2005/03/29

About blogging

SARAH BOXER had a good piece in the NYT CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK this March 29th "On the Internet, 2nd (and 3rd and . . . ) Opinions". Reading this piece I was thinking about my own blogging experience.

On one side I find myself fishing daily since a few years in a large list of art blogs for material of interest I mean that I scan the net for original thinking about this old question "What is art?". But I have to confess that most of the time I feel as if navigating a dry desert. Not much flowering thought but a confusion of dried grasses. As Sarah Boxer puts it "The traditional objects of culture - books, movies, art - are becoming ever more distant. In their place are reviews of reviews, museums of museums and many, many lists." The reason behind the existence of most internet sites and blogs, "Their main purpose, it seems, is to get noticed and linked to by more popular blogs". So then what's the reason behind all the hype? "..., many lists on the Web have distance built into them. Respondents comment less on objects of culture than on themselves, their taste and their memory. The narcissistic lure can be irresistible." I guess that's it, it's all about that big ego. But then what's the point to persevere? Well not everyone is so obsessed with his ego and if patient, among the profusion of dried grasses that is so confusing, one can occasionally discover a sprouting green leave.
I "reblog" daily what I find of interest and Bloglines' reblog function works just fine to share my selection of material with others but with time I came to discover that it does not serve me well personally.
I have presently some 1110 reblogs on my blog In the air of our times. The only problem is that BloglinesReblog has no search function and I can't thus find an article that I reblogged when I need it nor can the visitors of the site. To circumvent this problem I subscribed to CiteULike where I post the reblogged articles that I would like to be able to find at a later date. Ideally a reblog site should be able to combine the functionality of reblogging + the search functionality within the library of reblogged articles. All this to show that Sarah Boxer's conclusions are somewhat exagerated. One does not throw the water in the bath and the baby that sits in it... The web is not a perfect instrument for sure. Its ease of use, cheap cost and endless possibilities, is a powerfull magnet for egos but then what? This is not the only story of the web it only is a dominant trait that one can learn to circumvent.

On the other side I use Crucial Talk as an outlay for my personal thinking about art and whatever Sarah Boxer may peruse about I'm just not sure that there is still an interest out there for original thinking.
As I understand it art nowadays is the prey of merchants and their bureaucratic art-word machine that controls the level of noise about art in our societies. That noise is all a gimnick to catch the attention of buyers and other art lovers. It imposes the content emerging out of the public debate and it keeps the lid over the pot of creativity of our societies in order to keep a firm grip over all substantial financial transactions. But this comes at a high cost. The price of this power to direct and determine the marketability of works of art is paid in superficiality and formalism that are as the marks of the trade in the contemporary public debate about art. In this game substance comes to be seen as a threat against the control of market-freaks. They encourage form which eventually becomes pervasive and what finance can pay takes then an air of normality.
That is our artistic reality in the present but those who control the production of our present have nevertheless no control over what will be the perception of our societies in the future. Van Gogh's experience in the 19th century is by no means exceptional. Painters living today and who will be remembered a century from now are not necessarily known today in the art market...
I know that the air of greed that we breathe presently is conducive to following the road of marketing instead of the road of art. Marketing leads to money and art leads to knowledge about what is reality. Money can buy stuff is it not and appease somewhat the urge of greed so it is generally privileged. Knowledge can only satisfy those who wish to understand reality but how could this be comprehended by those who run after money?

2005/03/24

Digital variations

I embarked on a long journey in January of 2004.

Those of you who read regularly my posts in Crucial Talk are witnessing my passing through the different stages of that "ARTSENSE" journey. Basically this ARTSENSE journey consists of the following:

1. ARTSENSE acrylics series.
First 25 are terminated. My program is to complete a series of 42. At 9 hours a day and 6 days on average per painting, this means that I still need 17 more weeks to complete that acrylics series...

2. ARTSENSE books.
Out of necessary re-re-readings, this book is terminated and is 305 pages long. Instead of adding always new chapters to that already long work I decided to continue my theoretical explorations further in a second book. I basically terminated two third of that second work that I titled "PAINTING" and that is already over 100 pages long. You could follow the first draft of that work in my PAINTING Posts... I have to confess that I finally tired of painting and of writing that's how a few days ago I landed, absolutely unconsciently (no it's not a joke), in the 3rd leg of that long journey that now became so much longer longer...

3. Digital variations on my ARTSENSE acrylic paintings.
A few days ago I was playing with the GIMP (open source imaging software similar to photoshop at the only difference that the GIMP is absolutely free of charge and also of superior quality in my view).
I was playing with the photos of my ARTSENSE acrylics and fast discovered things that pleased me so much that I got stuck behind the computer for a few days, ...in the end I got a series of digital variations of my first painting, this digital processing was absolutely amazing and also so much relaxing. That's how, step by step, I came to this idea to realize 12 variations of each of my ARTSENSE paintings...
The fastest mathematical processors among you already calculated that this job is 42 paintings times 12 variations long, meaning that I embarked in an adventure of 504 digital works...
I plan to give those digital variations in the form of Limited Edition prints (8 x 1`2" and 01/25).
I terminated the first 60 digital variations. Those of you who are interested to see what's the outcome can go to:
Laodan Acrylics digital variations
Click on "digital variations" down the page and you'll enter the slide show... to progress click the arrows....


Your comments are more than welcome I'm indeed curious to know about the reactions towards my work coming out of that world that I sometimes feel is so far from me, I mean human society....

2005/03/20

Painting (13)

About Postmodernism.

Postmodernism is an old concept used to indicate what follows the modern age but it has been associated with so many different ideas that the concept ended up being foggy and perceived as some kind of metaphysical rareness. I'm using the concept "postmodern" in its narrow sense of "what follows the modern age". Another denomination shall eventually impose itself out of the practice of what comes after modernism but only the future will tell.



