Monday, January 26, 2015

THERE BE DRAGONS HERE, STILL



Once upon a time, maps were more beautiful than accurate.  Before the invention of the mechanical clock and the compass, the world was a more fluid place.  Maps were made from subjective impressions of distance combined with myths, philosophy and theology. 

 

Not the most direct route to your destination, but at least it gave you something to ponder along the way.


Our ancestors imagined that dragons and gods lurked in uncharted corners of the world.

Here be dragons--  Hic sunt dracones


But as they invented tools for measuring, their world came into sharper focus.   Early astrolabes enabled navigators to track their location by the stars.  Then came the quadrant and the sextant.  Maps became more precise.  Geometric grids rationalized our experience of space.



Today anyone can find their precise location, along with details about every surrounding restaurant, gas station or pot hole, by consulting their GPS. 


What they won't find is the beauty, personality or ambition of older maps.  The information element has crowded out aesthetics.  As our stockpiles of data expand, we have traded imagination and design for the benefits of useful information.

Going by your GPS, you might conclude that there are no more dragons left in the world.

Sometimes it seems that a similar trade off is taking place in the world of art.   Beauty of form is often subordinated to content.  The talent and skill necessary for the creation of fine objects seem to have become less important, while wordy explanations of artistic purpose have taken center stage.  Information technology has become the artist's new favorite tool.  It surfaces in everything from Photoshop images to video art.   There are zettabytes of inert data accumulated in the name of art, with hardly a kilobyte of human taste or judgment to manage them.
   
Perhaps one of the most significant developments is that artists can now effortlessly replicate and manipulate millions of historical images with ease.  The temptation to scoop up data files to make statements from previous pictures seems almost irresistible.  Information technology has given rise to new art schools such as "appropriation," "sampling," "repurposing," "recontextualizing" and "transformative use."

Appropriation artist Sherrie Levine makes art by photographing a photograph by Walker Evans


Warhol

Koons: stupid scribbles superimposed on photos of a waterfall and a couple

Hockney

We are assured this is OK because today "curation is creation."   Why should an artist have to start at  the very beginning with a pencil and an idea, when there are all these pre-existing building blocks that can be combined into new art?

At the dawn of the information revolution, Bernard Wolfe predicted that avant garde art could not mutate fast enough to stay ahead of everyday life in an era of computers and space programs.   His advice to modern artists: "Forget it.  The job of the decimated avant garde is to catch up with the ordinary, which means learning to live with the speed of light."  The successes of information technology are undeniable, and their images are a worthy challenge to the arts when it comes to inspiring awe in the human heart.

The "pillars of creation" seen through the Hubble space telescope.

I concede there are important reasons why our priorities have shifted away from creation and toward discovery (in both maps and art) But despite the obvious successes of the sextant and the GPS, there are plenty of uncharted territories where dragons still lurk.  They haunt the very bytes themselves, creating suitable challenges for artists who aspire to something greater than "curation." 

Lucien Freud
Saul Steinberg

Phil Hale
John Cuneo

61 comments:

Donald Pittenger said...

I'll leave it to Kev and others to do serious intellectualizing here (a heavy topic you gave us, David) -- I dropped a lot of that once I got my gold-plated Ivy Ph.D. and began to realize that the best I could manage to deliver was sophistry.

Nevertheless.

In Roman times and later, practical travel "maps" were listings of what one would encounter along a certain route. This allowed a traveler to keep track of progress. Travel at sea was a more serious matter, especially before the 19th century when ships could move at predictable speeds. So development of navigation technology was a slow, but highly serious project. That and exploration eventually squeezed out the sea serpents and dragons on maps.

So does technology squeeze out art in general? Even today? Not necessarily.

Gerardus Mercator (maps) and Ferdinand Magellan (exploration) in the 16th century didn't deprive us of Rembrandt (17th C.), so I suspect there is hope for Truly Fine Art once enough time passes to sort out scanning, CGI, Photoshop, postmodernism and all that.

Illustration Art aids that transition by reminding us art-oriented folks what the Really Good Stuff is like.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

greetings, looking forward to the silly/fluffy valentine post
I have been very neglectful but time flies, does it not...

Richard said...

As an aside: I think you gentleman may really like Whiplash.

MORAN said...

We missed your posts for a few weeks. Your second map is a beaut what do we know about it?

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- I am a big fan of cartography. There are a thousand wonderful stories about inventive maps, such as the travel maps you mentioned. Sometimes the world was shaped to conform to the animal hide on which the map was drawn.

As for the quantitative charting of our world that makes people so confident there are no hidden corners left where dragons may hide... I understand your point about Rembrandt but the current trend shows every indication of being a permanent and one way trip. I don't know how you unlearn knowledge, or even control its growth at this stage.

StimmeDesHerzens-- Well, hello. There's a voice from the past. Nice of you to remember.

Richard-- I'm not sure how to take that.

MORAN-- That miraculous map is known as the Catalan Atlas, by Abraham Cresques. It was created around 1375. It is an astonishing work (although not always factually accurate).

Donald Pittenger said...

I'm not sure that the effect of various technologies on art is a one-way street. Well, not in the sense that the cruddy variety of current illustration and the poseurs in contemporary fine arts will remain dominant for centuries.

Building on the past ("standing on the shoulders of giants") is the way it has mostly been for millennia in art as well as in technology. Today's representational painters that interest me the most paint more freely than did academic painters of 200 years ago in part due to better knowledge of how colors work and how eyes perceive things.

I suspect that, in time, the plusses and minuses of new technologies will become absorbed and human nature will reassert itself aesthetically both in the appearance of art works and the appreciation of the craftsmanship involved in their creation.

Which is not to say new media will wither, even though it is potentially ephemeral until transferred to a more robust medium (digital to print or giclee, for instance). Some digital artists produce images that are visually interesting and emotionally satisfying. But to my way of thinking, for art to "last," it needs to relate to everyday human experience that transcends generations: think Rembrandt, Velazquez, etc. and how we "connect" to the people they painted.

And those dragons? Perhaps they were supplanted in the imagination of some humans decades ago in the form of SciFi Bug Eyed Monsters.

kev ferrara said...

There are people who just want to be entertained by sensation; the mob. There are the people who just want to be seen as special at any cost; the actors, personalities and showmen. And then there's those who cling to the hull of fame, unwitting pawns in the various art marketing schemes that constantly barrage the world; the culture vultures.

Real art has no part in any of this. The mob, the showmen, and the culture vultures alike constantly mistake entertaining sensation for art. Thus anybody that entertains them must de facto be an artist. Which is where the floodgates of mediocrity open to a bottomless pit of talentless attention-seeking "entertainers."

Thus DJ's become artists, remixers, samplers, montagers, pastichers, curators, cut and pasters, bumper sticker writers, etc. All of them treated/feted as artists without having to work to become one; without having to experience life in order to translate it in an original way. Without having the talent to translate truth into beauty through a plastic medium.

I don't see this collusion of interdependency between the mob, the showmen, and the vultures ending any time soon. Its cultural dominance and ready-made roles ensure its seductive allure will endure long into the future. Hopefully enough of the world is still outside this closed loop such that Art will be able to live on in the margins, making its own lonely way into the future.

Anonymous said...

Why did you pick the last four pictures to show why dragons still exist?

JSL

etc, etc said...

Fear and awe, sentience of that which lies beyond us and is greater than us; these are the things that fire the imagination and art. The ancient orientals saw the dragons and were forever changed, even down to their aesthetics. Beautiful.

Sean Farell said...

Happy New Year David and thanks for the interesting post. Kev got there first, but this I had just written.

Each invention brings convenience and removes both the obstacle but also something formerly required to cope with the obstacle. That something may have been wisdom, tenacity, strength, etc. Others lost seem to have been frightening dragons or imaginative storytelling, which helped people cope with the unknown or simply offered a sense of the fantastic to anyone willing to be captivated.

People today argue from a point of failure, where oddly, people in the middle ages argued from ideals, like perfect love, or perfect contemplation, perfect etc. Part of this medieval notion of perfection was that no one was ever alone but in the company of perfection, should they so accept it as so. The entire culture being agricultural was local and being someone came with it, whereas in our highly populated world we feel lost, especially in our cut and paste, push button reality, but also in its ideologies of alienation, which somehow lack this imagination.

There is an instinctual attempt to rediscover lost vitality, a relationship with identity, but it's displaying itself in some nutty ways like cage fighting, or casting spells which might seem medieval in some way, but still seems to be overlooking something.

Of the images most like the medieval maps is the NASA image of whatever spectacular event is going on there. How can something so beautiful be going on so far from our own awareness and significance? It possesses wonder, which is a close friend of perfection.

Cory Hinman said...

I love this!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH1bZ0F3zVU

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger wrote: "I suspect that, in time, the plusses and minuses of new technologies will become absorbed and human nature will reassert itself aesthetically both in the appearance of art works and the appreciation of the craftsmanship involved in their creation."

