The mythic as the Modalisierung of iconography
There might be ways to show how a phenomenon which can be called the mythic could be one of the most overlooked areas in the iconographical studies in art history. I have hardly come across studies which deal with the problem: the mythic as a surplus value of iconography in the art historical studies.
The way cultural anthropology has used to define the concept of myth has had little or almost nothing to do with the manner the myth has been defined in iconography as a part of art history. We can say that the mainstream iconography has abandoned the mythic from iconography just right from the beginning – and even today. Yet there must be some means to include the concept of mythic (in Ernst Cassirer “mythical thinking”) in the iconographical studies, as a point of view in its own right.
If there is finally a possibility to look iconography from the point of view of the mythic, the basic maxim could be: Not everything in mythic can be reduced to iconography in the normal sense, introduced by Erwin Panofsky and others after him. It also means: not everything in mythic has one-to-one semantic value between texts and images. On the other hand it could also mean: The so called “figurability” does not explain everything which is outside the normal semantic value.
Nevertheless the mythic can be seen as a modal force in the iconographical process. For example, the “artness” of art has been one of the main modal forces in aesthetic modernism. At a phenomenal level the thing I here call mythic means the signifying force of all kinds of belief-systems, from rumours to sacred and widely shared and self-evident conventions or convictions – habits which are not easily separated from the process of these belief-systems.
To presume mythic as a driving force in iconography – and especially in iconographic processes – means that it is a kind of low modal tone in the visual narrative or token. Any narrative can be reduced to some signifying orientation or a narrative force which have a decisive value for the atmosphere of the work. This means: mythic sets a basic tone for the pictorial tale. Mainly it concerns the reality value of a picture. Most likely we can say that the concept of mythic leads us to the “Modalisierung” of iconography.
There are many difficulties to study the mythic of a picture in a phenomenal level. Firstly: that which articulates the modal system does not look like a modal system. It shows up as real (need) or inevitable or the symbolic which looks like real. Secondly: How to describe a force which makes destiny in the picture seem as destiny?