1. Preliminaries. ......................... ................ ...................(post Painting 10)

2. The context of the new societal paradigm in the forming (post Painting 11)

3. On the road toward a postmodern societal paradigm.. (post Painting 12)



4. The postmodern societal paradigm.



I described earlier how science and technology have been derived as functionalities of the rationality that has been creeping out of the logic of capital and how they spread to all corners of the world. They were pulled by the globalization that capital searched for itself and have been presented as being and containing all the truth there is about reality. We all know, by now, that science is not the truth, or does not project all the truth, it is only functionally superior to all other approaches in the eyes of the logic of capital and as such it has been privileged to the point of being the exclusive approach that was accepted in all industrial societies. In consequence, most of us have come to believe that there is no other way out of the scientific approach to understand reality.
But if science were really the only way to understand reality how do we begin to explain that after less than 200 years of application, by less than 10% of the world population, it landed the whole world in such a mess?

The problems that science helped to create and its impossibility to come up with satisfying answers has fortunately led some scientists to recognize the limitations of the traditional scientific approach.

-............So what is the problem with the scientific approach?
Answer: the vertical approach, the tunnel.
The scientific tunnel starts with the perception by the scientific traveler and ends upon what his perception is looking for. The scientist isolates the phenomenon he is studying and rushes toward it with a microscope or a telescope. He zooms and instantly reaches the zone of his interest. But by doing so he eliminates all the interconnections his subject is entertaining with all the other components present in the ensemble wherein his subject belongs and furthermore eliminating the interconnections between this ensemble and all other ensembles being part of the whole of the universe. In other words the scientific approach is like boring a vertical tunnel through the environment of the observed hoping that by focusing on the observed; light will be shed on its reality.
The only problem is that the observed exists only as a component of the whole and the light that is shed by the scientific approach can thus only be a mirage of its reality.
To put this in other words here is how the late Ilya Prigogine, who was awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize for his work on the thermodynamics of nonequilibrium systems, is putting it in a conversation with Marilyn Berlin Snell Senior Editor at NPQ: "Let's consider, for a moment, a cup of hot coffee. Is this coffee aging? Will it cool down until it reaches equilibrium at room temperature? In order to determine whether the coffee is aging I cannot consider the water molecules taken separately. If I do that I will not see the aging process. But if I consider the relationship between molecules I can then see quite clearly that the coffee is aging. We must view the encounters, the collisions and correlations between molecules, in order to see the flow of time."

-...........What are the solutions scientists came up with?
Answer: the horizontal approach or the horizontal linkage between multi-vertical-tunneling.
Becoming conscientious about the limitations of the tunneling model scientists began to refer to multi-tunneling (vertical tunneling toward multiple observed) and later to multi-disciplinary vertical tunneling (the tunneling by different sciences toward the same observed).

.............*............In a first move the practitioners of one scientific branch decided to link horizontally the multiple objects of their vertical-multi-tunneling focusings. By combining the results observed at multiple points of observation they gained more complexity inside their field of specialty and they reached predictive validity in modeling narrow segments of reality. The calculating power of computers expanded the reach of multi-tunneling to relatively simple mechanisms: metal forming, chemical reactions, etc. But the multi-tunneling approach is basically limited to narrow fields in closed ensembles.

.............*............In a second move multi-disciplinary observations, from various vertical tunnels of a unique observed, are reconciled into a synthesis. The next logical step was then to combine the multi-disciplinary approach with multi-tunneling. The result is without any doubt much more complexity but this did not help gaining much more real practical understanding. The multi-disciplinary approach certainly sheds more light on the working of wider fields closed ensembles but their shedding light on more complexity does not necessarily procure much more understanding about what is going on at the point of focus. This approach has been initiated by the Santa Fe Institute of the sciences of complexity since the beginning of the 1980th but in the words of one of its pioneers, Stephen Wolfram, it did not help to advance as much the level of understanding reality as was initially expected.

Science has unmistakably helped us gaining some functional knowledge that led to immediate commercial applications that in turn eased on us the weight of necessity. Without that kind of functionality financing would have been rare indeed. But one is left to wonder if modern science is not foremost driven by the desire for marketable knowledge which would be far from the image of science that is projected in the public's concienceness. Big bucks in the expectation of big returns. The saddest for the lucid observer is that no one seems really bothered by the general weakness of scientific understanding. Often very crude measures are sufficient to turn out doing the trick of profit. So why bother? Well we better bother for the good reason that we did so many things that turned out to be doing the trick of profit but in the end appeared to carry a price that we would never have accepted had we just known about the size of the cost initially. Climate change is one of such costs that we learned about long after the industry started to propose us individual cars and we could multiply this kind of examples ad infinite. But in the eyes of our children and grand-children this could well spell so much trouble that our attitude could be seen as having been totally unacceptable. We'll long be gone and we'll not have to endure their wrath; is it not?
What I want to indicate here is that the scientific community as a whole can't be trusted to generate societally sustainable knowledge. It is so fundamentally skewed by its dependence on the financing by capital holders that it's freedom is limited to the only production of knowings that will generate returns for those same capital holders. Such knowings have nevertheless the weakness to be out of knowledge of the impact that their application will impose on societies, individuals, nature and other species.

