Tuesday, August 27, 2013


“Christ! What are patterns for?” wails the distraught young heroine of Amy Lowell’s famous poem, Patterns.

Her question is hardly surprising.  Patterns have been with us from the very beginning:

Red dot patterns painted on the cave walls at El Castillo date back 40,000 years.

Star pattern from the ceiling of an ancient Egyptian tomb

Well, the world has waited long enough for the answer.

Lowell’s heroine yearned for passion and spontaneity, but found herself trapped in a formal world of patterns, from the designs on her brocaded gown and corset to the ornate garden paths which she paced, waiting for her lover to return from the war in Flanders. She dreamed of casting off her gown and racing naked through the gardens, pursued by her lover:
And he would stumble after, 
Bewildered by my laughter. 
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes. 
I would choose 
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths, 
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover, 
Till he caught me in the shade, 
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me, 
Aching, melting, unafraid. 
Together they could free each other from a life of closed patterns but alas, it was not meant to be:
The softness of my body will be guarded from embrace 
By each button, hook, and lace. 
For the man who should loose me is dead, 
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders, 
In a pattern called a war. 
Pattern is an act of repetition, symmetry, order and uniformity, not passion and spontaneity.  It permits few creative choices once the formula is set.  It is more often the work of anonymous artisans on assembly lines, or patient, long suffering women in huts rather than the work of creative geniuses who invent bold new styles.

Dhiagliev ballet costume

Persian rug, 19th century
So what the heck are patterns for, anyway?  They can be lovely but can they ever qualify as significant Art?

Our era prefers flamboyant celebrity artists to the steady, predictable hum of patterns by artisans.  Great artists are the ones with the courage to break the established patterns and run naked through that garden, right?

International superstars Tracey Emin (Royal Academy of Arts, CBE) and Miley Cyrus (VMA)

Despite this fact, let's consider whether patterns have anything of value left to offer us. Tolstoy, who was a more profound thinker than Lowell, wrote about the "chaste young girls" in Russian villages who labored for years making lace patterns:

As these girls worked over their looms, the rhythm of their patterns transported their thoughts to a faraway land:
lace makers in olden times... used to depict all their lives, all their dreams of happiness in the pattern. They dreamed in designs of all that was dear to them, wove all their pure, uncertain love into their lace.
There's no record of these young women tearing off their gowns and running naked through the garden, but that hardly diminishes the pathos of their situation, or makes the objects in which they invested their lives any less beautiful. Similarly, look at this ancient Egyptian illustration of the frankincense trees that grow in the legendary land of Punt (Ta netjera), a paradise rich with incense and gold:

The artisans detailed each and every leaf, despite the fact that each was identical to the one before. This was not an occasion for artistic economy, it was a time for being true to the pattern.  As the ancient craftsmen worked on long rows of leaves in the hot sun, I'm sure their minds drifted off to the land of Punt.
When I hold my love close, and her arms steal around me, I'm like a man transported to Punt...  the world suddenly bursts into flower. --  Egyptian love song, circa 1500 BCE
For viewers with patience and imagination, patterned objects can be rich with context. Poet Stephen Crane (1871-1900) offered a very different perspective than Amy Lowell on that "running-naked-through-gardens" business:
If I should cast off this tattered coat
And go free into the mighty sky;
If I should find nothing there
But a vast blue
Echoless, ignorant --
What then?
A century has almost passed since Amy Lowell asked her burning question, "Christ! What are patterns for?" Today, famed artist Tracey Emin shows us how artists have freed themselves from the constraints of pattern, and also of spelling:

Tracey Emin masterpiece, The Hole Room, 1999

Many in our generation of artists are puffing and panting, intellectually and morally exhausted from racing through the garden for the limits of art, looking for some new article of clothing to cast off. They've put so much distance between themselves and the tyranny of patterns that their work is devoid of structure. Its atoms are so diffuse that they no longer cohere in a way capable of sustaining life or heat. As Clement Greenberg wrote:
The nonrepresentational or abstract, if it is to have aesthetic validity, cannot be arbitrary and accidental, but must stem from obedience to some worthy constraint. 
Discernible pattern can be one of those worthy constraints.  The order created by patterns may seem superficial and restrictive, but it is also one of the brakes on the road to artistic entropy.  Rabindranath Tagore observed,
The freedom of the storm and the bondage of the roots join hands in the dance of swaying branches.
So what are patterns for? Patterns provide the bondage of the roots, and unless you have both the storm and the roots, there just ain't no dancing.


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Anonymous said...

Well said! We too often under-value the meditative rewards found in art's process. I appreciate the historical context you offer, and I'd add that until just the last hundred years "pushing the boundaries" of art was not a goal in any culture's arts practice.

MORAN said...

Tracy Emin and Miley Cyrus = perfect match.

Wallartidea said...

The King Tut's middle coffin is so special.Love the post.

Aleš said...

Weren't some sorts of patterns on cave pantings a consequence of hallucination? Since some patterns of dots and abstract shapes were very similar on various cave walls across the world and because anyone can experience them through stimulation (trance or imitation of it by some blinking lights) of our visual brain, I think the conclusion was that the source of those patterns was our human mind in a state of hallucination.

Great blog David, I love your enthusiasm, range of interests and poetic way of writing.

(Kev, do you have an e-mail please?)

David Apatoff said...

handsomefungus-- Yes, and I think those "meditative rewards" can be found in both the making and the viewing of images. A lot of boundaries have been broken over the years, and with great results, but I do agree that in the past boundaries were more likely to be broken because it couldn't be helped. Breaking boundaries was a means to an end. Some people today seem to have gotten the notion that breaking boundaries is an end in itself, and their art suffers as a result.

MORAN-- It's pretty sad, really. Would Tracey Emin be an art superstar today if she didn't get naked in dozens of pictures all over the internet and make art with long lists of people she slept with? Much of her non-sexual work is stunningly simple minded, but men in suits are willing to overlook that because they are entranced by the spectre of a damaged woman publicly debasing herself. Miley Cyrus has embraced the same formula.

Wallartidea-- Thanks, I think it is hard to look at that coffin and still believe that "artisan design" does not overlap with "fine art."

David Apatoff said...

Ales-- There has been a great deal of speculation about the intent behind those cave drawings, by anthropologists, artists, psychiatrists, biologists, chemists and other disciplines. Some of them are more persuasive than others, and most of them make for an interesting mirror as we project ourselves into the mind of our earliest ancestors, but in the end we can never really know (until someone invents a time machine).

Even without knowing their true intention, when I was working my way through those caves and looking at these pictures in person it was one of the most deeply religious experiences of my life. It was truly what Freud described as the "oceanic feeling."

Many thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response, David. I'd love to see the caves one day. Your description of them as a religious experience sounds amazing. Your use of the term "oceanic" experience is a new one for me. I did a little research, and it turns out we should give credit to the French writer Romain Rolland for 'oceanic' as the feeling of spiritual oneness. Freud merely borrowed the term and attributed it to an infant's feeling of limitless narcissism.

[link below]

Donald Pittenger said...

I have not read the thoughts of others regarding patterns in cave paintings. But that won't deter me from tossing out the following pure speculation:

That image somehow reminded me (in a general sort of way) of animal tracks -- something central to a caveman's worldview.

Laurence John said...

"Weren't some sorts of patterns on cave pantings a consequence of hallucination?"

the brain can start naturally seeing patterns when under sensory deprivation conditions, or under the influence of psychedelic drugs, but usually they are far more geometrically complex than that early cave
painting example that David posted and more akin to Islamic decorations; a kind of geometric version of natural organic shapes.

Anonymous said...

What about Alberto Breccia´s use of patterns in comics, like the "Torre de Babel" in "Mort Cinder"?

Tom said...

The horizontal and the vertical are at the heart of all pattern making. Hence the aesthetics or philosophy of opposition. Art is pattern making that demands the viewer's full attention.

David, because patterns are the structure behind all forms, isn't that what makes all your comparisons between "fine art" and illustration possible.

In ignoring pattern in a way you are saying "fine art" is ignoring reality?

chris bennett said...
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chris bennett said...

I would say that meaningful pattern is the grammar of art and design. When not meaningful, it is decoration.

Ms Emin's efforts are neither, nothing more than a farting ego.

David Apatoff said...

Heatherfeeny-- Thank you for following up on this issue. I didn't know that Romain Rolland was the original source of the expression, "oceanic feeling" although Freud was famous for reaching out to other disciplines (such as literature, anthropology and poetry) while inventing his field. I do think the paper by Ms. Simmonds is a little ungenerous in her treatment of Freud's philosophy of religion but I enjoyed reading it.

Donald Pittenger-- Your view of animal tracks is probably as valid as any other theory. There is a serious school of anthropological study that says a common design found in caves from that era represents the female vulva. (http://news.sciencemag.org/2012/05/engravings-female-genitalia-may-be-worlds-oldest-cave-art ). Lots of people believe it, and quite frankly I'd like to believe it too, although one skeptical archaeologist, Harold Dibble, is quoted as taking a more sober view: "As for the long-standing tradition among archaeologists working in France of interpreting such images as vulvas, Dibble says, "Who the hell knows" what they really represent? Dibble adds that such interpretations could be colored by the worldview of Western archaeologists whose culture probably differs greatly from that of prehistoric peoples. 'Maybe it's telling us more about the people making those interpretations' than the artists who created the images, Dibble says."

kev ferrara said...

Good discussion.

An argument for hallucinations might well include the high probability of malnourishment, infection, and dehydration among our early ancestors, and possibly an ignorance about which mushrooms or frogs shouldn't be plated up.

patterns are the structure behind all forms,

Relations are the "structure" behind all forms. Patterns are just one kind of relation.

Aleš, you can contact me through facebook by requesting to "friend" me.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- This is such a rich field, with lots of room for creative speculation based on the wisps of facts we do know. We don't think the post-neanderthal brain was physically much different from our modern brain. Nevertheless, the prehistoric brain may have started out with a more mystical, totemic way of thinking than our post-enlightenment minds. Even if it didn't, the haphazard starvation diet, the exposure to smoke and mushrooms and other such substances, and the traumatic process of walking deep into caves (sometimes a mile into the earth) by flickering torch light, frightened of wild animals in the cave, to find just the right magical spot for the drawing-- all that might have had them thinking in some pretty peculiar directions. After this geometric dot era, there were a number of cave paintings that did look like "geometric versions of natural organic shapes." A stone outcropping that looked liked a horse's head might be decorated to look like one.

Anonymous-- Can you provide a link to Alberto Breccia´s use of patterns in the Torre de Babel? I have not located one readily via google. Lots of artists use patterns to fill blank space or contribute weight to images-- for example, Jack Unruh uses a lot of checkerboard patterns in conjunction with distinctive, impressive drawings.

Tom-- Of course, Amy Lowell is using "pattern" not just as a reference to the visual designs on the corset which constrains her, but as a symbol for everything in life which robs her of free choice-- the paths which society makes inescapable. Like Lowell, I use "pattern" in both senses. Yes, we are indeed using pattern as a synonym for "structure" in art. I don't want to suggest that freedom doesn't have a valuable role, or that structure is absent from all fine art today. But I do believe that once some fine artists abandoned the traditional filtering process in exchange for freedom, they never quite found their way back. Once we're afraid to discriminate, how do we recover standards?

Tom said...

 Aren't relations patterns? Or do relations allow us to see patterns?  They seem pretty tied together.  What relation is not a pattern?  Patterns create relations.   Radiating from the central point is a simple organizing pattern that allows to see how spatial relations are organized, how our solar system is organized,  a how a cell or atom is organized, political  and social relations are organized. and so on. It is a pattern found in many structures.

But maybe we are saying the same thing.

Tom said...

Agreed.  What I was driving at was the power and richness of simple patterns. Patterns contain all the aesthetic principals that make more complex art works possible.  In the end you can only experience your freedom in form which is always limited.  

I guess you could say if Amy's dream came true and she runs through the field with her lover,then what?   And maybe you could say the same thing about fine art.  Have you ever read David Sedris's Twelve stages in the life of an artist?  It is even more funny if you can find a audio copy of him reading it.  I think it is  in his collection of Short stories "Me Talk Pretty One Day"

JSL said...

I don't give a damn what you call it, these rugs and vases with patterns look better than today's "fine" art.

kev ferrara said...

Tom a straight line is a relation between two points. Do you feel a straight line should be called a pattern? (I wondered about this question semantically, the same as you.)

I guess also my issue is that I feel, and possibly this stems from David's post, that pattern and design are being conflated in meaning here. It is not so that Patterns contain "All the aesthetic principles that make more complex artworks possible." Because the issue of meaning is crucial, aesthetically transmitted meaning. Purely decorative pattern does not have enough variety to say anything. Forty four triangles in a row is not art. It is merely decorative design.

