2004/07/30

Modern art 7


The dragon. Beijing. Fall 2001
Gouache on paper. 55 x 80 cm.



CONTENT

In Chinese mythology the dragon is the creator. In
Western Christian mythology the dragon is a force of destruction. Those interpretations could not be further apart.

The question that thus arises is how can Chinese and Westerners understand each others when the mythologies that they heard of or learned about since early age describe the same things in completely different terms?

I tried to represent the Chinese understanding through my Western eyes "reformed" through my
decade and a half immersion in Chinese society. Not much of a destructive force at work here!

As I wrote in depth in my past theoretical posts, I firmly believe that one of the three central determining factors of post-modernism is the death of Western-centricism that accompanies the emergence of the Eastern cultures of 60% of the world population.

Artists can't miss the point, for, if they did they would forever turn in circles of insignificance.

Check this out in the two excellent articles hereunder.


Does The 21st Century Belong To China?
Phillip Dodd is leaving as director of London's Institute of Contemporary Art to focus on Asia. "In my usual pompous way, I have a kind of wager that the 21st century belongs to a constellation of China and India and my deepest feeling is that Britain shows no sign of understanding this. There is a lack of engagement with that part of the world which is just crazy. My real worry is that we spent the past 10 years being so in love with ourselves - that's what Cool Britannia was, like Narcissus - we thought we were the centre of the world. But the world has moved on and we are bewildered."
Financial Times 07/27/04

Art in Arab Region

Good article by Samar Farah in ArtsJournal. Always this stupid Westerncentricism:

"""Gallery owners in Syria say that most Western visitors are shocked by the very idea of contemporary art in the Middle East - not to mention works that tackle sexual concepts and newer forms like video and installation art....
Those who do travel to Arab countries usually expect to find nothing more than traditional crafts. They are surprised to stumble, for example, on Samer Kozah's contemporary art gallery on Straight Street in Damascus."""
URL: How To Define Art From Arab Region

2004/07/29

Modern art 6


Changing wars. Beijing. Fall 2001.
Gouache on paper. 55 x 80 cm.


CONTENT

Brute physical force has been superseded by what we have learned to call "high tech" gear.

But reality is somewhat more complex.
Humanity evolved into more and more complex systems.
Technology is part of those systems but it has no life of itself, it is used inside the multiple systems that interact together to form our "human societies".

The least we can say is that our understanding, at the start of the 21st century, of the working of those complex systems is "impressionist" at best.
We humans are lost in our multiple theories and don't grasp the whole picture of life anymore.

"Changing wars" is a trial to render our "impressionist" understanding and vision of the reality of 21st century wars.

2004/07/28

Modern art 5


The roots of wisdom. Beijing. Fall 2001
Gouache on paper. 55 x 80 cm.


CONTENT.

According to neuro-biologists, we humans should use only 2-3% of the neurons in our brains.

I'm sometimes wondering if those 2-3% of neurons have not gone totally wild and, as a cancer invading the whole body, are not just destroying all activity of the remaining 97-98%..

Something is indeed sick in our behavior and I deeply believe that humanity is in dire need of understanding the global picture of which we are only one pixel instead of zooming always deeper and deeper into the details of that pixel itself.

"The roots of wisdom" is how I see my own quest for knowledge, always hiding from the fads and trends and running from what ends with "ism"...

In the end can't believe that evolution gratified us with those neurons if it was not for our using them. If they really were unused there should be a reason for that. I'am firmly convinced that reality is more profound than what is said about it and thus I believe that one day neuro-biologists will have to revise their claim.

2004/07/27

Modern art 4


Terry praying. Beijing. Fall 2001
Gouache on paper. 55 x 80 cm.


CONTENT

My friend Terry is a fervent prayer. I wanted to catch her in a moment of enlightenment. I think praying is kind of bowing in the face of total harmony. Forms and colors, forms, colors.

The great harmony is something objective. The great harmony is what all great religions and philosophies of humankind pointed to. It just can't be deranged, whatever happens in the cosmos, in our personal lives or in our human societies harmony is always resulting... Religious rites have always a functionality, in the case of prayer (religions of the word) or meditation (Eastern approaches) the rite helps the follower having a glimpse of the great harmony.

Disharmony is an impossibility, it is a creation of our egos.
We fabricate disharmony through our desire for material possessions that instill greed, envy, jealousy
in our hearts. And thus, all great religions and traditional philosophical systems discourage the desire for material possessions.

As human creations, paintings are subjective renderings and in consequence they are not automatically harmonious. In a painting of whatever style some objective rules apply to reach harmony.
The harmonization of the artist's subjectivity with the objective rules of beauty governing our changing cosmos is what art is all about.

FORM

The first phase of my work is automaticism. This is still very visible in this painting. The blues of the sky have not been reworked, and give a feel of spontaneity. Lines have been added to accentuate the movements.

- The yellow below the sky is hiding what was more blue, only some parts of that blue have been kept to form the first elements of the content developing under the sky.
- Yellow was used to hide some parts further down to the bottom.
-- At that stage, I started to draw lines, taking the opportunity of forms that appeared in the colors and trying to discover a harmonious combination covering the whole page. The content of my work is designed in that stage that I call "making sense'.
- When I succeeded to make sense out of the chaos of colors, I tried to reach color
harmony of the complete page. To do so, I restarted working with colors in between the lines till I was satisfied with the harmonic of the page .
- In the last phase I rework the lines to have a clean finish.



2004/07/26

Modern art 3


Approaching thunderstorm. Beijing. Fall 2001
Gouache on paper. 55 x 80 cm.

The memory of a personal feeling as a young Flemish, or is it Walloon, farm boy on the linguistic border between latin and germanic "lebensraumen" when the sky darkens and a thunderstorm assembles over a "Hill Region's" landscape

My last post was about a landscape of the Hill region in Belgium that I painted in 1980. Here is another painted in 2001 in Beijing.
In one go, those 2 landscapes give you a sense of my technical evolution.


2004/07/25

Modern art 2



"Morcelle" Lahamaide. 1980. Belgium.
Oil on wooden panel
Size: 56 x 70 cm (22" x 27.6")

Morcelle is a landscape of the Hill region in Belgium.
Earlier I painted impressionist landscapes, much influenced by Van Gogh and Gauguin. If my memory does not fail me, this is the first landscape where I left behind the image as it is absorbed by the retina, at least partially. If you positioned yourself at the same spot from where I was looking when I made this painting, you would indeed clearly see that the landscape is there in the painting but it is obviously not a realist rendering of that landscape.

What was new for me was to start working in the material and suggest something else than a landscape as for a second reading or as for a second degree observation of the image. The image, a landscape (first degree), becomes a portrait of the observer (second degree). The bottom of the landscape is the port of entry of the observer into the landscape, the view is from one of the windows of my house. Further higher in the painting, somewhere mid height, two houses form the eyes, the mouth is given by a pink slash in the wheat field just under the eyes.

What can't be seen on your display is the third degree of visual representation. For example, the line of the horizon is made of the text of a poem telling about my feelings about this particular environment and some sections of the painting are giving my vision of the spirit in that particular place, the personality of the people living in that place. Popol resting in his garden, Pierrot recluse in his house,...

I made a serie of landscapes in the same approach in 1980. They must be somewhere, here on a wall of someone I have known then, there in an attic or nailed on the wall of a pigeon cage. Who knows, I'm only sure of one thing and that is that I don't have any of these paintings anymore. The image here above is from the only landscape that remained in my possession.

