The notion of the artist, as perceived today, was shaped within the Romantic movement and forged by the artists themselves. Since Rousseau’s Pygmalion and Goethe’s Werther, the artist is conceived as a mythical construct able to reflect collective fantasies. The myths of Pygmalion and Prometheus are reactivated to express the creative process of the genius. As a social construct, however, the myth of the artist is defined against the values of the emerging bourgeois class.
The artist as fictional hero has been studied extensively. Much less studied is the construction of the artist’s myth and the rhetoric supporting it through fiction. Myths are narrative constructs of formative value, and the text is the main medium which supports and propagates them. At a time when emphasis was put on national values as the dominant identity defining agent, the Romantics constructed a transnational identity at the intersection between self-image and images of the “other” (e.g. Balzac’s Frenhofer). Europe’s common heritage served as a cohesion agent in this identity-forming process, and art as the means to achieve it. This study will contribute to the understanding of this complex construct and highlight the roots of the most tenacious commonplaces that still hold today.
As the function of the myth of the artist relies on aesthetic, socio-political, cultural and rhetorical aspects, a multidisciplinary approach is required (bringing together Literary Studies, Cultural Studies and Ιdentity Studies/Social Sciences). The innovation of this approach lies in linking myths of the artist to concepts of identity, national and transnational. Identity is, in its very essence, an abstraction and a fiction, and there is a lot to be gained by applying in its study a wide array of research tools used in the literary field. This project aims at contributing to scholarly research in constructs of identity through language and literature and to the public debate on the nature of such a construct.
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