Deborah Tannen has a good piece in the LA Times that addresses this problem from a different angle: "The Feminine Technique, Men attack problems, maybe women understand that there's a better way". Her article addresses a substantive differentiation of attitudes, between men and women, and further between Westerners and Chinese in trying to apprehend reality.
" The assumption that fighting is the only way to explore ideas is deeply rooted in Western civilization. It can be found in the militaristic roots of the Christian church and in our educational system, tracing back to all-male medieval universities where students learned by oral disputation.
... contrast this with Chinese science and philosophy, which eschewed disputation and aimed to "enlighten an inquirer," not to "overwhelm an opponent." As Chinese anthropologist Linda Young showed, Chinese philosophy sees the universe in a precarious balance that must be maintained, leading to methods of investigation that focus more on integrating ideas and exploring relations among them rather than on opposing ideas and fighting over them. "

This short citation paints a realistic description of how far pole apart are the methods used in trying to apprehend reality in the West and in China.

The West is stuck in its civilizational roots based on the struggle for survival among opposites (see Painting 4: The axioms of civilization) and the individual atoms perceive themselves on the side of the 'good', the 'right' so that the opposing party can only be perceived as on the side of the 'bad', the 'wrong'.
"The assumption that fighting is the only way to explore ideas" is thus what is framing the intellectual debate and "overwhelming an opponent" is what each party in a debate is concerned about.
In real life this cultural characteristic, inherited from as far as the roots of Western civilization, combines with the dependence of the scientist on the financing by capital holders. The result is sheer incapacity at listening to a fundamental critique or proposition at repositioning the scientific investigation. Science is presented as the optimal truth as something sacred that can't be criticized and daring to pass over that interdiction is then presented as a sacrilege and the one who commits this sacrilege is accused of committing a profanation. In this process science has been transformed in a new religion for short sighted individuals.
Fortunately some scientists eventually are enlightened and are then calling for a shift in the scientific paradigm. Those are our contemporary men of knowledge who are showing us the path toward the future. They are the revolutionaries indicating the path, to humanity, toward a new and superior paradigm of what reality is all about. Let's listen once more to Prigogine: "The very aim of science is to show how we are related to the universe. We can no longer have a 'unified' picture that shows nature as an automaton but which shows us as free and ethically responsible. The theory of instability does not encourage alienation. On the contrary it is an idea that makes us feel that we are living in a universe that is not so different from ourselves. ... The classical view was that we could reduce the history of the universe, and thereby science, to a geometry. Because of instability this is no longer possible. I very much like the fact that instability opens up a horizon of possibilities, since our actions at a given time depend on the way in which we view the future. If we looked on the horizon and saw only death, pollution and decay, I think it would erase any argument for reasoned, ethical action today."

The roots of the Chinese civilization are based on a similar approach to what Prigogine expresses in his late years: a holistic vision of reality constituted by the principle of change with no beginning and no end but with an arrow indicating a movement forward.
In each state of disequilibrium a point of bifurcation is eventually reached where an infinity of possible roads forward appear. At this point we have the choice or the chance to favor this or that outcome by our actions; if we are conscientious that means. In this view the universe is "in a precarious balance that must be maintained, leading to methods of investigation that focus more on integrating ideas and exploring relations". For thousands of years the Chinese have learned that they are no more than a particle of dust on the waves of changes. They learned to surf and they thus do not resist the waves but try to understand where are the obstacles in order to avoid being killed. Here is where the Chinese gained their pragmatism. They understood that there is no way to oppose the working of the whole but they also understood the possibility of an homeopathic dose of will gaining themselves a more favorable outcome.

Late modernism witnesses an expansion without precedent of the reach of capital its ideology and the scientific method while simultaneously the level of confusion in all spheres of human life has never been more intense. In this very complex environment two worldchanging trends are on the road of their convergence:

-............Some enlightened scientists are acting as our societies' new men of knowledge. As says Prigogine "In a sense there is a hierarchy: The fundamental aspect is instability or chaos, which then forces us to incorporate the probabilistic aspect into our concepts; then the probabilistic aspect forces us to include the arrow of time in our formulations. Chaos, then, and not immutable, deterministic laws is really the basic law of the universe. Chaos is at the origin of the variety of physical experience. Today we have moved from determinism to determinations; from stability to instability and probability."

-............In "On the road toward a postmodern societal paradigm = The result of a global rebalancing act" I described the shaping of a process leading toward Chinese economic dominance that in turn is leading to their future cultural hegemony.

The point of convergence of those two trends will affirm, around the world, a new paradigm or to say this in a better understandable form: a new worldview about reality is shaping through the encounter of modern science and Chinese traditions that will bring the whole of humanity together behind a common understanding of reality.
That new worldview is what postmodernism is all about.
We should remember that the concept has been coined by us in late modernity to indicate something that comes after modernity but the concept has unfortunately covered many various explanations all more meaningless than the others. As such the concept postmodernism should not carry over much significance for the men and women who will be witnessing that convergence and who will surely find a more appropriate coinage to describe that worldchanging event.

"With every new intellectual program always come new fears and expectations. But consider the unity between knowledge and culture that has emerged within the paradigm of chaos: At this moment, when as a human civilization we are beginning to sense our connection with the environment--we are understanding the importance of preserving biological diversity, etc.--and with the universe as a whole, we are also coming over to a theoretical view of the universe that connects us in fundamental ways to nature. At the moment we see bifurcation points in human history--consider the coup attempt in the former Soviet Union, which had many possible outcomes--we discover new bifurcations in physics. In this way, we are building a kind of unified cultural identity for the 21st century. Finally, we can move beyond the classical conflict between being and becoming. Being is no longer the primordial element, just as becoming is no longer an illusion, the product of ignorance. Not at all. Today, we see that becoming, which is the expression of instability in the universe, is the primordial element. Yet, in order to express this, we also need elements that are permanent. We cannot have becoming without being, just as we cannot have light without darkness or music without silence." It seems to me that this is the point where Prigogine's thinking fuses with Chinese traditional philosophy in recognizing the impossibility, inside one unit, of the existence of one polarity without the existence of the other. Visual artists understand instinctively that white, or all colors coming together, this extreme possibility is indeed to materialize only if it is balanced by a total absence of colors, or black, at the other pole of the unit colors. Positing otherwise would be rejecting the possibility of the range of colors' shadings between white (all) and black (none).

