2003/12/28

Art and art critics.

I spent those last days "lazying", thinking, reading and watching TV. At long last, here is an article that sparked in my mind and ignited the need to come back to my keyboard."The rape of the masters" by Roger Kimball in THE NEW CRITERION.

Roger Kimball's conclusion is refreshing and somehow encouraging.
"There is something unutterably depressing about wading through this academic gobbledegook. It?s not just the rebarbative pseudo-thought, the clich?d political sloganeering (?Eurocentric patriarchal colonialist bourgeois racist capitalist?), the minatory, all-knowing tone. That?s bad enough. But the tragedy of this reader-proof verbiage is that it acts as a prophylactic, effectively sealing off students from any direct contact with works of art. We turn to art history to open the door to art. More and more what we get is a cordon insanitaire preventing any contact with the work. In The Practice of Art History, the great Austrian scholar Otto P?cht argued that ?where art history is concerned, in the beginning was the eye, not the word.? P?cht was a passionate proponent of the idea that art was ?more than a mere illustration of the humanities.? It is more, too, than a mere illustration of politicized nihilism and empty theorizing. Looking at the way art history is taught today, however, you?d never know it. "


Whow! Whow!
I fully agree that art is "more than a mere illustration of the humanities" and also more than "a mere illustration of politicized nihilism and empty theorizing".
But what is art after having said all that?
Kimball's article does not go that far so I tried to find the thread of his thinking in other publications. What I discovered is his abysmal frustration at his incomprehension of reality and consequent rejection of all essays at rendering reality out of the canons of realism. What a disappointment. The premise of his thinking was utterly interesting but then just at the moment when one is justified to await him to become creative, he falls into passeism and ideological adulation of a vision coming from the past.

His series of essays look at the answers given by critics, novelists, and philosophers from either side of the answer to the question, "Is reality real or can I make it what I wish?" Those who engage in other paths than realism are characterized by Kimball as falling in decaying licentiousness and what they produce are inferior and bad works that do not attain the height of real art works.

Here we are now: real reality versus wishes. In other words the objective thing versus the subjective. Let's note that this is again a black and white presentation, good versus bad and clearly enough Kimball can not imagine something else as being on the side of the good, the right, the true and thus all other presentations must be bad, wrong and untrue. Suffice to notice at this juncture that Kimball derives his artistic judgment from the broader plane of his good understanding of true reality.

There is only one problem here: reality does not exist or to put it in a better light, reality is only the reality of our perception of something unattainable. How presumptuous are we to presume that we could know the real reality when we know for a sure fact that what we can perceive is limited to what exists within a minuscule area only of the near infinite distances of our cosmos. Furthermore our very limited spatial perception is also very limited in terms of time, what we perceive is only a blimp, a snapshot of a minuscule physical area during a fraction of time.
The primordiality of this fact can be difficult to accept, it is nevertheless an undeniable fact. When we come to accept that fact, we discover that reality is absolutely unattainable to us and this in turn helps us gaining in wisdom and accept that we are but only a particle of dust in the cosmic immensity.
From here on it should make no difficulty anymore to understand that what we call reality is only a question of our perception. Is our perception determined by each of us through our free will? Absolutely not. Each of us has been given filters that impose on us a given vision of reality:
- First and foremost, each civilization starts with foundation building blocks upon which various populations will construct cultural add ons. Most of us go about thinking and theorizing without any conscience of those foundation building blocks and thus we come to think about our free will as being our genius. This is laughable at best.
- Cultural add ons are daily life orientations that are taking root amongst groups of populations within a given civilization's area. Daily life is given by economic, social, religious, cultural and technological factors interacting among themselves. Some of those interactions take root and flourish into accepted truths by all the members, this is when those accepted truths transform themselves into cultural add ons. Those add ons then differenciate the populations that have adopted them from the populations that do not adopt them and thus arises diversity within civilization's areas.

What is amazing is to see someone as Kimball reject those facts of the human condition and than fall into the trap of believing that what the filters of perception let him see is the true reality.

What I was trying to show on Fri. Dec 19 in my post "Humans or the earthly bacteria - An awakener from the US Journal Science" goes straight attacking the heart of Kimball's vision of reality. "Our knowledge about our universe has dramatically increased these last decades and more and more we look at ourselves from a more distant perspective. We see ourselves in a bind and without any way out of all and everything on earth which somehow imposes a deeper form of social bond but simultaneously our increased knowledge and transformed conscience gives us more individual latitude to interpret reality. It seems thus that 2 opposing trends are at work: deeper social bonding and increased individualism."

Try for an instant to imagine that you are light years from earth, in space, looking back in the mirror at humans on earth. What are you seeing? Blacks, whites, yellows and reds are all one specie, all are humans and thus, as another human, you start to feel a deep social bond uniting yourself with all the humans on earth. But your position light years from earth detaches you also of the human traditional civilization's and cultural filters of perception and thus you feel alone on a new road of perception. In "Humans or the earthly bacteria - An awakener from the US Journal Science", I wanted to show the incredible impact of the latest astronomic discoveries on our human perception of reality. For sure those discoveries are still far from becoming cultural add ons but let me here make a prediction, the rooting of those scientific ideas into the popular psyche shall become universal. Herein lies the explosive power of science that expands its cultural filters to all of humanity.

Artists have always been considered at the forefront of human conscience. How can artists presently be at the forefront of human conscienceness? The answer is in one word: knowledge. I mean here the knowledge of the latest scientific discoveries for sure but this is far from being all the story of what knowledge is all about. In today's world, knowledge has to encompass the understanding of the totality of filters that have been imposed on us. Artists and thinkers of the 21st century have to break the chains that bind them to the filters of perception that were imposed on them. They have to win their own vision of reality through knowledge. This will for one deepen their social bonding with the rest of humanity and paradoxically this will go through increased individualism.

2003/12/19

Humans or the earthly bacteria

An awakener from the US Journal Science. It just published the findings from an orbital observatory called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Microwave (WMAP) that should shaken human certainties. The WMAP spacecraft sits about 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth and hovers around a point of gravitational stability between the Earth and Sun.
Here is the summary of those findings:

1. Our vision of the cosmos erupted some 13.7 bilion years ago when the big bang launched the dimensions of time, space and matter. Those dimensions are the building blocks whereupon we build our vision. In other words, those dimensions starting from their eruption with the big bang will follow a path of continuity that shape the observation opportunity of our human scientific investigation. Seen from the opposite point of their eruption, that means from our present day position, those dimensions offer us the opportunity to go back in time till their originating point but not an iota further.

2. Based on observations of a million galaxies and further deductions, WMAP helped astronomers determine the composition of our cosmos:

2.1. Hard visible material: 4 %
This is real matter in the form of atoms.
- Total galaxies: 200 billion. This is 1/200,000th of what the probe surveyed!
- Each galaxy contains 200 billion stars.
2.2. Dark matter: 23 %
This should be another substance that outweights all the atoms in the hard visible material but as of today, nobody has the slightest clue about what this stuff could be, thus the name dark matter.
2.3. Dark energy: 73 %
This force seems to expand the universe at an accelerating rate. Again nobody has the slightest clue what this energy could be, thus the name dark energy but what seems sure is that the basic features of inflationary cosmology fit with observational data.

