2005/02/28

Painting (7)

Early Modernity.


As I wrote, in Painting (6) SOCIETIES STABILIZE AROUND WORLDVIEWS, the turning point between the age of the gods and the modern times has been engendered as a direct consequence of increased trade combining with the newly discovered desire for luxuries, by the aristocracy and then the new rich, that had been stirred at the contact of more advanced societies during the crusades.
"The values and ideas of the aristocracy and the new rich merchants have mutated.
They now search to establish as rights what their newly found material wealth can buy and individual ownership becomes the center of their discourse. Owning a richly decorated mansion gives them the sense of being different from the masses and this newly found perception of a differentiation infuses their minds with the illusion of their particularism, of the importance of their individualities. The aristocracy and the new rich merchants are driving the new fashion of the day and individualism and private ownership will ultimately take center stage in the European social and political game. "


This shifting of the worldview of the Europeans towards MODERNITY occurred over a few centuries. Three periods characterize that evolution:

- Early modernity: 14th-19th centuries.
- Modernity: 20th century
- Late modernity: 1975-2020 (arbitrary setting only for the purpose of facilitating the visualization of history on the move)




Early modernity (14th-19th centuries)



1. 14th-15th centuries:

Everything starts with the aristocracy and rich merchants of France, Flanders and the Italian city-states whose desires have been fired, during the crusades, by their envy for the richnesses of Middle-Easterners. This small group will gradually expand geographically towards England, Spain, the German Lander and the Northern countries. Trade will establish an early network of relations from the British Isles, through France, the Italian city-states to the Middle-East and the financial instruments of trade will impulse this network to adopt the logic of capital as the driving understanding between its members.

The clergy will consume the same goods transported through trade but will also acquire new sources of knowledge from the Greek classics and the works published by the Muslim universities. The first areas of activity that will be influenced by this influx of knowledge are the activities of the clergy itself. Clergymen are indeed the only ones who are literate and they'll apply the lessons learned from their reading first and foremost to their own activities :

- Creating the message and enriching the creed: priests philosophers will try to adapt the Christian vision to the new ideas they read about. Thomas d'Aquin, the greatest among them, has linked Aristotelianism with the Christian philosophy inherited from saint Augustine and defends the idea that creed and reason cannot contradict because they both originate from God.

- Diffusing the creed to the flock of followers: painting and sculpture are playing a decisive role as instruments for spreading the Christian worldview and they will thus be the first activities to benefit from newly gained knowledge. The Greek ratios and Muslim scholars' mathematics are going to efface a thousand years of conceptions about time and space. Visual artists will be asked to absorb the lessons recently gained by the clergy in new commands of works to adorn the walls of churches. Gradually artists will produce the forms expressing the spirit of the new age. Giotto is the first to represent a scene from a stationary point of viewing representing an instant of reality, a snapshot, rendered in three dimensions. Piero della Francesca later introduced shades in zones of the image that had been left out of the path of light.

Displayed in sacred objects of veneration (paintings) the spirit of the new age diffuses slowly within whole the social body. A new vision of Space, time, light and the the logic that is inherent to capital is starting to take roots. The church will react and eliminate all deviances from the canon of the creed but it will be overwelmed by the new worldview in the shaping.


2. 16th-19th centuries.

The initial small volume trade in luxuries results in intensifying greed and desires and the will grows to discover new lands to plunder. The logic of capital brings capital holders to pull their means in big stock-companies established for the conquest of new lands that will procure them gold, silver and precious stones. As a result of the discovery of the Americas Europe will be inundated, in the 16th century, under an avalanche of gold and silver transiting through Spain. The newly gained richness of Spain is envied all over Europe. In a first time, English, French and other privateers and pirates will loot the loaded Spanish ships on their way back from the Americas. In a second time, the capital accumulated through piracy will be invested in new stock-companies to undertake the conquest and plunder of ever more lands. Asia is the next on the list that will give economic dominance to the Dutch from 1600 to 1750. Bankrupt the Dutch East-India Company will be succeeded by the English East-India company that will be one of the most potent instruments giving Britain a world empire for the next 150-200 years.

The story of capital is foremost the story of its logic. Accumulation of capital and profit generation is engendering gradual cultural shifts:

- The capital owners want establish the principle of their difference with the mass of the people and this ultimately materializes in the building of mansions and castles that have then to be filled with luxuries. Mirrors, tapestries, paintings, sculptures are the most important commodities to be produced in the 16th and 17th centuries and France will establish its cultural hegemony through its State Manufactures churning out such luxuries at the attention of the European aristocracy.
Until then paintings had been used as illustrations of the Christian creed that became sacred once they made it to the walls of a church. This sacrality of paintings will be hitchhiked by the new rich. They want this sacrality to reflect upon their own. They want their new values and ideas to be immortalized and thus their local landscapes and their portraits, they think rightly I must add, will be perceived as containing something of the sacred character of the paintings hanging on the walls of churches and cathedrals. This is a crucial turning point in Western painting. Till then painting had been a craft exercised by image makers who were poorly paid which shows how little appreciation they were recognized by their society. With the secularization of their works, in the mansions of the new rich, painters at once were recognized a status of exceptionality that continues to this very day.

- Paintings were coming to be seen as sacred displays of the veneration of the spirit of the new age and thus the Greek ratios, Muslim mathematics and astronomy, that painters tried to emulate metaphorically on their canvas, became a central source of inspiration for the early generation of scientists. Physicists as Leibnitz and Newton started experimenting with the rays of light two centuries after Piero della Francesca. In those days science and technology are not a systematic affair as today. Chance and necessity are the most important guides of the thinkers of the day.

By the end of the 18th century the flow of gold and commodities into Europe had taken such proportions that the whole of society was under its spell. At the center of dominance Britain received much gold, from the less advanced colonial territories from America and Africa, that was used to purchase the commodities that Asian nations were rich of. Only gold and silver were accepted as means of payment in Asia for the good reason that Europe had nothing to sell that interested Asians... Along the 18th century the situation was such that Britain had to disburse most of its reserves to pay for its imported goods. Necessity and opportunity combined. Spinning and weaving techniques allowed for very cheap productions in Britain self and political power forbade the Indian cotton weavers to weave cotton locally any longer. The raw material had now to be imported into Britain and cheap mechanically woven British cotton fabric and other cotton commodities as socks were then exported back to India. This mercantile policy, combining with technical advances in the processing of cotton, built the first marches towards mass marketization that would in turn unleash a huge demand for steel, machinery, faster transportation and distance communication.

The story of the 19th century is the story of all those novelties coming together. For the first time in their history, with trains, humans could go faster than the gallop of a horse, for the first time they could communicate at a distance through the telegraph.

All those changes impacted on traditionally slow moving societies and resulted in a deep cultural shock that is best observed in the paintings of Van Gogh and his fellow innovative painters.

2005/02/23

Painting (6)

SOCIETIES STABILIZE AROUND WORLDVIEWS:

.....= a society is unified and stable when a large majority of its citizens make
........theirs a given worldview.
........*....This gradual and evolutionary process follows 2 tracks:
.................--> the road of humanity. [05/14/02: Painting (4)]
.................--> the path given by the civilization's axioms. [05/02/17: Painting (5)]
........*....Humans are social animals who, historically, assembled into larger and
.............more complex groupings
........*....The unification of larger groupings and their preservation necessitates
..............the sharing of a similar understanding of reality by all the members of
..............the group = view of the world = vision of reality = worldview.
________________________________



I my 2 last posts I dwell on our human "founding" background conditions.

