Saturday, April 16, 2016

Symbols, Archetypes, Metaphors

St. George Killing the Dragon - 63X50 cm, oil on MDF board, Private commission, 2016.

There is one particular subject matter that has kept me quite busy for the past few years, which is  the importance, or the relevance, of mythological symbols, archetypes and metaphors in Art and Life today. It is quite obvious that we live in very turbulent times; times marked by many changes -  some of which are quite fundamental and dramatic - times that are characterized by a process called demythologization of life and society.

An important question that is presenting itself today is: except for the purpose of entertainment, can mythology still be relevant to our lives? The answer is - of course it can! Moreover, it is needed today as much as before, and perhaps even more today than before because we have lost our collective myth (I am generally referring to the modern western society in particular). 

Rapid scientific and technological developments and the subsequent changes it brought into the world, have made some of the basic functions of mythology quite irrelevant (according to Joseph Campbell there are 4 functions of mythology). Especially its second, the cosmological function has become outdated. The first, metaphysical function of mythology seems to have lost the battle against our rationalism and materialistic approach to life. It’s third, sociological function is now mainly controlled and governed by the various secular state institutions. It seems that only the fourth function of mythology, the  psychological one, is still pretty much alive. In other words, the way to make mythology still relevant and practically worthwhile to our lives is through psychology. 

Why psychology? Simply because the world of mythology is not some kind of a fantastic, imaginary external realm reserved only for Gods and other mythological creatures, and therefore inaccessible to human beings. On the contrary! Mythology basically reflects the stages in the development of the human psyche. Man has created the mythology - or better said it arose  spontaneously from deep within him, from the unconscious (according to some scholars) - and, now, this mythology tells about him, his condition and his journey. 

The psychology  offers a prism that enable us to "break", interpret and better understand the hidden meaning of symbols and metaphors that make up the language of mythology. There is no better way to express the fundamental truths about man and the existence but through the metaphors. Things change their outer appearance through times, but their essence stays the same. One of the main characteristics of these universal preconditions of existence is that they cannot be appropriately expressed through words, for they greatly transcend the language and its cultural and social limitations – sometimes they even transcend the intellect itself. The use of right (living) symbols, archetypes and metaphors is proven to be the best solution to this problem. However, being as  dynamic and as elusive as the very phenomena they are referring to, these symbolic interpretations are not the ultimate solution, for there is no ultimate solution to this problem, no final answer to the fundamental questions of existence, only temporal indications, for Life is fluid, and the Self is incomprehensible. Still we don't have a better way to express the inexpressible but through the mythological symbols, and archetypes – the metaphors. 

So, the metaphors are not supposed to be taken literally - they are no facts, they are just metaphors. They are no lies either, they are metaphors. They do not try to define, nor to describe, but to indicate the existence of these illusive fundamental principles of our existence, and to inspire a birth of a certain notion in the mind and the heart of men, so that we can develop a clearer and more comprehensive vision and attain enrichment and realization. They offer a necessary support to our psyche, and help us create a solid ground under our feet. 

Therefore, our own imagination and intuition plays a crucial part in this process. Because in its very nature, all of this is both individual and collective, there is no universal formula that can show us how to deal with our own symbolic life. There are only indications, “guideposts”, inspiration and the great mystery of Life, and the Self.
However, it is through these symbols that our deeper Self tries to communicate important message to our conscious part. This often happens in our dreams and fantasies. Ignoring and doing nothing about the message presented by the symbols that spontaneously arise from the unconscious leads almost certainly to some type of neurosis. That is why our intellect, from a certain point on, has very little to say about these processes, except, of course, for the subsequent and important work of integration of the suppressed contents from the unconscious (often indicated by the symbolic meaning of the metaphors) into the conscious life.

Well, that would be all for now. I would like to end this entry with some unsolicited advice especially to those who found this article inspiring:
1 - cherish your imagination and intuition, for Life is a miracle, and true Art, being one of the most genuine emanations of that mystery, is a miracle too. 
2 – read and educate yourself so that you can have a better understanding of the symbols that you use, or that spontaneously appear in your art.
3 -  meditate for a while on the following quotation: “When Intellect comes in, Art goes out.” – Harvey Dunn.

Have a good day!