2004/11/28

About technique

Saying that technical mastery confers automatically artistic qualities to a work would be like saying that physical beauty in a person is what makes a person beautiful.

We all know that a beautiful person has a lot more to offer than her/his physical beauty. But let us not fall in the absurd, it is also clear that the absence of technical mastery will never allow a work to become a work of art on the merit of its content only. We all know that an interesting person does not necessarily render a person beautiful but we all also know that an interesting person that is physically beautiful is undoubtedly a beautiful person.

In other words, an artist has to possess some mastery in his technique in order to express himself with ease. Yes that is the point of a mastered technique, the one who masters a technique can express her or himself with ease.

How could one without technical mastery be able indeed to express her or himself unhindered?

2004/11/23

Reality = our perception of reality.

If reality is fundamentally inaccessible to us, it turns out then that our relation to reality is limited to our sole perception of what it is all about. Perception of reality is then the central question. Knowing that we are no more than a micro particle of dust of reality we can't but deduce that observing reality implies first and foremost observing oneself. What appears thus in our conscience is that our observation is not neutral. We are the observers but we are also the observed. Here we conclude that our observation of ourself is conditioned in 3 distinctive ways and such a conditioned observation of ourself in turn conditions our perception of reality:

- OUR HISTORY:

# Our culture:
from where we come we inherited a way of thinking, a way of seeing things. In other words, our inherited culture determines our observation and our actions. But this is too general an approach to be helpful. We have to distinguish between:
* culture as everyday ways of doing in our direct environment. Our ways of doing, at a given moment in a particular environment, are strongly ingrained in each of us but we nevertheless can relatively easily apprehend those ways through an intellectual effort at understanding.
* culture as civilizational build-up located very deep in the formation of our societies' given ways and truths. Culture as civilizational buildup is an assembling, an addition of our ways of doing at any given moment, in different environments within a larger collectivity sharing some basic ways of life

# Our social reality: where we come from is placing us in a given economic and social environment that determines our ways of thinking, our ways of seeing things, in other words where we come from determines our observation and our actions. We have to distinguish between:
* social reality as civilizational build-up giving our society's "level of development" that imposes the general life conditions and systems of beliefs of all their members. (animism, religions, capitalism)
* social reality as everyday ways of doing that impose our position on the social stratification ladder and the general life conditions that come with this particular position.

- OUR PERSONALITY: our biological origin and our history are giving us personality traits that will be reinforced or weakened at the contact of our daily experiences.

- OUR KNOWLEDGE: our history and our personality will in some way combine and give us a set of instruments for developing our knowledge. Our use of those instruments is largely related to the quality of our daily experiences.

What starts to form in our mind at this stage is the idea that our perception is unique to ourself and that there are thus as many different kinds of perceptions as there are individuals. But this is no proof of any fundamental relativism about reality or the perception of reality. What is relative is only the influences of our histories on the formation of our perception. So we conclude that the better, the richer our knowledge, the less important the influences of our histories appear to be.

Now we know for a sure fact that knowledge has been the preserve of the men of power for most of our human history. In the absence of any knowledge, the influences of our individual histories were determinant in our actions and perceptions and thus the arose an absolute need for a cement to bind us all together into collectivities. This total absence of knowledge could only be compensated by total control by the men of power for imposing the cementing of all.

During our modern age, power has been detached from knowledge or to be more accurate, the men of knowledge got total freedom to dwell in their researches and became autonomous while the men of power transformed into managers of large state systems. As a direct consequence of their autonomization, the men of knowledge lost the support of the men of power in the diffusion of their newly acquired knowledge among the members of society. In other words, knowledge was not imposed any further and thus became more and more unevenly distributed. In this process, the men of knowledge were left to compete for followers with all kinds of charlatans. The lesson here is that knowledge, without the respect it gains from power, can't impose itself upon societies. It should thus not be a surprise at all that, along the modern times, the creators of visual signs detached themselves from knowledge and immersed themselves into an ever wider variety of subjective renderings, all more out of touch with knowledge, with reality than the last.

In sum, it seems to me that, in the absence of an imposed truth, I mean of an imposed perception of reality given as truth, the acquisition of knowledge is the only driver of a possible convergence of human perceptions. The drama is that visual artists seem to be "unwilling to do the hard work necessary to understand how the world works"(1) and are thus accepting to be pulled far away from the most advanced knowledge of the day, I mean from science and philosophy. This is what is rendering the signs that they produce absolutely in-operational, in other words, their visual signs are not making sense for their societies any further and yes, this is the unmistakable sign of the end of art, at this point art is effectively dead.

