2007/09/12

What now in painting? Part 2: The visual form of meaning.



Summary of Part 1:
= Art as an illustration of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day:
........... but who are the men of knowledge in late modernity?
........... artists have to build up their own knowledge base
= Knowledge as the outcome of:
........... an accumulation of knowings by scientists.
........... a philosophic vision of the human atom as particle of an unattainable whole.

2007/09/06

What now in painting? Part 1: The meaning of what to represent.

The central thesis that runs through my rumblings about visual arts is that they are no more than the visual representation by artists, of the worldview of the men of knowledge of their days, for all to share. Under Animism they represent the worldview of the shaman, under Religious times they represent the creed professed by the priests and under Modernity they represent as many signs of the value system of the triumphing aristocracy and new rich merchants.

2007/08/24

Nourished by the sap bubbling from our civilizational roots.

It's like a given for all of us that people of different civilizations are and behave very differently. We all inherited stereotypes about "the other" but once we start to better know people from another civilization it seems that those differences are fast melting away. In "the other" we discover a human as ourselves. But is this the real thing happening or is it only a mirage given by the picture of our perception in our heads? In this post I posit that civilizations imprint a subtle code of behavior within societies that reflects upon individual attitudes.

2007/08/07

Loss of certainty and the purpose of life?"

This post is a follow-up of my commentary in StumbleUpon about Christianity finds a fulcrum in Asia by Spengler that was published by AsiaTimes.
________________




"Christianity is the great liquidator of traditional society, calling individuals out of their tribes and nations to join the ekklesia, which transcends race and nation."
writes a proud Spengler.

2007/07/23

My last 4 paintings

I write much about the meaning and societal sense of visual arts but how does my painting relate to my writings? Take a peak at my last 4 paintings they foreshadow the content of my next post.

Acrylic on canvas. Size: 24" x 30" (61 x 76.5 cm)

Acrylic on canvas. Size: 20" x 24" (50.5 x 61 cm)

Acrylic on paper glued on hard wooden panel. Size: 17" x 22" (43 x 56 cm)

Acrylic on canvas. Size: 36" x 24" (92 x 61 cm)




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2007/06/04

The plight of the visual artist in late-modernity.