Prigogine points to the polarities of the individual unit, being – becoming, and the dynamic that they engender and he then goes on opening the road to choice, determinations or probabilities at the bifurcation point inside a unit's state of instability.
The universe can thus not be considered any longer as being mechanically predetermined, the arrow of time does not point to an inevitable final outcome, there are an infinity of possible futures for the unit humanity and only our actions are what makes the difference.
Clearly our ideals about the future are thus what engenders our actions in the present and as such we discover that morality and virtue are the real shapers of our future. We are back in the realm of Chinese traditional philosophy: tao, the way and te, virtue.

Prigogine simultaneously rejects to the dustbin of history the founding axioms of our western civilization. "The view which we now have of the universe and our place in it seems to me to be absolutely anti-Kantian. In order to reconcile ethical behavior and the classical laws of physics, Kant had to introduce duality, which is a permanent fixture in the Western history of philosophy. Descartes introduced a division between intelligent thought, the brain, on one side and matter on the other. Kant introduced the difference between the noumenal world, which could be apprehended by intuition, and the phenomenological world, which could be apprehended through analysis. Physics would deal with phenomenology and ethics would be constructed in the noumenal world.
The main point of what I try to say in my work is that we no longer need this kind of dualism. Life is more deeply rooted in the laws of self-organization and coherent behavior than classical science led us to believe."




In summary:



-.............Postmodernism will bring about a vision based on the concepts of:

...............*............wholeness (vision of us, in the whole of our universe and
............................in the whole of .humanity, giving form to the idea of our
............................ responsibility towards the whole.)

...............*............inclusiveness (vision of us as being a part, being a particle,
.............................of the whole and of humanity. The repercussions here could
.............................be immense for how could we continue.to accept this
.............................disgrace of our humanity's inequality that so visually
.............................affects us all.)

...............*...........unity (the unity of the whole, the unity of all its ensembles
............................and the unity of allthe particles of those ensembles)

...............*...........change (reality is change on the pendulum of chaos to order
............................and vice-versa. Change occurs within all unities along the
............................infinite movement of the pendulum. .We better be
............................conscientious that change is not an abstract proposition it is
............................affecting our daily lives.)

-.............In postmodernism our perception of reality will focus on change as the essence of time and of life: as illustration of my vision here follows a poem that I integrated in a work titled philosophy that I painted in Beijing in the Fall of 2001:



The contact, between the polarities within any unit, generates a burst of energy fueling changes and transformations that are as the seconds on the ticking clock of evolution.

From this we know that the life of all species and their members is given by the changes occurring in the following 3 dimensions:

-............ The SKY or the influences of environments, from vicinity to infinity, on each specie and its members.

-.............The EARTH or the influences of the hardware and software assigned to the members of each living specie. This is called the drama of reproduction of the specie through sex and of reproduction of the individuals through the satisfaction of their objective needs.

-.............The SELF or the influences of the cultural and economic works of each specie upon itself, upon its members, upon other species and upon the environment.

Seeing that cultural and economic works are nothing more than the specific forms and answers of one particular specie to the influences of the earth and the sky, that is very wise indeed.
Seeing that individual works are nothing more than the specific forms and answers of one particular individual to the influences of the sky, the earth and the self that is pure wisdom.

2005/03/16

What is visual art?

A short post to put my writings in this blog into perspective.
This post is a repeat of my post Painting (3) 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.



______________________________________________________

About the systemic map of my inquiry into "what is visual art?".
______________________________________________________


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...

Interested, visit me at:

thinking about art and society
daily clippings of my best readings
laodan on the web

2005/03/14

Painting (12)

About Postmodernism.

Postmodernism is an old concept used to indicate what follows the modern age but it has been associated with so many different ideas that the concept ended up being foggy and perceived as some kind of metaphysical rareness. I'm using the concept "postmodern" in its narrow sense of "what follows the modern age". Another denomination shall eventually impose itself out of the practice of what comes after modernism but only the future will tell.



1. Preliminaries. (post Painting 10)

2. The context of the new societal paradigm in the forming (post Painting 11)



3. On the road toward a postmodern societal paradigm.

= The result of a worldwide economic rebalancing act.


Four heavily determining factors, about the shaping of our future, are well on their way toward intersecting: "The road of humanity" + "the axioms of civilizations" + "science and technology" + "globalization". The point of intersection of those factors is where our future shall be determined including the future of visual arts that interests us more particularly.


Sketch of the rebalancing act.

West
atomization
....
competing worldviews
....
educational mess
+
falling work ethics
....
downhill economic muddle-through towards economic irrelevance
....
coming under the cultural spell

Asia
societalation
....
shared worldview
....
educational excellence
+
strong work ethics
....
uphill economic build-up towards economic dominance
....
establishing cultural hegemony
The industrialized countries of the North are engaged in a similar societal pattern that grew out of Europe's liberation of the genie of greed and want for material possessions that took place around the time of the Renaissance and intensified ever after. In short the loss of control of the systems that unified the individuals into common beliefs behind their societies has launched an ever increasing individualism that led Western societies to atomize. But this has taken place in the absence of any collectively accepted values that would later resist the scrutiny of rationality. The consequence has been an ever growing materialism leading individuals to believe in their own centrality. Eurocentrism has made place for indivicentrism and social wilderness became the societal norm. The present religious craze in the US changes nothing to that reality it is indeed a religiosity of form, of individualistic form, and not a religiosity of philosophical substance, in other words a marketing religiosity and not a Jesus religiosity. Furthermore it is a worldview of the past that finds itself more and more at loggerheads with the real world of the rationality of the logic of capital + science and technology + globalization. Western societies are characterized today by the simultaneous presence of all kinds of worldviews competing for the adherence of the individual atoms. ("communities of interest"+"communities of practice"+"communities of purpose" )