An interesting question. If electricity (or whatever wave substitute we develop to replace electro-manetic energy) is eliminated as a reliable medium for data (for example if the grid is knocked out as the result of a thermonuclear war) I can see the current trajectory ending. But absent something of that extreme nature, it seems to me that the speed of our information processing and the sophistication of our software will continue to increase and become more and more attractive to audiences (next stop: quantum computing?). More information will be mastered, our data banks will grow, science will produce increasingly showy results (whether it's selfies on cell phones or images of the "pillars of creation" from the next space telescope). Meanwhile, the human nature and aesthetic capability that you predict will make a comeback remain constant. (That is, our brains aren't likely to become faster, or our aesthetic judgment greater, unless it's as a result of biotechnological tampering.) It hardly seems like a promising competition (which may be why some artists have run up the white flag and taken to processing video images or computer data).

Kev Ferrara: I have a little more respect for the role of sensation than you do. I think the sensational, the vulgar, the lurid all have a place in high art... or at least, I like them (and I suspect Shakespeare and Chaucer would agree with me).

I agree with you about the "remixers, samplers, montagers," etc. and especially that the collusion is unlikely to end any time soon.(The February issue of the Atlantic has an interesting article on the death of what we historically called an "artist" and the rise of a new species of "creative entrepreneur.") But I think the phenomenon is changing from the timeless struggle between the mob, the showmen and the culture vultures. Sure, economics and human nature continue to play their inevitable part, but it seems to me that two inexorable elements are changing the dynamic, and permanently: one is that history keeps getting longer, so artists have to struggle with the burden of hundreds of thousands of talented artists who have already worked their asses off trying to find a distinctive voice. Three hundred years ago Liebniz was already complaining about "that horrible mass of books that keeps on growing." It's no surprise then that artists are tempted to scoop up previous images, or summaries of previous images, and deal with them rather than struggle to find fresh ways "to translate truth into beauty through a plastic medium."

The second change in the dynamic, as referenced in my response to Donald Pittenger above, is the progress of technology. It's just too easy to copy things now. In the past if you wanted to plagiarize, you had to have some skill to duplicate the original. Now it's a push of a button.





Tom said...

David said,"I have a little more respect for the role of sensation than you do. I think the sensational, the vulgar, the lurid all have a place in high art... or at least, I like them (and I suspect Shakespeare and Chaucer would agree with me)."

Virginia Wolfe referred to Joyce's Ulysses as "farting and belching ,through Dublin."

Sean Farrell said...

The video was great!

David Apatoff said...



JSL-- There are plenty of other examples I could have selected. I mainly wanted pictures dealing with that terra incognita where mere "information" cannot go, no matter how fast or efficient.

We no longer have maps showing ships sailing off the edge of the world, but Phil Hale's cover for Jospeh Conrad's psychologically complex novel has the head going off the page. As another example, your GPS might chart every square inch of the world but it still won't help you navigate the world john Cuneo depicts, with snakes in the bed and a stiletto through the eye. The Lucian Freud nude was to emphasize that you don't need dramatic subjects, you can still find dragons in human eyes, in facial expressions, in naked skin.

etc, etc-- Amen.

Sean Farrell-- Your point about the good and bad from these technological developments is what prevents this post from being a simple rant against technological progress.

I agree with you that NASA's photo of the formation of stars in a remote corner of the universe inspires wonder just as the art of the map makers inspired wonder in our superstitious ancestors. I think it is awe inspiring in a way that church paintings of sacred events were once intended to be. The photo is just an accurate report of events but its facts inspire the dread and awe we might find in the highest art. The scale of those gas plumes is absolutely staggering-- that plume on the left is about 24 trillion miles long, or 4 light years-- and yet not long ago something even bigger-- a super nova explosion-- blew them all away.

Art doesn't even try to inspire that kind of awe any more, and it's hard to blame them when scientists show us pictures of such miracles as they chart the universe. How could art even begin to compete? If scientists study previously hidden locations and discover that there are no dragons, but there are sights like this instead, aren't we just as humbled?

So the argument isn't one sided, there are valid reasons why information has edged art off some of its turf.

Tom said...

Why does art have to compete with science or technology? I would have never understood what that NASA photo represented if you hadn't told us. The scale could be large or small like ink drops in water. And space works in two directions, too the large and too the small.

I was listening to a Kirshnumerti interview and he said in India space was not considered measureable (I know in a practical sense it is in inches feet and miles etc) but in fact it is infinite,, like Xeno's paradox.

I have also come across an interesting blog for carpenters called design matters which claims older carpenters where much more concern with proportion and ratio then measure, resulting in much better looking products. "there must be no decoration,only proportion," St. Bernard of Cairvaux

Isn't Art something to be used? If the maker has no wonder in them, don't expect it their work. That is not Art's fault is it? Trees don"t compete for our attention, but when you pay attention to them, they are quite wonderful.
The whole notion of being entertained or gathering information implies so how that we lack something, that we are incomplete.

David Apatoff said...

Cory Hinman and Sean Farrell-- Yes, I enjoyed that video too. Funny and instructive.

Tom-- Well, "competition" is a slippery thing. There's a respectable argument that art should not be competitive, that each work should stand alone and that we can't measure one painting against another. How do you come up with a scale that measures a Gauguin against a Kandinsky? But it seems to me that some form of competition is unavoidable.

For example, this post discusses a competition between utility and aesthetics in map making. Maps went from being inefficient but beautiful and multi-layered to being efficient and informative, dense with data, but aesthetically flat and dreary. Maps were caught in a competition for space and priority emphasis, and art lost. People preferred straight information to beautiful pictures.

I don't know how we can avoid concluding that aesthetics competes for its audience in other respects as well; if people find art less relevant or inspiring or rewarding than facts about the universe, eyes and resources and young minds will ignore the former and flock to the latter. If people find that computer games with fast action and blinking lights are more interesting than the long, slow contemplation of delicate linework, then attention spans will be lured toward the former. On a different plane, Picasso competed with Matisse. Renaissance altarpieces competed to attract worshipers.

In my view, fine art hasn't helped its case by pursuing some of the chicken shit themes that many artists have pursued in recent years.

As for the photo of space, I think it's one of the most iconic photos in history and I took for granted that everybody knew all about it. Anyone who isn't familiar with it will probably get a real thrill by reading about it now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillars_of_Creation

Richard said...

Clarification, Whiplash is a movie about what it means to be a great artist.

kev ferrara said...

I have a little more respect for the role of sensation than you do. I think the sensational, the vulgar, the lurid all have a place in high art... or at least, I like them (and I suspect Shakespeare and Chaucer would agree with me).

Actually, I agree. The vulgar, the lurid, the prurient, the embarrassing, the glittering, the vacuous, the cheap, etc... can all be used artistically, pointedly, or humorously. Where I think the problem lies is when such sensations are used to attract attention as lures unto themselves. And then justified, not just by market consumption, but also by the fashionable rationalizers who only have the temper and training to judge creative work as social phenomena. Which de facto conflates Art and entertainment.

Everything mankind lets loose in the world is a tool of some kind or another. And there is no tool without a "second edge" so to speak; for every invention or innovation there's a way to use it positively and wisely, with ideals or values in mind, and a way to use it selfishly, cynically, wantonly, or lazily.

And, to bring things around, this also applies to the diagram or the map. Or the word. Its all putting pins in things. Distinguishing and labeling, which has its place and use, obviously, but in its obsessive form, the use of its second edge, has become a pandemic.

There is an interesting paradox at the basis of distinguishing. Which is that, for each pin we stick in some point of interest, it is revealed that there is far more unpinned space around the pinpoint than the pin covers. The finer the head of the pin, the more space is revealed to be unpinned, and the proverbial head of the pin, were it to be infinitely fine, would pin nothing at all, leaving everything unacknowledged.

The finer the resolution of our maps - or more generally speaking, our diagrams - the more of actual life escapes the attention of our labeling obsession. Which is why the connective tissue of Art, of relation, generalization, and organization, of rhythm, cycles, and emotion is so essential to a sane, sound, productive and open mind. Poetry indeed “heals the wounds inflicted by reason” because it smooths over the cracks, the gaps, the massive blank spaces between all the obsessive pinpointing, re-revealing the unities, the harmonies and tonalities of life that we have been accidentally trained to ignore as we peer at “educational content” through our microscopes.

Without understanding or appreciating the role of art as synthesizer, there still is that human need to connect the pins and make a map. And I think the variations on "cobbling together" we have been discussing (I'll add in "quoting", "homage", conspiracy theories, and political paranoia) are all forms of "creative connecting" that are mere juxtaposing of found or given elements, random kitbashing rather than imaginative synthesizing of actual experience for the sake of expressing truth.

In this sense, the connections that postmodernism, in all its punk indiscipline, encourages is not simply anti-meaning, but is a kind of training in madness. As such, its danger goes beyond all the meaningless bad art it encourages and promotes. In my view, anyway.

Sean Farrell said...

David, your explanation of the size of the Pillars is wild beyond comprehension.

I think we've entered a new era already, similar to the early middle ages with its spirit of seeking unitive relationships among distinct things. The incorporation of most of Aristotle and the scientific method also introduced in the era, excited a popular urge to see unity in all things. Seeing the cadences of poetry and language in relationship to figures and objects in art is but one documented example.

