Reply To: Artistic Origins, with Professor Andrew Gurevich
Dear Professor Andrew Gurevich,
I love this Mythblast and the concluding paragraph that seems to summarize its content:
Engaging the emancipatory power of myth as a process of artistic reclamation helps us to unlearn the concrete categories of perceived difference. To ‘paint like a child’ is to forever be the witness of our own shared mythological becoming. Discovering the object only when–and this is essential–the subject is no longer able to see itself as wholly apart from that which it beholds. ‘All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart,’ the poet and activist Maya Angelou reminds us, ‘which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.’
I have always felt enthralled with Blake’s idea that, “In order to write we must become like little children”: the idea of childhood innocence of knowing, when we see and hear the world with eyes that are fresh and look at the world in that “new” way of discovery in which the world feels so enchanted and enchanting. Some have also said that the artwork of Miro is childlike. There is such a fun and refreshing simplicity to it yet the lines hold things to weigh in balance that would create transcendence of tension of the lines and shapes. I think too of the game of charades when we use our bodies to “draw” out the most simplest of non-verbal descriptions in the air or on paper, and what and how we relate to things around us or in nature with our bodies as well as our minds. How a tree makes us want to stretch out our arms or climb into the air or see what the birds see. Or the physical sensation we get when watching a seashell or piece of driftwood get carried out on a wave to further out on the lake or sea. I think when we see and feel the wonder of nature we are receiving the gift of being young again, or free from our most constrained older selves. I think dance is a wonderful art form to help release ourselves from this no matter how old we are or how “unlearned” we might be. To engage in the art and in the world more freely is what I get from this Mythblast. I think this makes a great New Year’s Resolution here at the beginning of February.
I am also enthralled with this Mythblast, Stephen’s questions, and your answers. Lately I have been re-reading Campbell’s The Inner Reaches of Outer Space and it is such a treasure of synchronicity to read this Mythblast while in chapter 3 titled “The Way of Art.”
I was particularly drawn to that statement in the Mythblast about how God does not enjoy the ritual practice of those who are disenchanted with the ritual or the myth! I recall moments when as I was growing up and had to go to church so much that in the Catholic Mass I was bored with going through the motions of the repetition! If I was bored, how boring I must have been! And could we say that often about any of our moments or activities in which we feel bored, that it is not life that is lacking the artistic quality (or boring) but our attitude towards life or that activity that is lacking the art that could otherwise lift our spirits to the moment (that is boring)? This is such a mindful reminder to be mindful of that!
I enjoy thinking back to when I was a child, as this Mythblast has me do, and basking in my memories and the sensation of how fun it was to paint a tree the way I felt like painting it (the way I was naturally seeing it or sensing it) or a poem or story the way I was feeling an event whether an imaginal event or a real one—before encountering so many constructs of the should’s and should-not’s. (Sometimes that is what my journal is for.) There is also such joy as an adult when drawing and painting with children or grandchildren when it brings me back to feeling like who I most honestly and truly am—yes, under all the language skills, vocabularies we use, etc. However, I can also say that sometimes language is so much fun and gloriously exhilarating when it can express and with ease a metaphor or myth so perfectly at times! But those metaphors and myths do get us to the hearts of matters as you discuss in this Mythblast.
Oh and I meant to add after the paragraph quote of yours above that when Maya Angelou as you say tells us that we are more alike than not alike that that means not just the likenesses between people, but people and trees or other flora life, or people and animals (and animal masks), or people and the masks of God. Campbell quoted Shakespeare when he wrote that,
Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.” (Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, p. 57, retrieved from, https://www.jcf.org/works/quote/shakespeare-said-that-art/)
Thank you, Professor Andrew Gurevich, for your inspiration through art and mythology, which feels especially vital in these times of isolation–and thank you to all the deep responses to this Mythblast from those who responded that remind us all how in oh so many ways we are connected.