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Thinking what reality is all about, writing about that thinking, painting along its lines.
Thinking what reality is all about, writing about that thinking, painting along its lines.

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I just added a new post
"Power molds Worldviews"
to my series  relating to
"From Modernity to After-Modernity "

http://laodan.weebly.com/laodans-blog/from-modernity-to-after-nodernity-2
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This entire process, from the biology of the brain to sapience, unfolds, with various degrees of intensity, inside all integrated complex systems. In other words consciousness is present in anything that succeeds to integrate its multiple systems to work in unison which is the case of all entities in nature. That in turn implies that all parcels or entities, within the whole of reality, have some levels of consciousness which is expressed with various degrees of intensity depending on the attained brain quality inherited from the biological evolution of their species.
...
Since millions of years biological reproduction imposed early groupings based on kin relations. Later Homo-Sapient slowly gathered in larger groupings (tribes) which came with its necessity to manage the complexity of their operation as groups. In other words biological evolution had first to expand the brain to the cortex for Homo-Sapient to possibly being able to engage in such larger groupings than kin related. There was thus a need of an adequate INITIAL biological capacity of the brain, the self (mind), and consciousness, before the necessary abstractions, conceptualizations, and collaboration to make those early groupings function could possibly arise.

Once such larger groupings had emerged their evolution and complexification required an adequate rise in consciousness wisdom and sapience for the societal experience to possibly run its course further.

It is at this stage that biology has been paralleled with a process of societal evolution.

(read the full article by clicking the link)
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About a turning point in my writing
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The great modernist bungle


 
The modernist avant-garde, at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, was very clear about its mission. That mission can be summarized as follows:
1.  rejection of all past ways. In visual arts that meant first and foremost the rejection of the "3 imposed subjects"(1) that had been imposed as replacement of religious representations during "Early-Modernity".
2.  depiction of reality at a deeper level than what was perceived as the sheer shallowness observed in the "3 imposed subjects".

The rejection of the Early-Modern ways in art and what those ways represented as a societal attitude was the easy part of the modernist mission. Discovering reality's deeper levels of operation was another affair altogether.

One can understand, a posteriori, how the avant-garde came to define its mission. We often forget, indeed, that the 19th century had been witnessing world-altering changes:
- speeding up of the rhythm of transportation from the slow pace of 5-10 km an hour (3-6 miles) that had been the norm since times immemorial to train speed records of nearly 150 km an hour (100 miles). Speed was inevitably going to change how one saw his environment. At 5-10 km an hour the environment is fixed and its picture in the eyes is absolutely clear. At 150 km an hour the environment seems to escape one's attention, it becomes blurry, and one is left merely with an impression of what is there in front of the eyes.
- expanding distances of communications.
- replacement of human labor by steam energy powered by coal.
- all these changes had been made possible more generally by knowledge that was delving deeper and deeper into abstraction. This was, at least for non-scientists, how science was perceived and artists were among those attracted by the promises of such scientific abstractions as a means to compensate for their shattered certainties.

When one's certainties about "what reality is all about" are shattered one questions his past certainties and eventually rejects them. But this rejection does not, as per miracle, bring a better explanation. A better explanation has to be earned through hard research or be transmitted by men of knowledge who accomplished such research. The avant-garde's certainties had been shattered and as a consequence they rejected all past certainties and ways of doing. They avowedly wanted to depict reality at deeper levels than "what the eyes give to see" but their knowledge was failing them and scientists, while delving in deeper and in more abstract ranges than what the eyes give to see, were not the kind of men of knowledge who could lay-out in big picture fashion "what reality is all about". Scientists were and remain researchers who are stuck in the narrow field of their specialized studies and as such they don't propose "big picture" visions that are accessible to non-scientists. In sum, past certainties gone, artists were sucked in a deep fog from where the best they could try to do was to depict "their noses trying to smell the truth". This gave, at best, some lines of thought and schools following those lines but none of those lines were grounded in firm knowledge. So those lines and the schools following them would necessarily fizzle away after everybody got tired of the total absence of any link to reality in their works. Surrealism got a better shot at acceptability. But the efforts of the initiators, who found substance in research by Freud and Jung, were soon annihilated by what Masson rightly called the drive of meaning towards the absurd by those, like Dali and others, who usurped the denomination to make a fast buck in the market.

