2004/06/30

Complexity versus consumerism

Consumerism, the reign of merchandise over the whole world leads to ever more simplicity. Art in this model is pulled to its lowest common denominator, acceptance by the biggest percentage of all individuals in the market.
But artists do not feel at ease in this model, they feel losing their freedom of investigation.
Here is an article exploring this dilemna through the prism of the politics of art and culture. Its conclusion: the state has not to direct but it should make available spaces of freedom for creators.
The case for complexity

2004/06/29

Where to find 90 percent of government research papers.

About Open Access and US government research publications.
"Joab Jackson, Science.gov 2.0 plumbs depths of federal data, Government Computer News, June 29, 2004. Excerpt: "The 2-year-old Science.gov portal now can reach 47 million agency pages as well as databases. ... The portal has pointers to an estimated 90 percent of government research, but some areas remain untouched. An agency interested in joining the alliance has to pay $7,500 per year and ensure that its own content is ready for searching."
science.gov

The road to capital of big money.

Where does big money go? It seems the road of capital changes...
China overtakes US as investment target

Evolution and design

Read this, it's abible with a ton of links to a wealth of info.
"Evolution is a pretty amazing process. The combination of internal change (mutation) and environmental pressure (fitness) can have pretty dramatic results, given enough time. And when you do it in a computer, "enough time" can be surprisingly brief."
Evolution in Action

2004/06/27

Big gamble in the Middle East.

A report in the latest issue of the New Yorker shows that Israel is actively involved in supporting the Iraqi Kurds, who are fast sowing the seeds of their independence...
What's going on?
A MUST READ
As June 30th approaches, Israel looks to the Kurds.
Israel and Iran chart collision course

Irak: The Americans have prepared the war, we have prepared the post-war.

Has everyone been duped by the Irakis? They learned from Mao Tze Tung the art of deception. Lose the battle, let the ennemy enter and when he is in, attack him...
Former Saddam Hussein generals turned members of the elite of the Iraqi resistance movement have abandoned their clandestine positions for a while to explain their version of events and talk about their plans to Alix de la Grange.
"Opposition movements to the occupation were already organized. Our strategy was not improvised after the regime fell. This plan B, which seems to have totally eluded the Americans, was carefully organized, according to these officers, for months if not years before March 20, 2003, the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom."
The liberation of Baghdad is not far away

The Emergence of The Global Mind

Take half an hour of your time to read this and navigate the future of intelligence.
This article is written by Nova Spivack in his blog "Minding the planet". Before clicking the link, see Nova's conclusion about his article.
"The ideas in this essay are not unique to me - they are memes that are spreading on their own through the global mind. Many others such as the people involved with the Principia Cybernetica Project or my friend Howard Bloom have thought far more extensively than I have about these subjects. In writing this article I am merely providing a service to the global mind - that of aggregating, annotating and communicating these memes onward in a process that I cannot begin to comprehend. All I know is that the global mind is thinking about its own evolution and realizing that it is intelligent - and that I am just an infinitesimal part of that process. Yet, like you who are reading this, I somehow sense that what is taking place is incredibly important and will change our world and our species profoundly."
MINDING THE PLANET: THE EMERGENCE OF THE GLOBAL MIND
If you experience difficulties to reach the article, click on Nova's blog and then find your way to the article in his archives.
MINDING THE PLANET

2004/06/18

Evolution of visual arts in late modern age. (2)

Cubism started as an inquiry into the meaning of life.
"Habits of perception and assumptions about the nature of things that had been stable since the 17th century were falling away. ... In science, mathematics and philosophy, the laws of a clockwork universe established by Sir Isaac Newton in the Baroque age were giving way before the first world war to extraordinary notions - that time and space are one, that light waves curve, that no two observers ever see exactly the same thing. ... Mathematicians, philosophers and physicists at the beginning of the 20th century were recognising that many absolute truths were convenient caricatures of a universe that might be far stranger, far further from common sense than anyone thought. Western painting had its own scientific assumptions, established in the Renaissance. Picasso and Braque unmasked these as conventions. The concepts of absolute gravity and time that gave way to relative ones in the early 20th century had been established by Newton in the 1600s. The doctrine of single-point perspective, whose inadequacies Braque and Picasso exposed, had been asserted by Leon Battista Alberti and Filippo Brunelleschi two centuries before.
The perspective system invented in Florence in the 15th century was a shorthand for the way things looked, a brilliantly usable fiction of the appearance of the world. Our sense impressions are complicated, chaotic data that the brain has to make sense of. Seeing in pictures appears to be necessary in our lives. Alberti and Brunelleschi showed how those pictures can be made consistent and logical by fixing a distant point towards which objects recede - what's further away looks smaller than what's near. The inventors did not make their intellectual revolution against this centuries-old system in a cool, considered mood, but with turbulence and fury. There was a violence in their assault on perspective".

For Picasso, (at least in his major works) color remains a dominant factor so he continues in the path of the innovators of the precedent generation. But he leaps over realism and the rules of drawing associated to it, as such he follows in the footsteps of Gauguin but he will eventually go well further. He is indeed making intellectual efforts at understand reality and in his quest he will be immensely influenced by his friend the mathematician Maurice Princet and the French thinker Henri Poincaré.
Picasso was a curious man. He quested science about the 4th dimension but simultaneously he was attracted by primitive arts. This shows clearly in 'Les demoiselles d'Avignon' where his lines are strongly influenced by primitivism. As the pictures attest, his evolution is towards more abstraction with few curves and mostly straight lines and angles. If his journey started as an inquiry into sense, into understanding the new paradigms of the scientists of his time, form finally prevails over content. And if Picasso rejected realism, he only succeded to create one non realist form of painting about reality.
Not far from a century later, Picasso's lines have clearly been interiorized by our Western society at large and his influence is apparent in contemporary architecture and design for exemple.