3. Our universe should be expanding at a rate of 71 km per second per megaparsec (3.26 light years).
The accepted speed of light is 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) per second giving a light-year as about 6 trillion miles (9.66 trillion km). Our universe's expansion should thus be approximately 1 km per 31 trillion km (1 mil per 19.5 trillion miles).
An image of a faint galaxy referred to as "Sharon," was taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and reported last year as being 12.5 billion light-years away. That distance is equivalent to looking back in time to about 600 million years after the Big Bang. Some astronomers calculated that our expanding universe is in the from of a football. The light we see represents activity that occurred very long ago, thus we deduce that our universal football has a maximum radius in the range of 13 billion light years. So the expansion of our universe would thus be some 283,000 km per second! Whow.
To put this information into perspective, let us remember that OUR galaxy contains about 100 billion stars, most of which are concentrated in a thin disk about 100,000 light-years across and 3,000 light-years thick.

Think about it, what are we in all of this?
This question induces philosophical ruminations but what about its more direct implications on our human collective conscience? Our knowledge about our universe has dramatically increased these last decades and more and more we look at ourselves from a more distant perspective. We see ourselves in a bind and without any way out of all and everything on earth which somehow imposes a deeper form of social bond but simultaneously our increased knowledge and transformed conscience gives us more individual latitude to interpret reality. It seems thus that 2 opposing trends are at work: deeper social bonding and increased individualism. Common logic would have that such an opposition would lead to annihilation or at least to weakening but I think that the opposite is most likely to occur. For one, I think that more knowledge does not mean that knowledge will be able to explain everything and the recognition of this very limit will lead to more openness, to more acceptance of a different view. Secondly, stronger bonding does not necessarily imply uniformization, on the contrary, it is more likely to foster more tolerance for the search of explanations and thus more tolerant of differenciation.

The implications for art and design are enormous. I'll try to come back to this subject within the next few days.

2003/12/14

West Coast

Sharon and I came back from 15 days on the roads to the East Coast. We got a big cup of fresh air that we truly enjoyed. Great landscapes, great food in the stores and this pervasive fresh air smelling freedom and empowerment of the self. I discovered my preferred area in the US, it is the coast along highway 1 from San Luis obispo to Big Sur. A few hours drive from Los Angeles and the same from San Francisco.

Along this road, I have been assailed by an urging feel, to stop and stay there.

We established exclusive distribution deals with the 2 greatest modern furnishing and design stores in California, TWENTIETH in Los Angeles and LIMN in San Francisco, this clearly contributed to our mood but it is far from being all the story.

What I like in California is the contrast with New York.
In New York everything is grey, the buildings, the sky and the people to some extend.
In California colors are everywhere.
In New York there is a pervasive attitude: snobish aristocratic belief in the superiority of New Yorkers. This attitude somehow remembers me the attitude of the people of Paris towards the rest of France or the attitude of the people of Beijing towards the people of China. But there is a huge difference, New York does not have the culture of Paris or for that matter the culture of Beijing. New York is still in the stage of adolescence in comparison with Paris and Beijing, New Yorkers are as children who adopted a third grade European varnish and want to impose their brand of varnish on the rest of the country. In California you just don't feel that kind of pretension, there people just do what they have to do at the image of Nike's logo "Just do it".

In terms of art and design Californians struck me by their openess, by their willingness to experience new trends as they appear and for that matter, colors are about as rich in San Francisco as in Paris or Milan. The contrast with New York could not have been starker. See what I wrote on Aug 12.

2003/11/18

John Currin

Just finished to read "Mr. Bodacious" by DEBORAH SOLOMON, an article about the painter John Currin published by the NYT this November 16, 2003.

The thoughts of the painter are summarized in the following passage: ''Progressive ideas are just a machine for ruining art,'' Currin said late one fall afternoon, sitting in his living room. ''I believe in the old idea of technique. I believe you need it if you're going to have magic and genius and masterpieces. No one would question the value of technique in any other field. No one would say that a tennis player would be better if only he could stop hitting the ball.''

I guess that I agree with the technique stuff but as I wrote many times earlier, what about technique with no intellectual content? My conclusion remains the same today. Technique and art are two different things. You need indeed to master the technique in which you express yourself but this technique does not transform automatically what you express into art. Without technique what you express seems inachieved and without intellectual content it is as if what you express is shallow. Artistic achievement, I believe, consists of rich intellectual content packaged in strong and harmonious technical skills.

I could easlily add that if art were only this technique question, then all art today would be Chinese or Russian. For proof, suffice to visit a retrospective of the best Chinese painters organized annually by China's National Museum of Arts in Beijing. But leaving a Chinese annual retrospective, one is also left to wonder. All past styles are masterly represented, some works leave us with a snapshot into the thinking of their authors about the changes China is undergoing but nowhere is there one single piece really popping up with truth, with understanding of the world we are living in today. Nowhere can we see a trial to represent in form and in content the direction of our humanity's road. Their technical skills give Chinese and Russian painters a place in galleries around the world but this does not propel them into artistic path finders. At least not presently, but with further economic development, things could be vastly different 20 or 50 years down the road.

Coming back to John Currin's work, we see technique, for sure but where is the message? Where is the artistic path? The description "comedy of manners", taking "a satiric shot at all things American" as given by Deborah Salomon is right I believe. The same words, I'am afraid, could be used about many of the European middle age painter craftsmen. They had no freedom of message, they were as the advertisers of the church but they often had "a satiric shot at all things European" and let's not forget their technique. Having no freedom of message, they concentrated on technique as their only escape towards personal freedom. In John Currin's work, I see technique for sure, I see "a satiric shot at all things American" eventually but I don't see what is John Currin's message, his vision. I'am left to wonder what kind of an escape John Currin's technique is bringing him. Surely not freedom from what I could see in the slide show. But yes, I was forgetting that "Progressive ideas are just a machine for ruining art".

It seems to me that my earlier words are gaining in strength: "without technique what you express seems inachieved and without intellectual content it is as if what you express is shallow". I'am afraid that for John Currin "progressive ideas" equate with "intellectual content". As such I find that his work belongs to a passed time.

2003/11/03

Subjectivity = creativity & objectivity = Change

Harmony is something objective, it is what all great religions and philosophies strived to illustrate. Harmony is also what the modern sciences of complexity are reaching as their ultimate conclusions.

Harmony can't be deranged.

Whatever happens in the cosmos, in our human societies or in our personal lives, harmony is always resulting... Disharmony is an impossibility, it is a creation of our egos. Our egos are driven by greed and want for possessions and glory. Those are the shapers of disharmony ...

