Joseph Campbell and the Theory of Art

Discussion of Joseph Campbell's work with an emphasis on the personal creative impulse as well as the sociological role of the artist in today's global community.

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Joseph Campbell and the Theory of Art

Post by Jamyang » Sat May 19, 2007 11:21 pm

I have just been accepted to do an interdisciplinary Masters program at the University of Victoria. My committee members are from the English, Philosophy, and History in Art departments. The project is to interpret Pieter Bruegel the Elder's largest painting "The Carrying of the Cross" also known as "The Procession to Cavalry" using Joseph Campbell's theory of art and in particular his aesthetic threory as he adopted it from James Joyce. Another crucial issue is Campbell's view of the function of the artist, as he gives a number of them, and his status. For instance, is Campbell's equating the artist and the mystic give the artist access to Plato's realm of the forms (being a metaphorical phrase) as the artist Albrecht Durer says he has but Plato denies?

This is my first posting and I'm interested in any thoughts on the matter.

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Post by creekmary » Mon May 21, 2007 4:51 pm

Hmmmm....What are Joseph Campbell's theories are about art, especially as related to James Joyce? James Joyce came up around here somewhere. I'm sure somebody knows.

I'm not sure about the last question. Is Plato denying that artists have a mystic's access to the "realm of the forms"? I don't think Campbell denies it.

I don't know if there's any room for opinion in a Master's program, but I believe a true artist tries to convey their experience of that metaphorical realm of the forms so that others can experience it through them, including all arts in addition to visual.

"Bruegel the Elder".....

Susan
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Post by Jamyang » Mon May 21, 2007 9:54 pm

Hi Susan,

Joseph Campbell had a lot to say about art, the function of art, and the function of artisits. He adopted the aesthetic theory of James Joyce as it was stated in the last chapter of his novel "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Campbell's summation of art is in the third and last chapter of "The Inner Reaches of Outer Space" entitled "The Way of Art," the last book to be published in his lifetime. He said much about the function of art and the function of artists in "The Power of Myth." One of the most controversial stands in this aesthetic theory is the disticntion betwee proper and improper art. The distinction is made in order to address the phenomenon of aesthetic arrest.

In book five of his "Republic" Plato claimed that only philosophers could, after discipline, access the realm of the forms. His claim is that the realm of the forms contained all true forms of which this world and all the things in are mere immitations. Artists, in making art, merely made immitations of immitations and were therefore twice removed from the true form of things. Moreover, since poets made things up they trafficed in falsehoods and should therefore be banned.

Nobody has paid much attention to Campbell's stand on art, which is important and significant. Campbell's claim is that the artist of today play the same role as the shamen in traditional cultures and that it was the function of the artist to formulate our myths and to keep the myths alive. All our myths, the forms that they take, come from artists. Since these are local forms of the formless archetypes, which are physiologically grounded, artists therefore must have access (unlike philosophers who, according to Campbell, get too entangled in terminology) to the realm of the forms - the realm of the archetypes. Since those forms are in a metaphorical language Plato charges them with falsehood (sound familiar?).

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Post by creekmary » Mon May 21, 2007 10:28 pm

Hmmmm.....I think Plato's wrong. I was reading the Bhagavad-gita during another discussion. It described two kinds of men searching for "enlightment", which I would equate with "the realm of the forms." One uses empirical philosophical speculation, the other more along the lines of hooking directly into that "consciousness". Hooking straight in is supposed to be better, if you are able. I think artists do. I think Plato is advocating "empirical philosophical speculation" as the only true way. Maybe he couldn't get there, so didn't think artists and poets could either.

I think that's what "proper" art tries to present. I think they go directly to that consciousness, not a worldly imitation, and try to convey and impart that experience. At worst, maybe only 2nd hand, through the artist if you can't get there yourself. If the artist is successful, it might even trigger the experience inside you, so you can experience it for yourself. I suppose that would be "aesthetic arrest"? If artists/poets, etc. were able to access "the realm of the forms", realm of the archetypes, I think their representations would be valid.

Susan
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Post by Jamyang » Mon May 21, 2007 10:45 pm

Hi Susan,

Joyce was very specific about proper and improper art. It is best to deal with it in negative terms and define what improper art is. Joyce said that art whose purpose is to stimulate desire in the view is improper and designated pornography. Campbell would say all artwork used in advertising and even most of the literature of the Twentieth Century (see a Hero's Journey) wouldbe pornographic. Joyce said that art whose purpose was to instill fear and loathing in the view would be improper art and designated didactic. Campbell was adverse to any artist who had a social program and employed art to forward that program. Campbell claimed that proper art arrested you rather than incited you (either to desire or to fear and loathing).

