Monday, April 18, 2016

On outdated myths and metaphors

An interesting reflection by artist Petar Meseldzija on the value of myths:
I love Meseldzija's style and ideas, but I think he's a bit off the mark in this case.

The fact is the metaphors on which most classic myths were built are outdated. They were already outdated before the modern era and they are twice as outdated by now. They come from a time in which mankind considered itself at odds with the forces of nature and with its own animal nature, threatened by every insinuation he wasn't the center of everything and engaged in an eternal war against anything he didn't understand. The only desirable outcome, the only hopeful vision of the future, was the triumph of personal will which would put man in charge of everything in the universe. This kind of vision, empowering but out of touch with reality, survived well into the modern era and reached its climax in early science fiction and superhero comics, in which men or manlike entities were literally able to harness every force in the universe.

Not all mythology is like this, but most Western mythology from pre-modern times is. The tale of St.George killing the dragon, which Meseldzija chose to illustrate the article, most certainly is. It is said sometimes that the modern era has failed to replace the older Western myths with newer myths of similar stature, but I would argue that that's untrue. Robinson Crusoe, Sherlock Holmes, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Edmond Dantès, Long John Silver, Dr. Gulliver, Don Quixote, Ikari Shinji, Harry Potter... there are plenty of modern/contemporary archetypical heroes and antiheroes whose antics are more relevant to the cultures of 2016 than any of the ancient heroes', even though modern characters don't lend themselves as easily to reinterpretation.

Now, I understand what metaphors are for, and I understand that there are some rules to the structure of compelling tales because we want tales to stimulate our mind in certain ways. It goes without saying that many myths have superb narrative value. Yet in the contemporary cultural context I fail to see the educational value of myths about courage at a spear point and monster hunting. Of course this could be a personal limitation of mine stemming from the fact I don't trust psychoanalytical theories of art. But it seems to me that most people don't find any educational value in such metaphors either, even though most people would praise them if questioned. We praise them but in practice we consider them good only for entertainment. And rightfully so, because such metaphors don't make for good mental tools to deal with the contemporary world. If you are a teenager going through troublesome times at school or in your family, or dealing with serious inner demons such as suicidal tendencies or dangerous urges, reframing your situation as that of a hero fighting the unknown will likely do more harm than good.

Needless to say my favorite interpretation of Don Quixote - a very modern myth - is that of a warning against outdated human values. Old myths are compelling, but taking their teachings seriously leads to disaster.

There is one kind of heroic figure which the messy contemporary world needs though, and it's also the least represented in Western legends: the smart, self-inquiring, nurturing culture hero. We need to develop an admiration for creative figures such as Chiron or Johnny Appleseed much more than we need to celebrate battlefield heroes such as Odysseus or St.George. We are done fearing the wilderness, demons and vengeful gods. Living in the world of 2016 is akin to stepping carefully in a desert trying to figure out first and foremost how to not run out of water and how to not get hallucinations from the stress.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Restaurant lounge exhibit

I've been invited to exhibit my paintings for a whole year in an Indian/exotic themed lounge of a restaurant in my city. The Fourier Age Avatar paintings fits perfectly with the style of the place, so I plan on leaving it there for the whole time (unless somebody buys it). I will be rotating some of the other paintings every few weeks. Right now I'm juggling the dates to make this fit with other planned exhibits and my work schedule for the Eurofurence Art Show, but I should be able to show there most of the non-commission paintings I do this year.

The place has no problem hosting nudes and slightly erotic works, which will probably come across as strange to USA furries but is not too unusual here in Europe. I just love the idea of anthro art being in public spaces like this! It makes for great conversation pieces as I've experienced multiple times by now.

The opening party went well and I even finished on the spot the last details of a painting.

If I had to give a reason to stubbornly prefer traditional art to digital art it would be that digital art usually lacks this kind of appeal. Even when it's meant for printing, a handmade artifact has a different feeling. One of the reasons Andrew "Android" Jones has gained a well deserved reputation as the foremost digital fine artist is that he understands very well the need for involving the public and adding an immersive, tactile feeling to the visual appeal of digital art, since image quality alone is no longer enough to impress people given the deluge of visual noise we are exposed to. Nowadays making technically impressive pictures and producing great visual ideas is relatively easy with some training, but reaching out to people and actually leaving an impression is still as hard as it has always been.