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.

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