2014/11/11

From Modernity to After-Modernity

I started to write a new series titled From Modernity to After-Modernity on my new blog "painting & thinking". A new post is added each Thursday.

Click on the link.
You're welcome on my new platform


laodan

2013/07/28

A second life.

What is sticking out, in my view, from my writing over the past 10 years can be summarized as follows:


1. The general economic and societal reality in Late-Modernity:
- Late-Modernity is the age of an over-indebted capitalistic globalization that threatens the collapse of nation-states that in turn could collapse the "Economy-World"
- late-Modernity also witnesses the convergence of the side-effects from humanity's blind following of the "reason of capital" and its functional rationality (population explosion, peak resources, climate change, poisoning of all there is under the sun and societal atomization). This convergence has the potential to collapse not only the "Economy-World" and human societies but could also end-up as the graveyard of humanity.

2. Late-Modernity concludes in utter-confusion about the meaning and societal function of art:
- what passes for art in Late-Modernity are, at best, no more than interior decoration productions and/or vacuous mental masturbation that eventually get financialized by greedy speculators on the hunt for the financial jack-pot
- in Late-Modernity art is simply dead and there is no single chance that it could be reinvigorated no more than the societies in which it operates.

3. Over the long history of humanity art had always a meaning and societal functionality:
- the rejection of all past certainties and the search for a deeper meaning about reality that was the hallmark of Modernism, in the age of "High-Modernity", did not deliver the goods and instead concluded in the absurd proposition that "whatever" is art
- in the meantime, in Late-Modernity scientific visualizations have seemingly adopted the historical character of art productions (illustrations of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day for all to share) while nevertheless not really attaining the quality of art for the good reason that scientists are not offering a true worldview (big picture of what reality is all about) but only disparate "knowings" that can't possibly glue the minds of the citizenry behind a shared story. As such scientific visualizations don't satisfy the function of art and can't thus possibly strengthen societal cohesion

4. The turning point from Modernity to what comes "After-Modernity":
- all signs point to the ending of the age of Modernity as point 1 and 2 attest
- deeply sensitive observers can already detect the emergence of possible elements of a new worldview in the shaping that aligns with the real possibility of human societal descent or collapse and could thus eventually form a useful societal glue amidst the coming chaos. Such signifiers of a possibly emerging future worldview, I firmly believe, constitute a fertile ground for real artists. They form indeed the substance from which artists could possibly churn out significant works. By that I mean such works would eventually offer initial visual signs, around which a surviving but hurting humanity could find the necessary common ground to share a new “foundational” story, about what reality is all about, that is adapted to the new circumstances. Such works would be significant in the sense that they possibly could resist the dust-up of passing time which is the hallmark of a real work of art.


Going forward my ambition, in writing, is to touch upon such signifiers of a possibly emerging future worldview.

In my writing I try to lay-out, in as rational a way as I can, a vision as it builds up in the conscious part of my mind. In my painting I let go of all restraints of rationality to dwell, into what is hidden from my conscious mind, somewhere in what we call the unconscious. Such a writing exercise is new for me. I have indeed been stuck these past 10 years in the easier part of the exercise. I mean analyzing the present in light of the past is inevitably easier than to use such an analysis in order to have a valid glance at the future. A valid glance at the future starts with a strong analysis of the present in light of the past but the substance of such a glance lays in the future, as such it remains irremediably unknown, and necessitates a leap of faith or the faith in a vision. My painting acts as that vision. I'm not trying to say that the final product of painting, the painted object, is that vision. What I'm trying to say is that the act of painting itself is procuring me that vision.

These last 10 years I have simultaneously been working from my conscious in writing and from my unconscious in painting. So my conscious side has unmistakably been shaped in some form or another by the unconscious side and vice versa. I have the strange and strong feeling that my unconscious is shaped by my dreams and idealistic visions of the future while my conscious is constantly trying to get hold of some lifebuoy in the form of available knowledge to try to restraint the wilderness of the unconscious dreams. I also have the feeling that my unconscious has somehow guided my conscious side to build-up useful knowledge that could validate or invalidate its idealistic drive. Both have definitely deeply influenced the other and this has narrowed the divide between them. Sometimes, in my wandering mind, I come to think that both sides have nearly become interchangeable. The remaining difference is mostly constrained I feel, not by the substance, but by the form the substance takes to touch me. It's indeed as if the unconscious was direct, or directly touching a raw nerve, while the conscious necessitates translation through a communication filter and that involves time and also some discipline.

In the act of painting my conscious and unconscious intermingle without the need for the conscious to translate the unconscious through a communication filer. This intermingling works for me during the act of painting. But I feel that the painted object that results from the act of painting is too often only a pale reflection of what the vision that built-up while painting offered me to “see”. How this results in the way the final painted work operates on the eyes and minds of the outside observer remains a mystery to me. But seen how my own observation of the painted object operates I don't put too much faith in the impact of my visual works on others' way of seeing. A written follow-up could be a useful help or user manual for the observer. That's what I intend my future writing to eventually evolve into. But I'm afraid it will take some time and practice before the writing flows to there...

2013/07/21

Worldviews versus propaganda or art versus advertisement.

My last series of posts dwelled on "the meaning of art", "the great Modernist bungle" and how scientific visualizations came to surpass visual artists' productions in their role at depicting the views of the men of knowledge of the day about what reality is all about.

