World Myths and Legends in Art


Detail of birds, Malagan Pole
19th century Papua New Guinea

Myths are stories that explain why the world is the way it is. All cultures have them. Throughout history, artists have been inspired by myths and legends and have given them visual form. Sometimes these works of art are the only surviving record of what particular cultures believed and valued. But even where written records or oral traditions exist, art adds to our understanding of myths and legends.

This is from World Myths and Legends in Art from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a fascinating online museum type exhibition with a wealth of information.

In the absence of scientific information of any kind, long ago societies all over the world devised creation myths, resurrection myths, and complex systems of supernatural beings, each with specific powers, and stories about their actions. Since people were often isolated from each other, most myths evolved independently, but the various myths are surprisingly similar, in particular creation myths….

As the richness of the myths represented in this collection conveys, myth and falsehood are not synonymous. What is truth to one is fancy to another; however, it is not up to any of us to decide that one community’s mythology is any more or less valid than another’s. Myth is a positive force that unites many cultures rather than divides them. Throughout the world myths provide people with explanations, histories, role models, entertainment, and many other things that enable them to direct their own actions and understand their own surroundings.

You can view the many examples of art by theme or by culture. For example, the story behind the Malagan Pole is a fascinating one (detail above).

September 3, 2005 in Anthropology, Culture, Folk Legends & Myths by Marja-Leena