Seen from a historical perspective the form taken by visual art appears to have greatly evolved over time while its function has nevertheless remained constant, indeed, along 99.99% of its timespan visual art has been the visual representation of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day, by the artist, at the attention of his fellow citizens.
From early on humans understood that they could not survive by themselves alone in the wild but that they needed to be part of a societal grouping to assure their reproduction and that of their children. Societies were thus a fact of life for humanity since way back in time as it is also for most other animals. But once in existence societies behave like ensembles on their own and devise strategies to preserve their own reproduction. It's inside those societal strategies of reproduction that visual art finds its roots.
Through adaptation and evolution the eye evolved as the most important human sensor. Since millions of years each individual has been bestowed with vision to protect himself from the dangers lurking in his immediate environment and this, in turn, has shaped the foundations upon which humanity has developed its understanding of reality.
Under animism, along far more than one hundred thousand years, primitive arts have represented the worldview of the shaman. The role of the shaman (the man of knowledge within the tribe) was the formation of knowledge about what reality is all about, that means about all aspects touching the existence of his tribe. He then used visual illustrations, symbols, and signs to transmit the essence of his acquired knowledge to his fellow tribesmen. The sharing of those visual signs and their content was unifying the tribe behind a common set of beliefs and the tribesmen reinforced that belief through the use of those visual signs as decoration of their daily use utensils. Both the visual creations by the shaman and the functional creations by the tribesmen constitute what is commonly called "primitive arts" or "arts premiers" (following their decision to open a museum especially reserved for "animist arts" and in order to avoid being criticized for Eurocentrism, the French lately termed those arts "first arts" or the ones that came first on the human societal evolutionary ladder).
It always struck me that there seems to be such a strong resemblance in the content of animist works. African, American Indian, Indian India, Chinese or anywhere around the world animist works may vary in their form, the materials they are realized in but the story they represent for the observer to see are invariably identical: the interconnectedness of all living and inanimate elements present in the environment forming like so many yarns woven together in the gigantic tapestry of the one thing all fell they were part of, I mean, the ultimate reality; the Whole, the One.
Under religion, during a few thousand years, the creed has been the exclusive object to be represented visually. With the unification of tribes as a consequence of the larger population densities unleashed by agriculture the unity of content found in animism vanishes and is replaced gradually by parochial foundational stories used by the local men of power to strengthen their control over their subjects.
This is the time when the illustration of the worldview of the men of knowledge started to specialize and gradually the making of visual signs established itself as an autonomous societal function. But this autonomization has been a very slow process that was only completed, in Europe, during the late Middle-Ages.
The separation of functions between knowledge production and its diffusion through visual signs was initially realized amongst the monks. Some specialized in learning and developing the creed while others specialized in spreading the foundational story through speech and visual signs. Seen that the only literate beings were the monks and priests visual signs took preeminence in the diffusion of the creed among the populations of Europe. When cities started to develop at the interstices of freedom on the periphery of the manors, commoners gradually took over this image making function from the monks which thus established the craft as one among the many others.
What is remarkable in this process is the extremely low social esteem that was recognized to the image making craftsmen. This stands in sharp contrast to the role of the artist under early modernity. The entreprizing aristocrats and new rich merchants accumulated their wealth against the will of the church which was forbidding banking activities and greatly discouraging the accumulation of material possessions. This acted like a powerfully incentive on the new rich to start spreading their own worldview. Image crafters were then hired to represent the virtues of individualism that ultimately procured the wealth of private property (portraits of those living in the mansions, landscapes around the mansion and stills of what lay on the tables in the mansions). One can easily imagine that the inquisition did not see with a benevolent eye its image making crafters passing at the service of the infidel, the enemy, and its punishment through fire acted as a severely inflating factor on the remuneration of those image crafters who dared brave the inquisition by jumping over board in the camp of the new rich. This incentive of very high remunerations fast changed the perception of the social status of the image crafters. Wealth for themselves procured them also gradually a high prestige and their craft soon was to be called art and themselves artists. This is indeed the origin of the words art and artist as we understand them under modernity.
Nothing is being meant to last eternally and so the high remuneration that went with the exercise of the artist's craft, in early modernity, would soon be memory. From the wealth and prestige of Rubens history surfs indeed very fast towards the misery of Van Gogh.
The combination of the logic of capital and philosophic rationalism extending in applied science eventually ensued in industrialization and democratization. This process that expands approximately along two centuries resulted in the separation of the men of power from the men of knowledge which, by the way, procured to the visual artist the freedom to represent whatever he wants. The new men of knowledge, the scientists, were left to compete on the "level playing field" of the free market with anyone presenting a foundational story about reality.
In this process visual artists have gained total freedom over the content of their works but the substance of that content had vanished and thus their market was gone, they had lost the societal function that had been theirs until then. But, for sure, nothing changes overnight. All movement forward continues for a while even after the energy prompting its movement has been cut. Inertia sets in and inertia conquered modernity or to be more precise the mature stage of modernity what some also call "high modernity".
High modernity can be summed up as a short period of search, by "thinker-artists", for a new narrative about what is reality. The whole enterprise was centered on content, on meaning, and form was only of marginal concern for the artists themselves. But force is to recognize that the content of most of the works from that period does not carry forward much helpful meaning and that it is their form that is being remembered in late modernity. As a direct consequence of this paradox, visual arts lost:
- any trace of a narrative: the naive belief in an "end of history" did not leave any space for another historical narrative and whatever the artist does is considered sufficient to be called art.
- any trace of a public: from the onset of a high modernity Paul Klee already noted that "the people are not with us" (Uns tragt kein Volk)
Having lost any notion of a narrative (a story about what reality is all about), having lost their public, the question that begs for an answer now in late modernity is "for who do visual artists continue to create?".
Answering this question comes down to isolate the different market segments where the creator, the artist, can try to place his wares and this should also shed some light on the content of his works.
  1. The market for interior decoration expanded from being exclusively reserved to luxuries for the rich to a mass market for the middle-class that was then satisfied by the proliferation of cheap prints and cheap originals. The profit imperative of the corporation being what it is the bulk of the prints on the market are mass copies of works that fell out of intellectual protection. Some artists experiment with limited edition copies of their works but, all in all, the marketing imperative most often leaves them in the quandary of having to decide being an artist or being a marketeer. Lately the production of cheap originals (copies or works in the style of...) has been delocalized to China and other countries of the South. You can buy an excellent copy of the Mona Lisa in Beijing for 50 US dollars frame included. Only the frame costs more that that in the West. Furthermore the level of technical skills of painters in the South is rarely seen nowadays in the West. Copies and works "in the style of..." relate to subjects of the past: portraits of those living in the mansions, landscapes around the mansion and stills of what lay on the tables in the mansions. This does not fit the content of contemporary art works. In sum the process of delocalization has left many Western painters discovering the hardship of having to sell their own wares at a Chinese price.
  2. The memory of our culture and the cultural importance recognized by history to artworks is being cultivated in Western education systems and speculators equipped with PR and advertisement exploit the memory of that cultural importance to make fast bucks by speculating on the value of works that they buy initially for a cheap price. Charles Saatchi is a perfect example of this new group of art buyers. What counts here is the generation of hefty returns. Art is of no importance. Charles Saatchi candidly describes the criteria that motivates his purchases as a certain quality to generate scandal, to shock the observer and he lately declared that English art schools have lost their prime strength and fallen behind their successes of the eighties and nineties when he bought and rendered famous just graduated art students whose crap contained the genius to repulse the observer, and provoke his angry reaction, which in finale is what made the crap to the news bulletins. So if artists want to be selected by Saatchi or his peers the lesson is absolutely clear. They need to provide substance for the news hour. Scandal leading to shock and provocation or whatever else will catch the eye or the ear of the TV news channels will do. Charles Saatchi's company will then amplify the noise which will lead to a surge in value of the works he presents to the public and when the value is ripe to his taste he pockets the fantastic returns on his initial small investment. Saatchi justifies his move by saying that the high returns he pockets will allow him to buy so many more works from beginners. I have nothing against speculators but I have something against stupidity. Scandal never will qualify as art, at least not as visual art, but perhaps could it be conceived as the art of marketing. Why can't the speculators reintroduce art and its meaning in the art market? The answer here seems to be double headed. For one it comes from the artistic illiteracy of the speculators. But again I have nothing against speculators per se. They are indeed not responsible for their own illiteracy. Western societies, as a whole, have indeed become artistically illiterate. The first to blame are the media companies that want to give their poorly educated viewers what they most want, scandal and sensation and the second to blame are the bureaucrats of the artistic institutions. They are the ones who make all the noise about art and they just don't get it. Their talk is most generally total emptiness. Only the noise of words rattling onto one another. But where is the meaning in all their speeches and writings? In the end we have nevertheless to acknowledge that no-one is really responsible, for, it all boils down to the logic of capital that drives us all. In the face of their competitors the medias have to generate returns and the artistic institutions and their bureaucrats have to please donators for the sake of their donations.
  3. Galleries live from sales of art works. Not surprisingly most owners focus their attention on what sells and force is to observe that what sells is conventional, in other words, what sells is what is already recognized. Those trying to promote artistic substance are a small minority. In the present overwhelming confusion, about what art is all about, it goes without surprise that this small minority is preponderantly poor in capital and in consequence its marketing reach is rather limited.
  4. The art bureaucracy consists of speakers and writers making noise about the works of artists. It starts with art critics and commentators in the media and finds its true meaning in the functions serving, the modern form of public art temples, the museums. Money is the language of power and speculators and merchants target those modern art temples with the entirety of their power. Having their artistic possessions find a place in those temples consecrate their value in the eyes of all... The artists who might want to target that segment of the market better be advised first to try to be enlisted by a powerful speculator. Their direct encounter with this bureaucracy could at best only result in the sharing of some charitable proceeds in the form of meager grants or other.
  5. Are there still some art connoisseurs out there? Yes they did not disappear all together. One still can find some specimen here and there but most generally they are not that wealthy, albeit, they are well educated or cultured. Those rare specimen of art connoisseurs are the best that can befall an artist. They know what they speak about and for artists they act as stimulating intellectual muses.
  6. The last segment of the artist's market is himself. He will not generate any income by pleasing himself but it nevertheless remains, and by far, the most rewarding experience for the artist to try to understand the reality in which he struggles and ultimately see his understanding becoming the generator of the content of his works. We artists gained our freedom from the men of power and the men of knowledge but in this process we lost a given content and now our only escape from absurdity is through the generation of our own knowledge base. In our present societal predicament targeting one's own productions for him(her)self has the best chance to lead to a dialog between the reason of the brain and the execution of the hand. This is also the only way for the artist to regain a clear understanding of the societal meaning and function of art.
Modernity has triumphed:
- economically: the logic of capital substantiates all our social interactions.
- educationally: economic functionality obliging; science and its applications are transmitted, to one degree or another, to all of us through our education systems.
- philosophically: we all have fallen, to one degree or another, under the charm of rationality but to our surprise we also discovered that the growth of knowledge, predicated by rationality, is also expanding our field of ignorance.
But modernity never morphed into a worldview accessible to all nor did it ever give a foundational story of itself for all to share. Max Weber noted that "scientific rationality offered us artificial abstractions unable to teach us anything about the meaning of the world". Here we are thus left spectators of the utter limitation of modernity wondering "What now?".
With modernity painters gained the total freedom to represent whatever they want but never were they been offered the intellectual tools to come up with images corresponding to the reality of their times. What ensued was "whatever is art". Marcel Duchamp had it all seen come down on the art world and ridiculed the process by exhibiting a toilet seat that critics baptized "readymade". Profoundly distraught by this recuperation Duchamp quit painting for chess.
With late modernity we witness an initial sketching of the road of humanity towards its future in the form of an interaction on a worldscale of 3 determinant factors that will gradually displace modernity:
- a process of scientific revolutionizing that is churning out ever faster new "knowings" or bits of knowledge about the working of reality.
- the impact of the side-effects of modernity on life on earth will definitely mould our ways of doing and thinking in the future.
- globalization is expanding the frontiers of modernity to the whole world and as such we are assisting at a kind of radicalization of modernity. But ultimately this will project on the whole world the civilizational, cultural, societal and other values of 85% of the world population that was until now only experiencing the destructive impact on their traditional structures of a dominating European or Western modernity.
We have entered an age characterized by a total absence of certainty that will transform into a maelstrom of destruction of our past givens and creation of new forms. This process that could well take decades if not centuries to complete will end with the sharing, by all, of a new paradigmatic vision of reality; a common worldview.
It is the understanding of this process that today offers a chance to the artist to engage into a dialog between the reason of his brain and the execution of his hand. Starting from the self the artist then regains the pleasure of understanding how his creations can fit and play within the context of his society.
That's where the artistic adventure finds a new start, a societal meaning, letting us quit late modernity and entering the unknown of what comes after...
Here are some sketchy trails into that unknown:
  1. On the front of ideas the dualistic certainties founding our views of things (beginning versus end, good versus bad, white versus black and so forth) will be displaced by more interactive, polar, circular or cyclical visions of change coming to us from the civilizations of China, India, Africa and south America as well as from advanced science and a rediscovery of animism.
  2. On the front of our environment the fact that reality is made-up of systemic complexity, or complexity within ever farther-apart ensembles interacting upon one another, will gradually be firmly inserted into our minds, albeit, under the impact of necessity.
  3. On the front of our macro universe will gradually emerge the certainty of our ultimate incapacity to apprehend the whole. Understanding the working of the parts will never indicate us if the whole, we are such a tiny particle of, is a pink elephant nor, if it really is a pink elephant, how many family members it lives with.
  4. On the front of visual representations our confrontation with Chinese philosophy and Xieyi painting (writing down the meaning) will help us reassess the link between knowledge and the act of painting and ultimately its societal function. Xieyi painting was never a specialization as such. It was a practice by the men of knowledge on a par with music, philosophy, history, strategy and other.
A vision is slowly sinking into my mind; under the urgent necessity of clarifying his own role the artist is slowly weaving the dress he'll be wearing as a kind of shaman for postmodern times.

