Modal Environs - Art as Expanding Microcosm
On an Art Which is Artemisian
ON AN ART WHICH IS ARTEMISIAN
Often it has been said that Art and its appeal to our sensibilities relate to qualities represented by the ancient Hellenic (Greek) gods. The common dichotomy of Apollo & Dionysus, for example, has been used to describe two fundamental ways of perceiving the nature of, and our attraction to, differing types of art. First there is Apollo, representing the solar, illuminating quality of reason in Art and then we have Dionysius, the figure alleged to represent debauchery, excess or the physical pleasure of Art. Without disputing the general characterizations of these two mythological characters, there seems to be at a major component missing from this binary proposition.
Whereas since at least in modern times we have individuals like Jung to thank for expanding our understanding of the various components of the human psyche, what really seems to be missing from this picture is a figure representing an understanding of Art as it relates to emotion, feeling, the subconscious, the hidden or the unspoken. Classically speaking, the components which constituted the overall psyche were not the Sun and physical pleasure and debauchery— but rather, two which represented a polarity and duality expressing the “inner genders”, or the hermaphroditic unity, of the inner and outer individual: the Sun and the Moon.
The true companion to Apollo therefore should not be Dionysus, who instead would appear to represent a type of transformation of sense experience altered within the physical state —he descend to and returns from the underworld; but rather, one who represents the terrestrial realm under the Moon. There are several goddesses in the ancient mythologies who represent the Moon, but for the Hellenic Gods certainly no better figure to represent the Moon could be chosen other than Apollo’s own twin sister, the goddess Artemis. Then we have Apollo the Sun, and Artemis the Moon; the former representing the illumination, order and harmony of reason, and latter for the flowering of reason —the huntress in the wilderness, she in the night of earth, of the inner and subconscious reason. Stemming from the Persian root of -arta, -art, -arte, all which mean "great, excellent, holy", it would seem no less appropriate that Artemis should stand to personify the qualities of greatness and excellence of the unknown realms produced and explored by Art and through its inner faculties.
In Art, in the world, the genders are mutable, we aren't confined to identities dictated by any order dictated either socially or by others; and the combining of the qualities of Hermes and Aphrodite are an idea which represented a similar concept: the hermaphrodite —the merging of differing aspects into a single unity. Hermes, close to the Sun, was closer to mind, reason and trickery. Aphrodite, closer to the Earth, was closer to passion, love and beauty. Its not a literal language, but a symoblic one. A language in which the figures are archetypal, in terms of psyche, stemming out of the greater and universal world of ideas.
Through the archetype of the moon, we could determine the qualities of Artemis as those presiding over the magical, reflective, inner state of experience forming the other half of our experience in relation to things existing in the world; alongside the concurrent faculties of reason, rationality and harmony as extending out into the rather social arena illuminated by the solar Apollo. In Barthes’ Camera Lucida, these two concepts can be seen reflected in his explanations of the Punctum and Studium. The Studium, like Apollo, represents culture and civility, or, the social acquisition of knowledge. The Punctum on the other hand, like Artemis, represents the internal realm of knowledge, or, that which is acquired existentially, through our experiencing the effect of living in the world.
But often, Artemis was not represented as just the inner-world, or the reflection of the Sun dwelling in the night of earth. As a figure of night, she was also a figure of the heavens as seen at night. In the plays of Euripedes for example, in his Hippolytus and Alcestis, the worshippers to the temple of Aphrodite (beauty, love) were portrayed as slaves to their lower passions, while those who were attendant to Artemis were followers of a more divine love; one which was unified with the cosmos. In the earliest forms of the goddess, that of the Artemis Ephesus, she was portrayed as a figure with more than a dozen breasts; she appeared as a divine figure of nature, as the soul of the heavens giving life to all.
The scope of Artemis then might be considered to extend into that which lies under the surfaces of all things; that which is inexplicable and those things which we seek to uncover, but which sustains us. It can be applied to ideas, environments or psychological spaces which are alluded to yet remain unspoken, to things left omitted and not spelled out, to things which leave a palpable sense of feeling or an immanence of which presence appears elsewhere. In practices of contemporary art today, subjects dealing with the atmospheric, the aesthetic, the subconscious, symbolism, the metaphysical, the imaginative, the reflective, the artefactual or the archaeological all would seem to be things held in the court of Artemis.