To what extent a birth chart represents human personality? Cubism serves here as a metaphor to guide us through a deeper and more natural understanding of psychological astrology. My proposal is to look at the birth chart not as a symbol of the self, but from another perspective: the contemporary trait theories. Thus, as in cubism, astrological representation does not mirror reality in its totality, but can only express the structural dynamics of personality, particularly temperament, which I define as the psychobiological nucleus around which personality is formed.
The fundamental question in this article – which is a conceptual text – is to ascertain how and up to what extent an astrological chart represents human personality or temperament. Cubism or cubistic vision serves here as a metaphor to guide our thinking towards a deeper understanding of psychological astrology. This perspective is also useful to overcome certain misconceptions, which involve the analysis of the astrological chart, in particular regarding the psychoanalytic interpretation, specifically Jungian psychology and its implications. I understand that it is necessary to delimit the astrological phenomenon with models that function in an objective way, allowing all those who propose to interpret the same birth theme, similar and well defined results, and not a polysemy that is so broad that anything becomes acceptable.
Natural phenomena have implicit rules that express themselves regularly. What we humans always seek to understand are the world’s systems – natural, psychological and social. Discovering how a system works is, on one hand, establishing the relationship between its various parts; and on the other, capturing it in its working totality and articulating it with other known systems, when possible. In Western history, this was how we began to envisage reality when we emerged from the mythical universe to a naturalist universe, even taking into account the later Christian ideology and its attempts at thought control. This option has brought us excellent results, especially after the so-called scientific revolution in the seventeenth century, manifested in the strength and success of various contemporary sciences. Astrology, it is true, was barred and we could not join the party. We remained on the outside. However, it is now up to us modern-day astrologers to decide if we want to continue with this status.
Psychological astrology in the sense that we give it today, begins to take shape, or at least hints at this, with the work of the English astrologer Alan Leo at the beginning of the twentieth century. Whether by conviction or by social pressure suffered at the time – divinatory astrology was then prohibited by law, Leo had the merit of being a pioneer and therefore part of a turning point in the history of astrology. Some decades later, the French astrologer, philosopher and musician, Dane Rudhyar, whose real name was Daniel Chennevière, established one more turning point in the history of astrology. Here, the term psychological astrology can be used more properly, as the astrology of Rudhyar is strongly influenced by Jungian analytical psychology and by the humanist psychologies of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.
This archetypical and humanist astrology consolidated itself in the nineteen seventies and till today, extemporaneously, I believe, predominates not only among the main English speaking astrologers, but in almost all the western astrological practices. The objective, essentially, is to show the client the nature of the self, a kind of ideal me postulated by Jung. Therefore, in each one of us, an existential goal shall exist, which is to identify and experience the self.
The astrological chart would precisely be the map of this self and the astrologer, just like a psycho pomp, must lead the person to this self-realization condition. Any similarity with ancient initiation processes is not a mere coincidence.
My proposal, by contrast, is to look at the astrological chart from another perspective, in which there is no ideal teleological target to be reached nor an ideal self hidden in the basement (or attic) of the personality. Better yet, I will not project anything that transcends the personality, no metaphysical or mystic construction, but only genuine psychological constructs, according to the protocols of the scientific method practiced in our time. The models that I presuppose are those from the various contemporary trait theories, especially the five- factor model (Silva, M.). The modern concept of factor distinguishes itself from the traditional concept of type, such as the Jungian, for example, as it refers to the personality dimensions that vary in a scale, whilst the type is a staunch category: You are sanguine, but not choleric, a perceptive extrovert, but not a sentimental introvert, and so on, whatever the classification used. The factor, however, is inferred statistically through factor analysis from personality traits that usually manifest together.
Considering, therefore, that the birth chart represents the dynamics of personality traits, or more specifically, the structural dynamics of human temperament, which I define as the psychobiological nucleus around which personality is formed, we see in the following how cubist art might help us to better understand the astrological phenomenon in its psychological dimension.
What is cubism?
The work that inaugurated the cubism movement, or at least anticipated that which would develop from it, was, without doubt, The young ladies of Avignon (Les demoiselles d’Avignon) (see Fig. 1), by Pablo Picasso, painted in 1907, when the Spanish painter lived in Paris. Distortions of perspective and form, reduction or simplification of volume, fusion of object and space, analysis of the traditional representation elements themselves and the simultaneous rejection and use of the conventional rules, made The young ladies a very strange painting for the time. One of Picasso’s intentions was to call attention to the pictorial illusionism, exposing the classic illusionistic construction techniques, their conventionalism and their linguistic character. Therefore, the work of art returns to itself and does not become an imitation of reality. An evolution of the idea of “art for art’s sake” by Manet, a simplification of the forms and of the abstract treatment of volume and space in Cézanne, cubism in its rupture with the past opens the way for what would later be totally abstract art, totally non-figurative abstract art.