Art, beauty and religion were wound together by a theological connection between beauty and love and such may explain the conversion of a musician like Dave Brubeck in our own time. William Blake is another example of blending similar to the earlier age and so too, the great symphonies for religious masses.

Something Kev described about being able to repeat scientifically, a connection between a color and a musical note as producing a particular emotion is fully in this new spirit of seeking and finding unity between categories previously understood as separate. I hope I got that right and I hope he gets such verified and published or however one goes about these things, so he gets credited for this important work.

The era we are leaving now is one of deeply disunited categories which have grown out of balance. Reason alone, logic alone, science alone, faith alone, self alone and will alone, were all themes lending themselves to the notion of life as disunity in a struggle against ignorance on a hostile planet. The ideological ideas meant to unite people also lacked actual substance and proved delusional.

Science is verifying things it's not supposed to be able to verify. The discovery a few months back of DNA of children in the mother's brain is one very wild one. And a few years before, oxytocin as a bonding hormone between mother and child, and sexual partners, lent a physiological reality to family. A bridge from real science to sociology and psychology was established in a way no one suspected. There was the verification in recent years of two species of blood, one from the year 700AD in Lanciano, Italy and another from Argentina, 1998, to be that of living heart tissue from the left ventricle of a human heart. This is not supposed to happen. The verification is from science, yet offers science itself a broad question to its own proportion in the unity of things, in the mysteries of consciousness and being.

Art will be regenerated and re-beautified as unity is discovered, because it's entwined with beauty and intimacy, which is entwined with love and space. Love is said to be as infinite as space is expansive and thus incomprehensible, nonetheless as real as space and intimately esteemed. Art is all that and more, but the opening salvo of this exciting new era has come from science and it may well be so for some time.

I apologize for reconstituting things I've mentioned before.
Thanks.

PS: My only grief with lust, is that its quite powerful enough without cheering on our pitiful willingness to serve its excesses.

Donald Pittenger said...

Back to maps for a moment.

Fundamentally, maps are tools. Terrestrial maps have the role of indicating where specified things exist spatially. Those "specified things" to a considerable degree define a map's aesthetics.

For me, the most difficult maps to make sense of are geological maps that indicate various kinds of rocks -- but they are usually brightly colored and can almost serve as abstract art.

Then there are topographical maps displaying elevation isolines along with reference details such as water areas, roads, trails, built-up areas and so forth. Such maps can be attractive especially if the they deal with interesting topography such as we have here in the Puget Sound area.

I happen to be a road map gatherer ("collectors" are systematic, which I'm not), having some maps that have been in family possession since the 1930s. I love road maps, but admittedly most of them aren't works of art. However, the handling of details makes those from one publisher more attractive to me than those from another.

The usual absence of dragons, mermaids and such doesn't bother me when I need to navigate France's Dordogne region or figure out a good way to get from one part of the Los Angeles basin to another.

One kind of map I don't see much any more is the cartoon map that peaked in popularity in the 1930s. For instance, a map of the USA might have state boundaries and perhaps major highways or railroads indicated. But the raisons d'etre were cartoon drawings where major cities were indicated by a small clump of tall buildings and local cliche-highlights were the main feature. For example, Washington state might have a lumberjack or Paul Bunyan, Los Angeles would have a movie director on his folding chair with a cameraman cranking his camera with its two film reels atop it. Texas would have a cowboy here, an oil well there. Florida would have bathing beauties. And so forth. Off the coasts might be a few ocean liners and perhaps a battleship or two. Good stuff, but no dragons or mermaids aside perhaps from the legend block.

Sean Farrell said...

I have some of those old illustrated maps on some frosted glasses. Each glass was for a different state. Children's puzzles are sometimes illustrated this way. I love that stuff.

Sean Farrell said...

David, I know the cut and paste stuff is pretty depressing, but here's a piece of music that might renew your faith in humanity. It's pretty interesting in light of the NASA image, if you're not familiar with it. It's about 25 minutes and quite moving.

Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Thanks for the clarification. I haven't seen the movie yet, but saw the trailer where some kid keeps getting smacked in the face by a teacher. I thought your point might be that we were sadists.

Kev Ferrara-- And yet, isn't it interesting that for every D.H. Lawrence who captures "the vulgar, the lurid, the prurient" with erudition and artistic sensitivity there are others-- such as Henry Miller-- who do their best to shed all that civilization stuff and emulate a dog in heat. They struggle to create the most heedless, thoughtless persona, devoid of the conscience, shame and cerebration which hinder an orgasm.

Bernard Wolfe had an interesting take on this: "Those aspects of sex that can be put into words are the ones least worth talking about. I've never read a description of an orgasm in a novel that didn't seem entirely a literary exercise, rather than an adequate description of a truly felt experience.... [Art] came into being to deal with trouble, not with ease, well-being, the sense of rightness. Words can capture what's wrong with sex, what interferes with it and distorts it and frustrates it and pumps tension into it, but never sex that goes smoothly and with its own marvelously silent efficiencies."

I don't think anyone really believes that writers and artists such as Walt Whitman are successful in escaping the weight of their consciousness, but I find it interesting that they aspire to it and brag about it.

Which takes us back to your point that "The finer the resolution of our maps - or more generally speaking, our diagrams - the more of actual life escapes the attention of our labeling obsession." Art may capture "more of actual life" than the data in our maps/diagrams, but on the other hand it is still frustratingly removed from the primacy of experience.

Does it bother you that those fine resolution GPS maps are still undeniably more accurate than the art which provides "the harmonies and tonalities of life" and can be used to accomplish great things? After all, art wasn't responsible for getting us that NASA picture.



kev ferrara said...

David, I didn't say that art captures "more of actual life." I don't think that is art's role at all. I think the value of art is the way it allows us to experience truths of life through aesthetic means. (And by truth I mean shared comprehensions of experience. And by aesthetic, I mean through the sensually felt experience of plastic form.) Strong wonderful Art, I think, only expresses life insofar as it is useful for conveying truth sensually. (Beyond what is required for this purpose Art has no journalistic obligation. Thus I am not bothered in the least that Art isn't credited with photography, telescopes, or rightly tasked with factual reliability of any sort.)

In causing epiphany and catharsis, I think, art does fulfill the role of bearing some of the weight of consciousness. In that it ties up some of our internal frays, and unties some of our internal knots. And art not only helps the mind of the audience organize, it certainly does so for the artist as well. Which is just why the artist must pursue whatever obsesses him through his work.

The pinpointing, labeling and mapping instinct, I think, is about capturing truth without aesthetic feeling; an attempt to isolate and control, to de-emotionalize experience. As such, it cannot be beautiful. It seems to want to achieve the status of science, but it rarely does. (The news, for instance). It might be that in the case of a map, truth and fact become identical. Which is surely the egghead dream. But I think this tendency, when applied globally to all areas of one's life, relationships, family, home, communication, town, society, and world, is a very unhappy-making thing. (the news, for instance. Amazing to watch how people you have known for years, once they get addicted to news feeds or opinion feeds or activist feeds whether on cable or internet, become increasingly unhappy people.) For, in the emotionally-denuded state of the diagram, the connections between things become anodyne or academic, mathematized and dogmatic; satisfying the intellect, but nothing more.

Attempts to rectify this anodyne quality to our diagramming is, to me, the origin of decorative graphic design, including the kinds of maps you show at the beginning of your post. These are not works of art in the sense I believe the form to be defined. Those decorated maps are diagrams that have been beautified out of the decorative instinct. Real art as I understand it does not begin diagrammatically, but rather aesthetically, synthetically. So when I talk of Art remedying the fractures produced by the critical intellect, I am not speaking of doodling between the pinholes in the map, no matter how decorative or lovely the connectivity eventually seems.

Regarding the question; Does a more accurate GPS map enrich our lives? I think not. I think what it does is streamline the burrows we already know as individuals or as a community. An epiphany or catharsis can not be diagrammed. They can only be experienced. No amount of mapping or labelling or pinpointing will give you those integrative/emotional moments. Which is why all the talk in the world cannot make a shallow person insightful.







Tom said...

Sorry David, I wasn’t addressing the idea of competition, nor was I concluding anything. I was questioning the structure of the narrative, that there is some sort of competition that exists between art and science. It sounds dramatic and it makes one think there is some sort of conflict that Art has to overcome. But i am not convinced of it. Art has plenty to say about the universe and our understanding of it. But it is not Art"s job to find recruits to prove its important. It is there if anyone is interested. If people are not interested so be it. A tree can not always be in bloom.

David said, "For example, this post discusses a competition between utility and aesthetics in map making.... Maps were caught in a competition for space and priority emphasis, and art lost.”

That could change, look what happened to Europe with the collapse of Rome. And now our maps can track us.

In regards to competition, aren’t you really talking about what a cultural decides to value?

12th century Europe was obsessed with God and haven. Religion had brought stability, to Western Europe. Culturally they where spiritually directed, everything pointed to haven, a earthly map may not have had the same importance,as it does to a man who spends a large part of his time going from place to place in a car, as your final destination was not of this earth.