The market is what kept some lines of the avant-garde's visual investigation in the public eye. Before the 2nd World War the market, at best, was a parochial affair where educated and rich local citizens purchased works as like out of a tradition of patronage of the local art scene. Things changed drastically after the 2nd World War when, out of geo-strategic considerations, US public institutions brought the members of the New-York school of painters to the front of an international audience (2). Capital was secretly made available by the CIA and the State Department to merchants in order for them to organize international exhibitions of their works. Magazines and Journals were subsidized to carry the good word about those painters to a Western European audience and more generally about American "exceptionalism" in terms of freedom and creativity, democracy and market economy. The strategic aim of that enterprise was primarily to impose on the world the idea of the superiority of the American model of society, versus the communist model, and as such it was a propaganda stunt. Secondarily the US wanted to dislodge Paris as the cultural center of the world and impose New-York as the world capital of the arts. Both primarily and secondarily targets were met with success and New-York gained the status of world capital of the arts. Capital flew in "en masse". A new industry was born.

The union in a common enterprise of state institutions of propaganda and capital unleashed the first phase of globalization; its cultural phase that later would be emulated and expanded to the whole economy.

The absence of ideation content, or the limitation of the works' field of vision to the expression of individual feelings as Pollock liked to describe it, made the productions of the New-York school an ideal match for such a propaganda endeavor as it was indeed maximizing the number of potential buyers. On one side the absence of ideation cut short any trial at debating the content of the works and thus left the field wide open to projecting, what at the times was largely perceived as, a "shocking form" as the ultimate proof of US' tolerance versus what was presented as the intolerance of the Eastern bloc. On the other side the absence of ideation in the products avoided a hurt to buyers' ideological sensitivities and thus maximized their potential numbers. This combination of the infusion of capital by public institutions and the absence of ideological content in the products would prove to be a solid combination indeed that would jump start the New-York art market and explode its impact to the whole world. The conditions had been put in place for a financial take-over and artworks thus transformed into objects of speculation among the wealth elite. Art institutions followed suit and the financialization of the art world boomed like a snowball rolling down a slope.

The encounter of an avant-garde that had stumbled in deep confusion, since the start of the century, at the loss of a given subject to illustrate and the New-York "propaganda-market" venture is definitively one of the most prominent moments in the art history of modernity and perhaps even in the whole history of art.

For one it celebrates the market recognition of works without any societal meaning, works that fall in the realm of interior decoration. While art since its inception has been a societal affair of visual signs about "what reality is all about" to share among citizens in order to strengthen societal cohesion it was now been degraded to an interior decoration product without any societal function left. This moment should be celebrated as the moment when art died; when societies forgot about the necessity to build and strengthen societal cohesion.
Furthermore that historical encounter of a confused avant-garde with the "propaganda-market" threw to the wind any intellectual coherence left in the discourse about art and about societies. The only remaining discourse left is about "market rationality" and the concurrent functioning of public art institutions at the service of the market. The meaning of art and its societal function have vanished from the public discourse. All the talk now is about galleries and sales. It is in this particular environment that some art critics coined the idea that "art is dead". Soon thereafter followed the emergence of scientific visualizations as I explained in my last 2 posts.

As a thinking artist I deeply feel that this moment is when Western societies took a one way street to their demise.

We are now over half a century later and the demise of Western societies is daily fodder in the media. But ironically nobody makes the link between this Western demise and that critical encounter of a confused avant-garde with the New York financialized "propaganda-market"!

The demise of Western societies that is talked about today is framed inside the contours of a worldwide redistribution of the economic cards within the game of the economy-world. But, while this is certainly true, this worldwide redistribution also happens simultaneously with the eruption in our faces of the real impact of the side-effects of modernity.

All signs now point to the collapse of modernity and the passage from modernity to "what comes after modernity" (whatever that may be) or the third turning of humanity's worldview (animism to religions, religions to modernity and now modernity to "what comes after modernity").

"After-Modernity" will emerge as a process of consolidation of the multiple and disparate trials and error attempts to organize life and societies differently and art will be put to the task of hastening that consolidation. In other words, in "After-Modernity" art becomes societally indispensable anew. This will be the subject of my next posting.


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1. The 3 obliged subjects were the exclusive content matters to illustrate by those who accepted to leave painting for the church for large fees paid by the new rich long distance merchants; a trend that started, in Early-Modernity" around the end of the 15th century. Those 3 content matters included the landscapes around the mansions of those new-rich merchants, the portraits of those living in the mansion and the dressing of the tables in the mansion.

2. The US institutional investment in the New York school of modern art was a secret endeavour that came to light only recently.