In 1980 I was working on my house and by end of that same year we started the "Brasserie" by which time I had unknowingly embarked on a twenty year frenetic trip that would leave no time for me to play in the colors.
My next paintings will be realized in Beijing in 2001. One of them is a memory landscape of "Morcelle".

2004/07/24

Modern art 1


Observing humanity. Morcelle. 1979
Oil on wood panel
Size: 42 x 58 cm (16.5" x 22.8")

This post starts the presentation of my personal evolution in over 30 years of painting.
Each of my following posts will give the image of one painting followed by my thinking about that painting.

My plan is to offer images of 50 of my works:

- 2 oils from 1979-1980 realized in Ellezelles, Belgium when I was 28 years old.
- 6 gouaches realized in Beijing, PRC, in 2001.
- 6 tapestries realized in Beijing, PRC, in 2002.
- 6 digitals realized in Waukesha, USA, in 2003.
- 30 acrylics from my "EMERGENCE" collection that I'm realizing presently in Waukesha, USA in 2004.
_____________________________________________________________

The title says it all, during those years back in Ellezelles, I was all about observing humanity from a distance. I myself in the world, looking at my friends and my "not so friends after all" in the midst of the furry of human endeavors.

Norbert proselytizing, trying to impose his 'wise man' vision on Jipi, Pierrot, myself and many others. After so many years it should be honestly recognized that we all ended up with our conscience turned upside down and ourselves being in total confusion.

Pierrot is still at it today living as a hermit out of humans' ways and eyes. He still draws and paints and sometimes when I visit him, I buy some of his works. His world is all about ghosts and monsters, he painted his walls full of them and sitting there near his wood stove in winter, fast you have the feeling that the world falls still. I like this feeling sometimes, when nothing is waiting for me, but I can understand that it frightens many.

Jipi did not fare much better who had to recognize that reality was not this preaching after all when one day a guy in a bar decided he could not take it anymore to be labelled a slave and threw a full bottle of bear in his face from afar. He stood out of sight of the world for a few months, ruminating. Later, once we were in another bar in Ghent and for an inexplicable reason, I myself grew suddenly very tired of all this superficiality and told him that I was leaving. He wished to stay longer and I lost trace of Jipi since that very day.

Looking at it from the distance of time, I see myself, trying to keep my sanity and my head in the air all those years, jumping from one undertaking to another as if I was rushed to accomplish something.
First in 1979, I started to build a house with my hands and the help of some friends. In 1980 with other friends I set up "La Brasserie", a "space of freedom" conceived as an opportunity for all to express their artistic creativity. Wow the dream, the art gallery and mostly the bar were working but nowhere did one have, even only once, the opportunity to see artistic creativity in action. Having enough of all that after a couple of years, I went back to the house that I expanded and then having enough of the house, I went straight to the government with the idea to change the reality of our human condition. Wow an even bigger dream. I was writing and preaching to all who wanted to listen about Belgium's public finance fiasco in the making I fast discovered that I was not made for this political cat and dog fight, nobody cared, nobody was interested to listen and I left disgusted by politician and bureaucratic thought. By the end of the eighties, Belgium ended with a public debt representing some 120 percent of its GDP and had to let go the largest chunk of its income toward the payment of interest on this debt at the exclusion of other expenses for services of primary necessity. When the situation had reached that level of absurdity everyone understood the problem and all accepted to try to solve it but this was not knowing the price they should have to pay. After a decade and a half of slashing costs, increasing taxes and fees and terminating services, Belgium's public debt is still worth 110 percent of GDP and the real problem now is that creative, entrepreneurial people are leaving the country for easier lands!
I personally left Belgium for China in 1986.

Today, when I look at this painting, "Observing humanity" from 1979, I can't but conclude that it was a master stroke, a ray of truth about what my life was all about and what I would go through in the years ahead.
Xiaohong is there pre-eminent announcing huge changes in my life to come some 10 years later.

That was about the content.
For those who read my last posts, it should be evident that my style is already marked by automaticism. But to be honest, I was not the least conscientof that
at the time .
This painting is one of a serie that I realized during a period of a few months in the autumn and winter of 1979 when I painted with Pierrot. I guess we influenced each other quite much even if we never spoke a word of theory.

Here are some thumbnails of other works of that period. Suffice to say that it's always about the observation of reality.
Unfortunately, I have only 4 works in total remaining from that period.
I never sold one painting but I gave quite many away.


In the maelstrom. Autumn 1979. Ellezelles. Oil on wooden panel.


Jacques Vlemincq. Autumn 1979. Ellezelles. Oil on wooden panel.

2004/07/23

My way of painting (4)

My personal approach in painting has many similarities with Masson's description. More generally, I work in 3 stages:

1. Automatism:

I use this approach on the white surface primarily for reason of keeping the spontaneous in my elaborate working. I find that the act of will in a painting is rigidifying, it lacks what machine work lacks, it lacks the poetry of the spontaneous human intervention, it lacks those small 'mistakes' that the act of will is automatically correcting.
That's about form for form but there is a more essential aspect of automatism and it concerns the content. It's what Leonardo calls 'admirable inventions' in his treatise on painting. When looking intensely at a surface, one always finds small irregularities in the material and the more one looks at those irregularities the more one finds many of them . Those irregularities are Leonardo's 'admirable inventions'. The artist does not create those irregularities, he only interprets them in his own vocabulary, his own mass of referrables (knowledge). If his technique is mature and he does not need to think about technique, the artist can size the patterns of his brain in those irregularities. Each artist has his own tricks. One looks at the material of the color that is deposited on the paper or the canvas to find his brain patterns, another as Miro 'in watercolors would roughen the surface of the paper by rubbing it. Painting over this roughened surface produced curious chance shapes...'. I personally work in the color material and discover there a world that grows by itself. I follow what I discover and I do not impose my will at this stage of the work. In some works, this stage takes 10 minutes, in other works it can take hours and in some other works it can take a few sessions. This is the moment that I express my feelings in the sense employed by Jackson Pollock. I'am not trying to represent something, I just express my feelings in very fast brush gestuals. In the automatism stage I have one session per day for a given work and generally I work simultaneously on a few works. Brushing the colors on the canvas or the paper is a very intensive gestual activity that is pumping much energy. The intensity of energy liberated is, I feel, disruptive of my rational judgement and thus it is important at this stage for me to let things cool down fast. After ignoring for a few days the piece on which I work , I see it in a different light and I then am ready for the second stage of my work.

2. Knowledge imprint.

The second stage of painting is when I try to harmonize the feelings that I expressed in the automatism phase with my knowledge. The paint material and the colors give forms that I follow with a thin brush trying to generate sensical forms. For me this is indeed the stage for making sense out of forms and colors. This I guess is the phase when the knowledge that is accumulated in the brain is imprinting on the canvas. My hand follows where my spirit is attracted and draws the image that emerges. Drawing or painting are freed from the act itself that is somehow executed automatically and are then absorbing my spirit, my thinking, my dreaming. This phase takes somewhere between 15 and 40 hours on average for each work of the TRANSFORMATIONS series. (within a few days I'll start to post copies of my Transformations works) The work is long but time is litterally flying and my spirit is floating around the world as if in a real dream. The work is done when the complete canvas has been integrated in my sense making story. Remains then the last phase, the beautifying of the work.

3. Harmonization.

Beautifying or harmonization is the phase of making absolute sense in term of lines and of colors. The content is firmly established with the second phase. What remains to be done in this third phase, is first finding complete graphic coherence in all the lines and lastly the finishing touches are exclusively reserved for color harmonization. The whole canvas sometimes receives a changed color harmonic but there is no law about colors, that holds its own, out of reaching color harmony over whole the canvas.

