Description of "Pandora" for Stephen Ott's "Archaology of the Western Mind" (early Greek philosophy) class.
I've chosen to paint my cryptic interpretation of a particular myth related both by Hesiod in Works and Days and by Plato in Protagoras. "Pandora" is an oil painting in a representative figural style, with some aspect of neo-Baroque painterliness. The illustration is a psychological allegory spurred by personal experience, hence the self-portraiture aspect of it. The composition aims to communicate a self-conscious situation by placing Pandora inside a box. My belief is that most of the major Greek thinkers are overly bounded by the language they use. Hence each recognizable object in the painting will be linked in a network of meaning with the others through language; they connect to separate myths and proverbs, all with a general referent of unfortunate revelation. Thus the painting communicates in a manner similar to that used by Plato and Aristotle, possibly derived from Socrates's inductive argumentation, in which assembled physical analogies and "common-sensical" statements are combined to allude to something greater. What this greater thing is, however, is not cohesive even for myself. This makes the painting particularly easy to communicate in language, because the medium aims toward representative transparency, if not semantic. Thus making the fourth wall of this box the canvas, I play with ideas of thinking "inside the box. In only one place is this illusion broken; in the bottom left corner sits half a cat, facing the viewer. Schroedinger's cat is the central allusion, although she also invokes sexual puns. Schroedinger's Cat was a thought experiment (continuing the theme of inductive analogies) in which the matter of quantum unpredictability would influence the macro world in such a way that nothing is known until it is observed, thus according to scientific prediction, the hypothetical cat would be both alive and dead simultaneously until the box is opened. Curiosity toward the unknown, and loss of potentiality in the process of learning, is the major theme, as well as an illustration of the unquenchable emotion of curiousity.
Pandora is also sitting on a box, not an ornate gift box as is traditionally used in Pandora portraits but an ordinary cardboard packaging box, thereby cheapening the value of mythical sympathies. The perspective lines of the entire enclosure aim just higher than the center of the canvas, where an aquarium contains a single goldfish, a creature with a 30-second memory that could potentially represent the "hope" that mythologically remains in Pandora's box once she has opened it, as well as implying proverbial sexual analogies (implicit in the entire misogynistic aim of the Pandora myth) . A lit oil lamp rests on the table opposite Pandora, thereby examining a comparison between Empedoclean elements fire and water. I am particularly fond of Heraclitus's pyromonism, which may or may not be entirely metaphorical. Because the medium of a painting freezes a revelatory moment in the time, the fire is anything but visibly flaring, but it does light the entire composition. It is a reminder of the symbolic presence of technology and Prometheus's legacy in our microcosm/box, and a reference to genie's lamp myths. The position of this image within the story's timeline is different depending on one's interpretation. Pandora is looking up in profile from a book, as if in shock and realization. In a perverse enclosure, therefore, the book might stand for the box, or it might communicate that what the box really contains, at least to the curious, is knowledge. The action might also follow that of opening the box, so that the image communicates the consolation of hope and the potential of technology. The keys on the table are notable for the lack of a lock, a lack not immediately apparent except when considering that the ornate box of myth is no longer present. "A Brief History of Time" was the model for the book, although the absence of title and somewhat ambiguous image is notable. Several phrases are incorporated into Pandora's clothing, while a restrictive theme is maintained in her wearing a bustier. I own both shirt and skirt drapery with the thematic words: "an appalling notion, fully realized", white on black across her chest, and "A wish for a certain thing or just a wish to know" stretched between her legs. Part of the semantic connection is also included in Pandora's name, which of course means "all gifts"; she was given all gifts by the gods, is, perversely, the gods' gift to man, and releases "gifts" to humanity. A gift is also a curse, sometimes. I also appreciate the pun that this sympathetic object/character is "gifted". The potential connections of the imagery in this painting could be continued for some time by the observer.
I've been planning this piece for more than two years, but reading the original texts (or, unfortuanately, translations -- drat you Explorer and your failure to handle accents!) gave me the impetus to complete the task.