By the turn of the 20th century, the speed of changes was accelerating under the impact of trains, cars, electricity,... and futurists painters had in mind to express that speed visually.
"Our growing need of truth is no longer satisfied with Form and Color as they have been understood hitherto. The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It shall simply be the dynamic sensation itself (made eternal). Indeed all things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing. ... Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular.
All is conventional in art. Nothing is absolute in painting. What was truth for the painters of yesterday is but falsehood today."

Formalist was how Cubism was perceived in many circles. Kandinsky has one of the most elaborate and compelling critiques. He saw Cubism as being stuck in one form and this form then displacing content at the margins of the artwork. Breton's critique was along the same lines.
At the outcome of the 1st world war, the changes in the scientific paradigm and the changes, induced by the introduction of new techniques on people's daily lifes, are central determinants to the artists' quest for changes in art.
As reaction to the limitations of Cubism through its formalism, artists' will now place content at the forefront of their preoccupations. To summarize the situation, I would say that artists are concerned primordially by:
- the rejection of realism, as a way to copy reality as it is perceived.
the rejection of reality itself.
- the urge to strip art of all routines and former accepted ways.
The surrealist movement will focus on those topics and attract to its debates all thinking artists. It is thus evident that it will be fragmented, not that it will create chapels in competition with one another, but rather sub-groups acting as if specializing in particular aspects. As such it would be better to speak about a mouvance than about a mouvement. Andre Breton is clearly the intellectual light of the mouvance, giving it its central tenets: content, interiority and automatism.

It is difficult to miss Andre Breton's central role in theorizing the rejection of realism and reality in the 20th century. Nothing better than a dialog with the artists themselves could give us access to the substance of what drove their thinking and their art. (Citations from Herschel B Chipp. Theories of modern art. University of California Press)

LAODAN: Mr. Breton, until you, I mean you and your close associates, the princip of the immediately visible reality had been the accepted subject of all artists. For sure, one can always find a quote by someone further down in the past that goes against this, but essentially it is a fact that your theorizing will unleash the greatest flourishing of trials at novelty in artistic creation in our world's history. Could you define for us the steps that your thinking followed?

BRETON: Well thank you for your comments on my contribution to modern art.
" .. let's not forget that in this epoch, it is reality itself that is in question.
... The plastic work of art in order to respond to the undisputed necessity of thoroughly revising all real values, will either refer to a purely interior model or cease to exist.
It remains to us to determine what is meant by the term 'interior model', and at this point it becomes a question of tackling the great problem raised in recent years by the attitude of those few men who have truly rediscovered a reason to paint, ..., I mean a truly insolent grace, which has enabled the mind, on finding itself withdrawn from all ideals, to begin to occupy itself with its own life, in which the attained and the desired no longer mutually exclude one another and thereupon to attempt to submit to a permanent and most rigorous censorship whatever has constrained it heretofore. After their appearance, the idea of what is forbidden and what is allowed adopted its present elasticity, to such a point that the words family, fatherland, society, for instance, seem to us now to be so many macabre jests. ... We have desperately to pursue in their footsteps, animated by the feverish desire for conquest, total conquest, that will never leave us; so that our eyes, our precious eyes, have to reflect that which, while not existing, is yet as intense as that which does exist, and which has once more to consist of visual images, fully compensating us for what we have left behind."

LAODAN: French intellectuals have the art to complicate things sometimes. For the sake of clarity and also because those words are the starting point of your thinking, I propose to summarize your words in a more understandable form.
Reality itself is in question. To survive, plastic arts have to refer to an 'interior model'. That means finding the freedom to look freely at what moves us deeply and this out of all ideologies. Having said that, we still don't know what we'll find.

BRETON: "Shall we ever know what awaits us at the end of this agonizing journey? All that matters is that the exploration be continued, and that the objective rallying signs tale place without any possibility of equivocation and follow one another uninterrupedly"

LAODAN: What we search for is unknown but what matters is that we persevere in our search. The act of painting is the result of a kind of psychiatric analysis that is conducted one painting after another without the artist really understanding his results.

BRETON: "In the depth of our minds harbor strange forces capable of increasing those on the surface, or of successfully contending with them, then it is all in our interest to canalyse them first in order to submit them later, if necessary, to the control of the reason. ... I believe in the future transmution of those two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, of surreality, so to speak.
... Rene Crevel expressed himself in very much the same way in 'L'esprit contre la raison': 'The poet does not put the wild animals to sleep in order to play the tamer, but, the cages wide open, the keys thrown to the winds, he journeys forth, a traveler who thinks not of himself, but of the voyage, of dream-beaches, forests of hands, soul-endowed animals, all undeniable surreality".

LAODAN: The subconscient is participating in the build-up of our being. Our interest is thus to canalyse our subconscient in order to understand it later on, eventually through reason. Breton believes that subconscient (dream) and conscient (real) will fuse into a superior perception that will see the absolute reality.
There are two steps in this scheme:
- canalysing the subconscient in order to understand it. The tool to canalyse it is given by a psychiatric method, through automatic action: automatic speaking, writing, painting,... Breton recognizes the intellectual contribution of Freud in making this possible.
- reaching the absolute reality through understanding the workings of our subconscient. Breton thought that this would be made possible by suppressing the distinction between subjective and objective.

BRETON: "Preoccupied as I still was at that time with Freud, and familiar with his methods of investigation, which I had practiced occasionally upon the sick during the war, I resolved to obtain from myself what one seeks to obtain from patients, namely a monologue poured out as rapidly as possible, over which the subject's critical faculty has no control -the subject himself throwing reticence to the winds- and which so much as possible represents 'spoken thought'. It seemed and still seems to me that the speed of thought is no greater than that of words, and hence does not exceed the flow of either tongue or pen.
... I began to cover sheets of paper with writing, feeling a praiseworthy contempt for whatever the literary result might be. Ease of achievement brought about the rest.
... To you who may be writing them, these elements are, in appearance, as strange as to anyone else, and you are yourself naturally distrustful of them. Poetically speaking, they are distinguished chiefly by a very high degree of immediate absurdity, the peculiar quality of that absurdity being, on close examination, their yielding to whatever is most admissible and legitimate in the world: divulgation of a given number of facts and properties on the whole not less objectionable than the others.
The word surrealism having thereupon become descriptive of the generalizable undertaking to which we had devoted ourselves, I thought it indispensable, in 1924, to define this word once and for all:
SURREALISM, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought. Thought's dictation in the absence of all control exerciced by the reason and outside all aesthetic and moral preoccupations".

