Mystical tension: The Grail legend as analogue of the creative process
Master Thesis The University of Texas at Dallas 117 (1995)The Grail legend as it occurs in Parzival , by Wolfram von Eschenbach, serves as an analogue of the creative process as I have experienced it in my paintings and poems exhibited at the University of Texas at Dallas in the spring of 1994. The paintings are a series of images of vessels that illustrate my various conceptions--which change over time--of the Grail. The poems parallel steps along the journey taken by Parzival in his progress to selfhood. The thesis is divided into chapters that demarcate the stages of Parzival's maturation, culminating in his "attainment" of the Grail. The works of anthropologist Victor Turner and of Carl and Emma Jung not only shed light on Parzival but also offer parallels to my creative work. The structure of the initiation rituals described by Turner is similar to the process through which Parzival arrives at maturity and the identity confirmed by his new name and status. The symbolic nature of Parzival's initiation is paralleled in the symbolic nature of my experience of the creative process. My creative work arises from a need to define myself through the symbolic media of painting and poetry. The process of "individuation" and "transformation" through which the creative artist and poet works toward this goal has been described by Carl Jung. The most powerful model for this integration of the "Self" is found in the alchemical model elaborated by Emma Jung and Marie von Franz in The Grail Legend . The alchemical metaphor of a cosmos created in a glass vessel--which alchemists often called a "uterus"--is exactly the theme of my paintings. At the center of this creation, as Jung put it, there is a "hidden treasure." This hidden treasure is the soul. The language that Turner and the Jungs use in their own fields has enabled me to identify meanings that are hidden in my own work as a result of the intuitive method I use. The hidden meanings inherent in the Grail are thus parallel to meanings hidden in my work. Both the poetry and painting attempt to define the Grail, which defies definition. The problem creates branches to some of the deepest questions, such as what it is to be contained in mortality itself and to grapple with the unknown. Such questions imply that through vital experience, such as confronting death, a transformation takes place that vitalizes the creative work as well. The work thus attains the status of the Grail (gift) as an outcome of the initiatory hell-trip and rebirth. The assumption is that the search for meaning, or "spirit" as Carl Jung called it, is the main driving force in human beings. In this way I emphasize that the terms "art" and "meaning" are synonymous. For me the most direct road to this goal is the intuitive process--a finely tuned mechanism that incorporates these issues unconsciously by tapping into archetypes and providing a link with myth and ritual.