Our modern societies are nevertheless not in less of a need for art than their predecessors. On the contrary, the speed of societal change is such that most of us are at a loss to find any sense in our lives. Art is thus a specie that should be in large demand, but the greatest misery of our times is that nobody seems to know anymore what art is all about. And thus follows that nobody understands the need for art as answer to the questions of our societies for sense.
Plunged in such a reality the artist who is conscientious of what is going on finds that his primary role can only be to help clarifying the function of art in our societies. This effort at making sense and at trying to give back its ancestral sense to art passes before his artistic production. There is an urgency out there. But men, what a task! For indeed, can the word of an artist have some weight on a society?

(1) "The Face of Nature Changes as Art and Science Evolve". By CARL ZIMMER. November 23, 2004 in the NYTimes.

2004/11/22

On scientism, the leviathan dream.

I wrote earlier that "Art and thinking are not neutral. Artists and thinkers are engaged in shaping a more trueful perception of the world".
In my understanding the world means reality, we live in reality is it not?
But what is reality, what is our world?
It is the web of interactions between all particles and parts of our universe from its micro to its macro dimensions. Its whole and its parts are indeed only temporal dimensions or aspects of a same reality, its own reality. But we should always remain aware of this fundamental fact that what we call our universe is only a concept covering the understanding of our reality at this stage of our human history.

Each epoch has its own concept and understanding and those constitute the cement that binds all the individuals into a collective social being, into a society. Faced with the disappearance of its cement, a society fast disintegrates. Contrarily to what some may think, our modern society has not succeeded to escape or to isolate itself from this immemorial fact of human life.

- Our present day vision of reality is indeed relative, it is no more than one vision among an infinity of possible visions. Our vision of the universe is indeed very limited and perhaps only one of the many facets of a more encompassing entity. Quantum mechanic physicists already imply that our universe is only one of many universes and they use a ready concept for this newer reality, the multiverse. Uni is one, multi is more than one so for the sake of pragmatism, let us conclude that our environment is the verse and that our reality is the web of interactions between all particles and parts of our verse, from its micro to its macro dimensions and at the moment we speak about it.

- Our present day vision of reality, or the importance of it, has been assaulted by the logic of capital that succeeded to establish itself as the ultimate truth of modernity. Everything has been subordinated to its rationality and in the process everything has been merchandised. Visions and knowledge have been relativized, cornered into a marginal societal role and "whatever" has been given prominence because it could make money. But all that resulted is atomized societies on the fast lane of the road towards their disintegration.
We, humans, are only very small actors on the surface of our earth and seen from the macro dimension of our verse we appear as nothing more than a micro particle of dust on the earthly waves that are blown by the versal winds. From this understanding, it appears to me that the only wise attitude, as a human, is humility and acceptance of our insignificance. But we should also be conscientious of our belonging to the verse, we are part of it. All religions and traditional philosophies came to the same conclusions, speaking of the One and saying that we are part of the One and absolute.

I conclude from all this that reality or what we like to call the truth (the One in religions) is absolutely inaccessible to us humans and scientific discoveries change nothing to our predicament. We remain dust even if sometimes we have dreams of being leviathan. The best we can ever hope for is that our perceptions of reality remain in line with the truth or to say it otherwise with what reality is all about. Letting ourselves dwell outside of this line is akin to permissiveness that would ultimately be sanctioned with our falling into the absurd. For what would we find, out of the line of what reality is all about? We would find the illusion of a fake detachment. Detachment is the attitude that we arrive at after having molded ourselves into humility and reached complete acceptance of our insignificance in the verse. Fake detachment is a particular form of detachment, it's the illusion of our absolute detachment from the verse which leads to a kind of euphoric empowerment of the self. But this empowerment is short lived for one can only go so far as the reflection in the mirror of his own image that projects a naked self, down the road of the verse at which point the mirage of empowerment dissolves and one falls into disarray. The possibility of an absolute detachment from the verse is a myth that has been popularized at the margins of rationality by blind-folded believers in the salvation of humankind through science and technology presented as an ultimate rationality that would liberate humans from the chains of nature.