LAODAN: Automatic speach is what the psychiatrist asks from his patients in order to understand what's going on deep inside the subconscient of those patients. You propose automatic writing or painting in order to access the subconscient. The result you conclude is not less objectionable than conscient writing or painting.
It is evident that automatic painting (or for that matter whatever other action) gives a real painting. This auto-psychiatric analysis is conducted one painting after another but the artist never really understands what he reaches as result. I guess that here lies the principal handicap of your approach. The artist canalyses his subconscient but does not understand it. Let's remember that your final stated goal is to understand the workings of one's subconscient in order to see the absolute reality. The artist being unable to understand his automatic production is incapable of seeing the absolute reality and thus automaticism fails as a systematic approach.
This does not mean that automaticism is dead. It will indeed be used, as a method, by various artists who will then try to canalize it towards their own visions.

BRETON: "The abandonment to verbal or graphic impulses and the resort to paranoiac-critical activity are not the only ones, and one may say that, during the last four years of surrealist activity, the many others that have made their appearance allow us to affirm that the automatism from which we started and to which we have unceasingly returned does in fact constitute the CROSSROADS where these various paths meet".

LAODAN: Yes there is indeed something as a crosspoint where most artists pass who engage in non-figurative, non-realist work. This point where the roads cross is some form or another of automaticism. But whe should be clear, the great majority of artists do not stop at this crossroad, they only pass through to go their own destinations. It seems to me that stopping at this crosspoint only leaves you stuck in irrationality and to be honest I do not see the interest to be stuck in irrationality.

MASSON: I totally subscribe to your view. "For us, young surrealists of 1924, the great prostitute was reason.
... Whatever it may have been, a few of us were in fear of the “other fault': of making of the appeal to the unconscious something as limited as the discredited rationalism, but all to no good. Towards 1930, five years after the foundation of surrealism, a formidable disaster appeared in its midst: the demagogy of the irrational. ... The conquest of the irrational for the irrational is a poor conquest, and the imagination is indeed sad which only associates those elements worn by dismal reason...
Thus in its turn, surrealism shut itself into a duality incomparably more dangerous than Cubism:
(a) by liberating the psychic menagerie, or, at any rate, making a pretence of this liberation in order to use it as a theme;
(b) by expressing itself by the methods left over by the academics of the preceding century.
Should one conform to this new academism? Of course not".

LAODAN: Let's be clear, when we condemn irrationality it does not mean that we automatically subscribe to its opposite, rationality. I hope, Mr. Masson, that we agree on this point. What we look for is indeed trying to make sense out of the fog that surrounds us. Thinkers, and artists are first and foremost thinkers, are concerned by finding sense in oneselves and in our environment that goes as far as the limits of our cosmos. Finding sense has nothing to do with irrationality that's a sure fact, but rationality can also be a trap in the fact that it most often refers to a generally accepted vision. A visual picture is what it is, a picture representing our understanding and our understanding depends largely upon our knowledge. I'am suggesting here that artists and thinkers liberate knowledge through images that touch the viewer.

MASSON: "... it is vital for the imaginative artist, who is only able to compose his work with elements which are already existing within reality, to keep his eyes open on the exterior world and not to see things in their perceived generality, but in their revealed individuality. There is a whole world in a drop of water trembling on the edge of a leaf, but it is only there when the artist and the poet have the gift of seeing it in its immediacy. However, to avoid making any mistakes, this revelation or inspired knowledge, and this contact with nature are only profound is so far as they have been prepared by the thought and by the intense consideration of the artist. This is the only way in which sensitive revelation can enrich knowledge. The tendancy to allow oneself to be swamped by things, the ego being no more than a vase which they fill, really only represents a very low degree of knowledge. In the same way a casual appeal to subterranean powers, the superficial identification with the cosmos, false 'primitivism' are only aspects of an easy pantheism.
Let us repeat the major conditions which the conpemporary work of the imagination must fulfill in order to last. We have seen that automatism (the investigation of the powers of the subconcious), dreams, and the associations of images only provide the materials. In the same way Nature and the elements provide the subjects. The real power of an imaginative work will derive from the three following conditions: (1) the intensity of the preliminary thought; (2) the freshness of the vision on the exterior world; (3) the necessity of knowing the pictorial means most suitable for the art of this time. It is also important not to forget that the saying of Delacroix “une oeuvre figurative doit etre surtout une fete pour les yeus” remains true".

LAODAN: I think that we speak about the same thing, the primordiality of the content of an art work above its form. In a sense, we both agree with Kandinsky when he says: “As a matter of principle it has no significance at all whether a real or abstract form is used by the artist”. We also agree that knowledge, of ourselves and of our environment or to say it otherwise of nature, is the base from which the content of an art work is derived. Without knowledge there can only be accumulation of elements leading to the representation of superficial subjects. And for the subjects to reach their viewers with a maximum intensity, their form has to be contemporary. Here again we rejoin Kandinsky and his theory of the evolution of form.
We spoke much about theory here but what about the practicallity in the act of painting. We agreed with Andre Breton that most artists, working out of realistic copy, in some way or another passed through the crosspoint of automatism on their way towards their own vision. Could someone describe his own painting road and own automatism plays in the final vision of the composition?