To further the point, all complete sentences can be said to conform to particular grammatical patterns. Yet I can quite easily write a complete sentence in proper grammatical pattern that has no meaning whatsoever; The blue dirt shamed the arbitration of the antidote. The foaming light sat under the imbalances in the contraction. The electricity yanked
the observance of the laundry. Etc.

Richard said...

"the brain can start naturally seeing patterns when under sensory deprivation conditions, or under the influence of psychedelic drugs, but usually they are far more geometrically complex than that early cave
painting example that David posted and more akin to Islamic decorations; a kind of geometric version of natural organic shapes. "

The patterns a person sees while under the influence of psychedelics (or entheogens) are not necessarily the same as those they draw/paint on them.

I think generally the experience of mark making itself, while under the influence of them, is so intense that one is much more likely to make pictures very much like that wall art -- not with any specific meaning to the marks being made, but simply taking intense pleasure in the act itself.

I see a caveman hibernating, hungry, hiding from snow for months, taken with fever, bored, simply "tripping out" on the act of simply making marks.

Laurence John said...

Richard: "The patterns a person sees while under the influence of psychedelics (or entheogens) are not necessarily the same as those they draw/paint on them"

that was actually my point; that i don't think cave paintings were done while under the influence. the hand stencils and animals likenesses are further evidence against.

that the brain can naturally produce geometric patterns of incredible complexity - the like of which it would falter at drawing on a blank piece of paper -
when under the influence, and that they resemble Persian or Arabic ornamentation is really the mystery.

David Apatoff said...

Tom and Kev Ferrara-- I think mathematicians and poets (such as Amy Lowell) would agree that a straight line is indeed a pattern. In geometry a line is a series of points, and the "pattern" or direction of those points can be described quite precisely by a mathematical formula.

For Lowell's heroine, I suspect that any formula that binds and restrains her freedom qualifies as a pattern. Thus, the social norm that young men grew up and joined the army and marched in lockstep to war was a "pattern" for Lowell (even though it wasn't a graphic design in a rug or a vase).

So I think Lowell would agree with Tom's point that all relations could be patterns that infringe on the free and spontaneous movement of the heart. Of course, some patterns are more oppressive than others. I assume Lowell's character would not have objected to the "pattern" of married life once her lover returned from the war.

JSL-- I agree. Beauty seems to have lost much of its importance in contemporary art, but beauty is not as easy to achieve as its current detractors would suggest and the concepts being offered as a substitute for beauty don't fill its shoes.

Tom wrote, "The horizontal and the vertical are at the heart of all pattern making. Hence the aesthetics or philosophy of opposition."

I am utterly fascinated by the philosophical significance of the horizontal and vertical axes and would love to get into more of a discussion about it someday. The Egyptian treasures we are viewing here are the product a whole civilization based on two axes, the vertical Nile and the horizontal trajectory of the sun. But for right now I would only note that horizontal and vertical are more orthogonal than they are "in opposition."

Richard-- I certainly know the feeling you describe about "tripping out on the act of simply making marks." It is interesting to speculate about the point when humans paused in carving up a wooly mammoth for food and decided that making marks was also an important thing to do.

chris bennett said...

David and Tom-- But a pattern is recognised by evidencing similarity within itself. A single straight line does not do this. Two parallel lines would be a pattern in this sense.

What of constellations?
I would say we see pattern in random aspects of nature only when they are seen as a sign for something else.

kev ferrara said...

David, you are confusing lines with vectors. The opposition to a vector that travels left is a vector that travels right. But the opposition o a horizontal line is a vertical one.

António Araújo said...

>David, you are confusing lines with >vectors.

Just clarifying, from a mere mathematical point of view, David is correct. It is ortogonality, or perpendicularity that is at stake. There is no sense in which it is "opposition". Whether using the framework of euclidean geometry or of vector spaces, you are expressing the same idea.

In fact, it is indeed along a single line that you may have an "opposition", in the sense of having two things that add up to zero: by taking a vector v and the vector -v (kev's example), or by taking a reference point on a line and measuring the same distance from it in opposite directions.

Ortogonality of lines or vectors expresses in fact that the lines or vectors are "independent" (an actual technical term in vector algebra) rather than "opposite".

Actually, and speaking more loosely now: in a sense, it signifies that the new line (ortogonal to the first) requires a new axis to be described, or a new dimension. Hence, it adds something fundamentally new and independent, rather than being in mere opposition to the other. That is almost "the opposite of opposition" :)

António Araújo said...

A cute coincidence is that I just stumbled on this discussion while listening to Oliver Sack's book on hallucinations (that is relevant to the discussion and I see some of you have read) and just a few minutes ago watching a visualization of Bach's first (crab) canon for the musical offering. Speak of patterns!

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- I understand your point, and agree with you if we look at a line as a single object. I was only referring to a line as it is defined in geometry-- a series of points. Those points would qualify as the "similarity within itself" that you say (and I agree) define a pattern.

I think, by the way, that the two equally correct ways of looking at a line (as a single object and a series of objects) is kind of a neat analogy for the multiple valid ways of looking at patterns here, as a design on a corset or a predetermined way of living your life.

Kev Ferrara and Antonio Araujo-- I can never tell when these discussions about prehistoric art and sex in a garden are going to require me to get out my old geometry text books, but I am always happy to be educated in whatever form it comes.

Yes, it is my understanding that a vertical and horizontal line are by definition perpendicular, and therefore by definition orthogonal, not "opposing." But I didn't mean to make a big deal about this one aspect of Tom's larger point, which I think has more poetic implications. Rest assured when I go back to address the metaphysics of vertical and horizontal axes, I will study Antonio's excellent lesson before opening my mouth.

António Araújo said...

Also, almost obligatory in this discussion is a mention of Escher. I once taught a course on building escherian tilings and and an interesting thing is how quickly (by deforming the tiles in "organic" ways) you can lose all sense of what the underlying mathematical pattern was - and yet it is there, perfectly ordered and monotonous once it is revealed.

The converse of this is that sometimes we look at art (or natural objects) that looks "organic" and "free" or even "chaotic" and we can wonder what invisible patterns (complex, yet still patterns) lie hidden underneath.

Sometimes we think that things differ fundamentally when in fact they differ only in magnitude of complexity. A few deformations to a tiling and you still see a pattern, but just a few more and you call it "organic", simply because your ability to disentangle patterns is limited.

Maybe even running naked through the woods howling is just as ordered a thing as a frieze pattern - but as long as we don't disentangle the code, we feel it is fundamentally different.

Perhaps because of that, I always felt there was something missing, in an artistic sense, from Escher's work. I love them, but more, I think, as articulations of mathematical thought than as works of "art", whatever that may mean. Perhaps because the patterns became too clear. I don't feel the same with Bach's canons, strangely enough; either Bach was the better "artist" or that is just because my knowledge of music is so limited that I don't really hear the patterns well enough to spoil the effect, no matter how many times they are revealed in theoretical explanation. Magic comes from not getting the trick(?)

António Araújo said...


you seem to have your geometry well enough in hand, but I do get that theoretical purity was not the point (nor the line :)). As I said, that was just technically speaking; metaphorically we can fly more freely.

kev ferrara said...

We are dealing with art and design, not math. What makes anybody believe that mathematical language holds primacy over aesthetic language in this field of discussion? This is just one more remnant of the stupefaction of scientism. Yeah, we'll all sound smart to ech other if we use the word "orthogonal" but we won't know anything more about how the human mind processes art and how artists compose pictures.

In art the opposition to verticality is horizontality, and vice versa. This is a functional opposition. Meaning, it works in practice.

António Araújo said...

>how quickly (by deforming the tiles >in "organic" ways) you can lose all >sense of what the underlying >mathematical pattern

Here's a trivial example of that. This one is a simple deformation of a regular triangular lattice that I made for class:


People in this blog are probably better than average at getting patterns, but the casual viewer will not guess immediately what the original lattice was (whether triangles, squares, or hexagons, and where they "are"). Of course he sees a pattern, but not *what* pattern. A few more steps and the thing submerges in apparent chaos (not to speak of the fact that some tilings may be more complex: semiregular or even aperiodic Penrose tilings and such)

António Araújo said...

kev, you corrected David *mathematically*, and only as such did I clarify that actually he was in the right. I just stated again that in a metaphoric sense one is free to do as one wants.

Peace! :)

António Araújo said...
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António Araújo said...

But actually if we are speaking in terms of design, perpendicular (or orthogonal, whatever) is not such a "fancy" term. It is a very practical one. And just as one is free to sense "opposition" in lines that cross (and sure, I get that sense) I can also say that I don't see perpendicular lines as being fundamentally "opposing" even in artistic terms. I still see them mostly as defining independent directions - I don't "see" or "feel" that up-down "opposes" left-right. I see that up opposes down and left opposes right but not that up-down opposes left-right.

In fact, if you put a a third line in there that is perpendicular to both lines (forward-backward), it is kind of weird to say that it is in opposition to the other two (top-down and left-right) - even metaphorically or artistically speaking. Doesn't work for me at all. What it naturally makes you think is that you now have three dimensions to draw in. It adds rather than opposes.

For me at least, the euclidean technical sense fits pretty well with the artistic notion in this case.

ps: and once you get curved lines in there I see opposition even less in perpendiculars: I don't feel that meridians "oppose" parallels for instance, though they are perpendicular at each point - I see each set of perpendiculars as defining an independent dimension graphically.

kev ferrara said...

Vector is in common use as meaning "traveling in a particular direction." Vector was a word in Latin before it was used in math.

Also, you are misunderstanding this; horizontality and verticality are not directional. They don't cross in the verb sense. They are simply orientations on a two dimensional plane. They are oppositional as orientations, not as directions, given the degrees of freedom involved. What is oppositional in art is related to the qualities involved.

kev ferrara said...
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chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote: "I think, by the way, that the two equally correct ways of looking at a line (as a single object and a series of objects) is kind of a neat analogy for the multiple valid ways of looking at patterns here, as a design on a corset or a predetermined way of living your life."

Your love of, and your turn of analogy... well, very much parallels my own... :)

António Araújo said...

so what you are saying is that you see horizontal as opposed to vertical instead of left being opposed to right (or up being opposed to down, etc?)?

That's weird for me. But it's cool, it's your own map. :)

For my own map, I see a natural opposition between the two different directions of each line, I don't see it in the other case. There is a duality, so to speak, but not an opposition. And it is not even a duality once you go into three dimensions (triality? :)). As for orientation I like to reserve that for another concept - meaning, to signify if a pattern is left-handed or right-handed.

I do defend to the death your right to use these terms as you see fit :), but I find them useful to use in other ways, since they are used in those ways in many contexts that I find interesting. It is useful to have a language that is shared in all the geometry books from Euclid elements to Durer's geometry, right through to any modern text on simmetries or tilings or whatever. Makes things easier to understand. As long as we think those texts are useful, which I do think.

But one is always free to use whatever language and analogies seem natural to one's mind. We hold several languages in our skulls. I just don't think it is compelling for me to think in the way you are describing. But nevermind, it's probably just different images in our heads.

kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...
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António Araújo said...

>innate language of aesthetics

Yeah, but we draw it (to some extent at least) using the language of geometry. We measure, we draw circles, ellipses, we use perspective, etc, etc. That requires a language to think about those things. Come on, Durer thought Euclid was useful, Leonardo thought it was useful, that's good enough for me. Durer discusses in his book every curve that was known, to the point that the absence of his reference to rhumb lines was used as a way to confirm the timing of their discovery :). And that was a book tat was supposed to be useful for artists, not abstract geometers.

He certainly found that language useful for the making and appreciation of art. Have we came such a long way that it became irrelevant? I don't think so. Maybe I'm wrong.

Also, the theme was patterns, right? The concrete and the metaphorical. The concrete certainly require the language of geometry to be understood.

> appreciate the line as a unit. We >don't think "oh, look, an infinite >number of points along one straight >route.

Speak for yourself ;)

I think of a line, in practice, in many different ways. I think of it as defined by two points that I will pass a ruler through, or I think of it as a point and an angle, when I measure the model by triangulation (my favorite math trick for life drawing class :p) on a plane, or a point and two angles when measuring in space. There are many ways to skin a line. :)

And one does think of it as something that *can be cut* (by another line) in an (practically) *infinte* number of points. :)

Also, I propose this: the language of geometry is pretty much inscribed in our visual brains, and whatever the language of aesthetics may be, it is both compatible and illuminated by it. This bit is just a speculation, of course, but since nobody firmly knows what the language of aesthetics actually is, one can speculate.

