2005/01/24

The subject of visual arts in postmodernism. (4)

After meditation comes automatism.


"Scientists must have a broad background and education. They should not be too narrowly focused on science. Everything a person knows contributes to constructing rich metaphors, making mental leaps, discovering links between unlikely things, and finding new and creative ways to combine familiar ingredients.
A scientist calling for the use of metaphor? According to Holland, development of theory involves such "nonscientific" things as metaphor, models, and cartoons. The scientist deliberately exaggerates what he or she wants to study and deletes other details in order to get to the essence of the question. Questions lead the way; then the scientist moves into metaphor. "1

What about visual artists do they also construct "rich metaphors", making mental leaps, discovering links between unlikely things, and finding new and creative ways to combine familiar ingredients"?

"It is not to be despised, in my opinion, if, after gazing fixedly at the spot on the wall, the coals on the grate, the clouds, the flowing stream, if one remembers some of their aspects; and if you look at them carefully you will discover some quite admirable inventions. Of these the genius of the painter may take full advantage, to compose battles of animals and of men, of landscapes or monsters, of devils and other fantastic things which bring you honor. In these confused things genius becomes aware of new inventions, but it is necessary to know well (how to draw) all the parts that one ignores, such as the parts of animals and the aspects of landscape, rocks and vegetation." 2

Thanks Leonardo for this clear as water expose on automatism. For those who don't know, this was written around 1510. The surrealists did indeed not invent the water.

Both Leonardo the painter and Holland the scientist insist on the same observation about the necessity of having a strong knowledge. Holland goes further than Leonardo when he says that the scientist's knowledge
"should not be too narrowly focused on science. Everything a person knows contributes to constructing rich metaphors, making mental leaps, discovering links between unlikely things, and finding new and creative ways to combine familiar ingredients."

"With the conviction of a preacher, Holland concluded his talk with three principles for scientists of the future. Science, he said, involves discipline, metaphor, and reduction. Discipline means that just as a tennis player must internalize the elements of the game in order to play without stopping to think about how to hold the racket, students must internalize scientific knowledge in order to use that knowledge easily." 3

In order to avoid being limited by a weak technique the scientist must master technical skills, as the tennis player or the visual artist for that matter.
An artist whose technique is not sure (not mature) has to spend his energy and devote his concentration trying to execute painfully what a good technique would have allowed him to execute very easily and without the need of his conscience being absorbed by that technical act.
A sure technique allows to focus not on the execution of the task but rather on the content that is being expressed through the execution of that very task. In other words, with a sure technique, the hand will follow the spirit where it is attracted and draw the image that emerges somehow spontaneously. Drawing or painting are thus freed from the technical act itself that is executed automatically and are then concentrating exclusively on the content of the painter's thoughts or should I say absorbing the spirit, the thinking, the dreaming of the artist.

"These internalized elements are the source for metaphor. Along with discipline, scientists must break out of the narrow confines of their box and think broadly through transdisciplinary experience and education. The broader their background, the more they are able to use such tools as metaphor in constructing theories. "4

We can only think about what our conscience has been nourished with, in other words, we can't think about something that we don't know a damn thing about. The painter who only knows about painting is unable to derive ideas or visions about anything else than what his eyes let him see, landscapes, portraits and stills. His counterpart who is well informed about biology or astronomy or philosophy or whatever else, will draw from the knowledge he accumulated to derive new forms and coloring schemes. He will use conceptual metaphors that tend to be prelinguistic. And he will "make basic assumptions regarding space, time, moving, counting, controlling, and other core elements of human experience."5

The painter who has a broadband knowledge base thus gains access to a superior level of consciousness that let's him dwell in new visual dimensions.

"His third principle, reduction, has to do with drawing information together. The work of science is the work of manipulating building blocks, such as creating protein from amino acids. There are levels upon levels of building blocks, but researchers always have to be aware that if they are working on one level, they still have to satisfy the rules of the other levels."6

What Holland is referring to here is the ability to connect different elements that we stored as a result of our experiences. So the richer our experiences, the richer will be our possibilities at connecting various elements and creating metaphors. Thus in the end the deeper we will be able to dwell into our visions.

Holland's conclusion about the background of the scientist rejoins my own point about knowledge in painting. The deeper his knowledge or his background and the deeper the spirit, the thinking, the dreaming of the artist will be let to dwell. The deeper his thinking and his dreaming are allowed to dwell, the richer his theories, his visions will appear to be.

Eventually, the depth of an artist's visions and the images generated by the metaphors he succeeds to generate bring him to a point where he goes out of the certainties of his time and jumps into a new understanding, a new way of doing. That point is when the artist establishes a radical change of paradigm in the practice of his art.



1. John Holland "Calls for a Radical Reassessment" THE BULLETIN OF THE SANTA FE INSTITUTE Fall © 2002

2. Leonardo. "Treatise on Painting."

3. John Holland Calls for a Radical Reassessment THE BULLETIN OF THE SANTA FE INSTITUTE Fall © 2002

4. John Holland Calls for a Radical Reassessment THE BULLETIN OF THE SANTA FE INSTITUTE Fall © 2002

5. About "conceptual metaphors" in Wikipedia.

6. John Holland Calls for a Radical Reassessment THE BULLETIN OF THE SANTA FE INSTITUTE Fall © 2002

7. A paradigm shift is an often radical change of paradigm. It is the successful new theory which explains a phenomenon or phenomena that the previous theory fails to. In Wikipedia

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