The Grey Muses and The Complex Nature of Inspiration

The Greys are gathering to create a new temple. Their community lives all over the world, and knowing what pattern to look for is key in identifying the members. This paper looks at visionary artists Alex and Allyson Grey and presents a pattern for connecting with creative inspiration through the lens of depth psychology concepts. Depth psychology, like these artists, emphasizes the important role that creativity plays in the individual psyche.

It is possible that some aspects of creativity, and their role in the psyche, are actually a matter of life and death. In the case of the young artist, Alex Grey, his creative lifestyle was lacking something essential and it endangered his life. At age 21 years he was depressed and suicidal. Exhausted with life, he challenged God, if he existed, to give him a sign before he “ended it all” (TEDx, 2015).

Alex is not the only 21-year-old to feel this way. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States (Knapp, 2013). Deaths: Leading Causes for 2010, Volume 62, Number 6 showed that children are at risk, with 15% of all deaths between ages 10 and 22 years caused by suicide, the highest percentage of any age group.

Alex did not become a statistic at age 21 years. Instead, within 24 hours, his prayer for a sign was answered and he met divine love in the flesh. Everything happened at a party that involved trying LSD for the fist time, seeing meaningful visions, and falling in love with Allyson. This numinous party experience changed the way he felt about living in the world. He became aware that love was possible.

Alex also had a profound vision during this same night of a spiral of white to black with grey between to connect the opposites and changed his last name to Grey. Alex and Allyson Grey are still married today and have shared an art studio for over 38 years. Together they have inspired each other as well as many other people.

The Grey’s began creative collaborations that involved performance and community in the late 1970s. In addition to their collaborative projects they also developed independent painting styles. Alex’s art has gained in popularity, in part, because his paintings were featured on the cover of albums for TOOL, the Beastie Boys and Nirvana. In 2013, he gave a talk at TEDxMaui’s “the dream is real” that has been viewed by almost 200,000 people. His speech was titled, Cosmic Creativity — How Art Evolves Consciousness. In it, he stated, “The great uplifting of humanity beyond its own self-destruction is the redemptive mission of art” (TEDx, 2013).

It is clear from Alex’s history that he personally experienced a great uplifting beyond his own self-destruction. But how exactly can art uplift a person beyond self-destruction? What is art? Jung a Swiss psychologist, said, “The criterion of art is that it grips you” (p. 57). I have selected two images that combine art and Muse to help illustrate the concepts that will be discussed.

The famous paintings I have selected share the same title, Kiss of the Muse. The images capture a moment, a kiss, which resembles the transformational and gripping experience of falling in love. One was created in 1860 and the other in 2013. Despite the difference in style, these paintings share a similar theme and composition that feels loving (see Figures 1 and 2).

Falling in love is the closest that most people come to transcendence, to the feeling of being inhabited by unwilled, unruly forces, passion became the model for understanding inspiration. Why does the artist wright or paint? The artist must be in love. (Prose, 2003, p. 5)

Figure 1. The Kiss of the Muse by Paul Cezanne 1860. Adapted from Kiss of the Muse 1 (n.d.).

Figure 2. Kiss of the Muse by Alex Grey 2013. Adapted from Kiss of the Muse 2 (n.d.).

The muse is an archetype. Jung, to describe patterns he noticed in the psyche, introduced the term archetype. Rowland (2012) explains archetype as, “inherited structuring patterns in the unconscious with potentials for meaning formation and images” (p. 202). The unconscious is the part of the psyche unknown to the conscious part of our psyche concerned with identity (Rowland, 2012). These depth psychology concepts explain art’s ability to help people to form new meaning in their life. Art allows people to experience archetypal energies that can evoke inspirational powers locked in their unconscious mind.

There are many archetypes, but the muse is an important and vital part of art’s potential to uplift humanity beyond its own self-destruction. It is an idea that has been around for a long time. “The archetype of the passive muse found in Ancient Greece and the Middle Ages has been shed in the centuries since then; muses have found their voice, and minds have opened to accommodate spiritual, male and mutual muses” (Forster, 2007, p. 17).

Alex and Allyson represent a contemporary muse—perhaps a Grey muse. They are also mutual muses. Alex said, “We inspire each other’s work and are a muse for each other . . . She’s my spiritual teacher and soul mate. I am very blessed” (Sidon, 2013, para. 39). Beyond their relationship with each other, this artist couple shares a spiritual muse as well. In their earlier collaborative performance work they incorporated visual references to death and spirituality, such as the cross and skeleton.

One of their most famous collaborative and interactive projects is called, Sacred Mirrors. The concept for this project came from Allyson. When asked about her role as muse she said;

There is a kind of listening one can do when others talk about what they really want in different areas of their life—their art, their relationships, their job, etc.  Sometimes one can be a mirror for that person and reflect back what seems so obvious to another but hidden from oneself. (allysongrey, n.d.)

The paintings in Sacred Mirrors make up a series of life-size images that illustrate different systems of the body, including the skeletal system, and highlight Alex’s skills as a medical illustrator (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Reflecting on the Sacred Mirrors. Adapted from A. Grey (n.d.).