MIRO: "What really counts is to strip the soul naked. Painting or poetry is made as we make love; a total embrace, prudence thrown to the wind, nothing held back.
For me painting is never form for form's sake.
... At the time I was painting 'The farm', my first year in Paris, I had Gargallo's studio. Masson was in the studio next door. Masson was always a great reader and full of ideas. Among his friends were practically all the young poets of the day. Through Masson I met them. Through them I heard poetry discussed. The poets Masson introduced me to interested me more than the painters I had met in Paris. I was carried away by the new ideas they brought...
As a result of this reading I began gradually to work away from the realism I had practiced up to the farm, until, in 1925, I was drawing almost entirely from hallucinations. ... Hunger was a great source of these hallucinations. ...
... Little by little I turned from dependance on hallucinations to forms suggested by physical elements, but still quite apart from realism.
... And in the various paintings I have done since my return from Palma to Barcelona there have always been these three stages
first, the suggestion, usually from the materials
second, the conscious organization of these forms
third, the compositional enrichment.
... The first stage is free, unconscious; but after that the picture is controlled throughout, in keeping with that desire for disciplined work I have felt from the beginning".


Fortunes have been disbursed, for works of contemporary art in the 20th century, that appeared totally incomprehensible to their buyers. The critiques of Masson against the normalization of irrationality that took place in the name of surrealism were prescient but I doubt that Masson himself could have imagined the level of danger that was involved.
In this process, prostitute art marketeers succeeded in convincing some buyers that pieces of garbage were pieces of art. Art marketeers succeeded this extraordinary feet at giving to absolutely irrational and hermetic works the staus of art. They imposed their so called art specialist knowledge and in the process they gained the control over wide financial speculative movements. The acceptance by society at large during the second part of the 20th century and largely today of such art that is irrational and hermetic to normal comprehension led to the worse. That's how I can associate myself with Roger Kimball's fundamental rejection of art critics' productions in his piece "The rape of the masters" without nevertheless in any way following him in his ideological conclusions. I dwell in detail on this further down this book.

2004/06/17

Evolution of visual arts in late modern age. (1)

Paris was the uncontested cultural capital of the Western world until after the 2nd world war. It is thus not surprising that the evolution of the art of painting took place in Paris or in relation to Paris.
Starting just before the first world war, a mostly Germanic and Northern trend will revitalize what had started in France with Gauguin and matisse that will unleash one of the most exciting approaches towards painting. Cubism and futurism were surely of their time, but as latin movements they concentrated much of their energy on form while germanic tastes more inclined towards content fomented a very vibrant search for the eclosion of its expression.
The theoretical content of this search to define expressionism is absolutely remarkable and stands firmly valid till today while as much can't be said about what has been written about impressionism, cubism, futurism, surrealism, dadaism and other schools of painting. To try to illustrate the content of their theories, I'll leave the principal protagonists use their own words in a discussion that I now shall moderate. (Citations from Herschel B Chipp. Theories of modern art. University of California Press)

LAODAN: How do expressionists explain their search for a different kind of painting?

NOLDE: " I was no longer satisfied with the way I drew and painted during the last few years, imitating nature and creating form all done preferably with the first stroke, the first brushfull of paint. I rubbed and scratched the paper until I tore holes in it, trying to reach something else, something more profound, to grasp the very essence in things. The techniques of impressionism suggested to me only a means, but no satisfactory end. Conscientious and exact imation of nature does not create a work of art. A wax figure confoundingly lifelike causes nothing but disgust. A work becomes a work of art when one re-evaluates the values of nature and adds one's own spirituality."

KIRCHNER: "The ideas of our predecessors are no longer ours. We are less fond of works which for centuries have been identified with the names of the great masters. Artists wise in the ways of their times created sculptures and paintings for palaces and popes. ... It is a sign of our times that every piece of pottery or dress or jewelry, every tool for living has to start with a blueprint. Primitive people begin making things with their fingers, with material in their hands. Their work expresses the pleasure of making. What we enjoy, probably, is the intense and often grotesque expression of energy, of life.
... There is enough art around that is over bred, pale and decadent. This may be why young artists have taken their cue from the aborigines.
... Glory be to our strong, healthy German art. And this painter much preferred the holy German madonnas, invested with the souls of Grunewald and others, over the latin, superficially presentable paintings of rafael, which fit so well into the milieu of doges and popes".

LAODAN: Whow Mr. Kirchner those are strong words, but do cubists not also refer to the aborigines for their inspiration? What distinguishes you germanics from Picasso, Braque and others?

KANDINSKY: "The irresistible urge of today to reveal the purely compositional -to unveil the future laws of our great epoch- is the power which forces artists to strive toward one goal in different ways.
... The searching to express the compositional in a formula is the cause for the rise of so-called Cubism. This "mathematical" construction is a form which must sometimes lead -and with consistent use does lead- to the nth degree of destruction of the material cohesion of the parts of the things (for instance, Picasso).
The final goal also in this direction is to create a picture which is brought to life -becomes a being- through its own schematically constructed organs. If this course can in general be reproached, it is for no other reason than the use of the number here is too limited.
... Why should one diminish artistic expression by exclusive use of triangles and similar geometrical forms and bodies?"

LAODAN: This makes sense to my 21st century ears Mr Kandinsky. To summarize, you are saying that Cubism by focusing on an exclusive artistic form is limiting the freedom of artistic expression and avoiding all preoccupations for the content of the art work. How are you understanding this problem of the artist's freedom in terms of the form of artistic expression?

KANDINSKY: "The form is the outer expression of the inner content.
Therefore, one should not make a deity of form. And one should fight for the form only insofar as it can serve as a means of expression of the inner resonnance. Therefore, one should not seek salvation in one form.
... Since the form is only an expression of the content and the content is different with different artists, it is then clear that there can be many different forms at the same time which are equally good. Necessity creates the form. ... Thus, the spirit of the individual artist is mirrored in the form. The form bears the stamp of his personality.
... Full freedom shall prevail: one shall consider valid every form, deem correct (= artistic) every form which represent an inner content. ... The form (material substance) in general is not the most important, but rather the content (spirit).
... This is the way the form has to be appreciated and understood. One must approach (artist) a work in such a way that the form has an effect on the soul. And through the form, the content (spirit, inner resonnance). Otherwise one elevates the relative to the absolute.
In practical life one will hardly find a person who, if he wants to go to Berlin, gets off the train in Regensburg. In spiritual life, getting off the train in Regensburg is a rather usual thing. Sometimes even the engineer does not want to go any further, and all the passengers get off in Regensburg. How many, who sought god, finally remained standing before a carved figure! How many, who sought art, became caught on a form which an artist had used for his own purposes, be it Giotto, Raphael, Durer or Van Gogh!
... The most important thing in the question of form is whether or not the form has grown out of the inner necessity. That is, one may not make a uniform out of a form. Works of art are not soldiers. With a given artist, a given form can be the best at one time and the worst at another. In the first case, it has grown in the soil of inner necessity; in the second, in the soil of outer necessity, out of ambition and greed."

