2005/04/24

Unanswered questions about contemporary visual arts

Those of you who read my posts regularly know my views by now on visual arts. In summary my thesis goes as follows:
"From animist times, through religious times, to modern times art has served as an instrument of unification of human societies behind the worldviews at the hands of the men of knowledge and the men of power of the time through its imaging of those worldviews at the attention of all the citizenry. This functionality of art that goes back tens of thousands of years has been interrupted sometime along the twentieth century. The notion that art serves a societal functionality has indeed been totally lost on late moderns."

Duchamp said no less in an interview with James Johnson Sweeney in "Eleven Europeans
in America" that had been published in "Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art" (new York), XIII No 4-5, 1946: "In fact until the last hundred years all painting had been literary or religious: it had all been at the service of the mind. This characteristic was lost little by little during the last century".

This loss is what explains the total confusion where visual art landed by the end of the twentieth century. It was as if "whatever" had been made possible, had been made the norm, in art creation. Suffice indeed for the artist nowadays to say that something is art for that thing to be considered as art and art critics and collectors seem to be of no help at correcting this aberration, they are simply lost in entropy.

In such an environment painting is not sufficient any longer I feel that our present predicament is asking for words to shine the light of sense again on the act of painting.
In the same interview mentionned above Duchamp approached this in the following words : "... art should turn to an intellectual expression, rather than to an animal expression.
I'm sick of the expression 'bete comme un peintre-stupid as a painter' ."


I'm also sick to read and listen all the non-sense that is ascribed to the activity of painting. I have enough of all this stupidity and feel the urge to say out loud and clear that we have to make sense a-new of the act of painting. Visual arts have to be brought back to their original functionality and if we can't do this lucidly and in all consciousness then we'll eventually have to accept societal necessity forcing this upon us in one or another reactionary fashion...

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Those of you who are interested to follow this discussion but who did not read regularly my posts can find a good summary of my thoughts by reading the following posts:

About MODERNITY:
- Early modernity

- Modernity
- Late modernity

About POSTMODERNISM:
- Postmodernism, preliminaries

- The context of the new Postmodern societal worldview in the forming
- The road towards a postmodern societal worldview
- The shaping of a postmodern societal worldview

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So my position is that "... art has served as an instrument of unification of human societies behind the worldviews at the hands of the men of knowledge and the men of power of the time through its imaging of those worldviews at the attention of all the citizenry.."

What remains largely unanswered in my writings is how art came to forget about its function at illustrating the worldview of the men of knowledge and the men of power at the attention of all the citizenry.

How come that such a truly central question could have been so generally ignored ?

Those are the questions that I propose trying to peel in my next series of posts.


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2005/04/18

Digital variations of acrylics (2)

I terminated all the digital variations of the presently available 25 acrylics of my ARTSENSE collection. Here are some of those works. Click the images to enlarge.

















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2005/04/14

Digital variations of acrylics

A few days more and I'll have completed 300 variations. (12 x 25 acrylics)
Check out some of my last works and click forward or backward in the slide-show. To enter the slide-show click on one of the following images.

















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2005/04/08

About art and reality.

Reality is all about our perception of ourselves within the "workings" of the whole of our universe and painting is all about giving visual signs of the worldview that the men of knowledge are deriving from how they see and understand reality. There are definitely an infinity of angles from where we can look at the unfolding of that reality story and the capturing by our eyes of the first degree image that impacts on our neurons is but one capturing of reality among an infinity of possibilities. Visual sight is no more than the activity of one physical-biological sensor, among many other possibles, that evolved from our general condition as humans. That "first degree image" capturing device is basically needed by our brains' as data-input about our close environment so that our brains should be able to devise orders at the attention of our bodies for them to be able to act in the interest of their own preservation. The first degree image perceived by our eyes is thus a functionality of human survival that we inherited along the road of our biological evolution. We should always remember that our noses were far more dominant in earlier times as a functionality of our survival than our eyes. In nature functionalities of survival can take many many different forms that are always adapted to guaranteeing the best chance of survival of the species.