António Araújo said...

>But within the conceptual realm of >orientation on a 2-D surface, >horizontality is opposed by >verticality and vice versa.

Sorry, I'm still not getting it.

I feel I need a teodolite, here :)

It's probably not important. We should probably quit, I feel we're going into one of those old language discussions.

>This is how art works.

I'm not sure anyone knows how art works. :) I have enough trouble learning how drawing works. :)

But I usually don't have so much trouble with surfaces, though! :) Either flat or curved, old Euclid usually gets me there, but right now I don't know which way is up (or down)anymore. :)

I have a dinner date. Got to go. Thanks for the discussion :)

kev ferrara said...

Hit and run, eh? You sly devil.

Well, for when you get back:

You are confusing mediated and unmediated/immediate experience; Intellection is mediated experience. Aesthetics is phenomenological, which is unmediated. There is a "phenomenological moment", if you will, when you first are hit by the power of a work of art (unshielded by your conscious word-label defenses). Or hit by some experience of a graphic (a color, a line, etc.)

And this phenomenological moment happens before you can name the event or rationalize it or explain it in math or English or whatever conscious language system you find yourself analyzing the world through. We experience a line. We experience blue.

Once you get into the headspace of naming and rationalizing and inspecting, looking at technical aspects, the art experience is over and the ego reconstuction has begun, and the tiny little critical picayune brain has taken over from the phenomenological (wholistic) brain.

This is the way art works. (I am repeating this phrase because of your reflexive rejection of it. "Nobody knows how art works" is the rallying cry of that wishful thinker, the primitivist-at-heart.)

Sean Farrell said...

The animal tracks Donald suggested are a wonderful example of a pattern (footprints) forming a line and the hunter following the animal track is experiencing its direction and so in this simple case, a pattern indicates a line with direction. Such can be used in art in endless ways, just as other patterns can be used in numerous ways.

In my head is but one brain, though perception may act with the verbal language in recess. The verbal interaction is in the same brain, sometimes ready to comment from habit and sometimes in thoughtful interaction. In the same way, I may react emotionally to some experiential perceptual thing in any number of ways such as thoughtlessly, sentimentally, indifferently or even as danger and through the interaction of language I may restore equilibrium, or override a misperception. Perception is not a holistic mind, sharing space with a conditioned mind. Perception is the sensory area of a single mind.

An ordinary example of ignorance in perception is confusion towards an unfamiliar situation. What is limited in an habitually active verbal mind, is often how to interact with a situation requiring simple perception.

One is not necessarily more emotional than the other. A refined insight into another's humanity may form a warm sense of being with that person, yet such may have arisen from a story one is told, not sensory perception. Yet through perception one may see another doing a generous thing on one's behalf and thus see them with a new depth of feeling. Both are capable of warmth and thoughtfulness. The art experience is never purely perceptual, nor is the mind ever without its other part.

The greater ignorance is usually a lack in understanding, not necessarily an initial lack of sensory perception.

Likewise, people may experience something warm in their hearts, their chest, which is born of warm experiences or better, the same may be of born of warm or beneficial intentions. It's impossible to express such in art without understanding it and so it would require something from the viewer for the communication/experience to be complete.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we think that things differ fundamentally when in fact they differ only in magnitude of complexity. A few deformations to a tiling and you still see a pattern, but just a few more and you call it "organic", simply because your ability to disentangle patterns is limited.

I think you've hit on something highly relevant that typically distinguishes fine art from simple pattern. Here's a quote from Hegel's Aesthetics (bold emphasis mine):

"But, finally, however much the particular aspects, parts, and members of the beautiful object harmonize with one another to form an ideal unity and make this unity appear, nevertheless this harmony must only be so visible in them that they still preserve an appearance of independent freedom over against one another; i.e. they must not, as in the Concept as such, have a purely ideal unity, they must also present the aspect of independent reality. In the beautiful object there must be both (i) necessity, established by the Concept, in the coherence of its particular aspects, and (ii) the appearance of their freedom, freedom for themselves and not merely for the unity of the parts on view. Necessity as such is the relation of aspects so essentially interlinked with one another that if one is there, the other is immediately there also. Such necessity should not be missing in beautiful objects, but it must not emerge in the form of necessity itself; on the contrary, it must be hidden behind an appearance of undesigned contingency. For otherwise the particular real parts lose their standing as existing on the strength of their own reality too, and they appear only in the service of their ideal unity, to which they remain abstractly subordinate."

kev ferrara said...

Sean, I think you are confusing experience with mere perception.

What we know we perceive is the journalism of our minds, part of the fact collection and recognition of the intellect. The labeling service of the ego saying "yeah, I know that and that and that and that and they are named x,y,z and soup, respectively."

What we feel is something else. What we feel is not pure perception, but the intuition we extract from experience. The everyday epiphanies of being.
Most understandings we have, we have experientially. We notice almost none of these as understandings because we'd be preoccupied with these minor understanding all day long if we did notice them.

The feeling of the sublime is not a perception. There is emotion involved, emotion which is telling us something about the experience which our intellects can't quite put a finger on, let alone articulate (To wit: Sublime is a pretty timid label for the actual event the word refers to). The feeling of the sublime is something that happens because of internal processing of the awe inspiring perception of the external event. The understanding comes in waves too real to be labelled as they happen.

And regarding those experiences that we must deliberate upon or consider in depth before understanding, it must be understood that the only way we "get" or grasp anything is to digest it into component parts which, at their core are sensual signals passing through our brain's anatomy.

To put it another way, the brain contains no words. Only the architecture to produce sensation. So the intellect is not processing words but the sensations that are being recalled by these words, by the labels... which are essentially "call numbers" for the sensations they refer to.

Not surprisingly, the labels (words, symbols,etc) also are a form of sensation.

So the intellect is only the intellect because it sensually names some of the things it feels, and then is able to process in particular ways some of the things it feels by consciously ordering up this processing through the conscious intermingling of the sensual labels. (This conscious intermingling is called language.)

So the brain does not process the names of things. It can only process sensations. It is only processing those feelings the names of things refer to, or evoke, or call up.

Thus the only difference between intuited understanding and conscious deliberation which leads to understanding is that conscious deliberation makes the mind aware of the sensations that are being concatenated for processing. The actual understanding you get from intellection is still not words or recognized symbols, it still must happen sensually at a level below the surface labeling.

kev ferrara said...

Sometimes we think that things differ fundamentally when in fact they differ only in magnitude of complexity. A few deformations to a tiling and you still see a pattern, but just a few more and you call it "organic", simply because your ability to disentangle patterns is limited.

In this example you are equating entropy or disorganization with complexity, when that isn't necessarily the case. If you broke open an ipod, removed all its parts and then piled them up, you haven't increased or decreased the complexity of the ipad at all. Have you? If anything the lessening of the intensity of the arrangement seems to be a loss of complexity.

To disorder the tiles of a pattern such that they seem more organically distributed is really a matter of removing one of the unifying parameters of the earlier pattern, not adding one. So the real issue in that case is noting repetitions of elements and finding them in haphazard arrangement, which is kind of like playing 52 pick up. It is unnatural for things that are almost exactly alike to not also be order in a very systematic way. So we prefer to stack the cards neatly in a deck.

Things really don't get "organic" in a pattern unless size, shape, color, edges, and arrangement all get chaotic.

This is the problem of the way pattern is being defined here. If textile pattern, organic pattern, and texture are equivalent, then the parameter that orders the textile pattern is being equated to the lack of an ordering parameter in the organic pattern or texture. That's saying that something is equal to nothing.

Sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev,
Thanks for your explanations. I don't believe I'm confusing anything. I'm referring to perception as in existential sensory experience, but also as recognition when appropriate. We don"t need journalism to understand pleasant sensations or unpleasant feelings. Yet we can sense a division, or even an otherness without the journalism. Such recognition is an intelligent action of the conscious mind, though not verbal, which you have called intuition, yet action can be taken upon it, which makes it conscious to me. In the same way the conscious verbal mind can intercede on behalf of the experience or into the experience and I have shared a number of examples already which are easy enough to understand, (also in the last post).

We transcend the immediate experiences of sensation and also of feelings and memories all the time and in doing so experience new things in understanding. Understanding deepens human experiences and the very perceptual sensory experience as well. A temporary elimination of fear alone deepens sensory experience. In the same manner, recognition of a person, perhaps unusual for their lack of selfishness can be an entirely mind altering, affirming and opening experience
which greatly alters one's relationship with the world around them and that would be by recognition by the verbal conscious mind.

Love is greatly enhanced by understanding and sensations are in turn greatly heightened, softened or may flow in new ways. That is, the entire human experience, sensation, feeling and happiness is greatly enhanced by the understandings of the verbal conscious mind. To reduce the conscious mind or oral/verbal language to journalism is a splitting of the person and an all too common affliction of modernism.

One cannot find a deeper love in an abandonment to sensation, nor to feelings. A limited freedom may be experienced which appears as unbridled joy, but it won't stand up to any obstacles or demanding complexities. For all one knows it's a oneness with one's own metabolism and imagination which is rather isolating.

kev ferrara said...

Yet we can sense a division, or even an otherness without the journalism. Such recognition is an intelligent action of the conscious mind, though not verbal, which you have called intuition, yet action can be taken upon it, which makes it conscious to me.

My understanding of intellection is that it requires labels, symbols, diagrams and language in order to be called intellection. And the intellect requires all these signs in order to specify the calling of the mental process (as laid out in my previous email on the topic above.)

The recognition of a division or an otherness is aesthetic in that it is intuited. And the labeling of "the finding of a division or otherness" makes the intuited understanding available to the intellect for intellection.

The question of what is conscious or not I find more slippery, as I think there is a continuum between unconsciousness and consciousness. Essentially consciousness is awareness in the sense we are using it, no? The more conscious we are of something, the more present it is in our awareness.

I think in the case of awareness without intellection, however, we can only react to a situation. We can't act. Action it seems to me entails a plan which entails a conscious thinking in signs, (my definition of intellection.) even if the thoughts come at the speed of light.

Regarding your other points about underestanding informing sensation, I want to refer you back to what I wrote; that understanding is an organized sensation pathway in the brain. So what you are talking about is some ready-to-hand sensation informing an incoming sensation. Sensation informing sensation.

Appreciating this fact alters the question of "abandoning ourselves to sensation." All we have is sensation. But some sensation is organized and contained within us, to be recalled at will. While some sensations contained within us and without us are still "wild."

The question is how we teach our sensations to organize.

António Araújo said...

etc, etc:

>Such necessity should not be >missing in beautiful objects, but >it must not emerge in the form of >necessity itself; on the contrary, >it must be hidden behind an >appearance of undesigned >contingency.

Thank you for the quote! That's exactly what I was getting at. The pattern is there in both cases, but only when it is hidden well enough will it please us in a way we call "artistic". If it is spelled out too clearly then it feels like a lesson in geometry instead.

This implies that the abilities of the viewer come into play, since a pattern that is obvious to one person may be obscure to a less knowledgeable one. This in fact corresponds to daily experience in the appreciation of art. (I was trying to get at this by comparing my appreciation of Escher vs Bach in the example above)

António Araújo said...

Kev, all I'm saying is that there is no one achieved codification of a "Language of Art". There is certainly a language of art implicit in our brains and we may know some things about it, and certainly lots of people know lots more about it than I do (as their work testifies) but even among the best artists (or philosophers) only the reckless would claim to have broken the code with any finality.

António Araújo said...

Kev, I'll decline to reply properly to your latest comments for now; it may be the late hour and the beers (it's 4 AM here and it's been a nice party :)) but that text wall is sounding too postmodern for this simpleton right now :).

Maybe copping out a bit, though (I don't want to go into "entropy", that's another loaded technical term) all I said is very concrete: that if you have a pattern, like a tiling, and the viewer can "get" how the pattern works then he will feel it is "just" geometry, or craft. But if you complicate the tiling some more so that he loses trace of the construction then he will feel it is "organic" and maybe "artistic", in the ordinary sense of those words in common speech. The point is that, mathematically, there is no difference in essence, it is just a matter of degree - the tiling is still just a geometrical ordered pattern, same as before, only with a few more steps; what changed was that the ability of the viewer's brain to comprehend the steps was overrun.

The point is that in this case the transition happens without recourse to a new principle of any sort.

I'm not saying that this is necessarily so in all cases or that any set of added steps would achieve the transition. It seems interesting that it can be so in some cases at least.

Sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev,
I'm trying to make sense of what you're saying and I understand your premise clearly enough. I understand parts of the feeling recognitions you are discussing, but I still see a limitation in the separation of all words as labels. Words have meaning and may invoke feelings, such as peace, yet peace may not be something one can readily experience on their own.

