The shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalised into harmlessness. (Carl Jung)
I remember my first art history class at Uni and my professor opening with
The beauty of an artwork is never in its subject but in the (re)presentation of that subject
Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the differences between the art depicting uplifting, pleasant and pretty images and the art with ”ugly”, dark, even difficult to look at images. I even gave them names – art of lightness and art of darkness, respectively – based on my own responses to them.
There is an innocent and expansive quality to my appreciation of the art of lightness – it literally makes me feel lighter, my energy moving upward. I feel it awakens my Spirit.
But when I stand in front of an artwork of darkness I experience something far more powerful. A deepening of an inner fullness, a downward awakening of something not mundainly accessible to me – my own capacity to hold a safe space for darkness. This kind of art, I feel, awakens my Soul. In that moment it feels like the artwork is in communion with my Soul, their shared language, a dark mother tongue. And most remarkably: Because it is art – a synonym for beauty to me – that awakened my Soul, I feel compassion and love for her far more easily.
I also often wondered about the different artistic values of the two. For a long time I thought I was a snob for rating art of darkness higher. Not realising this was never about Art but my preference for Soul over Spirit.
Years ago, a dear mentor said:
Everyone’s talking about Growth – but what about Depth?
My own preference was always for Depth which is where the Soul lives. And I always felt this resistance towards too much upward growth. I’d just topple! I thought. I was also weary (still am!) of becoming too light, too high-vibrational. Too insubstantial. And all from fear of losing my own Soul, my substance. To me this fear is real, it’s a knowing that the moment I meet with Spirit, the moment I become it, my Soul will be no more.
So what is it about the Soul that eclipses the Spirit for me? And how do Art and Astrology explain it?
My Soul’s promise is to keep me connected to the Earthly realm, our beautiful planet and my own beautiful body, an extension of Earth. Her mission is to keep me in the most enchanting experiences of all – the experience of being human.
But this beauty I speak of, isn’t pretty. Soul, ain’t pretty. She is Pluto, after all. Terrifying to meet. She is darkness incarnate. The darkness of (any) depth. Neither good nor bad, just darkness. She is a blend of archetypes unique to every individual. She is the life principle: the anima in my bones & desire in my veins.
Desires are separating by nature. Desire is the reason we keep incarnating i.e. keep separating from Spirit. And we do this to experience ourselves in the wholeness of our separateness, our Soul. Where there’s no desire there’s no Soul. When we exhaust all desires we return to Spirit (Source). Our Soul fully satiated ceases to exist – as separate, as distinguishable from Spirit.
Sure, she is blissed out in this disappeared, disembodied merged state with Spirit. But I am not. You can say, I am too attached to her. Too identified with her. But of course I would be! The very concept of the personal identity is the concept of separation a.k.a. Soul. So, as attachments go, I say this one is healthy.
Our Soul is literally why we are who we are in (any) here and (any) now. The Spirit though is who we are after we die to our beautiful Earth bound Self. Or to put it more bluntly, Soul is Life, Spirit is Death.
And yet I also have a desire to live an inspired life. Which is another way of saying I want to live in Spirit (the Higher/Upward/Growth version of me). My only caveat? My Soul in all its wholesome darkness and separateness needs to be with me at all times.
Because for me, there is no finding Spirit without doing my Soul’s bidding.
And I found any art of the darker flavour to be the most dignified and refined method of awakening my Soul to Spirit. Whether as a consumer or creator, this awakening is always available (to all of us).
I studied History Of Art and as much as I loved it I found its value judgement model too dry. Soulless, you can say. But astrology helped me retell a more soulful story of art: Art as an esoteric story of Pisces and Pluto (Pluto is the esoteric ruler of Pisces).
I always felt resonance with Esoteric rulerships – they seem to ADD a significant component to the sign, complementing it in a meaningful way, instead of just being its extension, its synonym (as it’s the way of eXoteric astrology most of us work with).
Pluto complements Pisces so beautifully. Between the two they hold the genesis of Human Story like bookends: we keep incarnating (Pluto) to live ALL of our desires (Pluto) getting closer to Source/Spirit (Pisces) with each incarnation and fewer desires. But also the beauty of this pairing is that Pisces – and all things Piscean e.g. ART – help us face, accept and love our Soul’s darkness (Pluto).
And to me that is the ultimate power of Art: awakening ourselves to the beauty of our Soul in all its darkness. To appreciate and make art is to beautify the art subject. And to beautify something is to enter into a loving relationship with it. When we paint, write, sing, play, dance, compose and act our Soul out we claim her Beauty and cannot but love her.