Modern art was CIA 'weapon' in The Independent by Frances Stonor Saunders
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters [Paperback] by Frances Stonor Saunders
http://www.amazon.com/Cultural-Cold-War-World-Letters/dp/1565846648

How the CIA Spent Secret Millions Turning Modern Art Into a Cold War Arsenal by Sam Biddle in Gizmodo
http://gizmodo.com/5686753/how-the-cia-spent-secret-millions-turning-modern-art-into-a-cold-war-arsenal

The Paris Review, the Cold War and the CIA in Salon by Joel Whitney
http://www.salon.com/2012/05/27/exclusive_the_paris_review_the_cold_war_and_the_cia/singleton/
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Art and science.



In my last post I concluded that we observe the following, today, in Late-Modernity:
1. Artists have reached a plateau of confusion and absurdity. Henceforth most everyone thinks that art is "whatever"  one decides it to be.
2. Scientific "sight and hearing visualizations", as representations of the knowledge of one section of our contemporary "men of knowledge" fulfil what, along 99% of the span of humanity's story, was considered to be art.
3.  Being one of the engines of modernity science bears a great deal of responsibility for the dire straits that the principle of life awakens to in Late-Modernity.

In "Beyond belief"  Michael Hanlon notes that "Scientists are distrusted in a way they were not 100 years ago. The whole scientific enterprise looks to many like some sort of sinister conspiracy, created by the industrial establishment to make money at the expense of our health and our planet. ‘Science’ (rather than greed, incompetence, laziness or simple expediency) gets blamed for the degradation of our environment, pollution and  threats to species."  

In the West 100 years ago, the public mood was buoyant and there was not the slicest doubt that modernity had put humanity on the road of a never-ending "ever more". Things look rather different nowadays. The nature of our modern reality is simply becoming inescapable but for many the reality of nature is nevertheless unfathomable and as a consequence they blindfold themselves and put their faith in a religious kind of hope in miracles. Religiosity rises as does scientism.

The fact is that over the last 5-600 years the mechanical logic of the "reason of capital" was so successful at enriching the merchants that it unleashed envy from all quarters. 2-300 years ago the philosophers deduced human reason out of that mechanical logic and greed pushed many of them to further try their fortune through the use of their minds and hands at mechanical innovations. It's in the philosophers' successes at mechanical innovations that the scientific method emerged, that rationality triumphed, and that science found the substance to displace alchemy. But capital accumulation soon relegated the scientists in salarization leaving them captives of the reason of capital. Once at the mercy of a salary scientists lost any say in the financial decision making about their future researches and science ended up being muzzled in a reductionist "1 degree, 1 dimension" approach amid the "359 degrees, 4 or more dimensions" that constitute the entire swath of our observation possibilities. What I mean to say is that becoming captive of capital science was gradually made to think exclusively in terms of the interests of capital. Being so utterly successful in the realm of materialism the couple capital-science relegated any of the "359 degrees, 4 or more dimensions" alternatives to the margins of societal action where, if they emerged at all in human consciousness, at best they languished.

That's where we are today in Late-Modernity. Capital and science triumph but from whatever angle you look you observe side-effects that are acting like a cancer eating away the body of life. Societies fragment, atomize, and then collapse. Individuals suffer in isolation and, to the dam of some scientists and other rationalists, to quieten their minds they flock anew to religions and sects. The 6th mass extinction, in the known story of the earth, is eliminating the bulk of living species in the blink of an eye on the span of Gaia's time. The oceans are acidifying and all marine life is threatened. And the individuals living in those "industrially advanced" countries swell by the day in an absurd spectacle of obesity, diabetes and allergies.

Is that the picture that modernity made us all dream about? No that's surely not the picture of the dream that modernity promised to gratify us with. That's the picture of a dream badly turning sour. That's the picture of a "1 degree, 1 dimension" reductionist approach to reality that, unaware of the systemic complexity of the principle of life on earth, is slaughtering life.

The mechanical logic of the "reason of capital" that parasited and overtook the working of the minds of modern men is the driving force behind this cancer that slaughters the principle of life and, force is to recognize that, science is one of its more potent metastasizing instruments.

Intellectual sanity, human empathy and more generally the emotional sensitivity at the heart of the principle of life will invariably awaken us from our state of catatonia and impose us to take a stand against this insanity.

Both the "reason of capital" and science have been such ultra successful instruments that they have gone completely out of human control. But notwithstanding the misery they inflicted to the principle of life simply rejecting those instruments would nevertheless be a great loss for humanity. What we need is to impose the human primacy over their working. By this I mean that capital and science have to be folded within a globally encompassing framework of reference that includes "the systemic dance of the polarities of humanity" (interrelations between societal-individual in  their ecological, and philosophical context). In other words capital and science are instruments that have to serve the societal, the individual, the ecological, and the philosophical. Seen from this perspective scientific "sight and hearing visualizations", while not losing their artistic role and function, appear very likely destined to play the role of second fiddle in the worldview and wisdom of the men of knowledge who, in the near future, are necessarily going to shape a shared understanding of reality in the minds of all citizens of the world along the soon to be emerging "long history period" of After-Modernity; a new worldview that eventually will shape the content of all art in "After-Modernity".