- Organic compounds present in the universe assemble into more complex molecular systems ....that evolve some basic properties leading to the emergence of life.

- All living organisms are driven by their physical properties. Among those the search for more ....complexity, that is written in the genetic code of all cells, gives the general direction of the ....changes life is undergoing.

- To our best knowledge, on our earth, the human race constitutes the most complex form of
.. life. Being social animals our collective organization underwent successive changes leading
....to vaster assemblings of local groupings.

- .The assembling of those groups was always very fragile and to assure its survival it was
....in need of a binding glue that took the form of belief systems accepted by all individuals.
....Over time those belief systems translated into coherent sets of axioms gaining their societies
...a unified interpretation of the principle of reality. Such unquestioned axioms form, the
....roots, the foundations of all civilizations.

______________________




The evolution from great apes to the human race is a scientific hypothesis that has received ample verification. This hard fact is confirmed by hard discoveries but what is more difficult to pinpoint is the process setting humans on the road of visual representations of their cultural values and ideas.
We now know that animals communicate between themselves, they have cultures that unify all the individuals in one group to behave according the values of their culture. But what brought the human animal to draw, paint and sculpt? I think that the answer to that question has to be derived out of the act of representation itself. Nature and the process of evolution do not generate unnecessary functions in a specie. Everything that is there is there for a good reason, it is there to answer an existing necessity. So the functionality of visual representations has to be seen as an evolutionary answer of the human specie to a necessity it was confronted with.
We know for a sure fact that human societies were producing visual representations since early on. We know this for the archaeological discoveries of a few of those representations. What we also know is that the societies that produced those early representations had belief systems that have come to be known under the term "animism", a worldview, that had common traits anywhere and at any time. The question that now arises is what did an animist worldview fulfill as function for the societies where it was in practice?

That worldview was one view of the world, one vision of reality, among many possible views. Nonetheless it had similar traits anywhere and at any time for it was based on the realities of human life: nourishing the body, reproducing the specie, harmonizing in one's environment and respecting the power of the sun that creates the days and the seasons. The visual representations of those traits can be observed in the "art" productions of any animist society. (primitive art)
So what was the role of those representations? Again I come back to this idea that if something takes place in nature the reason why it takes place has to be found in the function that it exercises. The only plausible function that I can see is that the shaman who was the man of knowledge of his group, of his tribe, used visual signs to share his vision of reality with his fellow tribesmen. The survival of the individuals was dependent on the survival of the group and this could only be guaranteed through a unity of views shared by all members of the group. Disunity of views would have destabilized the group and impeached its fulfilling of the necessary tasks to assure the survival of its members.

Tribes were sometimes affiliated with other tribes in some sort of loose confederacy sharing some particular values that allowed for a smooth coexistence among them at least in times of plenty.
For reasons that still have not been fully understood, at a given time, one tribe could go on a rampage and by force of arms unify all the other tribes around it within what then came to be called later as a nation. (a modern concept)
Tsongstan Gambo unified militarily the Tibetan Tribes in the 8th century and introduced Buddhism as the unifying worldview of his newfound kingdom. Over the next centuries Buddhism will compete with "Bonism", local animist worldview, for acceptance by the "Tibetans". Buddhism will finally be imposed as the official religion in the 13th century by the conquering Mongols.
In the end of the 12th century Genghis Khan had been on a rampage finally unifying the various Mongolian clans in 1206. His rampage extended then to the adjacent lands and thus Tibet conquered by Khubilai Khan, Genghis' grandson, came under the umbrella of the Chinese empire that Khubilai had conquered and was leading as its emperor. The unification of the Chinese tribes had taken place much earlier, sometime, AD 3000.
This process of unification can be seen at work in all parts of the world. Local tribes, clans, sharing a similar animist worldview were unified by the force of arms. Some will never be unified and continue to live to this day under an animist worldview except that our modern worldview is making us to steal from them their natural habitat. The unification of local groupings has generally coincided with the adoption of:
- a religion (gods)
- a central authority (politics and military)
- the idea of being the center of the world
- a written language
All those elements somehow combined to give the newly grouped nations a new worldview where religion generally took center stage. Competition was now between nations and turned out to take variable forms. If the general traits of animism were globally shared by local groups anywhere around the world things took a new turn with the birth of nations. These were times of differentiation and the observed differences helped to solidify the bonds between "nationals".
The process of change from animism to religions that I try to describe here is inscribed in the long haul history. The worldviews did not change overnight. It was more as a centuries long competitive process where religions borrowed much of animist practices to gain acceptance. The same went for the structures of power. Nations that succeeded to survive over the long haul were affirming and deepening the content of their proper set of views about reality and thus differentiating even further with the other surviving nations. This describes basically the formation of civilizations.

A civilization is somehow like a house. Foundations are laid in the ground upon which the house is then being build and once the house is built the foundations become invisible like hidden in the ground. We live in houses and forget about their foundations and, when a house has structural problems, only building technicians remember about those foundations.

Societies are vastly more complex than houses but basically the analogy stands the test. Their foundations are unknown to most of the individuals who have no clue at all that what they think and how they think is founded in those unknowns. Only a few thinkers are conscientious about the civilizational foundations that formed the ideas and belief systems of our societies and how they continue to shape the formation of our ideas in the present.

If we can understand that foundations are hidden we do nonetheless not necessarily know what our civilizations are all about . Everyone can see a house but a civilization remains largely invisible, indeed, it's not a material construct. We all can observe some of the components of its branches in the form of our cultures but most of us fail to see the tree. For example we all can see that Chinese, Japanese, Indian, African or Muslim paintings do not belong to the sphere of the Western civilization and we all, kind of instinctively, know that the works of Leonardo, Rubens, Van Gogh and Picasso are part of the Western civilization. But what is a civilization, and what is the difference between culture and civilization, remain questions whose answers are largely unknown and ignored. We can abstractly understand the principle of our civilizations having foundations but we have difficulties to describe the house of our civilizations for the good reason that our civilizational house is never completely built. Generation after generation we build add-ons to it and what we are conscientious about as individuals, who are part of a generation, is the cultural add-on we are participating in and not the civilization as a whole. What we all, in various degrees, know something about are the ideas and values that shape our present day culture but how our culture participates in the building of our civilization remains largely a mystery.

A civilization is the building, over its original foundations, of snapshots of the cultural behaviors of the different human generations throughout its history. It is the addition of the successive cultural moments of societies sharing the same foundations. 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 another given time.

Culture is the result of the ways of behaving and of doing by societies and individuals at a given time. For example, present day culture is our present day way of life: the goods and services that feed our consumerism through mass marketization, the merchandization of all that touches human life and our dependence on salary and debt. This implies that culture is kind of a historic snapshot of the way of a society at a given time.