For the best part of the twentieth century, we have indeed been taught that by freeing humankind from all its irrational religious beliefs science was leading us straight into a paradise of materiality where everything can be fixed by mechanic application of scientific solutions. This has been the credo of capitalism as well as of communism. But it did not lead further than merely being a belief, a different version of ideology. Mechanic scientism has indeed always proved to be short thinking, short of the real complexity of reality.
It was in this kind of environment that thinkers and artists were plunged in the twentieth century so it should come as no surprise that the outcome has been very much confusion.

2004/11/18

Where does the surf land us?

If visual arts have been, for a time during the Renaissance, in the vanguard of change in Europe, in the present times they are somehow out of the picture, marginalized in our societies by the confusion that they themselves help to entertain. Science and technology are indeed the leading shapers of new perceptions of reality. So I believe that the only way out of confusion is for the visual arts to follow in the footsteps of scientific discoveries and produce the visual signs of the new perception of reality that is shaping and emerging out of those discoveries.

- The failure of visual artists to grasp this opportunity is irritating and leading some scientists at trying their own hands at visual arts.(1) One could summarize those artists visions as stationary points of perspective plunging out of the realm of what the eye can see. With the help of microscopes and telescopes they are plunging either towards the micro/nano-scale or towards the macro-scale of the universe. Their photos are showing a visual reality seen from another environment than the environment where our human eyes can operate. The results are often stunning graphically and can't but foreshadow a new perception of reality, a new Zeitgeist, a new worldview that will spread in the conscience of humanity along this 21st century.

- The stationary point of perspective had been abandoned by the "avant-garde" as early as 1900 but science pulls us again inexorably towards visual representations drawn to points perspective. Science gives us today the means of 6 simultaneous points of perspective(2) that unveil a wholly new way of thinking and seeing reality.

- Another approach, more poetic perhaps, is the discovery out of automatism. The surrealists influenced by the early psychoanalysts Freud and Jung tried their hands at automatism, automatic writing and automatic painting but did not explore very far along that path.
In his treatise "On painting"(3), Leonardo often mentions the "admirable inventions" in the clouds, in streams, in dirt, in the irregularities and the shadows on a wall,... but he correlates the ability of the artist to seize the opportunities of those "admirable inventions" with his knowledge base. In other words, what one can see in those "admirable inventions" depends upon what one knows, thus implying that one can't see what one does not know. Furthermore, the possibility to use in a visual creation what one sees depends ultimately upon one's ability to complete the parts "ignored" in the images growing out of the "admirable inventions". Here Leonardo implies the knowledge of the parts that are not given by the "admirable inventions" but also the knowledge of the visual representation technique that is used by the artist.

- Globalisation is one of the facets of our future that will become determinant in the shaping of our daily lives. Art will not escape this fact. How will this turn out is not of our knowing but some trends will emerge that seem unavoidable. I personally think that the traditional Chinese Xieyi approach has the most promizing future, it is bound to revolutionalize visual signs and could thus be one of the prime shapers of the signs of our future worldview that is in the initial stages of development nowadays.
________________

But if science is the leading shaper of reality at the dawn of this 21stcentury, we should nevertheless remain conscient of its limitations and avoid to be enslaved as propagandists of what is most often no more than mechanic scientism. Science is an accumulation of knowings about micro realities and the sheer size of accumulation of such knowings about micro realities is having the effect of acting as a blinding agent upon knowledge. The elimination of this blinding effect is thus an imperative for the artist and this can only be done by integrating scientific knowings into the globalizing mold of philosophy.
________________



(1)Dee Breger
Ken Musgrave
Loes Modderman
Microangela
Molecular expressions
Martha Demenezes
Philip Galanter
Cell Imaging

(2)Book On Perspective Six points allows you to draw the total up, down, and all around scene. It gives students and artists a whole new way of thinking.

(3) Leonardo. On painting. Yale University Press. 2001.

(4) Xieyi painting. Meaning: "writing down the meaning"

2004/11/17

In the air of our times

I have a daily selection of articles about the air of our times and visual arts at In the air of our times; feel free to syndicate the link.

I try daily in that blog to find links to articles relating to Modern and contemporary art. Reality is all about our visual perception and this blog is all about the shaping of the visual arts through our perception of reality.

We breathe the air of our times in a very selective fashion. This blog is such a selection focused on the shaping of contemporary visual arts.
The air of our times is our present day reality and knowledge is our breathing technique that acts as a catalist on our visions on the future.