Knowledge is something fundamentally different. It is what allows us to approach reality from a more thoroughly encompassing observation integrating all the different angles possible including the first degree image that our eyes are capturing about it. Knowledge projects us further than the first degree visual capturing of our close environment. It is a trial at rendering comprehensible to us the working of that environment and thus it enlightens our eyes' first degree images of reality with sense.

At the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century cubism was a first essay at giving a visual representation of reality through the prism of knowledge. As such Cubism was the first artistic approach trying to bring us visual signs of reality that were not based any longer on the classical model of copying the image projecting on our retinas (this is valid in "whiteland" but not in China where Shieyi painting since thousands of years is practiced as an exercise at "reading the meaning" of reality). Cubism nevertheless very fast appeared to be no more than a graphical trick that made sense for sure in Picasso and Braque's visual researches but that was losing all meaning at the hands of further artists. Cubism was not rendering something else than the first degree image projecting on the retina. It only succeeded to give a different visual rendering from that first degree image that, as Marcel Duchamp puts it, was derived from a very "amateurish" reading "of the fourth dimension and of non-Euclidean geometry".

The twentieth century has been for the visual arts, in Europe and to a lesser degree in the US, a time of searching for visual representations that should project our understanding of reality further than the first degree image captured by our eyes.

Picasso and Braque were influenced much by mathematics and the notion, somehow new in their time, of the 4th dimension but in the end they did not succeed to render something else than the first degree image.

The surrealists ventured in the path of the unconscientious that was a favorite theme of Freud and Jung and at long last they discovered visual paths rendering something else than this first degree image that they so much hated.

After the 2nd world war the members of Cobra, rejecting as pure absurdity the logic of a societal system that had unleashed all those primitive and montruous horrors of warfare, were searching for a better collective tomorrow in Marxism then in Existentialism and later in Situationism. It makes no doubt in my mind that the spirit of the works of Cobra artists have had a determining influence on the Zeitgeist in Western Europe that in finale rendered possible the unimaginable, the build-up of the EU.
The spirit of their works, exclusively turned against an abomination, was rendering a visual expression of ugliness as being something to be rejected. Thus their works being about something very negative did never really succeed to attract a large following.

Unfortunately, by the end of the second part of the 20th century, the visual arts have been sequestrated by an "all-knowing art bureaucratic word machine" that imposed its inexorable dictorship upon anything touching the visual arts. Interest obliging; making a buck out of art works took precedence over any artistic consideration. Soon under the "diktats" of the artistic authorities "whatever" was imposed as being art. That's how the visual arts entered a time of pure absurdity, non-sense imposed as art by the authorities, the merchants, the curators and the critics. The installation, in Central Park of the Gates of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, validates my point. Verify for yourself the grand-standing of the artistic authorities towards that event:
- The gates - The gates - The gates - The gates - The gates - The gates - The gates

In their own defense, the art dictators claimed that Duchamp was the one who had initiated this drive towards "whatever" with his "ready-mades". But the intention of Duchamp through his "ready-mades" was no other than to turn into derision those "well-thinking" autorities who did not have the slightest idea about the artistic substance that artists were so desperately running after. The initial switch of the sense of art in the "ready mades", that had been operated by Duchamp, was no more that a good joke on the "smooth talkers" of his time but it ended up in the end by turning miserably against Duchamp himself. Here is what Duchamp had to say later on about his earlier endeavors. I quote from a transcript by Herschel B. Chipp in "Theories of Modern Art" of Duchamp's interview with James Johnson Sweeney in "Eleven Europeans in America" that had been published in "Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art" (new York), XIII No 4-5, 1946: "Futurism was an impressionism of the mechanial world. It was strictly a continuation of the impressionist movement. I was not interested in that. I wanted to get away from the physical aspect of painting. I was much more interested in recreating ideas in painting. ... I was interested in ideas -not merely in visual products. I wanted to put painting once again at the service of the mind. ... In fact until the last hundred years all painting had been literary or religious: it had all been at the service of the mind. This characteristic was lost little by little during the last century. ... Dada was an extreme protest against the physical side of painting. It was a metaphysical attitude. ... It was a way to get out of a state of mind -to avoid being influenced by one's immediate environment, or by the past: to get away from cliches -to get free. ... Dada was very serviceable as a purgative. ... There was no thought of anything beyond the physical side of painting. No notion of freedom was thaught. No philosophical outlook was introduced. ... I thought of art on a broader scale. There were discussions at the time of the fourth dimension and of non-Euclidean geometry. But most views of it were amateurish. ... I felt that as a painter it was much better to be influenced by a writer than by another painter. ... This is the direction in which art should turn: to an intellectual expression, rather than to an animal expression. I'm sick of the expression 'bete comme un peintre' -stupid as a painter." It is a mistery to me why Duchamp remains known for his "ready-mades" while his thoughts about art are so foundational but nevertheless ignored. Who is responsible for this sad state of affairs ? Our "all-knowing art bureaucratic word machine" should be brought to account for their inadmissible lightness.