Before jumping in the fray of contemporary art creation and what it entails to be a real artist, that means an artist who will be remembered by future generations, I feel I still have to make a detour to visit the differentiation between worldviews and propaganda and the working of societal evolution.
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WORLDVIEWS



In my understanding art is "the depiction by visual artists, of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day, for all to share in order to facilitate the strengthening of societal cohesion". What jumps out in this condensed description is this idea of worldviews that artists along 99.9% of humanity's time span illustrated at the attention of their fellow citizens: animism under tribal societies, religions and/or philosophies since the down of early kingdoms till Modernity peaked with the start of "High-Modernity" around 1900. In this view art is the media of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day that is intended for society to gain higher levels of cohesion. Such a view gives art a specific societal functionality which helps humanity going from change to change, growing and evolving, and most importantly helping humanity surviving and thriving.


In summary my reasoning is based on 3 defining clusters of ideas. Much of the material in this post comes from a book I'm presently writing titled "From Modernity to 'After-Modernity' ":
- polarism over dualism
- humanity's existence as shaped by the vital dance of its polarities
- evolution: biological and societal




1. Humanity, as an entity or an ensemble, is resulting from the dance between its 2 polarities: the individuals and societies.


In our Western dualistic view, that was theorized by Aristotle and adopted by Christianity there after, each entity is composed of two opposites that fight it out till the extermination of "the other". I'll pass the aspect of violence that is implied in such a view to concentrate on how it shapes an understanding of reality that must recourse to an outside vital principle or force that makes sense of beginning and outcome. In other words killing the other contains nothing significant about how reality operates. This principle does not allow to understand how change operates and time is thus not allowed to emerge in the consciousness of the atoms or the larger bodies they are particles of.

The Greeks did not understand that opposites are in fact polarities of a same reality in flux. Thus they were led to think that opposites are absolutes that have as function to destroy each other. They could not accede to this idea that a situation starting as one opposite (polarity) could possibly be transforming into the other opposite (polarity). They were at a loss with the abstract principle of change and thus had to refer to something different. So they came up with an explanation laying outside of the duality and invented the idea of a "substantiation" of the opposites into matter (hupomenei). Hupomenei could than be changed into a process (metabole). In other words the Greek thought that inanimate matter could change into its opposite an animated metabolism for the good reason that both were present and had only to substitute for each other. But then what was in the last instance the force that unleashes the process of change or the metabole?

Their concept of metabole reaches motion out of a state of inertia in matter, so to change a state of inertia and reach the state of metabole, the Greek philosophers needed to invent an external acting motor and energy (kinoun). Change is then the result of an outside cause and causality is thus established as the philosophical model. But this idea of an outside cause putting change into motion led automatically to questioning what is the cause of the causality. In other words, an absolute final cause had to be found to stop the inescapable intellectual quest for always further causes.

Aristotle holds it as an axiom that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes and effects or movers and the moved. So he submits that the logical starting point of infinite change must be an unchanging substance that is causing change but not being subject to change itself. Arriving at that point of his argument, Aristotle and in his footsteps all Western philosophers of Christianity had only one recourse and this was to invent an “ultimate mover” who they labelled God. As the ultimate mover God then is attributed the role of creator of the original life cycle. In this vision life does not emerge it is created.

For the Chinese, reality is viewed as the flow from YIN TO YANG and vice-versa. But YIN and YANG, as the general principles of any opposition, are better understood as being the opposite poles of a same reality. Black and white being the poles of the line of colours (black = no colours and white = all colours). Good and bad being the poles of the line of judgement (good = all that is desired and bad = all that is rejected). In this understanding, opposite poles of a same reality are not exclusive of one another, they are thought of as specific moments in the shaping of a given reality and thus between those extreme poles lies the greater part of the substance of this reality. So it would be better to speak about polarities than about opposites in the Chinese understanding of what shapes reality.

For the Chinese, the flow from YIN to YANG, or from one polarity to the other, is powered by the perpetual burst of energy that is unleashed by the competitive interactions between those polarities. This makes them conceive of change as spontaneous emergence of order within the whole of reality that is perceived as random-like simply because it is out of the reach of our comprehension. That emergence of order through change powered by the interactions between polarities is what in the last instance auto-regulates the principle of reality. There is a recognition here that because "the whole of reality" is unattainable to us humans we can not possibly detect its grand order and meaning and we are thus being fooled to think that what we observe is merely randomness. What's remarkable is how the Chinese notion of change transforms an initial perception of randomness into a perception of an ordering action. It has to be noted here that the Chinese concept of change is absolutely indifferent to the idea of a good or bad evolutionary direction which stands in stark contrast with Christian and western dualism that strive to contain change in the direction of what they perceive as being good for themselves.

Now from observation and knowledge accumulation we induce that the principle of life has been conditioned since its early start by the need to go further and to stretch the limits in order to ensure not only its preservation and its reproduction but also to reach a higher level of complexity and of consciousness about the whole in which that consciousness operates. Once a reproducible organism emerges it will interact with its environment which at times can have an impact on its duplicating structure that transcends the structure’s lifespan throughout its successive generations. To survive such environmental assaults the organism develops an adaptation strategy in order to integrate those environmentally caused mutations into its own order or adapts itself to the order contained in the environmentally caused mutation. That fundamentally means that an organism becomes biologically conscious if its systems acquire and display knowledge of their perceived environment and act on that knowledge for self-preservation. Such a strategy implies the deployment of ever increased levels of self-consciousness as a necessity to being able to respond to ever increasing levels of environmental assaults. This mechanism of increasing levels of self-consciousness gradually shapes the path from a biological consciousness to an individual and societal consciousness.