The Material changes and the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century are on par to the technological changes we are seeing today and yet the most beautiful pictures of the time where paintings of the ordinary French landscape.


"Art may capture "more of actual life" than the data in our maps/diagrams, but on the other hand it is still frustratingly removed from the primacy of experience.”

That may be true for the viewer, but not the artist. The act of craving, or caressing , or running a brush along a preconceived form is about as direct experience as one can have. Only if you think the content of a work of art is in the narrative does it become removed from experience.


Sean

Part is wonderful, I have been listening to him for years. You might like Henryk Gorecki, if you haven’t already listen to him.

http://youtu.be/fPY87NcAjnQ?list=FLybKafk9KKt2TqIZRwbgZpg

chris bennett said...

There are some wonderful posts in this comment section - so thanks to many of the contributors. And thanks also to David for sparking them off - it’s a valuable and special talent you have!

When painting from life or reference there is a very interesting phenomenon that is often referred to by those in the trade as ‘mapping’.

It is the moment an artist becomes aware of merely note-taking, of performing a one-dimensional translation of optical sensations into a standardised notation that is placed as paint marks one next to the other in ‘good faith’. It is a more complex version of the proverbial art student using Photoshop and colour-picking from a reference and smudging marks down in more or less the right place on another document.

In other words; it is the moment we stop seeking out and realising connections and only see and realise the notes. Seeing the steps instead of the dance. It is how we get to the words ‘I love you’ that makes us believe them, not the sentence itself.

In my view we are beguiled by a map because it suggests a journey - a journey far more interesting than looking at the surface of the map itself. And this goes for purely functional maps as much as the decorated ones. It’s just that a dragon or mermaid is a little more encouraging in this regard.

Sean Farrell said...

There's a humanities course taught by two professors, one of science and the other literature. The most striking thing about this class I'm told, is that the two men have absolutely nothing in common, can't communicate and are constantly frustrated by the other. The professor of literature rolls his eyes as the science professor applies material sciences to every aspect of life. I imagine the literature professor might call it, a lack of emotional intelligence.

The embodied spirit, torn apart when faith was spiritualized, fully discarded in deism, reason alone, individualism, a lonesome naturalism, requiring law alone to tether a shattered worldview, is but a polite return to force alone. The lonely search for reunion of the embodied spirit has been like a sorry shell game, where the player never wins. This is the old wound that's now being healed by scientific verifications, restoring what is.

In celebration, I offer two Nashville guitarists who can really spank it, Kenny Vaughan and Guthrie Trapp. I get a kick out of the modest smile after the last solo.

Tom, thanks for the wonderful music by Henryk Gorecki, beautiful. Chris, I loved the "mapping".

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell wrote: "I think we've entered a new era already, similar to the early middle ages with its spirit of seeking unitive relationships among distinct things."

Sean, I am not by any means a historian of the periods you've mentioned, and I have nothing more than a humble dilettante's perspective to offer. But I think our human urge to unify and synthesize seems to be a constant theme going back at least as far as the great Pythagoras, who first combined music and math, and launched our efforts to marry the quantitative and the qualitative. I wonder if the period you're describing in the middle ages was less a unification than a domination, where religious faith bullied science and art and literature and nearly ever other type of human enterprise into surrendering those attributes that might be incompatible with religion.

If so, your comment that science has made the "opening salvo" in a new era of unification may be especially appropriate because we may be seeing science dominate the way that faith did in the middle ages, and not unify with other aspects of our nature, but strangle them. The list of scientific miracles you describe simply confirms that science is where all the money and power are today, but also where all the entertainment is. So if we are sufficiently distracted by video games, selfies and internet porn, we may not need to worry about the inconvenient and inconsistent messages of meaningful art because people may have stopped caring.

PS-- I listened to Part and I liked it very much, but I have a sense I'm going to have to go back and listen in a darkened room in order to get what he appears to be offering.


Donald Pittenger-- I love what you call "cartoon maps" and mourn their passing. I've seen a dozen maps of the US-- often in the form of crossword puzzles-- with a representative illustration showing what each state is famous for. That's how I first learned geography, and it stuck with me. Do you know the song, "Rhode Island is Famous for You? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60NbWu1SF5k ) If I had learned geography using a GPS (or rather, never learned geography because I could so easily outsource that knowledge to my GPS) I never would have understood where the song goes off track and starts making jokes about how pencils come from Pennsylvania.

Sean Farrell said...

David,
Pythagoras is one of the influences which came into Europe during the middle ages by way of returning Crusaders. The period of time I'm talking about is 1,000 to say the middle of the 1300s. A book titled The Abacus and The Cross tells the story of the 11th century as a time of scientific openness and encouragement, written by acclaimed science writer Nancy Marie Brown. Prior to this era, there was suspicion of math and science.

Yes, because science is so overwhelming it will reinvigorate human identity. But science is also political and answers to economic forces and it might take 100 years to break through the academic wall which the positivists have built. But even the story of the two professors is a small sign that there is a new sense that scientism is inadequate to deal with human concerns and appears old school.



Below I have written a slap dash history of the era and of the scientific competition which followed the Galileo mess.

Roger Bacon 1214-1294 was the father of the modern scientific method. Albert the Great, (1205-1294) discovered arsenic. The ancient material coming back from the Crusades was being interpreted and introduced to Europe with the help of Muslims and Jews. Muslim architecture influenced European Church architecture. The universities began and Aquinas opened the bible up for questioning, all but the words of Christ. Such was an exciting time for philosophy, math, mechanics and science. Jewish, Muslim and Christian philosophers filled the university in Paris where Aquinas went to challenge Averroism. The first mechanical timing mechanisms and clocks were invented in this era. There are several recent books which highlight the era as one of inquiry and invention. On the peasant level notions of unity were popularized in Tarot cards, astrology, reading of tea leaves, palms and faces and such may have come from the Pythagorean cult and Kabbalists. It would continue with Pico and later the Elizabethan court and John Dee. But it was part of the wonder and unitive thinking in the medieval times.

The trouble with Galileo came around 1615, almost 300 to 600 years after this period. By such time Copernicus (1473-1543) had already been accepted. The rift which was an obvious setback to the Church was with the Pope, a personal insult and also some philosophical stuff. As that was going on Kepler was making advances outside in the Protestant camp. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote in defense of the scientific method and contributed to the study of fluids. Gregor Mendel (1882-84) discovered the modern science of genetics. And Monsignor Lemaitre (1894-1966) who proposed the Big Bang Theory as the origin of the universe. The Jesuits racked up some 40,000 scientific patents in what was a competition for relevance with the new protestant and modern world. The competition wound down after Einstein and the atom bomb. Modern financing and economic growth had eclipsed the capacity of the Church. The concept of hyperlink was proposed to IBM by a Jesuit who was featured in the NY Times when he died about five years back.
The Jesuits were so hated and so effective, that Lenin said something like, if he had ten men like the Jesuits, he could really do something.

Sean Farrell said...

PS: The Jesuits were hated because they were so dedicated. Today they are hated for their leftism.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrera-- I don't think there is much substantive difference in our definitions (or at least, I didn't intend any-- you may differ). When you wrote that "more of actual life escapes the attention of our labeling obsession. Which is why the connective tissue of Art...is so essential," I construed that to mean that art captures "more of actual life" in the sense of important aspects of living, not journalistic reporting. I think your definitions of "truth" and "aesthetics" are just fine.

I agree that "Art has no journalistic obligation," but it often performs journalistic functions, and in huge ways. In fact, it is frequently commissioned for that specific purpose-- Daumier and Kollwitz and Goya and Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly, all conveyed strong opinions about the news of the day. Bierstatdt performed a reportorial function that was the equivalent of the NASA photograph. So these distinctions aren't very tidy, I think.

Your discussion of precise maps and GPS as way to de-emotionalize experience can easily be viewed from the opposite perspective-- today's maps are a way to eliminate unwanted subjectivity. When you're looking for instructions for getting from point A to B, do you really want someone to tell you, "Go down the road for what feels like a while, past some beautiful views?"

If we're defining "truth" as "shared comprehensions of experience," wouldn't you say that the experience of reality on the GPS is shared more universally than any art on view in a museum?

It may make you itchy for me to suggest it, but your position on GPS reminds me of the view of your old cartoonist friend Picasso, who said: "What use is a computer? They can only give you answers."

Tom wrote: "In regards to competition, aren’t you really talking about what a cultural decides to value?"

Yes, at both the societal and the individual levels.

I also agree with you 100% that "Art has plenty to say about the universe and our understanding of it." That's why I spend so much time hanging out in these neighborhoods. But I'm not so sure I agree with your point that "it is not Art"s job to find recruits to prove its important. It is there if anyone is interested. If people are not interested so be it." Most artists I know yearn for an audience, and most artists in the illustration / comic art / commercial art field which we focus on here are reimbursed in accordance with their ability to attract a crowd.

You write, "The act of craving, or caressing , or running a brush along a preconceived form is about as direct experience as one can have."

