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Reply To: Proper and improper art and mythology


Indeed I totally missed the part that mythologies are not invented or intended and they spring from a collective center that is not consciously controlled and I can understand better now the distinction after the examples you gave.

The idea for the question came from what I read in Pathways to Bliss. Campbell makes the distinction and says:

Now when you translate the moving, metaphoric foot of the compass into a concrete reference -into a fact- what you have is merely and allegory and not a myth. Where a myth points past itself to something indescribable, an allegory is merely a story or image that teaches a practical lesson. It is what  Joyce would call improper art. –Pathways to Bliss.

I guess, my hope was when I asked the question, that proper art could be mythological, but basically from what I understand both proper and improper art are consciously controlled so they can’t be defined as “mythology” although we can still understand improper “mythologies” with that tool. Right? Interesting because I always had the impression that art and mythology kind of meant the same thing. Maybe that is a different question than what I asked initially.

I am sorry If my post seems hasty but as I read and re-read Campbell these questions come to mind and I rush to make a post. I should be more careful next time and take the time to explain better and not assume everyone knows what I am talking about. Note to self. 🙂

Just to expand a bit on Joyce theory of art and what you said.

Summing up Joyce’s thesis, proper art is that which does not inspire one to act, but evokes aesthetic arrest: the “aha! moment when one is transfixed, transcending day world concerns. Improper art, on the other hand, takes two forms: what Joyce terms pornographic, and didactic art.

Though what we think of as pornography today certainly falls under the umbrella of Joyce’s label, that’s not the whole of what he calls pornographic art, which includes anything which inspires desire (such as a beautiful photograph of an alpine snowscape in a travel magazine advertisement, prompting one to book a vacation in the mountains). Didactic art is anything which inspires one to action for a cause (such as a haunting image that conveys the life-and-death need for social action to end child abuse). That doesn’t mean those aren’t brilliant creations or worthy goals – just not proper art as Joyce sees it. -Stephen

Joyce also said proper art is static and improper art is kinetic. Kinetic because the emotions it creates (desire or loathing/fear) moves us into action to either towards the object (to posses) or away from it (to abandon), pornographic and didactic. And  static because it creates an experience of the object we are looking that goes above or beyond these emotions, we are looking at the object in awe only able to absorb its beautiful nature hence creating aesthetic arrest.

Alright then, cheers.