This is where thinking and painting (or whatever the representation technique for that matter) find a common ground. Thinking and dreaming about the content of the future worldview that will be shared by humanity in "After-Modernity" lets artists discover the meaning of what to represent in their present creations. That's how art can link anew with its historical societal function. That's how art again can be recognized a place in societies and how it could inspire the devotion of all their citizens. By that time. I hope, the "art meme", "without technical mastery what we express seems unfinished and without meaning it is as if what we express were shallow", will have spread to all corners of the earth...
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About the meaning of art.




"Long distance history" finds its roots, most often, in chance archaeological discoveries. Those discoveries, at least regarding art productions, relate to objects that go as far back in time as one hundred thousand years (very rough approximation based on the present state of our knowledge). This distance could well be pushed back further down in time after more chance discoveries in the future. But objects spanning one hundred thousand years of artistic practice should suffice, for us here, to come to valid conclusions regarding what is art.



We know that art is a function of societies for the good reason that during the first 99,900 years of the last 100,000 years or so of our history societies acted as the active energetic polarity of humanity while human individuality constituted its passive polarity, and societies thus all naturally strategized that to ensure their reproduction over time they needed a high level of societal cohesion.

During the first 99,900 years of our "long history" visual art acted as a tool to solidify societal cohesion by giving visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day in order for all to share the same understanding of what reality is all about. That sharing was practiced by giving each and every member of society to see the same images or "visualizations" of the knowledge of the men of knowledge of the day. The sharing of images of the worldview of their men of knowledge, it had been observed, acted like gluing all citizens of a society in a common mindset that maximized the cohesion of the group.

Historical distinctions in societal forms and modes of organization, as well as the recruitment of the men of knowledge and the formation of their worldviews, all this sheds light on three distinctive periods along the historical span of the evolution of human societies:

- animism: shaman under tribal societal organization devised "animistic" worldviews all around the world. From the earliest of times, around 100,000 years ago, till the development of agriculture, around 10,000 years ago, the human worldview was animism. Moderns labelled its visual representations as “primitive arts”. To circumvent the negativity of such an Euro-Centrist view the French lately converted their labelling of such art to "art premiers".

- religion or philosophy: starting with the earliest kingdoms, that build on increasing populations following the adoption of agriculture and expanding in the great empires, priests or wisemen proselytized or taught a worldview that later would be named religion or philosophy. In the Middle East the religions of the Word gave way to religious art that was practiced by craftsmen who were recognized very low social esteem. Chinese philosophy gave way to Shieyi and Gongbi painting that was practiced by the men of knowledge themselves...

- early modernity: Starting with the first crusade long haul merchants and bankers, over the centuries, developed a worldview consecrating individualism and private ownership that conflicted with the established religious worldview. Their power in gold and the assets that gold could buy finally ensured them societal recognition in the form of architecture (mansions and palaces) and the "3 art subjects" (landscapes around the mansions, portraits of those living in the mansions and stills of what adorns the tables in the mansions). Such art was destined primarily to solidify the belief in the new values of individualism and private ownership. Notice that those 3 imposed subjects are the exclusive subjects of painting from the Renaissance, 1400-1500, till around 1900.

- high modernity (modernism or 100 years at most on the 100,000 years of art history): the sanctification of the individual into the active polarity of modernity emerged in early modernity with "long distance trade", an offshoot of the crusades, that unfolded in a systematic conversion process over the following centuries. But it is only with the advent of economic massification (mass market) between 1800 and 1900 that individualism finally displaced the societal structures of knowledge by bringing the men of knowledge on the level playing field of the market for ideas where they had thus to fight against all kinds of charlatans for the ears and eyeballs of the masses.
By 1900 the mass market had imposed itself as the generator of the bulk of all profits and surpluses in Europe and the US and thereafter it permanently strives to expand its reach to newer goods and newer geographic locales. But to succeed the mass market needs to give each consumer the power to chose what product he wants to purchase and to establish the symbolism of consumer choice, Europeans thought that, they first needed to break two stumbling-blocks by generating the illusion in the eyes of the masses that they:
- controlled the political process of decision making (democracy, one people/one vote). Power had not vanished. Gold and the assets that gold can buy still had the upper hand and would henceforth manipulate the "democratic" designation process of the representatives of the people. Nothing has changed to this very day and Public Relations thus emerged as the instrument of manipulation par excellence.
- controlled the ideation process by relegating the “men of knowledge” to the level playing field of the market for ideas. But here again power did not vanished. Gold and the assets that gold can buy would easily manipulate the people to follow the ideation of their owners; an agenda that nowadays is being called propaganda.