As human creations, paintings are subjective renderings and in consequence they are not automatically harmonious. Our driven egos are indeed more often than not playing tricks on us. In a painting of whatever style, and by extension in whatever artistic form, some objective rules apply to reach harmony. The harmonization of the creator's subjectivity with the objective rules of beauty is what art is all about

THE HARMONIZATION OF THE CREATOR's SUBJECTIVITY, freed from his greed and glory driven ego, COMBINING WITH THE OBJECTIVE RULES OF BEAUTY, the principles of life at work throughout our cosmos, THIS IS WHAT ART IS ALL ABOUT.

In art, content and technique are blend into form. What I mean here is that whatever technique is being used to express whatever content, the resulting work must be harmonious. Harmony is the general state of our universe, of our cosmos. It is not something static, all the contrary, it is permanent change. It is transformation from one state to another state.

These last centuries, western artists and thinkers concentrated on the idea of an absolute truth. They lost themselves in this Sisyphean act of the snapshot FOR truth. We must now discover the sequences between the snapshots, or to put it in another way, we should now make the jump to a superior level and discover how to fabricate snapshots OF truth. I firmly believe that to keep in tune with the music of life, WITH THE OBJECTIVE RULES OF BEAUTY, the principles of life at work throughout our cosmos, we have to concentrate on the sequences between the snapshots while freeing our SUBJECTIVITY from our greed and glory driven ego.

For the observer, the sequencing of changes is what ultimately is making sense of each particular moment.
The same goes for the art observer. It is indeed the sequencing of changes between colors, between sounds or between ideas and words that ultimately makes sense of those same colors, sounds, ideas and words. I believe that we just discovered the Sacred Graal, what humans have been searching for ever through art, through religion, through philosophy and more recently through science. It seems to me that the Sacred Graal is how to apply the principles of the sequencing of changes to form and to content.

In terms of form it is quite obvious that in painting, or for that matter in graphic arts and design, the changes in and through lines, forms and colors are what makes a work harmonious or not. At this point I would like to suggest an hypothesis. The changes in and through lines, forms and colors are perfectly harmonious when the creator succeeds to forget his ego, that's when he stops to think, when his actions are not driven by want or wish, when his actions are for themselves and not for whatever outside reason anymore. Check this out in the actions of children before they have been constrained by the social rules. What do we discover in their plays with colors? Spontaneity and generally much beauty. But their natural ability to make or should I say to BE beauty seems to evaporate with socialization. Socialization brings the outside into our minds. Don't assume here an instant that I'm introducing another theory against socialization and that as the philosophers Rousseau and Walden, I should believe in the need for humans to remain under nature's exclusive guidance to remain "good". I think indeed that it is far more productive to accept the idea of socialization (by the way, not only humans, but the individuals of all species go through a process of learning and socialization) and to strive to understand how we can circumvent it's negativities. What happens with socialization is that it brings the outside into our minds and thus confronts us with the game of competition for goods and for sex. This game becomes central in our psyches, mostly unconsciously and thus our behavior starts somehow to be driven, in opposite thus of spontaneous. Religions and philosophies have since immemorial times tried to contain this drive and what is most remarkable is the total rejection of this kind of containment under capitalism, especially in its late global form. Here we are, atomized and driven... Our paintings have more often than not been driven by want and greed, eliminating our spontaneity and the result is unmistakably disharmony! Whatever our technical expertise, driven painting leads to disharmony. In a driven painting, the resulting work can be well done or less well done, it can be empty or contain an image, even sometimes an image with an interesting content but what is constant is that it does not pop, we are not left with an impression of "whoaw". Now how about "non driven" paintings? In nature's rule, in life, there are some general principles guiding the direction of change. Pleasure is a central motivation in our acting, it is also one of the fundamental factors at work in the principles of life itself. One can be totally absorbed and feel pleasure at the colors, lines and forms growing on the canvas, the paper or the display. On the other hand one can also be driven by the idea of pleasure that one would like to find in the confrontation of the result of the painting with the outside, customers, friends or others. Those are two very different notions of pleasure. One is the real thing, the real driver of life or to say this otherwise, the real driver of change in the cosmos as well at the macro or the micro levels. This general principles is also being explored by physicians, chemists and biologists in their quest for the driving force of change. The other, the idea of pleasure to come, is clearly not synonymous with pleasure in the execution of a work. It can only be seen as yearning for future pleasure that is expected to be generated at the contact of the work with some target that generally is fixed in our subconscious. This second notion of yearning for future pleasure makes us do things, we are then driven somehow out of ourselves. Pleasure in the sense that I call the real thing leads to harmony and pleasure in the sense of the yearning for it in the future leads to disharmony. Everything I'm stating here was already expressed by the Chinese sages in works dating back some 2500 years. The Tao Te Qing of Lao Tze is the best example of such literature. But with the acceleration of archeological research in China since the late nineties, it appears evident that this philosophical approach was already widespread well before that time. Philosophy and understanding are one thing but what about the practice derived from such knowledge. Let us look for a moment at Chinese painting, I mean traditional Chinese painting. To make things short we can say that Chinese painting divides into two very different approaches. One could be seen as the artistic form, or should I say the philosophical form, it is called "SHEYI". The other form is a kind of craft for interior decoration, it is called "QONGBI". SHEYI is what interests us here. The subjects of those paintings are landscapes, animals and sometimes but more rarely human figures. The target of SHEYI painters is not technical prowess but the essence of their subject. If a mountain for example is the subject, a SHEYI painter will first try to capture the TAO of this mountain or to say this otherwise, he will strive to feel how this mountain lives , its TAO, its WAY of being. This exercise in observation can take years and one day the painter starts to paint, this happens when he has interiorized the spirit of the mountain, its TAO. His paintings then are extremely fast. He can make thousands of essays at painting this mountain but he destroys them, in the end he will keep one. The one he feels, renders perfectly his vision of the being of this mountain. This is the stage where the SHEYI painter reaches pure pleasure for the sake of what he is doing, he reaches satisfaction. If he had been concerned only a little a bit about a future pleasure that he could gain from the contact of his painting with an outside target, he would have saved his thousands of essays but SHEYI painters were not concerned by this kind of yearnings. What is notable to see is that since China's "opening" many so called SHEYI painters are doing just that. They keep invariably all their essays that they hope will bring them riches.

2003/10/01

Got back from Europe. Whow something is definitely going on that I like very much. Colors are in. Colors are everywhere. Street advertisement billboards are a riot of pure colors. On french TV, whatever channel you zap to, you are engulfed in electric, acid color environments. What a difference with US TV channels...

I guess I never saw such a visual distance between Europe and the US. On August 12, I was somehow launching a lone complaint. My last trip to Europe reinforces the feeling I had in New York. And this morning my feeling got a kind of intellectual conforting. See here Has all black run its fashion course?




2003/08/13

Just got back from a retailer prospection trip to the East coast: Boston, New york and Washington.