In the past, multiple generations were sharing roughly the same culture over the long haul. A good example of this state of affairs is found in Western Europe where culture, in the form of Christian ideas and values imposed by Rome, was transmitted largely unchanged, generation after generation, from the 4th-5th century till around the 15th century. A turning point is reached with the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) that establishes ideas and values celebrating private ownership, individualism and the rationality emerging out of the logic of capital. Cultural change will then go accelerating in parallel with scientific, technological and economic changes and the founding values of the Renaissance will be spreading around the world giving hegemony to the rationality of the logic of capital.
Observing China's history one finds identical patterns of cultural change at work. The age of the hundred schools of thoughts (AD500-200) were succeeded by the re-unification of the warring kingdoms under an imperial dynasty and the imposition of Confucianism upon the Chinese society which itself imposed one particular potential version of Chinese culture on generation after generation of individuals from BC 200 to AD 1900. A turn is reached around 1900 after China's cultural certainties had been weakening for two centuries at the contact of more advanced Western canons. The idea that generally was adopted by all Chinese intellectuals at the time was to integrate Western scientific prowess with Chinese traditions. Another turn is reached with the decision to industrialize the country (1960-1990) that will culminate with Deng Xiao ping's "reform and opening" policies.

It appears thus that cultural change is not following a regular clock-like mechanism. Seismic cultural ruptures seem indeed to have been followed by long periods of "relative cultural stability". Those seismic cultural ruptures correspond to a shift in the worldview of the individuals within a civilization. The term worldview was coined from the German word Weltanschaung (look onto the world) which denotes a comprehensive set of opinions about what reality is all about. Worldviews were only achieving wide and unquestioning support very slowly over time.

The foundations of our present day civilizations were established in pre-history times, by this I mean that, their emergence has not been acted in written accounts and in consequence we remain largely in the dark about their formation. But notwithstanding this gap we can clearly identify their founding axioms. I gave a relatively detailed account of those axioms for the Western and Chinese civilizations in my post "THE AXIOMS OF CIVILIZATIONS = the founding building blocks upon which societies build their future".
It seems that civilizations start somehow with the political unification of local groups and with "the invention of the gods" or with the waning of animism. The transition from animism to the creation of the gods takes place historically at different times for each center of civilization. China and Sumer invent their first gods sometime 5-6,000 years ago or earlier. Other centers will follow up later on and some ethnic groups are still living in animist cultures today. What all this shows us is a deep differentiation between the people of this earth in their levels of societal development. This reality does not imply, in any way, a judgment about the people who live in different stages of societal development.

Animism corresponds to an early worldview giving humans to glorify the elements that visually appeared to them as commanding the phenomena that directly impacted on their survival: the sun, the moon, the animals and plants that nourished them and sex and their reproduction. Because they were not or did not cut themselves from their environment they could directly experience and hear the song of the earth, the song of life and feel being one with their environment. That this worldview was the result of conscientious thinking or not does not matter. What matters is the result or the consequence of this conscientious or unconscientious behavior: a deep respect for everything in nature, a limitation of the species' taking from nature limited to the satisfaction of the primary needs of its members to reproduce their existence.

Visual arts were not perceived in the age of animism nor in the age of the gods in the same light as they are nowadays. They were indeed not considered as art, those productions had a direct functionality, they were illustrations of the ideas and values of the men of knowledge of their day: the shaman in animism and the priest under the gods. The artists were simply image makers, illustrators, publicists of the ideas of others.
The worldviews of the men of knowledge were imposed by the men of power and the artist's job was to illustrate those worldviews. The freedom of the artists was limited to form, content was imposed on him.

Things will start to change with the Renaissance. Towns and cities were developing at the non controlled and wild intersections between manors generating demographic growth and the need for more craft productions and trade. On this particular West-European reality will be superposed the consequences of a brutal and primitive urge to impose the Christian creed upon the Middle East:
- ..advanced Arab sciences and the long lost Greek classics made their entry in the rooms of the literate, I mean the clergy, all others were indeed illiterate including the laymen painters. Clergymen being the buyers of images their reading the classics and the Arab university publications will unleash their demand for change in the rendering of the form of their new image orders.
- ..the aristocracy had a taste for the luxuries of more advanced lands and long distance trade took root to satisfy their needs and desires. Walls that had been left bare until then will now be decorated with mirrors, tapestries and paintings. Interior decoration was born to satisfy the desire of the aristocracy for luxuries.

Here is the turning point between the age of the gods and the modern times. Increased trade combines with the newly discovered desire by the aristocracy and then the new rich for luxuries.
The values and ideas of the aristocracy and the new rich merchants have mutated.
They now search to establish as rights what their newly found material wealth can buy and individual ownership becomes the center of their discourse. Owning a richly decorated mansion gives them the sense of being different from the masses and this newly found perception of a differentiation infuses their minds with the illusion of their particularism, of the importance of their individualities. The aristocracy and the new rich merchants are driving the new fashion of the day and individualism and private ownership will ultimately take center stage in the European social game.
At this turning point in history the Christian church that has been hegemonic for over 1000 years is still the dominating force and it will take another few centuries for its dominance to wane. The sacred images hanging on the walls of the churches continue to illustrate the Christian creed. In this environment of social and cultural change interior decoration luxuries will try to catch up with the sacred character of the images hanging on the walls of the churches. Paintings on the walls of the manors of the aristocracy and the new rich will posit the sacrality of their newly discovered values of individuality and private ownership.
Their portraits and environing landscapes act as a stamp of sacrality adorning their walls. Here is the point when art in Western Europe takes its sacred character. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witness the assembling of large collections of paintings. Mansions, castles and palaces are filled with the sacred character of the visual representations of the shaping worldview. Those investments are not typically capitalistic they are more of the nature of procuring prestige.

Meanwhile the flow of money increases and the surpluses are invested in trading ventures and later in production. In this process something goes largely unnoticed by all the participants. Everything seems to be normal but something absolutely stunning is nevertheless happening: the logic of their invested capital is starting to dictate the actions of capital owners. They are not acting out of their own will any longer, the generation of profits, of surpluses is now what dictates their conduct. One could argue that they freely accept and even search for the consequences of the logic of capital that in last instance is engulfing them into always more opportunities of luxuries. This is absolutely true but the only problem is that the rationality of the logic of capital is thus presented as what is good, desirable and what should be encouraged by societies. And why not will you ask. Well I think that when one accepts to abdicate blindly his own right at free examination of what is to be done for the chimera of a quick buck guaranteed by a mechanical logic, well then one decides to abdicate not only the short term but also everything that comes in the future engendered by the rationality of that logic of the invested capital. I guess that I don't need to make a drawing about what kind of consequences one exposes oneself by following such a flawed logic. But what is more fundamental even is that by abdicating your free will to the rationality of the logic of capital you not only expose yourself to consequences, you expose the whole of your society. Here we are today with poisoned waters, poisoned air, deforestation, climate change, the most brutal of species extinctions, and the steadying possibility of our human extinction... and all this has been dictatorially imposed on all of us by a tiny minority of capital owners who are totally unconscientious about the consequences of their actions. Till when will humanity as a whole continue to accept such a paltry state of affairs?

Modernism concludes nowadays not only on this real possibility of our own provoking human mass extinction but also on the real possibility of a new found control of our actions that could be leading to a radically better future for every citizen on this earth. What will make the balance tilt towards one side or the other? I think ourselves and nothing else. What do I mean by that? Well we sure have ended the 20th century in the most glaring confusion in art no doubt about that and more generally in our cultural behavior but this is not in any way implying that we can't reach out for sense anymore.

