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01 May 2006 @ 05:01 pm
Ruminations on Mythic Art  
I've been attempting to collect my thoughts surrounding the issues of what distinguishes mythic art from fantasy art as well as what I personally feel mythic art to be. My notes on these subjects form undulating blocks of handwriting which ebb and flow around the notes I was taking for my art history classes. I hope to take the raw material of these notes, develop them into something more refined, and post them as something of a keynote reading at both mythicart and mythicfaery. For the moment, I'm just transcribing the bulk of them in this journal entry with minimal editing, so expect a decent amount of repetition and a general rough, sketchy quality from the writing. I've also interspersed some quotations I'm considering adding to the discussion in the final draft.

“Myth is the primordial language natural to [the] psychic processes, and no intellectual formulation comes anywhere near the richness and expressiveness of mythical imagery.”
- Carl Gustav Jung

• Fantasy and fantasy art tends to be insular, self-sufficient, whole unto itself. The fantasy artist in essence visually creates a separate universe from our own, almost a "virtual reality." Fantasy fabricates cultures, characters, creatures, entire worlds, and although they may be inspired by actual existing cultures, etc. they are separate from them. They may also include creatures originating from earthly mythology e.g. dragons, unicorns, etc. but these creatures are set in the context of the separate fabricated universe and not in relation to our history and folklore. These fantasy universes are separate both spatially and temporally, their creators invent entirely the landscapes, the timeline, the histories of the lands in which their stories are set. Fantasy realms are escapes from the world in which we currently reside, in a sense they are highly creative delusions. In fantasy people revel in a pleasurable distance from their daily realities. There is a chasm, a break between our mundane lives and the lands in which fantasy takes place. These realms are different enough to serve as a delightful mental flight of fancy, but similar enough that we do not feel so horribly alien when we mentally inhabit those spaces.

Mythic art, on the other hand, does not seek to exist in its own isolated bubble, but to tie into our world both spatially and temporally. Mythic art does not seek to temporarily sever us from our daily lives, but encourages us to delve deeper into the fabric of the world we actually inhabit. Fantasy whisks us away, while mythic art seeks instead to take us on a journey, which may be either fairly direct or labyrinthine, that ultimately leads back to the origin - the world we encounter everyday. Mythic art brings us full circle.

There are good stories and mediocre stories and downright bad stories. How are they to be judged? If they do not aim at a static or "literal" reality, how can we discern whether one telling of events is any better or more worthy than another? The answer is this: a story must be judged according to whether it makes sense. And "making sense" must her be understood in its most direct meaning: to make sense is to enliven the senses. A story that makes sense is one that stirs the senses from their slumber, one that opens the eyes and the ears to their real surroundings, turning the tongue to actual tastes in the air and sending chills of recognition along the surface of the skin. To make sense is to release the body from the constraints imposed by outworn ways of speaking, and hence to renew and rejuvenate one's felt awareness of the world. It is to make the senses wake up to where they are.
- David Abram in The Spell of the Senuous, page 265

• Fantasy asks us to suspend our accepted thoughts about reality in order to participate in an entirely new set of ideas established in the fantasy realm. Mythic art instead invites us to broaden, deepen, and/or challenge our accepted thoughts and perceptions about the world which we daily inhabit.

"Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of human life. [. . .] Myth serves [a] mystical function [. . .] realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery. Myth opens the world to a dimension of mystery, to the realization of the mystery that underlies all form. If you lose that, you don't have a mythology. If mystery is manifest through all things, the universe becomes, as it were, a holy picture. You are always addressing the transcendent mystery through your actual world." - Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth

• Mythic art, in this case, does not simply mean "mythical creatures" (there are different communities dedicated to that: creaturexchange, mythical_world, etc.). There is a definition of "myth" as an untruth, something that is not factual, and while that is a valid definition in some contexts, it is not the one being utilized here. For the purposes of this community, myths are stories, images, conceptions which are intended to tap the deeper nature of existence. They are often metaphors and poetic expressions of the mysteries of birth, life, growth, death, and what lies beyond. They can illuminate connections and relationships between humans and animals, humans and the divine, humans and nature, etc. Mythology can reveal profound insights into its culture of origin. Although some have stated that mythology is a form of primitive science, that is generally not the case, and it is a somewhat inaccurate statement. Myth is often a means to impart meaning, but it is rarely a literal attempt to explain the mechanics of the universe in the way science does.

• What makes mythic art mythic is the background, the consideration for rendering not just a creature one has imagined and designed, but a conscious sensitivity to connect the image to something deeper, whether that is in direct reference to existing world mythology, folklore, legends, etc. or to figures from one's own personal mythology, dreams, and visions.

"I think of mythology as the homeland of the muses, the inspirers of art, the inspirers of poetry. To see life as a poem and yourself participating in a poem is what the myth does for you." - Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth

Mythic art is created in the same state of mind/consciousness as mythology is: it is an exploration of our relationships with nature, the divine, each other, and even with ourselves. It is not just something one creates because it looks cool or cute or pretty or sexy or mysterious. Both fantasy and myth take advantage of the human imagination, but while fantasy is a respite (and sometimes an escape - in its ultimate extremes it can manifest as psychosis and delusion) from our ordinary perceptions of the world, mythic art seeks to sacralize and bestow meaning to it.

Mythic art can be devotional and reverential, implying that the artist holds their subject as sacred, but it can also be interpretive and speculative, a means of plumbing the human consciousness.

• There are definitely works of visual art and literature which blurs the lines between mythic and fantasy work, but for the purposes of this community (in reference to mythicart) we are looking for work which is substantially mythic rather than fantasy.
• Also, this is emphatically not a fanart community. For instance, although a lot of anime is somewhat based on Japanese (and other) mythology, we do not wish to see your drawings of other people's previously designed characters. Presenting personal interpretations and illustrations of mythology, legends, poetry, fairy-tales, etc. is welcomed of course, but redrawing someone else's creation is not. For example, an illustration of the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast is perfectly acceptable, an illustration of Disney's Belle character is not. The same principle applies to a great deal of so called furry or anthropomorphic art as well. Animal-human hybrids, shapeshifters, animals with human features, humans with animal features, etc. certainly exist in world myth, but there is a distinction between a mythological centaur, mermaid, or selkie and a personal furry wolf character someone invents to exist in its own fantasy storyline.

Comments, opinions, questions, etc.?

P.S. A Blesséd Beltane to those of you of a Neo-Pagan persuasion!