LAODAN: So by using a kind of mathematical formula to compose the form of their works the cubists are dressing those in the uniform of their school which eliminates their freedom of choice and thus eliminates their capacity to impact, their own inner content, on their viewers' soul. This is an incredible weakness indeed and I'am wondering if this weakness to reach the soul of their viewers has not been what ultimately drew cubist painters away from content to concentrate about exclusively on the form of their work.
I also appreciate the distinction that you make between a visual form grown out of inner necessity and another out of outer necessity. There is indeed great confusion in our societies due to the presence of so many quasi counterfeits by painters who have no urge for expressing their inner content that in any case is often absent. I agree with you that what gives value to a work is its content and the form should be considered the artist's freedom.

KANDINSKY: About the cubist I have to say that "The fearfull clinging to one form leads finally and inevitably into a dead end. The open feeling leads toward freedom. The former is to restrict oneself to the material substance. The latter is to follow the spirit: the spirit creates one form and goes on to others." About the outer urge, "the farther into the past we look, the fewer deceptions and sham works we find. They have mystheriously disappeared. Only the genuine artistic beings remain, that is, those which possess a soul (content) in their bodies (form).
Further, ..., if we draw the conclusion from the independent effect of the inner resonnance, we see that this inner resonnance will gain in intensity if the outer, practical-purposeful import which suppresses it is removed. Here lies the one explanation for the marked effect of a child's drawing upon the impartial, the untraditional observer. The practical-purposeful element is foreign to the child since he looks at each thing with unaccustomed eyes and still possesses the unclouded ability to register the thing as such. Thus the inner resonance of the object reveals itself of its own accord and without exception in every child's drawing."

LAODAN: You spoke about the need for total freedom by the artist about the form in which he wishes to present his content. Generally speaking if we consider that form is like a straight line, one end of the line should be realism and the other should be its opposite non-realism, I guess we could also call it abstraction. Practically, all the forms possible are located along this straigh line representing form. My question is how do you see the difference between all the possible forms along this line?

KANDINSKY: As you just showed through the image of the line form there are two poles.
"Those two poles open two roads which lead finally to one goal. Between these two poles lie many combinations of different harmonies of the abstract with the real.
Both of these elements were always present in art, where they were to be designated as the 'purely artistic' and the 'objective'. The first expressed itself in the second, whereby the second served the first. It was a varied balancing which apparently sought to achieve the acme of the ideal in absolute equilibrium.
And it seems today that one no longer finds a goal in this ideal, ... Art has apparently put an end to the pleasant supplementing of the abstract with the objective -and conversely.
On the one hand, the diverting support in the objective is taken away from the abstract, and the observer feels himself floating in the air. One says: art is losing its footing. On the other hand, the diverting idealization in the abstract (the 'artistic' element) is taken away from the objective, and the observer feels nailed to the floor. One says: art is losing its ideal. These reproaches grow from inadequately developed feeling. The practice of giving the most attention to form, and the behavior of the observer which springs from that -that is, the clinging to the usual form of equilibrium- are the blinding forces which leave no clear path to free feeling.
... The 'artistic' brought to the minimum, must be recognized here as the most strongly working abstract.
... The 'objective' brought to the minimum, must be recognized in the abstraction as the most strongly working reality.
Here we have touched one of the most essential laws: the external magnifying of a means of expression leads in certain circumstances, to the diminishing of the internal power of the same." And the opposite is also true, the external reduction of a means of expression leads in certain circumstances, to the increase of the internal power of the same.
"Thus we finally see: if in the great realism, reality appears strikingly large and the abstract strikingly small and if in the great abstraction this relation seems to be reversed, in the last analysis (= aim) the two poles equal each other. Between these two antipodes the sign of equality can be placed:
Realism = Abstraction
Abstraction = Realism
The greatest external difference turns into the greatest internal equality.
... "As a matter of principle it has no significance at all whether a real or abstract form is used by the artist. Since both forms are internally equal the choice muist be left to the artist, who must know best himself by which means he can materialize most clearly the content of his art. Abstractly put: in principle, there is no question of form."

LAODAN: You say that “form is the outer expression of the inner content” and you also say that “one must approach (artist) a work in such a way that the form has an effect on the soul. And through the form, the content (spirit, inner resonnance). Otherwise one elevates the relative to the absolute”.
We know for a fact that within a society ideas, values and beliefs are permanently changing. Seen through the window on our present, it is absolutely clear that science and technology are presently the leading force driving change. This change should thus reflect in the content of art works. And because form is the exterior aspect of content, art forms should be changing at the rhythm of content changes. How do you understand this dynamic of change?

KANDINSKY: As joy, as happiness, as fullfillment.
"The joy of life is the irresistible, constant victory of the new value. This victory proceeds slowly. The new value conquers the people quite gradually. And when it becomes undoubtable in many eyes, this value, which was absolutely necessary today, will be turned into a wall -a wall which is erected against tomorrow.
The changing of the new value (of the fruit of freedom) into a petrified form (a wall against freedom) is the work of the black hand.
The whole evolution, that is to say, the inner development and the outer culture, is then a shifting of the barriers. The barriers are constantly created from new values which have overthrown the old barriers.
Thus one sees that basically the new value is not the most important, but rather the spirit which has revealed itself in this value. And further, the freedom necessary for the revelations.
Thus one sees that the absolute is not to be sought in the form (materialism). The form is always bound to its time, is relative, since it is nothing more than the means necessary today in which today's revelation manifests itself, resounds.
The resonnance is then the soul of the form which can only become alive through the resonnance and which works from within to without."