Well... how does digital or conceptual art fit into your view? Personally, I think the tactile, sensory element of art is extremely important (Note Kev's definition of "aesthetic" as "the sensually felt experience of plastic form") but I still think that "craving, or caressing , or running a brush along a preconceived form" when you're painting a nude is once removed from running a hand over that same nude.

It seems to me that art is always at least part performance, which makes it different from the act itself.

Tom said...

David
I don't think Art is a stand in for another experience. The experience of drawing, painting, or sculpturing a form is just as real as any other experience.

I don't understand how it is a past experience. In the act itself is (drawing, painting, sculpture) you are experiencing the same energy that animates all the forms of the universe.

I guess I don't think about digital or conceptual art much. It is more fun thinking about how nature does things, it feels much more engaging. Not a very good answer I know.

Tom said...

Conceptual Art

David
David Sedris wrote a laugh out loud short story called, "Twelve stages in the life of the Artist," in his collection of short stories call "Me Talk Pretty one Day."

If you can get an audio copy where Sedris does the reading it is even more funny.

Sean Farrell said...

If we're defining "truth" as "shared comprehensions of experience," wouldn't you say that the experience of reality on the GPS is shared more universally than any art on view in a museum?

An interesting thought. If truth is reduced to what we agree to be true, then it reduces truth to the common denominator of the known, to the practical and appetite. We need laundry detergent, love pets and cars need gas. It's a neat and ready cosmology made for the suppliers of goods. In such a world, the marketplace becomes truth and democracy and government its demigods. They become the benefactors who control the major avenues of communication and transportation. They become educators who define truth as material benefit, since truth is what is only acknowledged by them; the seen reduces the unseen to a familial assumption under the same materialism. The very experience of being alive becomes limited and reduced by such a definition.

Under such a rubric all truths become lies. For example, small tobacco growers are paid to not grow tobacco, so that large growers can have access to a stable market without competition, but who is paying the small growers this subsidy? This is called an open market. The granting of money under the name of some good cause paid for by taxpayers and benefitting some business interest looking to hold down wages in another country is another old trick. When truth is reduced to familiarity, it is reduced to self interest and all gets turned upside down, but for holding to the commandments of sounding true.

One question posed by the comparisons of the maps is whether reducing the world to the functional, is reducing our capacity to recognize what is beyond us? Is it reducing our understanding of what is and in so doing, reducing our capacity to make art; our sense of space, rhythm, color, contrast and all kinds of thinking?

The answer seems to be coming back as a resounding yes. In Northern Ireland, it was observed that kids weren't talking, because they were entranced in video games. So Ireland is sending speech therapists to get the kids talking. Neurologists have known that complex actions such as knitting, or playing piano and even talking opens up neural pathways in configurations otherwise left dormant.

What knitting and playing piano have in common is the use of the many bones in the hands. Moving the complexity of the bones in the hands and feet open the complex neural pathways. So dancing is also beneficial to people in such ways. Handwriting opens more neural pathways than typing or tapping on a computer. In learning handwriting for instance, tracing letters is far less beneficial as a method of learning than copying letters because copying them, opens up a far more complex process than tracing. Likewise, Chris Bennet explained a process in painting called "mapping".

Within 20 years of the nuclear bomb, modernity had parted with a respect for what-is as measure of truth and embarked on a new world of will; what one wanted; supply and demand. As appetite replaced the God of the seen and unseen some of our capacity to conceptualize our way through the unseen was lost too, so that observations such as, a painting of a flag is not a flag but a painting of a flag, came to be known as profound thinking revealing to us that all our thoughts are but symbols. Okay, but with this newfound profundity came a breakdown in identities which quite conveniently serves the global materialists and their dumbed down truths.

Not only was what was unseen and unknowable no longer credible, but the known itself was invalidated. This new budding era is one of verification. A Dr. Alvarez, professor of law has been discussing complementarity as a business reality and some are again discussing the complementarity realities of gender after more than five dormant decades. A new validation of identity will re-signify what is.

kev ferrara said...

When you wrote that "more of actual life escapes the attention of our labeling obsession. Which is why the connective tissue of Art...is so essential," I construed that to mean that art captures "more of actual life" in the sense of important aspects of living, not journalistic reporting.

Sorry, I should have been clearer. The sense of it drew from the context of the discussion of pinpoint/maps and the problem of their ubiquity. That the more we fracture existence or experience in order to map it at an easily graspable conceptual level (graphics/cartoons)… the more of actual life is discarded in that process. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I believe every technology we invent has inbuilt a philosophy which programs us as we master the technology. The philosophy of mapping (graphing, graphics) that subliminally programs us all is that what isn’t part of the map, the vast reservoir of undifferentiable lifestuff, is discardable. The more we experience various maps of experience – and this is surely a constant in the modern world – the more we are trained to discard the unmappable and I think this constant subliminal suggestion has already trained millions of people to live roboticized lives, both physically and mentally, in almost servitude to the ubiquitious mediations offered to our senses in the guise of education or mental assistance. (This is above and beyond the roboticism of the daily grind.)

If art were to just portray what is factual, it would also be its own form of “mapping”, with the same problems of miseducating dogmatism and reductio ad absurdum. And much bad art falls into that trap.

Instead what good art, (again in my understanding), tries to do is to organize what is already known (using symbolic proxies) to give us epiphany and catharsis. Art should be a fiction that tells the truth, not a lie for the sake of a political or social cause, or to show off one’s rendering skill. You might say it is a sneaky kind of therapy. Again, to heal the fractures of over-mediated experience, not to pretend to be a more realistic mediation of life (again, Campbell's definition of pornography, as seen in soap operas of all kinds.)

Basically, I believe it is always a mistake for us to believe that we can factually capture life as it is. For, for every photo of some fact in some location that is deemed newsworthy, a billion other photographs can be taken in the same location that wouldn’t be newsworthy, each of which would be equally as factual as the “newsworthy” shot. Point being that putting a pin in any fact is almost immediately distorting. And growing up in a media-saturated culture of constant pinpointing makes for constant distortion. Which is no soil to grow roses.

Of course, mind-warpingly oversimple mediation can also come from within and distort from within as well as without. At the core of all desire or need for mediation is the reality that we humans clearly need help with interpreting experience. So we make simple models and maps and games of life. And some of us apes more committed to mapping it all come up with vast and elaborate interpretive structures. But the end point of all of that is to map the map back to our experience in order to assist our lives. And that’s where the efficacy questions and “more harm than good” questions arise, at least for me.

If there are mathematic/physics truths that give us closure on some phenomena, that is just as legitimate a “shared comprehension of experience” as any that art might offer us. I think all truths must be equally true, or else they are not really truths.

kev ferrara said...

I agree that "Art has no journalistic obligation," but it often performs journalistic functions, and in huge ways. In fact, it is frequently commissioned for that specific purpose-- Daumier and Kollwitz and Goya and Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly, all conveyed strong opinions about the news of the day. Bierstatdt performed a reportorial function that was the equivalent of the NASA photograph. So these distinctions aren't very tidy, I think.

I would say there is a confusion here between journalism and opinion. And then beyond that between opinion and art. I’d be interested to hear your take on whether you consider these things as different things qualitatively and if so how so… how would you draw the distinctions between these things? Or do you think that journalism, opinion and art are more the same than different?

Your discussion of precise maps and GPS as way to de-emotionalize experience can easily be viewed from the opposite perspective-- today's maps are a way to eliminate unwanted subjectivity.

Well, I wasn’t critiquing today’s hyper accurate geographic maps for being unemotional, or inexpressive. I thought you were doing that with your original post. I was more critiquing the scaling out of the map making instinct to everything else but maps.

If we're defining "truth" as "shared comprehensions of experience," wouldn't you say that the experience of reality on the GPS is shared more universally than any art on view in a museum?

I believe I said that a good map was the egg heads of dream of being truthful and factual at once. And I think the hallmark of truth is that it can be shared. Again, I don’t see any truths as more true than any others, definitionally... whether presented via map or Art. The difference, as I see it, between the kinds of truths one can map, and the kinds of truths Art is best equipped to deal with is that once the stationary facts of some area of interest are mapped sufficiently, the task is done. Whereas art deals with complex moving targets and emotionally tangled tensions and must constantly update its proxies in order to catch the eye and ear of each new generation seeking clarity and mental organization.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- Thanks for such an interesting comment. As I understand the "mapping" process in painting, even if it represents a stage where "we stop seeking out and realising connections and only see and realise the notes," the selection of those notes is not a mechanical process (or at least not exclusively a mechanical one). Isn't it a selection of highlights, points of contrast, points to emphasize, etc. reflecting the editorial judgment of the artist? I'd think that makes it different from the raw, undiscriminating mapping information in the data base of a GPS? Even the quantitative notes, marking the length of a leg or the location of a tree, depend on the subjective impressions of the artist.

As for your point that "it is how we get to the words ‘I love you’ that makes us believe them, not the sentence itself," I've heard that argument from plenty of guys before, but women don't believe it until they hear the sentence itself.


Sean Farrell wrote: "The lonely search for reunion of the embodied spirit has been like a sorry shell game, where the player never wins. This is the old wound that's now being healed by scientific verifications."

