2005/03/04

Painting (9)

Late 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 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)
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Late modernity.






The initial interaction of the developed West with the South has been a deluge of very cheap commodities manufactured predominantly by China. There was simply no way for Western economic actors to compete with the Chinese in the sectors where they succeeded to acquire the necessary technology and management experience. When the average cost of one hour work in the West reaches, let's say $US 25, in China it costs $US 0.5 and China has at least 50 years more to benefit from such levels of low assembly-work costs. Its population is over 60% relying on agriculture to survive presently so it has still long to go before agricultural jobs come down to 5-10% of the total work-force the point when the reserve of low paid jobs will have been exhausted.

The impact of this first wave of delocalizations has been met initially with stupor in the West that fast transformed into anger from the remaining blue collar workers, the trade-unionists, the political left and also the traditional right.
When a trend develops out of real problems in Western societies the political class can never be far to propose answers to those problems, it is their life, if they don't do it they are simply not re-elected.
Big capital holders benefited from increasing returns out of this initial wave of delocalizations and disbursed drops of those returns to wage disinformation campaigns affirming that science and technology would always remain a Western advantage. This had the double advantage to assuage those who were at risk to lose their jobs and to let the State in charge of the payment for the solution that they had envisioned.

Science and technology were now the new ideological leitmotiv so they started to figure in all political speeches and also in all Western budgets. This by the way helps to understand why the States in all advanced economies have budget deficits and increasing debts. But soon it became apparent that there had never been a good reason why the Chinese and Indians and Brazilians and others would not be able to use their own brains to compete directly with Western brains. What a foolish and racist argument it had been to dare presuppose whiteman's intellectual superiority when even Doctor degrees in hard sciences at US universities were in majority issued to citizens from the South. But the Foolishness did not abate and a new racially motivated argument found its road to the mouth of whitemen. This time it was said that life conditions and freedoms in the West were so superior to the life conditions and freedoms in the south that those Southerners graduating, mastering and doctoring in the west would unmistakenly want to live and work in the West for ever. There was some smoke in that argument, I concede, but it was forgetting that Southern countries were also developing not only their infrastructure but also the workings of their institutions. Beijing, for example, is building the most advanced communication system and Westerners assisting at the upcoming 2008 Olympics will be given to experience the fastest internet downloads ever seen in commercial use at the time. By 2008 Beijing will be one of the most modern and advanced cities in the world with world architectural icons illustrating the cover of Western magazines. How foolish was it thus to even imagine for one second that Chinese, Indians and other students would eternally wish to live in the States? The return of students originating from the South to their motherland is only a question of time and, supreme irony, they'll carry in their brains the knowledge that they gained in the West!

Here we are, the rationality of the logic of capital has succeeded to set science and technology on the path of a rolling stone towards financial returns. The rolling steep down-hill just can't be stopped, if anything, it has been set in acceleration mode and nothing can do. Reduction of speed and eventual stop of rolling of the science and technology stone can only be expected at the stone's landing at the bottom of the valley but if I know that there is such a valley I don't know where it is nor when we'll be reaching it.
I have nothing against science and technology.
On the contrary I feel confident that the guys in charge will be able to detach themselves from the diktats of the rationality of the logic of capital and bring us some really useful, albeit perhaps "irrational", tools to make our lives better tomorrow.

After 500 years of gestation and incremental growth the logic inherent to capital finally succeeded:

- to impose itself to all the citizens of industrialized nations. This logic has indeed succeeded, in the dying 20th century, to impose its reason, its rationality as being THE exclusive, inevitable and superior truth about reality. Not following the diktats of capital has been described, and is now largely perceived, as being irrational and dangerous for society.

- to impose itself to the whole world as the only true path to economic well-being.

We are being taught that one dollar plus one dollar equals two dollars. But what about this addition eventually having the perverse effect to poison the health of those who are in charge of its operation?
In other words where is the cost of that poisoning being acted ?
I know this is an abstract question so let's reformulate it. What, for example, about a society investing in the car industry? Sure enough shares in the capital of car manufacturers generate returns. But what about the "negativities" engendered by the use of cars in a society? China started manufacturing cars beginning of the 1990th. Much capital has been invested and annual returns go to their owners. But what about the 100,000 people who died in car crashes in 2003 alone? Where are the costs related to the death of those 100,000 people impacting on the figures published by the car industry or for that matter by the State? Nowhere? No, not really, they are added to the GDP figures as part of the activities of the medical sector, of police, insurance, funeral and other activities. But the cost associated with the death of 100,000 people is only part of the problem. What about the pollution generated by the cars that are sold by the car industry? Well they are poisoning the atmosphere and adding to the causes generating climate change, but who cares, after us the deluge is it not? It will not be the deluge but it will be miseries that we inflict upon the generations that follow us who will be the ones who will have to pay the price for our stupidities.
That is what I call the irrationality of the rationality of the logic of capital. Now one should be conscientious that you are presented as a heretic if you dare question that rationality and the logic that supports it as I'm doing here.

