Therapist and Artist Virginia Conesa on the influence of Carl Jung on her life and work.
Emma Gray: Virginia, can you explain your journey from artist to therapist?
Virginia Conesa: The best way to describe this process is to explain my confrontation with the unconscious. Initially, I was driven by desire and creativity. It was unfiltered, disordered, and chaotic. My ego engaged with what resulted in a compulsive and obsessive relationship to artistic creativity that lasted for more than ten years. I created images of women in ambiguous poses to demonstrate the reflexive objectification of the female figure. In retrospect, I was experiencing the victimized feminine archetype as a shadow aspect. I felt disempowered by my femininity. I created the images in an almost repetitive and possessive manner, obsessed with seeing my internal experience exteriorized. Psychologically, this archetype had a stronghold in my life. The feminine was a shadow form in the unconscious psyche looking for integration.
Through this process, this shadow archetype became integrated. This transformation process forced the images to change. The art process became how I organized unconscious, undifferentiated psychic material into an integrated form.
Due to the possessive and autonomous nature of my work as an artist, I became curious about psychology. I asked myself questions: How does the imagination activate in independent forms like artworks? Where are these images coming from? Why do I feel a fundamental change after having made them? These questions led me to study of Carl G. Jung's work and pursue a master's degree in Depth Psychology.
EG: I believe you use a lot of Jungian principles in your therapy. How did you become interested in Jung? How influential is he in your approach?
VC: I began to see a Jungian analyst when I lived in New York. Ironically, she lived in Los Angeles, so the first year of our work was over the phone. She introduced me to Jung and to the concepts that explained many of the tectonic shifts I experienced through the artistic process. Without knowing, I had engaged in an active imagination dialogue with unconscious aspects of the psyche. Moving forward, I continue to utilize Jung’s intervention of active imagination. The Red Book by Carl G. Jung documents his use of imagination and creativity to engage with various figures and movements from the unconscious.
EG: Can you talk about how Jung’s work and the image intersect in your work as a therapist and how important the artistic image is to Jung?
VC: As a therapist, I primarily utilize Jungian interventions for assisting people with their unconscious suffering. For example, a person often comes to therapy with some possessive behavior or feeling, a shadow confrontation. It may manifest as depression, acute anxiety, addiction, compulsive and obsessive thoughts. Jung taught that emerging and necessary unconscious aspects of the Self make themselves known initially through painful, distasteful, and rejected ego-dystonic phenomena. These aspects are seeking conscious awareness and integration. So, as the therapeutic process goes, the goal is then to see what lies underneath the ego-dystonic phenomena. To organize this transformation and ultimate integration process, it’s essential to observe the material from a metaphoric perspective and assist a client in creating a system of symbols.
Clients begin to dream and share their images. They start to look at their behavior with the objectivity of an observer. By creating a more durable, healthy ego structure, a client can then witness the movement of the unconscious as it arrives in its varied forms. Commonly, it comes as behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, but for artists, it can enter additionally through autonomous figures and art forms.
EG: I know dream work is at the core of Jungian analysis. Do dreams play a large function in your work with your clients?
VC: Dreams are fundamental for my work in psychoanalysis. Many people begin to remember their dreams when they are in analysis. It's incredibly helpful to show people how they are wrestling with aspects of their psyche that are working both for and against the ego structure. Patients can access feelings about their struggle that would have been difficult to access utilizing their conscious waking mind. I have seen the psyche respond to dream work and give the therapeutic process compelling images and messages that are so purposeful it's difficult to deny.
EG: For this interview, we are working loosely with the theme of chaos to cosmos. Thematically, it suggests a kind of divine organizing principle in the most random mess. Do you have examples of how you understand this or have witnessed this in your work or life?
VC: The best way to understand this personally and professionally has been the observation of a system of symbols that organically emerges from the psyche. In my art, for example, the figure of the woman, as mentioned earlier, was an active symbol. It arrived autonomously and manifested through my art for many years. The symbol evolved throughout the art process, embodying the archetypes of seductress, animal, manipulator, warrior, and mother, among others. The divine aspect of this organizing principle is not my area of expertise, meaning I can't speak to the spiritual dimension of psychological integration. However, I recently read an excerpt from Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth by Dr. Elizabeth Grosz, in which she investigates the condition in which art emerges. She frames it in the context of chaos and order: “Next to the sciences and philosophy, which allow certain prime elements and raw materials from the primal chaos to emerge, and rearranging them into new meaning . . . art goes beyond this crucial meaning and begins to exist for itself. Art regulates and organizes raw materials extracted from chaos. Art imposes a limit on forces of nature, rearranges them in a new form, which affects the living. Art is a combination of order and chaos, composition, and decomposition.”
Chaos, or the unconscious, viewed from a Jungian lens, is for Dr. Grosz some undifferentiated space in which several ideas and meanings occur, existing without any imposed division. It is the world of what is yet to unfold and unspecified by sensory cognition. Perhaps God is in this process, the transformation from chaos to order, unconscious to conscious, raw material to art.
Emma Gray encourages artists and writers to apply for the Kieffer E. Frantz Program at The C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles which offers therapy on a sliding scale
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