Practically the sole unifying element of all Western individual atoms is the "unconscious belief" in the founding building blocks of the Western civilization:
- opposites on a mission to eliminate the other (good versus bad)
- and a starting point / ending point of the principle of reality (god the creator sets reality into motion and each individual capturing god's love is on a mission to reciprocate that love in the hope of being admitted in the promised paradise of eternity).
I describe this in detail in Painting 5: "the axioms of civilization".

In the meantime other societies succeeded to keep a firm control on their cultural unification mechanisms and this factor has a decisive impact, today, on the way those societies are entering the age of capitalistic globalization.

* ........One group of nations among those societies is resisting and refusing to accept the ways of the industrial world. Having succeeded to keep intact their cultural unification mechanisms it's their societies as a whole that resist Western ways. This group is the one that has the most to lose. Their resistance to modern influences is impeaching them to adapt to overwhelming changing realities that impact the whole world. I'm speaking here basically about the Muslim world that represents not far from 25% of the world population. Their non-joining in the rationality of the logic of capital implies a defenseless societal weakness that roots the "back on the wall" weapon of terror.

* .......Another group is composed by those societies that experienced an indigestible cultural shock that left them very sick.

- The states of Black Africa have been erected by Europe's whiteman as physical borders delimiting their national economic interests in colonial Africa. Africans saw their cultures, economies and political systems destroyed by whiteman who then imposed, on them, economies depending on one crop export agriculture, the Christian religion and political systems cloned on the system of the European colonial power. All this resulted in a societal catastrophe without any precedent in human history. The Africans could not resist the destruction of their traditional systems and simultaneously they could also not erase their past and allheartedly adopt the system of their masters. What ensued has been a mishmash of African traditions mixed with imported European ways but those were non-complementary and resulted in a devastating economic and cultural shock that is today destabilizing the demographic structures among Africans: irresistible growth in natality leading to a fast growth in population that is accompanied by an astounding fall in life expectancies.

- The other region that came under a severe cultural shock is composed of the territories forming the old USSR. The fate of Russia illustrates quite well this mechanism of severe non-digestible cultural shock that I'm referring to. After the fall of the communist party around 1990, under the leadership of Yeltsin and the theoretical input of US development economists such as Jeffrey Sacks who proposed a plan for Russia to accede to capitalism in 500 days, the country literally imploded and disintegrated. The economy collapsed and Russian resources came under the control of bureaucrats who transformed in robber barons. The Russian economy finally started to redress its head around 2003 only for the combination of autoritarian policies and the sharp increase in income from abroad due to the price of oil that peaked followed the American adventures in the Middle-East. But in the meantime the cultural shock experienced by Russians in their daily lives was so intense that the total population of Russia started to fall and is projected to fall further:
1992: 148.7 million.
2004: 143.5 million ......(but 1992/2004 includes a net influx of 5,5 million people !)
2015: 134 million .........(projection by the Russian State Statistical Committee)
2050: 85 million .....................................................( " )
2075: 50-55 million. ..............................................( " )
With the help of its vast underground resources it is expected that a highly educated Russia could make a comeback but the fate of Africans is unsure. High natality rates with economic misery and cultural drift all result in the fall of the average life expectancy of Africans. It seems as if Africa had no future and whiteman's acts surely do not bode well but perhaps African resources attracting Chinese investors could unleash Chinese wisdom to save Africa. The future will tell.

*,,,,,., By the time of late modernity another group of nations among those societies that succeeded to keep intact their cultural unification mechanisms voluntarily adapted the rationality of the logic of capital: China, India, Brazil, South Africa,...

A turning point has been reached, in the globalization of the rationality that is derived from the logic of capital, with the initiation of political reforms by Deng Xiao Ping in China. The economic success of China has been built upon the success of its agricultural reforms in the 1980th that relied on the following earlier policies:

- monumental irrigation works had been undertaken from the fifties till the seventies: water reserves in artificial lakes and water canalizations had maximized the growth of crops on a vastly increased acreage.

- the systematic destruction of cultural traditions during the cultural revolution had eliminated the cultural and social barriers towards societal change and entrepreneurialism.

Those were the factors that guaranteed the success of the agricultural reforms and the accumulation of capital in the countryside has then been put into use in industrial endeavors. What is called the "township enterprises" has indeed been financed with agricultural surpluses and those township enterprises have assured a steady stream of very cheap parts and components that State owned and foreign ventures then assembled into finished products ready for export. This historical process is unique to China and can't be reproduced anywhere else.

The historically competitive nature of the relations between India and China drove India to follow the industrial lead of China. But India's conditions are vastly different. The weight of traditions is acting as a barrier to an even development of the countryside: religious strife, caste system, and cultural traditions in general. India could thus not follow China's path of development from capital accumulation in agriculture to industrial development. But it made the wise choice to rely on a highly educated and English speaking minority to attract high intellectual input activities from the West which resulted in a fast increase of exports that in turn spawned pockets of prosperity.


China and India, among themselves, represent nearly half of the world population! There is just no way that the world can ignore half of its population. This is not going to last; the ignored half will simply not allow it to last.
So what are the lessons, one should glean, in term of cultural values that will make a difference between that half of the world population and the 10% of the world population that are living in Western advanced industrial systems?

