a common culture or history.


Steve Price

Horst Nitz April 30th, 2013 02:48 PM

Hi Patrick,

thank you for explaining. I asked because I find the title misleading.

Your introducing into DSM 'Rug Anxiety Disorder, or RAD. This terminology change may have the effect of popularizing rug collecting by younger folks!' had me on the floor with laughter. Beyond this, psychpathology for me does not come into it. Benjamin is using Jungian PsA as an Epistemology. Whether this is adequat, can be debated - as you have shown. I am sceptical as well, but there are so many questions unanswered, apparently answered incorrectly or not even asked at all by mainstream rug research, that it might be interesting to see what an unorthodox view can offer.



Benjamin Tholen May 6th, 2013 03:41 AM

weave to impress
Dear Steve,

I would assume that the "instinctive" roots of the collective subconcious are not limited to a certain culture but are shared by the whole species as a result of their common genetic heritage, yet talking about archetypical pictures, the specific form in wich they manifest is, as mentioned before, of course strongly depended on the living circumstances and cultural influences of the specific individual.

Of course the approach of comparing motifs in rugs and figuring out a common cultural heritage seems to be adequat in general, but the idea of archetypes may offer an alternative explanation in some cases:
Thinking of the "James Mellart - Stone Age roots of Kilim motifs idea" for example, would it not be possible that similar motivs re - appear, as a result of archetypical structures, similar production techniques and (at least for some part) similar living circumstances (and religious ideas?) without the need of an unbroken cultutral tradtion in terms of teaching a motif from mother to daughter and so on?

Dear Patrick,

I do not disagree on your idea about the importance of "weave to impress" ;) but I dont think that this was the only concious or subconcious motif that influenced the development of the motifs we find in that weavings,
yet, of course, on a secondary level being able to protect your family against the evil eye, for example, may of course be something that increases your chances to be married ;)