My examples are discoveries of things one recognizes as unlike oneself, which aren't part of one's self of habit, or thought/feeling and may cause a great curiosity. Yes, there is a recognition, but a recognition of something unlike one's own world or self.

Such are travels out of oneself into the outer world where such curiosities might entirely blow away interior notions of self and such observations are not always feelings, but honest objective acknowledgements of something different, which often leave one puzzled not in lost intuition, but as a deepening of conscience.

Yet there is truth in the idea that we seek something of the heart, but love itself implies two or we would have no reason to go past ourselves.

You're a very bright person and I'm trying to understand why this concept appeals to you, because I think you're mistaken regarding all words as merely labels. Some words are just labels like shoes and toothbrush, labeling an object, but others designating wholeness are real with real objective meaning. That science doesn't recognize such via sensory study is besides the point and not a surprise. How could it?

Of course there is no discernible character to goodness, or honestly or trust but who can live
without these without suffering?

One could argue that feelings/sensations are not readily memorable and can't be re-experienced through any form of recall, that they must be experienced anew, or substituted with a kind of shadow or imaginative substitute. I'm very thankful that thinking of a bee sting doesn't conjure up the actual sensation of a bee sting.

Sean Farrell said...

This is a complex subject and I'm grateful for your effort in trying to explain your thoughts. Let's let these thoughts work as they may. Some things do require time.

Tom said...


A straight line is between two points. The straight line connects the two points.  Now the points could be a million things, us and them, me and you, warm and cool and on and on.  Run another line parallel with it and make a plane then place a fulcrum under the Plane and you are balancing two things on opposite sides. 

I am not worried about defining the word pattern but I know  a pattern when I see one.  A line is like a skewer that connects up all the elements of a shish kabob.  Meaning is  always going to be in the seer not the seen.  An alternating pattern of light and dark contains the idea of value arrangement as well as philosophical ideas of opposition, repetition and rhythm. This is what I meant by contains, I did not say it was "high art".  

And what is wrong with decorative art pottery, interior design, clothing, everything has it's aesthetic side.

I will stay clear of grammar as I can barely spell.  Every portrait drawing book begins with those two fundamental lines, and the church realized their inherent depth and meaning.

 But how do you know if you have a relation if you can not see a pattern?

Tom said...


"the vertical Nile," does the river flow up to the sky?  Just kidding.

"How New York stole the idea of modern art," is not about the art itself.  It's about how America enlisted intellectual New York in its battle for the hearts and minds of the world in the cold war.

You can beat the horizontal and vertical for pure poetry.  Here is  what 
Le Corbusier  had to say,
"The laws of gravity seem to resolve for us the conflict of forces and to maintain the universe in equilibrium; as a result of this we have the vertical.  The horizon gives us the horizontal, the line of the transcendental plane of immobility…The right angle is as it were the sum of all forces which keep the world in equilibrium… it is unique and constant.  In order to work, man has need of constants… The right angle is lawful, it is part of our determinism, it is obligatory…Culture is an orthogonal state of mind."

kev ferrara said...

Alright, so let's recap:

"If I don't understand how art works having not really researched the question, nobody does and nobody ever did. In fact nobody has even gotten close. Amen."

The word "pattern" as used in the arts applies to anything I want it to apply to and means the same thing as relation, structure, contiguity, identity, continuity, unity, thing, or even the word Art itself, depending on one's mood. A line is a pattern, a circle is a pattern, a field of blue is a pattern. Thus, the particular and distinct uses of all the different words listed above is pretension on the part of artists who simply don't understand art as deeply as the person who simply says "its all pattern".

Meaning is not cybernetic, so all understanding is solipsistic. Thus meaning doesn't actually exist in art, thus any given decorative pattern on an amphora contains as much meaning as Lady of Shallotte by Waterhouse.

Words actually exist in the structure of the brain and are indistinguishable from their meanings and the emotions they evoke in terms of how the brain processes information. The brain can process information that isn't, at core, sensual.

Horizontality has no opposite, and neither does verticality. So all the artists who believe that horizontality and verticality are opposites and use it in their work are wrong, because math knows more about artistic composition and aesthetic perception than all the artists who ever were.

David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote: "'the vertical Nile,' does the river flow up to the sky?"

I knew when I wrote that Egypt was founded on a vertical and horizontal axis (the Nile and the path of the sun) that some smart alec was going to have fun with the point you raise. But the larger poetry is inescapable: in the middle of the shifting sands, before the compass or mechanical clock or any other means of locating themselves in the universe with objectivity and precision, they had just two constants: their vertical line and their horizontal line. And that intersection was enough to build a foundation for an empire that lasted thousands of years.

Since you didn't like my Egyptian example, Mr. Funny Guy, let's see if you can do any better with a different example: the Belgian author Luce Irigaray offered this thought on the significance of other vertical and horizontal lines: "Two sets of lips that... cross over each other like the arms of the cross, the prototype of the crossroads between. The mouth lips and the genital lips do not point in the same direction. In some way they point in the direction opposite from the one you would expect, with the 'lower' ones forming the vertical."

Take it away, Tom, we're all dying to see how brave you are.

Antonio Araujo-- One of the things that makes me happiest about this blog is when people who have paid the dues to learn serious math and science (which I have not) write in to tighten my liberal arts analogies and add rigor to my otherwise flabby thinking. It's like having jiminy cricket as a conscience on my shoulder preventing me from getting too intoxicated by the poetry side.

António Araújo said...



fine, let me rephrase that: *I* know of no person who has constructed such a language, with such a finality, that you could claim that "this is what this term means in The Language of Art(tm)".

So, fine, maybe *you* are privy to the secret code of the Language of Art. If so, you can be generous and share it in a way that other people can learn from, or give references if that would take too long.

But just beating down everyone with an invisible (imaginary?) stick is not helpful. You are just assuring me that your statements are couched in that language, but it is tough for anyone to know if that is so or not. From my perspective, you are not communicating knowledge to me, you are just affirming that you have it. Every word of yours is defined in terms of other undefined words, seemingly endlessly. I can't learn from that. Maybe I'm just a bad student. Be that as it may, communication is not happening. All I can do is take your superior knowledge at face value, and I'm not *that* generous. Nor, by the way, would my students *ever* be so generous with me - nor would other researchers if I ever pulled such a stunt. Because it is the obligation of the claimant to distinguish his knowledge from mere idle boasting.

You are pointing your lantern at my eyes rather than at my path.

If I think that an artist is ignorant, say, of the CIE theory of color, I won't just state that I am privy to some higher knowledge. I can teach it to him from the ground up, with clearly defined terms, or, in a rush, I can give him a book to read, in less time than it would take me to chastise him.

If you can do that, I'll thank you. If not, that's ok too, but I'll keep my doubts.

António Araújo said...

>So all the artists who believe that >horizontality and verticality are >opposites and use it in their work >are wrong,


I've been clear - thrice now - that I too see the metaphor, and that of course artists are completely free to use it, and all that I ever *corrected* was a statement of yours that intended to be a *mathematical correction* of a statement of David's. I corrected it because I do know the...hum... "Language of Elementary Euclidean Geometry (tm)", and I feel a professional obligation to clarify that type of error. (I can give you the references if you want or you can check my statement with a random 1st year geometry student).

As for the rest, I simply shared with you the fact that *I personally* feel that even in metaphorical terms the canonical interpretation of orthogonality works better and more generally than the notion of opposition. I repeat: Works *FOR ME*. *In the theatre of my own imagination*. No, I never said that all those artists who see it as "opposition" are *wrong*. Now, perhaps *you* are saying that my own inner visual metaphors are wrong for they are against the laws of the Language of Art, but in that case I refer you to my last post and await your references eagerly.

So, to recap: I said that you were wrong in a specific statement that *you* framed mathematically. As for metaphors, people are free to do as they will, *as far as I know*.

António Araújo said...


I don't think analogies need to be ruled in too much, only attempts at being rigorous need to be held accountable.

You'd be surprised how "shabby" the thinking is allowed (and expected) to be while speculating about a math problem. Even logical inconsistency is shrugged off while throwing things at a problem to see if they stick. Only when you actually claim to have solved a problem are you held accountable, and expected to justify each statement.

kev ferrara said...

Antonio, the "language of art" is a titanic matter which has consumed some of the finest minds of all time. Almost every great philosopher wades in on the interconnection between aesthetics, metaphysics, concepts, meaning, beauty and the art experience. And every great artist has tackled the selfsame subjects but in their practical form, whereby fine artistic results can be achieved with the assistance of compositional wisdom without knowing any intimidating-sounding words.

Since you have clearly read almost nothing about the subject, it really seems babyish for you to cry foul when I assert that there is good understanding out there waiting for you if you should desire to pursue it. (Nobody wants to deal with a lazy student, I'm sure you'll agree.)

You want to read something, start with Aristotle's Metaphysics, Harvey Dunn's An Evening in the Classroom lecture notes, and Dewey's Art As Experience. But don't expect it to be as formulaic as math. Nor as ready to hand as an Internet meme. And don't expect anybody you know to be more knowledgeable than you are right now. Every insight you come to will be hard won by your own mind. (I certainly can't teach you to be an artist or a philosopher. I mean, based on our previous posts on this thread, I can't even teach you about graphic oppositions without resistance. So don't look at me for help.)

António Araújo said...

Kev, if you actually were trying to teach composition you would not find me resisting. I am an avid listener, usually. I am here sitting like a lamb, watching Gurney's latest video I just bought; it is straightforward, honest stuff, from a guy who really knows his business, and I am standing here duly awed and respectful. It's about fimo paste, light, color, paint. It is about *learning something*. I'm not seeing one sign of hyperbole or boasting from a guy whose work shows he clearly *could* boast. That makes it easier to see the content.

>But don't expect it to be as >formulaic as math.

There is nothing formulaic about creating (or even learning) math. You spend years on one single problem and then you hallucinate solutions on the goddamn crapper. And this from a nobody like me, hardly a real mathematician at all. I've met guys whose minds are just incomprehensible. Formulaic? You know nothing, Jon Snow.

Maths is not that thing you learned in high school. That's like thinking that you understood what art was when they taught you to color inside the lines.

>(...)internet meme.

Don't worry, believe it or not I actually have read a book or two and am known to occasionally focus for a full five minutes. :)
There are other subjects, apart from the fabled Language Of Art, that are far from instant satisfaction.

> the "language of art" is a >titanic matter which has consumed >some of the finest minds of all >time.

That's what bugs me: the hyperbole gets sort of icky. It's like a damned flashlight on your eyes. Lots of things are "a titanic matter that bla bla bla". Algebraic Geometry, physics...damn, even cooking for all I know. Yet, people who actually work on "titanic matters that consume (...)" usually don't go for snake oil pitches like that. Usually they just talk as simply as possible about how to go about the work. You know, when you meet the people who work at CERN, they don't talk about the "God particles" - that's for impressing the unlearned. They talk a lot more like, say, James Gurney. Like a pro who knows something. Shop talk. "The Language of art" sounds just too sweeping to my ears.

I do appreciate the reading list, though. I'll eat my hat gladly when I do learn The Language of Art.

ps:Aristotle, huh? :) I enjoy a good greek once in a while. I just hope you don't think it requires reading in the original too, because the damn librarians seem to have lost those manuscripts somewhere :)

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


I'm partial to 18th Century German aesthetics; I suppose they would be considered hopelessly dated by many, but I believe they form the best foundation for aesthetic thought. Like the great mathematicians, these guys were extremely rigorous thinkers, and there is a whole lot of re-inventing the wheel by people who aren't familiar with them. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a great resource:

18th Century German Aesthetics
Kant's Aesthetics and Teleology
Hegel's Aesthetics

Sean Farrell said...

Hi Antonio,
In your pattern design, the little faces, shoulders and hands, compete with the pattern and also the unusual birdlike shape each is contained in. In this arrangement, the heads and faces still hold authority over the competing forces.

As the image is skewed, the viewer's ability to easily see the faces is lessened and so they lose their authority. From this point, the viewer is going to search for orientation, for leadership in the design and seeing none, will try the outer edge. Rather than returning back into the complexity, the viewer will treat the collection of shapes as a one overall shape.

In being skewed, the shape doesn't become organic, nor has it become any less mathematical, it's just the way the mind seeks orientation that the end result is a grouping by the outer shape. It may still be viewed as a pattern, just one containing nothing in particular and lacking the previous authority of the heads.

This is true of designs where the shapes are of a variety of sizes. First the eye will scan for a recognizable form and if none is found, it will treat the collection of shapes as a unit defined by its outer edge.

