Maxson McDowell, Ph.D.

Exploring Archetypes through Art, Myth, and Science

Friday, November 16, 2012

7:30- 9:30 pm 

Lecture: Exploring Archetypes through Art: "Structure in Great Paintings and Sculpture: A Visual Mode of Individuation"

Saturday, November 17, 2012  

(Two parts)

Morning: Exploring Archetypes through Myth: "Rona Long Teeth: A Polynesian legend and its psychological implications"

  Afternoon:  Exploring Archetypes through Science:  Applying complexity theory to the personality



O. T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church,

1712 Willow Drive, Chapel Hill, NC


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About Exploring Archetypes Through Art: "Structure in Great Paintings and Sculpture: A Visual Mode of Individuation"


Psychoanalysis has shown that an increasing awareness of formerly unconscious contents may lead to a broadening, deepening and unifying of the personality. Jung emphasized this aspect of analysis with his concept of individuation. Jung argued that the hero's journey (for example, the journey of Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Beowulf, Christ, Dante, or the Polynesian hero Tahaki) represents an individuation journey into the unconscious and a return bearing gifts.

Though individuation is a direction of growth rather than a realizable goal, some structural features of the maturing (individuating) personality can be identified. Examples include: increasing separation, or 'space' between the conscious identity and unconscious compulsions, increasing expansiveness or 'roominess' in the personality, increasing clarity and affirmation of boundaries, increasing integration, cohesion, or 'unity' in the personality, increasing originality and increasing vitality.

Because some great works of literature serve to represent individuation, it seems likely that some great works of visual art would also serve to represent individuation. This could not be by virtue of the art's subject matter, however, since that may be mundane. Individuation would have to be embodied in the art's structure.

Braque said:

'Cezanne and, after him, Picasso and myself ... convey[ed] a full experience of space ... bringing ... the objects in a picture ... within reach, as a painting should ... [In] cubism we were out to attack space which the impressionists had neglected.'

Braque was describing pictorial space, which has always been present in great painting. Pictorial space is quite different from the illusion of space which is created by perspective. I use diagrams and reproductions to analyze the pictorial structure which creates pictorial space (and to demonstrate that a homologous structure obtains in sculpture).

I show that this structure in visual art has many parallels with those structural features which are characteristic of an individuating personality. I argue these parallels are too strong to be a coincidence. I argue that great works of visual art move us in part because of these parallels, that such works of art have always served to represent, in visual form, the mystery of individuation.

These parallels are immediately apparent in paleolithic sculpture. This is evidence that humankind experienced some form of individuation 30,000 years ago. Analyzed in this way, paleolithic sculpture gives us an extraordinary insight into paleolithic psychology.


About Exploring Archetypes through Myth: "Rona Long teeth: A Polynesian legend and its psychological implications"


In legend Rona was a cannibal ogress. In modern terms she was a serial killer. Details of Rona's behavior suggest that she suffered from what Scott Peck called "malignant narcissism" which, he said, is the basis of human evil. We need to remember, however, that narcissistic injury takes many less dramatic forms and is ubiquitous: perhaps we all have a Rona within us somewhere.

The thoughts and feelings associated with narcissism tend to be archaic and therefore threatening and difficult to understand. Because the Polynesian legend is so personal it helps us to make these thoughts and feelings more accessible.

We will read and discuss the legend together and questions will be welcomed.


 About Exploring Archetypes through Science:  Applying complexity theory to the personality

This lecture will be lucidly explained and easily accessible for a non-technical audience. It relates Jung's idea of archetypes to a modern understanding of complexity. The personality is a complex dynamic system; its complexity cannot be explained by the relatively small number of genes in the chromosomes. Since all dynamic systems are self-organized, the personality must be also be self-organized. Jung described the archetype-as-such as the essential core around which both an archetypal image and a complex are organized.

I argue that an archetype-as-such is a pre-existing principle of organization. Within the personality that principle manifests itself as a psychological vortex (a complex) into which we are drawn. The vortex is impersonal. We mediate it humanly by means of  myths and rituals or through consciousness. I show that Jung's intuition about the archetype-as-such is supported by recent science. The concept of pre-existing principle allows each archetype-as-such to be described in mathematical terms. It offers new insights into myth. It also addresses our spiritual experience of an archetype.



About the Speaker:

Maxson McDowell PhD, LP trained as a Jungian analyst in New York City, where he has his private practice, and has since pursued an interest in self psychology. He teaches frequently on Jung’s approach to the interpretation of dreams. He also teaches and writes on exotic fairy tales and legends, particularly with regard to their descriptions of the evolving feminine and of the healing of narcissistic injury.

He has published on biology, Jungian theory, and autism, most recently “Autism’s direct cause? Failure of infant-mother eye contact in a complex adaptive system” in the journal Biological Theory. Earlier Dr. McDowell studied for ten years as a painter in New York with Robert Casper, who studied with Hans Hofmann, who was a member with Braque and Picasso of the School of Paris.

Praise for Maxson McDowell's courses:

"This is a fine course - full of revelations. The materials chosen are eclectic and the whole sensibly buttressed by von Franz's wisdom and insights. I have been most impressed in this course and in others by Dr McDowell's style of teaching. He is unassuming but deeply insightful, maintaining a balance between intellectual fastidiousness and creativity, encouraging participation but never losing sight of overall goals."

"This course more than fulfilled my expectations in that it deepened my understanding of Jungian psychoanalytic principles and gave me an approach to take toward fairy tales as symbolic of different aspects of human psyche. The way the course was conducted, its atmosphere, allowed me not only to explore the tales through the Jungian lens but also to explore myself - so that I feel I have deepened and solidified self-awareness and confidence. A remarkable and enriching experience."

Please visit his web site here for more information.


Julie Bondanza, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and a diplomate Jungian analyst who trained at the C. G. Jung Institute of New York, where she was Director of Training, a job she also held with the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts. She has taught extensively in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, as well as for various Jung societies across the country. Presently she serves the board of the C. G. Jung Foundation of New York and continues to serve as its program chair, a post she has held for many years. Dr. Bondanza practices in Takoma Park and lives in Washington, D.C.

Free Lectures

"A Practical Introduction to the Ideas of C. G. Jung"

Kenneth Turner, Ph.D.
Second Tuesdays Apr -Sep, 2018  7:00-8:30pm
Oasis, Suite A-5 Carr Mill Mall
200 N. Greensboro Street, Carrboro 

May 8, 2018

"Snapshots of Our Complexes: The Enneagram"

You may find these free tests helpful as we we explore the notion of complexes and look at some of our own.

Jun 12 - Archetypes in the Mind: The Numbers

Jul 10 - Archetypes in Our Lives: The Tarot

Aug 14 - Some Old Recipes for Change: Alchemy

Sep 11 - How We Know It's Working: Synchronicities

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