Philosophy in Plato's day certainly wasn't Western philosophy, say, after Descartes. E. F. Schumacher defined religions as wisdom traditions and included philosophy before Descartes as a wisdom tradition. It certainly isn't now. We have to particularly read the pre-Socratics and the Socratics as if we were reading theologians - as some of them like St. Thomas Aquinas (from whom Joyce got his aesthetic theory and who got his theory from Aristotle's "Poetics").

You are right that Campbell not only disagrees with Plato about the status of the artist but elevates him to the highest position usurping the status Plato gives to the philosopher.

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Post by creekmary » Tue May 22, 2007 2:07 am

Well....I suppose definition by using an antithesis would be one way, but there are so many ways for something to "not be", and only one way for something "to be", I would think. Why not try to define "proper" art using those definitions?

Would Joyce have meant specifically sexual desire as designation for pornography? It sounds as if Campbell expanded it to a more root definition of "pernanai"" as "selling", generally. (I'm using the online Webster dictionary.) As advertising is created to incite desire for material things...including esteem of others for wearing the proper jeans or cologne, for example.

Didactic. I am not sure what that means. The definition is "to teach" or instruct...or make moral observations. So, teaching through negative emotions? Instilling fear and loathing?

So....proper art "arrests" you aesthetically? And positively? How would it "arrest" you? What qualities? And after it "arrests" you and gets your attention, then what? It seems it would incite some response if it was strong enough to do that, just not desire or "fear and loathing." (makes me think of Hunter S. Thompson) I think it taps into that realm of archetypes and so elicits that gut response.

I bet Schumacher was a philosopher and not a theologian. Hmmm... reading, he seems to have been a religious economist.

So Campbell got his theories from Joyce who got his theories from St. Thomas, who got his from Aristotle? That doesn't sound too bad. Philosophy filtered through a mystic theologian via way of an artist.

Y'all can all feel free to just jump right in any time now :lol: help him hammer this out.

I would think "The Carrying of the Cross" would fall into the didactic category. I don't think it expresses Bruegel's own journey of understanding, but is more an illustrated bible lesson, with a touch of pornography because it was probably commissioned.

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Post by creekmary » Tue May 22, 2007 2:32 am

Have you taken a look at the "art, what is it?" thread?

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Post by Jamyang » Fri May 25, 2007 1:48 am

Hi Sunsan,

Yes, but you should also look at Joshua Minton's article linked in the thread "Joyce's Aesthetic of Proper Art" although Joyces does not state that art is kinetic but that proper art is static and improper art is kinetic.

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Post by noman » Sun May 27, 2007 9:12 am

Welcome to the Forums Jamyang,

Thanks for sharing your project with us.

http://www.wga.hu/art/b/bruegel/pieter_ ... alvary.jpg

The first thing I should say is wow! What a beautiful painting! Have you been to Vienna to see it? I wonder what condition the paint is in after 450 years. It’s hard to tell from a photo.

This painting is filled with symbolism that I haven’t even a clue about. The horse’s skull in the lower right corner. The black birds. The red robes of the men on horseback. The white banner. The windmill perched on an odd protrusion of rock. The empty cart being pulled ahead of Jesus. And what are those bare tree poles with the wheels at the top? There is one at the far right of the painting but there are more that fade off into the distance at right center. What are they?

I don’t know enough to interpret this particular painting. But I can tell from Brugel’s other work such as Tower of Babel and Fall of Icarus that he is well in line with Campbell’s use of classic myths. His method is to blend three elements; the classic myth, the contemporary reality of 16th century Europe, and dream-like symbolism. Myth, reality, and dream, come together in his work. A true Jungian of the 16th century.

1.) Integratas: wholeness
2.) Convenientia: harmony
3.) Claritas: radiance

Number two seems like the one you’ll spend the most time on. Explaining how all of these elements relate to each other and to the central theme. What is the central theme? I don’t know. Christ is at the very center of the painting being helped by two peasants.
If there is a good explanation of this painting on the Web I’d like to read it. And I wonder if elements of the Reformation are referred to in this painting. Is this is a contemporary social comment on the state of Christianity? We’d have to know something about his clientele. What do you think they got out of this painting?
Is Campbell's equating the artist and the mystic give the artist access to Plato's realm of the forms?