2007/06/03

On ART in the future.



This article is a follow-up of:
- What is modernism after all?
- Scientific visualization. Is it art?
- About the ways of seeing reality.
- Soulless science and rationalism
- Etymology to the rescue of sense in art.



In the air of our times something is brewing that we still can't see nor comprehend very well but that is bound to change drastically the way we understand what is reality. Four factors, it seems to me, are the ingredients of that brew:



1. The mis-understanding in Late modernity that "art is whatever".

If we agree with Marcel Duchamp that "In fact until the last hundred years all painting had been literary or religious, it had all been at the service of the mind but this characteristic was lost little by little during the last century" then we have to answer the question "how did art come to forget about its function?". Answering that question imposes us to resolve the problem of the mysterious disjunction between power and knowledge that happened sometime during modernity:

- when the worldviews of the men of knowledge stopped to be imposed on everyone by the men of power. That is when visual artists were freed of their ancestral obligation to illustrate subjects that had always been imposed on them. In this freeing the artists got to illustrate whatever they wanted...
- when freed from an imposed worldview everyone started to consider that their own views were reflecting the "truth" about "reality" better than the ones of the others.

This was indeed the fertile ground out of which societal confusion would grow and develop unhindered into the aberration of late modernity that is characterized by a complete societal imbalance, extreme individualism tilting toward the atomization of our late modern societies. Such an imbalance is deadly. We are indeed acting as if we were atoms of a "material entity" that were going it their own way. But this is pure delusion for the atoms are nothing on their own. The nature of their being is no more than to be a particle of the "material entity" they are a part of. That is what gives sense to their own existence. Going it their own way the atoms would only succeed to destroy the "material entity" they are a part of which would be synonymous with their collective suicide.

The history of visual arts after the second world war follows that path toward atomization and it is in this particular context that the art market imposed its rules of value. Those are rules of financial value that imposed themselves over an atomized visual art landscape wherein the idea that "whatever is art" finally led to that other idea that "art is dead" for the only reason of the loss of any societal functionality. In Danto's words "Art today is produced in an art world unstructured by any master narrative at all, though of course there remains in artistic consciousness the knowledge of the narratives that no longer apply". From the recognition of the disappearance of any societal functionality at all Danto then concludes: "I myself argue here and in a number of places, that the end of art has come, meaning that the narrative generated by the concept has come to its internally projected end". (note 1)

At that point "whatever is art" became the norm in the game of visual art creation... but it seems to me that the theoretical foundations bringing about "whatever is art" are ultimately very thin and fragile.

Through the whole timespan of human history visual arts have always been a function of society.
I mean that our visual sense is the most powerful sensor that we humans have at our disposal and societies needing some gluing of the individuals that compose them, through the sharing of a common worldview, in order to possibly achieve their reproduction, well because those reasons, the men of knowledge who produced or held the keys of the common worldview of a given society used images to convey the content of their worldview for easy sharing by all the other members of their society. This process has been going on since the beginning of the history of mankind till sometime around 1900 in the Western world and I posit that the necessity of this process has not vanished, that on the contrary, it has never been more urgently needed than in late modern societies.

The question that arises then is "what is the worldview" that should be illustrated by visual artists today? Furthermore where are the men of knowledge of our times? In short the answer is that, if there are still some real men of knowledge, societal atomization has put them on a level playing field with all kinds of charlatans and their worldview is being overshadowed by the noise and furry of the cacophony resulting from the public debate.

In this particular societal context visual artists are like being blinded. I posit that the only and exclusive answer to this blinding is knowledge about the workings of our societies and the road to the future they are on presently.



2. Scientific imaging is confronting us with an exponential rise in realist images of things our eyes can't see directly.

The complexification of the content of available knowings often gives to an image a higher communicational trust or skill than a thousand words. Scientific literature thus logically embraced the trend with no restraint. Such images accessed through the lens of a telescope give us views on the macro realm, accessed through different kind of lenses they also give us views from the micro realm or simply of abstract thinking or of complex processes. All this has been rendered possible by our use of electronic microscopes and telescopes or databases and mind mapping software or new digital captioning technologies that appeared along the last two decades.

Technology liberated us from the limitation of our visual sensors (after all they were only tools given to us for assuring our individual survival) and multiplied the scope and breadth of our observation field. We are no longer bound exclusively by what our eyes see and their transmission of signals to the brain for it to process orders for the defense of the body. The brain is now, directly or indirectly, creating images for the eyes to see allowing them to discover dimensions of reality that were inaccessible to them before.

With the detachment of only a very short period of time since such images became accessible to the public we nevertheless already had the chance to become aware of the fact that such images are ushering us into a whole new visual dimension that somehow reflects the futility of traditional first degree images, realist photos or paintings of landscapes, portraits and stills.

The newly gained profound depth of comprehension about reality, that we gain from such images, instills in our minds the idea of a very strong positivity emanating from such postmodern realism. Unmistakably this is bound soon to shame all those who theorize, practice and finance the "whatever is art?". We'll then witness, within a relatively short timespan, the fall of "whatever is art" into the dustbin of history in the form of a "liquefaction" of modern art assets that had been thought of so highly by the bureaucrats of the art market.

But far more important than this loss will be the fact that the postmodern realism that I here describe shall be instrumental in devising for us a whole new paradigm about "what is reality".

Here follow some examples of such postmodern realist images.


Composite Crab. Credit: NASA - X-ray: CXC, J.Hester (ASU) et al.; - Optical:ESA, J.Hester and A.Loll (ASU); - Infrared: JPL-Caltech, R.Gehrz (U. Minn


Pinwheel galaxy. Nasa / ESA Hubble Space Telescope image.



