Art and Artist  

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“In the midst of the world,” the creator said to Adam, “I have placed thee, so thou couldst look around so much easier, and see all that is in it. I created thee as a being neither celestial nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal alone, so that thou shouldst be thy own free moulder and overcomer; thou canst degenerate to animal, and through thyself be reborn to godlike existence. Animals bring forth from the womb what they should have; the higher spirits, on the other hand, are from the beginning, or at least soon after, what they remain in all eternity. Thou alone hast power to develop and grow according to free will: in one word, hou hast the seeds of all-embracing life in thyself!” --Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, epigraph


"In art, as in everything living, there is no progress, but only varieties of one stimulus." --Hebbel, epigraph


“Certainly the idea of the womb as an animal has been widespread among different races of all ages, and it 'furnishes an explanation of (for instance) the second burial custom discovered by Frobenius along with the Fanany burial in South Africa. This consisted in placing the dead king's body in an artificially emptied bull's skin in such a manner that the appearance of life was achieved. This bull-rite was undoubtedly connected with the moon-cult (compare our "mooncalf," even today) and belongs therefore to the above-mentioned maternal culture-stage, at which the rebirth idea also made use of maternal animal symbols, the larger mammals being chosen. Yet we must not overlook the fact that this "mother's womb symbolism" denotes more than the mere repetition of a person's own birth: it stands for the overcoming of human mortality by assimilation to the moon's immortality. This sewing-up of the dead in the animal skin has its mythical counterpart in the swallowing of the living by a dangerous animal, out of which he escapes by a miracle. Following an ancient microcosmic symbolism, Anaximander compared the mother's womb with the shark. This conception we meet later in its religious form as the Jonah myth, and it also appears in a cosmological adaptation in the whale myths collected in Oceania by Frobenius. Hence, also, the frequent suggestion that the seat of the soul after death (macrocosmic underworld) is in the belly of an animal (fish, dragon). The fact that in these traditions the animals are always those dangerous to man indicates that the animal womb is regarded not only as the scene of a potential rebirth but also as that of a dreaded mortality, and it is this which led to all the cosmic assimilations to the immortal stars."--Art and Artist (1932) by Otto Rank

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development (1932, German: Kunst und Künstler) is a book by psychologist Otto Rank, a disciple of Sigmund Freud.

Influence of Frobenius

Otto Rank relied on Frobenius' reports of the Fanany burial in South Africa to develop his idea of macrocosm and microcosm in his book Art and Artist (Kunst und Künstler [1932])

Frobenius also confirmed the role of the moon cult in african cultures, according to Rank:

"Bachofen [Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887)] was the first to point out this connexion in the ancient primitive cultures in his Mutterrecht, but it has since received widespread corroboration from later researchers, in particular Frobenius, who discovered traces of a matriarchal culture in prehistoric Africa (Das unbekannte Afrika, Munich, 1923)."

Frobenius' work gave Otto Rank insight into the double meaning of the king's ritual murder, and the cultural development of soul belief:

"Certain African traditions (Frobenius: Erythraa) lead to the assumption that the emphasizing of one or another of the inherent tendencies of the ritual was influenced by the character of the slain king, who in one case may have been feared and in another wanted back again."

"The Fanany myth, mentioned below, of the Betsileo in Madagascar shows already a certain progress from the primitive worm to the soul-animal.2 The Betsileo squeeze the putrefying liquid out of the bodies of the dead at the feet and catch it in a small jar. After two or three months a worm appears in it and is regarded as the spirit of the dead. This jar is then placed in the grave, where the corpse is laid only after the appearance of the Fanany. A bamboo rod connects the jar with the fresh air (corresponding to the " soulholes" of Northern stone graves). After six to eight months (corresponding possibly to the embryonic period) the Fanany (so the Betsileo believe) then appears in daylight in the form of a lizard. The relatives of the dead receive it with great celebrations and then push it back down the rod in the hope that this ancestral ghost will prosper exceedingly down below and become the powerful protector of the family and, for that matter, the whole village.

2 From Sibree's Madagascar, pp. 309 et seq., quoted by Frobenius in Der Seelenwurm (1895) and reprinted in Erlebte Erdteile, I (Frankfurt, 192.5), a treatise which deals principally with the "vase-cult" arising out of the storing of decayed remains in jars (see our later remarks on the vase in general).

"Later totemism- the idea of descent from a definite animal species - seems to emerge only from a secondary interpretation of the soul-worm idea or the soul-animal idea in accordance with a 'law of inversion' (Frobenius) peculiar to mythical thought; just as the myth of the Creation as the projection backward in time of the myth of the end of the world is in itself only a formal expression of the principle of rebirth."


Full text of the English translation, Charles Francis Atkinson translation, Anaïs Nin foreword[1]




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