It seems to me that New York's leading interior designers are out of sink with our times, it's as if they were hard nosed ideologues who are still trapped in past european fashion. Minimalism has indeed been society's answer in Europe to the economic boom of the nineties. Everything was in abundance by the end of the nineties starting with the money in circulation and the excesses in material possessions that came as a logical human reaction somehow fomented or how to say downgraded the value of those same possessions. This reaction materialized in a pure ideological conversion to the ideas and forms of the industrial societal model that was now perceived as the sumumn of rationality following the fall at the start of the nineties of the last ideological dream of equality.

But the princip of reality reemerged with a vengence. Started in spring of 2000, stock markets' fell around the world and by spring of 2001 the most sensitive spirits sensed a need for social warmth. They felt that skirts would have to shorten as a way of spicing social relations and natural materials + colors would have to warm up the interiors. By spring of 2002 those tendancies sprung up in London, Paris, Milan... By spring of 2003, minimalism appeared as retro as in the word retrograde. But by summer of 2003, New York designers were still entirely mired in this minimal bull, in this macdonaldization of interior design. It's as in an ideological dream where strait lines, white walls and pure color plastic injected objects make up the optimum one can dream about. Reality is that this is an industrial injected ideological dream. The industrial reality can't but be minimalist. Straight lines are cheaper to machine than curves, plastic injection is cheaper than the crafting of natural materials and hospital white appears less risky for marketeers than the colors of life. But this minimalist bull is just not like what life is all about. If humans were robots, the low costs involved in this kind of minimalism would be justified by the logic of capital that never stops to search for costs reductions but we are not robots that can be parked. How could we be satisfied by hospital white , how could we resist an environment of straight lines and cutting angles for more than a short moment? There is simply no resisting, we are humans. We need this diversity that comes with the princip of life. Diversity is our antidote to boredom and the multitude of colors of life combined with the character of natural materials is what renders diversity possible in our interiors.

So much for New York's design scene.




2003/04/30

I wrote earlier �Art and thinking are not neutral. Artists and thinkers are engaged in shaping a more trueful perception of the world�, in my understanding the world means reality, we live in reality is it not?

But what is reality, what is our world?

It is the web of interactions between all particules and parts of our universe from its micro to its macro dimensions. Its whole and its parts are indeed only dimensions, aspects or poles of a same reality, its own reality. But we should always remain aware of this fundamental fact that what we call our universe is only a concept covering the understanding of our reality at this particular stage of our human history. Our universe is indeed perhaps only one of the elements of a more encompassing entity. Quantum mechanic physicists already imply that our universe is only one of many universes and they use a ready concept for this newer reality, the multiverse. Uni is one, multi is more than one so for the sake of pragmatism, let us conclude that our environment is the verse and that our reality is the web of interactions between all particules and parts of our verse, from its micro to its macro dimensions.

We, humans, are only very small actors on the surface of our earth and seen from the macro dimension of our verse we appear as nothing more than a micro particule of dust in the earthly waves that are blown by the versal winds. From this understanding, it appears to me that the only wise attitude, as a human, is humility and acceptance of our insignificance. But we should also be conscious of our belonging to the verse, we are part of it. All religions and traditional philosophies came very near of the same conclusions, speaking of the One and saying that we are part of the One and absolute.

To make it short, I conclude from all this that reality (the One in religions) is absolutely inaccessible to us humans and scientific discoveries change nothing to our predicament. We remain dust even if sometimes we have dreams of being leviathan. The best we can ever hope for is that our perceptions of reality remain in line with the truth or to say it otherwise with what reality is all about. Letting ourselves dwell outside of this line is akin to falling into the absurd. For what could we find out of the line of what reality is all about? We would find the illusion of a fake detachment. Detachment is the attitude that we arrive at after having molded ourselves into humility and reached complete acceptance of our insignificance in the verse. Fake detachment is a particular form of detachment, it's the illusion of our absolute detachment from the verse which leads to a kind of euphoric empowerment of the self. But this empowerment is short lived for one can only go so far as the reflection in the mirror of his own image that projects a naked self down the road of the verse at which point the mirrage of empowerment dissolves and one falls into disarray. The possibility of an absolute detachment from the verse is a myth that has been popularized on the margins of rationality by blind folded believers in the salvation of humankind through science and technology presented as the ultimate rationality that would liberate humans from the chains of nature. For the best part of the twentieth century, we have indeed been teached that by freeing humankind from all its irrational religious beliefs science was leading us straight into a paradise of materiality where everything can be fixed by mechanic application of scientific solutions. This has been the credo of capitalism as well as of communism. But it did not lead further than belief. Mecanic scientism has indeed always proved to be short thinking, short of the real complexity of reality. It was in this kind of environment that thinkers and artists were plunged in the twentieth century so it should come as no surprise that the outcome has been very much confusion.

If reality is fundamentally inaccessible to us, it turns out then that our relation to it is limited to our sole perception of what it is all about. Perception of reality is then the central question. Knowing that we are a micro particule of dust of reality we can't but deduce that observing reality implies first and foremost observing oneself. What appears thus is that our observation is not neutral. We are the observers but we are also the observed. Here we conclude that our observation of ourself is conditionned in 3 distinctive ways and such a conditionned observation of ourself in turn conditions our perception of reality:
1 OUR HISTORY:
1.1 Our culture: where we come from is giving us a way of thinking, a way of seeing things, in other words, our culture determines our observation and our actions. But this is too general an approach to be helpful. We have to distinguish between:
1.1.1 culture as civilizational build-up located very deep in our societies' given ways and truths that are accepted by all their members.
1.1.2 culture as everyday ways of doing in our direct environment that are strongly ingrained in each of us but that we can easily apprehend through an intellectual effort at understanding.
1.2 Our social reality: where we come from is placing us in a given economic and social environment that determines our way of thinking, our way of seeing things, in other words where we come from determines our observation and our actions. We have to distinguish between:
1.2.1 social reality as civilizational build-up giving our society's �level of development� that de facto imposes the general life conditions of all their members.
1.2.2 social reality as everyday ways of doing that impose our position on the social stratification ladder and the general life conditions that come with this particular position.
2 OUR PERSONALITY: our biological origin and our history are giving us personality traits that will be reinforced or weakened at the contact of our daily experiences.
3 OUR KNOWLEDGE: our history and our personality will in some way combine to leave us with a certain level of knowledge.

What starts to form in our mind at this stage is the idea that our perception is unique to ourself and that there are thus as many different kind of perceptions as there are individuals. But this is no proof of any fundamental relativism. What is relative is the influences of our histories, the better our knowledge and the less important the influences of our histories appear to be on our lives. Our personalities appear equally relative. In sum, knowledge is the driver of a possible convergence of human perceptions.

Laodan




2003/04/03

Art is seen by a great deal of people as being external to their lives, as being something as a distant production by people who are different from themselves and often thought of as weird folks. The fact is, even if we are not aware of it, that art is part of people's daily lives, that we wish it or not is insignificant.

Our environment is made of lines, forms, colors and those in turn are shaping our views and our attitudes towards the rest of the world. As we all know, those lines, forms and colors are not something given once and for all, they are in perpetual change and there seem to be 2 engines for those changes: nature and culture.