Whatever the outcome for humanity, it makes no doubt that we have entered an area of change unparalleled in our history. If we succeed to glide around the obstacles before us the future could be very interesting. Never has humanity seen such an extensive range of fundamental changes interacting upon one another. This is a systemic exception for sure.
More about this in a few days.

2005/02/17

Painting (5)

THE AXIOMS OF CIVILIZATIONS

= the founding building blocks upon which societies build their future.
At a certain juncture on the road of humanity societies adopt axiom like foundational ideas and values about what reality is all about upon which they later will build cultural add-ons. Those building blocks are somehow similar to the foundations of a house, upon which is build the visible structure, that's why they are called "founding building blocks". Each civilization has its own founding building blocks and they are actively shaping the paths taken by their societies.




Western thinkers, from the left and from the right, take the substance of the ideas that are foundational to their discourse from the Greek philosophers. Those ideas established as their ultimate truth that there is an absolute and general root cause to everything that happens, a root cause that influences even the conception of natural movements. So everything has a starting point located in this general root cause and the build-up of this model then goes on to establish the idea that everything also has a final destination. Humanity is thus on a straight line road that has a beginning and an end.
In this model, change appearing in our reality is the result of a cause derived from opposite principles. Later in time, this idea will be updated in the form of the "dialectic", from Hegel to Marx, reality at a given moment will be posited as a thesis (our understanding) that confronted to its opposite, its antithesis, results in us adopting a synthesis of the discussion between thesis and antithesis. The synthesis transforms then into the thesis of the next given moment.
This movement of change takes place within the realm of an unquestionable truth, it leads from an original beginning to an endgame. This is a given, an axiom, in Western civilization. No question is ever asked, as will be shown further, the outcome of history or of the endgame is given as an absolute good, for good white men it means.

Both the ancient Chinese and the Greek philosophers thought of change as the result, or better, as the derivation from the clash between opposites. But while in the Chinese tradition the abstract opposite principles of YIN and YANG contain in themselves the reason for all changes, the Greeks need to add a third term to the opposites (antikeimena)1.

The Chinese view reality as THE FLOW FROM YIN TO YANG AND VICE VERSA. YIN and YANG, as the general abstract principles of any opposition, are better understood as being the opposite poles of a same reality. Black and white being the poles of the line of colors (black = no colors and white = all colors). Good and bad being the poles of the line of human judgment (good = all that is desired and bad = all that is rejected). In this understanding, opposite poles of a same reality are not exclusive of one another, they are thought of as specific moments in the shaping of a given reality and thus between those extreme poles lies the greater part of the substance of this reality. So it would be better to speak about polarities than about opposites in the Chinese understanding of reality.

The Greeks, did not understand that opposites are in fact polarities of a same reality in flux. Thus they were led to think that opposites are absolutes that have as function to destroy each other. They could not accede to this idea that a situation starting as one of the opposites (polarities) could possibly be transforming into the other opposite (polarity). They were at a loss with the abstract principle of change and thus had to refer to something that they knew. So they came up with an explanation laying outside of the duality and invented the idea of a substantiation of the opposites into matter (hupomenei)2. Hupomenei could than be changed into a process (metabole)3. In other words the Greek thought that inanimate matter could change into its opposite, an animated metabolism. But then what was in the last instance the force that unleashes the process of change or the metabole?

For the Chinese, the flow from YIN to YANG is powered by the perpetual burst of energy that is unleashed by the differential of power residing in both of the polarities which makes them conceive of change as spontaneous emergence within a reality that is then conceived of as random but nevertheless auto-regulated. Such a concept of change is absolutely indifferent to the idea of a good or bad direction4 as well as to the idea of a beginning and an end.

In comparison, the Greek metabole starts its movement from a state of inertia in matter, so to put change into motion and reach the state of metabole, the Greek philosophers needed to invent an external acting motor and energy (kinoun)5. Change is then the result of an outside cause and causality is thus established as the philosophical model. But this idea of an outside cause putting change into motion led automatically to question what was the cause of the causality of change. In other words, an absolute final cause had to be found to stop the inescapable intellectual quest for always further causes. The absolute final cause that has been invoked has been called god (ens realissimus)6. The energy emanating from god has then been presented as being love or to be more accurate the thirst from god's believers for his love. This thirst for god's love, and the desire that it induces in all humans, has been the concept that has allowed the Greeks to stop the search for an earlier more antecedent cause. The relegating process of causality had indeed been stopped, as if by an act of magic, internalized in men's desire for god's love.
I believe that everyone will agree with me that this model of thinking is dating from a time when humans had a very limited knowledge base and that it thus acted as a cement binding the individuals in their society. But times have changed and the model is not operational nor adapted to our times any longer.

The advent of reality for the Chinese is basically a spontaneous process of emergence within an auto-regulated process of change. In this view, there is no need for a beginning nor for an end, no need for a desired endgame, so there can also be no absolute good and no absolute bad. Reality is only what is emerging in the eyes of the observer and good and bad are thus limited to the observer's subjectivity towards what results out of his observation.
This process is best described in the Yi-Ching, the oldest known Chinese book, it is also called the "book of changes" or "The book of transformations". Nobody knows for sure when and where this book originated. But recent archaeological discoveries show some bone carvings dating BC 6000 that contain the signs of the "ba gua"7 whose study is the subject of the "Book of Changes".
Whenever its origin, this book contains the moral, philosophical and cosmological founding blocs of the Chinese civilization. The central idea is that reality must be seen as a process of change, a process which is called Tao or the way or the road or life or evolution or whatever one wishes to call it.
The process at work, which has no starting point and no end, is a process of change, a process of transformation of what is in the present moment into what it becomes into the next moment or what we commonly call future. The process of transformation is the ultimate reality and what is or happens during a given moment is only the expression of a changing state of the relation between dualities as for that particular moment. It is considered, something, as a snapshot of what is happening within the process of transformation along the line whose two ends constitute the opposing poles of that particular duality. As such, the Chinese do not emphasize the poles of the duality, they concentrate their attention on the line whose two extremities are occupied by these opposing poles, they concentrate on the transformations occurring within the unity of the line going from one pole to the other.
Every duality has its yin (feminine or passive) and yang (masculine or active) characters, they are the extreme poles of the line. The process of transformation within the unity of the line goes something as follows: a young yin ages into an old yin which transforms into a young yang aging into an old yang which transforms into a young yin and so on for ever. These changes of character within the realm of a duality are considered the engine of change at large and constitute, it is thought, the ultimate reality. This model of change is similar to the contemporary model of the "wave" theory.8. The energetic loop of the "quant"9 would be the yang force and the magnetic loop of the "quant" the yin force. Young yin (proton) transforms into old yin (positron) that transforms into young yang (electron) that transforms into old yang (neutron) that transforms into young yin (proton) and so on... The "quant" is then vibrating from energetic to magnetic engendering change in the form of a wave.

Based on this idea of transformation, of change as a movement between the yin and yang polarities, the Chinese elaborated a complex abstract model of the ultimate reality or of the process of change at large. The Yi-Ching is a kind of "modeling software" of the ultimate reality or of the process of change, it is given as a tool for each and everyone to gain a better understanding of his own present and in order for him to be able to impact upon his future conditions. But one should remember that a modeling software program is only a dumb tool. To make sense and become useful it has to be sustained with data concerning oneself and the situation one wishes to simulate and as such one has to master the knowledge that lies behind the program and also to master the knowledge about oneself. Vast program indeed.