Life development and growth results from the interaction between the tactical principle of competitive growth and the strategic urge for more complexity in the form of a higher level of consciousness. The interaction between the tactical principle of competitive growth and the strategic urge for more complexity acts as a booster on the total level of complexity of life systems:
- the structure and code of the individual's internal body.
- the economic, political, social and cultural societal systems of the specie.
- the interactions of the species with all other species and particles in its environment.
- the consciousness of the individuals about the 3 preceding and also about how they fit in the whole.

This brings us to conceive of the emergence and development of life as a process of evolution starting with the biological and later extending in an accelerating fashion to the societal. In biological evolution natural selection is acting, very slowly, on the code of life (DNA, RNA and genes). In societal evolution natural selection is acting, very fast, on culture (daily culture as an "add-on" to worldviews).





2. To ensure their reproduction societies strive to enhance their internal cohesion.


In the present age of uber-individualism this sentence might appear non-sensical to most of my readers. "what? As if societies had a thought of their own..." I already hear the critiques! But this nevertheless reflects a deep natural reality. For one, individuals have no chance to survive out of the bounds of their societies. This is a truism is it not? But we seem nevertheless to have forgotten about the implications of this truism. We individuals just can't survive without the servicing, or the framing of how servicing operates, so that our vital needs are satisfied. Secondly, societies devise indeed mechanisms that ensure the maximization of their chances to reproduce. How does that work?

In biological evolution natural selection sorts one winning working proposition among a range of available genetic possibilities and so it drives forward the biological evolution of a species. In societal evolution natural selection sorts one winning working proposition among a range of available cultural possibilities and so it drives forward the evolution of a society. Driving forward relates to drive forward in time and does in no case imply that the drive forward is always for the better. Often the drive forward in time witnesses fall-backs or regressions for the species.
Natural selection of new cultural possibilities results from the balancing of the polarities of humanity:
-  the individuals.
-  their society.
Societies resist change. They are  forcing the conservation of what is already there. In contrast the individuals are geared more by an urge for change that conflicts with the societal urge for conservation.

The citizens act like the atoms of their societies that assemble in the molecular form of families, groups, associations and clusters of such molecules. The images here-under summarize the societal evolutionary model I'm writing about in a new book to be published within the next few years.


As mentioned here above an organism is conscious when the structure of its ensemble of systems, in one fashion or another, let's it acquire and display knowledge about its perceived environment and act on that knowledge to preserve its existence. This means, that contrary to what was believed until recently, all life forms are conscious. Indeed the process of emergence of a species impresses on it the necessity to survive which can only be accomplished through the collection of operational knowledge from its environment in order to act for self-preservation. Knowledge-information about a species' environment in order to act for self-preservation is the earliest stage of consciousness. It's the primary consciousness of all life forms.
It is in this sense that I hypothesize a societal consciousness that only wise men, or men of knowledge, have access to. Such a consciousness gives those men of knowledge the necessary material to conceive of a worldview to be shared by their fellow citizens. The 32 polarity-play variables that I write about constitute such a material.





3. Societal evolution leads us on the road to "After-Modernity", whatever that may be!



Once a society emerges as a grouping of individuals it evolves its own individual entity preoccupied with its own reproduction. That entity will then devise strategies to glue the spirit of the individual atoms in a shared worldview. The shared belief in such a worldview is indeed what ensures the maintenance of social and societal stability and it could very well be that this is a general law of societies not limited to the human species. Growing up every child has incessant questions for his parents and teachers and those questions will keep coming and being asked over and over till a believable answer is offered. All individual atoms invariably ask the same kind of existential questions the world over and not only the children also the adults. Here follows a non-exhaustive list of such questions:
- where do we come from?
- what is it we are a part of?
- Who created all that?

Those existential questions express an inner need to understand REALITY. But the deeper science succeeds to dig in reality the farther away the big picture of it seems to evade us. Ancient philosophies taught us that reality is a mirage and that its nature would keep escaping us. For a long time the scientific method was presented as a search for reality that would be fulfilled sometime in the future. Thinking about it, through the application of simple logic, we see the fallacy of the proposition, for, the future would always need to be pushed further in order to dig always deeper in the infinitesimal and the infinite. As Albert Einstein asked "What does the fish know about the water in which it swims?". We are thus stuck in a quandary. On one side we know that the big picture of reality does really escape us and this means that we’ll never, at least by ourselves, be able to know what is the whole. On another side our minds are thirsty and hungry for a believable explanation that we could be sharing with our family, our friends, and all those with whom we interact. The sharing of a common understanding about the whole and other vital questions acts as an appeaser. It comforts us in the sense that it bestows on us a feeling of belonging to a group which quietens our fright of being alone to face the unknown. This question is most often ignored. But it is nevertheless an essential component of the health of societies and it explains also why, to the puzzlement of hardcore rationalists, there is a near universal return to religious beliefs in Late-Modernity when all certainties seem to be vanishing. Science tries to explain people’s daily lives within their societies and the whole at narrow levels of speciality. But science does not offer grand visions about what reality is all about that could appease the quest of the individuals for believable answers that they could share with their loved ones and their friends. This is where science fails as a worldview.

