Art as Mythology

[A speech given to John Napier, Vincent Gould and Andy Howlett]

And Nathaniel said unto him “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Philip saith unto him, “Come and see.”

“Brothers! Perhaps we might say that art is the mythologisation of human experience.

If so, what are we to make of all the fine art these days which simply perpetuates the mythology of fine art itself? What are we to make of so much of the popular music these days which is, above all else, homage to the popular music that has gone before? What are we to make of all the films these days which only further mythologise the mythologies of the film stars that star in the films? The sheer cultural and economic magnitude of these industries has plunged the art-forms they monopolise into self-referential aesthetics. Popular art these days mythologises itself, but it rarely mythologises the experience of the people. Rather, it builds around us the illusion of all kinds of experiences we’ve never had.

For all their efforts, our ordinary lives as charity workers, school teachers, cinema staff (and whatever Vince Gould does) – or even as “outsider” artists – remain dry and lacking in the fertility and richness that mythology brings to human life. For this reason, my imaginary world doesn’t feature the time and place I live in, but instead, New York, Paris, Fleet Street, Nashville, The Wild West, The Degobah System… Anywhere but Birmingham. The mythologies of the popular art world do not enrich my real life, but provide an escape from it. It all seems to accentuate that feeling so necessary to a consumer economy – that my own experience of living is peripheral, that real life is happening somewhere else, and that it must be bought in, in bits and pieces.

So brothers, our aesthetic task, as I see it, is to mythologise our own time and place, and not to escape it in hoping to find greatness in some centralised and industrialised derivative of the artist’s calling. Good things can come out of Nazareth.”

 

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