LAODAN: So the resonnance, of the artist's inner content with his time is what will generate the form of his art work. In other words the art form is somehow generated automatically when the artist's ideas are in sink with his time. I guess that by artist you mean thinker, the act of thinking is indeed what generates the inner content. And further, I guess that for a thinking to be in resonnance with its time this thinking needs to be based on solid knowledge available at that time. Whatever irrationality could indeed not be accepted at any time and thus follows the reason why mastery of the knowledge of the time is a necessity in order for the thinker to be in sink with his own time. I feel Mr. Kandinsky that you just defined the relationship between form and content in a very enlightened way offering a very dynamic perspective on change in the history of the arts.
I'am interested to know if the mechanism you just enunciated for change in the arts could be extended to society at large, in other words, do you have a similarly interesting perspective on societal change.

KANDINSKY: "The evolution, the movement forward and upward, is only possible if the path is clear, that is if no barriers stand in the way. That is the external condition.
The force which moves the human spirit forward and upward on the clear path is the abstract spirit, one which must naturally ring out and be able to be heard; a summoning must be possible. That is the internal condition.
To destroy both of these conditions is the means of the black hand against evolution. The tools for it are: fear of the clear path; feer of freedom (which is philistinism); and deafness to the spirit (which is dull materialism).
Therefore, people regard each new value with hostility; indeed, they seek to fight it with ridicule and slander. The human being who carries the value is pictured as ridiculous and dishonest. The new value is laughed at and abused. That is the misery of life."

LAODAN: To put this in perspective in my own thinking, your internal condition corresponds to my idea of complexification of individual thinking that leads their individual carriers into restlessness. Joy being attained only when society at large will integrate their level of complexity.
I did not integrate the negative factor against complexification in my thinking but I think that your concept of external condition with its actice principle the black hand makes much sense.
Could you expand on those ideas?

KANDINSKY: "... the creative spirit (which one can designate as the abstract spirit) finds an avenue to the soul, later to other souls, and causes a yearning, an inner urge.
When the conditions necessary for the ripening of a precise form are fulfilled, the yearning, the inner urge acquires the power to create in the human spirit a new value which, conciously or unconsciously, begins to live in the human being. From this moment on, consciously or unconsciously, the human being seeks to find a material form for the new value which lives in him in spiritual form.
That is the searching of the spiritual value for materialization. Matter is here a storeroom and from it, the spirit chooses what is specifically necessary for it -just as a cook would.
This is the positive, the creative. This is the good. The white fertilizing ray.
This white ray leads to evolution, to elevation. Thus behind matter the creative spirit is concealed within matter. The veiling of the spirit in the material is often so dense that there are generally few people who can see through to the spirit. Thus especially today, many do not see the spirit in religion and in art. There are whole epochs which disavow spirit, since the eyes of people, generally at such times, cannot see the spirit. It was so in the nineteenth century and is, on the whole, still so today.
People are blinded.
A black hand is laid over their eyes. The black hand belongs to him who hates. He who hates endeavors, with all means, to hold back the evolution, the elevation.
That is the negative, the destructive. That is the evil. The black, death-bringing hand".


2004/06/16

The enlightenment and the modern area.

From the 18th to 20th centuries, European minds are enlightened by rationalism that develops as an ideological1 extension of capitalism and industrialism. The function of visual arts is now the decoration of the mansions of the aristocracy and of the new rich. Portraits and landscapes are the subjects of most painters. The size of paintings is reduced to adapt to their new architectural destinations.

The enlightenment goes hand in hand with the generalization of the decorating function of visual arts in "white" land. The idea of beautifying living spaces has indeed been adopted by ever larger segments of the populations after adoption of rationalism and today the idea of interior decoration is absolutely generalized.

The development of capitalism in its phase of consumerism forces everyone in industrialized nations into dependance on the offer of goods and services and that leads to deepening individualism. In other words, the market imposes its offers to every single individual in the form of a creation of new needs adapted to the financial capabilities of all. From being reserved for the aristocracy and the new rich who were the only ones who could afford to pay for paintings, architectural constructions, rich furnishings and accessories; visual arts will gradually be offered in cheaper forms in the market. The conception of those cheaper forms has gradually given rise to specialized jobs: designers, marketers, researchers. As illustration of this idea, let's look at how the visual art-form painting will be "democratized".
- In a first phase lithographic limited editions prints serving the same function as paintings will expand the market base.
- Then, following the economic development of Western societies, higher incomes will also allow for an expansion of the customer base for paintings.
- The ultimate expansion of the consumer base for prints will be reached with the advent of offset printing presses that can churn out very large quantities of prints at very low unit cost. Paintings by famous artists are reproduced in unlimited quantities and the sheer size of this market is calling for specialized answers that will take the form of graphic design.
- Finally, paintings themselves will be chain produced for the same market expansion reason. And today, chain production in Western workshops of landscape paintings has been delocalized to cheap wage countries. In Beijing, you can now get a good copy of Picasso's “Boy with a pipe”, that sold in May 2004 for $ 110 million, for far less than $ 100!

It makes no doubt in my mind that, in this maelstrom of a few centuries of economic and technological changes, Western painter artists have been the group of individuals that most interiorized the impact of those changes. Through the effect of such a profound interiorization process they have been reduced to society's margins and have been recognized as special. Notwithstanding that their visions were not understood, they nevertheless were accepted. Van Gogh and others were surely not understood by many of their contemporaries but they have been accepted, their strangeness has been tolerated, only the market had no place for their productions during their lifetime because they themselves had no time or will for marketing or they had no clue how to do it. But again, in finale, the market gradually absorbs that strangeness that makes those works so unique in terms of content and so rare in terms of quantity. I spoke here about people who were searching to put some sense in their paintings who were trying to give a representation of the coming worldview of society at large, in other words about artists. It makes no doubt that they are very few at any given time who can represent in their present what comes next in the future.