In a globalizing environment that is divided along the lines of civilizations and worldviews we have first and foremost to understand why and how from one civilization to the other we understand and value things so differently not only in the realm of the social sciences but also in the realm of the hard sciences. I posit that our ideas and values are being “formatted” along the lines of our “core-worldviews” that are acting as our operating systems. Core-worldviews are the axioms on which civilizations have been built and as such they are the unconscious ideation framework upon which the momentary present cultural differentiations of attitudes, values and ideas are building up, as cultural add-ons, to our present worldview.

So it appears to me that various factors are colliding upon one another:
- the need of a grouping for the individual to survive
- the need for societies to glue the individual atoms in sharing a common worldview in order to foster the necessary levels of societal cohesion to ensure the reproduction of that society
- the need for individuals to be offered believable answers to their existential questions that they can share with the group to find peace of mind.
- the quandary of an unattainable reality colliding upon the deeply held preconceptions inscribed in our core-worldviews, or the axioms of our civilization, that is translated in the awe for the mystery of that unattainable that is an integral part of all worldviews anywhere around the world and at any time in the history of humanity.

From the un-attainability of the whole of reality we can unmistakably conclude that the answers given by societies to their individual atoms can be no more than fictional foundational narratives. But the sharing of such fictional stories is nevertheless the societal glue that allows those societies to reproduce themselves over time. When the fictional societal stories dissolve the individual atoms in need of the security and comfort of sharing believable answers will feel drawn to re-tribalize around new shared beliefs but doing so they will also fragment their societies which will thus experience melting cohesion until they eventually collapse if they did not prior to that succeed to affirm their existing worldview or another newer one. This is exactly where advanced industrial societies are stranded today in late modernity and the same can be said of societies like China where the extreme speed of changes is dislocating all past certainties and driving the individuals toward craziness.

People’s reactions to fragmentation and loss of certainties is to flock to past established worldviews. People flock to past worldviews for the good reason that those are the only ones known to be available and, force is to admit that, they still succeed in supplying the individual with some peace of mind. But such past worldviews are nevertheless societally ineffective for the good reason that they had fallen out of favour much earlier due to their in-adaptation to new societal realities.

Only a worldview adapted to our present realities is going to be societally effective. By adapted to our present realities I mean that a contemporary worldview has to integrate the bits and pieces of knowledge available to humanity in our present time and more particularly the body of knowings accumulated by scientists. Any worldview asking late-modern individuals to abandon those knowings instantly marginalizes itself. That's also why past worldviews are mal-adapted to late-modernity. Conscientious individuals should thus concentrate their efforts assembling the elements of such an effective worldview and artists should shape visual signs of those elements for all to share.

Seen the mounting side-effects of modernity we have to conclude, from a purely societal evolutionary perspective,  that humanity is in deep trouble in Late-Modernity.





ABOUT PROPAGANDA



Propaganda is definitely something less complex than worldviews. In term of time it is limited to the present or better the contemporary or even better the culture in contemporary times.

I wrote earlier that "Core-worldviews are the axioms on which civilizations have been built and as such they are the unconscious ideation framework upon which the momentary present cultural differentiations of attitudes, values and ideas are building up, as cultural add-ons, to our present worldview". Daily ways of life, also called culture, produce their particularities that are registered as cultural add-ons that superpose over the societal worldview thus possibly differentiating, over time, the character of societies within a same civilization.

If the “axioms of civilizations” can be considered as the foundations of the civilizational house and the worldviews are the bricks stacked on top of those foundations that form the walls and the roof of the house then culture is like the paint, or tiles, used to dress the house.

Some initial points of differentiation between worldviews and propaganda:
- we have seen that worldviews were general belief systems that transmitted over the very long haul of time. In contrast propaganda is limited to what happens, in term of culture, in the present, the contemporary.
- worldviews are belief systems that give a general interpretation about what reality is all about.  Propaganda, on the other hand, is a belief system that gives an interpretation about the working of societies in the present.
- worldviews are being used by the power that be but the same worldview is also simultaneously used by that power's competitors, its opposition while each the power that be and its opposition have their own distinctive propaganda systems.
- worldviews are elaborated by men of knowledge while propaganda is elaborated by men of power and their technicians. In other words propaganda is a tool of politics.

Propaganda is the sum of theories, beliefs, adhered to by the different actors fighting it out among themselves to access the levers of state powers or any other institution. Once an actor arises to power he then tries to reinforce the adherence of all to its propaganda system of belief in order to consolidate its grip on the levers of decision making.

Using modern examples we see that anarchists, communists, socialists, social-democrats, ecologists, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, all have their own distinctive propaganda systems while all of them adhere to the same modern worldview.





ART VERSUS ADVERTISEMENT.



Advertisement is the depiction by publicists, of propaganda and the image of those offering that propaganda, to influence the adherence of citizens to the belief system of those forces that strive for power or that exercise power. Let's remember that, in the confusion of modernity, what was presented as art was also used as a propaganda instrument by the US to project its ideal of freedom while the communists used their artists as publicists of their propaganda. Advertisement is also the depiction by publicists, of the commodities for sale on the market, at the attention of citizens consumers.

While we are at it I will add that art is too often mistaken nowadays for a decoration commodity upon which financiers eventually speculate in the hope to make fortunes. Let's note also that graphical techniques used in advertisement or publicity are also often mistakenly been presented as art.