2004/11/16

What : image technicians or artists?

Back to history for a while and the emergence of art as some extraordinary feat.
The German art historian Hans Belting published a very interesting book, tracing the history of religious images in the Christian West from late Roman times until about A.D. 1400.
The subtitle of his book
says it all: "A history of the Image before the Era of Art" (1) .

Earlier religious image-icons were not conceived of as being art works, they were mere functional tools, communicational tools in the relationship between the clergy and its flock. Let's remember that in all of Europe, for a thousand years after the fall of the roman empire, no lay-person, from emperors down to slaves could read nor write. The only way for the church to sell its story about reality was to recourse to simple images, kind of illustrations on a similar plane as what we find nowadays in children books. The relationship to those images was basically functional, tools for dumb sheep to understand the description of reality as given by the men of knowledge of the day, the clergy. This is the same kind of relationship that children entertain with their image books that they consider as objects of veneration possessing a kind of tangible presence of something as a holy, supernatural reality that is given to them in edutainment form by adults searching to transfer their educated perception of reality into those young brains.

The creators of religious images were considered image technicians, crafters who were only recognized a very low social status. Technically, their images were not conceived, in term of space and time, as focusing from one point. They were illustrations of multiple stories that were considered having occurred not necessarily at the same times.

The concept of art as we know it emerged in the European Zeitgeist only after European thinkers had made theirs the tenets of Greeck classics following the import of copies of their works through the christian crusaders' contact with the Islamic universities that were rich in translations of those works. The fifteenth century witnessed a revolution in thought and science that was led by Copernicus. This is the period of early modern times that sees not only a scientific but a cultural and artistic renaissance emerging, financed by largely increased economic richness, from long distance looting and trade, at the hands of the clergy, the aristocracy and the first merchants.

"Giotto was the first artist of record to understand intuitively the benefits of painting a scene as if it were viewed from a stationary point of view that was organized along a horizontal and vertical axis. ... From Giotto until the modern area, this convention became the standard with each painting representing only one frozen instant viewed as if it were on a lighted, three dimensional stage". (2)

For the next 500 years the stationary perspective model of looking at things will be the imposed form for all visual art works.

Historical progression is like a quantum wave made of energetic and magnetic swirls that are pulling societies forward. Much of my thoughts on this point are borrowed from Dr. Chaim H. Tejman's "Grand Unified Theory: Wave Theory".(3)
"Wave formations are composed of both a pushing energetic loop (swirl) and a pulling magnetic loop (swirl). These swirls are in a constant state of both competition and superposition in vast and minute formations alike".


HUMAN SOCIETY



Historical facts do by no means confirm the primary role of one of the following four factors in the formation of societal change: arts, culture, technology or the economy. On the contrary, history does indicate that at times one of those factors is preponderantly influential but that at other times this same factor is totally absent of the equation. But historians have too often presented a one-sided absolutist vision of change and universities are thus filled with history chair-holders behaving more as faithful clergymen spreading their gospel and arguing between themselves than as scientists.

For example, I do not buy the argument of Leonard Shlain "the radical innovations of art embody the preverbial stages of new concepts that will eventually change a civilization". Further, on his website, he states that "Leonard Shlain proposes that the visionary artist is the first member of a culture to see the world in a new way. Then, nearly simultaneously, a revolutionary physicist discovers a new way to think about the world"(4). I do not deny some of Shlain's well chosen and convincing examples of an artist's vision that preceded the scientific world's acceptance of a phenomena but I don't see how a system of thought could be formed out of such examples.

The wave model seems better at representing how societies change over time. In this model, it's the interaction between arts, culture, technology and the economy that gives the movement of change and each of those factors have their moment of dominance within their global interaction.
In religious times, the artist was an image technician receiving only very low social esteem, he could absolutely not have been the visionary who pre-verbially sets the stage "of new concepts that will eventually change a civilization" as Shlain describes. This is purely not fact in religious times. In animist times, the shaman or the "men of knowledge" were giving to their tribes a story describing their understanding of reality and how their tribesmen should then behave in consequence. The shaman were also the ones who would then carve or paint those stories for their tribesmen to grasp and remember. Thus the artist was not the visionary, the shaman was.