In the West, reality has been seen as the consequence of god's universal love that projects upon all and everything which in return causes all and everything into desiring to attain god's so perceived perfection and love. In this process of perception lies also the "recognition" and the justification for an authoritarian establishment that imposes itself as being the holder of the absolute truth and its counterpart the supreme good.

Western Christianity after its centralization following the fall of Rome has been governed according to the "Two swords doctrine" enunciated by Pope Gelasius I (AD 492-496). This doctrine gave an identical status to state and religion, it made the state being in charge of physical bodies and the church in charge of the souls and minds of the individuals. "There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment. You are also aware, dear son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in things divine you bow your head humbly before the leaders of the clergy and await from their hands the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly mysteries you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these matters you depend on their judgment rather than wish to force them to follow your will". 10

In 330, Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman empire from Rome to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). This gave way to the Eastern Roman Empire which lasted until 1453 when it fell to the Muslim Turks. Constantinople became the center of Eastern Christianity which developed autonomously from Western Christianity.
Eastern Christianity was the religion of the emperors and had the status of official State religion, it developed into the present-day's Orthodox church.
Bad and evil, defined as opposing the will of the religious establishment that is considered representing god's perfection and love, are thus becoming the enemy along the entire history of Christianity.
Mankind's history is replete with this kind of dualist thinking that led to so many wars and miseries. By the way, please check out the words of Georges Bush and tony Blair after 9/11, their words are a perfect caricature of what I try to describe here.

From the perspective of whatever side of the cultural divide between east and west, the other's cultural build-up starting from such vastly different foundations is bound to be incomprehensible and thus the difficulty of the West and the East to understand each other.

Western modern science today is confirming the validity of the Chinese traditional worldview based on the idea of change and by the same token rejecting the Greek traditional approach. From a scientific perspective, going exploring the Chinese model makes thus ample sense and from a philosophical standpoint I should say that this model contains the wisdom that could eventually save the world from the short-sightedness of the rationality of the logic of capital.

In artistic terms, the Chinese form of painting called "Xieyi" is derived as an application from this Chinese philosophical worldview in the same way as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or traditional Chinese strategy. Xieyi painting is thus based on an accumulation of knowledge about traditional Chinese philosophy that will allow the painter to discover or to read "the way" or the soul of his subject. Rendering "the way" of his subject is what xieyi painting is all about. A composition is achieved when "the way" of the subject is captured with fast and energetic brush strokes resulting in a composition with a good balance.
Xieyi painting translates in English as "writing the meaning down" of what is rendered visually on the paper.



(1). Antikeimena: In The "Logical System" of the Topics of Aristotle in The Internet Classics Archives.

(2). Hupomenei:
In SCIENTIFIC METHOD AND THE HUMAN SOUL IN ARISTOTLE'S DE ANIMA
Steven C. Snyder, Ph.D. Pontifical College Josephinum July 15, 1998
"In Physics Book One, faced with predecessors' sophisms and errors denying the reality of orderly substantial change in the world, Aristotle maintained that substantial change, which is indubitably real, is only intelligible if changeable things have a material component which in itself is purely potential, real but in no way actual. Substantial change can only be explained if matter in itself is purely potential. Existing nowhere in reality on its own, matter becomes a real principle of a thing when it is actualized by form."
The potential for matter to take form is unending, is enduring. Hupomenei as concept represents this enduring quality of matter to take form.

(3). Metabole :
Anaximandros (611-546 BC one of the Precursors of Greek Philosophy, influenced by Babylonian astronomical research) posits a cosmologic theory by which everything on earth is made from four elements. The change (metabole) of element to element is derived from a cosmic source which is the apeiron (infinite).

(4). In Beyond Being and Becoming, Ilya Prigogine recourses to chemistry to show how this works:
"The equations of chemistry are non-linear. When we rapidly push a chemical system away from equilibrium toward "disorder" or disequilibrium, the chemical reactions that occur present us with what I call 'bifurcation points--points at which choices and new solutions appear. Generally, more than one solution appears, so that at the point of bifurcation, probability and self-organization come into play."

(5). kinoun : Aristotle, in Atlantic Baptist University, The Existence and Nature of God by Professor Barry D. Smith.
Metaphysics 12.3
"In all change, Aristotle says that neither the matter (to hule) nor the form (to eidos) comes into existence (Metaphysics 12.3; 1069b 35). His point is that for something to change it must already be something, in which case the matter of the process of change pre-exists its change. In other words, that which changes, the matter, must already exist for it to be capable of change. The form is that into which the matter changes; as such, it likewise must already exist for there to be change. (That by which change occurs is the immediate mover.) Because change presupposes matter and form (and an immediate mover), the process of change will regress to infinity, because every change presupposes matter and form, which pre-exist the process of change. It follows that there must be a terminal point in the process of change: 'Therefore there must be a stop' (ananke de stenai) (Metaphysics 12.3; 1070a 4). But this is not a temporal terminal point, because change or motion is eternal; rather it is a logical one. Aristotle holds it as an axiom that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes and effects, movers and the moved. That which is the logical starting point of infinite change must be an unchanging substance, causing change but not being subject to change."
Metaphysics 12.7
"The first mover is an eternal, fully-actual substance that moves the first heaven without itself being moved, either self-moved or moved by something else. (Being unmovable, it is fully actual, because, otherwise, it would have potentiality and therefore not be unmovable.) Aristotle points out that the object of desire and of thought move in this way, for they cause motion in those who desire and think, but do not themselves move: 'For the apparent good is the object of appetite, and the real good is the primary object of rational wish' (Metaphysics 1072a27). This leads him to conclude that the unmoved mover moves by being the final cause of the motion of the first heaven, insofar as it is the object of love: 'The final cause, then, produces motion as being loved, but all other things move by being moved' (kinei de hos eromenon, kinoumena de talla kinei) (Metaphysics 12.7; 1072b 4). The unmoved mover as final cause causes motion by being loved, whereas all other (moved) movers cause motion by first being moved. "

(6). ens realissimus: in Aristotle,
Metaphysics 12.7
The first mover is also a first principle (arche), for the first mover explains everything else because it causes all motion. Aristotle writes, "On such a principle depend accordingly depend heaven and nature" (Metaphysics 12.7; 1072b 14).
Metaphysics 12.8
God, or "the primary essence" has no matter, which means that there can only be one God, since it is matter that differentiates one form or definition into many manifestations of that one form or definition. Since God has no matter, then God is one not only formally or in definition, but also numerically. In addition, there can be only one unmoved mover, because there is only one heaven: continuous motion is one motion, since such motion is a system of moving parts.
Aristotle argues in such a way to lead one to believe that he thinks that there could only be one unmoved mover. He writes, "But the primary essence (to ti en einai) has not matter; for it is complete reality (to proton). So the unmovable first mover (to prôton kinoun akinêton on) is one both in definition and in number; so too, therefore, is that which is moved always and continuously; therefore there is one heaven alone" (Metaphysics 12.8; 1074a 36-39).
arche (first principle) + to proton (complete reality) = ens realissimus (most real Being ) = god.

(7). In Wikipedia: The ba gua is a circular arrangement of the trigrams, traditionally printed on a mirror, or disk. Legend states that Fu Hsi found the ba gua on the scales of a tortoise's back.