I already wrote a few times that I consider paintings are functional objects used for decorating interiors and I feel that an interior should only accommodate finished objects that are decorative and enlightning on a wall.
I indeed have the weakness to think that what appears on our walls reflects on what is going on in our brains, in our lives and in our families and thus I feel that a work of art is somehow sacred. It indeed is a reflection of one's thinking, feeling and worldview.

2004/07/22

My way of painting (3)

Content is central in a work of art and form participates in rendering the content accessible to the viewers. Form is the brush work, the colors, the strokes, in other words, what appears on the canvas that will project on the viewers retina.

A very good realist work, a landscape for example would project from the canvas on the retina and leave the viewer believing that what he sees is a real landscape. But the artist injects something more in the painting, even in a realistic landscape, he projects his own internal disposition, his likes, his feelings about that landscape. That is what differentiates a good painted landscape and a banal photograph. The good photographer does indeed the same as the painter, he injects his internal disposition and thus the good photographer's works are works of art in the same way as paintings are.

The internal disposition that the artist projected in his work has long been the essence of the art work. In Christian times and early modern times, the artist's knowledge was limited to the bible and he was thus limited in his work to two aspects only:
- his technical skills, his virtuosity with the brush.
- the projection of his internal disposition.

The knowledge of the artist was restricted in the same way during the early modern age. The artist was indeed commissioned to execute landscapes, portraits and stills exclusively.
What differentiated the works of different artists in Christian times as well as in the early modern age was thus limited to the same two aspects of technical skills and internal disposition.

With the advent of our late modern age, things change radically. Art works are not commissioned anymore, the artist has now to determine the content of his work on his own. I'm firmly convinced that this very fact constitutes the most important event in all our art history and I'm amazed at how silent our art 'authorities' are on that subject, it's as if this phenomenal event never took place. But artists deeply inside themselves are feeling this change. Here again I have to go back to history to make my point.

Starting around 1850, the most sensitive artists rejected the realist rendering of the 3 traditional subjects (landscapes, portraits and stills). Impressionism, cubism and futurism are typical of this phase. They keep the 3 subjects and they try to work around the classical realist rendering.

Expressionism and surrealism are going one step further. They are searching for something else to represent than the 3 traditional subjects. At its best, expressionism reaches to the soul and renders exclusively the internal disposition of the artist. If expressionism has been particularly strong in Germanic areas, this explains itself by the extremely harsh economic conditions in those lands that impacted on the subjectivity of all sensitive minds in the period immediately following the 1st world war.

Surrealism was consciently thought of as something else than the representation of the 3 traditional subjects. Translated from French, surrealism means something as 'overrealism' or 'more than realism'.
Georgio de Chirico in his 'mystery and creation' writes 'It is most important that we should rid art of all that it has contained of recognizable material to date, all familiar subject matter, all traditional ideas, all popular symbols must be banished forthwith.' But the artist lands on such 'absolutely nothing from the logical point of view' that a crisis is unavoidable.

Breton, the most important thinker of the movement recognizes this '... let us not forget that in this epoch it is reality itself that is in question. ... When I know how the grim struggle between the actual and the possible will end, when I have lost all hope of enlarging the field of the real, until now strictly limited, to truly stupefying proportions, when my imagination, recoiling upon itself, can no longer do more than coincide with my memory, I will willingly accord myself, like the others, a few relative satisfactions. I shall then number myself among the “embroiders”, whom I shall have to forgive.'
But this was considered the summit of the ignominious and thus they could not abdicate so easily. This was the time that Freud, Jung and others were examining the workings of the “uncounscient” and their works gave the surrealists the intellectual substance for leaving the first degree image of reality that projects on the retina. They were saved and Breton could write '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. ... I believe in the future transmutation of those two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, of surreality.' Different approaches were then devised to render the unconscient: automaticism, Dali's “paranoiac-critical activity”, Max Ernst's use of Leonardos “admirable inventions”,... Breton mentions the danger to fall into the absurd but his conviction about the fundamental flaws of traditionalism leaves his brain tranquil. 'Under color of civilization, under the pretext of progress, all that rightly or wrongly may be regarded as fantasy or superstition has been banished from the mind, all uncustomary searching after truth has been proscribed'.

By 1941, Andre Masson wrote “The conquest of the irrational for the irrational is a poor conquest, and the imagination is indeed sad which only associates those elements worn out by dismal reason... Thus surrealism shuts itself into a duality incomparably more dangerous than cubism: - by liberating the psychic menagerie, ... , in order to make it a theme, - by expressing itself by the methods left over from the academics of the preceding century,...”.
Masson's argument was a radical destruction of Dali's approach that he considered intellectually empty and dishonest in the sense that such works were meant exclusively for reason of making money on the market place.
From this critique, he exposes a radical approach of the work of art:
'The tendency to allow oneself to be swamped by things, the ego being no more than the 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 aspecfts of an easy pantheism. Let us repeat the major conditions which the contemporary work of the imagination must fulfill in order to last. ... 1. the intensity of the preliminary thought 2. the freshness of the vision on to the exterior world, 3. the necessity of knowing the pictorial means...'

Masson gives us here a practical method to combine the surrealist approach, automaticism, dreams, admirable inventions,... with existing knowledge and technical skills in order to render the work intelligeable for the exterior world. Foundational here is knowledge, making sense in order to be intelligeable, to possibly be understood.

All citations are taken from Herschel B. Chipp. Theories of modern art. University of California Press.

2004/07/20

My way of painting (2)

I personally agree with Kandinsky that ' ... form is the outer expression of the inner content. Therefore, one should not make a deity of form. ' (All my citations are from Herschel B. Chipp. Theories of modern art. University of California Press.)
The resonance 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. Thus the necessary precedence of the content of the art work, the content is indeed the essence of the art work.
In this lies the fundamental difference in the contemporary approach of the visual arts with the realism of traditional times. Before, form had to bend to the accepted reality. Form was assumed to be derived from the subject of the work, it was thus dependent on the 'no-brainer' first degree image reflected upon the retina. Twentieth century artists rejected this assumption and tried to define a new approach.
In the past, I mean in early modern times, the first degree image on the retina was the imposed content of visual arts and submitted artists toiled to reproduce this image on the canvas. The intellect of the artist was discouraged. Today, it is assumed that each and everyone should make the best use of his intellect and visual artists struggled to reconcile the first degree image on their retina with the use of their intellect. But this was an impossible task, the intellect can't be constrained by such a narrow perception as the first degree image on the retina. That has been the dilemma of the impressionists, the expressionists, the cubists, the futurists and the surrealists. They never were able to quit this first degree image on the retina for a higher plane. To reach this higher plane, the intellect has to be let loose in order for it to flourish. But then how to let the intellect derive a visual form out of its activity?
Artists struggled with this question for all of the twentieth century and an accepted answer has still not been found.

It is my own assumption that form should not be derived from content but that content should be derived out of form. In other words, I think that the artist's culture and knowledge should be let to flourish freely out of visual forms. I believe that this is the only way to reconcile the intellect with artistic forms.

If we agree upon this idea of the precedence of content in an art work then we recognize that one content is not equal with another content. Content is relative. The ideas of the artist appear in his feelings and are thus expressed on the canvas through the automaticism of his expression. But his ideas are not necessarily the same then another artist's ideas, thus the relativity and when we speak about relativity we speak about judgment. Every individual judges but the judgments of different individuals generally do not coincide. So then whose judgment do we speak about in relation to the content of an art work? Or is there a way out to give all individuals a sort of viewing key that could lead them to judge less subjectively?
First, we have to clarify what is being judged, what are the parameters of the judment. If history is a good reference then we see that the content of art works that resist the realm of time always made sense out of the period in which they were created. In other words, those works expressed the 'Zeitgeist' of their period, they indicated how the future worldview was shaped in that present.
In animist societies, the content that is represented is what preoccupies all the individuals, food, sex, the sky and so on. In the times of the gods, the religious message is central and in initial modern times, the house and the landscape where one lives are giving its centrality to the new idea of ownership. So what do we find in later modern times and in our present day reality that is really shaping our societies?