It is nevertheless a fact that, even after "whatever" had been imposed as subject of art, the societal functionality of visual arts has never been in any way put into question. We just don't know any more what this functionality is all about and so we don't speak or write about it but this does in no way mean that visual arts have no societal functionality. As Duchamp was saying "This characteristic was lost little by little during the last century". The absence of debate about the societal functionality of the visual arts does not suppress this functionality it mainly obscures it by fostering ignorance.

Duchamp was right in this idea that "art is at the service of the mind". He just did not conduct the thinking to its logical conclusion. What is the mind indeed used for ? What is the outcome of knowledge ? What is the relationship between society and knowledge ? How does and can visual art serve knowledge ? So what is the societal functionality of visual arts? Today as well as 500 years ago or 2000 years ago or 50,000 years ago for that matter visual arts were meant to create visual signs of the worldview that is derived out of the knowledge at the hands of the men of knowledge of the day. The only reason, why those signs took such precedence, is that human societies garanteed their stability through the smooth spreading among all members of society of the worldview of the day. The functionality of visual arts is thus directly related to the preservation and the enhancement of societal stability. Bingo !

Visual signs are easier to comprehend than spoken or written words and they are a lot more easy to comprehend than the theories that they represent. I wrote many times already about how this worked in animist times, in religious times and also in early modern times. But what about nowadays? I firmly believe that the societal confusion that we experience nowadays is related to the confusion that we experience in the visual arts and not the other way around. In other words, I believe that the knowledge that gradually emerges out of the ideas of today's men of knowings, the scientists, is not translated into a worldview. If there is no longer any worldview that could be permeating society at large there can be no longer any question of the visual arts relaying the worldview of the men of knowledge towards all members of society.

The artists have thus no alternative but to abandon the traditional dumbness that is associated with illustrating the ideas of others. We are confronted today with this paradox that we do not know where are today's men of knowledge. Surely enough there are some scientists and thinkers who are trying to connect "knowings" horizontally but this does not preclude the existence of a workable knowledge giving birth to a worldview that would be acceptable to all.

In conclusion the only conceivable way out of this conundrum is for the artist to become his own man of knowledge. I follow Duchamp one hundred percent when he says that "this is the direction in which art should turn: to an intellectual expression, rather than to an animal expression. I'm sick of the expression 'bete comme un peintre' -stupid as a painter". Yes why should painters continue to accept all that non-sense coming out of the big mouthes of our "all-knowing art bureaucratic word machine" ? What is it that forbids artists to start accumulating scientific knowings and to confront those with the wisdom of philosophy in order to create knowledge ?

Yes I know that this proposition of mine is no easy feat. But what is the alternative if we want to surpass this characterization of being " 'bete comme un peintre' -stupid as a painter" and being absolutely unable to fullfill the societal role that is ours ? The societal confusion that we are plunged into nowadays creates much despair. More and more individuals feel at a loss and try by all means to find answers to the inescapable questions relating to REALITY that could be sensical to them.

Religion brought such sensical answers for over one thousand years in Europe and did so too in the territories that inherited the European Christian worldview. Later portraits and landscapes suceeded to give a basic representation of the ideas of individualism and private property or ownership that formed the backbone of the worldview adhered to along the timespan of modern times.