As I wrote higher art "is the depiction by visual artists, of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day, for all to share in order to facilitate the strengthening of societal cohesion". Such a function is all too important, for us, to continue to accept the confusion that is been entertained so widely nowadays between advertisement, publicity, decoration on one side and art on the other. But sometimes I doubt, that in the age of Twitter, it makes any difference if we try to make sense of that confusion or if we just do nothing.

The great modernist bungle

The modernist avant-garde, at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, was very clear about its mission. That mission can be summarized as follows:
1.  rejection of all past ways. In visual arts that meant first and foremost the rejection of the "3 imposed subjects"(1) that had been imposed as replacement of religious representations during "Early-Modernity".
2.  depiction of reality at a deeper level than what was perceived as the sheer shallowness observed in the "3 imposed subjects".

The rejection of the Early-Modern ways in art and what those ways represented as a societal attitude was the easy part of the modernist mission. Discovering reality's deeper levels of operation was another affair altogether.

One can understand, a posteriori, how the avant-garde came to define its mission. We often forget, indeed, that the 19th century had been witnessing world-altering changes:
- speeding up of the rhythm of transportation from the slow pace of 5-10 km an hour (3-6 miles) that had been the norm since times immemorial to train speed records of nearly 150 km an hour (100 miles). Speed was inevitably going to change how one saw his environment. At 5-10 km an hour the environment is fixed and its picture in the eyes is absolutely clear. At 150 km an hour the environment seems to escape one's attention, it becomes blurry, and one is left merely with an impression of what is there in front of the eyes. - expanding distances of communications.
- replacement of human labor by steam energy powered by coal.
- all these changes had been made possible more generally by knowledge that was delving deeper and deeper into abstraction. This was, at least for non-scientists, how science was perceived and artists were among those attracted by the promises of such scientific abstractions as a means to compensate their shattered certainties.

When one's certainties about "what reality is all about" are shattered one questions his past certainties and eventually rejects them. But this rejection does not, as per miracle, bring a better explanation. A better explanation has to be earned through hard research or be transmitted by men of knowledge who accomplished such research. The avant-garde's certainties had been shattered and as a consequence they rejected all past certainties and ways of doing. They avowedly wanted to depict reality at deeper levels than "what the eyes give to see" but their knowledge was failing them and scientists, while delving in deeper and in more abstract ranges than what the eyes give to see, were not the kind of men of knowledge who could lay-out in big picture fashion "what reality is all about". Scientists were and remain researchers who are stuck in the narrow field of their specialized studies and as such they don't propose "big picture" visions that are accessible to non-scientists. In sum, past certainties gone, artists were sucked in a deep fog from where the best they could try to do was to depict "their noses trying to smell the truth". This gave, at best, some lines of thought and schools following those lines but none of those lines were grounded in firm knowledge. So those lines and the schools following them would necessarily fizzle away after everybody got tired of the total absence of any link to reality in their works. Surrealism got a better shot at acceptability. But the efforts of the initiators, who found substance in research by Freud and Jung, were soon annihilated by what Masson rightly called the drive of meaning towards the absurd by those, like Dali and others, who usurped the denomination to make a fast buck in the market.

The market is what kept some lines of the avant-garde's visual investigation in the public eye. Before the 2nd World War the market, at best, was a parochial affair where educated and rich local citizens purchased works as like out of a tradition of patronage of the local art scene. Things changed drastically after the 2nd World War when, out of geo-strategic considerations, US public institutions brought the members of the New-York school of painters to the front of an international audience (2). Capital was secretly made available by the CIA and the State Department to merchants in order for them to organize international exhibitions of their works. Magazines and Journals were subsidized to carry the good word about those painters to a Western European audience and more generally about American "exceptionalism" in terms of freedom and creativity, democracy and market economy. The strategic aim of that enterprise was primarily to impose on the world the idea of the superiority of the American model of society, versus the communist model, and as such it was a propaganda stunt. Secondarily the US wanted to dislodge Paris as the cultural center of the world and impose New-York as the world capital of the arts. Both primarily and secondarily targets were met with success and New-York gained the status of world capital of the arts. Capital flew in "en masse". A new industry was born.

The union in a common enterprise of state institutions of propaganda and capital unleashed the first phase of globalization; its cultural phase that later would be emulated and expanded to the whole economy.

The absence of ideation content, or the limitation of the works' field of vision to the expression of individual feelings as Pollock liked to describe it, made the productions of the New-York school an ideal match for such a propaganda endeavor as it was indeed maximizing the number of potential buyers. On one side the absence of ideation cut short any trial at debating the content of the works and thus left the field wide open to projecting, what at the times was largely perceived as, a "shocking form" as the ultimate proof of US' tolerance versus what was presented as the intolerance of the Eastern bloc. On the other side the absence of ideation in the products avoided a hurt to buyers' ideological sensitivities and thus maximized their potential numbers. This combination of the infusion of capital by public institutions and the absence of ideological content in the products would prove to be a solid combination indeed that would jump start the New-York art market and explode its impact to the whole world. The conditions had been put in place for a financial take-over and artworks thus transformed into objects of speculation among the wealth elite. Art institutions followed suit and the financialization of the art world boomed like a snowball rolling down a slope.

The encounter of an avant-garde that had stumbled in deep confusion, since the start of the century, at the loss of a given subject to illustrate and the New-York "propaganda-market" venture is definitively one of the most prominent moments in the art history of modernity and perhaps even in the whole history of art.