Is there one central theme or could there be multiple themes?
I firmly believe that there is one central theme and it is 'how does our universe function'. Not only the universe far away, the macro view of the universe but also the micro view, the view of the infinitely small. So the question of our times, at least this is what I think, is how does our universe work from the infinitely small to the infinitely large and what is our personal place in all that. I believe that the central question that best characterizes our times for most of the individuals is 'how do I fit in all that'.

Starting with the idea of knowledge, we know for a sure fact that the most advanced scientific undertakings are in the field of the sciences of complexity. How does life start? Is it a godly creation or is it spontaneous emergence under specific conditions?
My views are derived from the conclusions reached by contemporary scientists and also from the study of the civilizational building blocks in Europe and principally in China. As I already stated earlier, contemporary rationality seems to fuse with traditional Chinese wisdom. What is considered central in the principle of reality is change with no start nor end, no good nor bad, only the change from one state to another state, from one moment to the next moment.
The 'Tao Te Qing' conceives of the sky and the earth as the combination, the ordering of an infinity of elements (ten thousand things) derived out of chaos. Once order is established, the sky and the earth are entering a non ending dance of changes that directly impacts on humans' lives. Let's relate this to astronomical studies and the ten thousand things become the elements of change following the big bang, their combination and ordering taking place along the 13.7 billion following years.
Life itself is then perceived as a gradual process of change starting some 4 billion years ago with the spontaneous emergence of unicellular organisms. The search for more complexity that is inscribed in the program of all cells (genes) leads then those unicellular organisms, over the following one billion years, to combine together to give multi-cellular organisms. The next steps of evolution then lead to ever more deeper levels of complexity to reach some 100,000 years ago the human form with its present day characteristics.
Religious believers doubt this presentation and ask about what comes before the big bang. Seeing that science is without any hard fact as of today about what came before the big bang, they conclude that god must have been the originator. But it is not because science, today is still without any hard observations about what came before the big bang that it will not tomorrow succeed to grasp such observations. Suffice for now to notice that traditional Chinese wisdom is not without answers. In this vision, the big bang is only the start of our universe following the moment of maximum concentration of all the energy that follows the implosion of matter in the universe that preceded. Our present universe is still expanding and will continue to to so till it uses all the energy liberated by the big bang. At that moment it will start to shrink till the maximal implosion of all matter into the highest concentration of energy that is bound to explode creating a new starting universe and so on.

Following this reasoning, we reach the conclusion that our universe follows a circular movement corresponding to the cycles of matter expansion and energy concentration. A cycle that appears strangely similar in form with the cycles of change described by the Yi Ching and the movement from the Yin polarity to the Yang polarity and back to Yin and so on.
Visually I see an unending spiraling life, life being the principal of change itself.
The cosmos follows one spiral but the 'ten thousand things' within the cosmos follow each a similar spiral and thus what I see now are ten thousand spirals within one huge unit that is the spiral of the universe.
That's the background of my painting, my visual perception of reality. In the foreground comes life near us.

2004/07/19

My way of painting (1)

The following table summarizes my personal approach towards painting.
I do not give this as a ready method for all to use but I hope that its content will help me and also the reader to clarify his our understanding of what will follow.



The subject of art >>>>

The form of painting >>>>

Art in society

The artist is part of his society and the artist's role is to create sense out of reality for his society. (how our future worldview is shaping in the present)

The first stage of creation:

Automaticism = the expression of one's feelings.

Everyone is enriching his society through his actions.

The artist makes sense out of reality from his own level of understanding.

The second stage of creation: making sense out of what has resulted from the automatic expression of feelings = the harmonization of feelings with knowledge.

The substance of artists' creations belongs to the commons. (society at large) and should thus be absolutely free of usage by all individuals.

Gaining general knowledge is central in the artist's life. The better his knowledge = the deeper the subjects of his works.

The third stage of creation: the harmonization of colors and lines = the embellishment of the work of art.

The materiality of the work of art created by an artist is the artit's personal ownership. This is what feeds the artist.



What will follow in the next days will be more personal than my past posts. It will be about my own way of painting.

In one or two posts, I'll first introduce you to the theories behind my ways and then in each of my new posts I'll introduce you one of my last acrylics with photo and text. In total I plan to introduce 30 works.

2004/07/18

Post-modernism (part 2)

The conclusions that one can draw at this point of our discussion are purely prospective, but an effort at thought should be instructive. The least we can say is that the world changes to come will be far reaching.
But again let's simplify. I wrote earlier as conclusion on the atomization leading to confusion that 'we need to construct a kind of 'unified theory' of human relativity' to save humanity from itself.

The depth of Asian cultural values is well known and is without any doubt one of our best hopes that humanity could at last find its senses and could thus have a real chance to abandon the Western primitive principle of brute force derived out of "good against evil" and for the injection of some intelligence in its actions.
The possibility for such a thought to arise should be sufficient in itself to encourage artists and thinkers to go look at what is available there in Asian cultures...

Here is my take on what constitute the most striking differences between West and East:

1. Perception of reality:

- In the East, it is seen as a process of perpetual transformations from one pole, of whatever is considered presently, to the other pole.

- In the west, it is seen as a perpetual fight against evil in the hope to attain good.

2. The individual's target in life:

- In the East, life is seen as a flowing continuity and the individual thus tries to position himself in this continuity in such a way that he and his family feel most at ease.

- In the west, life is seen as a struggle to reach the final destination of good and the individual is thus perpetually in a psychological state of willingness to take on a fight against all that appears disturbing the march towards goodness more recently re-baptized progress.

3. The attitude towards the body:

- The Yellow emperor book of medicine is reported to go back to the Yellow Emperor who around 3000 years bc unified the tribes along the Yellow river and founded the Chinese nation. What is for sure is that the principles embodied in this book are at the core of Traditonal Chinese Medicine (TCM) as it is still practiced nowadays. TCM is a holistic approach toward the human body that is in sink with the foundational building blocks of the Chinese civilization as well as with later philosophical teachings. In one word, the body is conceived as unified by energy (Chi) flowing along pipes connecting to nodes (acupuncture points) and sickness is the result of an interruption of the flow. Remedies are adapted to the type of sickness, the environment, the patient's psychological disposition and other. The panoply of remedies includes: preventive diet, infusions of natural elements (drugs), acupuncture (adjustment of the energetic flow), Chi-gong (mastering the self in order to control the energetic flow) and massage.

- In comparison, the body in the West has been and largely remains ignored until a problem appears. The body is conceived as material versus the human who is thought of as being spiritual. The material, like dirt, is seen as not clean while the spirit connected to god is a kind of ideality. Along the lines of such a view the body is simply forgotten until it aches. It is thus not difficult to understand, that historically, medical knowledge in the west was poor and we have to wait for capitalist-rationalism for Western attitudes to start to change. But being founded upon the ideas and values embodied in the opposition of extremes that is foundational to the civilization, good versus evil, modern Western medicine takes the shape of a battleground. In one word, allopathy is conceived as the destruction of bad, evil in the material body. Drugs and surgery are then used as weapons to eliminate the symptoms of the sickness while the root causes for the sickness' appearance are simply ignored.