In book five of his "Republic" Plato claimed that only philosophers could, after discipline, access the realm of the forms. His claim is that the realm of the forms contained all true forms of which this world and all the things in are mere imitations. Artists, in making art, merely made imitations of imitations and were therefore twice removed from the true form of things. Moreover, since poets made things up they trafficked in falsehoods and should therefore be banned.

-Jamyang
And in talking about art one day Jean made, I think, a very important statement: "you know the way of the mystic and the way of the artist are very much alike except that the mystic does not have a craft." The craft holds the artist to the world and the mystic goes off through his psyche into the transcendent. You might say that's all right for the mystic but not for any body else. The artist is going to many of the same places, but he is held to the world, and this is what I want to deal with this evening.

http://www.rawpaint.com/library/jcampbell/jctwoa.html
I think Campbell would say that artists have access to Plato’s forms – or to Jung’s archetypes.

Plato condemned the Sophists for being too rational, and believing in the superiority of rational thought, and he condemned the poets and artists for being too imaginary, and believing in the superiority of imagination. But a philosopher, by Plato’s definition would somehow transcend these two ways of thinking to a purer form of knowledge. Plato’s philosopher has reached Buddha enlightenment and has no need to create art or write a doctoral thesis. Which as Campbell says is fine for him or her but what about the rest of us. We’d like a little glimpse of the transcendent now and then to help us along. That’s why we have artists – to satisfy that desire.

But when Campbell uses the word ‘philosopher’ he’s not thinking of a bodhisattva. He’s thinking of the rationalist approach. Whereas the artist has a somewhat intuitive, or natural sense of the forms, the philosopher is more methodical, relying more on reason.

The confusion comes from Plato using the word philosopher in a way that we are not used to. Now we have a rather definite line between philosophy and religion – religion requiring an element of faith. Plato knew of no such line. Plato’s philosopher was both the wisest and the most blessed.

As far as the Artist being a modern shaman, we have a very long convoluted thread on this topic. “The Artist as Modern Shaman”.

http://www.jcf.org/new/forum/viewtopic. ... sc&start=0

But it’s a great topic and I wouldn’t mind addressing the same questions.

I think of Campbell’s work as having five angles:
1.) philosophical
2.) psychological
3.) religious
4.) artistic
5.) anthropological

But all five of these are tied together by his life blood; that is, myth. There isn’t Campbell’s philosophy, or Campbell’s artistic theory, or Campbell’s anthropological theory, or Campbell’s religion. He assimilates great ideas and re-presents them to us in such a way that the whole of his presentation is greater than its parts.

You have an interesting project, Jamyang.

Best wishes.

- NoMan
Last edited by noman on Sun May 27, 2007 10:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Jamyang » Sun May 27, 2007 7:38 pm

Hi NoMan,

Thanks for your great comments and for posting the picture. My argument is that the art historian that employs a working theory of art, and particular a theory of aesthetics, has an advantage in reading and understanding art. Joseph Campbell gives a methodology on how to read symbols that one encounters for the first time and doesn't understand. That methodology works on the reading of the metaphors in art as well. I'm using two well known interpretations and showing why they are in error because they had to go outside of the frame for their interpretations and therefore violated the wholeness principle of aesthetics. The problem lies in the windmill. The correct interpretation of it in the context of the rest of the painting is the key to reading it.

A little background. The Netherlands at this time was part of the Spanish empire. The lower part - now Belgium, had gone Protestant. Phillip of Spain created the Spanish Inquisition and entered the Netherlands with the intent to re-establish Catholicism. They had a unique form of torture as a tool. They would take a wagon wheel and break the arms and legs of their victim and weave them in and out of the spokes. They would then hoist the wheel onto a pole in order for the birds to peck away. Weaving the arms and legs through the spokes not only held the victim to the wheel but it allowed the birds to eat from below. It took days to die. You can see one of these wheels in the right foreground with rags hanging from it and a raven sitting on it. If you look closely in the bacground to the left of the crosses you can see a couple of others. These torture wheels were the inspiration for the circular motifs throughout the painting but that is not what they refer to.

I will be posting developments on my work as it proceeds over the next year and a half and a copy of the completed thesis will be lodged with the Joseph Campbell Foundation. It will be the beginning of a number of scholarly articles I will be writing of Campbell's theory.

