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The Archetype in Art

“The shapes of beauty haunting our moments of inspiration are a people older than the world, citizens of eternity, appearing and reappearing in the minds of artists and poets….symbols, blossoms as it were growing from immortal roots.”

W.B. Yeats

It might be a cliche, it might be a classic. Then again, it might be an archetype.

According to Carl Jung an archtype is a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, a pattern of thought or image. Or a prototype, a thing which is eternally copied but never the same.

An archetype is a thing that never dies. It will be born again and again. Like the human form, it is never the same but  it never changes.

The history of art is filled with them: landscape, portrait, still life, nude. We are caught in an endless cycle to love what we love, to repeat what our ancestors repeated. Eternal, timeless. The nude in art is one of these themes. It will never tire. It is instinct, a program from the depths of our psyche, as Yeats puts it, grown from immortal roots.

The faces change with the style, which changes with the age, but in essence it is the same face, the same beauty, the same yearning or awe. The artist paints like the lion feeds, from an instinctive need he devours the light before him; unknowingly, blindly. This love of the poet or painter for his theme is never new. His theme is never new, there is nothing new in art. There is only the archetype.

Are we cursed then to simply repeat ad nauseam what has gone before? Is there really nothing new in art? To answer this one may consider Cubism. Once a new way of painting things. Three dimensions pressed into two. Yet what was painted ? Portraits, still lives, landscapes, nudes. Still the immortal roots pushed through, through the fashion, the style and the hype. We may struggle against it, search for something new, but the big themes are old ones, leaving only trivia and confusion for the bold to explore.

Jake Baddeley


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Jake Baddeley – She Hides Behind the Silence – oil paint on canvas – 100 x 70 cm – 2015

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