(8). Grand Unified Theory: Wave Theory. Dr. Chaim H. Tejman

(9). quanta are the fundamental units of something measurable

(10). Letter of Pope Gelasius (494) to Emperor Anastasius. This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Source book is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

2005/02/14

Painting (4)

1. THE ROAD OF HUMANITY
= the energetic contact between humanity's polarities: societies <--> individuals





Historical studies are about the historical hard facts, I mean economic, social, religious and political realities. How these hard facts are coming about under the impact of soft facts, changing ideologies, values. ideas and ideals is an approach that is far less common. This should not come as a surprise for the same can be said of essays at understanding our contemporary world. Furthermore, history's soft facts are simply gone and generally not registered which renders the task doubly difficult.
It makes nevertheless no doubt that social and societal changes are in great part the result of changes in our worldview, in our "Weltanschauung" and this is something very difficult to apprehend.

To make things simple, let's summarize how the build-up of our worldviews operates.

We should always remember that life is nothing more than what emerges when a set of circumstances combine. More particularly, organic compounds present in the universe assemble into more complex molecular systems that evolve some basic properties leading to the emergence of life. In "The chemistry of life is an integral part of the process that births stars"(0) Alan Hall writes: "Precursors to terrestrial life's distinctive chemistry apparently abound in the churning clouds of dust and gas in distant space. ... The vast interstellar clouds that spawn new generations of galaxies, stars and planets are also the incubators of life. The prebiotic compounds that they produce sift down in a cosmic rain, not just on Earth but on any hospitable planet in the cosmos. The stuff of life is stardust and we are born of it--and, yes, we are probably not alone."

All living organisms are driven by their physical properties. We have indeed to start from that very basic fact that we are physical bodies that are genetically programmed to search for more complexity.

The principle of life on earth started with the spontaneous emergence of unicellular forms some 4 billion years ago. The sciences of complexity indicate a general strategic principle governing life and that is that life always strives for higher levels of complexity while simultaneously auto-regulating its present forms. This principle seems programmed in all particles, in all cells. This means that unicellular forms of life strive to assemble to reach a superior level of multicellular life forms (around 3 billion years ago) and the same process continues from marine multicellular forms to more advanced forms that gradually will leave their wet environment for dry ground (around 2 billion years ago). Around 540 million years ago, a revolution swept the evolutionary process: species developed visual vision systems or eyes. The same principle of evolution further led to our humanoid form some 2-300,000 years ago and finally, some 100,000 years ago, to the human form with its brain developed as we know it today.


From that point on, our human history is the story of the complexification of our individual thinking combining with the auto-regulation of our collective organization and their controversial but stimulating relation. In one word, individuals succeeding for whatever reason to reach higher levels of thinking are "contained" by the resistance of conservative collective organizational forms.
Complexification of individual thinking leads to changes in ideas, values, archetypal images and the individuals carrying those changes will not rest till those are fully integrated by their collective organizations. But collective organizational forms seem to perceive change as a source of disorganization and are resisting it in order to protect the group. The disorganization is very seldom purely individual it rather assumes a group character. Only by relying for social response and recognition on a smaller community with congenial interests can the individual emancipate himself from the dependence upon the larger community.
Primitive societies were fiercely collectivist, denying individual search of complexity. The group was considered more important than the individual and the mechanisms of auto-regulation centered on the idea of the unity of the group and its environment (animism). Disunity with one's peers or with his environment was thought to be a sin and to bring salvation and protect the unity of the group, men practiced sacrifices. But situations of disunity were generating a conscience of the self !
The gradual strengthening over time of the conscience of self drove humanity to a turning point in its history. What follows as a consequence of this turning point is one of the biggest steps on the chart of human organizational evolution. Religious and philosophic answers (gods and wisdoms) now act as the mechanisms of collective auto-regulation. As I understand it, this starts to take place some 10,000 years ago going from China to Mesopotamia. Everywhere on earth, philosophies and religions acted as the protectors of collective organizations in order to assure the common good. This turning point in history took place at different times for the different people of our earth and some are still practicing animism presently.
Let's note at this point that all religions and wisdoms have focused their attention on the same ideas and values wherever on earth and one of their central tenets has always been the search for personal "liberation" through freeing of the self from the need for material possessions.

It seems to me as if the process of growing individual thinking and conscience was opening the individuals to the winds of desire, envy and greed. Liberation of the chains binding men to desire material possessions was then presented as the solution to reach "contentment".
The consequence of human permeation to those winds of desire unleashed men's growing separation from each other leading ultimately to destructive relationships that were a direct menace for their collective organization.
Philosophical wisdoms and religions acted as an antidote to desire, envy and greed that were perceived as unleashing an unstoppable growth of individualism. Discouraging greed and lust for material possessions became a necessity for all collective organizations. And so philosophies and religions were given the role of collective instruments of preservation of the common good. In the exercise of that role, religions and wisdoms were recognized as the authorities over the knowledge of the collectivity.
All religions on our earth seem to have had this same imperative of downplaying the need for material possessions, emphasizing instead the extreme happiness experienced through one's liberation, through contentment.

- HinduDharma: "Religion In General". The Purpose of Religion: (1)
"There are two types of happiness: the first is ephemeral; and the second is everlasting and not subject to diminution. Kama or in barn is ephemeral happiness and denotes worldly pleasure, worldly desires. Moksa or vidu is everlasting happiness, not transient pleasure. It is because people are ignorant about such happiness, how elevated and enduring it is, that they hanker after the trivial and momentary joys of kama."

- A Jain Study Guide. (2)
"Jainism believes that the more a person possesses in worldly wealth the more he may be unhappy and the more likely he is to commit sin, both physically and mentally."

- Tao Te Ching. Lao Tze. Interpolation by Peter Merel (3)
44. Contentment
Health or reputation: which is held dearer?
Health or possessions: which has more worth?
Profit or loss: which is more troublesome?
Great love incurs great expense,
And great riches incur great fear,
But contentment comes at no cost;
Who knows when to stop
Does not continue into danger,
And so may long endure.

- Christianity: Timothy (4)
6.6. But godliness with contentment is great gain.
6.7. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
6.8. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
6.9. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
6.10. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The principle of liberation from desires for material possessions is still counseled by all religions presently with more or less success. But it makes no doubt that Judaism and Christianity stepped through the gates of hell. What I mean here is that social and economic changes in Europe during the medieval times opened the gates of hell or to put it otherwise opened the bottle from where the genie of desires would escape. Those changes and the actions of the genie on its followers imposed themselves upon the church of Rome which resulted in its reformation through schisms and splits and ultimately its demise in the eyes of growing numbers of individuals.
Something of the same nature, it seems, was going on in Jesus' time in the world of Judaism. Could it be that Jesus' message was preached against the opening of the gates of hell by the Jews?

As we have seen earlier, medieval merchants gradually started long distance trade over the borders of their regional market areas with other merchants from afar. General insecurity imposed the use of paper instruments of exchange, banking deposit techniques and double entry accountancy, all techniques borrowed from Arab merchants during the crusades. But the church was opposed to the use of those "diabolical" techniques:
" If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor's cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor's only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate." (5)
"Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury."(6)
"If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."(7)


Those extracts should leave no doubt at all. The Christian church in the middle ages had indeed a position that was very similar to that of Islam today.


