The myth of the artist : a rhizomatic reading of the moon and sixpence
Wong, Olivia Yee Rhu
Date of Issue2017
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
The figure of the artist conjures many impressions: that of the genius, the deranged, the debauched, the inscrutable, and the controversial – a list of terms far from exhaustive, a list owed to the innumerable portrayals of such a fascinating personage throughout the history of art and literature. Yet, in spite of history’s interminable endeavour to apprehend the nature of the artist, the artist remains ceaselessly cloaked in a considerable amount of mysticism and awe; often, an abstracted vision of what it means to possess a heightened sensibility towards art. Scholars have also suggested that this enigma is precisely due to the plethora of textual interpretations surrounding the genre of the artist hero. Art historian Catherine M. Soussloff is one such proponent of the claim, boldly positing the predicament as that of “the myth of the artist” (The Absolute Artist 140). Soussloff’s historiographical approach to this subject proposes that historical biographies form the basis for mythic conceptions of the artist, since early biographies employed “poetry and poetic language” to create a sense of the “imaginary” (143). However, I suggest that biography is but one of many components of myth-making since Soussloff’s focussed approach may not be able to account for the nebulosity that is the artist today. The analysis will be funnelled into a discussion of the modern literary equivalent of the artist biography, the künstlerroman, as it has intricate ties to intertextuality and therefore, the external realm of culture. The novel in question will be W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence (1919). The intention of this thesis is not to pursue a genealogy of the myth of the artist as hero or to capture a universal image of the artist, but to develop an understanding of the mythological continuum producing the Daedalian milieu of art, artists and culture. To illustrate the complex modes of production, we will draw on the rhizome theory as the framework with which to unravel the ties between myth, artists, and culture in Maugham’s novel. The rhizome optimistically alludes to the relationship between a cultural network and text, where the production of myth threads within, without, through, and beyond the structural fold of the narrative.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University