David Bowie and Carl Jung

Creativity and Catharsis, Dreaming and Death

A Presentation by Tanja Stark

Thursday July 7 7.30-9.30

The Quaker House, 10 Hampson Street, Kelvin Grove
(park on Prospect Terrace)
Members and Concessions: $10 Non-members: $15

When David Bowie was Fifty he was asked if he was no longer frightened of “madness”. It was pivotal question of an artist whose creative body of work across five decades had been pierced with themes of alienation, fear, abandonment, possession and insanity, and with a close family history of institutionalization, psychosis and suicide.

Sitting upright, Bowie paused before poignantly reflecting “Well I think maybe that’s not entirely true…I have maybe only a wariness of it these days…it’s been fairly well recorded my family is pretty rampantly, ah, I think I’m not sure how much of it is madness…there’s an, an awful lot of emotional and spiritual mutilation goes on in my family, and ah, I think to a certain extent it’s touched me in various ways over the years”.

Bowie’s encapsulation of ‘madness’ as ‘emotional and spiritual mutilation’ shows depth in his understanding of the dimensions of suffering experienced by people vulnerable to emotional imbalance in the face of trauma. It also suggests why Bowie would be attracted to the ideas of Carl Jung who was fascinated by the spiritual and emotional dimension of the psyche in healing and growth.

 “I suspect that dreams are an integral part of existence, with far more use for us than we’ve made of them, really. I’m quite Jungian about that. The dream state is a strong, active, potent force in our lives…the fine line between the dream state and reality is at times, for me, quite grey. Combining the two, the place where the two worlds come together, has been important in some of the things I’ve written, yes” David Bowie

Famously singing of “Jung the foreman” on 1973’s Aladdin Sane, with its iconic lightning flash cover and word play on sanity, Jung’s ideas clearly had a pivotal influence upon Bowie across his life. Significantly, he actively acknowledged Jung’s views on the importance of creative arts in exploring and expressing the complex world of the psyche.   

 “It is of great help” said Jung “to express the peculiar contents [of disturbing dreams and visions] either in the form of writing or of drawing and painting. There are so many incomprehensible intuitions in such cases, phantasy fragments that rise from the unconscious, for which there is almost no suitable language. I let my patients find their own symbolic expressions, their ‘mythology” C.G. Jung

Describing a disturbing nightmarish vision in a particular song lyric, Bowie explained, “…according to Jung to see cracks in the sky was not really on…I thought I’d write my problems out.” And across the next 50 years Bowie would indeed use his art to create a complex personal ‘mythology’ – often expressed through a metaphorical ‘space’ cosmology that not only endured, but also spiked with his death in 2016.

Understanding Jung is a key to unlocking the essential thematic concerns that repeatedly permeate Bowie’s creativity – the proliferation of archetypal images, his profound engagement with the unconscious, his complex relationship with the numinous, tension between opposing polarities and the ongoing spectre of a shadow that threatens to overwhelm and displace surface realities. Bowie synthesized ancient mythopoeic themes and symbols with the zeitgeist of pop culture. Mixed with his own struggle for meaning, catharsis and knowledge he became a contemporary representation of Jung’s ‘visionary artist’ manifesting the underlying, repressed energies of the times, something which seems to underlie his profound resonance in pop cultural consciousness in an age of anxiety. This talk is an opportunity to explore the symbolism and themes of his work in both a pop cultural and Jungian context. 

Biography

Tanja Stark is an artist and writer with a lifelong curiosity around psychology, philosophy, spirituality and the arts. She has exhibited internationally as well as holding a number of creative and therapeutic roles in organizations including DVConnect, Cairns Regional Art Gallery, Polygram and Canasta Creative Studio. She also holds a degree in Social Work from University of Queensland.

She is a contributing author to two recent academic books on Bowie: the strangely prescient “Confronting Bowie’s Mysterious Corpses” on archetypes of death in Enchanting David Bowie (Bloomsbury, 2015) and “Crashing Out with Sylvian: David Bowie, Carl Jung and the Unconscious” in David Bowie: Critical Perspectives (Routledge, 2015).  The Bowie Archive also holds a commissioned a series of her pop art mannequins. She is currently working on a series of hand built ceramic “ladybowls” for a forthcoming exhibition exploring the strength and sensuality of the feminine as part of a project around gender and violence.