4. The attitude towards society:

- In China and by extension in all Confucian countries, society is conceived of as a collective body whose cells are the families. The writings of Confucius (500 BC) are dwelling along the lines of accepted values of his time: families are the cells of the body and society is the body. (an emperor sits at the top of the social pyramid from where he governs the body). The cells act to survive, to reproduce themselves and to nourish the body. Morality is what keeps every cell within the realm of accepted boundaries. The body in return for its nourishing by the cells is morally obliged to satisfy two imperatives of its cells:
* it has to garantee general positive conditions within the body that will allow the cells to generate material well-being for themselves.
* it has to garantee the protection of the cells from the outside. When the body is not able to satisfy one or both of those two imperatives, its representatives lose all moral right to govern and the cells are morally justified to replace them.
The changes of imperial dynasties were the answers of the Chinese society to the non satisfaction of those basic imperatives. The morality which the body used as regulator of the behavior of the cells as well as the state machinery used to exercise the application of this morality were in the hands of the intellectuals (mandarins). They populated the Chinese bureaucracy along the thousand years of its existence and refined a bureaucratic culture and machinery that has been unsurpassed.
Chinese morality excluded the possibility of China attacking or annexing outside territories and the Chinese armies are never seen leaving their territory. It was indeed considered that if the body satisfied its two imperatives, outsiders would come as attracted to China. China nevertheless expanded territorially. This paradox lies in the fact that the outsiders were indeed attracted and came over to China. The most significant invasions came from Mongolia and then later from Mandchouria. Mongols and Man vanquished the Chinese armies and imposed their rule over the territory but managing such a vast empire was beyond their means and so they naturally let in place the mandarins. In the process they forgot their own culture and oh, they sinisized! The Chinese empire thus grew from the action of the outside and the Chinese can thus in no case be held as invaders of the newly acquired territories. From the Mongolian conquest of China, China inherited Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia (60% of China's present territory) and from the Man conquest, it inherited the so called Manchourian territories.

- In the West, things were quite different. Mediterranean lands got roughly a thousand years worth remembering but that is not really Europe. What is called Europe developed later and farther north: France, Benelux, Germania, and Britain. They were integrated late in the roman empire through the construction of roads and military posts. Only small minorities of locals absorbed the Roman customs (language, ideas and fashions), the populations largely continued to follow their local ways, tribal and early agriculturalist. The fall of Rome left a political vacuum that the Christian church tried to fill by institutionalizing along the lines of the empire with Latin as it common language and dark times will cloud Europe. For over 1000 years, Rome will control the brains which in some way, yes unifies Europe. In the meantime, Knights offer some protection from outsiders in their manors and in return will gain authority over the locals so slavery and serfdom will be the general lot of the populations. After the start of the crusades, some serfs flee the manors to live in uncontrolled territories that will gradually develop into cities while knights fight among themselves for the control of larger territories. This is the history of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie (people living in the 'bourgs', French word for town). Centuries of infighting between bourgeois, aristocrats and clergy will lead to the creation of nations at the hands of kings. Where the king does not adapt to the necessities of his time as in France, he'll be replaced by a President. But in the end, one has the feeling that Western societies were never closely knitted by a shared worldview, a common understanding of reality or of humanity that was based upon observation. Sure there is the Christian religion that imposed its creed by force of fire for over 1000 years, sure there are the knights and the aristocracy that secured some protection for the locals towards marauding outsiders and later the bourgeoisie that with the help of its material wealth took over the levers of political power and imposed its rationality but all those seem to be not more than moments on the ladder of history, moments without binding treads other than those foundational blocks of good versus evil.

5. The attitude towards art:

- One word defines the East, it is 'refinement'. As far as one can look back in history, visual arts are seen as producers of interior embellishment and take generally two roads: the formal and the essential.
* The formal approach is Gongbi painting, it is realist in nature. Its subjects are landscapes, portraits and stills. The style is delicate, researched in the details.
* The essential approach is Xieyi painting. It is the painting of the educated of the wise. Xieyi is a trial at rendering the essence of things represented, their inner being. One could say that Xieyi is the visual arts approach of philosophers. I went earlier into detail on this subject so I'll limit the description here.

- In Europe, visual arts don't follow a continuum. From prehistoric times, we inherited some animist productions: cave paintings and small objects. Greece and Rome had their moment of glory that eventually extinguished but the real Europe was mired in primitivism well till the end of the dark ages. The crusades and more generally the contact with a more developed outside has been the real awakener. I described this in detail in other chapters. The important thing here is to notice that there is no tread underlining the history of Western visual arts. We have historical sequences of functionality: functionality for the church, functionality for the bourgeoisie, mass market functionality.

Let's now come back to post-modernism in visual arts. From our comparative approach and other analyses, I retain the following points that unmistakably will exercise a determining influence on the future of our visual expressions:

- our perception of reality will be shifting gradually toward a more Asian form. Science is pulling us in the direction of a polar worldview with the principle of transformation as our future paradigm of a reality made of complexity. Rear guard reactions will try to push on the brakes but this will not stop the train. Our visions will unify behind scientific observations.

- our sense of belonging to the village “world” will give us access to the complete village library of images and ideas. We each will have access to the same global library and thus our visions will gradually tend to unify in a very wide diversity.

- atomization will lead to more personal visual representations. One will more and more dare to follow his own instincts distancing oneself from school credos and accepted forms.

- the artist is gradually becoming a thinker who will want again to give a vision to society at large a little bit in the same vain as the wise man in animist times was using chalk stones, charcoal and dirt oxides to give his people visual representations of his understanding of reality.

- all those elements lead me to think that we will gradually want to distance ourselves from the absurdities that are resulting out of the confusion of our present day world reality.

2004/07/17

Post-modernism (part 1)

Before jumping to post-modernity, let's remember that industrialisation-capitalism-rationality pulled humanity towards a new and quite different stage of its evolution: modernity. See here for exemple the effects of modernity on population growth.

Population: ( In Deep Change, a website by David Forrest)

2000 One out of every 20 people who have ever lived are living today
1999 World population is 6 billion
1987 World population is 5 billion
1974 World population is 4 billion
1960 World population is 3 billion
1950 World population is 2.516 billion
1900 World population is 1.656 billion
1850 World population is 1.265 billion
1804 World population is 1 billion
1750 World population is 795 million
1650 World population is 500 million
1200 World population is 450 million
BC (estimates)
8000 World population is 5 million

In summary the world population doubled, on average, every:
- 180 years during the age of agriculture
- 60 years during the age of industrialisation-capitalism-rationality
- 40 years during the last stage fron 1960 to 1999.
We know from these figures that population growth accelerated along history but nothing better than a graph can show the dramatic importance of this acceleration. It's worthwhile to remember here that our present day human form was achieved not earlier than 100,000 years ago and that during the initial 90,000 years of their existence, humans were sparcely distributed. "Our studies suggest that hunter-gatherer societies offer full employment for all, simply providing the basic necessities of food and shelter" writes Steve Wieting, senior economist at Citigroup Inc. You must be an economist to put it in this way full of disdain. The table here should act as our antidote.



Sure enough, demographics are not providing us with an explanation about modernity but at least it gives us the big picture of its importance .

This absolutely stunning growth of population results without any doubt out of modernity which is a process far more than a given reality. The process as we have seen, in an earlier chapter, starts around 1200 with the crusades and leads to the fermentation of ideas that will give birth to the Western urge for more discoveries and the gradual inception of the instruments of capitalism and industrialisation.