It's in that particular context (high modernity) that the "avant-garde" emerges:
- rejecting past ways of painting (rejection of the 3 obliged subjects of modernity)
- searching for a deeper meaning of reality to depict visually.

Looking at the last hundred years of visual creations force is to recognize that the avant-garde failed to achieve the goal it had set for itself. It did not discover a deeper meaning of reality and the works, of whatever its schools, have not enlightened individuals nor societies during high modernity or today in late modernity.



We still are searching today for a deeper meaning of reality. And thus the necessity I feel of "Thinking about what reality is all about, writing about that thinking and painting along the lines of that thinking."

As I see it:
- in its enthusiasm, to adopt the new, the avant-garde soon was blinded and forgot about what art is all about.
- the task of searching for a deeper meaning of reality that the avant-garde had set for itself was an impossible task indeed. Over the last millena the artist's role had been to create visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge for all to share. The artist had specialized in the technical act of image making while being supplied with the content to illustrate. With High-Modernity, all of a sudden, the men of knowledge vanished on the level playing field of the market for ideas where their voices dissolved in the brouhaha and the noise of the market place. In reaction artists had tasked themselves to act as their own men of knowledge. But having never been trained nor taught to think about what reality is all about they soon fell in esotericism or worse in whatever the market would gobble. It was thus no accident that the whole adventure would conclude in the absurd.
- while artists were losing themselves in the field of meaning scientists plunged into the microcosm, the macrocosm, and abstractions devising ever more elaborate operational knowledge shedding light on the "systemic complexity" of the principle of reality.


The following images stumbled upon us like by luck in the last 10-20 years. They are the results of visualization techniques that scientists use to get a better grasp on a reality that emerges at levels the eyes can't see. In other words those images illustrate a deeper and hidden meaning of reality.


To observe at the micro and macro levels scientists basically use lenses and cameras. From those they derive multiple techniques. For example Scanning Electron Microscopy, Translational Microscopy, Magnifying Microscopy, Laser Scanning Confocal Microscopy, etc. A good introduction to all these techniques is available on the site "Molecular Expressions" a treatise on optical microscopy. The "Cell Imaging Centre" at the University of Alberta published another very useful PDF document on the subject titled "The Basics".

Describing their philosophy, the members of the “Eye of Science” state: “Our commitment is to the evidence of scientific investigation but also to the use of color as a creative and harmonious tool to achieve beauty. In the combination of the aesthetics and the science we hope to inspire the public.”



Such images are the results of scientific observations. But do they constitute art?

Using the definition of art I gave here above they are unmistakably art.
"During the first 99,900 years of humanity's "long history" visual art acted as a tool to solidify societal cohesion by giving visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day in order for all to share the same understanding of what reality is all about. That sharing was practiced by giving each and every member of society to see the same image or "visualization" of the knowledge of the men of knowledge of the day."
There is no doubt in my mind that scientific visualizations are representative of the knowledge of our contemporary men of knowledge or at least of one section of our contemporary men of knowledge. As such when images of scientific visualizations are spreading around it makes no doubt, in my mind, that they act and function like real art objects. They fulfil the traditional societal functionality of art that always has been to share visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day with all.

Science is largely viewed today as the exclusive domain of real knowledge. But the deepening of the side-effects of modernity, that scientists themselves are telling us could very possibly plunge humanity on the path of collapse, shines a negative light on this idea that science is the domain "par excellence" of real knowledge about reality. The scientific ideas upon which modernity has been built and also the solutions that have been put in application in the real economy were all largely the doing of the scientific community. So science, unmistakably, bears a large share of the responsibility for the present fate of humanity. Seen the severity of humanity's plight in late-modernity we should be asking ourselves, it sounds to me, if it is really wise to continue to put all our trust in science. Not that we should reject science but is it not time to frame science within the context of a more globally encompassing societal framework of knowledge that could, act like a parapet along a bridge and, protect humanity of scientific ideas that ultimately could spell the demise of the principle of life on earth?

This is where I think something societally bigger than science eventually appears on our horizon. A globally encompassing vision of the interactions between the societal polarities that would give humanity a deeper consciousness of its own reality and how it relates with the whole.  This shall be the subject of one of my next posts.
 
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