From "The Value of Fantasy and Mythical Thinking" by Katherine Langrish:
"Karen Armstrong claims that religion is an art, and I agree with her. In her book A Short History of Myth she examines the modern expectation that all truths shall be factually based. This is what religious fundamentalists and scientists like Richard Dawkins have, oddly, in common. A religious fundamentalist refuses to accept the theory of evolution because it appears to him or her to disprove the truth of Genesis, when what Genesis actually offers is not a factual but an emotional truth: a way of accounting for the existence of the world and the place of people in it with all their griefs and joys and sorrows. It’s – in other words – a story, a fantasy, a myth. It’s not trying to explain the world, like a scientist. It’s trying to reconcile us with the world. Early people were not naïve. The truth that you get from a story is different from the truth of a proven scientific fact.
"Any work of art is a symbolic act. Any work of fiction is per se, a fantasy. In the broadest sense, you can see this must be so. They are all make-belief. Tolstoy’s Prince André and Tolkien’s Aragorn are equal in their non-existence. Realism in fiction is an illusion -- just as representational art is a sleight of hand (and of the mind) that tricks us into believing lines and splashes of colour are ‘really’ horses or people or landscapes.
"The question shouldn’t be ‘Is it true?’, because no story provides truth in the narrow factual sense. The questions to ask about any work of art should be like these: ‘Does it move me? Does it express something I always felt but didn’t know how to say? Has it given me something I never even knew I needed?’ As Karen Armstrong says, 'Any powerful work of art invades our being and changes it forever.' If that happens, you will know it. It makes no sense at all to ask, ‘Is it true?’
"Fantasy still deserves to be taken seriously -- read and written seriously -- because there are things humanity needs to say that can only be said in symbols. Here’s the last verse of Bob Dylan’s song ‘The Gates of Eden’ (from Bringing it All Back Home):
At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what’s true:
And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden.
The mythic imagery today is by Adrian Arleo, an American ceramic artist who lives and works outside Missoula, Montana. She studied Art and Anthropology at Pitzer College, received an M.F.A. in ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has been Artist in Residence at Oregon College of Art and Craft and the Sitka Center For Art and Ecology. Her work is exhibited and collected around the world.
"For over thirty years, my sculpture has combined human, animal and natural imagery to create a kind of emotional and poetic power," she writes. "Often there's a suggestion of a vital interconnection between the human and non-human realms; the imagery arises from associations, concerns and obsessions that are at once intimate and universal. The work frequently references mythology and archetypes in addressing our vulnerability amid changing personal, environmental and political realities. By focussing on older, more mysterious ways of seeing the world, edges of consciousness and deeper levels of awareness suggest themselves."
Please visit the artist's website to see more of her wonderful work.
Words: The Katherine Langrish passage quoted above is from"The Value of Fantasy and Mythical Thinking" (An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, October 17, 2009); all rights reserved by the author. You can read the full piece here. I also recommend Kath's excellent essays on folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy literature, which you can find on her blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, and in her book of the same name. The title of today's post, of course, is from an Emily Dickinson poem.
Pictures: Adrian Arleo's ceramic works above are Heard II, Heard I, Sirens of Rutino & Artemis/Diana II, Night, Apparition, Consider, Earth/Horse Teapot with Dog Lid, Glade & Dormant Honey Comb Woman, and Matrimony. All rights reserved by the artist.