Creativity or Madness: The Red Book

By Yehudit Mam, February 16, 2015

In 1913, after a painful break with his mentor and colleague Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, one of the founding figures of psychoanalysis, went through what he called “a horrible “confrontation with the unconscious”. Jung was the guy who invented psychoanalytical concepts like synchronicity, introversion and extroversion, the theory of the collective unconscious and universal archetypes, which have deeply influenced modern culture.


Jung claimed “he saw visions and heard voices. He worried at times that he was “menaced by a psychosis” or was “doing a schizophrenia””. But he decided to use it as an experience and “he induced hallucinations or, in his words, “active imaginations“, which he wrote and drew. He then transcribed his notes and drawings into a big book in which he worked for 16 years. This is the famous Red Book, which was held by his estate in a vault at a bank and finally published on 2009.


The Red Book includes amazingly detailed, colorful drawings.  Because he was a self-aware and creative man, Jung used his emotional struggle to connect to his unconscious mind and express himself creatively. He turned out to be a gifted artist. His totemic drawings explode with a great sense of color. They are not polished, but really seem to spring from the subconscious. The Red Book is an illuminated manuscript for the modern era.


There has been evidence that some forms of brain injury, particularly temporal lobe epilepsy, enhance creative ability. Martín Ramirez, a schizophrenic Mexican immigrant, created amazing paintings while confined in a mental institution. Although Jung experienced a serious psychological crisis, he was not mentally insane, and he was functional enough to use the opportunity to explore his mind through creativity.


“The years, of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life… My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life.” Carl Jung.



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