The changes following the rhythms of nature are called seasons and they bring us wild cyclical variations in the palette of colors of our landscapes. Those seasonal changes are fairly well understood, the same does not apply for the changes accompanying the rythms of culture. We see, we touch, we know the lines, forms and colors of our commodities are changing. And if we understand the functional adaptation of those commodities that eventually follow the seasonal rythms, we know also that the bulk of changes in our commodities are largely unrelated to seasonal rythms without being able nevertheless to point to the root causes of such changes.

An easy answer would be to point to the designer world... Yes designers are shaping the lines, forms and colors of many of our goods nowadays but this is too short an answer for how to explain where the designers are finding their inspiration and perhaps even more importantly, how to explain changes in the so many goods that designers don't touch at all or further even, how to explain all the changes in the history of our commodities?

Speaking about history, could the contact with the outside world not be a good explanation for the changes in lines, forms and colors of our commodities? Even if societies sometimes adopt the ways of the outside we can't argue that the following changes have been introduced by the contact itself. People and societies indeed are very conservative and tend to resist all changes.

If change materializes it's through a mechanism of mimetism. A society is a kind of social pyramid. At the bottom are the many families having little and at the top are the few families having much. The concentration of commodities and luxuries at the hands of the families along the height of the social pyramid, or one could also say the repartition of richnesses, is conversely proportional with the social status. In itself this fact does not explain much but the light suddenly switches on after discovering that all the social body is acting along deeply ingrained ascend laws. It's as if everybody was permanently dreaming about the same thing: ascending the social ladder, making it to the top. This natural law of the social dream is permeating all human societies and it seems also true of most animal societies. Why and where this law comes from is not our topic but well what this law implies as behavioural mechanisms. The dream to reach the top is indeed pervading the behaviour of all members of a society. It's kind of everyone suggesting to himself that by appearing in the same lines, forms and colors as the ones at the top, one somehow should already be nearer from that same top.

The natural law of the social dream suggesting mimetism of the top to the body social, this helps us to understand how societies are surfing on the permanently changing waves of packets of lines, forms, colors, sounds and beliefs. But this does not explain us how those packets happen to change or in other words how the waves are forming.

Mimetism, by all members of a society, acts as a reproduction mechanism of the packets of lines, forms, colors, sounds and ideas that the members at the top of the social pyramid happen to make theirs. But how do they make those packets theirs? One solution would be for them to create those packets but we all know from experience that this is not what happens. In reality, they adopt new lines, forms, colors, sounds and ideas from the artists and thinkers who appear to be the real shapers of culture.

Artists and thinkers did not always be the cultural shapers in history. We already saw earlier on how, in Western Europe, in the middle ages the real culture shapers were the agents of the Christian church. To understand what this was like, suffice to observe the muslim world where something of such a scheme is still at work today. The study of cultural formation further down in history goes along the lines of the history of religion. At this point of the argument, another question is popping up. How did the artists and thinkers take over the role of shapping culture from the clergy? This question is undoubtedly the central question of our present enquiry.

Rationalism has been the philosophical approach that superseded christianity. This process that grew, in Europe, out of the time span of a few centuries (15th-19th century) found its roots in the economic build up that gave rise to capitalism.

A growth of population along the 10th century made life even more miserable for the serfs and slaves around the manors of the landlords. Those who fled found spaces of freedom at the edge of the domains and to survive turned to gardening and crafting. Becoming more numerous in one settlement some of them started trading their surplus against the surpluses of neighboring settlements. The growth of this primitive trade fostered coherent local geographical areas that themselves started to trade with neighboring local areas. A local geographic area is a kind of geographical circle which center is within one day walking distance maximum for all its inhabitants (radius of 40-50 km). The center is the market place of the local area where merchants purchase and store goods from neighboring areas that are then traded to the locals and who supply neighboring areas with the surplusses of their area. In such a way coherent regional exchange centers developped into zones reaching well over 200 km in diameter. Regional centers started then to develop exchanges with their neighbor regions allowing for the absorption of their surplusses by others or to satisfy unmet needs within their borders. At this stage of development of super regional entities, exchanges jumped the long haul with annual trade fairs. Merchants now came from very far away. The famous Champagne fairs for exemple attracted merchants from the Italian city states of Venise, Florence,... (over 1000 km away) who exchanged their own wares but also luxuries they had purchased from arab merchants (including goods coming from China), others came from as far away as middle and Eastern Europe. By the 14th century Europe had established a coherent global exchange system.

Long distance trade would not have been made possible without the borrowing of financial and exchange techniques from the arabs (most important among them the bill of exchange and the double entry accountancy system). Seen on the scale of the European continent, feudality was a very much lawless and insecure system. Travelling long distances with much gold to pay for long distance trades was indeed absolutely excluded. Merchants needed a working and trustable system of payment allowing the merchants to trade by simple exchange of documents. The arabs knew the Bill of Exchange since centuries ...

The discipline and strictness imposed upon merchants, bankers and the others involved in long distance trade by the use of those instruments of commercial exchanges fostered gradually a more rational vision of the world. But let's not forget that during feudality, the church detained the only accepted truth. And the church banned the practice of banks, loans and other financial techniques... In a first stage, merchants circumvented the interdict through hiding of their activities and finding subterfuges. But a conflict was inevitable. The resolution of this conflict was hastened by the fact that the clergy was utterly corrupted. The french church, for example, at some moment owned 70% of all the land of the country that it had acquired through the sales of sin forgiving certificates... The clergy and its hierarchy became the target of all opposition and in the first decades of the 16th century reformed churches spread that enphasized a more personal relationship between the practitioneers and the book. But reformation was not even. Calvinist Geneva was as brutally repressive as the church of Rome while reformist Holland was tolerant and very accomodating for merchants, artists, thinkers and in general all those having trouble at home. This tolerance and greater acceptance of rationality allowed Holland to dominate the capitalist world from beginning of the 16th to mid 17th century.

As a general rule, we propose that the development of long distance commercial exchanges favored the emergence and growth of rational thinking and by the end of the 18th century, philosophers had made theirs the tenants of rationality. The church had been relegated to its religious mission, artists and thinkers had taken over the shaping of cultural values.

Art and thinking are not neutral. They have long been a crafter's polishing of an imposed message but with rationality they became an adventure to push the known and well accepted ever further down the road of truth.

Art and thinking are not neutral. Artists and thinkers are engaged in shaping a more t rueful perception of the world. This road out of daily's certainty leads them to many misunderstandings and they pay often the price of being non understood and appearing even as weird guys. The more advanced one's education and knowledge, the easier to appreciate the conclusions of scientific researches or a work of art. Seen that education and knowledge accumulation are mostly concentrated in the brains of the ones at the top of the social pyramid, it is not difficult to understand that they are the first to assimilate those new ideas and visions of artists and thinkers.

Having just exposed how the members of the top of the social pyramid absorb new ideas and visions, we discover the full significance of the natural law of the social dream suggesting mimetism of the top to the body social and we understand better how societies are surfing on the permanently changing waves of packets of lines, forms, colors, sounds and beliefs.