Before he was a full-time artist, Alex worked at Harvard Medical School. He prepared cadavers for dissection and studied the body on his own. He also worked as a research technologist of Mind/Body Medicine and investigated subtle healing energies. The anatomical and illustrative quality of Alex’s paintings is one of the more unique and identifiable aspects of his art.

In looking at the painting, Kiss of the Muse, by Alex Grey (see Figure 2), you can see the complex nature of his creativity expressed in one image. The love relationship between him and Allyson is present with the two figures kissing, the hands in prayer mode reference spirituality, and the translucent skin shows his fascination with the medical industry. It is important to note the psychedelic nature of his paintings too because LSD and other mind-altering drugs are commonly referenced in his art.

LSD was a key factor in the transformational and lifesaving experience that Alex and Allyson shared as the beginning of their relationship. By incorporating this particular aspect of drug use in their story and art these artists bring awareness to the cultural shadow. Jung said that everything in the unconscious is also called the shadow (Franz, 1995). That is to say, shadow is a mythical term for the unconscious. Despite the negative connotation of the term shadow, which implies darkness and is mostly associated with evil, the unconscious contains both good and bad qualities. Furthermore, our creative impulses come from the shadow. It is not surprising, given Alex’s medical background that his art can evoke the viewer to reflect on the good and bad qualities of drug use in our culture.

Alex’s life is an example of a positive experience with LSD. What about the negative side? Health care expenses are growing rapidly. Total health care spending in the United States is expected to reach $4.8 trillion in 2021. That increased from $2.6 trillion in 2010 and up from $75 billion in 1970. That means that 20% of gross domestic product, or one fifth of the U.S economy, will be spent on health care by 2021. What’s more, the pharmaceutical drug manufacturers are making the largest profits in the health industry at 18% in 2012 (“The Facts About Rising Health Care Costs,” n.d.). Alex and Allyson’s art brings awareness to this aspect of our drug culture that might otherwise stay in the shadow with unnoticed and unintended consequences.

The shadow, or unconscious, is the home of the muse archetype and from there it has infinite potential psychic energy that can take a new form through creative expression. Being unconscious, the archetype can only be known indirectly by examining things like art and dreams. By exploring their art and dreams together, Alex and Allyson are able to continually access the wellspring of creative life energy in the depths of the unconscious. Alex and Allyson travel all over the world to music and art festivals, like Burning Man, to share their artwork and inspire others. “Inspiration can motivate people to carry out feats of imaginative brilliance, to invent entirely new ways of perceiving the world and to create breathtaking works of art, literature or music” (Foster, 2013, p. 13).

In what other forms does the Grey muse appear to inspire creativity? Allyson is frequently asked about her relationship with Alex over the years. They share a commitment to developing a deep and sacred relationship. Their creative and spiritual relationship has become a source of inspiration for other people. This quality of their relationship is expressed in their collaborative artwork, Sacred Mirrors, in which people experience a feeling of “other” as “source.” Allyson said, “Our commitment to each other elicits trust in others. We aspire to build a temple and would like a community to join with us” (Sidon, 2013, para. 53).

The concept of an inclusive community or family is one aspect of the Grey muse pattern. The traditional Greek story shares this pattern as there were nine sister muse goddesses. The muses were known as the personification of knowledge and the arts. In particular they each held a specific role in the areas of literature, dance and music. The Greek god, Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory personified), were the parents of the these 9 muses.

Today the Muses are required to take on many shapes and forms in this time of global awareness and interconnectedness. The creative techniques used by artists have expanded to accommodate a larger cultural community and new technologies for self-expression, such as social media. The unknown is manifested through creative acts and seen as art in the past, present, and future. Each encounter with the “other” is a chance for the individual to discover and honor the deeper meaning in their lives.

Honoring each other is a part of the pattern in Alex and Allyson’s mutual Muse relationship. In an interview Allyson explained her relationship with Alex, “Mutual honoring recognizes the part played by the other in our personal transformation, acknowledging the other as the “source” in ones life. Alex and I feel that seeing the ‘other’ as ‘source’ is the key to an ideal relationship. (“allysongrey,” n.d., para. 5)

A place to hold sacred is also an important aspect of their Grey muse existence. In New York, Alex and Alyson have created a permanent location, named CoSM, with facilities for sacred creativity. They are building a new temple to house the Sacred Mirrors and other art named Entheon. It means “find the god within” (TEDx, 2013).

In conclusion, there are many recognizable patterns in the Grey muse. In looking at the lives of Alex and Allyson we find love, travel, art, creativity, drugs, medicine, community, honor, religion, spirituality, trust, interconnectedness, and awareness—just to list a few of the qualities. Perhaps Jung (1963/2011) captured the complexity of our creative nature best when he said, “If he [man] possesses a grain of wisdom, he will lay down his arms and name the unknown by the more unknown, ignotum per ignotius–that is, by the name of God” (p. 354).


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Final for The Complex Nature of Inspiration; HMC 120 Track X, First Year with Jennifer Leigh Selig, Ph.D. at Pacifica Graduate Institute Engaged Humanities