If what Kev is saying is true, that there are no words in the brain, it is all the more a mystery, because words are pointers, they point to ordinary things and complex ideas, meanings, beliefs, etc. People instinctively seek orientation and direction and if none is offered in one place, they will seek direction elsewhere. Direction is one of the simplest forms of movement and an uninterrupted movement is one of life's simplest and most enjoyable forms of beauty. Orientation and movement is linked to what people call the life force in that movement seeks a destiny, a destination.

Tom said...

Sorry David I was just teasing you, I wasn't challenging you.   I did enjoyed your example and that's why I posted the Le Corbusier quote. 

By "their vertical line "and "their horizontal line," do you mean what is inherent in our bodies or what you stated early," the vertical Nile and the horizontal trajectory of the sun."

The Egyptians  where not the only one's interested in precise exact intersections.  The Indians also faced the same problems because the Vedic religion required sacrifices on altars built to exact specifications. As J.L. Heibron commented "geometry might be better sought in religious ritual than in land surveys. The direction of advance must be from ritual to geometry not the reverse.  ... It certainly indicates a geometrized ritual if not a ritualized geometry."

Your example;
More vertical and horizontal arrangements or relations. That is kinda of my point their every where, it is ubiquitous.  Why would genitalia be any different from the rest of life.

Tom said...

"The mouth lips and the genital lips do not point in the same direction"

Kinda of like a halve joint in carpentry or interlocking bricks at the conner of a building.

Laurence John said...

Kev : "I don't know what you are going on about with respect to hyperbole or boasting."

i know exactly what Antonio is going on about.
you need to throttle back on the urge to tell everyone how unlearned, unread and ignorant they are. it's really getting tiring.

"He's a great artist and teacher, a humble man"

try some humble.

Antonio: "Yet, people who actually work on "titanic matters that consume (...)" usually don't go for snake oil pitches like that."


Anonymous said...

And he used to bitch about Rob Howard !

António Araújo said...


I agree with you regarding the competition of features and lack of focus. Personally, what my eyes go to are mostly the hexagonal arrangements of hands, much more than the faces. That was NOT intentional. :)

Let me be blunter: the design sort of sucks.:)

But let me clarify: there was no pre-planned focus point. There was, in fact, no thought of design. This is an elementary exercise for people learning how to build Escherian tilings - i.e., how to alter regular tiles in certain ways and still have them fit. It was meant to focus on the construction of the tilings and the fitting of some whimsical freehand features into them (people, birds, etc). I spent zero time worrying about the design, and I did this example, along with my students, overnight (as homework). But, I freely admit that design is my weakest point, so if I had payed more mind it probably wouldn't have improved :), except by the old trick of "use your intuition, keep trying and ask other people for their reactions", which is mostly what I do when I occasionally get to do some work in illustration.

On your other point: I don't state that this example is "organic" looking. What I said is that, as you manipulate the tiles, you go steadily towards and "organic" look. This tiling comes from a set of aligned triangles. After a couple of alterations on the edges it already has lost the appearance of the design - I would say that "triangularity" now competes with "hexagonality". After more alterations (and a more complicated design inside each tile) the underlying pattern will subside more and more.

Take another example, perhaps a better one. There are algorithms, just as mechanical as the tile building, that allow you to build realistic landscapes (through fractals and what not). There are also L-systems, that use formal grammars to make realistic models of trees. Those may exemplify better the fact that a simple pattern can become something organic-looking without any additional principle being called in. (and that was my only point).

António Araújo said...

>If what Kev is saying is true, that >there are no words in the brain,

I haven't followed that argument carefully and I really have no idea about words. According to Chomsky, though, we are born with formal *grammars* in there. :)


> That the basis for the "language >of art" already exists in your >mind is something you already >seem to appreciate, albeit >begrudgingly,

No begrudging. I very much would bet that the rules exist in our brain (in sort of the same sense that Chomskian grammars may be in there). I only "begrudge" the way you seem to be sure that you have those rules properly codified and understood out here in the world for the purposes of discussion.

I am sure that Kant, Hegel, Aristotle, etc, all have very interesting and informative things to say - and I do intend to learn more about it, as I intend to learn many other things in my long reading list. I am also aware that whenever I read that type of philosopher I find them all in deep disagreement with each other. Meaning, that their statements are far from being final and settled. I mean, each system of continental (a bad term, but whatever) philosophy always seems to think of itself as having finally achieved the great summit, over the errors of the previous (and future!) ones, but the problem is that mostly ALL of them seem to have that attitude, so that what you most hear from students of the field are phrases of the sort (to pick a random one)

"While for Kant, categories and forms of intuition are functions of the mind, for Hegel the categories are abstractions from the reality"

In fact an alien would recognize the sound of a philosophy class by the frequent use of the pattern:

While for A, X, for B, Y.

So that utterances with the sound of finality about that tend to make my eyebrow rise.

This of philosophers. There are some neurologists that are interested in the "rules of art", or rather, in the way that the brain reacts to a choice of patterns (I don't recall their names right now, I can check it later). Their statements have the advantage of being testable, but of course, precisely because of that, may not be very sweeping or deep, for now at least.

So in both cases, I hardly see finality marrying both consensus and depth in any way that would approach a credible threesome.

António Araújo said...

etc, etc

Thanks for the tips! I will add them to my list.

Edt333 said...

The details on the leaf engraving are really amazing. Great post.

Tom said...

A few more David
"The mouth lips and the genital lips do not point in the same direction"

Or in naval warfare, crossing the T.  And the great force of gravity in post and lintel construction.

David Apatoff said...

Antonio Araujo and Kev Ferrara-- I agree with you both about Jim Gurney. What a constructive, hubris-free, generous source of information about illustration. I am amazed by what he does.

Tom wrote: "Sorry David I was just teasing you, I wasn't challenging you."

And I was just teasing you back. Never worry about challenging me here, I welcome all good challenges (that's how I learn) and I tend to ignore the bad ones. I enjoyed the Le Corbusier quote, and I thought you did a respectable job reacting to Luce Irigaray's quote I threw you about perpendicular vs. horizontal lips. (May I point out to female friends who raised an eyebrow, that Luce Irigaray is a woman and a strong feminist philosopher?)

Edt333-- I'm glad you noticed the frankincense trees. I and others spend so much time preaching the virtues of artistic economy-- of distilling things to their essence and capturing complex realities with the most simplified gestures-- but there is something to be said for the opposite approach, too. Drawing every single leaf in the tree (when well done) has a marvelous effect.

David Apatoff said...

Antonio Araujo wrote: "I hardly see finality marrying both consensus and depth in any way that would approach a credible threesome."

You have to be kidding, yes? Finality, consensus and depth cannot get along by themselves, alone in a room, let alone married together in a "credible threesome." In fact, you can probably throw "marrying" into the same category.

Sean Farrell wrote: "Direction is one of the simplest forms of movement and an uninterrupted movement is one of life's simplest and most enjoyable forms of beauty. Orientation and movement is linked to what people call the life force in that movement seeks a destiny, a destination."

An interesting thesis, and something to enjoy musing over, although I'm not sure how you'd prove it. I suppose there are all kinds of "movement" that could be relevant to your point: movement of the eye created by shapes or colors, movement of the brain construing symbols or forms, implied movement from the fossil record of action painters, Franz Kline, etc., movement created by animation, and others.

I agree that there is pleasure in witnessing "uninterrupted movement" (is this another word for speed?) but there is also special pleasure in watching interrupted movement. If you have a large shape next to a small shape, the relationship between them creates movement, but if you have two roughly equal shapes, the relationship creates tension, a shimmering effect back and forth. You see this in some of Dubuffet's fabulous "texturology" paintings. I would have to guess that many of us derive more pleasure from coruscation than from uninterrupted movement.

Sean Farrell said...

Thanks for you response and explanation. Isn't it natural that you would have been more concerned with the tiles, being they were the point of the lesson with your students? Also, your design is fine and engaging and it works well.

From a lay person's point of view, there is a hierarchal seeking of order which is develops at a pre-language age and from that world, recognizable things take precedent over those that designate nothing in particular. A dog will recognize a person's head accordingly. With your purpose in mind, the mathematical pattern was a point of engagement to the lay person so long as the heads were easy to read, but the equation changed with the tilting and the students then resorted to the outer shape as you explained. I was just explaining the simple design principle behind the choice.

Also thanks for your explanation of what you were referring to as organic. From an artistic angle, organic refers to something other than algorithmic, though it is understandable that a mathematician or scientist would assume otherwise.

Each of the arts has its own nature, language, vocabulary and parameters and though various points intersect, the nature of each remains unique, despite a human desire, perhaps a presumption or even compulsion to simplify the whole matter which has been ongoing for centuries and is a major endeavor today.

It might serve a more universal good to step outside each discipline to understand how one differs from the next and how they can never adequately replace the others, rather than trying to read one with the language and understandings of the other, no?

António Araújo said...


let me try to rephrase the point without using the word organic, then. I could have said it this way:

Sometimes, as you complicate an algorithm, the end result looks less and less like it was done by an algorithm. Or at least the algorithm becomes impossible to guess, even if you feel its presence.

Conversely, perhaps some pieces of art, that strike us as not following any algorithm, are just following an algorithm so intricate that it evades both us and the author.

And perhaps we feel that some art is accomplished because we *sense* the presence of the algorithm at some level, which gives the work a geometrical beauty, but don't actually see the algorithm clearly, which gives the work a sense of play and mistery that intrigues us.

These are just maybes. I think it is not a completely useless thought, even if it may be false. And I think that the quote etc etc provided above said more or less the same thing. Which is interesting because it suggests (and this connects with your next statement) that you can reach the same conclusion through different languages.

It seems to me that you can shine each language over a problem and each one will be like a microscope that will reveal a different feature of it. I think complementarity is useful.

For instance, I had horrible problems with color theory until I understood the construction of the CIE diagram of color, although you are not going to paint directly from that, and you'll probably use something like Munsell instead. But a fundamental part of Munsell cannot be understood without CIE, and it grated at me horribly until I had that cleared up. And CIE is in the language of physics, math, and physiology.

You can probably do art with a focus on different languages. It will probably appeal to different people. And you can read the same conclusions, sometimes, in different ways. Some very accomplished artists never read philosophy OR geometry and never felt the need for it. But some people will need Hegel and others will need Euclid to understand the same thing. Whatever little I learned of design came from the books of practical artists who I bet never read Aristotle nor Euclid and yet seemed to do alright.

Ideally, we should know all the languages. I don't speak much of the "language" of continental philosophy, I fear. But that is only because it appeals less to me than others, and because my time is limited. Hopefully I won't die before I add that to my utility belt.

Anonymous said...

Direction is one of the simplest forms of movement and an uninterrupted movement is one of life's simplest and most enjoyable forms of beauty.

Just marvelous nuggets of insight into art formalism, and....

From a lay person's point of view, there is a hierarchal seeking of order which is develops at a pre-language age and from that world, recognizable things take precedent over those that designate nothing in particular.

....that nicely explains why art formalism can seem counterintuitive and an acquired taste. What artists or historical styles of art do you tend to favor?

Anonymous said...

And perhaps we feel that some art is accomplished because we *sense* the presence of the algorithm at some level, which gives the work a geometrical beauty, but don't actually see the algorithm clearly, which gives the work a sense of play and mistery that intrigues us.

I know you (and probably most everybody else) are going to balk at this, but I think there are theistic implications to this phenomenon. An artist is a reflection of the divine. In fact, in the Hebrew scriptures, the first mention of the manifestation of divine Spirit working in and through human activity was in regard to Bezalel, the chief artisan of the Tabernacle.

António Araújo said...

ps: let me rephrase again the "hidden algorithms" bit in yet another way, by stealing (possibly way out of spech) from Dunn's book that kev mentioned above:

"If you want to be clever don’t let anybody catch you at it. If they catch you at it you’re not clever"

Sean Farrell said...

Sure, there are many kinds of movement, but direction is one of the most elemental given that the first heads and tails of simple organisms gave them direction.

Yes there are intersecting points between the languages, but they are not the same. By their nature, each brings different shades, if not entire dimensions the others can't. By organic in art talk we generally aren't referring to the algorithmic, rather it refers to something that grows on its own as does a character in writing.

Let's jump into another area of development. One person sees the dignity in a human being when they are both agreeable and disagreeable. A second person sees dignity in another when they are agreeable. A third person sees dignity in another when they can get something from them. Don't the three examples explain three very different levels of development which isn't of science, math or visual art?

A concern today is that the language of science, being heavily sponsored by commercial interests, is enjoying hegemony over thinking and human behavior itself and this is overwhelming and gobbling up the arts and entire cultures worldwide.

etc., etc. I don't really know what kind of art I favor. The kinds I learn from and that changes, but as someone who draws a lot, I favor line. Thanks.

