Janet Banfield       

Artistic Practice as Mythological Thinking

Critiquing the assumed falsity and redundancy of myth, I argue instead for a more affirmative understanding of mythology as a form of thinking with affective and productive force and considerable contemporary relevance. Specifically, I consider artistic practice to be a form of mythological thinking without necessarily any explicit mythic reference.

In certain ancient societies, art images represented aspects of mythology and material art practices (e.g. the walking of lines) both created the art image and established connections with the mythical world through the generation of powerful affects. While contemporary art need not contain explicit mythic reference, both its representational and non-representational aspects can be considered in mythological terms:

Artistic, like mythic, spatialities and subjectivities reference multiple axes of identification, denying distinctions between real and ideal, individual and social. These complexly juxtaposed and overlapping ‘relationscapes’ are depicted in representational form through the inter-penetration of narrative and symbolism.

The psychological phenomenon of flow (deep and intensely enjoyable immersion) is common in artistic practice. Associated with habitual material aspects of artistic practice, such experiences are reminiscent of ancient material rituals (e.g. the walking of lines) that heightened affective experience in the production of mythical art images.

This cross-over between mythic and artistic practice is evident as much in their non-representational as their representational aspects, suggesting that the recalibration of the arts and humanities in the remythologization of landscape operates on an affective as well as a representational level. The reinvestment of the landscape with mythic imagery warrants consideration of imagery beyond the representational, of mythology beyond the myth, and of artistic practice beyond the illustrative. What significance (creative, aesthetic and political) does this increasingly enchanted artistic representation of the rural hold against an understanding of artistic practice itself as mythological thinking, which might but does not necessarily entail explicit mythic reference?

Janet Banfield completed her DPhil at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment in 2014, and will take up her first academic post in January 2015 as a lecturer at Hertford College, Oxford. Janet’s DPhil developed a ‘non-representational’ geography of artistic practice, understanding art in terms of the material and affective practices of its production rather than solely its representational content.  Her doctoral research drew on both geography and psychology, integrating philosophical, conceptual and methodological aspects from across the disciplinary divide. Janet has presented her research at the RGS Annual International Conference (2013 and 2014), and has publications in both psychological (2013) and geographical (forthcoming) journals. In 2013-14, she also convened and co-organized a DTC(ESRC)-funded interdisciplinary project exploring a variety of artistic or cultural forms (e.g. photography, dance, poetry) as means of engaging with, thinking through, and communicating a range of human rights issues (e.g. the Syrian conflict, the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and women’s/labour/animal rights). Prior to her DPhil, Janet enjoyed a ten-year career in a range of sustainable development and corporate policy roles, primarily in local government.