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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2007/05/01

About the ways of seeing reality.

I first published this article on my Saatchi blog and on The way things are on 2006-07-05. What follows is a doctored version of that article.

I just had an interesting read in The Guardian, an article by Jonathan Jones titled "Ways of seeing" (lost the link). It concerns the passage from a religious imagery to the modern imagery and how science and art inter-played in this process of change. This article gives us also food for thought about the state of our present-day imagery.

In modernity there was first a recognition of the "truthiness" of the image projected on the retina which after transfer to the brain induces conclusions in the mind. This "way of seeing" was limited to seeing this first degree image that was projected on the retina and absolutely nothing else. Such first degree images have been the only accepted images from the Renaissance till near the end of the 19th century.

During the period of religious hegemony the dominant idea had been that god was the ultimate creator of everything and reality was thus conceived of as being shaped through god's will. Humans had thus to show their respect for god in all their undertakings and avoid any personal enquiry about reality.

Modernity revisits this postulate. An initial accumulation of richness and luxuries undertaken through plunder and violence since the crusades imposes the logic of capital on its holders. This complex economic-like process spreads over a few centuries and will gradually impose its own cultural set of values in the form of the idea of private property and the idea of the primacy of the individual over the collective.

Individualism unleashes the rejection of the religious edicts in favor of the logic of capital that is thought to be more reasonable than blind belief. This process of rationalization also establishes the primacy of vision, of what the eyes are given to see, over belief. Vision takes thus precedence and in such a mindset "in Renaissance Italy, there was no separation between art and science. Artists were at the forefront of scientific research - Leonardo da Vinci championed experiment a century before Galileo, and even anticipated, without a telescope, his observation that light reflected off the Earth illuminates the moon" (from Jonathan Jones' article).

So came about the reign of the image projected on the retina which after transfer to the brain induces conclusions in the mind and so thus has been opened the road toward philosophic rationalism that would appear a few centuries later.

Under the hegemony of individualism and private property the next centuries will champion visual signs representing portraits of the family members of the new rich, landscapes surrounding their mansions as well as stills of what lay on their tables. All signs that were like a glorification of their newly found values.

Some 6-7 centuries after private property and individualism popped into Western Europe's consciousness, around 1900 to be precise, the thinker-artists of modernity rejected such first degree images (Kandinsky, Miro, Masson, Breton,...). But force is to a-knowledge that they did not succeed in forcing their way into a new visual paradigm... they have indeed been stuck in tricks, in formalism and without any doubt they did not reach the new content they were searching for.

Only recently is a new visual paradigm emerging, not at the hands of artists but, out of scientific endeavor. First there were those images from the macrocosm (telescope) and from the microcosm (microscope) or from scanning what is there (body, materials,...) then came images as illustrations of abstract reasoning or of patterns detected from long series at the hands of computers (Internet network visualizations, cellular automata's, etc).

This kind of visualization comes to the eye not as a first degree image of what is there that projects on the retina but as an illustration of something that is not directly accessible to the eyes, something that appears as a dimension of the mind.

Visualization is now acting as the illustration of processes initiated by the mind.

Those images are being used to gain a better grasp on the existing level of scientific abstract reasoning and also to help scientists project their abstract reasoning a step further. This is most visible in the neurosciences where scientists are observing how the brain reacts to this or that stimulus through scan "imaging". The image of the scan gives them the location where an action takes place in the brain and from there they can zoom into the molecular structure in order to understand the biochemical processes at work at the micro-level.

The lessons from what is going on in the scientific world have vast implications for visual artists. Unfortunately the art academies are still rooted in past realities and are thus not preparing the brains of future artists for this new age. As Marcel Duchamp famously said this leads to "being dumb as a painter". What Duchamp meant was that artists need more than just the knowledge of brushes and pigments. They first and foremost need a deep knowledge in science for being able to put their feet on reel visual steps towards a representation of the worldview of our times.

But scientific knowledge is not enough. Science is one of the drivers towards post-modernity, that's a fact, but it is not the only one. A cultural mutation is also been generated out of economic globalization that will have an impact as important on the fashioning of our understanding of reality as science itself.

Modernity has been conceived inside the mold of the Christian worldview.

Globalization unleashes the economic renaissance of China, India, South America and Africa that in turn will unleash a new kind of cultural mold on the world. The "ways of seeing" of 85% of the world population are inevitably bound to have a dramatic impact on the future understanding of reality by those privileged 15% of the world population that have been living in advanced industrialized societies. This seems an absolute evidence but it is nevertheless so badly understood.

I believe that, in the same fashion as the real artists of the Italian Renaissance were also the scientists of their time, today the real artists have to absorb the content of science and of the Asian worldviews in order to keep themselves afloat in the maelstrom leading to the real future. Those who succeed to do just that could well appear, in the future, not just as artists but as the men of knowledge of postmodernity.

"Whatever" has no place here any longer.

Now is the time of the brain. The brain giving to see to the eyes. At the image of the "primitive accumulation" of financial capital the present revolutionary process starts with the "primitive accumulation" of knowings in science and worldviews.

Necessity shall act as a catalyst on the emergence of that process.
The side-effects of modernity are indeed so severe already that we can say without a shred of a doubt that the survival of life on earth, in the not so distant future, will depend on our capacity at realizing a fast and dramatic "primitive accumulation", of knowings in science and in the worldviews of the different cultures of the South, out of which a postmodern worldview would then emerge that rejects the diktats of the logic of capital and its mechanist rationalism.



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