A Balance between Eros and Logos

The creative process, when it blossoms into its most fruitful expression, will always be a play between the conscious and unconscious mind. We need both when we create. We cannot force creativity into being by pure conscious force – just as we cannot solely depend on the unconscious mind when we want to express whatever we envision.

The conscious mind helps us with the craftsmanship, with planning, with execution of the idea, with knowledge, and, yes, at times also with forcing the creative process into its initial stages. But the conscious mind will never spring into life the new idea, the new expression, the complete new vision; it will not be the creative force as such. That’s where the unconscious mind comes into play. The unconscious mind will suddenly make us see things in a different light, it will act through our instincts and make us do something we otherwise wouldn’t have done, it will make us do errors that might turn into expressive and complete new work of art; the unconscious mind is the creator within us, but it needs the conscious mind to bring the idea into life.

We have all experienced how our unconscious mind can help us solve a problem we have been struggling with. We can bend our mind over without finding the solution, but then when we give up and go to sleep, next morning the solution suddenly appears out of nowhere. That’s when the unconscious mind has done the work for us – while we were sleeping. First time it happens it’s quite a revelation – and a delightful such.

As artists or creative beings we need to find a balance between these two paired processes. And we need to acknowledge both as inseparable elements of the creative process. For me this is another example of the polarity between Eros and Logos from the Greek mythology. I have previous used these terms to describe the creative process; such as in the posts Like Roots to a Plant and A Tool for Our Heart and Soul. Here and now I use Eros and Logos more in a Jungian understanding, although the first Greek origin is still valid. According to Platon Eros motivates all living beings to act upon their desires. The original understanding of Eros is «love» although Eros has also been used in philosophy and psychology in a much wider sense, almost as an equivalent to «life energy». Logos on the other hand was by Greek philosophers, especially Heraclitus and Plato, used to mean something akin to the rational structure and order of the universe. In the psychologist Carl Jung’s approach, Logos vs. Eros was represented as «science vs. mysticism», or «reason vs. imagination» or – as I use it here – «conscious activity vs. the unconscious».

In his book «Widening the Stream» David Ulrich view Eros as passion and Logos as the discipline required to cleanly embody our insights. He writes; «as soon as our attention can expand to embrace these opposing, alternating forces – our passionate longing and our disciplined intent – we come into a greater alignment, activating our creative energies and attracting a new quality of heightening being».

70 thoughts on “A Balance between Eros and Logos

  1. Ahhhh…I love this and the way you explain how the two work together is wonderful…so often that answer you have been trying to find appears when you least expect it…not just in art but in life…thanks..it gives me hope…

  2. I think in the creative process it is so important to listen to our instincts, to let this have a big play in what we are creating; sometimes the unconscious mind can lead you to a more beautiful outcome than the conscious mind. But yes, I guess we need both. Great article.

    1. I just ran across this quote by Carl Jung in something I was reading “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves”

  3. Very well said. Most of time I start my photo “sessions” in a rational way. I have to do something like this, in that place, with a framing like …Than I start to work and there is a moment when I forget all this and begin to work in an instinctive way. I think it is when the unconscious mind dominates. I think my conscious mind defines the boundaries inside which the unconscious mind will work. Thanks for explaining this with so clear words.

  4. The polarity you describe also reminds me of the conflict (or balance) between Apollonian and Dionysian impulses as seen, for example, in Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice.”

      1. Indeed! But I always remember the opposition of von Aschenbach’s hands gripping the armchair at the outset of the story, in Germany(?) and his slack handedness in the beach chair in Venice at the end. I think there is a similar opposition set up in Tonio Kroger, between the rigidity and primness of his Teutonic father’s family and the warmth and laxity of his mother’s Mediterranean family.

  5. Thanks, I am beginning to see how complex creativity is but grateful for those, like yourself, who take the time to explain new principles. 🙂

  6. As always, very nice post. The conscious and unconscious concept is a bit like the right brain/left brain one. it’s best to have a balance between the two.
    If I stay in right-brain land for too long, I am very foggy when I emerge, and it sometimes takes hours to reconcile myself with the rest of the world! Z

    1. It’s clearly like the right and left brain activity and I think the two processes can be directly linked to either sides of the brain.

  7. and i just read this quote yesterday which I think ties in nicely:”Consciousness does not need physical form. But physical form needs Consciousness. And Consciousness enjoys physical form, because physical form is the leading edge of thought. So, Consciousness expands through the physical form. It’s not one or the other”. — Abraham
    I so agree about the need for balance and enjoy how you delve into thought and express things so well.

  8. Yes, yes, yes, this gives me hope. It also explains why, when one is bombarded with unavoidable “to dos”, the unconscious creative light finds it hard to come forth. Thank you for giving me hope.

    1. You are right, the unconscious creative light (a lovely description by the way) does need time off from all the “to dos”. And is all too often hard to find time for it, unfortunately.

  9. You’ve conveyed the creative process so well here. While reading I found it relates directly to my experience. It seems that experience is universal and connects humanity together.

  10. Beautiful Photo I found the edges and brushed white very pleasing. I couldn’t pull my eyes away it had a wonderful balance for me. :+)
    I’ve thought of this idea before but it’s so nice to read it in clear words as being two seperate things. I think when I get into trouble is when I cross over expecting the creative proccess to do the editing or visa versa. Thank you good food for thought.

