Monday, November 26, 2007

Respecting your Elders

As an artist, I'm interested in how humans interact with and depict faeries in the present day. But as someone who is enamored with mythology, legend, etc. and also is academically inclined, I believe that artists can gain valuable touchstones to Faery through tradition and folklore which can deepen their work. I don't believe that modern people should be chained to the lore of the past or that Faery is immutable, but I do think that there is tremendous value in seeking the knowledge and experience of people whose daily lives were much more closely entwined with Faery and Nature than ours are. (Not to mention that the faeries of folklore are much more interesting and complex than their fantastical counterparts!)

Peter M. Rojcewicz, in his essay entitled Between One Eye Blink and the Next: Fairies, UFOs, and Problems of Knowledge highlights the importance of folklore to humanity:
Folklore, because of its generally unschooled, informal, and conservative nature, more clearly presents the outlines of the mind's organization than does the more self-conscious and stylistically variable popular and elite arts. Having a more intimate relationship with their own archetypal roots, traditional societies have lived closer to the quintessential spirit of nature, which employs the human mind as the context of its own 'individuation.' Nature individualizes it spirit in all forms of cognition, human or otherwise.[...]

Anomalous folklore [...], would not, rightly speaking, point to a 'supernatural' realm but toward a natural order that embraces all life. Folklore, from this perspective, does not bring us further from reality, but brings us through our 'imaginal' archetypal roots to the nature's 'truth.' Folklore is never literally true, but it may always be fundamentally true. [...] The scientific worldview would rob the universe of spirit and purpose; fairies [...] re-enchant the world, not in the way of 'glamour' or 'pishogue,' but in the sense that the world and our place in it is more and not less than it seems to the eyes. 1
In other words, folklore represents a collection of metaphorical truths. Unlike literature authored by one specific person, folklore was originally transmitted orally through numerous people, often generations prior to being recorded, and through this process its most potent elements are preserved and distilled: "Myths are naturally conservative, seeking out the archetypal pattern, so that whatever elaboration we make on a myth will, if it is not from the mythopoeic imagination, be forgotten. On the other hand, a comparatively trivial tale will always be remembered if it has come from there. 'If a tale can last, in oral tradition, for two of three generations, then it has either come from the real place, or it has found its way there'2." Folklore and mythology then are a series of powerful guides to humanity's relationship with the landscape, life, death, and other beings (human and non-human) which has been stripped of its nonessential and extraneous tidbits through the profound filter of time.

Much of the "knowledge" we currently take for granted regarding Faery is actually derived more from contemporary literature than from folklore, including the extremely tiny stature of the elfin people, their delicate insect wings, and their rather benevolent nature towards humanity — traits that a great number of people mistakenly believe to be the defining characteristics of faeries. To say that all literature regarding faeries (including work from such luminaries as Shakespeare whose writings have had a profound influence on the modern view of faeries) is false is not entirely accurate, of course, because to do so would be to deny that Faery does genuinely continue to inspire individuals. However, to take the views presented by literature as the only truths and to ignore the lessons of folklore regarding Faery is a grave mistake.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Rojcewicz, Peter M. "Between One Eye Blink and the Next: Fairies, UFOs, and Problems of Knowledge." The Good People: New Fairylore Essays. Peter Narváez ed. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997. 502-503. ISBN: 0-8131-0939-6.

2) Harpur, Patrick. The Philosopher's secret Fire: A History of the Imagination. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, 2002. 82. ISBN: 1-56663-485-7.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Threads that Shimmer

Once upon a time something need not be literal to be real and meaningful, and myths were not falsehoods. The passage of time snarls into unwieldy knots and on rare occasions smooths into deliberate plaits. The hands of the weavers include the profound influence of Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) which place extreme importance on the historicity of their spiritual stories which they have fixed from the fluid wreath of oral teachings and rich imagery into the written word; dualistic perspectives which seek to divide and conquer, and nary shall one of the subjugated seep through the barriers to associate with another; and the cool, detached scrutiny of science. Through their hands and those of others the tapestry of our consciousness has changed. The shimmering beneath the surface of ideas, of tales, of the membranes of water, skin, stone, and leaf which threaded the world together with significance is either denied or demonized by prevailing viewpoints: those hands who would weave in their own favor.

Only what is repeatedly verifiable in controlled environments is real, they say. Only what coincides with our interpretation of holy text is true, they say. They have been saying it for so long and with such persuasion that we believe it. Their rhetoric saturates deeper than we can imagine and with profound repercussions. And then we forget that there ever was another way to perceive and relate.

Deprived of a context to make sense of that shimmering beneath the surface, we may mistake it to be a manufactured glitter we tucked under the rug in order to avoid a stern scolding for the lack of neatness and conformity in our abodes. There is a brief tolerance of so-called "magical thinking" in children, but even this is only a temporary respite until the powers that be educate the enchantment from the world:
It is said that some people retain a vivid memory of the passage from earliest childhood and its magical, fluid world to an awareness of the discrete and ordered adult world. Visual, tactile, and other sensory impressions mark such children so profoundly they forever seek to reexperience or re-create them, to keep life sensuous, mysterious, and whole, perhaps to the point of changing appearances and meaning. Perception rides on watery ripples, "real" life refuses to stay within the lines. Storytellers and artists mine these veins, Reality masks a different language, beauty its antecedent and far, far closer to instinct.1
Despite the long-standing (and largely successful) attempts by the major forces of Western culture to eradicate, ignore and dismiss the wisdom of ancestors, artists, shamans, and mystics who say that Otherworlds permeate our own, the mortal soul still hungers for that interaction, a relationship which in the past was seen as an integral part of being human.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Meloy, Ellen. The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky. New York, Vintage Books, 2002. 61. ISBN 0-375-70813-8.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fecundity - ACEO

My second ACEO piece is in homage to creativity in its highly sensual aspects (as opposed to a more intellectual approach) which I believe is fairly self evident in the imagery itself. The concepts of fecundity, fruitfulness, and fertility have often been represented visually via the soft curves of the female form. For example, the prehistoric sculpture known as the "Venus of Willendorf" with her pendulous breasts and rotund belly is commonly cited as a fertility figure and potentially a Goddess of growth. The association between women and fecundity in the physical realm is a strong one, of course, because women have the ability to literally give birth to new life. However, I personally do not think the association between women and creativity should only be a matter of biology nor that fecundity should relate only to making babies (or producing seeds, spores, etc.). This image is intended to convey another more metaphorical view of fecundity.

The swirling green patterns were intended to represent stylized flora and foliage, but it also ended up resembling green fire which is also appropriate in some sense.

Size: 2.5" x 3.5"
Media: Prismacolor colored pencils, watercolor, acrylic