Fig. 1. The young ladies of Avignon (1907). Picasso, oil on canvass. The Museum of Modern Art, N. York.
Thus, cubism appeared like an essentially conceptual innovating language, the fruit of tension between natural reality and the specific reality of art. Its initial development was due to the joint work of Picasso and of the French painter Georges Braque, who had already been exploring the innovations of Cézanne in relation to perspective. As both of them were living in Montmartre, Paris, they began to exchange ideas from 1909. These resulted in the first cubist paintings. Later on, other artists like Juan Gris, Metzinger, Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, Delaunay and Léger, to mention a few, started working with the cubist style, developing it and taking it in various directions.
Apollinaire said in a comment in 1912, that Picasso “studies an object like a surgeon who dissects a corpse.” This comment suggests the analytical and rational character of the formal solutions that Picasso sought for his art. How does one represent three dimensions on two-dimensional canvass without using illusionistic techniques? Both he and Braque appeared to have progressively arrived at the same answer. As we see in Three women, in Fig. 2, which is another step in the direction of cubism, Picasso abandons depth and spacing in the perspective, the planes interpenetrate and the figures are shown as schematics, like blocks or modules that portend a geometrized representation. Furthermore, the influence of African art is clear in the faces of the three women, as had already been used in The young ladies of Avignon.
Fig. 2. Three women (1908). Picasso, oil on canvass. Hermitage, Saint Petersburg.
What particularly interests us are the portraits, that is to say, the representation of the human figure done by Braque and Picasso in the phase known as analytical cubism, developed at the end of 1909 and beginning of 1910, when the work of these two artists becomes more elaborate and complex. Radicalizing what they had been doing until then, they get very close to abstraction, although the intention was never to abandon the exterior reality. In Seated nude (Fig. 3), Picasso shows a minimalist feminine figure in her faceted and angled forms and in an even more schematic manner than the three women in the previous figure (Fig. 2). The human profile, however, continues to be recognizable in a space from which it hardly distinguishes. It is a wholly cubist piece of art, but the continuity of the object portrayed perhaps does not permit one to classify it as analytic. In Girl with a mandolin (Fig. 4), in turn, one sees a body with perspective distortions, the simplification of the form is even more accentuated and Picasso begins a fragmentation process that we see on a similar theme in Man with a guitar, by Braque (Fig. 5). After all, where is the man? And the guitar? What happened?
Fig. 3. Seated nude (1909-10). Picasso, oil on canvass. Tate Gallery.
Fig. 4. Girl with mandolin (1910). Picasso, oil on canvass. The Museum Of Modern Art, N. York.
Fig. 5. Man with guitar (1911). Braque, oil on canvass. The Museum Of Modern Art, N. York. (picture on the right)
The degree of discontinuity and fragmentation in the painting by Braque is so significant that it makes us look for the image of this man and the guitar. We hope to see a man playing the instrument. With a little effort and goodwill, we end up seeing him. Eyes, large nose, mouth, right arm and parts of the guitar appear reasonably clearly and his chest is also recognizable. There is much of the conceptual in these forms. Braque practically deconstructs the integrity of the figure by overlapping parts and perspectives. Like Picasso, he exposes illusionistic artifices and unveils them.
Furthermore, what is there to say about The accordionist (Fig. 6), by Picasso, and Woman reading (Fig. 7), by Braque? The iconicity here is reduced to a minimum. One does not see anymore the similarity between the representation and the represented figure; or, in semiotic terms, between the significant (the sign) and the object. Some recognizable details – eyes, hand, elbow angle, arms of the chair, and also the title of the work, enable the identification of the theme. The images were disassembled and “analyzed” in both pictures. There is a combination of perspectives. Various levels are simultaneously shown. The components are incongruous and take on a conceptual relationship, which is therefore non-imitative with the sensorial reality. We, therefore, have the representation of various aspects of one same object in one sole image.
Fig. 6. The accordionist (1911). Picasso, oil on canvass. Guggenhein Museum. (picture on the left)
Fig. 7. Woman reading (1911). Braque, oil on canvass. Private collection.