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Post by noman » Mon May 28, 2007 12:27 am

I turned the image of the painting into a link because I couldn’t find an image the right size – to fit in the forum box.

http://www.wga.hu/art/b/bruegel/pieter_ ... alvary.jpg

I see – the torture wheels make it an obvious political statement – the officials in red representing both the Spanish authority and Catholic Cardinals – one holds a white banner – representing the possession of the protestant northern country of the Netherlands – crossing the water – leading Flanders to the place of torture and death – on the left side of the stream a white lamb – and a theft with the thieves carrying off white bags – on the right side of the stream a white skull of an animal. But the real symbol of the Netherlands – the little windmill – a symbol of ingenuity and progress - towers over the scene.

This was painted in 1564. The date of Dutch independence from Spain is given as 1581. And in the 17th century Amsterdam was known as the wealthiest city in the world. Yes, I’d say this painting makes a bit of a political statement.

But as you can tell, I don’t know much about it. Just guessing.

In 17th Century Dutch paintings you always see the aristocrats dressed in black with black hats. I wonder if those figures dressed in black on the far side of the horse pulling the empty cart don’t represent the Netherlands aristocracy. And what of the empty cart? A 16th century hearse?

Perhaps I should wait for your essay. But what a great painting. The colors and tones he uses gives this 21st century viewer the gleeful feeling of that picturesque, fantasy image of Renaissance or Mediaeval life. Much like reading Chaucer’s Canterbury tales.

But just one more idea to offer. Our modern notions of an artist or a scientist are often projected onto past centuries. Newton, for example, spent most of his time on religious matters. And I think these Renaissance artists were much more the businessmen than our artists today. So, when Campbell says that the modern artist serves the function of the primary culture shaman – that statement may not be applicable to artists of an earlier age. We think of artists as doing impractical things. But if we could interview Renaissance people, I think they might find the work of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, much less practical than Michelangelo, Da Vinci, or Raphael.

- NoMan
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Post by Jamyang » Mon May 28, 2007 4:35 am

Hi NoMan,

But that's just the point. Campbell said that the artist is the person now that fills the role of the shamen in traditional cultures. He balked at the German Romantic idea that the myths and stories came from the folk. He maintained that they came from above, from the elite. He said that the functions of art is to create our myths and to keep the myths alive. I would say that the artist today has abandoned this role and disqualified himself in this regard. Campbell points out that myths are the public dream and dream is the private myth. The problem with modern art is that the art is rooted in personal vision and therefore private myth. I don't think there is a political statement here. That would make it improper art. I think there is a moral statement here and this fact rests in the windmill which is a metaphor for a Greek parable that was invoked in Plutarch's Moralia and in particular a debate on the slow judgement of God. I am building the support for this now. But one must remember that Bruegel was a story teller and a painter of proverbs and he was highly influenced by Bosch.

Thanks for your interest

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Post by noman » Mon May 28, 2007 8:21 am

[Campbell] balked at the German Romantic idea that the myths and stories came from the folk. He maintained that they came from above, from the elite.

- Jamyang
Yes, an elite, but not a social elite. Shakespeare and Mark Twain had no formal education past the age of thirteen. Campbell was referring to a creative elite that could emerge from any social class of society. But, you see, with so few aristocrats, and so many ‘peasants’ it is more likely that an artistic elite will come from the peasantry. Hence, the German Romantic idea of myths and stories from ‘the folk’. Campbell simply wanted to point out that it comes from ‘blessed’ individuals among the folk.
He said that the functions of art is to create our myths and to keep the myths alive. I would say that the artist today has abandoned this role and disqualified him or herself in this regard.

- Jamyang
I agree, sort of. Of course, we’re talking about ‘high art’ here – not the popular mass consumed art. But high art has the dual function of creating myth and reflecting the current status of myth. Mythologically, we are sort of stuck in neutral. And much of our truly great art reflects that emptiness or feeling of un-mythology. I think of the plays, ‘Waiting for Godot’ or ‘No Exit’ or the paintings of Rothko or Pollock. As Yeats says in his poem, ‘the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity’.

It isn’t really the modern artist’s fault – today’s artist was born into a challenging period. But a new mythology will emerge sooner or later. And four hundred years from now, the late twentieth century section of Western Art, the section we live in, might be the most boring section in the museum.
I don't think there is a political statement here. That would make it improper art. I think there is a moral statement here and this fact rests in the windmill which is a metaphor for a Greek parable that was invoked in Plutarch's Moralia and in particular a debate on the slow judgment of God.