Botanical Visualization of Huge Hierarchies. Author(s): Ernst Kleiberg, Huub van de Wetering, Jarke J. van Wijk. Institution: Department of Mathematics and Computer Science - Eindhoven University of Technology

Copyright © 2000 - 2006 AguaSonic Acoustics. All Rights Reserved.


Cystine a amino acids (very small biomolecules with an average molecular weight of about 135 daltons. © 1995-2006 by Michael W. Davidson and The Florida State University All Rights Reserved.


Taurine a amino acids (very small biomolecules with an average molecular weight of about 135 daltons. © 1995-2006 by Michael W. Davidson and The Florida State University. All Rights Reserved


The least we can say after viewing such scientific visualizations is that the images they stumble upon are very seductive from an artistic point of view. And what amazes me the most is that those images are often far superior, in artistic terms, than much of the art produced by contemporary artists. Just for the sake of the experience compare the painting here under by Willem De Koning that sold recently for $63.5 million to the images here above. Everyone, not just the art specialist, shall be able to form valid conclusions. I hate the idea of appearing here to downplay a fellow artist, this is not my intention, but I guess that Willem De Koning would have been the first to poke fun at those who throw such amounts of money after that particular work of his and he would also have been one of the first to recognize the importance of scientific visualizations for the visual arts.


Willem De Kooning Revocable Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York. David Geffen sold Willem De Kooning's "Police Gazette" for $63.5 million to Mr. Cohen, the founder and manager of SAC Capital Advisors in Stamford, Conn.



3. The objectification of beauty.

Beauty is most often presented, by the art market bureaucracy, as being contained in the eye of the beholder meaning that it is thus purely a subjective matter.

A few days ago the National Geographic published an article by John Roach titled "Your DNA Is a Song" that should awaken us to the real possibility that beauty, musical or visual, is simply the memorization somewhere inside our DNA of the musical sounds and visual patterns that the principle of life successfully retained along the whole time span of evolution. This comes, kind of, substantiating what I'm writing about in my book Artsense.

Following this idea that visualizations shed more light, and faster, in the brain of the observer than a thousand words biologists started to convert DNA and its components, amino acids and proteins, into musical compositions (see notes 2, 3, 4)

"By listening to the songs, scientists and students alike can hear the structure of a protein. And when the songs of the same protein from different species are played together, their similarities and differences are apparent to the ear. " 'It's an illustration transferred into a medium people will find more accessible than just [text] sequences. If you look at protein sequences, if you just read those as they are written down, recorded in a database, it's hard to get a sense for the pattern.' " (see note 5)

Here are a few exemples of such sound conversions:
- the amino acid scale by M. A. Clark. Texas Wesleyan University
- Drosophila Protein by M. A. Clark. Texas Wesleyan University
- Heat Shock Protein by M. A. Clark. Texas Wesleyan University
- Collagen PBD by John Dunn

One of the most prolific in the field, and an artist on his own, Nobuo Munakata shows that musical sounds can in turn be converted into visualizations and thus help the brain to form an easier interpretation of something that initially seemed quite abstract in words and letters.
Three Faces of Genome Guardian: P53 Tumor-Suppressor Protein (3D, 17.1MB) by Nobuo Munakata.

Those conversions from biological code to sound and then to image are as valid a representation as the language of mathematics or physics or chemistry or biology. They indicate the background noise of phenomena, and also their own conversations. As such those musical and visual conversions are an integral part of our tool-set for describing reality and they suggest that our universal background is interwoven by an infinity of particles and ensembles that are interacting upon themselves like a giant interactive multimedia orchestra that is projecting the sounds and lines and forms and colors in the memory of all its actors.

In substance, I posit that, if we are all attracted by musical beauty it is because it reproduces the harmonics and rhythms of successful evolution and the same goes for visual beauty. By that I mean that visual signs are equally under the determinant influence of all forms and lines and colors that have been successfully retained along the whole evolutionary timespan of the principle of life. All of us humans are thus somehow un-consciously under the influence of some kind of automatic pilot inducing us to appreciate the successful evolutionary forms, colors, lines, harmonics, rhythms... and this pilot is our DNA-RNA and its genetic code that stores the memory of the entire evolution of life on earth.

We are also, let's not forget that point, induced to abhor all unsuccessful forms, colors, lines, harmonics and rhythms. Such unsuccessful sounds are quite easily recognizable, for, our ears do not seem to tolerate them, as if it were a question of hearing-physicality, while in the visual realm acceptable signs seem more dependent on our cultural build-up that spans tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years back which should explain why our eyes are able to look at whatever. It is indeed our value system that makes us eventually reject an image or a visual sign and not our physicality.

What I write here is not something so radically new. It is only the transcription of an eternal artistic truth into a present day form that grows out of our contemporary knowledge-base. Kandinsky is assuredly one of the thinker-artists who best described this idea of objective beauty. "Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an art that is still-born. ... There is, however, in art another kind of external similarity which is founded on a fundamental truth. When there is a similarity of inner tendency in the whole moral and spiritual atmosphere, a similarity of ideals, at first closely pursued but later lost to sight, a similarity in the inner feeling of any one period to that of another, the logical result will be a revival of the external forms which served to express those inner feelings in an earlier age. An example of this today is our sympathy, our spiritual relationship, with the primitives. Like ourselves, these artists sought to express in their work only internal truths, renouncing in consequence all consideration of external form." (see note 6)

Kandinsky's idea of internal truths is founded upon a firm conviction that something objective is hidden deep inside all of us. But he very well knew that in his age those internal truths remained hidden and that "this all-important spark of inner life today is at present only a spark."

Whatever the advances of science one hundred years after Kandinsky wrote "The art of spiritual harmony" we still, today, have not grasped the profundity of his intuition.

Notwithstanding our general ignorance it is nowadays a well accepted fact that life is governed by forms, colors, lines, rhythms and harmonics that are not directly accessible to human sensors. We know they are there but that is about all we know.



4. Globalization and the great melting-pot.

"Whatever is art" shall not vanish from our sight like erased by a single swoop of my words nor shall scientific imaging be integrated into the consciousness of all by any more swoop of my words nor shall the objectification of beauty materialize in knowledge made of stone.
Those three seem to be, no more than a sign of the times under late modernity in the Western world which including Japan and some other isolated countries (the North) represent barely 15% of the world population and this figure is bound to decline further in the foreseeable future.

The brew of those three ingredients, in the North, is a process that will be taking a long time before completion. It would be day-dreaming to believe that we'll be given to taste it soon and there is one more complication. Even if we succeeded societally, here or there to near completion of this postmodern brew, force is to recognize that its taste should not be mature, for, if modernity could mature and even reach its late stages within the confines of one, two or three regions, in contrast, postmodernity is a global affair that comes after the completion of the expansion of modernity to the 4 corners of the world. Post-modernity will definitely include much of the thinking and philosophical background of the Chinese, and the same I'm sure can be said of, the philosophical background of the Indians, the Africans, the Arabs, the South-Americans.

What I mean to say ultimately is that the Western intelligentsia's approach towards postmodernity is definitely totally out of touch with the reality of 85% of the world population and in the present times of capitalistic globalization it makes no doubt at all that such a Western-centric vision is doomed. See the visualization of the evolution of the distribution of economic power around the world given in this stunning eight images slide-show of Der Spiegel Online: "Postponed Power: The Rise of China and India"


World in 2005. Copyright Der Spiegel Online


World in 2050. Copyright Der Spiegel Online.


