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.