Laodan.




2003/03/31

Techniques of visual expression will be more and more varied and mixing of different techniques will more and more take place. But it makes absolutely no doubt in my mind that digital art will slowly impose itself as the visual medium of choice. The graphic possibilities at the hands of an artist using drawing, painting or photo imaging software are endless and the results are often stunning.

The danger of the computer is that it allows cheap and fast graphic effects and we can already observe a dizzying inflation of images presented as art, suffice to visit an online art gallery to be convinced that something is rotting in the digital world. A technique in itself is indeed not sufficient to produce a work of art. Art, let's remember, is an act of substantiation. The artist is one that with his feelings expresses an idea through a medium. Digital imaging does not escape that basic fact. And we can't but be sceptical at the proliferation of digital images that are presented as art. Now, this does not imply that art is absent of the digital scene. On the contrary it seems as if the computer was liberating creative talents as never before. Along my surfing trips searching on the web, I discovered under the inflation of egotic postings a vibrant world composed of many technically skilled and talented creators. I guess that my firm conviction that the artists could be the free thinkers/philosophers of the 21st century has been, in part at least, germinating and growing in that primitive pool of life that is the web.

Until here I spoke exclusively about the content of art works but what about their form? I think that mixing of techniques and most of all digital works will impose themselve as the leading forms used by visual artists to express themselves in the years to come.

I do not believe one instant that technical skills or mastery in one technique are automatically confering artistic qualities to a work. Saying that technical mastery confers automatically artistic qualities to a work would be like saying that physical beauty in a persone is what makes a person beautiful. We all know that a beautiful person has a lot more to offer than her physical beauty. But let us not fall in the absurd, it is also clear that the absence of technical mastery will never allow a work to become a work of art on the merit of its content only. We all know that an interesting person does not necessarily render a person beautiful but we all also know that an interesting person that is physically beautifull is undoubtedly a beautifull person. In other words, an artist has to possess some mastery of his technique in order to express himself with ease. How could one without technical mastery be able indeed to express himself unhindered? Mastery I believe has to be understood as the result of practice not necessarily of schooling because schooling without practice will never procure mastery. I furthermore think that mastery is the result of a process combining work, experience and personal internal maturation. From my personal experience, I deduct that content and technique have to be blend into art form. What I mean here is that whatever technique is being used to express whatever content, the resulting work must be harmonious. Harmony is the general state of our universe, of our cosmos. It is not something static, all the contrary, it is permanent change: transformation from one state to another state. These last centuries, western artists and thinkers concentrated on the idea of an absolute truth and they lost themselves in a sysyphean act of the snapshot for truth. We must now discover the sequences between the snapshots that give sense to each moment of our lifes. Somehow I indeed believe that what constitutes an art work comes out of the essence of what composes each moment of an artist's life. In that sense it's the artist's life that confers interest, artistic qualities or no interest, no artistic qualities to a work.

In the 21st century an artist is someone deeply involved in his time, someone who tries to understand what's going on around him and who searches to make sense of his life and of life in general. He is curious and feels very deeply that he is a walking moral conscience. He thus constantly observes the society in which he lives without being attracted by the political decision making process nor by an entrepreneurial endeaviour, all things by which he would indeed very rapidly feel constrained. Notwithstanding his staying out of active responsibilities, he is often driven to express his critical standpoint which more often than not lands him at loggerheads with the people of his time. This marks a huge historical evolution in the position of the artist. For exemple during the Middle Ages in Europe, the artist had no freedom at all, the only thing he was allowed to represent was what the church judged right and artists would in no case confront the church for fear for their lives. Artists thus became craftsmen whose only possible pleasures were limited to the technical execution of their works. Here lies the explanation for the extremely finely executed artworks of that time. The same mechanism is at work today in dictatorial countries where the artists are living under censure. Living in China from 1986 to 2002, I took the habit to visit the annual selections by the Museum of fine arts of the best Chinese paintings from all the land. I always felt a great delight at those exhibitions regrouping hundreds of paintings and returning home I could only wonder at the reasons for such admirable technical skills showcased by all those Chinese painters. With the advent of the opening of their country to the outside and their newly gained freedoms, young Chinese artists began to drift out of the classic canons and it did not take long for their creations to reflect upon their life conditions as well as the social and political conditions around them. The freer they became in their content the worst their technical skills evolved and in the end art in China became pure bullshit. Real talented Chinese artists are to be found in the generation that grew up during the cultural revolution and who also benefitted from a traditional art education. Most of them had to leave China not for political reasons as is too often implied by Westerners but simply because they could not find a receptive audience at home. The members of today's Chinese elite have money, the only thing that moves them is money and they are not interested by art. They can eventually attend a concert or show up at an art exhibition but it's to show up not because a passion for art.

Art creation is a kind of marginal activity that in essence is elitist. Artists are seeing themselves as different from the mass of toilingmen as a result of their free dwelling in areas never visited by toilingmen.

Art and design do not cover the same function.
Art is an individual undertaking that is unique, that brings some new understanding of ourselves and of our universe. In that sense, art is a risky undertaking focused on coming realities and only a small part of an artist's works will ever reach functional status as art works. Buyers of art works are few, they are a cultural elite with money and viewed from the standpoint of demand the offer of art has to remain very limited.
Design is kind of a vulgarization of the spirit of art works at the attention of larger segments of consumers. We could also say that design is the merchandisation process of the substance of art works that will introduce the spirit of the works of art into the interiors of larger segments of the population.

Laodan.




2003/03/27

Yesterday we arrived somehow to the conclusion that with the drive of industrialization towards massification, historical evolution entered into a fast lane assaulted as it was by a widening range of determining factors acting and interacting upon themselves (complexification of the systemic model):
1. Industrialization leading to rapid urbanization as more and more people were quitting the countryside for production jobs and always more new jobs servicing the production activities.
2. From a largely autarcic life in the countryside, the newcomers in the cities were reduced to dependency on the market for their survival.
3. Increased dermand induced increased offer or is it the other way around?
4. To thrive further and avoid falling into anarchy, the rapid urbanization that was followed by increased market exchanges gradually established a growing set of rules of the game.
5. For applying a set of rules of the game better adapted to the needs experienced by the market's actors, the rules making process gradually went out of the hands of the aristocracy to the hands of the merchants and the bourgeoisie and later to the hands of the working class in waiting of middle class status.
6. Industrial development induced artistic changes that in turn directed the design or to say it otherwise the forms and colors of new industrial products.
7. Marketing techniques devised a price/quality differentiation of those products adapted to each segment of the consumers base.

Coming back to our approach of the arts we can see, the barons of the nascent textile, steel and machinery industries in the 18th and 19th centuries order portraits of themselves and their families and landscapes of their local environments to decorate their walls. In a first time, the painting technique remains classic and subjects are treated realistically but things will gradually change with the changing environment in the field of ideas, scientific knowings, applied research and their ensuing new products and ways of doing things.