For one it celebrates the market recognition of works without any societal meaning, works that fall in the realm of interior decoration. While art since its inception has been a societal affair of visual signs about "what reality is all about" to share among citizens in order to strengthen societal cohesion it was now been degraded to an interior decoration product without any societal function left. This moment should be celebrated as the moment when art died; when societies forgot about the necessity to build and strengthen societal cohesion.
Furthermore that historical encounter of a confused avant-garde with the "propaganda-market" threw to the wind any intellectual coherence left in the discourse about art and about societies. The only remaining discourse left is about "market rationality" and the concurrent functioning of public art institutions at the service of the market. The meaning of art and its societal function have vanished from the public discourse. All the talk now is about galleries and sales. It is in this particular environment that some art critics coined the idea that "art is dead". Soon thereafter followed the emergence of scientific visualizations as I explained in my last 2 posts.

As a thinking artist I deeply feel that this moment is when Western societies took a one way street to their demise.

We are now over half a century later and the demise of Western societies is daily fodder in the media. But ironically nobody makes the link between this Western demise and that critical encounter of a confused avant-garde with the New York financialized "propaganda-market"!

The demise of Western societies that is talked about today is framed inside the contours of a worldwide redistribution of the economic cards within the game of the economy-world. But, while this is certainly true, this worldwide redistribution also happens simultaneously with the eruption in our faces of the real impact of the side-effects of modernity.

All signs now point to the collapse of modernity and the passage from modernity to "what comes after modernity" (whatever that may be) or the third turning of humanity's worldview (animism to religions, religions to modernity and now modernity to "what comes after modernity"). "After-Modernity" will emerge as a process of consolidation of the multiple and disparate trials and error attempts to organize life and societies differently and art will be put to the task of hastening that consolidation. In other words, in "After-Modernity" art becomes societally indispensable anew. This will be the subject of my next posting.


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1. The 3 obliged subjects were the exclusive content matters to illustrate by those who accepted to leave painting for the church for large fees paid by the new rich long distance merchants; a trend that started, in Early-Modernity" around the end of the 15th century. Those 3 content matters included the landscapes around the mansions of those new-rich merchants, the portraits of those living in the mansion and the dressing of the tables in the mansion.

2. The US institutional investment in the New York school of modern art was a secret endeavour that came to light only recently.

Modern art was CIA 'weapon' in The Independent by Frances Stonor Saunders

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters [Paperback] by Frances Stonor Saunders

How the CIA Spent Secret Millions Turning Modern Art Into a Cold War Arsenal by Sam Biddle in Gizmodo

The Paris Review, the Cold War and the CIA in Salon by Joel Whitney

Art and science

In my last post I concluded that we observe the following, today, in Late-Modernity:
1. Artists have reached a plateau of confusion and absurdity. Henceforth most everyone thinks that art is "whatever" one decides it to be.
2. Scientific "sight and hearing visualizations", as representations of the knowledge of one section of our contemporary "men of knowledge", fulfil what, along 99% of the span of humanity's story, was considered to be art.
3. Being one of the engines of modernity science bears a great deal of responsibility for the dire straits that the principle of life awakens to in Late-Modernity.


In "Beyond belief" Michael Hanlon notes that "Scientists are distrusted in a way they were not 100 years ago. The whole scientific enterprise looks to many like some sort of sinister conspiracy, created by the industrial establishment to make money at the expense of our health and our planet. ‘Science’ (rather than greed, incompetence, laziness or simple expediency) gets blamed for the degradation of our environment, pollution and threats to species."


In the West 100 years ago, the public mood was buoyant and there was not the slicest doubt that modernity had put humanity on the road of a never-ending "ever more". Things look rather different nowadays. The nature of our modern reality is simply becoming inescapable but for many the reality of nature is nevertheless unfathomable and as a consequence they blindfold themselves and put their faith in a religious kind of hope in miracles. Religiosity rises as does scientism.
The fact is that over the last 5-600 years the mechanical logic of the "reason of capital" was so successful at enriching the merchants that it unleashed envy from all quarters. 2-300 years ago the philosophers deduced human reason out of that mechanical logic and greed pushed many of them to further try their fortune through the use of their minds and hands at mechanical innovations. It's in the philosophers' successes at mechanical innovations that the scientific method emerged, that rationality triumphed, and that science found the substance to displace alchemy. But capital accumulation soon relegated the scientists in salarization leaving them captives of the reason of capital. Once at the mercy of a salary scientists lost any say in the financial decision making about their future researches and science ended up being muzzled in a reductionist "1 degree, 1 dimension" approach amid the "359 degrees, 4 or more dimensions" that constitute the entire swath of our observation possibilities. What I mean to say is that becoming captive of capital science was gradually made to think exclusively in terms of the interests of capital. Being so utterly successful in the realm of materialism the couple capital-science relegated any of the "359 degrees, 4 or more dimensions" alternatives to the margins of societal action where, if they emerged at all in human consciousness, at best they languished.


That's where we are today in Late-Modernity. Capital and science triumph but from whatever angle you look you observe side-effects that are acting like a cancer eating away the body of life. Societies fragment, atomize, and then collapse. Individuals suffer in isolation and, to the dam of some scientists and other rationalists, to quieten their minds they flock anew to religions and sects. The 6th mass extinction, in the known story of the earth, is eliminating the bulk of living species in the blink of an eye on the span of Gaia's time. The oceans are acidifying and all marine life is threatened. And the individuals living in those "industrially advanced" countries swell by the day in an absurd spectacle of obesity, diabetes and allergies.
Is that the picture that modernity made us all dream about? No that's surely not the picture of the dream that modernity promised to gratify us with. That's the picture of a dream badly turning sour. That's the picture of a "1 degree, 1 dimension" reductionist approach to reality that, unaware of the systemic complexity of the principle of life on earth, is slaughtering life.