Astrologically speaking I found a correlation between the artists famous for the darkness of their art AND Pluto-Mars aspects in their chart. This is by no means the only astrological signature that lends itself well to making art of darkness but it stands out in the charts of some of my favourite artists AND in my own chart 🙂. You will find brief descriptions of some of these artists and their art at the end of this text.
When Mars is triggered by Pluto one is compelled to channel one’s own darkness, one’s Soul. It can do it destructively (e.g. crime, power abuses, etc) or constructively through art. As I also have the Pluto-Mars aspect (square) I can vouch for this compulsion to channel inner darkness through art – in my case this is mainly through writing, visual art, acting and dance. Much of it remains private as its purpose is personal catharsis. But whether it remains private or I share it publicly the consequence of this catharsis is always a deeper integration of my Soul into my current identity.
This integration however is made easier because of the role Pisces plays in the creative process – diffusing the terror of facing our Soul, softening any repulsion we have towards her, and ultimately catalysing us into deep enchantment with our Soul, our darkness and our shared humanness.
Because Pisces is the sum total of all archetypes within our shared i.e. collective unconscious. And so through art we get to feel connected to other Souls in the collective and not so alone anymore. This is another important function of art (and Pisces as the two are the same) – soothing an unshakable sense of our innate aloneness (this aloneness being a prerequisite of living soulfully).
Although Pluto & Pisces are the bloodline, the trajectory of our engagement with Art making, or Art loving, all other archetypes play an important role in our relationship with Art. I could read your musings about the archetypes of your own Art practice (or Art Love) all day long so please knock yourself out and tell me all about it in the comments here or on my Instagram
EDVARD MUNCH: MARS OPPOSITE PLUTO
The Scream is autobiographical, an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through nature while on a walk, after his two companions, seen in the background, had left him. Fitting the fact that the sound must have been heard at a time when his mind was in an abnormal state, Munch renders it in a style which if pushed to extremes can destroy human integrity. (source: edvardmunch.org)
FRANCIS BACON: MARS SQUARE PLUTO
Second Version of Painting 1946
Bacon concentrated his energies on portraiture, often depicting habitues of the bars and clubs of London’s Soho neighborhood. His subjects were always portrayed as violently distorted, almost slabs of raw meat, that are isolated souls imprisoned and tormented by existential dilemmas. Among his signature motifs were screaming and disfigured heads, grappling homosexual lovers, and flanks of meat. “I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail leaving its trail of the human presence… as a snail leaves its slime,” he once said. (sources: artsy.net and theartstory.org)
TRACEY EMIN: MARS CONJUNCT PLUTO
Emin’s My Bed (image No 8), first made—or rather, unmade—at a dingy South London flat in 1998, the iconic installation offers an uncompromising glimpse into the life of the then 35-year-old after a traumatic relationship breakdown. The confessional self-portrait of objects—complete with used condoms, cigarette butts, and empty vodka bottles—shocked the art world when it was featured in Tate Britain’s 1999 Turner Prize exhibition (but didn’t win). (source: artnet news)
MARINA ABRAMOVIC: MARS TRINE PLUTO
Rhythm 10, 1973
In her 40-odd years as a performance artist, Abramovic has dealt in what she calls “true reality”, often at great physical and psychological cost. She has stabbed her hand with knives and sliced her skin with razor blades. She has lain naked on a cross of ice for hours. She has allowed the public to prod, probe and abuse her prone body.
In ‘Rhythm 10’ Abramović placed her left hand with fingers spread on a large scroll of white paper. She then took one of ten knives positioned in front of her and began to rhythmically stab the spaces between her fingers. Each time the artist accidently cut her skin she took a new knife. Abramović continued the performance until she had been wounded 20 times. Having made an audio recording of this process, she then played back the recording and repeated her actions, trying to match new cuts with the original ones. (source: Irish Museum of Modern Art, and The Guardian)
MY OWN ART: MARS SQUARE PLUTO
My art practice is about framing artfully anything about me that I find ugly, unacceptable or feel shame about. For example, I would write poetry about my own otherwise unspeakable urges and desires. By sculpting my feelings into a poem so the language of my feelings changes from shameful to poetic I have not only reframed my original feelings but my relationship to them – it is now one of appreciative detachment. Similarly, when I create visual art of my appearance that I feel deeply uncomfortable to express freely as the subject of the artwork I have in the process lost the discomfort but also expressed it – and not just freely but beautifully too. I often go back to these pieces as a way of strengthening my love for those parts of me and their integration (sometimes more obvious than others) into my daily living.