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