See here what the Koran says about the subject: "Oh you who believe! Have fear of Allah and give up what remains of what is due (to you) of Usury. If you do not, then take notice of war (against you) from Allah and His Messenger." "It is not permitted to pay a loan by asking the lender to receive payment from a third person who owes money to the lender...." (8)
See the following commentary by Umar Ibrahim Vadilloby on money and banking:
"The use of paper money by any institution is contrary to the nature of Islam. In the case of the bank however there is an added element to this contradiction -- namely the capacity of the bank to freely create paper money by means of credit -- which is independent of whether this paper-money is used for honest business or usurious loans. The use of credit to artificially expand the monetary resources is emphatically forbidden in the Shari'a." (8)

Similar debates were going on in the Christian Middle Ages in Europe, albeit with a less modern language but it gives us a fairly good idea about how money "managers" and merchants had to use subterfuges to turn around the religious interdictions. Let's go back for an instant to the arguments of Umar Ibrahim Vadilloby speaking about the subterfuges of modern day Muslim reformers:

"The so-called 'Islamic bank' is a usurious institution contrary to Islam. The 'Islamic bank" is an absurd attempt to resolve, as was done in the case of Christianity, the unswerving opposition of Islam to usury for fourteen centuries.
Since its origin, the 'Islamic bank' has been patronized and promoted by usurers. Their only intention was to incorporate the thousand million Muslims of the world--who in general would scornfully avoid using any banking or usurious institution--into the international financial and monetary system. The artificial creation by the colonial powers of the so called 'Islamic states', itself a contradiction in terms, whose character is markedly anti-lslamic, was the historical result of the end of territorial colonization and the beginning of the financial neo-colonialism." (8)

Medieval and later Renaissance banking was limited to a few great houses offering merchant banking services (particularly long-distance money transfer and the provision of loans). The first such organization was that of the Knights Templars, who by 1200 were in effect the bankers of the kings of England and of France. Their fortress-like monasteries, known as Temples, arose in every European land, and by the end of the thirteenth century sheltered the chief banking-system of Europe; the knights were trusted by popes and kings and by persons of wealth because their solid credit based on the countless estates of the order and its widespread financial relations.
France was in great debt to the Templars' organization, and its king, Philip Le Bel, upon the death of Pope Clement V, in 1307, brought many charges against the knights, including heresy. Friday 13th came to be known as an unlucky day, for it was the day that Philip arrested all the Templars in France (Friday 13th, October of 1307).
After 1307, in order to avoid to enter into conflict with their church, Christians largely left all banking activities into the hands of the Jews who took over from the Templars and became the bankers of the European kings.
Let's remember that gold, silver and precious stones were the basic instrument of exchange in the Middle Ages and thus it should not come as a surprise to see the Jews also controlling the jewelry (9) sector.

Rationality, through calculations and other machinations in order to increase the mass of money at hand and accumulate surpluses, established itself as the banking culture. And over the next centuries, the Jewish bankers imposed this culture of rationality to all who treated with them.
The period of "discoveries" has to be seen as one step in this economic rationalization process. Discoverers' "voyages" were in fact gigantic commercial enterprises. In general, a company was created with the king's and other aristocrat's installed capital. The target of the enterprise was to come back loaded with gold, silver and other richnesses stolen from unsuspecting folks in foreign lands. Queen Isabel and King Fernando of Castille had agreed to finance Columbus' first voyage. They benefited from a miraculous return-multiplication of their initial investment. Later voyages put Spain at the hart of Europe's financial and military might. But this was not going without much envy. The financial and commercial might of Spain and Portugal seemed limitless in the eyes of English merchants. "Condemned to smell in the distance the catholic rulers' feast, remained only one hope. If the British rulers dared not cut with formidable Spain, ... the English merchants had no reason to respect agreements which excluded them from the richest regions on earth. ... 'English piracy was famous in the 15th century; in the 16th century it will take patriotic proportions'. Between piratry and commerce the limit was ill defined". (10)
Francis Drake is the most famous of the English pirates of the 16th century. His expeditions were financed by merchants and aristocrats, Queen Elizabeth was part of them and she made a 5000% return on her investment in the "Golden Hind" expedition. Drake's feat enraged the Spaniards who prepared a fleet to attack England. Flemish canons ordered by Elizabeth, with the proceeds of her surplus from the "Golden Hind" operation, were mounted on the English ships and due to their longer shooting range destroyed hundred of the hundred and fifty warships that Spain had engaged in the battle. Half of the thirty thousand soldiers who handled the vessels died. Spain had lost its superiority on the seas.
Here we see how the proceeds of piracy allowed the English merchants to accumulate the necessary cash to finance England's superiority on the seas.
Around the end of the 16th century, merchants adventurers and members of the aristocracy who had invested in privateering and piracy expeditions started to invest the proceeds of these activities in stock companies. And the State gave the monopoly of commerce in specific areas to each of these companies. When the East India Company was created in 1600, it received "the monopoly of commerce with the isles and ports of Asia, of Africa and of America starting with the Strait of Good Hope to the Magellan Strait". (10) The instrument of English colonialism was born that 2-3 centuries later would control the world economy.

Lets now look at how industrialization really established itself. But first a general remark: approaching industrialization can't be done satisfactorily by simply affirming "ex-cathedra" (11) that it was British scientific genius that unleashed technological innovations that brought about a revolution in the process of production. Such an approach is only an intellectual shortcut which impeaches reasoned understanding. What has been determinant is that an important increase in liquidity coming from piracy plus monopoly trade with the colonies and drug traffic combined with mercantilist (12) policies to create the need for import substitutes. The ingredient for the technological innovations of the 18th century that ignited growth was indeed the perception of "mercantilist necessity" and only large scale capital investments permitted to put in production those first mass consumption goods that had already been invented earlier.
In short the story goes something likes this. Mercantilism created the necessity for "import substitute" woven cotton cloth and enclosures combined with factories to throw farm workers and small farmers in developing townships. Automatically ensued a weakening of self consumption and a higher demand for merchandise goods. Metallurgical innovations, financed by the state for the production of the cannons its wars were asking for, helped the textile craftsmen devise new equipment that would be powered by a new source of energy that had to solve the wood energy crises that had been perceived around 1700. Cheap socks and other cotton clothes became available to most and a better hygiene ensued that reduced drastically child mortality rates and the population entered in a growth spiral....

By 1800 Britain was entering the realm of mass production of cotton socks for a rapidly expanding mass market. The next 150 years will basically expand on that trend, integrating always newer mass marketed goods. The US will eventually take the lead under the combined effect of its market size and its early introduction of mass marketing of cars. The 2nd world war will expand drastically the demand for American weapons which production was financed largely through money creation that Europe will take years to repay with real surpluses. That's in summary how America took the economic lead of the world in the 20th century.

Mass market consumption was reached sometimes after the 2nd world war. 50-60 in the US and 60-70 in Europe. That's when the power of the illusionist genie of desires that had been allowed to leave its bottle during the middle-ages entered it's full swing. Let me explain.

We saw how religions and philosophical wisdoms, all over the world, had rejected the lore of material possessions and the use of techniques that would favor their expansion: money, interest, banking,... The mass consumption stage of our economic development is the moment when it can be said that the lore of material possessions is totally possessing all of us. And this has been made a reality by the use of the techniques that favor the expansion of material possessions: money, interests, banking...