The determining factor in the shaping of the early modern times has been the crusades that resulted in the encountering by the Western European aristocracy of a far higher civilization than their own. This simple fact then led to plunder, looting and later to the gradual development of long distance trade between the advanced Arab Muslims and the primitive Western European Christian, obliged trade passing through the Italian city-States which explains their early economic and cultural dominance. Looting of material luxuries naturally included books, and so did the Arab translations of the Greek classics and the latest scientific productions of the Muslim universities find their ways to Rome, Paris and other centers of religious power.

It's important at this point not to forget that the members of the clergy were the only Europeans who could read... so the passing of the newly acquired knowledge had to happen at the hands of this same clergy! Now let's also remember that art purchases were also the exclusive privilege of the clergy... so we start to understand how the knowledge about the Greek canons, ratios landed with the image technicians. This knowledge could not land to the scientists, there were no scientists in those times so image technicians were logically the first in applying the techniques learned in the newly acquired books. At this point of our reasoning, permit me a digression, monks and pastors being the only literates it should not come as a surprise that the first generation of Western scientists were coming from their ranks. The new understanding about reality that they gained from those books has without any doubt been very disturbing and destabilizing in their intellectual environment that, let's not forget this, was exclusively confined to the religious documents of the church.

(1). A History of the Image before the Era of Art. Translated by Edmund Jephcott.
(2). Leonard Shlain. Arts and physics. Simon and Schusters.
(3). Dr. Chaim H. Tejman's. Grand Unified Theory: Wave Theory.
(4). Leonard Shlain. Arts and physics. Simon and Schusters.

Form versus content

Art creation is a kind of marginal activity that in essence is elitist. Artists are seeing themselves as different from the mass of toiling-men this comes as a result of their free dwelling in areas never visited by toiling-men. But this does not in any way imply that toiling-men have no possible reach at art. They have homes and they decorate their walls. But what they put on their walls has a function that is limited to decoration, the content of what hangs on their walls is thus automatically mainstream, something that society at large has interiorized, has accepted as "normal beauty".

Van Gogh who could not sell one painting during his life is thus some 120 years after his death the darling of the masses and his works are accepted as one of the favourite mainstream "wall hangings" worldwide. Imposed worldviews have faded but society is still searching for conformity. New visions are not readily accepted, they need to undergo a process of socialized acceptance.
From this I derive that visual arts encompass works that have to satisfy two separate functions:
- on one side we have art works for the enjoyment of the brain and for diffusing the worldview of the power and knowledge elites.
- on the other side, we have decoration works for interior design and decoration at the attention of the mass market.

In short a distinction has to be made between art and design. They cover two very different social functions:
- In the 21st century, art is an individual undertaking that is unique, that brings some new understanding of ourselves and of our universe, in other words art gives the early signs of how a society is shaping its coming vision of reality. For one, content is paramount in an art work. In that sense, we can affirm that art is a risky undertaking focused on coming realities (remember our state of fast changing realities). For two, buyers of art works are few, they are a cultural elite with some money and viewed from the standpoint of demand the offer of art has to remain very limited to have some prospect of financial return in the future.
- Design is kind of a vulgarization of the spirit of art works at the attention of larger segments of consumers. We could also say that design is the merchandisation process of the substance of art works that will introduce the spirit of the works of art into the interiors of larger segments of the population. But more generally, design attaches no importance to the content of a work, form is indeed paramount in decoration and thus works of art from earlier times that were created foremost for their content, after having gone through a process of socialized acceptance, can become mainstream just for the form of their content. A good example of this process of acceptance of the form of content is given by Van Gogh's body of works that while being absolutely unknown, I mean not understood, by most people, is accepted as a mainstream form and prints of his works are then what help diffuse this form of content in unlimited numbers around the world.

Because nowadays' confusion between art and design, this idea that form is paramount in design succeeded to impose itself to many artists. But this is essentially a dead end road where the proeminence given to form is bound to irremediably destroy the primacy of content that is the essence of art.

This opposition between the primacy of content versus the primacy of form has outlined the debating ground about the nature of art during the last fifty years. Seen from the lenses of universities and through the words of those who monopolize the speaking arenas of our mediatized societies, the debate basically opposed conceptualism versus minimalism or versions of both.