It's not clear to me how the separation of body and spirit can be healed by scientific verifications. The two elements that you say were "torn apart" have gone by many names over the millennia (The basic polarity is not just body and spirit or faith and reason-- isn't it also the split between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, between Ionian materialism and Eleatic mysticism, between philousia and philosophia, between maya and metron, and so on, and so on, echoing through the ages?) The roots of this tug of war seem to go way back and spread across multiple cultures. We often see the advocates of spiritual primacy in eastern religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism, with empiricism centered more often in the west (at least, historically). Those religions and others have historically rejected the fundamental premises behind "scientific verifications" and the rationalist delusions of the west. Even Cartesian skeptics say that scientific verifications miss the point. What is likely to change that?

I don't take much solace from that outline of scientific development, as the same period might be cited for the opposite conclusion. The wisdom of Pythagoras and other Greeks was preserved by other cultures after the fall of Rome, it's true, but the knowledge accomplished next to nothing until it was re-planted in Europe where it flourished once again and helped lead to the Renaissance. That suggests that science isn't nearly as objective or universal as it's supposed to be. I haven't read Ms. Brown's book about Pope Sylvester III, but I am familiar with some of the Popes who followed him and I would hardly say he led to an era of scientific enlightenment. Just a few years later, Pope Urban launched mobs of uneducated paupers as "soldiers of Christ" to take back the Holy Land from the muslims. Along the way they slaughtered Jews and others for not being Christians. Later, Pope Innocent II launched the monstrous Albigensian crusades, hiring German mercenaries to slaughter the peaceful Christian cathars for deviating from Papal dogma-- an abomination against reason. All this in "a time of scientific openness and encouragement"? Many scholars and historians believe that Mendel falsified his test data to reach the (correct) result he intuited. Keppler, too, supposedly arrived at his famous theories intuitively, after stumbling through a series of erroneous calculations that pointed him in a different direction. So many of these scientific verifications still aren't accepted everywhere as scientific.

Sean Farrell said...

David, you are asking some profound questions. I will try and answer them but was thinking along a different line when I wrote the following.

Truths may be equal in that they are true, but they are certainly not equal in what their truth signifies. Truths signify other truths. By category, some truths are quite significant and others true enough, but of little significance. The truth that there is a small puddle in the middle of a jungle in Burundi may be an unimportant truth. Yet, by some unknown way of understanding the economy of significance the puddle may be of importance.

That the DNA of children takes residence in a mother's brain, is not of any significance by itself, but becomes significant by what else it signifies. That it may represent a physiological reality to a mother's connection to her children may or may not be true, but it certainly is a bit of evidence which lends itself to being possibly true and very significant. No one knows yet because the discovery is so recent. Oxytocin on the other hand is now a prescribed drug.

If a bit of dried blood pulsates as living blood and is identified as living blood under a microscope, though it's 1,300 years old, it is still a scientific fact. But it is a confounding fact. Is it just the exception that proves the rule, or does it become significant in relation to words spoken in regard to such two millennium ago by those words would have extraordinary significance.

It appears reasonable to conclude, that although there was competition for significant relics of saints in the early middle ages and they were used as part of competition with other monasteries, as well as charges of abusing such for gain in the same, etc., at least the two blood samples were identified by science and confounding scientific expectations, to be true. There are dozens of other such samples still in existence and though Dr. Castanon an atheist out to prove such was a hoax is no longer an atheist, there are plenty of objective labs left to do the work of identification.

As an art student I once asked a drawing teacher why drawing was important because at the time, influenced by the annihilation of eastern thinking I was having doubts and he said, "It's important to me." I was puzzled by that answer, but know exactly what he meant today. Without our identities, we become little insignificant puddles.

Sean Farrell said...

I can't defend the stupidity and cruelty of all Christians across two millennium but I will try and put something in context. The slaughter of the Jews along the Rhine by Emico is indefensible as were some other shameful events. The Albigensian controversy is less simple. Today historians are saying that the stories which brought concern were fabrications. They involved some peculiar charges, that incest was being sold as the true sexuality because in the bible they called each other brother and sister. Such stupidity might have been going on, but I don't really know. The heresy was no just local but spread across to Italy. There was a very long inquisition before the slaughter, which itself is controversial as per the numbers.

There was a break from reality later with the Adamites in 1421 and during the the Peasants Revolt of 1524 and Munster Revolution of 1530. The Taborites 1419 involved a breakdown of order, resorting to raiding neighboring towns for provisions. There had been previous controversies such as Pelagianism which lasted hundreds of years and addressed as far as I know, without force.

Poland had the first constitutional democracy around the year 1,000. Progress was made under Sylvester III and was credited with the invention of the abacus and for a love of learning. It was for the elites and not the serfs, but it happened. The Crusades did bring back a great deal of stuff from antiquity and signaled when Europe began turning for the better and I thought this was a common understanding. Jews and Muslims played a role in the interpretation of ancient texts. After Albert the Great and Aquinas, there came the era of John Wycliffe 1380, and his thoughts on freedom and the early revolutionaries mentioned above whom he inspired. The power structure had been a confederacy of empirical and religious governance. The Church governed the monasteries and the Princes ruled the serfs with the Church's nod in exchange for protection. The era was a lot of things, but philosophy made massive headway. Art, math and science made real strides. Strides were made in the development of the written word, grammar and the new languages and more people were beginning to be educated, though general government public education as we know it today didn't become a reality until the 19th century and late 19th century in many places.

Life was still harsh even if there was a global warming at the time. There were adequate provisions, but it was still a hard life with a physicality that was part of the faith in ways no one would understand, no less endure anymore. Such physicality was present in major denominations up until the mid 20th century.

Yet, despite such harshness in disciplnes, progress in the mentioned subjects was taking place as learning for learning's sake. There was a spirit in the age for learning. Much of it was from the era of antiquity. The painstaking work of reproducing books written one letter at a time was a common occupation and part of a slowly developing economy and contributed later economic thought. It wasn't until the 19th century that the steam engine and combustion engine burst on the scene to rapidly move things along and it was just 100 years ago that most cities and homes were hooked up to electricity. But all such had its humble beginnings in the universities of Europe begun in the early middle ages yes by antiquity. Some of which survived owes itself to those hand copied books.

chris bennett said...

David Apatoff said: “…the selection of those notes is not a mechanical process (or at least not exclusively a mechanical one). Isn't it a selection of highlights, points of contrast, points to emphasize, etc. reflecting the editorial judgment of the artist? I'd think that makes it different from the raw, undiscriminating mapping information in the data base of a GPS? Even the quantitative notes, marking the length of a leg or the location of a tree, depend on the subjective impressions of the artist.”

The choosing what to select is certainly influenced by the state of the artist’s temperament at the time. But without manifesting the connections between the selections their meaning as a realisation of the artist’s unconscious synthesising thought remains mute. In the plastic arts it is difficult to give an analogy, but as literature I could say this: what would be the meaning of a toy robot, a greeting card and a wooden bowl? Anything. But if the author tells us the bowl contains a young boy’s ashes, an insight about them begins to glimmer within.

In its crudest, basest form, ‘mapping’, in the plastic arts, would be a collection of consensus symbols standing for nameable things. So when drawing a head this would result in the type of image produced by complete beginners using a symbol for the nose, eyes, mouth, ears and hair plonked down in roughly the right place to be legible as a ‘face’. However, it is very important to note that this also happens at much higher levels involving pure plastic ‘non-naming’ means. I’ve caught myself doing it when a particularly important portrait commission is giving me trouble.

So in this sense, unless the subjective selections are orchestrated into a meaningful relationship to one another, the result is as aesthetically dead as the ‘undiscriminating mapping information in the data base of a GPS’.


As for your point that "it is how we get to the words ‘I love you’ that makes us believe them, not the sentence itself," I've heard that argument from plenty of guys before, but women don't believe it until they hear the sentence itself.

:) Would they accept the HTML protocol smiley meaning the same thing I wonder?

Sean Farrell said...

This is a hard thing to answer, how can science unify the disunity of mind and body, ethereal and material, this historic and metaphysical wound which is at the center of so many problems.

Science can only act as an identifier or in identifying what is. It is in what is identified or signified that the unity follows and the wound heals.

There will be little healings as the mind and body and its identifications are better understood, with possibly more physiological connections between bonds and actions verified.

It is the will (or spirit, sometimes called the heart) which lurches by appetite or hunger outwardly for things. This reunification then comes from the outside, since it is what is being sought. Such is why the individual search for reunification is like a shell game where the individual always loses, because the reunification is in the will which isn't an end in itself, nor is it simply body because it is in the body, acting for unity from disunity.

Let's say someone is moved by the beatitudes and they experience a softening of the will akin to humility and in this there is something approaching a unification of the body and the will. Most people find such fascinating and beautiful and refer to it as being touched; some might say it is like being touched by love.

The identification of the blood samples, point to the words of Christ regarding the following. The emphasis on the spiritual happened in 1524 under Thomas Muntzer, who taught that people needed a second baptism to verify their faith and threw out the last supper as part of salvation. Many people agreed with Muntzer and that's fair because one can read it that way if they wish.