Nineteenth century trains and steam boats shortened distances and who used them underwent an altering of his vision of the world. Van Gogh and Gauguin took liberties with painting techniques. Their subjects started to be treated less realistically, impressionism, pointillism followed. Further down the road, the atrocities of the first world war and the following economic crisis in Germany gave birth to Die Brucke, German and Norden expressionism depicted in stark contrasted colors the inner feelings of the agonizing local intelligentsia.

The successive economic booms and busts induced by the introduction of electricity, cars, telephones, radios, aeroplanes and so on further deepened the altering of our vision of the world. Cubism, surrealism and other distortions of reality followed as if they were sucked in the path of this gigantic economic, political and social maelstrom.

In parallel with those alterings of our vision of reality appeared technologies that would permit the mass distribution of copies of the old and new visions of artists. The development of cameras and printing presses brought indeed an extraordinary expansion in the diffusion of images that would enter the interiors of the masses.

All those trends were firmly established with the 2nd world war that consecrated the US as the world's military-industrial factory. Financing was realized in great part through money creation. The great depression was overcome and the US' after war economic model, the military-industrial research and development complex, doubled by a civilian mass production of consumer goods established itself firmly as the most successful model of society. The countryside emptied followed by urbanization and later sub-urbanization. The consumption society grew hand in hand with full democratization, people were given the right to chose what to buy, products and also politicians. It was the total triumph of materialism and of individualism. Art in the process also became a merchandise comparable to whatever other merchandise. In other words art, through merchandization, was pushed aside from its aristocratic pedestal. Art became accessible to the masses, in theory at least. In practice great confusion ensued, as an indigestion by society at large of what seemed as an unending flow of productions by all those aspirants art creators who sprouted from the fertility of this newly born massification ground.

Notwithstanding also the undeniable successes of this model, the last fifty years saw much intellectual and moral confusion. Political ideologies acted as spiritual fogs and the awakening in the eighties at the demise of those ideologies left most of the intelligentsia and artists with a bitter taste of emptiness.
But the fall in this abyss was at worst only like an instant on the map of history. It should in all logic be followed by a long period of maturation or one could also say of digestion of this massification gloutonny. Much of this conclusion I derive from my personnel experience. As I understand it today, I have been unconsciously led to a long retreat into myself dwelling for the best part of the last 2 decades in the history of industrialization, the history of civilizations and most importantly the study of systemic complexity and the emergence of its own culture. Out of this experience, I came to the conclusion that a renewal, a renaissance is in the works nowadays, an intellectual and artistic renaissance that will last the best part of the twenty-first century.

As the technological roads taken in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century established themselves slowly, people and societies adapted to those new ways over quite a long time span. This allowed for digested changes that time passing appeared natural in peoples eyes even if from an historic perspective those changes appear more like a formidable thunderstorm.
Starting after the 2nd world war, technological changes followed an increasingly fast pace and by the start of the 21st century many technological changes have no time any more to make it through all the segments of society, overtaken as they are by always newer technological approaches. This is a time of non digested changes pulling a riot of social, cultural and economic disruptions that are obscuring our understanding of what we are going through and where we are being led to. In a sense I have this intuition that we have entered the territory of folly. From an historical perspective the present times look like the earlier thunderstorm degenerated into some kind of non ending tornedo.

Digested technological changes fundamentally altered our vision of the world but left us perfectly conscious and in control of our actions. Non digested technological changes are breaking down all our points of repere and are thus plunging us into a mental state of profound anaesthesia. Deeply unsatisfied we follow the movement of economic and social inertia that plunges the majority of us into political apathy.

Earth distances have vanished, looking in the windows of our computers, Tvs and phones we can see how the other people of the world are living (global village). But this is not all, images from the space station help us to discover ourselves and our earth from a distance (mirror). Those of us who are watching the image of the global village in the mirror are plunged into a whole new world vision that gives us in some way the means to cross the divide between our present day land of folly and the promized land of consciousness that sits across the bridge.

The industrial stage of development, some would say the post-industrial stage of capitalist development, was made possible not only by an increased capital accumulation but perhaps primarily by an accumulation of knowings without precedent in human history. But we should be aware that this accumulation of knowings has been realized out of knowledge. By knowings I mean the accumulation of rationalizations that constitute science. By knowledge I mean here the interaction between scientific knowledge and philosophic knowledge.
Science remains indeed a mechanical processing of ever increased micro observations totally detached from the global reality. The sheer size of our accumulation of scientific data becomes monstruous and in this process, human beings lost their capacity to digest intellectually all those informations. This is the critical point when humanity abdicated its control over its actions and uncounscionciously accepted to be led by the internal logic of the life system that had taken root largely out of humans' knowing.

It's precisely at this point that the image in the mirror given to us from the global village helps us to understand how philosophy shines with wisdom. What indeed could allow us to make better sense out of the present day tornado of the constructions derived from scientific observations than philosophy?

The interaction between philosophy and science is what allows us to think out of the boxes given by religions, ideologies and science itself and as a result, an infinity of possibilities could arise for each of us, all but the absolute truth. But with the unknown as our roads, the difficulty is now to avoid falling into the absurd. We need to define the boundaries of our investigation territory.

Artists are within the best placed to experience this interaction between philosophy and science for the good reason that they are somewhat protected from the dramatic effects of the tornado and as such are let free to think and act, if they so desire, out of the conventional lines generally admitted by our societies. But we should not jump to hatives conclusions, someone's possibility to think and to act is ultimately and decisively dependant on his knowledge, on his general culture. I think that knowledge and culture act as the necessary breeding ground for creativity to blossom. I think also that knowledge and culture are somewhat akin to the parapets on the bridge to the promized land of consciousness that is given to our attention by the reflection of the image of the global village in the cosmic mirror. And I bet that recognized artists in the 21st century will be the ones who accumulate a valid base of knowledge, knowledge of their own culture and history, of the cultures and histories of the other people of this earth, knowledge of the scientific understandings of our times as focusing on the micro levels of reality, knowledge of the different philosophic approaches of the people of this earth as focusing on the macro levels of reality.

Knowledge acts as a trempoline on creativity, it projects a little further into reality and could redefine the artists and other free thinkers of the 21st century as the potential wise men who first could experience a global consciousness as a result of their integration of philosophical enquiries with scientific methodologies and datas. But will artists size upon this opportunity? It is not a given fact, it requires indeed much humility, time and perseverance to reflect upon oneself and to study the mysteries of the sky, the earth and the self. Notwithstanding those uncertainties, let's remember that art is something as the production of an expression or if you prefer an impression of the inner feelings and ideas of the artist. So we understand that an artist's productions are intimately related to his knowledge. The better his knowledge base, the better we can expect his production to be. Not advertisement of an ideology but expression of an idea, of a feeling through the use of a technique. In other words, content, the artist's personalized content will find central stage in artistic creation and beauty or ugliness will more and more relate to the content of a work.