Conceptualism gave priority to the ideas, the concepts expressed in a work while de-emphesizing the materiality of this work. Conceptualists came then to consider that non-merchandable media would extinguish once and for all this firery desire of material possession of a work and thus the concept would be garanteed survival.
Minimalism defined art as being "out of content", residing in the rendering of minimal forms, shapes, colors and textures.
It seems to me that both those approaches are focusing on very narrow segments of one and the same thing, as if they were targeting a beam of light at a particular aspect of a same observed. Not knowing that those contradictory views are derived from images of distinct areas of an identical observed, they happen to present their particular approaches and theories as contradictory views. But in reality both views make no sense, they both fail to realize the globality of what they observe. What they observe is the recurring polarity at work in visual arts: form and content and excluding one of the poles just destroys the whole. What they do is just the same as trying to isolate the negative and the positive poles in electricity, the result is simply meaningless for it lands in nothingness.
Both conceptualism and minimalism are already present in animist arts, in what white men termed "primitive arts".
Totems, as visual signs of their understanding of reality, spoke loud in those times to the people about the respect that they needed absolutely to express for the animals that ultimately would feed them. I guess that Joseph Kosuth the pope of conceptualism was somehow recognizing being in the dark about the reasons for the respect of those "primitives" for art when he claimed that the only role for an artist "was to investigate the nature of art itself... Art invites us to intellectual consideration, and that not for the purpose of creating art again, but for knowing philosophically what art is".(1)
With "Art after Philosophy" Kosuth posists that an artwork can consist of any object whatsoever that is enfranchised as art. "Whatever" had found its justification in philosophical terms for as Danto writes, "... now that at least the glimpse of self-consciousness had been attained, that history was finished. It had delivered itself of a burden it could now hand over to the philosophers to carry. And artists, liberated from the burden of history, were free to make art in whatever way they wished, for any purposes they wished, or for no purposes at all. That is the mark of contemporary art, and small wonder, in contrast with modernism, there is no such thing as a contemporary style".
Here is the point where conceptualism, disguised under the clothes of intellectualism, becomes meaningless. The initial questions were right but the final answer erred.

(1) Arthur C. Danto. After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, Published in 1997 by Princeton University Press.

2004/11/14

Solid knowledge about reality

Artists are within the best placed to experience this interaction between philosophy and science for the good reason that they are somewhat protected from the dramatic effects of the tornado. I mean that the physical marginality, the isolation that is necessary for the creative act is like shielding them from the trepidation, the non-ending demands on the individuals who are plunged in salarization. In modern and post modern times, it is as if artists were forgotten by society and as a result they can indulge in their inner self and are let free to think and act if they so desire, out of the conventional lines generally admitted by our societies. But we should not jump into premature conclusions, this particular position of the artist does not, by itself, supply the artist with his daily dose of thinking, it only helps create a favourable environment for ideas to sprout. We should indeed remember that sprouting is the act of seeds and those emerge out of maturation with the blooming of an individual specie, plant or human. So someone's possibility to think and to act is ultimately and decisively dependent on the maturation of his knowledge and of his general culture.

I think that in late modern and early post-modern societies, knowledge and culture are acting as the necessary breeding ground for creativity to blossom. I think also that knowledge and culture are somewhat akin to the parapets on the bridge to the promised land of consciousness that is given to our attention by the reflection of the image of the global village in the cosmic mirror. And I bet that recognized artists in the 21st century will be the ones who accumulate a valid base of knowledge, knowledge of their own culture and history, of the cultures and histories of the other people of this earth, knowledge of the scientific understandings of our times as focusing on the micro levels of reality and knowledge of the different philosophic approaches of the people of this earth as focusing on the macro levels of reality.

Knowledge acts as a springboard for creativity, it projects a little further into reality and could redefine the artists and other free thinkers of the 21st century as the potential wise men who first could experience a global consciousness as a result of their integration of philosophical inquiries with scientific methodologies and data.

But will artists size upon this opportunity? This is absolutely not a given fact, it requires indeed much humility, time and perseverance to reflect upon oneself and to study the mysteries of the sky, the earth and the self. Notwithstanding those uncertainties, let's remember that art is something as the production of an expression or if you prefer an impression of the inner feelings and ideas of the artist. So we understand that an artist's productions are intimately related to his knowledge. The better his knowledge base, the better we can expect his production to be. Not advertisement of an ideology but expression of an idea, of a feeling through the use of a technique. In other words, content, the artist's personalized content will find central stage in artistic creation and beauty or ugliness will more and more relate to the content of a work.