*...... Atomization versus societalation. (I did not find a better word than societalation)
I describe in detail those axioms on which is built the Chinese civilization in Painting 4: "The axioms of civilizations". These are the foundations upon which Confucius and his followers devised a pragmatic organizational model for the functioning of the Chinese society. Later emperors imposed this system as the knowledge base of China's education system that lasted for the last 2,000 years:
- The basic structure of the Chinese society is the family that regroups 5 levels of relationships: father, eldest son, other children, mother, friends.
- The world outside of those 5 relationships is presented as dangerous and tricky so all relations that one has to entertain with the outside world have to be undertaken under the model of "guenxi" meaning that one should only relate with outsiders who are in relationship with one of your 5 levels of relationship. In other words you don't make business with someone you don't know, or if you have to, you have to take all necessary precautions so as to avoid being ripped off but this somehow also gives you “carte blanche” to cheat someone you enter in relation with and who has no connection with one of your 5 relationship. Cheating in such conditions is not considered as evil it is only a sign of the stupidity of the one who accepts to be cheated.
- The national society is considered as the family of all families and the emperor was considered as the father of all families. In Chinese Confucianism the first value of all individuals is the family and society comes second. In Japanese Confucianism the first value of all individuals is society with the emperor as the god and family relations come second. This explains the stark differences observed in the attitudes of Chinese and Japanese behaviors; Chinese are extremely individualistic at the image of the French and Italians while the Japanese are more collectively driven at the image of the Germans.

Western societies are on a path of atomization since long. The rationality of the logic of capital gave anyone this idea, perception or right to chose what one thinks is rational. Further democratization into free choice of purchase and free choice of political representation led to an accentuation of the individual's perception of the centrality of his person. The atomization of Western societies has advanced to the point that societies have lost control over individual thinking and behavior. In parallel marketization made the freedom to enjoy oneself the center of its publicity campaigns. The result is a societal air of permissivity and of laxism that encourages the individuals to relax, to enjoy and to let go.

The contrast between the Chinese and Western attitudes is radical. Chinese, and this is valid for Indians too, share their societies' traditional visions about the necessary respect for authority and the need to make an effort to accumulate knowledge that, by the way, is not considered as an abstract entity but more as a practical way at knowing the workings of one's society and thus directly rewarding. In China upbringing children has always placed education at the center of all preoccupations. So we are faced with a system where the father has absolute and uncontested authority over the children and the education of his children is the central preoccupation of the father who thus naturally has a high respect for teachers and professors. The individuals are thus accepting the binding rules of society and the societal dynamic is just opposite of the Western atomization.
We should thus be confronted with something as a "Western atomization versus an Asian societalation".

* ........A shared worldview versus competing non-functional models of worldviews:
The individual atoms of Western societies came to believe in their own world centrality but somehow they were at a loss. They can't let go this feeling that they are only particles of the whole they belong to and they are permanently longing for inclusiveness. This thirst is then exploited by a multitude of groups, religious or other, that compete for the inclusion of the atoms in their belief system. Here lies one of the biggest differences between today and a few centuries ago. Then the men of power simply imposed the worldview of the men of knowledge on all while today, the men of power having lost that power, a multitude of "interests" compete for gullible and exploitable followers. For sure the temptation is always present to re-use the old autoritarian ways but the resistance by civil society is great and so our modern men of power are left with the only possibility to manipulate public opinions out of their knowing.
The consequence of the men of power losing their power to impose a common worldview on all has been dramatic. In this adventure, Western societies lost their cohesion; some believing reality is this while others believing reality is that. The competition between so many holders of different worldviews for followers became the central act and it gradually displaced the traditional forms associated with the belief in a common worldview resulting in:

- the loss, of the societal functionality of the visual arts to illustrate the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day at the attention of all, that left wide open the door for the rationality of the logic of capital to impose "whatever" as art.

- the loss of a unified set of images about reality that left the door open to multiple visual approaches and ultimately the choice of "whatever" by financial speculators imposing their preference for a neutral and aseptic cultural environment. This aseptic diversity took root, not only in visual arts, gradually all sectors came to be fair game for the rationality of the logic of capital: housing, interior decoration, textiles and apparel, communication, transportation, ... they succeeded to hoard the water we drink and soon perhaps we'll be obliged to pay for the air we breathe.

- the loss of a unique worldview opened the door to various visions of economic reality that obliged Western societies to come up with a compromise between capital holders and the workforce. This compromise took the form of democracy and minimum social security. But the compromise would be discarded by capital holders once they found available armies of working slaves willing to do the work at only a fraction of what Western workers had succeeded to gain from them earlier. That's when capital unleashed the globalization of its reach.


The globalization move by the capital holders coincided with the move by the Chinese communist party towards reforming its Stalinist industrialization approach and the Chinese communist successes somehow, how to say, paradoxically pushed big capital and Chinese communists leaders in an embrace. I guess that 50 years from now this embrace will be seen by historians as the threshold point when the world toppled over and really was set on the path of unification under the rationality of the logic of capital.

The Chinese are sharing a common worldview since millenniums and what is absolutely stunning is that modern science has been driven recently along the same lines of understanding reality as the Chinese worldview. I bet that this will be seen 100 years from now as one of the most worldchanging events of our human history. I described the difference between the Chinese and the Western worldview in Painting 5: "the axioms of civilizations".