Overlooked is that Christ always appeared embodied, rose in his body and appeared to the apostles with his wounds, bearing the wounds of division in forgiveness. He was in his body when he breathed the spirit upon apostles and when he ascended. The story goes, he will come again...in his body. So the body and his spirit, (meaning the intentions or will of his person), are undivided in him having overcome the world. Heaven and earth are reunited through forgiveness by the sacrifice of his body. He imparts his unitive self to the believer as the high priest, in a manner that incorporated the old blood sacrifices of Jacob and Joshua offering himself and transformed them into the bloodless offerings of Melchizedek in the bread and wine.

Whether one believes such is one thing, but the concept of a body and mind undivided or unitive in intentions through a divine humility is not foreign to the eastern or western mind.

If for this alone, science has reinvigorated this now ancient concept of unitive humility, then it did something very good.

David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote: "I don't think Art is a stand in for another experience. The experience of drawing, painting, or sculpturing a form is just as real as any other experience."

I don't deny that an artist is breathing and touching and seeing as he or she draws, so in that sense art is indeed a form of experience. Yet, there is always some percentage of the process that seems to be gawking through a keyhole. Perhaps the best analogy is theatre: the actors on stage are alive but the events being acted out on stage are not life being lived-- they are artificial simulations of life, selected and condensed and manipulated based upon the playwright's observations about real life as it goes on outside the theatre. The love and pain being imitated on stage aren't genuine love and pain, they are the emotions that the playwright has created by stepping back and reflecting on the real experiences.

I will definitely check out that David Sedaris routine, I've seen him in concert and I think he is very, very good.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "The more we fracture existence or experience in order to map it at an easily graspable conceptual level (graphics/cartoons)… the more of actual life is discarded in that process."

I think this is a crucial issue. Personally, I think it is often a good thing to simplify experience down to the graphics/cartoon level-- it is hard to do well, but when it is, it gives the viewer the openness and flexibility to build back up to complexity from the initial shock of simplicity. What concerns me is when we go past the graphics / cartoon level to the sub-atomic particle level of simplicity-- those 1's and 0's that make up digital reality. They break reality down into such tiny granular elements that they can't be reconstructed into something meaningful except with the aid of a machine.

I think the open question about your view is how much of discarded life can be restored to bytes by use of the fabulous manipulative powers of today's information technology? We can slice and dice those 1's and 0's any way we want today. We can use them to make digital art. We can use them to make animation. Yet, I agree that most of the art we have seen assembled so far from that "fractured" reality lacks the connective tissue that more traditional great art has.

Kev Ferrara also wrote: "I think all truths must be equally true, or else they are not really truths."

Wow, that's a tough one. Definitionally you are probably right. On the other hand, some truths are bigger or better or more useful than others. Can't some truths be more true as well? Can't art be 90% true?

kev ferrara said...

On abstracting experience destructively…

I think the reduction of experience to the abstract level of graphics or cartoons or diagrams is only a “good thing” when a real insight is nailed down in the process. Like for instance that Saul Steinberg cartoon about the different life lines of people that you posted on this blog a few years ago. That, to me, is a gold standard for educational abstraction. But most abstraction is lossy to an equally extreme extent without offering a comparable mental reward. I think our educational institutions are replete with trivializations of information, abstracting and de-contextualizing everything from real life application, which is truly malpractice, in my view. Which, for my money, is why the average American student leaves school utterly clueless about life, lacking in any creative abilities, and generally dependent on outside sources for their thoughts.

As I’ve already mentioned, the ad hoc “creative” patching together of knowns, which is a hallmark of the postmodern, is no substitute for the sensible comprehension of the true relation of things. I really do think hodgepodge cultural products mess up people’s minds. I’ve caught so many glimpses of children’s programming that is clearly just a mishmash of this and that, references that kids will have no idea about from junk culture, jokes that don’t make sense, and almost no reference to anything related to actual life. Increasingly it seems to me that all the institutions of education, from schools to the media to the arts, are staffed with unreflective people who are indoctrinating the entire culture into their blithe trivializations of knowledge, philosophy, and even life itself.

On “all truths are equal”

We cannot grasp anything except through proxies, which I think are always fictions of one kind or another. The characters of a play are simply far more complex proxies than the letters and numbers of a mathematical formula or Staunton’s chess piece designs, (the shapes of which indicate their respective movement/capture meanings.)

So when we regard some communication as ringing with truth, we are, usually without realizing it, ignoring the proxy symbols which are textual and fictional, and instead generally referring to the essence of what is being suggested.

Another way to put it…. This may be a little too philosophical, but; Math is a method whereby essential physical relations (which include interactions) can be strictly incrementalized. Yet Mathematics is a very small subset of form (in the large sense of plasticity) available to our experience/senses. Which is to say, the way we understand direct physical relations through the incrementalist paradigm we call Math is a very small subset of the total amount of understanding we can garner about all the different kinds of relations we might notice through our experience.

Another way to put it is that math is only one way to notate/understand one particular kind of essence we experience in life, but there are many other kinds of essential concepts to notice and consider and reflect upon.

The grander theory of form, as I understand it, would place any essence/comprehension/relation that resounds with truth on the same level of verity, whether the form has been incrementalized or not (whether it has been formalized or not). Incrementalization doesn't make math formulations of physical scenarios any more repeatable than the essential emotional scenarios that human beings have endured repeatedly since time immemorial. (These human scenarios are just another kind of comprehending relation between elements.)

Thus, given, and through, our limited perspectives as mortal beings, it would seem that all true relations echo equally through existence and time.

Regarding a 90% true piece of art... the failure of any particular expression or statement to express a truth fully or succinctly, has no bearing on whether the truth aimed at is fully true or not. This idea mixes up the attempted expression of a truth with the truth itself.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell-- I note that President Obama and the national media have now taken up our discussion of the crusades. How does it feel to shape the national dialogue? (I didn't even know Obama was an illustration fan!)

As for the Albigensian crusade ("Today historians are saying that the stories which brought concern were fabrications. They involved some peculiar charges, that incest was being sold as the true sexuality because in the bible they called each other brother and sister.") I read a fairly extensive account in the Smithsonian Magazine that didn't mention any of that, but said that the Pope hired German mercenaries to lay siege to a small town of pacifist cathars, blind them and cut their tongues out. According to that version, the Pope's army not only burned the heretics alive (a la ISIS today) but heretics who had the audacity to die before the army reached them were dug up and their bones were burned, just in case. That all may have changed as a result of new scholarship in the past decade. Were the stories fabrications? I don't claim to have kept up up with the changes after that article, but the article really stuck in my mind. (Incest is pretty bad, but I'm not sure it would ever motivate me to burn people alive).


Chris Bennett- I agree that "the connections between the selections" is important. My only question is this: since every selection involves otherwise random data points, how "manifest" must its connections be to the other selected data points? For example, one point may be noted to map out the length of a leg; a second point may reflect an area of strong contrast between light and dark objects; a third point may be to note an emphasis on meaningful eyes. The only "connections between the selections" is that the artist assigns each a priority for his subjective purposes.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I think the reduction of experience to the abstract level of graphics or cartoons or diagrams is only a “good thing” when a real insight is nailed down in the process."

I agree. It's extremely difficult to do well, and most artists fail miserably. But when they succeed, the graphic / cartoon format gives art an immediacy and universality that we don't get from other more layered art.

"As I’ve already mentioned, the ad hoc “creative” patching together of knowns, which is a hallmark of the postmodern, is no substitute for the sensible comprehension of the true relation of things."

Agreed.

"Thus, given, and through, our limited perspectives as mortal beings, it would seem that all true relations echo equally through existence and time."

Whoa. I'll get back to you in a month on whether I agree with that.

Tom said...

David

Isn't the experience the visual artist brings into being the rhythm of form, proportion and space? The aesthetic elements is what makes the art work, not its ability to mimic the real.

The rhythm of a work is not a secondary experience, is it? Rarely when I experience beauty do I feel a violent or aggressive or any emotional reaction that pertains to the world of jealous, anger or grief. What I do feel is wonder, satisfaction and a freedom from self centered thought.

Kenneth Clark gets the feel of it. Here he is discussing St. Peter's and Michelanglo in Civilisation.

It runs from the 12:00 mark to about the 15:00 mark.

http://youtu.be/0rnHls282HU

chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote: “I agree that "the connections between the selections" is important. My only question is this: since every selection involves otherwise random data points, how "manifest" must its connections be to the other selected data points? For example, one point may be noted to map out the length of a leg; a second point may reflect an area of strong contrast between light and dark objects; a third point may be to note an emphasis on meaningful eyes. The only "connections between the selections" is that the artist assigns each a priority for his subjective purposes.”

I believe that the connections are far more than important; they are vital; they embody everything that can be communicated. Kev has just said the same thing regarding truth being communicated by way of what is expressed within the relationships between text symbols.

So the “connections between the other selected data points” must be entirely manifest and go far, far, far beyond merely assigning priority between the elements. And assigning each a priority for his subjective purposes is, to my mind, absolutely meaningless aesthetically. Simple example: an artist likes yellow, so yellow is featured more dominantly than his next favourite colour; red, and his least favourite colour, blue, gets a muddy smear in the right hand bottom corner. So what?

