"In a metamorphosis of states, the Invisible — a word, a character, a point of view — dresses ceremoniously in the garb of the visible as a disguise. Faery as an ocean is unfathomable; a strange and green ocean. Cocteau allies himself with the Invisible. He would have us believe, not only that there is an invisible existence, but that he too is a creature of this element. I may be writing this out of jealousy that my bones don't harbour as much, but then again, I don't necessarily want them to. I am content in my humanness, I don't trace my lineage in the hopes of finding mystics or demigods — it feels too uncomfortably melodramatic. My relationship with the invisible, with Faery, is one of carefully considered distance and respect. I don't presume to know its innermost facets; I know that such presumptuousness is delusion, a dangerous position in which I am liable to invoke the wrath of the unknown. But I also stress that neither is this relationship one of superstition, which implies that my attitude might be unreasonable and born from ignorance. I do not weaken the Invisible by dismissing its existence as nonsense, but nor do I demonically wrap myself up in its cape, laughing at the rest of the world in its petty mortal state. Quite simply, I take the invisible seriously. I attempt to meet it on its own terms. It is not such a silly thing to believe, as Ljerka once mentioned to me, in the 'connectedness of all things.'
Invisible connections, then what does this have to do with painting? I'm looking across the riddled treetops of Faery, hunting for something — not a secret exactly (not something to be made visible), but a sign, a directive to action. This is cheapened by giving Faery an opaque and fathomable character because it places the (human) author in an omnipresent position, which does not and cannot apply in the case of the invisible. The best ghost stories are written from a limited perspective, where the unknown retains its dignity by cloaking its motives (if indeed it has any at all) in darkness and doubt. The invisible maintains this essential invisibility even when disguising itself, as Cocteau points out, in the semblance of the visible. But underneath the forms of the faeries are leaf mold and moss (pigment, binder and canvas). These visible forms are like garments in that they contain clues for the human to interpret. We are wrong if we attempt to unveil the invisibles by these clues, for by nature they are consistently inconsistent. They are monstrously convoluted messages about ourselves."
In these two paragraphs, he has expressed eloquently something I with which I was verbally struggling in my ruminations on mythic art (see previous entry). I have in my own notes that "fantasy artist tend to depict mythical beings, creatures, etc. as if they are corporal, flesh-and-blood whereas mythic artists are inclined to depict them visualizations of symbolic traits, as emanations/representations of generally non-ordinary beings. Within fantasy artwork, creatures like dragons, elves, etc. are shown and conceived of just as humans and other animals are." I wasn't satisfied with the manner in which I attempted to impart the real concept I had in mind, so I left that section out. Oliver Hunter bore to the heart of what I intended to say: "I'm looking across the riddled treetops of Faery, hunting for something — not a secret exactly (not something to be made visible), but a sign, a directive to action. This is cheapened by giving Faery an opaque and fathomable character because it places the (human) author in an omnipresent position, which does not and cannot apply in the case of the invisible."
Exactly. Mythic art is deeply involved in what it conceals and reveals, and it acknowledges that it cannot reveal everything and thus leaves potent space for the viewer (and indeed the artist him or herself) to probe. On the other hand, fantasy art tends to be extremely concerned with forming every detail of costume, motive, character, language, landscape - the artist seeks to build an entire, meticulously-ordered, pre-determined, self-contained world inside their own skull. The creatures and characters in fantasy artwork are entirely solid: although in one particular image we might not be able to see the underbelly of some great, lolling beast, there is no doubt that the artist has conceived the texture and color of that underbelly.
When I utilized the term solid in the previous sentence to refer to creatures in fantasy artwork, it was not to suggest that the mythic is in all manifestations non-physical, non-tactile. Physical, tactile things have their mythic aspects. Deer, for instance, are real creatures which exist in our ordinary, so-called objective reality. One can touch them, dissect them, even ingest them, yet for all of that we cannot deny their mythic quality (i.e. the Invisible facet of which Oliver speaks and the "mystery" Joseph Campbell refers to in the quotations in my previous entry): "Craving the dialect of cities, I forgot the way deer steal into the yard with their big hearts and fragile dreams. I wasn't here to follow their gaunt, level eyes, or the staggering poetry of their hooves" (Diane Ackerman in A Natural History of the Senses). Mythic artwork is engrossed with somehow imparting the "staggering poetry of their hooves;" fantasy tends to depict its subjects, whether "real" or "imaginary" with the fervor of scientific illustration.
Kakuzo Okakura writes in his The Book of Tea that "[i]n leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum is there for you to enter and fill up to the full measure of your aesthetic emotion." This is why East Asian artists are often seen as the masters of empty space, why their landscapes often writhe in a mist that defines the majority of the composition as seemingly empty, allowing the character of the paper itself to become part of the painting. Personally though, I disagree with Okakura's use of the term "vacuum" in reference to those significant, ill-defined places - at least in the context of mythic artwork. A vacuum to me implies void, nothingness, whereas I believe in actuality those ill-defined places are in fact quite the opposite: teeming with possibilities simply because they do not provide such distinct limitations to the viewer. Those spaces are "blank" or vague not because they represent lack, but because the artist comes to terms with the fact that her splay of many-hued leads, her wells of jewel-like ink, impressive as they are, do not contain the liminal, shimmering colors necessary to truly "complete" the tableau. And as Oliver stated, it would only cheapen the subject to suppose that one could render the mythic in its entirety.
When I posted my drawing of The CatfishWoman to my Epilogue gallery, one individual wrote that by choosing to crop the figure of the faery as I had was teasing the viewer, "Your description of her only makes me want to see how you would draw the rest of her. What you have here is quite a tease!" When I posted the same drawing in my Elfwood gallery, someone commented that judging by what portions of her anatomy could be perceived in this image, she was far too human to be considered adequately within fantasy genre and he expressed that the image was lacking. I responded, "I agree that I have not pushed the boundaries as far as I could have regarding her degree of catfishiness, but the representation felt right to me at the time and I'm still pleased with how it turned out. I envision her as a shapeshifter who can embody a broad range of forms between wholly human and wholly catfish. Perhaps I will depict her in another piece in an aspect closer to the catfish end of the spectrum. The way I chose to frame and compose this piece should also be taken into consideration. Perhaps her arms and torso lead off the page and form elegant fins, perhaps not. I like giving the viewer room to put their own imagination to use. Someone over at my Epilogue gallery commented that this image was a 'tease' since I didn't show her in her entirety, and in a way they're quite right, and I personally think the image might become too dull and predictable if I just handed the viewer all of the information."
Shimmering peripheries. Potent spaces. Although they can be embodied in the clean absence of pigment in Chinese ink paintings, I believe there are other manners of allowing potentiality, ambiguity, mystery into one's artwork, more ways than I could possibly enumerate.
In other news, I have a new friend! :D A recent trip to Skippack, Pennsylvania introduced me to a small shop which included among its wares a collection of Native American flutes. Tsunami flutes to be precise. I hit it off with a lovely flute in the key of F, its body crafted of Tulip Poplar and its bird/block/fetish of Palownia. The natural tone of both woods is quite light: a pale flute for a pale girl. I have a particular affinity with Tulip Poplar as that species of tree populates much of the land surrounding my home. (Tulip Poplar spires wreath my Horned God's brow and a Tulip Poplar leaf-pen entwine my Green Lady's hair.)
Well, that's enough writing for one night I think!
· originally posted to sphinxmuse