We have entered a time of extremes, the polarity represented by the individuals on the road of humanity, like a stunami. is overwhelming all the societal spheres. Being possessed by a materialistic lore, our communities are atomizing and our societies are like dissolving before our eyes. Such a situation can't last for ever. Or our societies will break down and we'll enter anew into dark ages or a turn of events will unleash upon us a societal reaction in one form or another of authoritarianism that will fimally rebalance the polarities of humanity.

What to make about all that?
Well it makes absolutely no doubt to me that we have been playing apprentice sorcerers. But understand me well. The atrocious centuries leading to mass consumption are not all negative. For sure white men have driven the world for centuries through primitive brutality and the destruction of countless people. For sure we enter what scientists are calling the "6th extinction period" in the history of the earth. For sure the illusionist genie that had been liberated from the philosophical bottle blinded men to the consequences of their weapons. For sure four fifth of humanity is excluded from this "heavenly" consumerism. For sure, we helped our climate to change so fast that we could soon regret it. For sure in this consumerism paradise, men have lost their compass (the race of men, of humans, that clearly includes women, I mean I use the word men as a generic for humans... ).

All those are facts for sure.
But at the same time it seems to me that men's scientific reason is going to bring them back to their senses and to lead them back to the roots of their traditional wisdoms, be it religious or philosophic, that they will adapt to their present knowings and images and enhance into a far superior knowledge.
But at the same time it seems to me that this superior knowledge could well pull men together into a true world community where all will have a chance to eat and live happily.
But at the same time it seems to me that men could also be lost irremediably... who knows the future.

Ultimately men will eventually understand their vanity and they will then try to re-imprison the illusionist genie of desires in his bottle. But that is another story and its outcome is not a given. We are indeed somehow in the position of dogs who have bitten and have had much of a taste of blood. Dog trainers know how difficult it can be to unlearn such dogs not to bite anymore!

Whatever the conclusion one arrives at, I think that we can all agree on the fact that we are in a dire need of integration of present day mature scientific knowings with traditional wisdoms in order to be able to offer a superior knowledge to humanity. I believe, perhaps naively, that artists, thinkers and scientists are the ones who will gradually come up with the elements making such an integration feasible in the future in the meantime they are starting to shape the contours of a future worldview and I don't believe that reactionary populist movements calling for a return to an idealized past have any chance to derail the new worldview in the shaping.

(0) "The chemistry of life is an integral part of the process that births stars" by Alan Hall in Scientific American, March 22, 1999.
(1) HinduDharma
(2) Jainism
(3) Tao Te Qing
(4) Christianity
(5) Exodus, The Second Book of Moses, chapter 22 verse 25, from the Christian Bible or Hebrew Torah.
(6) Deut. Xxiii. 19.
(7) Luke 6:34-35
(8) THE FALLACY OF THE 'ISLAMIC BANK' by Umar Ibrahim Vadillo
(9) Jewelry: does not come from Jew but from "jouel", 13th century French word meaning "joyau" in modern French of "jewel" in English.
(10) Merchants adventurers: Morton.
(11) From WIKIPEDIA: "In Roman Catholic dogma, the Latin phrase Ex Cathedra, literally meaning "from the throne (of St Peter)" is applied in Catholic theology to statements made by the pope in his capacity as infallible guide and teacher of the faithful. The dogma was promulgated in 1870, in the closing days of the Italian Risorgimento. A papal statement made ex cathedra is said to be protected by the Holy Spirit from all error."
(12) From WIKIPEDIA: "Mercantilism is the economic theory that a nation's prosperity depended upon its supply of gold and silver, that the total volume of trade is unchangeable. This theory suggests that the government should play an active role in the economy by encouraging exports and discouraging imports, especially through the use of tariffs. Mercantilism is the economic policy that flourished in early modernity, often referred to as mercantilism or as the mercantile system."

2005/02/13

Painting (3)

My post painting (2) left me thinking about the systemic map of my inquiry into "what is visual art?".

I approach this question from the historical perspective of the changes in human societies over the long haul. I can't indeed bring myself to be satisfied by abstract intellectual constructions about art that I feel are so much empty talk that time fast washes away. University libraries are replete with such art theories but these theories seem not having much enlightened humanity. I'm even tempted to assert that they are part of the problem with the contemporary confusion about art. Many times I have this troubling feel that thinking is, like, caged into specialist fields where chain reactions of words are imposing themselves upon the mind of their speakers without bringing any substance to the debate their voices are participating into. Much noise ensues not much sense. But it seems that this does not disturb our "all-knowing art bureaucratic word machine". If I write about art, instead of spending all my time painting it's not to add some more words to an already overflowing box, it is simply because I'm not satisfied with what I read and writing imposes the logical rigor that helps me to clarify my own ideas which is basically what I'm running after.



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About the systemic map of my inquiry into "what is visual art?".
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We are part of a continuum, part of the history of mankind, more particularly we are acting inside one moment of that history one among the global population in that specific time. It is not as if we were inventing the wheel we just flow a little further on what has been built before us.
The validation or invalidation of the sense of our actions, in painting or whatever else, is thus determined by the flowing or not of the content of our actions into the future.
For sure we are not divine and we don't know what the future has in store but we can maximize the chances the content of our actions being part of the flow towards the future by understanding the long haul historical process of what we are doing. That's what I'm trying to achieve through my writings about visual arts.


I distinguish 4 "scales" in the long haul rythm of the artistic pulse:

1. THE ROAD OF HUMANITY:
.....= the energetic contact between humanity's polarities:
..........--> societies
..........--> individuals

2. THE AXIOMS OF CIVILIZATIONS:
.....= the founding building blocks upon which societies build their future. At a certain juncture on the road of humanity societies adopt axiom like foundational ideas and values about what reality is all about upon which they later will build cultural add-ons. Those building blocks are somehow similar to the foundations of a house upon which is build the visible structure of that house that's why they are called "founding building blocks". Each civilization has its own founding building blocks and they are actively shaping the paths taken by their societies.

3. SOCIETIES STABILIZE AROUND WORLDVIEWS:
.....= a society reaches stability when a large majority of its citizens make theirs a given worldview. This gradual and evolutionary process follows 2 tracks:
.........--> the road of humanity
.........--> the path given by the civilization's axioms

4. THE FUNCTION OF VISUAL ARTS:
.....= creating the visual signs of what is shaping into the worldview of the day in order to share that worldview with all members of society.
..........--> along 99.8% of the time span of the history of human culture the men of power imposed the worldview of the men of knowledge of their day upon all members of their societies and visual artists were nothing more than image technicians who created visual signs of those worldviews at the attention of all members of their societies.
..........--> somewhere along the road of Western societies towards democracy the men of knowledge went their separate roads from the men of power and in the 20th century the worldview of the individuals started to fragment. Not being imposed any longer a worldview to illustrate the image technicians (artists) were left on their own to define what their visual signs should illustrate. Never educated in anything else than the use of their brushes they were generally "bete comme un peintre, stupid as a painter " as says it so well Marcel Duchamp. There were indeed not many Leonardos. The fragmentation of the worldview of their societies did not help them and the "all-knowing art bureaucratic word machine" was surely of no help either.
..........--> In our times of great confusion, I think, it is our first duty to re-establish sense in the art of creating visual signs. The art is not a question of technique it is a question of content...

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