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")
____________________

Technorati tags: , , , , , ,



AddThis Social Bookmark Button

No comments:

Post a Comment