Painters artists are now visionaries. They think about their role radically differently with the introduction of new techniques that plunge western societies into cultural shock. Painter artists have adapted their function in society to what they perceive as changed times. All that happens mostly unconsciently for sure.
Landscapes and portraits were the artists' subjects at the start of the modern age. Those were times when the rich wanted to accaparate for themselves the symbolic function that paintings had in churches and palaces. I mean that commoners starting to accumulate richnesses, as merchants, searched to gain “aristocratic airs”, a well known human attitude. The purchase of goods that were symbolic of the “being” of church and aristocracy were an easy short cut to those “aristocratic airs”.
The function of paintings remains decorative, rectangles for wall decoration but their traditional subjects appear gradually out of place in a world that starts to change fast after mid 19th century.

Van Gogh remains a realist in the lines of his subjects but he uses colors as if he wanted to show us the inner working of his landscapes or portrait subjects. Alcohol and drugs allow him to go see inside his subjects but eventually he will have difficulties to come back. The impressionists also remain realists, the changes they introduce are also about how to apply colors, for them it's not the inner working of what they paint that is of interest, it's how to reach a representative image of their subject through the application of pure colors. What they find out is that their images give good impressions of their subjects.

Gaughin as Van Gogh plays the colors. But at the difference of Van Gogh, Gaughin is not really a realist. He is not interested to reproduce an exact visual representation of his subject. He works mostly through memory and influenced by primitive art he renders quasi abstractions that give a feeling of the atmosphere of a landscape or the character of a person.

Van Gogh, Gauguin and the impressionists reflect on the changes in speed that modify visual experiences with the use of trains. Their visual renderings will be largely adapted by the next generation of painters who by adding their own visions will project painting further from photographic realism.
Seurat and other pointillists experience a specific brush touch but do not go further than impressionism.

Matisse integrates classic realism with the approaches of Van Gogh, Gauguin, the impressionists and abstraction that he shares with gauguin. “What I'am after, above all is expression. ...Expression to my way of thinking does not consist of the passion mirrored upon a human face or betrayed by a violent gesture. The whole arrangement of my picture is expressive. The place occupied by objects or figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything plays a part. Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner all the various elements at the painter's disposal for the expression of his feelings. In a picture every part will be visible and will play the role conferred upon it, be it principal or secondary. All that is not usefull in the picture is detrimental. A work of art must be harmonious in its entirety; for superfluous details would, in the mind of the beholder, encroach upon the essential elements”.

Matisse conceived of painting as “the art of arranging in a decorative manner all the various elements at the painter's disposal for the expression of his feelings” about the essential, superfluous details had thus to be eliminated.
The pictures of the works of Van Gogh, Gauguin, the impressionists and Matisse are a good illustration about their respect of realism plus a tendancy to simplify and finally their play of “exagerated” colors.
Matisse's conception is announcing expressionism that would come shortly after.

2004/06/11

Art under the gods

The transition to the human creation of gods takes place at different times for each center of civilization. China and Sumer invent their first gods sometime 5-6,000 years ago or earlier. Other centers will follow up later on. Some ethnic groups are even living in animist cultures till today. All that shows us a deep differentiation between the people of this earth in their levels of societal development.

So the historical phase of religious domination of the minds starts some 5-6,000 years ago for the most advanced societies of that time, China and the Middle East. This movement reaches its zenith and starts to decline around 1000-500 BC in China while we have to wait for the 18th-20th centuries in Western Europe. Most other societies remain firmly entrenched in their religious beliefs as of today.

In religious times, art and design over time came to serve as PR, advertisement techniques for the religious powers. Visual arts, in societies under religious ideology, are a non stop succession of images illustrating the content of religion. Architecture and music serve to impress the population, that is largely uneducated, in order to instill fear in the small individual for the power of those representing those grandiose architectural constructions and the music served in them. In other words, grandiose religious architecture has to serve the grandeur of the religious authority. The same kind of reasoning is valid equally when applied to the palaces of the aristocracy. The architectural target was to make individuals feel very small.

In the period that leads to the formation of capitalism in medieval Europe, the Roman church kept the upper hand and the secular power sought to use its relation with the religious authorities to affirm itself. Religious belief during this period appeared in two forms. The educated were studying illustrated latin sacred books copied from Roman golden times and the majority of the people who were illiterate received the message of the little few who were educated in the form of painted and carved images. Such images constituted the exclusive subject of the artists of this epoch who, with the distance of passed time, appear to us today having been a lot more like propaganda craftsmen than artists.

Production by the craftsmen and commerce of their goods was exercised under the principles defined by the church. Each craft was under the supervision of its internal “police”. The “guild” or corporation regulated all aspects related to production and sale in compliance with the edicts of the priests. In such an environment, market competition was excluded. The only area not restricted was the work of the craftsman himself, he had to offer goods complying with the minimum quality standards set by the guilds and as such, the quality of the goods, their finishing touch appeared as a natural way for craftsmen to differentiate themselves from one another. Competition in Western Europe has long been limited to the quality of the goods on offer. Not surprisingly this induced a very deep care for the details in all productions and craftsmanship reached the level of an art.

Click here to view very good religious art in the 'Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry' which is usually referred to as 'the king of the illuminated manuscripts', it is a pinnacle in the entire history of painting. Commissioned by Jean, Duc de Berry in 1413, it was painted by the Limbourg brothers who left it unfinished at their (and the Duc's) death in 1416. The Duc Charles I de Savoie commissioned Jean Colombe to complete the painting of the manuscript between 1485-1489”.

2004/06/09

Pining For The Melting Pot

Roger Kimball is Managing Editor of The New Criterion and an art critic for the London Spectator. Let me be very clear, I do not agree at all with Kimball's conclusions, but I respect his work. It is thought provoking and as such it is advisable reading material.

My principal concern, with his arguments against multi-culturalism and his defense of the Euro-centric melting pot, is that this goes against the tide of evolution, against the present tide towards "one world". Kimball is just setting his sight on a too narrow band of the 21st century cultural reality. "Multiculturalism and affirmative action are allies in the assault on the institution of American identity. As such, they oppose the traditional understanding of what it means to be an American..".
Today, the world extends further then the shores of the US Mr. Kimball, your limited vision leads you to debate past perspectives, you are missing the present and thus the future will wipe you out of the intellectual scene.