Without visual signs of a unified worldview mirroring today's trends and knowings our late modern societies are fragmenting and imploding into atomization. Individuals have come to believe that they know better. But the fact remains that individuals are no more than particles of their societies and that the creative tension between individuality and collectivity is what in the end generates the possibility of a smooth sailing into the future.

Could there be a worldview emanating directly out of scientific endeavors and the accumulation of scientific knowings nowadays ? Yes and no. Science is indeed characterized by ultra specialization. The scientific outlook is like channelled through narrow vertical pipes leading in the direction of the microscopic or the macroscopic towards the observation of very narrow areas of reality. Views out of such vertical pipes are thus necessarily fragmentory and the scientific approach ends up being burdened by an infinity of fragmentory observations that are not connected horizontally between themselves.

My understanding is thus that the scientific model is generating an infinity of "KNOWINGS", vertical micro-observations, but those knowings do not in any way qualify as "KNOWLEDGE" about reality. Knowings are undoubtedly necessary quantities in developping a coherent knowledge base but it is the horizontal linking between developped knowings that in the end is generating knowledge.

The fact is that science is accumulating astronomical quantities of knowings and that nobody is capable any longer to connect all those knowings together. It is physically unfeasible for us humans:
- first to accumulate all the available knowings at any given time and if it were feasible it would nevertheless remain an unattainable task to track their appearance over time.
- second to link all the existing and potential knowings between themselves in order to generate knowledge.

The acceptance of our physical limitations brings us to the recognition of our void of wholeness that, in the end, is what generates our perpetual quest for "wholesensicalness". From the deepest of our origins till today we searched to master this "wholesensicalness" and even if we did not succeed to master it, we tried to approximate it as good as we could with the tools at our disposal at the time and one of the determining tools for ordering and making sense out of the knowings of the time has always been philosophy.

Philosophy is our vision of the whole of our reality, of the whole of our universe, it is what gives sense to the fragments of reality that we observe with our eyes or that we discover through our scientific explorations. In this sense it is imperative that we all go back to the foundational building blocks of our civilizations for those building blocks are acting upon our civilizations in a way very similar to the way axioms are acting on mathematics. As in mathematics, the central question in our civilizations relates to the validity of our founding axioms or building blocks.
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2005/04/06

Digital variations versus fractals

I terminated my first 168 digital variations.
Enter the slide-show

As I wrote in an earlier post those digital works are procuring me much satisfaction. In 2003 I created 60 fractals (post-psychedelic collection) but I had not found the experience as much enriching as this time around. There is for sure a fundamental difference between fractals and the variations that I'm realizing now:
- fractals: images resulting from the application of a mathematical formula in a fractal imaging software that are then finished in the Gimp or photoshop.
- variations: I manipulate a digital photo of a painting in "The Gimp" (free imaging software similar to photoshop).

In fractals you are using a mathematical formula that you create or one that you borrow from soneone else. The software calculates the parameters in the formula and the result is an image that can then be manipulated further through incremental changes applied to the formula. This process of incremental changes is automated in most of the available softwares so the art in creating fractals is to stop the process of change on the image that gives you the most satisfaction. In other words, this is where subjectivity finally has the last say... What I describe here is how a visual artist as myself interacts with fractals. Some people find their pleasure not so much in the process that I describe here but in the creation of the mathematical formula itself. But however you approach fractals the resulting images will always appear as if they had been machine made. You will not find in a fractal the imprefections that are related to hand work. The best analogy I guess would be to say that the lines and forms in fractals are like industrial lines and forms.

I do not mean here to degrade fractals my intention is just trying to let you feel how I myself see the difference between fractals and digital variations.