The mechanical logic of the "reason of capital" that parasited and overtook the working of the minds of modern men is the driving force behind this cancer that slaughters the principle of life and, force is to recognize that, science is one of its more potent metastasizing instruments.
Intellectual sanity, human empathy and more generally the emotional sensitivity at the heart of the principle of life will invariably awaken us from our state of catatonia and impose us to take a stand against this insanity.


Both the "reason of capital" and science have been such ultra successful instruments that they have gone completely out of human control. But notwithstanding the misery they inflicted to the principle of life simply rejecting those instruments would nevertheless be a great loss for humanity. What we need is to impose the human primacy over their working. By this I mean that capital and science have to be folded within a globally encompassing framework of reference that includes "the systemic dance of the polarities of humanity" (interrelations between societal-individual, the ecological, and the philosophical). In other words capital and science are instruments that have to serve the societal, the individual, the ecological, and the philosophical. Seen from this perspective scientific "sight and hearing visualizations", while not losing their artistic role and function, appear very likely destined to play the role of second fiddle in the worldview and wisdom of the men of knowledge who, in the near future, are necessarily going to shape a shared understanding of reality in the minds of all citizens of the world along the soon to be emerging "long history period" of After-Modernity; a new worldview that eventually will shape the content of all art in "After-Modernity".


This is where thinking and painting (or whatever the representation technique for that matter) find a common ground. Thinking and dreaming about the content of the future worldview that will be shared by humanity in "After-Modernity" lets artists discover the meaning of what to represent in their present creations. That's how art can link anew with its historical societal function. That's how art again can be recognized a place in societies and how it could inspire the devotion of all their citizens. By that time. I hope, the "art meme", "without technical mastery what we express seems unfinished and without meaning it is as if what we express were shallow", will have spread to all corners of the earth...

2013/06/22

About the meaning of art.

"Long distance history" finds its roots, most often, in chance archaeological discoveries. Those discoveries, at least regarding art productions, relate to objects that go as far back in time as one hundred thousand years (very rough approximation based on the present state of our knowledge). This distance could well be pushed back further down in time after more chance discoveries in the future. But objects spanning one hundred thousand years of artistic practice should suffice, for us here, to come to valid conclusions regarding what is art. 
 
We know that art is a function of societies for the good reason that during the first 99,900 years of the last 100,000 years or so of our history societies acted as the active energetic polarity of humanity while human individuality constituted its passive polarity, and societies thus all naturally strategized that to ensure their reproduction over time they needed a high level of societal cohesion. 
 
During the first 99,900 years of our "long history" visual art acted as a tool to solidify societal cohesion by giving visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day in order for all to share the same understanding of what reality is all about. That sharing was practiced by giving each and every member of society to see the same images or "visualizations" of the knowledge of the men of knowledge of the day. The sharing of images of the worldview of their men of knowledge, it had been observed, acted like gluing all citizens of a society in a common mindset that maximized the cohesion of the group. 
 
Historical distinctions in societal forms and modes of organization, as well as the recruitment of the men of knowledge and the formation of their worldviews, all this sheds light on three distinctive periods along the historical span of the evolution of human societies: 
 
- animism: shaman under tribal societal organization devised "animistic" worldviews all around the world. From the earliest of times, around 100,000 years ago, till the development of agriculture, around 10,000 years ago, the human worldview was animism. Moderns labelled its visual representations as “primitive arts”. To circumvent the negativity of such an Euro-Centrist view the French lately converted their labelling of such art to "art premiers". 
 
- religion or philosophy: starting with the earliest kingdoms, that build on increasing populations following the adoption of agriculture and expanding in the great empires, priests or wisemen proselytized or taught a worldview that later would be named religion or philosophy. In the Middle East the religions of the Word gave way to religious art that was practiced by craftsmen who were recognized very low social esteem. Chinese philosophy gave way to Shieyi and Gongbi painting that was practiced by the men of knowledge themselves... 
 
 - early modernity: Starting with the first crusade long haul merchants and bankers, over the centuries, developed a worldview consecrating individualism and private ownership that conflicted with the established religious worldview. Their power in gold and the assets that gold could buy finally ensured them societal recognition in the form of architecture (mansions and palaces) and the "3 art subjects" (landscapes around the mansions, portraits of those living in the mansions and stills of what adorns the tables in the mansions). Such art was destined primarily to solidify the belief in the new values of individualism and private ownership. Notice that those 3 imposed subjects are the exclusive subjects of painting from the Renaissance, 1400-1500, till around 1900. 
 