New richnesses call for new art works out of the realm of the gods. Realistic portraits and local landscapes take central stage for some centuries and by the end of the 19th century appears the urge to leave realism...
Many argue that post-modernity corresponds to the rejection of realism that goes hands in hands with the appearance of the service economy. But it seems to me that post-modernity is somewhat more important than the shift from blue collar to white collar work. This shift is indeed only one change among many others in the development of capitalist-industrialisation.
Post-modernity is the story of the 21st century.

Three huge waves have started rebalancing our human societies in the 21st century:
  • A unifying world community under the law of capital..
  • A great atomization.
  • A greater recoursce to scientists and thinkers to solve humanity's growing problems
From the action of those forces, we see the world being pulled by two contradictory forces:
  • We have seen that the more advanced our societies the more they are atomizing. The paradox that thus appears is that, the further it develops, rationalist-capitalism leads to the fragilization of the collective, of societal institutions and their guidance systems, that takes place under individualism growing all powerfull.
  • Seen from the other side of the spectrum, our societies are also unifying into a world community that is sharing in a common rationalist-capitalist vision. And thus today, the world extends further then the shores of the US, the EU or the Western world for what really matters, I mean the economic dominance that brings cultural hegemony.
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 vehiculates. Their societal systems were not wiped out, during these last centuries of European invasions, simply because they were too developped and could resist the lores of Christian preachers. To put it otherwise, they were drawn by force in a position of economically dominated and then exploited by the west (cotton to opium). But force is to admit that they suceeded to maintain their societies into existence and also learned the hard way their lessons about white men's economic games.

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 trempoline from which they jump-started the development of the capitalist system. The result for many societies around the world has been absolutely devastating: from pure disappearance (mostly American societies) to total dislocation (mostly African societies). As such the conclusion imposes itself that capitalism is a kind of natural "out-growth" of European violence, brutality and greed.

Asian societies largely subsisted because their very old and refined civilizations were no match for European brutal primitive instincts. But comes the 21st century and the moment of truth.
After much introspection and observation, Asian societies are taking on the West frontally at its own game. Japan started early, China and India just started playing according to the rules devised by the White men. But what appears cristally clear is that Asians are well on their road to beat the West at its own economic game. 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 made Europe develop into a vast capitalist-rationalism system that allowed it to dominate the world for the next 500 years. But we should always remain conscient of this very real fact that the development of capitalist-rationalism has been realized totally out of any consciousness by the Western society and its members. The best proof of this largely unknown fact lies in the non-understanding of the historical roots of capitalist-rationalism by those who were living through the historical period of their appearance as well as of the large majority of all people on earth at any time in history.
This system developped out of human control, it emerged as spontaneously and then auto-adjusted the myriad of human actions that followed the acquisition of richnesses during the crusades and the great discoveries.

The 21st century encounter of Western capitalist-rationalism with Asia seems to be leading the West out of its dominance and Asia towards taking the commanding role in the shaping of the system's future destination. This is a crude summary, I push the enveloppe a little far or perhaps a little early, my intention is 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 in a cultural shock of an intensity without precedent in its history and in the history of humanity.
Three factors are going to shape the depth of this shock:
  1. the scale-population (in the sense of economies of scale): the Western Eurocentric cultural worldview (capitalist-rationalism) 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 nor its values of democracy and human rights nor the Western populations for that matter. We should all be conscient about this fact.
  2. the scale of importance or of refinement of the Asian cultures versus what can only be seen as Western cultural minimal primitivism. What is at stake here is what kind of cultural hegemony is going to shape the future. The choice is between a 'unified polarized world view' and 'divided opposite world views'. To put this otherwise the choice is between a neutral worldview seeing reality as a process of change and an engaged worldview seeing reality as a fight between good and evil. Artists and thinkers will not be able to escape for a long time chosing and it is inconceivable to me that their works would not turn around those choices...
  3. the advanced level of Western societies atomization versus strongly collective driven Asian societies. For the sake of clarity, let's consider one aspect only in the comparison, I mean education. We all know damn well that the advancement of science is largely dependant on the quality of the education given to our children. But force is to aknowledge that Asian societies are giving their children a far better grasp of the basic knowledge of hard sciences than Western societies. This simple fact is behind the reason why Asian societies generate 40% of their university degrees in engineering while in the West it is less than 10%. Combine this fact with the size of population and the conclusion is self evident. Asia will have far more engineers to solve technical problems than the West for as far as the eye can see in the future. The same discussion could be undertaken leading to approximately the same conclusions in many other fields.

2004/07/12

The great atomization.

I wish to remember you that the articles in this blog are forming the content of a book that I plan to terminate by year's end. If you are interested by the subjects I write about and you would like to read a first draft of the book, I would be delighted to give you the web address where you can download a PDF version. In exchange, I only ask those interested to read this first draft to give me their comments, suggestions or other help in the finishing touches on the text.
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Consumerism and the expansion of merchandization towards absolutely everything that relates to humans has reduced the individuals in the advanced countries to salary dependents, modern salarized slaves of large capital accumulation.
Pushed by so perceived godly edicts of expansion, the market embarked on the road to democratization as a strategy of inclusion of all individuals into its system. Once in the system, the competition for salaries makes it indispensable for humans to develop knowledge and skills adapted to the new needs of the economy. Knowledge helps each individual to thrive or to survive in the market but as an irony it is also transfering the biggest power of all, understanding, in the hands of the mass of individuals. Entering the realm of knowledge and understanding, everyone starts to develop his own ideas about everything, ideologies and common beliefs are on the wane. This "I know best" approach is like the devil's imprint into our minds and material possessions that were earlier so despised by religions and wisdoms are now what counts most.

But by far the worse that happened for humanity in this process has been the loss by the salarized individuals of the vital feeling of responsibility for their own lives, the lives of the members of their family and their brethren that was driving them to be concerned with their society and thus "to be" creative. Under stress of indebtedness salarized individuals are totally absorbed by their income generation and fast lose all sense of responsibility towards the collective. This, it seems to me, constitutes the central most important development that arose in "modern" societies. (see earlier development of the concept of modernity as the result of industrialisation)

Concerned as we are by our ideas and beliefs, totally absorbed by our individuality we are losing sight of all the parapets along the bridges, into the unknown, that drive us all towards our changing commons. Or we don't see the roads leading to the change of our societies or we don't care a damn anymore about our societies, in any case the result is identical, our societies are freezing and individuals feel incresingly lost.

The risk now for individuals is to fall from the bridges into the unknow and end up without any lights, punished for our sin, into a non stop roaming into an eternal night. This is the fall into hell.
Blind, directionless, unable to focus their "inner urge", individuals roam and roam as drunks unable to follow the "white fertilizing ray" that leads the evolution of their societies. The same seems bound to be happening to our commons that happened in the surrealist movement, a drive towards irrationality. But what happens to our commons has far bigger implications, is indeed far more dangerous than the irrationality that discredited the surrealist movement.

The immemorial binding of the individuals with their commons is fast disappearing in the most advanced capitalist-rational societies, the ones that reached modernity. What had been the natural driving force of evolution, the imprinted natural code driving us and all the rest to strive incessantly for more complexity, this is gradually being rendered inoperative. The conflictual mechanism between individual and collective, this natural mechanism of human change is fast dissolving before our eyes in the US, the EU and Japan.
We humans are well engaged on the road of "losing our way"!

The great atomization is one of the stories of the 21st century. First and foremost concerned by this story are artists, thinkers and scientists who are at the forefront in building the future general worldview of our societies. They are sprinting through the gates, towards the unknown world of knowledge and understanding, opened initially by market-rationalism.