I'm not a divinator, I can't see into the future. But I believe that, out of the process of change that is taking place nowadays within the timescale of the "long history", we can determine the factors that will be most determinant in the shaping of the future of humanity. Some of those factors are already visible for those who care to accumulate the necessary knowledge and who furthermore care enough to look attentively at what's going on around us today and I firmly believe that the 4 factors that I introduced here above constitute the core of what lies ahead in the making of our future visual reality.

As a visual artist I feel that it is my duty to understand the following questions:

- What is art?
Answer: art is the illustration of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day at the attention of their contemporaries. So who are the men of knowledge of our days? I dare to venture that we are like in a "hole" in late modernity not knowing clearly any longer who are the men of knowledge of the day. For sure we all know that the scientists are accumulating vast pools of "knowings" but we also have this confused feel that somehow they do not succeed to transform those "knowings" into workable knowledge that could transform into a worldview to be shared by all.

- What is the knowledge of our days?
"Men of knowledge" are no longer readily available in the North, as was the case since the start of humanity's history till somewhere around 1900. So the only valid answer at the disposal of visual artists is to accumulate by themselves the necessary "knowings" in order to weave a valid knowledge-base that they could then transform into visual signs or signals of the worldview of the future that is starting to form in our days.

Marcel Duchamp said no less when referring to painters as "being dumb as a painter"... The drama of our age in the visual art world is that schools and art academies only teach kids the use of a tool: a pencil, a brush, a computer program or else out of any understanding of what the use of such tools should be set to accomplish. But the problem runs deeper than the education system. It is indeed the whole bureaucracy of the art market that does not get it. The art market pretends it is content driven but very few critics, dealers and even less buyers are intellectually capable of understanding let alone putting a valid interpretation of the working of reality into their words to communicate them to the public and the public art institutions.

Artistic qualities are not being determined by the art market.

Only time shall determine what remains artistically valid half a century, a century or more, from now. But again time is only a convenient way to put things, for, it is the knowledge shared by the people of the future that will in fact determine if a work realized today has its place in front of their eyes. If we are really conscientious of that very fact then I believe there remains only one choice for all those who are active today in the art world and that is to accumulate the necessary knowings to grasp the wave of humanity's "globalizing worldview"... and then to surf on that wave as best as one can.
____________




Notes:

1. Arthur Danto. "After the end of art". Princeton paperbacks. 1997.

2. Amino acids.
Amino acids have the following general chemical structure (C = carbon, H = hydrogen, O = oxygen, N = nitrogen). All amino acids have the same general structure, but each has a different R-group -- the chemical group represented by the designation "R".
The carbon atom to which the R group is connected is called the alpha carbon. See table of amino acid R-groups

3. Proteins.
Amino acids are connected to make proteins through a chemical reaction in which a molecule of water is removed, leaving two amino acids residues (i.e. what's left when the water is removed) connected by a peptide bond. Connecting multiple amino acids in this way produces a polypeptide. Proteins are polypeptides composed of 20 different amino acids.
The linear order of amino acids in a polypeptide is called its primary structure. The primary structure is represented in the protein databases by a string of single letters, like a long word or sentence. The order of letters is the order in which the amino acids were strung together when the polypeptide was synthesized.

4. DNA.
DNA is a two-stranded molecule. Each strand is a polynucleotide composed of A (adenosine), T (thymidine), C (cytidine), and G (guanosine). Each strand has polarity and runs antiparallel in such a way that one strand runs 5' -> 3' while the other one runs 3' -> 5'.
One strand of DNA holds the information that codes various genes; this strand is often called the template strand or antisense strand (containing anticodons). The other, and complementary, strand is called the coding strand or sense strand (containing codons).
The Genetic Code is known as "universal", because it is used by all known organisms. So the genetic code is the code of the principle of life. The universality of the genetic code encompasses all animals (including humans), plants, fungi, archaea, bacteria, and viruses.

5. "A Protein Primer": a Musical Introduction to Protein Structure.
An accessible presentation by M. A. Clark. Texas Wesleyan University

6. Vassily Kandinsky. "Concerning the spiritual in art".
Dover publications.1977. (First published in London in 1914 under the title "The art of spiritual harmony")
____________________

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2007/05/31

Rationality versus religion, a non-sense debate.

To make any sense about religion and rationality, it seems to me that, we have first to situate them in a societal evolutionary perspective and I'm afraid that the question has to be viewed from within the more globally encompassing framework of what is humanity and how it does operate. What I mean to say is that the reproduction and then the evolution of humanity (as an ensemble) necessitates a balancing mechanism in order to keep in check its polarities: societies and individuals.

Individuals tend to push the envelope of individualism which leads to change while societies tend to preserve, at any cost, the existing against such change.

With the start of civilization physical force appeared insufficient to keep in check populations scattered over always enlarging territories. When the men of power awakened to this reality they understood that the only way out for guaranteeing the reproduction of their power over their subjects was to find some psychic glue, in the form of the sharing by all of a common worldview, and impose it on their subjects.

In the Middle-East the men of power recoursed to religion as the shared worldview. But the religions of the word got their biggest boost from the Roman Emperor Constantine's decision to impose Christianity as the official religion of the empire. This is what made Christianity to become the shared worldview of all in Europe and of all in Europe's outposts around the world.
Force here is to observe that in other geographic areas the men of power did not recourse to religion but used the existing animist philosophies of life: Hinduism, Taoism, ... to unite their subjects.

What is slowly starting to sink in our consciousness is that:
1. individuals can't survive without belonging to societies
2. societies can't survive without the sharing by the individuals of a common worldview.

Animism, religions, philosophies and rationality are "worldviews".

In Western late-modernity religion can only be considered as a reliquary of history while science and rationality are the "worldview" of the men of knowledge of modernity. What I mean to say here is that to each particular period of history in each particular area of the world corresponds a given reality and a given "worldview" and it just makes no sense to try to re-apply today the worldview of past conditions.

On the doorstep of post-modernity we vaguely sense that the worldview of modernity, rationality, will necessarily be overtaken by a more globally encompassing knowledge system... The philosophy of rationality was derived out of the application of the logic of capital along several centuries. It laid the groundwork for the blooming of science that radically swept away past conceptions about reality but, in the end of the day, we are forced to observe that science left us in a societal quandary.

Tt appears clearer every passing day that the belief in science as the ultimate discoverer of reality was no more than adolescent certitude. The overwhelming immensity of our universe starts only to sink in our consciousness but it already let's us perceive the impossibility for science to ever come to the end of its quest for understanding. This means that we are bound, in essence, to remain in the dark about the nature of the whole in which we are such tiny particles... But this does in no way diminish the fundamental jump in the quality of our observations and deductions that science helped us to reach along these last centuries. This only brings us back to our senses from our adolescent dreams.

At this point two factors impose themselves to our attention:

1. Science is not a complete system of understanding, in other words, it can't offer us all the answers and, it is by now proven scientifically that, it never will. From this we know that science could never bring us a satisfactory story about reality for all to share.

2. For reasons that are still not well understood science, as the worldview of modernity, has been left to fight for credibility on the societal "level playing field" with all kinds of charlatans. The men of power under modernity did not further impose any worldview on their subjects. In other words the separation of power and knowledge under modernity left both isolated in their specialization and each went it alone along their own way.
Even if we make abstraction of this separation of power and knowledge, we have to recognize that the body of knowledge accumulated by science is nothing but a very complex system that can only be approached through many, many, years of studies without ever a chance of an end in sight. Such a system does not exactly qualify to be reduced into a simple story that could be given to all for sharing.