Sean Farrell said...

etc., etc. I can do better than that, sorry. The drawings of Tiepolo, Watteau, Degas, Schiele, Matisse, Picasso, Noel Sickles and Austin Briggs are among my favorites.
Degas' compositions are fascinating to me.

I also want to know more about what those on this blog find interesting too, so opening the comments page has been a find.

Laurence John said...

"And perhaps we feel that some art is accomplished because we *sense* the presence of the algorithm at some level, which gives the work a geometrical beauty, but don't actually see the algorithm clearly, which gives the work a sense of play and mistery that intrigues us."

can you give an example of this phenomenon in visual art ?

Steve Carlin said...

aAntonio kev was trying to teach you about composition, you just didn't recognize it. (8/31/13, 3:00) so you went after him that he wasnt teaching, only shining a light in your eyes, because you didn't understand. That's on you, bro. Now we have you, a complete amateur just beginning to learn to draw, talking algorithms and sh$t. Who did you help?

António Araújo said...

etc etc,
not so much balk...I just don't naturally respond to the religious impulse. But there may certainly be implications in this sense: our visual brains were built to respond to the world, and the world is fundamentally geometric, though again that geometry is hidden among the random variation. Perhaps we feel pleasure in playing hide and seek with that. And the elation of catching those glimpses of the hidden geometry may be called "divine", if anything can, in the sense that it goes deep into the nature of the world. Some will naturally take that divinity in some other sense, that involves religiosity - as for that I cannot speak since I am like a colorblind person in that respect: I hardly know what it means. :)


> but they are not the same

exactly. They will intersect in some places, and in others they will have exclusive domain. They will be like the proverbial blind men feeling up small areas of an elephant :). Together they stand a better chance of making sense of the whole thing.
That's why I speak of complementarity.

> being heavily sponsored by >commercial interests

Hey, I'd like a share of that! :)

Really, commercial interests aren't all that heavy into algebraic geometry, I think. Which is fine, cause we're not curing cancer or anything.

And I find it hard to reconcile the supposed hegemony of maths and science with the fact that there is a pervailing math illiteracy in our society, and so few numbers of young people going into "hard" science. I think commercial interests are more into finding bright young physicists and mathematicians and wasting their brains making monstrosities in wall street firms than, say, financing any supposed assault of the physics department against the art and philosophy departments.

By the way, at least in Portugal I see many more people wanting to be artists than pure mathematicians. Some areas of science are of course much better financed than either maths or art, but that is to be expected since they are useful to industry and you can't do, say, chemistry, without a bundle of dough. But I don't see that chemists are waging a war against the art or philosophy departments (or the math department for that matter), although when budgets shrink, blood may flow in faculty meeting. :p Maybe I'm just distracted, I tend to spend plenary meetings sketching the participants instead of observing the subtle waging of turf wars. :)

I can speak for myself only: when I was a kid I toyed with studying both science and philosophy. But taking a peek at "continental" philosophy left me mostly suspicious that I wasn't getting anywhere (and often exasperated at what I saw as self-delusional overconfident authors), while opening a book of advanced maths/physics, though mostly just as incomprehensible, fascinated me and made me question more and more. I wasn't guided by any pressure from commercial interest, but by my own reactions and personal tastes.

António Araújo said...

Steve Carlin

hey, bro :)

I'm not beginning to learn to draw :) I've been drawing since I was born and I draw everyday. :)

Now, if you think I don't draw so well after all those years and classes, that's ok, bro. I do what I can. :)

I'm no pro, though, I confess it! In the sense I hardly make any money from drawing. I did make *some*, though, and I do have a few published works, between covers, article illustrations in a few rags, a solo show the other day, and a book in the making. I've also taught some drawing classes using some unusual techniques that I came up with (a way of doing sight-size without sight-sizing - you wouldn't care, it's just geometry).I don't think that's so bad for a side gig, bro, but hey, you're free to differ. :)

As for helping someone, I help my students when I teach them classical and curvilinear perspective without the errors that appear in about 80 percent of the books out there written by...people who are pro enough to write perspective books without knowing any geometry. And color theory without the misconceptions that come from not knowing any maths. But you'd have to pay me for that help, sorry, because my uni pays for my salary when I do that :)

All the best, bro. Always nice to meet a warm human being.

António Araújo said...

Steve Carlin,

ps: used to love your comedy work before you passed away, bro. :) You're still doing fine for a stiff, though not as articulate anymore. But hey, like the parrot playing chess, the wonder is that you do it at all! :)

Steve Carlin said...

Antonio now who is self delusional? Anybody here who follows your links can see that you are at the level of a talented high school kid. Wake up. Can you give URL for some of your color work so we see what you actually know about color so much that you can teach it? Your crazy To say just because you get few escudo that you know anything. And the comedian was George carlin, ok?

chris bennett said...

Antonio wrote let me rephrase again the "hidden algorithms" bit in yet another way, by stealing (possibly way out of spech) from Dunn's book that kev mentioned above: "If you want to be clever don’t let anybody catch you at it. If they catch you at it you’re not clever"

That's a fantastic quote Antonio. It's taken me a lifetime to realise that (and I was born when they used to write with feathers). Kev Ferrara was instrumental in helping that particular penny to drop BTW.

Sean wrote: I also want to know more about what those on this blog find interesting too...

I can help you there Sean. A 'desert island' selection would be something like: Maillol's sculpture, Michelangelo, late Titian, J.W.Waterhouse, Constable, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Degas, Euan Uglow and Antonio Lopez Garcia.

António Araújo said...


I didn't claim I was as good as you, or even any good. I just informed you I did not start yesterday as you claimed. I think I do hold my own in life drawing, though.

If people decide to use my stuff sometimes (we don't pay "escudos" anymore, friend) that's maybe just because, you know, there's one born every minute. But hey, when I read my Aristotle, then I'll draw like an angel. But here ya go, knock yourself out. There are some more drawings here


but you'll have to go to facebook to find most of them. You don't have to friend me (since you don't feel that friendly), you can just look in.

By the way, apart from a few exceptions, I mainly do (and care) about life drawing. I draw people on the subways, conferences, etc. You'll find a lot of those there. If you want to inform me that my compositions (color or otherwise) are shit, tell me something I don't know. Or come along and whip up your pencils and we'll see what you can draw on the street alongside me. I draw regularly with a lot of professional illustrators and they respect my work. If I cared what anybody thought, I'd take their opinion over some random rude guy on the net.


ps: still on the subject of "who do I help"...I suppose that I helped kev as much by correcting a simple geometric mistake he made as he did by correcting the same geometric mistake that David did *not* make. I am (sincerely) deeply sorry I did because such a simple thing apparently is such a crime against Art - or ego, or whatever.

Steve Carlin said...

great, so now you've turned an interesting conversation into an advertisement for yourself. Ego much?

ps: Just looked at the link. Yea, that's what I figured I'd see hotshot.

António Araújo said...


that's what I knew you'd say.

As for the "advertisement", now you are just being a troll. You asked for it. If I had not given you the stuff you'd berate me for that. Since I gave it to you, I am advertising.

You are a troll, sir, and I do not feed trolls. We are done.

Steve Carlin said...

Again, your ego blinds you. Instead of acknowledging that your work is amateurish, you say instead that I must be a troll for saying so. Instead of just showing your work and letting us judge for ourselves, you hype it by saying its been published. As if that means anything to the quality of it. Whatever dude. It must be nice to always be so confident. Sucks for everyone else tho.

António Araújo said...

Yeah, that's really how it went. If you have trouble reading, "Steve", that's your problem.

I have no more troll cookies.

António Araújo said...

I might ask kev to feed you, because he is very combative and can write and write even longer than I can. That's a quality I'm fast losing.

Since he seems to be away, though...

I guess you'll just have to do without.

Steve Carlin said...

Amazing how you can never acknowledge that you are wrong. Typical Internet ego.

Sean Farrell said...

I'm not fighting with you. Wasn't it yourself who brought in an example based on math and referred to something as organic, when it was algorithmic and not artistically speaking, organic? It's not whether x amount of people are entering the sciences, but that the sciences have entered the liberal arts in ways that are, if not distorting, certainly inhibiting.

The example of the three different views of human dignity might be archetypal starting points for a journey, where all wind up exhibiting the initial characters of the other. Yet, do people think in such a way anymore, or are people forced to respond to the ideologies of the commercial interests? Is a story that sheds light on character, counter productive to commercial tie-ins and increased sales, thus not socially beneficial?

Are people inhibited in saying anything that isn't scientifically, provable? I think they are and if so it is reasonable to assume that such is effecting what is called art. At the same time, metaphysics extrapolated from science may be distorting basic observation. In some ways, people don't believe their own eyes and sometimes their own ability to reason.

In a story in Wired several years ago, a scientist was explaining away religious phenomenon. It was an interesting article but then he got to the photo at Zeitoun and said, I can't figure this one, there she is, (Marian apparition) right in the photo. The fellow was in a hard place to refigure the photo to his premise. He wasn't driven by ideology, nor mean spirited, but he was stumped to explain something that wasn't supposed to be and this was bothersome to him.

His humility proved as curious as his previous explanations seemed sound. My point is that we are shaped by the world around us in ways that move subtilely and aren't always evident. The artistic vision should be allowed certain latitudes which science generally isn't.

Sean Farrell said...

Sorry, to explain the last sentence, to remain human,
it is in our interest to afford others a certain gratuity of error, or we become very tight and squeaky, like robots. As robots, we seek ever more formulas to justify our acquired robotic natures and tastes.

António Araújo said...


I wasn't fighting you either. If I gave that impression it was completely by accident. I didn't interpret you as doing so either. Sorry for any misunderstanding on the regard.

I just rephrased the thing without the word "organic" because I thought it was confusing matters and I didn't really need the word to make the limited point I was trying to make.

As for the rest, I do agree fully that people don't have to limit themselves to speaking "scientifically". That would be horrible and very limiting! I don't think one could do it and still function! :) As I said to David, even when actually doing science you *don't* think scientifically all the time - you just do it when it's time to check yourself and wrap things up. In the mean time you let imagination run. When you think inside the rules you cannot find new rules.

A bit like "write drunk, edit sober". :)

You have to step out and dangle in the wind. And then land again. Over and over. I'm not disagreeing with you.

As for what (in general) people actually are afraid to say....I don't know...I'm not sure on that, maybe I just don't have a feel for the general pulse well enough (and it probably varies a lot geographically?). But I see so many people adept at all sorts of superstition all around that I find it hard to believe that this fear is so common. I mean, how popular is astrology, and so on? And most people - even scientists - are religious, so non-scientific thinking seems to be doing pretty well. That's just my impression, though.

>are people forced to respond to >the ideologies of the commercial >interests

They are forced and most of all tricked into it. You won't find me defending the bastions of capitalism as it exists right now, you can rest assured :)

António Araújo said...

Clarifying: I don't mean to equate all non-scientific thinking with astrology. I was just saying that if people aren't afraid of the silly stuff why would they be afraid of the stuff that is perfectly reasonable yet non-scientific?

But I see there is a possible flaw in that: different crowds and all.

I do agree in one aspect: there is a sad tendency in the social sciences to want to sound scientific by using empty pseudo-scientific jargon. But that has often been criticized (and famously ridiculed) by people in the hard sciences themselves.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This is not something I balk at anymore.

That excites me! Kant was ever the Enlightenment skeptic in The Critique of Judgment, but the work consists of what he saw as two related parts of judgment: aesthetics and teleology, the latter of which typically has theistic implications. Hegel went so far as to describe art, religion, and philosophy as a triad centered around absolute (divine) Spirit.

kev ferrara said...

Truth for me is the real issue of concern. Continental philosophy, obsessed with eradicating metaphysics, flopped badly in its attempt to eradicate the idea of truth, the heart of the whole matter. I think they see/saw truth as based on religion or as religious unto itself, but I don't see it as a religious matter at all. Merely a practical matter. We all use truth all day long out of necessity because we must fix beliefs about what is going on around us and in or lives, at least to some extent, in order to act. We cannot act on facts alone, for facts do not bring understanding. There must be the induced relationship, the metaphysical connection, between all the facts for there to be understanding/comprehension. That is what is truth or what is true; It is always the actionable best guess about the encompassing idea/relation of things. If we act without such comprehension or without a firm commitment to the veracity of our beliefs, we will flail, falter and fail. So faith is also a undeniable necessity in the navigation of the everyday.

But this question of "what is the reality of the comprehending metaphysical relation between facts" I find is insoluble. I think cs pierce said that truth is obviously real but doesn't exist. And as confounding as this sounds at first, it seems to me to be so.

