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.