- high modernity (modernism or 100 years at most on the 100,000 years of art history): the sanctification of the individual into the active polarity of modernity emerged in early modernity with "long distance trade", an offshoot of the crusades, that unfolded in a systematic conversion process over the following centuries. But it is only with the advent of economic massification (mass market) between 1800 and 1900 that individualism finally displaced the societal structures of knowledge by bringing the men of knowledge on the level playing field of the market for ideas where they had thus to fight against all kinds of charlatans for the ears and eyeballs of the masses. By 1900 the mass market had imposed itself as the generator of the bulk of all profits and surpluses in Europe and the US and thereafter it permanently strives to expand its reach to newer goods and newer geographic locales. But to succeed the mass market needs to give each consumer the power to chose what product he wants to purchase and to establish the symbolism of consumer choice, Europeans thought that, they first needed to break two stumbling-blocks by generating the illusion in the eyes of the masses that they: 
- controlled the political process of decision making (democracy, one people/one vote). Power had not vanished. Gold and the assets that gold can buy still had the upper hand and would henceforth manipulate the "democratic" designation process of the representatives of the people. Nothing has changed to this very day and Public Relations thus emerged as the instrument of manipulation par excellence. 
- controlled the ideation process by relegating the “men of knowledge” to the level playing field of the market for ideas. But here again power did not vanished. Gold and the assets that gold can buy would easily manipulate the people to follow the ideation of their owners; an agenda that nowadays is being called propaganda. 
 
It's in that particular context (high modernity) that the "avant-garde" emerges: 
- rejecting past ways of painting (rejection of the 3 obliged subjects of modernity) 
- searching for a deeper meaning of reality to depict visually. 
 
Looking at the last hundred years of visual creations force is to recognize that the avant-garde failed to achieve the goal it had set for itself. It did not discover a deeper meaning of reality and the works, of whatever its schools, have not enlightened individuals nor societies during high modernity or today in late modernity. 
 
We still are searching today for a deeper meaning of reality. And thus the necessity I feel of "Thinking about what reality is all about, writing about that thinking and painting along the lines of that thinking." 
 
As I see it: 
- in its enthusiasm, to adopt the new, the avant-garde soon was blinded and forgot about what art is all about. 
- the task of searching for a deeper meaning of reality that the avant-garde had set for itself was an impossible task indeed. 
 
Over the last millena the artist's role had been to create visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge for all to share. The artist had specialized in the technical act of image making while being supplied with the content to illustrate. With High-Modernity, all of a sudden, the men of knowledge vanished on the level playing field of the market for ideas where their voices dissolved in the brouhaha and the noise of the market place. In reaction artists had tasked themselves to act as their own men of knowledge. But having never been trained nor taught to think about what reality is all about they soon fell in esotericism or worse in whatever the market would gobble. It was thus no accident that the whole adventure would conclude in the absurd. - while artists were losing themselves in the field of meaning scientists plunged into the microcosm, the macrocosm, and abstractions devising ever more elaborate operational knowledge shedding light on the "systemic complexity" of the principle of reality. 
 
The following images stumbled upon us like by luck in the last 10-20 years. They are the results of visualization techniques that scientists use to get a better grasp on a reality that emerges at levels the eyes can't see. In other words those images illustrate a deeper and hidden meaning of reality. 
 



The first image above is titled "Stained-Neuron" and the lower one "Fractal genome". I lost the references to their authors. Sorry for that. 
 
To observe at the micro and macro levels scientists basically use lenses and cameras. From those they derive multiple techniques. For example Scanning Electron Microscopy, Translational Microscopy, Magnifying Microscopy, Laser Scanning Confocal Microscopy, etc. A good introduction to all these techniques is available on the site "Molecular Expressions" a treatise on optical microscopy. The "Cell Imaging Centre" at the University of Alberta published another very useful PDF document on the subject titled "The Basics". 
 
Describing their philosophy, the members of the “Eye of Science” state: “Our commitment is to the evidence of scientific investigation but also to the use of color as a creative and harmonious tool to achieve beauty. In the combination of the aesthetics and the science we hope to inspire the public.” 
 
 Such images are the results of scientific observations. But do they constitute art? 
 
Using the definition of art I gave here above they are unmistakably art. "During the first 99,900 years of humanity's "long history" visual art acted as a tool to solidify societal cohesion by giving visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day in order for all to share the same understanding of what reality is all about. That sharing was practiced by giving each and every member of society to see the same image or "visualization" of the knowledge of the men of knowledge of the day." 
 
There is no doubt in my mind that scientific visualizations are representative of the knowledge of our contemporary men of knowledge or at least of one section of our contemporary men of knowledge. As such when images of scientific visualizations are spreading around it makes no doubt, in my mind, that they act and function like real art objects. They fulfil the traditional societal functionality of art that always has been to share visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day with all. 
 
Science is largely viewed today as the exclusive domain of real knowledge. But the deepening of the side-effects of modernity, that scientists themselves are telling us could very possibly plunge humanity on the path of collapse, shines a negative light on this idea that science is the domain "par excellence" of real knowledge about reality. The scientific ideas upon which modernity has been built and also the solutions that have been put in application in the real economy were all largely the doing of the scientific community. So science, unmistakably, bears a large share of the responsibility for the present fate of humanity. Seen the severity of humanity's plight in late-modernity we should be asking ourselves, it sounds to me, if it is really wise to continue to put all our trust in science. Not that we should reject science but is it not time to frame science within the context of a more globally encompassing societal framework of knowledge that could, act like a parapet along a bridge and, protect humanity of scientific ideas that ultimately could spell the demise of the principle of life on earth? 
 
This is where I think something societally bigger than science eventually appears on our horizon. A globally encompassing vision of the interactions between the societal polarities that would give humanity a deeper consciousness of its own reality and how it relates with the whole. This shall be the subject of one of my next posts.