For reasons that I wrote about, in my book Artsense and in articles in Crucial Talk, I believe that our future shall witness a radical departure from the present and that post-modern societies will be given to share a new worldview answering the conditions of those particular times.

Under the aegis of "necessity" the knowledge level playing field, where the complex system embodied by science is left to compete for attention with all kinds of simple "foundational" stories, has a high probability to be superseded in a foreseeable future by a re-convergence of power and knowledge. My writing and my painting are entirely focused on the new knowledge that, I think, is bound to spread in the future. The power aspect is not a concern of mine but I nevertheless think that power shall eventually be involved, at a certain stage, in the spreading of that knowledge...

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2007/05/24

Sick art gives visual signs of a sick society




in The Guardian by Jess Smee

In his latest Berlin performance Christoph Schlingensief underlined his reputation as the enfant terrible of the German art world - and now the storm of controversy is about to hit London.

Images from the blood and vomit splattered stage production Kaprow City will form part of his new art installation. The piece, Last Hour, will be shown in a warehouse gallery in east London next Tuesday, he told the Guardian.

Described by its creator as a shrine, the installation features the twisted metalwork of a crashed car and three films, including footage of a long tunnel and paparazzi-style stills of "Diana" taken from the contentious Berlin show.

URL:bad boy of German art heads for London

How to say?
Late modern Western societies are utterly sick so I guess that it is only normal that some are giving out sick visual signs of this societal sickness...

I perfectly well know about the existence of our societal sicknesses but I believe that our present societal reality is only one particularly bad moment in a, all together, long chain of societal changes. So while seeing, daily, the effects of the cancer that is eating our societal constructs I remain nevertheless optimistic that the direction where societal change leads us will in the end appear to be immensely positive for Gaia our mother and for humanity.
For sure this road of societal change is long and... we are all impatient. Our own life encompasses only a small fraction of the timespan of the societal changes leading us from late modernity to post-modernity. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the possibilities that arise, from the interactions between science and technology + the spread of new worldviews as result of economic globalization, are worldchanging and, mustI say, in the better sense of the term... The conscience of those possibilities is what drives my optimism and I know about the risks of collapse along the road but, I have the weakness to think that, our lives are too short to spend in misery vomiting as a consequence of our ruminating about a catastrophe that eventually never will happen

So my own visual approach is to give visual signs of what I perceive are some future trends in our way of understanding reality. I believe, indeed, that our worldviews, in the footsteps of societal changes, are bound to undergo a paradigmic shift.
I prefer to spend my life thinking about those possibilities than to crawl daily in my vomit and this does in no way reduce my conscience of our present societal sicknesses and the real risk of societal collapse along the road.

I guess, in the end, it is a question of personal choice for the artist to determine his own vision of what is going on in the world around him. But there is one thing I'm sure about. Down the road future generations will have no patience for visual signs of present-day vomiting. In the same fashion as most humans today revere VanGogh or other modern works, future generations could eventually recognize themselves in those visual signs that succeeded to capture today the trends along which their own understanding of reality will operate.... Now the question remains that I have no way to ascertain that my own understanding of the presently forming trends about our future understanding of reality will prove to be valid in the future.

In the meantime vomit seems to pay immediately... Charles Saatchi, for one, is paying for it while the search for understanding the paradigmic shift in our understanding of reality that is in the making does not attract much of a following. And so one is given to ask oneself who is the smart one in the end. I don't have a good answer to that question. Money-wise vomitting seems more successfull immediately... but no thank you, this is not for me, I hate vomitting.

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2007/05/07

Scientific visualization. Is it art?


URL: 2006 Visualization Challenge Winners
URL: Slide Show


Cockroach Portrait. David Yager. University of Maryland


A Da Vinci Blackboard Lesson in Multi-Conceptual Anatomy. Caryn Babaian.
Bucks County Community College, Newtown, Pennsylvania


Body Code. Drew Berry(1), Jeremy Pickett-Heaps(2) and François Tétaz.
(1) The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne, Australia. (2) University of Melbourne




Is this art?

No those are not artworks in the conventional sense they are only visualizations of scientific "knowings". (A knowing is a parcel of knowledge that is added to all other knowings. All the knowings interact together and replaced in a holistic vision they form the knowledge base that offers the worldview to be shared by all the citizens, the glue to keep societies from falling apart).

So what's the difference between such a visualization and an artwork?
That question begs that we make a detour through history.
__________




In short history teaches us that: from the earliest times humans practiced a division of labor between the production of knowledge (complete worldview systems) and the production of art (the illustration of those worldviews at the attention of all).

- under animistic hegemony the shaman is the man of knowledge and his knowledge is passed in simplified visual form to his fellow tribesmen who uniting behind this worldview are like glued together in their tribe. (in this specific case the shaman combines the roles of man of knowledge and image maker)

- under religious hegemony the monks and priests are the holders of the creed, the religious worldview, and image maker craftsmen are in charge of the illustration of the creed.
The only knowledgeable people who could read and write from the onset of Christianity (4th century AD) when this particular creed is being imposed as the exclusive religion of the Roman empire by emperor Constantine till as late as the Renaissance (16th century) are the priests and monks who communicate in Latin. The other members of society (including kings and emperors) were most generally illiterate and images were thus the only practical way to share the religious creed among all.

- under the hegemony of modernity the ideology of rationality triumphed that emerged out of the repeated application of the logic of capital. The new rich who plundered their fortunes in far lands were gradually forcing the shift from the religious creed to individualism and private property. (see "What is modernism after all?")
Economically a mature modernity transformed, from an exchange of luxurious goods as in early
modernity, into the exchange of mass productions.
Under the impact of the scientific revolution and philosophic rationalism Europe entered gradually in a phase of fast maturing modernity, I mean that culturally the ideas of rationality, of freedom, and democracy were spreading as a wildfire. With historical hindsight it is as if culture had been put in the service of the economy preparing the minds of the individuals for the coming choice-economy, the mass-market.

Politics and visual arts were slower at adapting to the changes of modernity then philosophy, science and culture. Society as a whole needed to reach a threshold in acceptance of the new ideas of rationality, science, freedom and democracy before politics and visual arts could enter the dance of a maturing modernity.

The passage from early modernity to mature modernity must be seen as the real turning point from a religious worldview to a modern worldview. After a period of social fights for the recognition of the rights of all citizens, in the evening of the nineteenth century, politics integrated finally the new ideals of freedom and democracy but in doing so it abandoned its traditional role that had been, since the beginning of civilization, to force in the mind of all citizens the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day. In this abandonment by the men of power artists were set free of their traditional societal mission at illustrating the worldview of the men of knowledge. But all this happened without one word being uttered. The artists had gained the freedom to paint what they please but, oh irony, they are still totally un-conscientious about the changes that occurred, in their societal function, at the turn of the twentieth century.

Those systemic changes put the visual arts out of a societal role.
But is this the real story?
Is this not more like the fog of a complete societal confusion that leaves us all completely blind and thus unable to understand the yearning for sense by most of the citizens in our present-day late-modern societies?