* .......Two diametrically opposed visions about education and work ethics: rote learning and obedience in Asia versus creativity and critical spirit in the West.
For sure the Western ways are better adapted to the economic realities of late modernism I guess that nobody seriously questions that. Very complex societies need more and more individuals who have the problem solvers skills and this implies individuals who are groomed to be critical and creative. But Western societies represent just over 10% of the world population and our economies being more and more intertwined we are becoming ever more dependent upon commodities produced by the 90% who are just entering "early modernity". The rationality of the logic of capital has presented all of us with a "fait accompli" : they knew how all that would work out; delocalizations of blue collar jobs would be accompanied by our white collar hegemony. In other words we would think the products at a very high cost and they would manufacture it at a very low cost. But this kind of logic simply can not work for long. Having taken over manufacturing, the Chinese now want to take over the conception and the marketing. How are we to respond to their challenge ?
Chinese universities are churning out over 350,000 engineers a year; this compares with a paltry 50,000 engineers in the US. The two graduate degrees offered in the United States are the master's degree and the doctoral degree. Check out the evolution of the Doctoral degrees distribution among US and foreign recipients:

Foreign recipients ....................................... 1977................1994................2000
Doctors %............................................................11.....................27 ...................34

Foreign Born Doctorate Degrees
.........................................................................Table 1 (1993).......... Table 2 (2000)
Engineering .............................................................40.3 ..........................61.1
Mathematical ...........................................................31.1 ..........................53.5
Physical ,Chemistry , Astronomy ...........................25.9 ..........................47.7
Economics ...............................................................23.6 ..........................37.5

In 1995, over 50% of those doctor degrees were distributed to students from China, Korea, Taiwan and India. The proportion of students from those countries has been going up since but I did not find anyhere the exact figures. For sure, until 2001, most of those foreign doctoral degree recipients decided to work and live in the US but things are starting to change. The perception of the US policy on one side and on the other side the rapid internal development of China and India are pushing more and more Chinese and Indian doctors back to their homeland.
Those figures about China's internal engineering degrees and US doctoral degrees do invalidate the idea that delocalizations of blue collar jobs would be accompanied by our guaranteed white collar hegemony as the rationality of the logic of capital had presented the rebalancing of work under globalization.

Education fills young brains with knowings produced by the rationality of the logic of capital, as such, it is a unification factor within the societal dynamic. Another unifying factor is language. When you combine the increasing number of Chinese getting university degrees with the fact that Mandarin is the first spoken language on earth you start to understand that Mandarin is establishing itself as the first language used on the internet. This also means that the most used language in terms of transmission and creation of knowings is definitely going to be Mandarin. Time has come for english speakers to learn a second and third language....

The following seem to shape what points on the horizon:

- life conditions in Chinese cities are rapidly reaching the quality of life in American and European cities.

- the maturation of demand on the Chinese market will give China such scale economies that its prices will be over-competitive for some decades to come.

- the qualitative maturation of education in Chinese universities will give rise to first world class endogenous research.

- the Chinese will gradually impose technological applications, on the market, derived from their own scientific endeavors.

This process transforms China into an "economy-world"1 that is bound to dominate the world economy and in this process, that in finale is no more than a question of quantity of money in circulation, Chinese culture and the elements of the Chinese worldview will become hegemonic.
When I write about the process toward the establishment of the hegemony of the Chinese culture I'm thinking about a gradual process that start with the absorption by the Chinese culture of elements of Western culture. For the Chinese the 20th century has basically been a time of observation of the visible characters of Western economic and cultural strength. This has also been a time of introspection and analysis of their own civilization and culture with the aim to isolate the factors that kept China economically backward. Without any doubt, with the help of Marxism, the Chinese adopted the rationality of the logic of capital. They imported not only science, technology and capital but also merchandization. It should nevertheless be pointed out that they kept a firm grip on the founding elements of their own culture: "a market economy with Chinese characteristics" or to say it more bluntly "the surveillance and guidance of the rationality of the logic of capital by Chinese culture".

History has repeatedly shown us that the most active centers of artistic creation follow the power of money:

- following the crusade eye-opener on the luxuries of the Arabs the financial power accumulated by the Italian City-State merchants though "obliged trade" financed the works of the Renaissance masters. (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Titian, Botticelli, Raphael, ...)

- by mid 15th century the wool industry of Flanders establishes the economic power of Bruges. (the Limbourg Brothers who painted “Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry”, Van Eyck who perfected the newly developed technique of oil painting, Memling, Rogier van der Weyden, Dierick Bouts, ...)

- when the last Burgundian Duke was defeated in 1477 Burgundy ceased to exist; Flanders and the rest of the Netherlands passed into the hands of the Holy Roman Empire whose seat of power was in Castilla/Spain and under pression from the Castillan inquisition Bruges lost its protestant rich entrepreneurs and merchants who established themselves further north-East in Antwerp (Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Joachim Patenier, Durer described him as a "good landscape painter" , Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, ...).

- the Spanish inquisition sacked and burned Antwerp around 1570 and again in 1590. The capital holders, artists and intellectuals fled to Amsterdam that transformed into the new economic capital of the Western world till around 1750 and the bankruptcy of the Dutch East India Company
( Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer, Jan Lievens, ...)

- the English East-India Company benefited from the retreat of the Dutch Company from Asia and from newly made-available Dutch capital that found its road to Britain. Great Britain will be the center of the capitalistic economy from around 1750 to 1940 (Thomas Gainsborough , William Turner , Francis Bacon ...) Britain always remained in the shadow of France culturally and more particularly Paris that had transformed into the cultural capital of the European aristocracy.

- the second world war helped the US out of its thirties recession and propulsed the country at the center of economic power. ( Pollock , David Hockney , Mark Rothko , Andy Warhol , Jasper Johns , Edward Ruscha , Keith Haring ) Since the 1980th globalization of capital + the conversion of Communist China to the rationality of the logic of capital are unleashed a whirlwind of changes that are engendering a rebalancing of the economic forces around the world.