Teleology is not something I find myself in sympathy with however.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Continental philosophy, obsessed with eradicating metaphysics, flopped badly in its attempt to eradicate the idea of truth, the heart of the whole matter. I think they see/saw truth as based on religion or as religious unto itself, but I don't see it as a religious matter at all.

If by "religion" you mean anything in the traditional European (i.e. Christian) sense of the word, then I think your statement is in general a mischaracterization. Even beginning with the German Idealists, they were either skeptics and/or had designs of hijacking religion and anointing themselves as prophets, priests, and psalmists (Hegel being the least implicated in the plot). Schlegel was very blunt:

"The only significant opposition to the religion of man and artist now springing up everywhere is to be expected from the few remaining real Christians. But they too, when the sun really begins to dawn, will fall down and worship."

kev ferrara said...

Sorry, I meant analytic philosophers, not continental.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant analytic philosophers, not continental.

Then which analytic philosophers see/saw truth as based on religion or as religious unto itself?

kev ferrara said...

Which didn't. The issue foundational to the movement.

Erik Davis-Heim said...

God I don't even disagree with you for valuing craft fundamentals, but your attitude toward modern and contemporary art is so reactionary and off base that I can't take you seriously.

Fine art since the french academy has basically been a party for bohemian artists and individuals with money they'd like to exchange for cultural cache. The artists get to have live la dolce vita on someone else's dime, while the financiers get to feel like they've transcended their bourgeois identities by funding something unique and divisive. That's it. That's all modern art is. If you like it and can make it work for you, great! If not, do something else.

I would like to make a living creating representational work, the kind of stuff that does rely on good drawing. I find learning the fundamentals of picture making enjoyable and personally fulfilling. This would be a lifestyle closer to the "predictable hum of artisans" than the "flamboyant celebrity artists" you're constantly bemoaning.

This is not work intended to fit into the contemporary art paradigm, and that's fine. I'm not particularly interested in joining the party, and I don't expect to be invited. I'm not providing anything the people who patronize Tracy Emin (to use your example) are interested in. And neither are you.

Finally this isn't a matter of Fine Art elitism. This is an issue of what a drag the century long party that is modern art would turn into if all of its participants were replaced by people who value technically sound drawing and visual story telling. No one who's busy having fun wants to listen to a sanctimonious lecture about the importance of tradition and fundamentals.

David Apatoff said...

Antonio Araujo, Chris Bennett, Mr. Etc, Sean Farrell, Kev Ferrara, Laurence John-- I'm impressed at how, delving into the sources of artistic order, we have arrived so quickly at the irreducible twin pillars of faith and reason (or, if you prefer, the divine and the algorithmic, or the spiritual and the mathematical, or any other nomenclature you wish to use).

I like Antonio's synthesis of the two-- his notion that we can find order/symmetry/pattern in the organic world but if, delving deeper, we encounter what appears to be disarray, it may just be that the complexity of the algorithm at that level exceeds (for now) our means of understanding. I also like the notion that mathematical thinking can start out with wild leaps of imagination, to be tied down later. ("write drunk, edit sober") These seem to me to be helpful ways to begin to merge the two elements.

I would note, however, (and I don't think the quants in the crowd would disagree) that the belief in a "hidden algorithm" that we might be able to appreciate intuitively before we can account for it scientifically is itself an act of faith-- faith that there will eventually arise increasingly more complex algorithms to explain the order of the increasingly more mysterious layers of reality that we penetrate. (Bertrand Russell did not seem to share this faith when he wrote: "Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover.") For those looking for more reading material on this subject, one of my favorite books in the world is Arthur Koestler's "The Sleepwalkers," a brilliant history of astronomical science from Pythagoras through Newton, discussing how it was affected by religion and philosophy.

As for the points about scientific hegemony and the "tendency in the social sciences to want to sound scientific by using empty pseudo-scientific jargon," it is no secret that he humanities have been jealous of the material success of science (or at least technology) for centuries. This includes, IMO, some of those Teutonic philosophers who aspired to make a logical system of human ethics.

Some efforts to apply scientific method stem from a sincere attempt to think more rigorously But I agree it is often employed in inapposite fields to gain credibility that turns out to be unwarranted.

But I will also say that there is a whole lot of pseudo science in science, and in the regulation of science. I spend most of my time working in the technology field, dealing with patent disputes, research & development, licensing issues, and other problems in the applied sciences. After several years working with research universities and think tanks, mostly in the fields of information technology and telecommunications but occasionally in biotech as well, if there is an algorithm to explain the path of scientific research, or the erratic behavior of scientific researchers, I have yet to discover it.

We might have a better chance of getting beyond the vocabulary differences and the seemingly irreducible faith/reason dichotomy if we were sitting around a bar or a campfire someplace, but I assume none of you live in the Washington DC area...

David Apatoff said...

For those who have discussed art as a "reflection of the divine" or a manifestation of the spirit, it is worth noting that Islam's antagonism toward many forms of art seems to be grounded in the same notion.

The prophet is quoted in various hadriths as saying "“Every maker of pictures will go to the fire, where a being will be set upon him to torment him in hell for each picture he made."

Or, “On the Day of Judgment, part of the hell fire will come forth with two eyes with which to see, two ears with which to hear, and a tongue with which to speak, saying, ‘I have been ordered to deal with three: he who holds there is another god besides Allah, with every arrogant tyrant, and with makers of pictures.”

The explanation for this antipathy toward art is offered by the Islamic Academy (http://www.islamicacademy.org/html/Articles/English/Picutres_in_Islam.htm):"The reason for the unlawfulness of pictorial representation is that it imitates the creative act of Allah Most High."

So be careful about attributing sacred characteristics to art, it just might come back to haunt you later on.

David Apatoff said...

Erik Davis-Heim-- I can live with being called "reactionary and off base" because it helps offset the people who call me "liberal and off base." But calling me "sanctimonious"-- that hurts, since I bend over backward to avoid that. I gather you are more upset with my treatment of Tracey Emin than Miley Cyrus, but after that I begin to lose your point.

So tell me more. I would not dismiss modern art the way you do. There are aspects of it that I like very much. Would you care to discuss?

Laurence John said...

Etc etc: ".... but I think there are theistic implications to this phenomenon. An artist is a reflection of the divine. In fact, in the Hebrew scriptures, the first mention of the manifestation of divine Spirit working in and through human activity was in regard to Bezalel, the chief artisan of the Tabernacle."

does this imply that atheist artists should basically give it up since they'll never be receiving the 'divine spirit' from outside of themselves ?

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote: “…or, if you prefer, the divine and the algorithmic, or the spiritual and the mathematical, or any other nomenclature you wish to use.”

I tend to think in terms of Apollo and Dionysus, that is; ideal stasis and corporeal change (classical and gothic in a sense). This would mean that Antonio’s synthesis of the two you went on to mention, which I interpret as ‘organic as an expression of modular complexity’, becomes; ‘Dionysus as an expression of Apollo’s (exponential) procreation’.

So, thinking of the Bertrand Russell quote, if physics is the behaviour of nature broken down into modular parts small enough for our human comprehension to handle, I have the following thought: When we witness a Dionysian work of art we ‘kinda know something is underneath it all, and that the truculent aspect of its surface is in some way a consequence of a ‘truth’ being played out by hidden forces within. The Apollonian work, on the other hand, seems to infer we are a short step away from actually touching a truth and that the work is in some way its ‘avatar’.

Does this reasoning mean that the Apollonian (ideal, Classical) is nearer the ‘truth’ than the Dionysian (corporeal, Gothic)?

I think not, for the following reason. It seems to me that particle physics and cosmology (another nomenclature for this question if you will ;)) are, in principle, at the two extremes of this modular spectrum – the behaviour of the very small and the very large. But both require ever more resources to open the next ‘Russian Doll’ – be it the one inside the Higgs Boson or the one surrounding the limits of the observable universe.

All to say that Apollo and Dionysus are expressions of ‘truth’ that are only distinct in that they occupy different parts of the modular spectrum of cosmological behaviour. A modular spectrum which may either be infinite in both directions, or a loop for which we only miss the extra stages to complete. Either way, from this point of view, it’s the same. However, I may well be wrong…

Anonymous said...

Regarding Islam, I simply don't subscribe to PC religious pluralism. Muslims are wrong. In many ways.

Unity and order are aesthetic principles fundamental to the production of art, and the worldview that everything came from nothing by chance has consequences, even for art. I'm not particularly impressed by this list.

David Apatoff said...

Despite the importance of some kind of "worthy constraint" for artists, it seems to me that it is often an aesthetic mistake to bring the "hidden algorithm" out of hiding. Here are a few words of wisdom from Bernard Wolfe to complement the earlier wisdom from Harvey Dunn:

"Art makes order out of chaos, do they still teach that hogwash in the schools? It's liars who give order to chaos, then go around calling themselves artists and in this way give art a bad name.... When do you see Dostoevsky laying out his reality with a T-square?"

Sean Farrell said...

Yes, thanks for your take and experience with science envy in the arts and explaining the appearances and reality of solidity in the science world.

There may be no way to stop languages from getting mixed up. It happened with the misappropriation of some Old Testament directions which were meant for the people of BAAL, who sacrificed their first born males into the flame filled mouths of giant idols. Somehow this got applied to the art of the middle ages, so languages and sometimes cultures getting mixed up has had real consequences.

What I was driving at (which has something to do with patterns as you used the term), was that there are many doors to walk through and get stuck behind for many years, if not an entire life. I've done it myself. Once inside a particular worldview or even a discipline, habit alone can block obvious limitations in thinking and so stunt the ability to see and discover what is right in front of oneself, no less more subtle things.

My gripe with the unknowingness of the 60s wasn't the assumption that within unknowingness was something more conclusive than the known, but in approaching the unknown, the known was entirely abandoned as if the conclusion had already been discovered. With humility on the other hand, the conscious mind, or ourselves, may grow and become a gently interacting companion as opposed to a road grader, mad man, or silly fool in a kind of blind worship of abandonment itself.

António Araújo said...

A note on the idea of the "world coming out of nothing by chance".

There is a point of view in probability that "chance" means nothing else than "by an unknown (but determinate) cause".

(I happen to bet heavily on the fact that this is true, though I must warn that this is a minority view)

This is an interpretation that says that probability is a theory of our knowledge of the world rather than a theory about the world as it is, i.e., epistemological rather than ontological.

*IF* this view is right then a lot of the mysticism of quantum mechanics goes away. An immediate consequence is that the phrase

"the world came to be by chance"

becomes a rather more subdued

"the world came to be by an unknown cause"

that is, a mere admission of our ignorance.

Disclaimer: this is not the majority view. In a way it has been upheld independently by a subgroup of bayesian probabilities and einstein-school quantum mechanical dissidents for a long time, with few people noticing the connection between both camps. The idea made very little progress in physics (hard to test in any way), but a lot of headway in probability in the recent years.

kev ferrara said...

Again, there is an impractical strain of explanation running through this discussion. While determined analysis may find some deeply hidden pattern in a work of art, possibly even derivable by an algorithm, the issue is not what pattern you can discover over time using every mathematical or scientific toolkit available. The issue is what you feel in the immediacy of the encounter with the work, which generally corresponds with the effect intended by the artist and is expressive in nature.

It is the classic mistake of scientism to find whatever it is looking for in works of art. Such findings do not increase understanding about art.

Sean Farrell said...

I know you are trying to be generous, but by unknowingness, I wasn't referring to the nothingness from which the world came, Ex Nihilo.
Unknowingness can refer to the Logos or any and all beyond our knowledge. The world of experience beyond language includes visual observation, sentience, etc.

I was discussing the habits of thinking and language which make it impossible for one to see what is in front of one's own eyes. I explained the visual principle by which the students jumped from the unrecognizable complex pattern to the outer shape. Any design which becomes too complex will force the viewer to the outer edge and yet you kept on about algorithms as per your training.

The point of bringing up humility was in response to the blockage, the habits of your training. Humility cures the quilt associated with pride, which labels it “a mere admission of our ignorance”. Since no one ever knew anything of whence we came, where is the loss of pride? No, it is the assumption which houses the pride.

Kev was correct in demanding you speak in a visual language at the get go and his summation is equally correct.

António Araújo said...


since "scientism" is supposedly the oppressive force, I find it hard to understand the following:

-nobody questions your right to go on the wildest metaphysical tangents (nor should they).

-yet as soon as someone brings science into it you feel the need to express the urgency of putting a lid on it.

How about this: different aspects are interesting to different people. Screen space is cheap. It's not like I'm writing on your Fabriano paper.


António Araújo said...