One century passed since those systemic changes apparently left the visual arts out of a societal role. That is a very short time span on the ladder of societal evolution and force is to observe that the spirit of modernity was easily absorbed by Western citizens during the last 100 years of mass market consumerism. Advertisement took over from visual arts pulling the individuals on a roller-coaster of material possessions leaving most of us drowning under mountains of "stuff". But three factors interacting among themselves are preparing our awakening.

Science and technology + economic and cultural globalization + environmental degradation and resource depletion are pulling us into a societal maelstrom on a global scale without any precedent in past history. The societal "malaise", that is already strongly felt nowadays by many of us yearning for sense in churches, mosques, temples, or wherever else, is bound to increase dramatically in the coming years and could very well ultimately put us all in the bounds of a societal collapse.

This yearning for sense is a yearning to share the worldview of the men of knowledge of late modernity, early post-modernity. There is only one problem. Where are the men of knowledge of our days? Are they the scientists? No they are holders of knowings but not really of knowledge. Are they the priest, the monks, the imams? No their worldviews derives from a state of knowledge arrived at in earlier times and so they are not suitable to answer the realities of our present times. So who are the men of knowledge of our times? I confess that I don't know. I sure know some wise individuals but they all are pedalling in one way streets or walking in the wilderness.
__________



This leads us back to our initial question "what's the difference between a scientific visualization and an artwork?

Scientific visualizations are not works of art in the sense that they do not illustrate the knowledge of our times but rudimentary fragments only of that knowledge. Those fragments surely help us better understanding that the "first degree image that projects on our retina" is at best only a very weak image that has not the slightest chance to help us coming to grips with our present reality. In that sense scientific visualizations are kind of precursors or awakeners to the visual arts to come.


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2007/05/05

What is modernism after all?


When placed in a societal perspective (economic, social and cultural history) it seems to me that the seeds of modernism started to sprout with the plunder of Middle-Eastern luxuries during the crusades and the flow of trade that ensued along the following centuries.

By the 15th, 16th centuries, art was transitioning in Europe from being exclusively at the service of religion to becoming the illustrator and propagator of the visual signs of modernity. For over a millennium after Constantine imposed Christianity as the religion of the Roman empire, religious stories were the only accepted subjects to be represented in art.

Jan van Eyck Madonna of Canon van der Paele,1436 oil on panel, Musee Communal at Bruges.


From the 15th to the 16th century art goes from an artistic practice describing religious stories at the attention of the followers of the church to the "sanctification" of the bourgeoisie's new values of individualism and private property. Their purchases of works to be suspended on the walls of their mansions (built with the proceeds of their plunders in far lands) gradually overtook the purchases by the church and thus eclipsed the traditional religious visual signs illustrated in painting and the other visual arts. This period is called the Renaissance for it was kind of a revolution to satisfying the emerging needs of the new rich, the enterprising aristocracy and merchants through the recourse to Greeck pre-christian knowledge that had been lost in Europe during the Middle-ages but had been rediscovered in the rich Muslim university libraries of the Middle-East. The new visual signs in demand were portraits of the new rich and the members of their families, landscapes around their manors and stills. Such subjects will dominate the visual art scene for the next four centuries.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Hunters in the Snow 1565; 
Oil on panel, 117 x 162 cm; Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna


Only in the second half of the nineteenth century do things start to change.

A technological explosion (trains, long distance communications,...) that goes in parallel with the emergence of philosophical rationalism somehow engender changing perceptions about what reality is all about. Van Gogh, Gauguin, the impressionists, the pointillists, the fauvists, the expressionists and others are challenging the "way to paint" but force is to observe that they continue to represent the first degree images that project on their retinas and what they see are faces and landscapes.

Vincent van Gogh,  Wheatfield with Cypresses
, July 1890 (Auvers-sur-Oise), June 1889 original; Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 65 cm


By the end of the nineteenth, beginning of the twentieth century science is blooming. At the contact of their friends mathematicians Picasso and a few other painters want to change the subject of representation by recoursing to mathematical theory but in the end the only thing they succeed doing is what fast will appear as a trick (triangles and other abstract forms to represent more than one side of a same subject in one painting). They do not succeed to quit representing the same first degree image that projects directly on the retina. The same can be said of the works of Duchamp and the futurists.

Duchamp. Transition of Virgin into a Bride/Le Passage de la Vierge à la Mariée. 1912. 
Canvas 59 x 53.5 cm. The Museum of Modern Arts, New York, NY, USA.


At the contact with Psychoanalysis the early surrealists, at least the thinkers of the movement, (Breton, Masson, Miro, Kandinsky...) experiment with automatism but while they escape the first degree image they fail to theorize a new approach of reality.


The second world war represents a radical turning point.

Coming out of the barbarity that had afflicted all nations of Europe artists and intellectuals proclaim their rejection of societal life as it had always been conceived of. The members of Cobra are the most explicit. Constant speaks about the release of knowledge, as an outcome of the discovery of his desires through experimentation, hoping that this newly released knowledge will generate a radically new societal experience. Art is thus conceived of as the description of a reality in the process of becoming and not any longer as an existing system that would be absolute and unchanging. The artist thus mutates into a modern shaman who brings a vision of the rejected barbarity in the hope of gaining better days for all tomorrow.

Cobra Modification, 1949 
(Constant with Jorn, Appel and Corneille, on original by Richard Mortensen)


Having been spared the trauma of life through barbarity and not being excessively burdened by a past of theories and concepts American painters and artists are focusing on their individual feelings. This is best expressed by Jackson Pollock in "Three statements": "The method of painting is the natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather then to illustrate them". Pollock and his colleagues limit their action to the satisfaction of their personal ego, the expression of their feelings, and do not show the least interest for the impact of their works on societal functioning.

Pollock. Number 8, 1949 (detail) 1949; 
Oil, enamel, and aluminum paint on canvas; Neuberger Museum, State University of New York.


This radical differentiation in creative attitudes on the two sides of the pond is largely due to daily life exposure or no daily life exposure to war barbarity. But the societal disparities between the two sides appear as radically important on creative attitudes as the exposure or not to daily barbarity. In short the war had considerably enriched the US economically while Europe ended largely indebted towards the US and with an infrastructure in taters. In the post war America ran at full speed into "marketization for consumerism" while Europe had to spend its time reordering its political houses. In short demand for visual signs for wall decoration were fast booming in the US while Europe debated about ideas. This had a radically opposed impact on the intellectual and creative approach towards visual signs in Europe and the US. The American mass market needed politically sterile visual signs in order to reach the largest spread in demand while in Europe visual signs were largely expressing a political answer against war barbarity and the hope of better days to come.

Shed in such a light we understand a lot better the differences between abstract expressionism and Cobra and its followers and we also gain a better understanding as to why abstract expressionism gained wide market recognition while Cobra and other European artists remained in the shadows of the market.


But how will the input of both sides be judged in terms of the "long history" of visual art?

I venture to suggest that from a long haul historical standpoint:

- Cobra and the other European thinking artists will be seen as the true initiators of the unification of Europe as an antidote against barbarity. As such Cobra could well appear as an early gravedigger of modernity opening the way for later first steps into  what comes after modernity.

Constant. Untitled (Copenhagen), 1949. oil on canvas. 55 x 60 cm.


- The market success of abstract expressionism will be seen as the seeding ground of "whatever is art" and the free fall into the visual absurdities characterizing the end of modern art.