- Jamyang
Both a political and moral statement could be didactic and therefore ‘improper’ by Joyce’s definition. Picasso’s Guernica was both a political and moral statement, but it is not preaching, you see, but just stating the current situation in all its horror – the horror of aerial bombing – the light from above that radiates both black and white – the tormented horse – the night ‘mare’ - the horse dying, and technology taking over. A painting can make political and moral statements – but if that’s all there is to it – then it is a nothing more than a propaganda poster, an advertisement – or improper art. But if it has mythic motifs, universal motifs, that are expressed through the familiar social experiences (such as equating the torture wheels with Christ’s crucifixion) then – it achieves that radiance – the viewer recognizes the forms that shine through. It becomes transparent to transcendence.

One of the things a ‘hack’ artist does, is throw in a lot of mythic motifs and references without really knowing what he or she is doing. I felt that way watching the film – The Matrix. There are all sorts of little references to classic mythology – but they are just thrown in helter-skelter to make it look like something important – to look like ‘proper’ art.
Thanks for your interest.

- Jamyang
The pleasure is mine.

- NoMan
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Post by creekmary » Tue May 29, 2007 11:08 pm

Ok. I've read a few essays on Joyce and proper and improper art and "kinetics". Getting up to speed.....

There's lots of symbolism in the painting(s). I recognize some of the other works when I looked the artist up. But I don't think symbolism alone makes something mythic. Or proper art. I think it lies in two things, the intent of the artist and the effect on the viewer.

The "static" state of aesthetic arrest I assume results from being transported to that "state of in-between thoughts" by the artist's work, the place Plato didn't think artists could get to. Like Joyce's work. It's like being inside his head thinking his thoughts with him.

If the artist doesn't get there, how can he try to bring any of it back? How can he try to interpret or portray it so that we can follow him into that state via his art? (Rhetorical question). The artist has to be familiar with that place to bring any of it back. Anything else but that pure interpretation I think would be "improper", trying to either create desire for the state or repulsion for what goes against it, instead of just allowing the vision to "be".

Also, what if the work triggers "aesthetic arrest" even though the intent would be considered "impure"? I am thinking of Andy Warhol's soup cans. Commercial art that seemed to be aesthetic.

There are a lot of symbols open for interpretation in this painting (and in Bosch's for darn sure), but does the inclusion of symbols alone as a means of telling a story qualify it as proper art? Are they a rendering of the artist's "in between thoughts" or just symbolism for the sake of a story?

Reading more......

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Post by noman » Sat Jun 02, 2007 6:53 am

Creekmary,

One hour lecture titled ‘The Way of Art’ is available on the Web in its entirety. http://www.rawpaint.com/library/jcampbell/jctwoa.html This one hour lecture turned me from a Campbell fan to a Campbell fanatic. Joyce’s theory of Art is really very simple – but very powerful if one grasps the message. Suddenly, I understood the difference between consumable, mass produced art, and what we sometimes call serious art.

When I visited Minneapolis for the first time, people told me to visit the ‘Mall of America’. It’s one of the biggest indoor malls in the world. I spent about five hours looking at nothing but art: T-shirts, pewter sculptures, jewelry, posters, Thomas Kincaid paintings – these are things that people like to look at and are willing to pay hard earned dollars for. And I enjoyed looking at this stuff as well.

But then, the next time I visited the Twin Cities I visited the Minneapolis Museum of Art. It’s like stepping into a completely different universe - a completely different level of aesthetics. A completely different level of consciousness than I found back at the mall. I had always known there was a difference but Joyce’s simple little theory explains the difference.

The words ‘pornography’ and ‘improper’ are a little misleading. A big billboard of a hot fudge sundae is pornographic in Joyce’s definition. And the word ‘improper’ simply means that it has a certain function – but not necessarily an evil function. It doesn’t mean its evil in the sense that there is something wrong with it. It just serves a lower, biological, or social function, whereas ‘proper’ art by Joyce’s definition taps into the spirit.

Once I understood this, movies were never the same for me. Almost all film is didactic pornography. They always show beautiful people living in wealthy or in intoxicating environments. Or else a film preaches about some social injustice. The Oscar people love those serious films that make an important statement. But very few films, IMO, hit the mark of proper art.

Of course, the final decision as to what constitutes ‘proper’ or ‘improper’ art by Joyce’s definition rests with the viewer. That’s why I’ve learned not to try to give examples when explaining this theory to people. ‘Procession to Calgary’ looks like ‘proper’ art to me. But I don’t know that much about this painter, this painting, or this period of art.

- NoMan
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