It makes indeed no sense anymore in the twenty-first century to continue to photopaint landscapes, people or whatever when we can simply use a camera, shoot a perfectly realist image and manipulate its pixels through a photo imaging software. It makes also no sense anymore to continue to illustrate the ideological trappings of religious or political half baked truths as it makes no more sense to plunge ourselves into the different distorsions of reality as described by the twentieth century observers of the technological alterings of our visions of reality. We the artists and free thinkers of the 21st century have to place the bar somewhat higher than that. Let's remember that, as I wrote earlier, those of us who are watching the image of the global village in the cosmic mirror are plunged into a whole new world vision that gives us in some way the means to cross the divide between our present day land of folly and the promized land of consciousness that sits across the bridge. We artists have to cross this bridge but we should permanently remember that the parapets on the bridge are what is protecting us from falling into the absurd and we sould remember that those parapets are made of solid knowledge...

Laodan










2003/03/26

Graphic arts have a particularity. They catch the attention of all those who enter in visual contact with them.

This basic assumption seems to have been the cause behind the financing of the different forms of graphic arts throughout history and among all civilizations. Let's be clear, without financing, art would never have acquired its respectable status as we know it nowadays. Without financing, art would have remained limited to a hobby, executed after the job at best, relegating its practitionners to very few possibilities of qualitative development. Above all this activity would always have remained for the exclusive consumption of its practitioners with no outlet to the society at large. In such conditions, it's difficult to imagine how an art creator could have spent his time, let's even not speak about most of his time, toiling for nothing as a survival reward. And if one's artistic activity had not got the chance to be pursued over the long haul than we can safely conclude that quality growth would not have ensued. It is, indeed, this long time span in an artist's life that allows him to mature, to reach for the best of himself. Here we are thus. An artist's daily needs have to be satisfied or to put it otherwise, his needs have to be financed through purchases of his productions or through different means.

For sure, purchases of art productions have taken different forms throughout history and civilizations. We can argue that the word purchases does not give the right description of how an artist was sometimes given to spend his time in his art instead of being obliged to toil for his survival. But what is a constant is that the long time span in an artist's life has always been freed of the necessity to toil for survival. In primitive communism, artists shared the fruits of their communities collective toiling. But with the advent of exchange economies the needs of artists had to be financed, or through purchases of their productions or through financing of their material needs, these two terms conveying to the same outcome, the liberation of the obligation to toil for one's survival.

By the end of the day, it is this same financing that gave their exposure to art works. And by doing so, art works appreciated in value. At this stage of the argument we have reached the economic logic that drives the art market. Sure enough, primitive communism and exchange economies led to different artistic approaches but the only thing that counts in the end is that the art market today overwhelmingly embraces the lifes of all artists on our planet.

The art market in its present day form originated in Europe as early as the 13-14th century. Being interested to understand where art stands today, the next steps of my argument shall naturally concentrate on the historic developments in the Western world.

The foremost lesson that history impresses is that the financing of the artistic activity is in reality shaping the forms of the artistic creations. The artist represents in his creations what has been ordered to him by his paying patrons.

From prehistoric cave art to oil paintings in the Christian cathedrals in 17th, 18th century Europe, the artists have represented visual representations of the beliefs of their societies or to be more accurate, the beliefs that the elites of their societies wanted their societies to honor. The elites or the institutions that they controlled used art creations as means to indocrinate their followers and as such we can assert that art was the advertisement of those times. Art represented animism in the caves and Christianity in the catedrals...

With the advent of the knighthood and the aristocracy in the Middle Ages, art ordering continued to serve as advertisement for the religious creed, religious and temporal power were indeed intertwinned.

The contacts of the European aristocracy with foreign lands outside Europe shall shape a new outlook. During their crusades (12th-14th centuries) the European aristocrats discover luxuries and richnesses absolutely unknown about in Europe. Unfortunately, the only thing they could think about was plunder. But from this horror will ensue a great cultural leap forward for europe. Plundering the Muslim lands of the Middle East will introduce in Europe's palaces and castles the first non advertisement creations: silks and porcelain from China, copper wares, carpets and tapestries from the Middle East and so on. This is ultimately what in the centuries following the crusades will help to root firmly the concept of interior decoration in Europe.

Unfortunately again, from these first ventures out of their own lands, the European aristocracy and their merchants developped a real thurst for more foreign adventures and lootings. Borrowing navigation techniques from the arabs and Chinese and adding their own technical improvements, adventurous mediterraneans by the second half of the 15th century will go after new lands to plunder. And here again we can't but marvel at how a true horror story led finally to one of the most impressive transforming forces in human history.

With the advent of capitalism in the 16th , 18th centuries and after, we can see the new rich in Europe and its outgrowth positions aping the aristocracy, building castle after castle that in a first stage they filled with what had been looted in foreign lands. Only in later stages, did they start wanting to differentiate themselves from their peers through purchases of original creations by local craftsmen. This is the time when painters were ordered portraits and landscapes, weavers were ordered tapestries, wood crafters were ordered furnitures and so on. In this last period, art shifted resolutely from pure advertisement of religious messages to interior decoration as such. That's also the time when French kings launched the production of luxuries in State Manufactures, as economic answer to British rising sea dominance and growing economic power acquired for a huge part through sea piracy. The best craftsmen and artists from Flanders, the Italian cities and Germany will be attracted to France through very favourable policies. State manufactures plus the best of Europe's craftsmen of the time, that's what in the end will impose French aristocratic culture on all European royal courts and their aristocracies. French talent for devising and producing luxury goods dates from those times it is also the time when Paris established itself as the cultural center of the world.

With the firmer rooting of industrialization throughout the 18th century coton industry buildup in Britain a new trend toward massification will slowly emerge. The masses were offered cheap socks and the explosion of demand that followed acted as an eye opener for capital holders. The 19th century saw the opening of a new economic front toward the masses that expanded gradually from the textile industry to other industries. The market for mass interior decoration goods finds its roots in this capitalistic expansion. More and more people get the means to buy artistic creations and art resolutely detaches itself from advertisement to satisfy people's interior decoration needs.


Laodan













2003/03/24

I wrote the poem that follows in fall of the year 2000. It became part of a gouache work that I was working on around the same time. Sharon and I decided to publish it as the first page of our "CRUCIAL TALK" blog for the good reason that the content of this poem gives a good summary of our thought. Seen that our thoughts are to form the content of this blog, it seemed to us a good idea to start by giving a global overview of that thought.
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The contact between opposites generates a burst of energy fueling changes and transformations that are as the seconds on the ticking clock of evolution.


From this we know that the life of all species and their members is given by the changes occuring in the following 3 dimensions:

- The SKY or the influences of environments, from vicinity to infinity, on each specy and its members.

- The EARTH or the influences of the hardware and software assigned to the members of each living specy. This is called the drama of reproduction of the specy through sex and of reproduction of the individuals through the satisfaction of their objectives needs.

- The SELF or the influences of the cultural and economic works of each specy upon itself, upon its members, upon other species and upon the environment.


Seeing that cultural and economic works are nothing more than the specific forms and answers of one particular specy to the influences of the earth and the sky, that is very wise indeed.


Laodan