Richard Serra. One Ton Prop (House of Cards). 1969 (refabricated 1986). 
Lead, four plates, each 48 x 48 x 1" (122 x 122 x 2.5 cm). Gift of the Grinstein Family. © 2006 Richard Serra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


To have a feel of how the works of modernity differentiate from what is to come, here are some examples of early After-modernity babble. No doubt this is early post modern learning,for, post modernism will take many decades if not centuries to mature. We have indeed to acknowledge that what comes after modernity can only grow into fertile ground and this ground is represented by the completion of the expansion of modernity to the 4 corners of the world. This will undoubtedly take a long time.

See the contrast of these early works of After-modernity with the sad, mostly negative outlook in Constant's works. The latter is the phase of rejection (late evening) that allows for the dawn to set on the experimentation of better days to come. Those works denote a positiveness suggesting the break-down of many of the present-day existing obstacles to individual fulfillment.

There is also visibly a reference to knowledge that could be available to all. Today the knowledge accumulated along the generations has to be learned and memorized by each individual. There is no reason to believe that the large mass of knowledge accumulated earlier should indefinitely need to be memorized. Extensions of the brain to computers are already in preparation... Shared and directly accessible accumulated knowledge is indeed one of the most striking aspects that I envision for After-Modernity.

Imagine how humanity might then conceive of reality. Here are early visual signs of such possibly better days to come.

Werner Horvath: "Hundertwasser's Dream". Oil on canvas, 50 x 70 cm.

laodan. Transformation. Acrylic 17" x 22".


If you are interested by this approach you could always read my book artsense where I dwell in detail over this subject.




Note dated 2016.

This post was written in May 2007. Nearly a decade later, while still agreeing with what I wrote there, I have to expand on the notion of "better days to come" and "Those works denote a positiveness suggesting the break-down of many of the present-day existing obstacles to individual fulfillment".

My view today is that our societies are on an accelerated path to collapse. This will assuredly not be a picnic. But while collapse evokes hard times ahead it also evokes the liberation from a hated worldview and the chance to recover one's sanity.

Modernity has been overly successful and this is what in the end is killing it. The side-effects of Modernity have no other explanation than the dumbing down of the individuals in an overly wild individualism and consumerism that act like a lobotomization inducing infantilism. In the future historians will indeed be asking why did Moderns lose the usage of their minds. Why did they follow, like sheep, the abstract idea contained in the reason at work within capital? Why did they continue destroying life on earth while collapse was already well advanced?

To future minds our behavior today as a species will indeed appear baffling to say the least.

When you understand where humanity stands today you can only dread what is coming our way but at the same time you also feel a tickling of encouragement because it promises the ending of what can only be called an era of sheer insanity. It is in that sense that the expression "better days to come" has to be understood ...as being the promise that is contained in this tickling of encouragement in our minds.

My work "Transformation" here above reflects such a promise of leaving chaos and entering an emergent new order...


2007/05/02

Soulless science and rationalism

Alan Finder had an interesting piece this morning in the NYT: "Matters of Faith Find a New Prominence on Campus": Peter J. Gomes has been at Harvard University for 37 years, and says he remembers when religious people on campus felt under siege. To be seen as religious often meant being dismissed as not very bright, he said.
No longer. At Harvard these days, said Professor Gomes, the university preacher, 'There is probably more active religious life now than there has been in 100 years'. "



What's going on?

Science and rationalism have never offered a simple and all encompassing worldview answering the many foundational questions that each of us hears popping in his mind at one or another moment in his life. Where does the universe come from? How do I fit in the wholeness of the universe? What is life? Is there life after death? And so on.

It is not as if it were impossible to find credible answers to those questions from a rationalist or scientific standpoint but fact is that only those who accumulated a vast body of scientific knowings can possibly find such credible answers out of rationalism. That means that the vast majority of students and should I say the vast majority of citizens do not have the means to find such answers through rationalism.

But living without shared certainty in your head about those foundational questions can be distressful, for, you will never find peace of mind and you will also never fully sense the warmth and security offered by a participation in a group or society.

Individuals, at the image of atoms, are components of the grouping they belong to. Atoms of iron unrelated to other atoms of iron are nothing. It's the iron indeed that confers them an existence. The same goes for human individuals. We can't possibly exist by or on ourselves. It's the grouping we belong to that confers the viability of our individual existence. And the belonging to a grouping is, first and foremost, a question of psychic bonding with the other members. This is realized through the sharing of a common worldview that acts as a gluing of the individuals into the group.

The sharing of such a worldview is also what ultimately assures the reproduction of the group and its development.

It is as if life, or humanity for that matter, were only springing into existence when their polarities are interacting: on one side the group, the society and on the other the individuals. The contradictions between those poles appear as generating the energy that drives their unity to change, to evolve, down the line of time.
Take out the sharing of a common worldview (belief system) by the individuals or give them latitude to believe in whatever they want and the contradictions between them and the group they belong to fade away thus reducing or eliminating the production of energy that is necessary to power the evolution of the unity they belong to. That's when the grouping starts to disintegrate. The same mechanism would equally be at work if society were covering the whole space of life. This would indeed suffocate the individuals to their death.

The Wolfram Demonstrations Project gives an excellent visualization of the "Yin Yang" that perfectly illustrates my comments: "variations of the classic Chinese symbol that animate the motto of Niels Bohr: Contraria non contradictoria sed complementa sunt. (Opposites are not contradictory but complementary.)"

In fact Yin-Yang are no opposites as suggested on Wolfram.com they are indeed acting more like the polarities of any unity.

Let's say for the sake of convenience that white represents society and black represents the individuals. What we see, from Wolfram's visualization, is that when black covers the full space of the unity represented by the circle then there remains no white which would mean the total disappearance of society...

For the Chinese the Tao of life is to avoid all excesses and harmony is to be found in the middle-ground where the 2 polarities find their maximum breathing space. The dynamic visualized by Wolfram's demonstration shows the range of movements that changing conditions possibly can follow within any given unity along the span of time. In some periods the white of society can be dominant but if society were to represent the whole of humanity then there would be absence of black meaning no individuals any longer... and by definition that would also represent the death of society. In other periods the black of individuals can be dominant but if it were to represent the whole of humanity then there would be absence of white meaning no society any longer... and by definition that would represent the death of the individuals. What this shows us is that all white or all black are an existential impossibility.

The ill-feeling experienced by many individuals in late modernity could thus be understood as a natural mechanism, biological perhaps?, of rejection of the atomization of their societies that on Wolfram's visualization corresponds to an ever increasing blackening of the circle...

Late modernity concludes with such a societal atomization and the fact is that societies really appear starting to disintegrate. On one side the individuals follow their own belief system that is formed as their life goes by but on the other side they also feel more and more ill at-ease and experience a growing yearning for sharing a common worldview with others. This is what Alan Finder's article is all about and, by the way, it is also what many Chinese are experiencing nowadays after the chaos unleashed on them by the excessively rapid entry of their country into modernity...

Understanding the societal need for a strong worldview to be shared by the individuals is one thing. But we better be aware that past worldviews, if they possibly could satisfy the individuals, never will they satisfy their societies. Today's conditions on the ground, in terms of established knowings, are different from the time when those past worldviews emerged. And so societies that would be driven by hegemonic past-worldviews are bound to lose out to those that succeed to devise worldviews out of present realities. Their citizens will indeed find it difficult to admit, adjust, and surf on the waves of their time while the citizens of societies that will succeed to adopt a worldview adapted to the present times will assuredly be better equipped to let the waves of our present reality carry them forward.


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