Let me express this in a more sophisticated way; Michelangelo was sexually attracted to men and even when sculpting women (his ‘Night’ is a good example) the priority was on the musculature of her body to the point of maleness. But the meaning of this work is in the connections between the forms written as a frozen music of mass. So although Michelangelo’s passion was pushed by a sexual proclivity different to my own it is the ‘push’ that is written in the connections and transmitted as a commonality of experience. So to pinch Kev’s Staunton chess piece for a brief moment, the sequence of moves are the same whatever the chess pieces look like. Love is love whether gay or straight.

Ingres’ ‘Odalisque’ has a very long back, a strong contrast between her thigh and the background, and the importance of her right eye is emphasised by its iteration in the pattern of the peacock fan she’s holding. So what? What communicates can only be read in the totality, the connective flux of everything, all together realised by the self-supporting, inter-defining, orchestration of the whole.

I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question because I may have misunderstood your meaning, so apologies if I’ve rambled on about something you already understand!

etc, etc said...

III.46 A. And R. Yohanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai, “It is permitted to contend with the wicked in this world,
B. For it is said, ‘Those who forsake the Torah praise the wicked, but those who keep the Torah contend with them’ (Prov. 28:4).”
C. It has been taught on Tannaite authority along these same lines:
D. R. Dosetai bar Matun says, “It is permitted to contend with the wicked in this world, for it is said, ‘Those who forsake the Torah praise the wicked, but those who keep the Torah contend with them’ (Prov. 28:4).”
E. And if someone should whisper to you, “But is it not written, ‘Do not contend with evil-doers, nor be envious against those who work unrighteousness’ (Ps. 37:1),” say to him, “Someone whose conscience bothers him thinks so.
F. “In fact, ‘Do not contend with evil-doers’ means, do not be like them, ‘nor be envious against those who work unrighteousness,’ means, do not be like them.
G. “And so it is said, ‘Let your heart not envy sinners, but fear the Lord all day’ (Prov. 23:17).”
H. Is this the case? And lo, R. Isaac has said, “If you see a wicked person for whom the hour seems to shine, do not contend with him, for it is said, ‘His ways prosper at all times’ (Ps. 10:5).
I. “Not only so, but he wins in court, as it is said, ‘Your judgments are far above, out of his sight’ (Ps. 10:5).
J. “Not only so, but he overcomes his enemies, for it is said, ‘As for all his enemies, he farts at them’ (Ps. 10:5).”

Sean Farrell said...

David, thank you for the description of the execution of the Albigensians which I never read before. I will look for the article. The following is a fairly standard take on the matter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albigensian_Crusade

Also thank you for your generous openness.

It is noteworthy that more people died in wars in the 19th century than all the wars in history combined. The 20th century, also noted for its enlightenment, far surpassed the death toll of 19th century. Of course, these were not religious wars in the usual sense, but were largely ideological, which is a kind of religion for ideological believers, who seek novel solutions for all of mankind. We are still in such an age.

Many find defending the nuclear bombings on Japan difficult even today, but I wonder how they will be viewed 750 years from now? Will we be viewed as enlightened or insane, burning people in nuclear radiation?

Over the upper doors in the House of Representatives, there are discs with pictures of people who contributed to the development of law. They begin with Moses in the rear and circle around to Jefferson. Among them are two Popes and Suleiman the Magnificent. We are linked with the past, however embarrassing and painful it may at times be.

There is an experience in countries where religious sculpture isn't outlawed in public places. The experience is one of magnification, where the sculpture is reflected in the environment and the environment in the sculpture. This is true in some places in the USA, such as the Statue of Liberty in NY harbor and some fantastic statues at Gettysburg, where environment and history magnify the significance and beauty of the art. This cross categorization of time and space is part of the magnification, the real sense of being transported and present at the same time, which mixes with beauty and or significance of the sculpture in a way which is hard to categorize.

Such is very true in Rio de Janeiro, where the Christ the Redeemer statue holds benevolent arms outstretched over the two beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
The beauty of all below the statue, is enhanced by the statue itself and in the same, the beauty of the statue is enhanced by the wonderful scenery below.

When art crosses categories or shares categories in new ways, there is often an experience quite different than what one is used to. The combining of various musical idioms with country music in the two guitarists is an example. But there is something special when viewing ancient art involving time and larger meanings too, such as standing before a bust of Julius Caesar, or the giant head of Augustus Caesar at the Vatican Museum.

Tom said...

Hi Sean

You might enjoy the Kennth Clark link I posted above, if you have not already seen it. He has a genuinely positive view of the church and its civilzing
influence.

The whole episode is called
Civilisation: Grandeur and Obedience (1969)- Part 07 of 13

Sean Farrell said...

Tom, I did enjoy the clip you posted very much and plan on watching the whole thing now.
Thanks, Sean

chris bennett said...

In fact, the whole of Kenneth Clark's 'Civilisation' is a grand monument of British television and well worth getting on DVD. There was also a very good book written by him to go with it.

Clark also writes well about Rembrandt too.

Sean Farrell said...

Tom and Chris,
Thanks, I will be watch the whole series. Kenneth Clark's explanation of the feminine principle, the will of the north which replaced it and the embodiment of the faith which remained in Catholicism were excellent. A procession explained the civilizing effect of people wearing their wants, desires, and respect openly as a public expression.

Visiting Italy, Brazil and Ireland over several years I had no clue of any of this, yet discovered it in an interior way as observed it in the public religious sculptures and also through several expressions of paganism in Brazil.

On Slea Head drive in Dingle, Ireland, there's a small unpaved parking lot where one can get out and view from an elevation, the Basket Islands, the largest of which is called Old Man. On a good day, the sun glistens and sparkles on the sea through clouds and the islands fade back as shadows in a haze. With the senses heightened from the wonderful view, one turns to return to the car, where across the road against a hill facing the ocean is a scene of the Crucifixion in white stone. Without a lick of faith, a sense of perfection awakened from nature understands the perfection of the sculpture and theater at once, as the two magnify each other as overlapping visual experiences.

Upon returning to New York, where people held to a disembodied sophistication, cool while competing with their own self consciousness, the difference was striking and profound. I didn't know it at the time, but over the course of the trips, I was being slowly being drawn to something very human without a word, through art and very much what Kenneth Clark was explaining in the video.

With a laptop and a little adapting wire for about $5. you can watch the videos on your TV and the quality is surprisingly good.

Another thought on our enlightened era as we get ready to witness more automated television warfare. When the crossbow was introduced, the knights debated whether it should be permitted because it didn't give the other man a fair chance to defend himself.

Tom said...

HI Sean

I am work right now. But since you mentioned Ireland, I think you will really enjoy the first episode in Clark's series, "By the Skin of Our Teeth," He really drives home the point that civilization is in fact a fragile thing.

Sean Farrell said...

I will start then with the first episode Tom, thanks.


Sean Farrell said...

Tom and Chris,
The entire series was outstanding. More important today than ever.
Sean

Tom said...

Hi Sean, it is quite a series. even though it is 40 years old. His explaination of the feminine principle, also struck me.

When you mentioned seeing the crucification in Ireland I immediatley thought of Clark's description of Christians heading west to Cromwell and Ireland so they could live in some sort of peace.


David;
I came across this quote that pertains to what we where discussing, "Once spiritual contact is established, the essential forms will be realized; the spirit of the universe will be captured. Will not a painting then be as real as nature itself?" Tsung Ping

Robert Cook said...

I won't even begin to try to contribute to the very heady and fascinating conversation going on here; I just want to ask: Is the Bernard Wolfe you quote the Bernard Wolfe who wrote the brilliant and scabrous science fiction novel LIMBO? (This Bernard Wolfe also co-wrote Mezz Mezzrow's REALLY THE BLUES and was a secretary for Leon Trotsky during Trotsky's time in Mexico.)

David Apatoff said...

Tom and Chris Bennett-- I agree Clark is brilliant. There aren't too many cultured intellects like him around these days. I have his Civilization book gathering dust on my bookshelf, but forgot how good the series is. The trick will be finding time to watch the whole thing.

Sean farrell-- I remember reading that knights were most concerned about the crossbow because it was the great leveler; for years a knight's expensive, heavy armor made him virtually invulnerable in battle against superior numbers of peasants and urchins. Crossbows enabled the lower classes to shift the balance of power by piercing a knight's armor-- the first asymmetrical warfare!

Robert Cook-- Very good! I haven't read Wolfe's science fiction but he wrote a very smart and thoughtful autobiography.

Sean Farrell said...

Thank you David. I do see a note on the concern about the penetrating ability of the crossbow regarding the Taborite rebellion around 1410. Such concerns may also have been part of the earlier debates when the codes of Chivalry were written in the late 12th century, or even well before that because the crossbow was used in the first millennium too.

Kenneth Clark's series is interesting on all kinds of levels, but his definition of what a civilization is and isn't and the beliefs and vitality required to defend it are quite relevant today.

Mauricio Gordon said...

Good post!