  11. Thank goodness for the unconscious mind – otherwise what a bunch of dullards we’d be! I know balance is healthy, but without mistakes even some of the most significant scientific discoveries would not have happened. I just wrote today that one of the most enjoyable aspects to my (amateur) photography is my mistakes. I’ve ended up loving ones that I didn’t feel like taking, that I took as a practice or experiment, that I believed I’d be deleting and that I actually chastised myself for being so silly.

    Also, I notice that the first shot taken, with quick, innocent and uncalibrated energy, is often the best of the bunch. Perhaps my conscious mind had no time to interfere.

    1. You are so right. Mistakes are very often a blessing, if one is able to look around and see them from a different perspective. Are I think it’s a good observation and conclusion that the first picture is the best because your let the unconscious mind play without interference.

  12. This is so true, Otto. I often get caught on something. Something I am trying to remember, figure out or create consciously and I struggle. Then I move on to something else completely different and before long right there, up front, my unconscious mind has provided me with the solution. Isn’t it wonderful how that works?

  13. Really enjoyed reading this. The way the subconscious influences the creative process. I’m actually a part of a research study on this very subject. I’m ex military, I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and later this month at University of Lincoln in England there is a big international conference called ‘Interrogating Trauma in the Humanities’. Art historian professor Johanna Fassl is going to present about the subconscious effect of war on artists and their art. How an image that is created can subconsciously reflect what was seen before. Quite often it is only after I have taken a picture that I realise that it reminds me of something that happened. This is why I also really understand what you have written in your article here. Good work Otto :)))

    1. That sounds like a very interesting conference. And quite a heavy theme I would say. I am not an expert on traumas, but I know that they have a big influence on our unconscious mind. Thanks for sharing this, Russell.

  14. Very interesting post Otto and seems right in line with what I have been reading regarding quantum physics and being able to connect to the energy that “has all the answers which are within us all.” It specifically talks about the creative process when you lose yourself, your conscious mind and you are truly in the present moment not experiencing the physical, past or future state of being and mostly, not controlling, letting it flow. Creating is the best place to be I have always thought. I think this state of being is as old as man, it seems every culture has tried to harness it as their own but it really is something inside us all, part of being human. Thank you as always for an intelligent and thought provoking post!

    1. Thank you for your very interesting input on the subject. And, yes, I think you are right. I do believe that for the unconscious mind to play its role in the creative process, we need to be in the present moment. That is when things really start to flow.

  15. Thank you very much for you interesting blog. Such blogs as this gives me a sense of hope and a feeling of inspiration that there are people – oodles of people – out there who are thinking, creating, inspiring beings who cannot be locked in the cage conformity or be cut by the same cookie cutter. This is what makes the life here worth living – communicating and breathing in the variety all around us. Thank you.

  16. I really like the way you’ve put this. I like the way you look at life, with interesting visuals to match. Sometimes I think of discipline being the necessary thing while I’m waiting for inspiration.

    1. Sometimes discipline can open the door for inspiration – which for me is just another name for the unconscious thought. Thank you for the nice words, Linda.

  17. This is so interesting Otto…
    “The creative process, when it blossoms into its most fruitful expression, will always be a play between the conscious and unconscious mind.”
    I’ve never stopped to think how much I need my unconscious mind
    the unconscious mind is the creator within us, but it needs the conscious mind to bring the idea into life.”
    Thank you for another thought provoking post

  18. Jeg trodde jeg kom inn pä en ren fotoblogg og er overveldet over denne flotte kombinasjonen av inspirerende text +fotografi. Gelder meg til ä titte naermere pä sidene dine.

    Hjertlig hilsen
    Dina i Tyskland

  19. Very true. An artist has to surrender to the unconscious mind (or right brain) for inspiration and then carry that forward to the conscious mind (left brain) for manifestation. Nicely written.

  20. Well written. Most of the time my decision to shoot an image is a very conscious decision, but I am very aware that at other times it is a subconscious one. It is some time later when I look at that image that I decipher what it was that attracted me and in the post processing I try to reveal what is there but needed a little encouragement to become visible.

    1. I like the way you describe the process of revealing the image created by the subconscious mind (and I guess that is a better description that unconscious mind which I have used all over here). Thanks for the input.

  21. I enjoyed your post and it reminded me of the times I create haiku as I walk on the aqueduct, but then they fade away… I find the creative process so fascinating because it is free flowing and some of it cannot be harnessed. 🙂

    1. I guess that is one of the advantages of photography. The images won’t fade away – as long as you did photograph them. I agree the creative process cannot be harnessed.

  22. We can bend our mind over without finding the solution, but then when we give up and go to sleep, next morning the solution suddenly appears out of nowhere … — this is so true, Otto. I have found myself in very stressful and confusing places more recently than not, and sometimes it means letting go and relaxing before these answers come to you.

    Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  23. Excellent post and very well explained. That’s a lovely image! As I listen more to my subconscious, it’s interesting and sometimes amazing what I hear…and yes, we can’t overwork it or we won’t get an answer. I like the phrase “try by not trying” meaning when we try too hard, the answer sometimes eludes us.
    Great information again. Thank you.

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