In my digital variations, because I start from a photo of an existing painting, I never can reach the perfection of a machined straight line nor the perfection of a machined curve nor the perfection of a color transition. The imperfections that are resulting from a hand work are resulting from the communication between the eyes that see, the brain that decides and the hands that execute. The eyes do not necessarily register the exactitude of what they look at, the brain decides according to the preferences that we accumulated as a result of our past experiences and the hands can only do what they have been trained to do... What I want to show here is that a hand work done by a person contains the character of that person, his mood, likes and dislikes and other preferences. Digital variations of the photo of a painting are not taking away the character of the hand work nor of the craft of the creator of the painting they are just amplifying or reducing this or that imprint of the character.

The difference between fractals and digital variations is thus analogous to the difference between industrial products and arts and crafts wares. From my own experience I conclude that fractals are like hamburgers from MacDonalds while digital variations are like fine Chinese or French cuisine. That must be the reason why I find so much pleasure in my digital variations...




2005/04/05

About modern art: the artist's choice. But is it really so?

I just read the following in ART FOR A CHANGE:
"Hirst was interviewed at the Gagosian Gallery, a New York venue currently showing his latest works. The Elusive Truth is a display of 29 photorealist oil paintings by Hirst... except that he didn't paint a single one of them. The artworks were actually painted by an assembly line of assistants. Hirst only stepped in to add a few final brush strokes, a detail here and there, and to add the all important signature of the master. He admits that he can't paint, saying that "You'd get an inferior painting if it's done by the artist." The paintings, which have sold from $200,000 to $2 million each, are based on cheerless photos of drug addicts, suicide bombers, and hospital scenes. Prints of works in the Gagosian exhibit go for $20,000. One can only wonder what the assistants were paid."
To read this article click here:
URL: Has Damien Hirst Jumped the Shark?
The provocateur's new paintings still can't get much beyond his need to shock, by Mark Stevens
URL: This Is Your Brain on Pause by Michael Kimmelman


What to say?
As I mentionned yesterday art and marketing are two different things but it seems that marketing irremediably dominates the art sphere in our societies is it not?

The artist and all honest thinkers, for that matter, are thus confronted with a choice of life:
- or trying to make money and thus find a way to enter the marketing chain by catching the attention of the media through any means. (remember Banksi and the focus on his recent New York prank by the art-word machine ?)
- or, knowing that this will not bring you any money, think about the old question "what is reality?" and try to convey in visual signs the emerging ideas that are shaping a postmodern worldview that for the first time in human history will be a truly global worldview.

The entire collection of posts on "Crucial Talk" is devoted to art with no concern for marketing.

It makes no doubt that reading the words of Mark Vallen cited here above inspires a disturbing feel of disgust for the state of the arts in our societies. But is this state of affair of the arts not representative of a more general state of affair of the human condition? After reading Vallen's post "Of Cheese & Pickled Sharks" I read in The Guardian about "a report backed by 1,360 scientists from 95 countries - some of them world leaders in their fields - today warns that the almost two-thirds of the natural machinery that supports life on Earth is being degraded by human pressure... In effect, one species is now a hazard to the other 10 million or so on the planet, and to itself".
Yes here we are: humanity as a hazard to the principle of life !

Soo...
Different people react in different ways. Some fall for suicide, some fall for terror, some fall for material possessions...
My personal way to survive in this maelstrom is to search for the beauty of ideas best matching reality, not the image that projects on our retina but, the understanding of the workings of the whole and of our place as particles in this whole.
My paintings are thus not "realist" in the classical sense they are visual signs of, our understanding about reality, our latest ideas about what reality is all about. Reality is not attainable to us small particles of the whole, at best, we can approximate reality through words, ideas and visual signs. As Lao Tze wrote "the tao that we speak about is not the real tao".
Producing visual signs, of the ideas of the men of knowledge of the day about reality, this has been the societal function of visual arts throughout the whole length of our human history. My personal works are just that and nothing more than that.
I know that our societies are going through a period of very thick fog in terms of consciousness and that the ensueing confusion is favoring an all out merchandization of life. The next step, I guess, they'll ask us to pay for the right to breathe air...
So what can we do? We best we can ever hope of achieving is to take back the control over our personal consciousness, over our personal freedom to examine the validity of all available ideas about reality, with the hope to harness our free will.
Check the meaning of those words in some of my last works.