China, India and the rest of Asia represent nearly 60% of the world population. For the last 500 years, those countries have been largely left out of the workings of our Eurocentric economic system and the world view that it vehiculated. Their societal systems were not wiped out, during these last centuries of European invasions, simply because they were too developped. To put it otherwise, they were drawn in a position of dominated that was then exploited (cotton to opium).

Let's remember that Europe grew out of its medieval backwardness only because it stole from other societies what became the substance of its primitive capital accumulation which gave European nations the substance from which to develop the capitalist system. The result for many societies around the world has been devastating: from pure disappearance (mostly American societies) to total dislocation (mostly African societies). As such the conclusion imposes itself that capitalism is the natural outcome of European violence, brutality and greed.

Asian societies largely subsisted because their very old and refined civilizations were no match for European brutal primitives. But comes the 21st century and the moment of truth. After much observation and analyses, Asian societies are taking on the West frontally at its own game. Playing according the rules devised by the West, Asians are well on their road to beat the West economically. This, unmistakably, has cultural implications.

The brutal encounters of Europe with the rest of the world during the crusades and the 16-17th centuries discoveries conducted Europe to develop the system of capitalist-rationalism. The 21st century encounter of Western capitalist-rationalism with Asia seems leading the West out of dominance and Asia towards command. OK, this is a crude summary. I push the enveloppe a little far or perhaps a little early, my intention is simply to push you, the reader, to think at the implications of what is going on today.

The Western Eurocentric cultural worldview is going to be engaged into a cultural shock without precedent. Two factors are going to shape the depth of this shock:
- the scale-population (in the sense of economies of scale). The Western Eurocentric cultural worldview is shared by roughly 15% of the world population versus the Asian worldview that is shared by around 60% of the world population. The economic impact of those figures is not missed by Western big capital that only cares about the "logic of capital" but does not care a damn about the West itself. We should all be conscient about this fact.
- the scale of importance or of refinement of the Asian cultures versus Western cultural primitivism.

The conclusions that one can draw at this point are purely prospective, but an effort at thought shuld be instructive...

Institutionalizing our demise: America vs. multiculturalism

New MOMA

Designed by the Japanese architect Yoshi Taniguchi, the new museum (MOMA)is an elegantly minimal building of black granite, dark gray, clear and etched glass with about 63,000 square feet of new and renovated spaces on six floors. The exhibition space alone has grown to 125,000 square feet from 85,000 square feet with galleries clustered around a soaring 110-foot-tall atrium.
MOMA reinstals its collection! "You have to think what to leave people with." said John Elderfield, the Modern's chief curator of painting and sculpture,

Making Over the Modern

2004/06/04

Art market obcenity and more

Some good articles today about the art market, technical discipline and policies leading to an aseptic art form.

Art market 'a cultural obscenity'

Drawing is a vital part of every creative process

Why Does Government Prefer Bland Art?

Today Lund University launched Phase 2 of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). From the press release: "The new version of DOAJ now includes records at article level and a search functionality allowing users to search articles in potentially all Open Access Journals. The directory now contains information about more than 1100 open access journals, i.e. quality controlled scientific and scholarly electronic journals that are freely available on the web. As of today 270 of the 1100 journals are searchable on article level and both numbers are growing. Researchers can now search almost 46,000 articles through the Directory of Open Access Journals and be sure to get access to the articles". By By Peter Suber in Open Access News, Fri, 4 Jun 2004
DOAJ launches article-level searching

"Around 540 million years ago, life on the earth underwent a profound growth spurt: during the Cambrian explosion, the planet�s multicellular life diversified rapidly. Scientists writing in the journal Science say that they have identified in rocks from China what may be the beginnings of this revolution. According to the report, the fossils are the earliest evidence of animals with a two-sided body plan (as opposed to a radial one) and date to around 55 million years before the Cambrian explosion".
Tiny Fossils Could Be First Complex Animals

Generally speaking I don't like to post here about politics but those 2 are must reads. Frightening eye-opener...
27-Year CIA Vet Ray McGovern On George Tenet's Surprise Resignation
Before 9-11, al-Qaida trainee told agents of terrorist plan to hijack passenger planes

2004/06/02

About complexity theory.

Short report on the Fifth International Conference on Complex Systems. The theory of complexity is the ultimate in interdisciplinary scientific approaches.
About complexity theory

How do we view the complexity of our world? I think we fail to integrate the China factor in the equation. Here is an article helping to do just that.
Great Wall of Unknowns

About Visual complexity in the Santa Fe Institute Bulletin.
Picasso and Perception
As illustration of the content of this article see Lao Tze' text n#11:
Chapter 11 The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends. Clay is fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from the walls) to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space (within), that its use depends. Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness.
Tao Te Qing

2004/06/01

Where has freedom of expression gone in the US?

Lori Haigh, San Francisco owner of the Capobianco gallery was threatened, spat upon and, most recently, punched in the face after May 16 when East Bay artist Guy Colwell made an addition of a painting of torture to his monthlong showing.

When people are punched in the face for showing a painting it is an attack on the princip of art itself. The 19th and 20th centuries saw art emerging, in Europe and then the US, as the lightning rod of creativity in total liberty. This came both as a reaction against past illiberties (commissionned art) and present economic needs of free consumerism.

What happenned in San Francisco is a sign of the times in the US. Such acts do not bode well for freedom of expression, for creativity in general. Today the victim is a gallery owner, yesterday it were hospital doctors what about tomorrow? Will scientists be attacked because of the topic of their research activities? Will everyone who accesses specific internet sites (not only pornography but also news) be suspected of god knows what?
Are we really going back to illiberties of old times?
Are we going to accept this or are we going to bow our heads down and wait for ... Just imagine for what.

Attacked for art, S.F. gallery closes