At the reception side, new tools are giving us unrestrained access to knowledge. Open access Journals are winning over the world scientific community. They reduce drastically the costs of publication which allows for free distribution. Furthermore, new search tools let us envision a fast coming time when we will be able to search all the articles published by all the journals from around the world. For more information, see the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
On the other side, new tools are also giving us unrestrained collaboration access in generating knowledge. Wikis and RSS are allowing community efforts at producing knowledge databases (encyclopedias) but more importantly they are allowing collaboration in research and production of new knowledge. See what wikis are all about in the Wikipedia Encyclopedia. See also the power of BLOGLINES' combination of RSS syndication and LINKBLOGS.

Now, think for a moment about the possibilities that will arise soon from the combination of, on one side, the power of unrestrained access and, on the other side, the power of collaborative generation of knowledge. Humanity is fast going to undergo one of the most important shocks of all its history, the shock of unrestrained knowledge.

Paradoxically artists and thinkers receive a blank check. Freedom is total, no guidance has been put in place and all the traditional ideologies, wisdoms and religions, that gave guidance to humanity, have been marginalized by the genie that came out of the sacred bottle of their "forbiddens". The traditional authorities, populated by members of the older generation, are at a loss, they don't understand the new and are left to abandon all decision making. They react when it is too late and when there is a reaction, we are taken aback by the utter stupidity of their decisions. Without any knowledge or conscience about it, we have gone back to the territory of nature where brutal competition for survival reigns. We have lost, without any knowledge or conscience about it, our societal capacity at autoregulation that our forebears took so much pain and so many centuries to develop. The only hope remaining for humanity resides, it seems to me, in the Chinese millenar wisdom accumulation but will the Chinese resist under the assault of modernity, that's the billion dollar question of the hour.

Artists and thinkers conceive of a myriad of micro changes but what results is absolute macro-irrationality. Without guidance, artists, thinkers and scientists are left on their own and the consequences of their works for society at large will only be felt when this contact happens. The most striking example of that has been the atom bomb. But one could multiply the examples of such irrational outcomes, in sciences, in arts or in thinking and it's the combination of all those irrationalities coming together that leads to macro-irrationality.
Somehow, surprisingly, this irrationality seems to take everyone by surprise. Fact is we all finally land in the most extreme confusion.

Time has come for artists, scientists and thinkers' to give sense to their productions and to re-establish some order in human thinking.
We need to construct a kind of "unified theory" of human relativity.


From a generally accepted observation iwe understand that when it's quest is let absolutely free, knowledge fragments.
What I mean is that the totality that is our universe is so large that there is absolutely no way to come up with a single explanation covering everything that could be acceptable for everyone. Statistically it is an impossibility! So we are bound under total individual freedom to roam AD vitam on the road of our personal dreams.
It's kind of a supreme irony that in the end the market's radical push for freedom of understanding, of knowledge leads to exactly the opposite of what it was looking for: the end of history or the acceptance of one unique truth, the market as the exclusive human way.
The atomization of knowledge is the absolute opposite from one unique truth.

Ideology is the outcome, in terms of ideas, of a society that is force-fed a message, a vision by institutions that are imposed upon all by an authority that uses this ideology as a kind of social super glue meant for nothing else than to guarantee the preservation of its authority. The market is the social super glue binding all individuals into acceptance of the logic of capital and rationalism that is given as its absolute ideology. The only problem with the market is it's instrumental nature that appears fundamentally indifferent to individual values, idees or knowledge. It is as if rationalism was an ideology of market instrumentality exclusively but once out of the market it appears without much of an effect upon individual behaviour.

Over the long haul the combination of knowledge democratization, that leads to growing individualism, and market indifference invariably results in the destruction of all traditional ideologies but also it seems in the destruction of the ideology of rationality. In the end, societies are left in an ideological void and individuals are feeling at a complete loss.

Going from one historical reality to the next always has generated frictions and conflicts.
Nowadays, the transition times have shorten radically and the shock of the future is becoming always heavier to assume, ALVIN TOFFLER only scratched its surface. The shock is quite more severe than anyting that had been envisaged but we have absolutely not been prepared for atomization and the individual responsibility that goes with it.
In visual arts this shock materialized in the 'everything is possible' and led to complete loss of sense. It is marketing that nowadays gives its imprimatur to what had to be considered as art. Instantly, garbage becomes art if marketing so decides. In this process, art and thought have been totally debased and rendered obsolete.

But there is still hope, for, let's remember that every time that an extreme is reached it is superseded by its opposite. Today, the opposite of "non-sense" is "no non-sense" but there is no guaranteed road, nor path to "no non-sense". That's what renders the artists and thinkers' road so much more arduous.
It seems as if Kandinsky's "black hand" was suddenly disappearing and everyone was given free of charge access to the "white fertilizing ray". But the conflictual relation, between the black hand and the white fertilizing ray, is what generates workable change. Workable because it is accepted by society at large and also stimulating for the individuals who were carrying the ideas leading to that change. The black hand and the white fertilizing ray are synonymous with YIN and YANG. If one of those terms disappeared, the other would automatically be rendered irrelevent. The mechanism of change would be dissolved and we humans would re-enter darkness.

For our societies, this would be synomymous with a deep freezing and the true meaning of such a deep freezing would be the falling out of history.

Culture is the representation of the ways of behaving and of doing by societies at a given time. For example, present day culture is our present day way of life: consumerism, mass market, merchandization of all that touches human life and dependence on salary and debt. This implies that culture is kind of a historic snaphot of the way of a society at a given time. And we have seen earlier that the way of a society at a given time is what results from the confrontation of individuals' complexifying thinking with the commons. But what happens when individuals' complexifying thinking is let loose, free of any confrontation with the commons that disappear? The conclusion is unmistakenly the deep freezing of their societies and their fall out of history, in other words the dieing of their civilization.

Civilization is the build-up of cultural snapshots through history, it is the addition of the successive cultural moments of a society. In that sense, the civilization of a given society can encompass a very large variety of cultural values and behaviors. It can even encompass what appears as opposite values: one extreme pole on the ladder of behavioral possibilities at a given time and the other extreme pole at an other given time.

Civilization dies when culture production stops!

It seems to me that in the Western civilization we are engaged in a very fast lane towards the crosspoint between "individuals complexifying thinking let loose" and disintegrating commons.

Individual responsibility teaches us that we are in dire need of a redefinition of the human commons on the scale of our entire earth. We need to construct a kind of "unified theory" of human relativity that could give sense to our lives and show us the direction towards tranquility.

The task is urgent, the end of our human history lurks... Words of an artist.

2004/07/11

On the road to post-modernism

I wish to remember you that the articles in this blog are forming the content of a book that I plan to terminate by year's end. If you are interested by the subjects I write about and you would like to read a first draft of the book, I would be delighted to give you the web address where you can download a PDF version. In exchange, I only ask those interested to read this first draft to give me their comments, suggestions or other help in the finishing touches on the text.
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All citations below are extracts from Herschel B. Chipp's book "Theories of modern art." published by the University of California Press.
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Cubism and futurism were engaged on the road of an oppressive unique form, surrealism was fast slipping into the irrational and impressionism was still stuck in a color rendering technique of despised realistic subjects. That's how the European avant-garde painters were thinking the act of painting before the second world war started.
The furry and total barbarianism of the second world war destroyed all remaining cultural certainties and resulted in Sartre's theory of existentialism. Avant-garde thinkers and artists could not conceive any further of a valid sense of life coming out of a society that, in their eyes, had gone so far out of the boundaries of human property. The "well thinking" air of the time was now to reject all inheritences from that society and to create a different world, free from the old, a world based on the individuals' liberated selves.