- China is projected to become the highest GDP-figure economy on earth sometime between 2030 and 2050. But its GDP per capita will still be largely inferior than the figures in the US, the EU, Japan and many other places which means that China has the potential to grow a lot larger than any other economy. The economic weight of China will be felt around the world this makes no doubt and the names of its artists shall take predominance in the art market; that seems self-evident....

Some will argue that China has many internal problems and that it easily could collapse before transforming into an economic giant. It is true that social eruptions could topple the communist party but we should never forget that more than two millenia of bureaucratic management experience have taught some things about political power to the Chinese that we in the West have all the pain in the world to even start thinking about. But I guess that my point is ultimately that even if the communist party collapsed one day; the Chinese economy would not follow. Industrialization in China is now the fact of the Chinese people who are taking their fate into their own hands.
The State controlled economy shall gradually be limited to a few hundred companies benefiting from massive State capital installments. The stated goal of the Communist party is to create a group of champion companies that can take on the biggest multinationals in vesting the control of whole-world economic sectors.
My bet is that the outcome of this specific strategy shall outline the form of China's coming hegemony and not the internal problems that the country will face and solve.

My next post shall be: The postmodern paradigm.


(1). A concept developed by the historian Fernand Braudel to illustrate how the Renaissance developed "The Mediterranean region" into the center of the world economy and how the characteristics of its "economy-world" status were then taken over by the rest of the world. This concept indicates how an economy that absolutely captures the attention of the world, at a given time. can eventually morph into something as the beating heart of the world economy, as an economy-world. China appears to morph into something as an economy-world: the prices on the raw materials market are today determined by China's demand and the prices of oil are going up in parallel with the increase of the Chinese demand for oil. When the Chinese government speaks all capital holders of the world are listening... For sure China has still not reached the status of an economy-world but it is well on its way to appear as such tomorrow in the eyes of all.

2005/03/10

Painting (11)

About Postmodernism.

Postmodernism is an old concept used to indicate what follows the modern age but it has been associated with so many different ideas that the concept ended up being foggy and perceived as some kind of metaphysical rareness. I'm using the concept "postmodern" in its narrow sense of "what follows the modern age". Another denomination shall eventually impose itself out of the practice of what comes after modernism but only the future will tell.



1. Preliminaries. (post Painting 10)

2. The context of the new societal paradigm in the forming



There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the way we think and understand, what is reality and our place in it, is rapidly evolving. Our worldview is unifying and shaping into a radically new paradigm. But we still have to face many many more transformations that gradually will give us to see reality from a very different angle than we ever had in the past. This experience will be dramatic and will plunge most of us in a state of deep shock. It just can't be otherwise for the new paradigm that is shaping under our eyes is worldchanging indeed.



1. In term of the form of transformations to come:


We are entering one of the most deep changing human perception phase in our history. What makes me say this?

The changes that our societies are going through are:

  • universal: those changes are affecting all societies on earth and each and everyone of us will have to adapt. There is no going back. The mechanic has been launched and can't be stopped. Earlier changes had been local or at best regional. Never in history has humanity in its entirety been driven simultaneously in one unique adventure. Modernism has largely been the story of the growth of rationality in Western Europe and its canon forced expansion to the 4 corners of the earth. With postmodernism Europe and the West will undoubtedly not count any longer as the dominant forces in the shaping of what comes next. Western culture will be losing the hegemony it imposed on the rest of the world. Postmodernism will definitely not be dominated by whiteman's culture but by new entrants in the rational game of the logic of capital: China, India, Brazil, South Africa,... This time around it is the culture of a majority of the world population that will shine light on our reality. The universality of changes to come is worldchanging by itself but it will be reinforced by the following:

  • fast speed: those changes are coming at us at the speed of a meteor. Such a fast speed of occurring changes in the field of our economies, our social relations and our cultural values has never been experienced before in the history of the human race. Those of us who have an open mind and their eyes wide open, on the depth of the transformations that can already be observed from year to year, are simply amazed at how it drives our curiosity. If you start to understand the depth of what is going on you just can't stay still any longer you long to know more. What seems already clear is that the speed of transformations is such that everybody is taken by surprise by the new developments. What I mean to say is that trends are now firmly established long before we even think to react and this implies that the dynamic of transformations is following its own path out of our capability to interfere. I know that these words will come as a shock for many but those are not of my own ramblings. Vernor Vinge of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at San Diego State University calls this a "SINGULARITY" and he writes that it is as "A black hole in the Extropian worldview whose gravity is so intense that no light can be shed on what lies beyond it."

  • all encompassing: nothing will escape the tsunami and nothing will be the same thereafter. In earlier times transformations touched one or relatively few fields and the interactions between changes from different fields were limited. This time around things look vastly different. The rationality of the logic of capital brought us science and technology that are revolutionizing all aspects of our material life. By helping to disseminate the logic of capital, science and technology is expanding the realm of changes from the industrially advanced societies to the whole world and it thus expands the field of revolutionizing from all aspects of our material life to the cultures and civilizations of this world.


2. In term of the substance of transformations to come:

The process that we are engaged in is a very complex one but what is already clear is that the biggest transformations will result not from one or another particular factor but from the interactions between changes occurring in the following heavy determining factors:

  • The shock between individualities and societies. I have written about that particular aspect in my post Painting (4): "the road of humanity".

  • The shock occasioned by the rapid introduction of new scientific discoveries and applications.

  • The civilizational roads, we all are surfing on, will be put to the task of adapting or perishing at the contact with the dynamic between ["the road of humanity" + "science and technology"] that is materializing very rapidly and in a universal context. I have written extensively about our civilizational roads in my post Painting (5): "The axioms of civilizations" dated February 17th, 2005.