It makes indeed no sense anymore in the twenty-first century to continue to photo-paint landscapes, people or whatever when everyone is given to simply use a camera, shoot a perfectly realist image and manipulate its pixels through a photo imaging software. In other words, landscapes and portraits are artistic subjects of a past period in our human history and they somehow transmuted into artistic commodities offered to the masses on the market for interior design and decoration.
It makes also no sense anymore to continue to illustrate the ideological trappings of religious or political half baked truths as it makes no more sense to plunge ourselves into the different distortions of reality as described by the twentieth century observers of the technological alterings of our visions of reality. Cubism, futurism, formalism and other approaches were forms with one foot in the past and one foot in the future. They are the soul of the historic intersection between early-modernity and modernity: relegation to the dustbin of history of the early-modern and search for sense out of the forming of a new scientific and technological worldview in the making. Force is to observe that those approaches did not succeed to abandon the early-modern artistic subjects of the landscape and the portrait, they only adapted the form of their visual representation.
In modernity two antagonistic forces are at play: the art market and the sense of art. The art market trivialises the sense of art by mediatizing the artists and artists searching for sense in art lose themselves in the ideologies of their days. Both those two forces led to total confusion in the understanding of what art is all about. And in late modernity, it seemed as if art had become "whatever is new", original, in the sense of "never done before".

It seems to me that we are today inside the time-span representing the intersection between late-modernity and early post-modernity. "Whatever has not been done before" is in competition with "the search for a radically new sense of reality".

Artists and free thinkers of the 21st century have to place the bar somewhat higher than the futile "Whatever has not been done before". Let's remember that, as I wrote earlier, those of us who are watching the image of the global village in the cosmic mirror are plunged into a whole new world vision that gives us in some way the means to cross the divide between our present day land of folly and the promised land of consciousness that sits across the bridge from the present. We artists have to cross this bridge but we should permanently remember that the parapets on the bridge are what is protecting us from falling into the absurd and we should remember that those parapets are made of solid knowledge...

2004/11/04

The promised land of consciousness

As the technological roads taken in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century spread to all corners, people and societies slowly adapted to those new ways. This allowed for digested changes that time passing appeared natural in peoples eyes even if from a historic perspective those changes appear more like a formidable thunderstorm. Starting after the 2nd world war, technological changes followed an increasingly fast pace and by the start of the 21st century many technological changes have no time any more to make it through all the segments of society before being overtaken by always newer technological approaches. This is a time of non digested changes pulling a riot of social, cultural and economic disruptions that are obscuring our understanding of what we are going through and where we are being led to. In a sense I have this intuition that we have entered the territory of folly. A new concept has appeared recently covering what I'm speaking about: singularity(1). From a historical perspective the present times look like the earlier thunderstorm degenerating into some kind of non ending tornado.

Digested technological changes fundamentally altered our vision of the world but left us perfectly conscient and in control. That was early modernity.

In later modernity, non digested technological changes are breaking down all our points of reference and are thus plunging us into a mental state of profound anesthesia. Deeply unsatisfied we follow the movement of economic and social entropy that plunges the majority of us into political apathy.

Earth distances have vanished and looking in the windows of our computers, TV's and phones we can see how the other people of the world are living (global village). Many of us have not only seen the other through the window of TV and computer, we have actually plunged physically into the other's daily reality and this changed radically our vision. But this is not all, images from the space station help us now to discover ourselves and our earth from a distance (mirror). Soon the most privileged will be offered trips in space for a surf around the earth, sure enough their experience shall have profound transformational effects on their vision of themselves, of mankind and more generally of reality.

Those of us who are already watching the "image of the global village in the mirror" are plunged into a whole new world vision that gives us in some way the means to cross the divide between our present day land of folly and the promised land of consciousness that sits across the bridge to the future.

I guess, as for today, only a tiny minority of scientists, thinkers and artists have made the effort to acquire not only a large trempoline of knowledge (curiosity) but who, furthermore, are free enough (unafraid) to imagine and dream what lies ahead of our present day land of folly. And I bet that this vision, of what lies ahead of our present day land of folly, best represents the content of the art works that will really have a lasting effect on the build-up of the coming worldview of humanity. In that sense, I think that the artists who will succeed finding their way today, I mean in visual terms, into this future land of consciousness will be the ones whose visual signs will be remembered for giving the masses (oh whow that is such a maoist term) the visual keys to the door leading into this radically new and global worldview that humanity is in the early stage of the forming process.