Notwithstanding this sad state of affairs let's now set our sight further.
Where is the rationality of the massacres committed during world war 1 and world war 2 in the name of the capital game ? The artists of Cobra were categorical, they were saying loudly after the 2nd world war that this kind of rationality was simply not their cup of tea. This was barbarism in the words of the Dutch painter Constant, nothing less, and in consequence the artists' mission was to search for ways to generate a better tomorrow for all souls on this earth. Constant's words seem somehow to have been heard about by some courageous European policy makers who instigated the build-up of the structures that would eventually unite all the nations of Europe and thus avoiding the children of Europe to endure another barbarian war on its territory between its component faction-nations.

In the meantime, by the end of the 20th century, US capital investments in art purchases were directed towards formalism, towards the form of art. Denying the role of content in painting was now sanctioned with financial value which was an easy way to marginalize those who had something to say for sure while gaining more bucks in the quietude and utter safety of the gray, flat and straight lines found in the patterns of industrially produced goods. I don't want to say that all this has been orchestrated it would be recognizing far more intelligence to the vulture speculators than they really have. The question is not if all that was orchestrated but well if the outcome was worth it?
Where did this lead?
If painting is left a-content then form, for sure, takes center stage but what does society receive from the form of paintings? An artistic acknowledgment of the colors, lines and forms of our present day industrial reality? Yes that is undeniable but may I suggest that this adds nothing to what is already there in our societies. Such a "laissez aller" is simply an abdication of the societal function of visual arts. Ha Ha Ha, how could visual arts add something to our societies will be the question addressed to me by the members of "the all-knowing art bureaucratic word machine". I see already their words in their "art blogs" but most probably they'll ignore what I write until the day a recognized authority starts to refer to my arguments and then we'll see the word machine rushing into action repeating "ad nauseum" what some authorities have written about that question earlier.

To come back to this question of the present societal functionality of visual arts let me say that I do not recall one historic example of a society that succeeded to survive such a large set of problems, so deeply ingrained in its citizens daily ways of life, than what we can observe today. But that is not my argument. All problems have solutions is it not? And these solutions are not given to us by venerating a god or a dictator they are given to us by the men of knowledge of our days who are the ones who think about how to solve our societies' problems.
Solutions exist to any problem. The only question that to me makes sense in our present predicament is "will the populations of our societies, whose daily lives are so profoundly shaped by the commodities and beliefs that are causing the problems that have to be solved, accept to change their ways in time before there is simply no way any longer?" I'm not speaking here only about environmental or climatic deteriorating conditions, they could be determinant for our survival for sure, but I'm thinking about the whole range of problems that humanity is confronted with and more importantly I'm thinking about how all those problems interact among themselves.

So here we are my friends; in a maelstrom.
Don't you think now that visual signs of the emerging worldview of our men of knowledge could be the decisive factor rendering possible the acceptance by all citizens on mother earth of the views of those who have the best knowledge about how to solve our problems which could then lead them "to change their ways in time before there is simply no way any longer ?" This is not a question of publicity nor of propaganda. We nowadays just don't know what is the worldview of our men of knowledge,it is in the forming stage , and furthermore we even don't know who are are our men of knowledge. Are they the scientists? Some scientists could be men of knowledge but scientists as a group surely not. Science breeds knowings, vertical observations inside their their own field of specialty. Knowledge is the combination and interaction of all the available knowings and their confrontation with philosophy. See my anterior posts on the subject for a more elaborate presentation.

How to say? I have often the feeling that the last 35 years, as a modern Don Quichote, I have been fighting against wind-mills. Painting and thinking have been what kept me from falling, as many people I have met along my road, into dementia and non-sense and sure enough Xiaohong often pulled me back when I had one foot over the line. Every artist will understand that creation is followed by doubt. Only imbeciles or ultra self-centered individuals could believe in the fallacy of their absolute genius. As artist we have moments when we find what we do full of interest but we should also acknowledge the doubts that submerge us the moment after. I think that it is this tension between certainty and doubt that is pushing us always further on the road of the unknown on the road of the future .

In this late modern age visibility is minimal. The fog of confusion is everywhere hiding reality and the daily discoveries of new knowings are not helping, it's as if we ate too much of them and had difficulties to digest. Only the time of digestion will bring us quietness.
In my next post I'll try to have a peak inside what comes next hoping the words will accept to lead me there.

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