The analytical nature of the birth chart
Many laypersons think that reading an astrological chart is like reading a crystal ball, where supposedly one can see reality unfolding in front of his or her eyes. We know that this is not true. Astrologers read and interpret symbols that represent real and virtual objects, with which the astrologer associates the most diverse meanings. It is therefore, a language. When we learn this language, we learn astrology. Such symbols (or symbolic signs) also represent the totality of significance fields or semantic fields, associated in psychological astrology with covariant personality traits. It is the case with signs of the zodiac (or cosmosigns, as I usually call them). Aspects of personality and cognitive structures are symbolized by celestial bodies (the planets, the Moon and the Sun). Experience fields, or even the psychological environment, in turn, compose the Twelve Houses. Euphoric or dysphoric relationships – fluency or tension – are associated with planetary aspects, and so on and so forth.
From the perspective of any geographical point, planets and cosmosigns move, forming the most diverse configurations. In a given instant t, we can have what would be the astrological map of a birth here on earth. We also say that this map in some way represents the personality or temperament of a person, not in its totality, as if it were a magical reflection, but in its general predispositions, like a rough sketch or design. In the case of cubist representation, we saw that the human figures become increasingly more simplified (Figs. 1-4), being finally reduced, in the analytical cubism, to an arrangement of discontinuous geometric forms (Figs. 5 and 6). Here the visual reality serves as a reference and not as a model to be copied. The same happens with the astrological chart of an individual, in which one does not see the totality of the individual, nor their supposed essence, not even the social influences. The discontinuity of the various astrological indicators that make up the psychological profile is also evident. They are like “fragments” that the astrological grammar syntax permits to unite.
As such, the main confluence that I see between (analytical) cubist portrait and the astrological representation of the personality is precisely the idea that both make use of a language that seeks to express certain aspects or dimensions of an external reality, without the pretention of embracing it in its totality or reflecting it as manifested in the world. In the same way that the tridimensionality of a body is illusive in the two dimensions of a canvass, what is “denounced” by cubism, it is also illusive to interpret the astrological birth chart in the sense of a magical and synchronous intersection between subjective reality and objective reality, as humanist/Jungian astrology wants (Perry, G., 2009). I believe it is very reasonable to see the birth chart as a pattern of response – a psychological test gets very close to this. Another very different thing, however, is to imagine that there is also an identifiable pattern of external stimuli, which then necessarily puts us into the realm of divination. In this case no dialog is possible with contemporary science, there is no new paradigm, but on the contrary, a romantic return to the past.
Cubism can “teach” us how illusory it is to look, in an astrological chart, for each detail about our personality or, worse still, each event in our lives, so wishing to build an ingenuous and almost absurd equivalence between the astrological phenomenon and the set of phenomena that constitute reality in itself as a whole. Astrology needs to have limits, like any knowledge system developed by human beings. Making it a factotum and even invent an insane number of variables, making any reasonable interpretation of a birth chart unfeasible, is like entering a dead end, exposing it as ludicrous before the scientific community and to people with any common sense.
At the point we have arrived at the end of this decade, contempt for the scientific method can be fatal, whatever the object of the study, and whatever is the reality one wishes to attain. Subjectivist approaches, Jungian mysticism disguised as science, esoteric beliefs and such are paths where astrology spent much time shrouded in layers of mist. None of this however, has served to answer questions that stubbornly remain unanswered, increasingly marginalizing us from contemporary scientific culture.
- Cottington, D. (1999) Cubismo. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify Ed. [Translated from the original Cubism. London: Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd., 1998.]
- Cottington, D. (1988) Cubism. a history and an analysis, 1907-1914. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Harrison, C. e Wood, P., eds. (2001) Art in theory: 1900-1990. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Perry, G. (2009) Fate and causality in astrology. International Astrology, 38 (1), 61-64.
- Rosenblum, R. (1960). Cubism and twentieth-century art. London: Thames and Hudson.
- Silva, M. Astrology and Psychology: A Dialogue in the Twenty First Century. (to be published)
- Warncke, C.P. (2004) Picasso. Köln: Taschen.
Mauro Silva graduated in Linguistics and has been working as a translator. He began his studies in astrology in the late seventies and always felt that the dialogue between astrology and science is a key factor to the future of astrology, even for its survival. Thus, he chose psychology, particularly the theories of personality, and semiotic as his main tools to establish the necessary links. He has just written a book that now is being translated into English. The title is “Astrology and Psychology – A Dialogue in the Twenty First Century.” Mauro Silva is an ISAR and NCGR member, lives in São Paulo, Brazil, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.