But I must point here on the fact that this future land of consciousness can only be attained through knowledge, there is simply no escape to this basic fact. Today is no time for artistic confusion, nor for accepting any further the mercantile confusion coming out of the art market. Crossing the divide between our present day land of folly and the promised land of consciousness that sits across the span of the bridge leading to the future can only be done with solid building materials and the only available material to build the bridge and its parapets is knowledge... It would be suicide believing that one can leapfrog the construction of the bridge and its parapets, by trying to fly to the other side of the precipice, it could only result in total intellectual and artistic bankruptcy. I see absolutely no incentive whatsoever in taking that road.
(1)Broderick argues that this century, society can expect a singularity a Spike in the upward soaring graph of historical change, a wall or horizon of prediction beyond which we cannot reliably see. I'm firmly convinced that we already passed that point, at least in societal terms.

2004/11/02

21st century influences

In my last post, I concluded that art is the representation of the worldview of the day. This was true in earlier times but is not exactly true nowadays anymore. Today, changes are coming on us so fast that there is no clear worldview anymore that we have the time to describe. Our's is a fast evolving worldview under the impact of:

- scientific breakthroughs in all fields of knowledge. But the really important fact here is the interaction between those breakthroughs that lead to a radically new "worldview" about what is reality. In our Christian Western world, we come from a static view of reality in which all human actions were perceived to be oriented in the direction of an absolute good. A world of the straight line with an end in goodness has been our worldview for 2-3000 years of cultural build-up. This model is shaken up today and the tree of this cultural build-up has been uprooted, it lies there lifeless. From whatever field we look at, we observe converging signs sprouting a new understanding of reality. Complexity, evolutionary chains,... being as one moment in a chain of events, it seems as if our reality became more and more to be seen as a process of change with no particular directionality.

- the integration of the Western Christian based cultural build-up with all other cultural build-ups. Modernity, there is no doubt about that, is an outgrowth of the Western Christian cultural buil-up. Today, we assist at the integration of all the other cultural build-ups into modernity. It's "integration or disappearance" as the Chinese correctly understood.
Cultural dominance emerges out of economic dominance. In our modern area, economic dominance followed by cultural and artistic dominance goes from:
- the Italian city States from the early renaissance sprouting out of the European crusaders' contact with the far, far more advanced muslim lands,
- to Bruges (Flanders) establishing itself as the capital of the early wool industry,
- to Antwerp (Flanders) taking over from Bruges that lost its sea port due to silting,
- to Amsterdam taking over from Antwerp that had been burned down by the Spanish inquisition,
- to London taking over from Amsterdam that crumbled under its overdebtedness,
- to New-York taking over from London that had been bankrupted by its 2nd worldwar effort.
Here we are now at the dawn of the 21st century, a world under US economic dominance trying, unwillingly, to digest the US cultural hegemony. But this image is short-sighted, the US population that represents less than 5% of the world population has to contend with China, India, Brazil and other countries that are fast integrating into the worldview of the rationality of capital. Capital and its rationality, science, have indeed become universals that are unifying the populations of the whole world into a real "global village" in instant communication. This being so, we can already see that soon:
- Beijing shall overtake New-York that will crumble under its overdebtedness (result of an illusory imperial vision that the country has not the means to finance). China becomes the biggest economy in GDP terms well before 2050 and it has also the means to become a scientific and technological world leader for the only reason that it will soon churn out more worldclass scientists and engineers from its universities than all the indusrialized countries together. Then, we could see the Chinese cultural build-up become hegemonic. Their newly acquired economic dominance will reinforce their cultural build-up. Let's never forget that, contrarily to the Western Christian worldview, the Chinese worldview is not in contradiction with our " under science" evolving global worldview. The Chinese cultural worldview gives reality as
a process of change with no particular directionality since thousands of years already and this vision has been interiorized in their daily approaches towards medical care, towards diplomacy,... and towards the arts!

In my introduction to this post I stated that
"art is the representation of the worldview of the day. ... Our's is a fast evolving worldview". The 2 parameters of change that I cite (science and globalization) are indicating that worldviews are gradually unifying into one global worldview that will give reality as a process of change. Science and philosophy will finally merge and the traditional Western straight line vision with its outcome in absolute goodness will be eliminated from our coming human global culture.
Do you see the visual implications?