Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

Proper and improper art and mythology

Viewing 4 posts - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #72446

    I wonder if we can apply Joyce theory of art to Myth. Is there such a thing as a proper and improper myth in the way that Joyce made the distinction for art or “improper” myths are merely ideologies or allegories and there is no point making the distinction?

    #72449

    Intriguing question, Drewie. My first inclination is to say no – but then again, maybe there is some resonance here.

    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.

    Of course, Joyce, and Campbell, are referring to conscious intentions of an individual who creates the art to serve that intention – but individuals do not create myth; mythology emerges from the collective unconscious of a culture. So, in one sense, we are comparing apples to oranges.

    But I come back to that sense of intention. An artist who intends a specific response response in his/her audience, motivating either fear (a didactic response), or desire (the pornographic response), the same two temptations presented to the Buddha, is creating improper art.

    I can see a correlation between that and a “mythology” intentionally created – such attempts to force a myth are improper  and, ultimately, doomed to failure.

    Hitler was the master of wielding myth as a tool of the state in the twentieth century. He and Goebbels and their cohorts consciously created and imposed what might be thought of as “didactic” mythology (one based on fear of the Jews and a desire for the glory of days-gone-by) that compelled a whole nation to take up arms. It worked in the short term (e.g. the pomp and pageantry of the rallies, the shadow projections onto the Jews), but is difficult to sustain.

    Another example would be Akhenaten’s abandoning the mythology of his people, substituting one – the worship of a single God, Aten – that seems wholly his own creation. That revolution in thought barely lasted the 17 years of his reign, fading away soon after his death as the old Gods re-assumed their roles.

    You can’t impose a myth by fiat. Though not corresponding in exact detail with Joyce’s conceptualization re art, that, to me, comes closest to what I would define as “improper”: a manufactured myth.

    #72448

    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.

    #72447

    Your point is well-taken, Drewie. I too would agree that “proper” art is mythological – I just didn’t catch that question in your initial post.

    My response was not intended to declare “this is the way it is,” but thinking out loud, guided by the distinction Campbell makes in Power of Myth between dreams and myth (both come from the unconscious, but one is in relation to the individual dreamer, and the other is collective, speaking to larger concerns). I did not express myself clearly, as my thoughts, like yours, were in the moment and only half-formed, and so wandered into the weeds.

    Mythologies as well as art arise from the unconscious. In your first quote above from Pathways to Bliss, Campbell seems to be saying (at least to me) that all myth is proper myth; when it is teaching a practical lesson, it is not myth, but allegory.

    Perhaps the emphasis should be on intention. Mythology in the embrace of ideology, for example, designed to move the populace to action to a specific end, isn’t mythology, but propaganda (the mythology of the Third Reich perhaps the clearest example . . . an attempt to stage-manage myth).

    When artists tap into the collective psyche, that is indeed the stratum of myth; the artist serves as a channel for that material to surface, prompting a static response (aesthetic arrest – that “aha!”moment).

    I think we’re on the same page here, or not far from it. Alas, sometimes words get in the way . . .

Viewing 4 posts - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.