The Dutch painter Constant happens to give us the most elaborate theory of this individualist, existential approach of the artistic creation process.
"Our needs impel us to discover our desires. This results in experiment, or the release of knowledge. Experiment is not only an instrument of knowledge, it is the very condition of knowledge in a period when our needs no longer correspond to the cultural conditions which should provide an outlet for them.
But what has been the basis of experiment until now? Since our desires are for the most part unknown to us, experiment must always take the present state of knowledge as its point of departure. All that we already know is the raw material from which we draw hitherto unacknowledged possibilities. And once the new uses of this experience are found, a still broader range will be opened to us, which will enable us to advance to still unimagined discoveries."
It seems to me that a historical turning point has been reached here in how the artistic process is been conceived by the artist. What Constant describes is an artistic act of creation of a new reality. He equates the artist with the creator, the one who shapes new realities in the Western religious image of god the creator.
"Today's individualist culture has replaced creation with artistic production, which has produced nothing but signs of tragic impotence and cries of despair from the individual, enslaved by aesthetic prohibitions."
The limits to the act of creation are thus set without any ambiguity. The culprit is the art market that needs artistic marketable productions. That means artistic productions that are respectuff of society's existing, accepted aesthetic and moral conceptions. In this mould, the artist is rendered impotent, enslaved by the aesthetic prohibitions...
To counter the limitations of the market, the artist has to risk his security and take the road to the unknown, in other words, the artist has to reclaim his freedom to create.
"If society turns against us and against our works, reproaching us for being 'incomprehensible', we reply:
1) That humanity in 1949 is incapable of understanding anything but the necessary struggle for freedom.
2) That we do not want to be 'understood' either, but to be freed, and that we are condemned to experiment by the same causes that drive the world into war.
3) That we could not be creators in a passive world, and that today's strife sustains our inventiveness.
4) Finally, that humanity, once it has become creative, will have no choice but to discard aesthetic and ethical conceptions whose only goal has been the restraint of creation -those conceptions responsible for man's present lack of understanding for experiment."
It seems to me that a second historical trurning point has been reached here. The artist is now given a social responsibility towards society at large. "... we could not be creators in a passive world, and that today's strife sustains our inventiveness."
Paradise is promized at the end of this fight by the artist. "... humanity, once it has become creative, will have no choice but to discard aesthetic and ethical conceptions whose only goal has been the restraint of creation". The paradise is thus equated with the act of creation itself.
Constant is not a religious believer but in his materialism he borrows from the Christian religion its categories.
- Hell: the market for artistic productions that leads to artistic despair, a sense of impotence and enslavement in prohibitions.
- Paradise: the territory of the godly creativity that is equated with life and the creation, life being thus presented as beauty itself.
- Firmly anchored in Western tradition, Constant ends in the good versus evil scheme. Paradise symbolises the rewarding with what is good and hell punishes with what is evil. In this scheme, one is naturally driven to fight for good, against evil. The fight against evil is against society's prohibitions and thus the fight for good is a revolution against society at large, for the recognition of individual desires, the acceptance of free experimentation leading to the creation of new knowledge.
Art is this model becomes a revolutionary way of thinking.

For a time, artist's and thinkers will be pulled in the marxist path but at the crumbling of it's collective paradigm another path is already open that leads to nature and green leaves in a cup of tea.
But the idea of a mission, of a moral fight for good is intact.
This time around art is dressed in the clothes of the absolute truth about reality. The straight line is seen as a sign of evil, of rationality at work. Good is in the irrationality at work in the natural processes: decay and putrefaction transforming matter into food for organic life, death transforming life in material ready for decay and putrefaction... Life as an elliptic line.

Hundertwasser feels that he has been bestowed with a moral mandate to help humanity harmonize with nature.
The artist searches for beauty in the lines and colors found in nature and his visual art production is not limited to his canvas, it now extends to his clothes, his house, his garden.
Art now becomes a way of life and the way of life is the creation of an alternative to society at large. Beauty is researched as an instrument to attract the interest of the other individuals.

As we saw, European contemporary art is driven by the working of the artist's brain, as such it is a painting of ideas. In contrast, American contemporary painting is centered on the artist's individual feelings that are not burdened by a past of theories and concepts.
Impressionism, pointillism, cubism, futurism were in fact limited to the change of pattern, or form, of a non changed content, our visual reality. But the recourse to automaticism that is theorized by the surrealists changed all that and with Cobra (Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam), European painters are entering firmly in a new area of creation, the creation of new knowledge.

That is what seems to me differentiates American and European artists is their more individual or more collective concerns. Jackson Pollock says it best "The method of painting is the natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather to illustrate them". Contrast that with Constant who could also have started writing "The method of painting is the natural growth out of need" but who then continues "our needs impel us to discover our desires, this results in experiment, or the release of knowledge."
Pollock wants to express his feelings and Constant wants to create knowledge about himself. Feelings are interior and expressing them leads to a visual image that has no pretension other than the act to express them. Releasing knowledge through experience is a strong pretension for an artist, he is certainly taking great risks and exposing himself to judgements.
So here we are.
Pollock limits his pretensions to his own personal satisfaction, the expression of his feelings, he has no thoughts for the impact of his work on the collectif. Constant does not speak about his feelings, he speaks about discovering his desires through experimentation which leads to the release of knowledge. One can assume that he will discover satisfaction by doing so but differing with Pollock he does not limit himself to the gain of this satisfaction. Constant wants indeed that this process, of knowledge creation, would lead him to a new life, to a new society.

At this point, one may want to ask what has been the impact of Cobra or for that matter of Abstract Expressionism on the art scene of the second part of the twentieth century. It makes no doubt that the artists under the banner of those two movements have found an important place in the art market, but what about their influence on society at large and what about their input in the history of art? Cobra is representative of a primitive, naive form of painting that goes at the heart of the artistic experience while abstract expressionism appears more finished, more mature in execution but also artistically formal or a-content. The big question is about their input in the history of painting. In other words, did those schools bring something worth remembering in artistic terms and will they be remembered over the long haul?

Judgements are always difficult but one has to recognize that something has gone wrong.
That those paintings represent an area in our history that is for sure. But is it possible to imagine that those styles will have further traction? There is not much of a chance for that, their style and/or their content do not carry sufficient substance to catch the attention of future realities. There is indeed far too much confusion in the works of those schools and far too much absence of meaning for people living through different historical realities to continue to be attracted.

The green leaves in Hundertwasser's cup of tea seems to me having far more chances to remain a strong message, in term of content, as well as in term of form, for future generations. For one, Hundertwasser's content, his message is there to stay as a valuable contribution towards problems that will continue to amplify in the future. Hundertwasser's form is based on the search for beauty in the colors and in the technical detail of the decorating elements of his works.

Contemporary artists often forget that visual arts basically have a decorative function, they are interior decoration elements. Paintings are indeed rectangular surfaces that are suspended on walls, first and foremost for the pleasure of the eyes.

On their road to post-modernity, European and American artistic approaches have largely forgotten some basic facts of life.
1. A visual art work is for interior decoration. it should thus be pleasing for the eyes.
2. A visual art work is about content: how society is driven to perceive reality at the moment of creation of that specific work. The question is thus not the image in the eyes of the majority of the population but the visual image that is fashionned out of the theories by the leading human driving forces of the time: the clergy in the times of the gods, the aristocracy and bourgeoisie in the early stages of modernity (industrialisation), the scientist and the thinker in the early stages of post-modernity.