ARTH101 Study Guide

Unit 8: Other Worlds – Myths, Dreams, and Spirituality

8a. Describe how artists incorporate ideas of the spirit in their art

  • What are some differences between art in the world's major organized religions and its appearance in traditional rituals and ceremonies?
  • What are the main differences between the art of Western and near-Eastern religions, such as Christianity and Islam?
  • What are some of the main features of Buddhist art?

We can make a general distinction between the major organized religions of the world – Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, or Judaism – which are relatively few and associated with globalized identities and hierarchical social institutions. Compare these major religions with the smaller, myriad, diverse tribes and bands who also practice beliefs, rituals, and ceremonies we can trace back for millennia.
Whether they are religious or spiritual in nature, artworks express a facet of human existence that invokes ultimate questions about human nature and the cosmos. For example, Muslims use the fine art of calligraphy to represent meanings of divine origin since Islam forbids idolatry or the production of human and other visual forms in their art. Artists who follow various Eastern traditions often use mandalas (elaborate, layered, circle-based, geometric forms) to organize symbols to help meditation and establish sacred spaces for ritual.
To review, read Spirituality.

8b. Explain art as a form of myth

  • What is a myth, and why do myths continuously appear in art?
  • Why do the myths of antiquity (such as in ancient Greece) appear in later art, such as in Europe during the Romantic period?
  • What are some examples of contemporary myth-making in popular art?

We derive the word myth from the Greek mythos, which means story. Every culture has collections of stories (such as folk tales or heroic epics) that help define cultural identity across space and time in accordance with their most ancient historical backdrop. These old creation myths often tie their people to territories or to current events.
We retell myths, legends, stories, and songs to highlight the more durable features of human character and general patterns of life that recur across the generations. For example, Western visual artists often use the image of Cupid (a winged child), the Roman god of love, to reference love, romance, and passion in human affairs.
Examples: Myth in art may be contemporaneous or retrospective. In other words, some works of art were created when myths were reflected in everyday social use. We associate myths with classical periods that artists point to for their mythical stories and imagery – artists use myths as valuable tools to speak to universal themes. This retrospective use of myth may take the form of nostalgia for classical times or idealism (venerating the art and stories of the past and bestowing esteem on them for their high quality). An important example in the Western world is the book of Genesis in the Bible, which narrates an origin story for everything that exists.
Myths typically personify psychological or physical forces by providing a human, animal, or hybrid bodily form that represents them.

To review, read Myths.

8c. Explain linkages between mythical and spiritual subject matter to human psychology

  • What are some key works of art that have drawn on mythology?
  • What art movement is associated with the exploration of the unconscious?
  • Outside of Western art, what other cultural practice draws on human psychological connections to mythical subject matter?

Where do creative ideas come from? The ancient Greeks credited the nine muses with providing divine inspiration to the human arts. Today, we use a post-scientific perspective to analyze spiritual and mythical matters as products of the human psyche. Toward the end of the 19th century, psychoanalysis (most famously associated with Sigmund Freud) emerged as a new empirical discipline that found "the royal road to the unconscious" in dreams and understood fantasy as revealing the structures of the human mind.
Surrealist artists used Freud's ideas as a theoretical justification for producing provocative art, which sought to disturb people by making them confront images rich in symbolic meaning of the kind society typically represses. Techniques such as automatism (automatic writing) were used to produce art directly from the unconscious without intervention by filtering the conscious mind, which might over-rationalize the meanings in the art. Other cultures found rich mythical meanings in dream-based content, such as Australian aboriginal peoples with their ritualized conception of dream time, which provided a cultural foundation for them in their relationship with the land and their ancestors.
To review, read Dreams.

Unit 8 Vocabulary

Be sure you understand these terms as you study for the final exam. Try to think of the reason why each term is included.

  • automatism
  • calligraphy
  • contemporaneous
  • Cupid
  • divine inspiration
  • dream time
  • folk tale
  • Genesis
  • heroic epic
  • idolatry
  • mandala
  • myth
  • religious
  • retrospective
  • spiritual
  • surrealism