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.