Further, on practicality and visual language:

What the metaphysicians (many of whom never drew a line in anger) wrote may or may not be of practical use. I have said that I sincerely believe that it will at least be of *interest*. And what I do not know, I am willing to hear.

However, to bluntly affirm the *certainty* of the impracticality of, say, geometry in a discussion related to art? Are you kidding?

Let's enumerate just two of contributions to the *practice* of art that come from geometry:

-color theory (the works of Newton. Grassman, Maxwell, etc, that end up in the CIE-style diagrams and, finally, more practical, in the Munsell color chips)

As for science, lets now consider the works of the neurologists that seek the visual structures in our brains that respond to certain inputs, like lines, and so on, and more complex patterns still - things that determine why and how we respond to certain design patterns, or even what we notice in faces (or portraits) - or how we recognize a face in a caricature (lots of monkey studies about that, by the way, with amazing results)

Then consider further that this post by David was about patterns - which includes (is that such a leap?) the *actual* simple, trivial patrerns of say, tiles on an elaborate floor. These actual patterns have been studied concretely for centuries, and people found many deep and hard things about what can and cannot be made with them.

Yet of all of these concrete scientific and geometric things, you are sure - sure! - that are not only completely useless but completely off-topic.

And then it is "scientism" that pushes people out of discussions and oppresses the free thinkers.


António Araújo said...

We spoke of Gurney before. Well, Gurney sometimes makes a post about some clever little machine that paints portraits, or landscapes, or does some other cool trick.

What I notice in the comment section is not some reverence for "scientism"! On the contrary, it is always exclamations of anger and prompt indictements of the machines and whoever made them, as if someone had made a robot to kill kittens.

Hardly ever any recognition of the hard work of creating the things or of the creativity behind them and NEVER the recognition that it may somehow shed some puny little light on the smallest matter related to art.

It comes to the point where, in the last example, James posted about a machine that paints with actual paint and brushes, in multiple layers, and felt the need to preemptively say it was "just an inkjet printer". When clearly it was not using ink, jets, or printing.

You see scientism? I see a weird hostility against science.

Funny enough, here is a comment from that post:

>honestly, I don't know how this >has anything to do with art. It's >a "fancy inkjet printer that >prints out "paintings" so whats >all the hype?

This in a blog where Gurney will speak of all sorts of materials even tangentially related to his work: even usb cameras to record said work.

This same person who made the comment probably would be interested in a post about a commercial inkjet printer - since after all artists make prints often, and the type of printers available changes the market of an illustrator. But somehow *research* on robotic painting is either received with dismissal or hostility.

There is something weird going on with all this hostility. And, just as I don't get the religious impulse, I fear I don't get what this is.

But it would already be a big progress if people - at the very least - let each other follow whatever course of thinking seems relevant to them, and determine by themselves what *feels* interesting to their own eyes and brains.

Laurence John said...

Etc etc: "Unity and order are aesthetic principles fundamental to the production of art."

feeling, sensitivity and imagination are human characteristics fundamental to the production of art.

"I'm not particularly impressed by this list."

i could match it with a list of bad religious painters. you forgot to mention that Hitler was probably maybe
an atheist and therefore all atheists are no better.

Kev:"It is the classic mistake of scientism to find whatever it is looking for in works of art."

it is the classic mistake of theists to see evidence of their 'creator' wherever they look.

Antonio, just so you know; i don't have a problem with a single idea you've expressed so far.
i think you've been misread and misquoted.

António Araújo said...


I did not comment on the other aspects you mentioned, because *I accepted* you contributions and had nothing to add to them nor to contradict. I'm referring to basically everything you refer to in your middle paragraph.

I did "keep going on" about "algorithms and such" because *that* is what I could contribute.

And yes, according to my training. And what do any of us do? We all contribute according to our training.

As for what lies outside of our training, we listen. Some of us at least.

I have listened to stuff that is outside of my training and the relevance of which I cannot see - I'm not saying there isn't any, I'm saying I cannot see it - like the subtlest disputes about what someone means by the word "divine" in some passage of continental vs analytic philosophy.

That is WAY off my radar. That was someone else going off on the natural ways their training and interests. Did I stop to tell them that they were going on and on about irrelevant stuff? No, I listened, got from it what I could get and moved on.

António Araújo said...

>Since >no one ever knew anything of whence >we came, where is the loss of pride? >No, it is the assumption which >houses the pride.

With this, I disagree. Someone knows some things about whence we came. Not nearly all, but some. We know something of the evolution of our bodies and of our genes and of our Earth and even some of the evolution of our universe. We know much more than we knew.

Little, maybe nothing, is known with absolute certainty, but things merit different degrees of confidence.

Kant, with all the lack of humility of his type of philosophers, guaranteed that non-euclidean geometries could not exist because the mind itself could not hold the concept of such a geometry (by whatever clever word-based argument).

Well, a little bit later some mathematician proved him wrong not by writing interesting philosophical arguments but by building such a geometry. This is a different degree of certainty, no?
Yet any mathematician that would dare to question the reasoning of the disciples of Kant would be derided as a technically minded simpleton who had nothing to add to the really philosophical problems Geometry.

If a Mathematician on the other hand just told Kant that he didn't get what Kant was saying and that he would keep going on with his own thinking despite Kant's assurances that he was misguided in his training...would that mathematician be lacking in humility?

Even if Kant turned out to be right instead of wrong?

kev ferrara said...

Preamble: I am very pro-science, have strong science and math backgrounds, an interest I have kept up, and I am so agnostic on the question of a diety that I have realized that I don't even understand the question.

Now that those misunderstandings have been cleared up...

Antonio, your constant insistence that all investigative methods are equal when it comes to art only demonstrates that you haven't been thinking about or researching the nature of the enterprise, the nature of art. You are, from my perspective, giving evidence that you are a dilettante on the matter, havent done the homework, and you getting angry at me for calling you on it.

If you would admit this idea, it would revolutionize your ability to benefit from this conversation. I won't hold my breath however. I think you would rather turn it around and call me arrogant than admit your own ignorance and lack of research. Which is a hell of a way to begin to learn anything.

And then, of course you will demand I produce my research and expertise at your asking, like I owe you anything, while saying to another poster But you'd have to pay me for that help, sorry, because my uni pays for my salary when I do that the self-regarding hypocrisy of which blinds me. And of course, as Mr. Carlin pointed out, I did try to teach you something about composition earlier in the thread, a mistake I won't make again.

The hallmark of scientism with respect to investigating art... The pattern is always the same; The investigating scientist thinks aesthetic philosophy is all old-fashioned mumbo jumbo and thus hasn't cracked a tome of it, this scientist has never made a successful work of art in his/her life and knows nothing of composition or the history of compositional theory. BUT... has an investigative tool that he knows can see through walls, or into molecules, or can find the most minuscule signal pattern in an ocean of noise... And he's a real pro at using this tool and real proud of himself. And he's gotten the grant money, so he's pretty high on himself.

And lo and behold, the secrets of DaVinci are revealed; he uses white lead paint in the light areas, works in layers, and if you look real hard you will find the brush stokes are laid down according to a complex algorithm. See, it was all a few simple tricks. And now that art is solved, I'd like a grant to analyze Henry Moore's sculptures for fingerprints.

Without actually investigating the question, it is bloody easy to lean forward with fiery righteousness of mind and declare that "there is no nature of art." Not realizing that when you declare such a thing you are essentially claiming that Aesthetics is a false category of inquiry and composition has no foundational principles which work in practice.. Which makes you the most arrogant non-inquirer into the nature of art imaginable.

So I think we are butting heads here because I think you are unbelievably arrogant to make claims about the extent of knowledge in the field of aesthetics without having investigated the matter at all, nor without having tried out the aesthetic principles you haven't learned in real compositions and successful works of art.

And you think I am arrogant for believing that there are fundamental agreements among all the real aesthetic philosophies (not the 20th C. sociologies that pretend to be aesthetics) And that when you appreciate the vast body of inquiry in toto, (and importantly how aesthetic theory found its way into aesthetic practice of great artists), most of the deepest questions have indeed been successfully answered. And the easiest to hand evidence to bolster any such a claim is Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott because great artists are better practical aestheticians than any writer could hope to be.

kev ferrara said...

By the way, I've been reading some good modernist argument on the site: hyperallergenic.com A recent bunch of comments on an article on Clement Greenberg was particularly fun.

Best wishes everybody, gotta get back to work now.

Anonymous said...

feeling, sensitivity and imagination are human characteristics fundamental to the production of art.

I'd say they are human emotions common to the reaction to art. I once saw an artist give a watercolor demonstration; he brushed two very wet colors straight out of the tube onto the paper, and as the colors randomly bled together, an elderly woman began to weep and said, "It's so beautiful." I'm sure feeling, sensitivity, and imagination were all in play in her reaction; to each his own.

i could match it with a list of bad religious painters.

But the list was supposedly a list of the most accomplished atheist painters.

you forgot to mention that Hitler was probably maybe
an atheist and therefore all atheists are no better.

Sorry; response not worth my time.

Sean Farrell said...

I was referring to the notion of something coming from nothing, Ex Nihilo. That would be the nothing from whence we came, which we know nothing about. Didn't genes and evolution come after that?

Nobody on this post was being anti-science and if they were being anti-scientism or against logical positivism, isn't that a very different animal worthy of a good kick?

Laurence John said...

Etc etc: "I'd say they are human emotions common to the reaction to art."

since when is imagination an 'emotion' ?

you don't think 'feeling' is necessary to the production of art ? ...here's Dunn from the lecture notes mentioned above by Kev:

Too much thinking in that. Let your feelings guide you.

Trust your feelings. When a man says “I feel,” he’s pretty close to truth about it.

Think, but think artistically, not intellectually. When the intellect comes the Art goes out.

Anonymous said...

Trust your feelings. When a man says “I feel,” he’s pretty close to truth about it.

Ok. "I feel" that Dunn is by no means the final authority in these matters.

Sean Farrell said...

Trying to answer the last part of your last note to myself, I've begun to suspect that there is an actual language barrier, not just a different language as per training, art verses science, but English as a second language.

Isn't it Dawkins who says scientists must accept that the universe came from nothing? Isn't that statement a wild one since it's scientifically impossible for something to come from nothing? So it's really not a matter of humility to accept not knowing the answer, since nobody knows the answer. Sure, people will try and may figure it out, but as of now, only assumption could have housed pride, since not only doesn't anyone know the answer, but it is a contradiction if it is true.
Thanks for the exchange.

Anonymous said...

Etc.etc. So you don't use feeling, sensitivity, or imagination in making your art? Collectors must be breaking down your door! Lol! I bet you are the kind of artist that paints a boring still life for weeks and weeks and then wonders why nobody buys it.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "there is an impractical strain of explanation running through this discussion... The issue is what you feel in the immediacy of the encounter with the work...."

Kev, I don't know what makes feelings a more "practical" guide than some of the other alternatives we have been discussing. I appreciate their heights, but feelings are also the ultimate subjective dead end, the justification that Kinkade lovers employ to thwart any criticism from the likes of you. When all the hidden algorithms have been revealed, it may turn out that feelings remain the most reliable compass for navigating the arts, but it certainly seems premature to draw such a conclusion at his stage.

I have written a lot on this blog (and you have too) about how technical analysis of art and scientific approaches to appreciation have limited utility. I have often said-- only partly in jest-- that my taste in art is guided by titillation. But I suspect you will also agree with me when I say that, notwithstanding all those limitations, we owe it to ourselves to use our intellects, and objective reasoning to the extent we can muster it, to understand as much as we possibly can about why we like the art we like, and what makes it work. I have seen you do this before.

Science should take us as far down this path as possible, and no farther. But if you think that science has already had its say on this issue, you haven't been paying attention for the past 400 years.

It has been 20 years since Komar and Melamid conducted their statistical analysis to formulate the "ideal painting" for US audiences and during those intervening years Disney's Research division has not been idle. What Harvey Dunn might call "a feeling," science is learning how to measure through brain activity, blood, skin, and other biological reactions to art. Technologies such as infrared optical tomography and electroencephalography are already being employed in the gaming and neuromarketing industries, and all the economic incentives are in place for this trend to expand.

I won't be thrilled if my most private and sacred reactions to art can be charted and quantified in the form of electrical brain activity. Yet, if it is the truth it won't do me any good to run away from it either. That's my version of "practicality."

Sean Farrell said...

Another angle on the language is that if went on a medical blog and started saying stuff because I could read a thermometer, I might get a less than warm reception because I couldn't speak their language.

Algorithms are running the world and it's very understandable that people are getting tired of their encroachment. Already artists are losing out on advertising work because many clients and art directors don't want to see a pencil line, nor figures which are not traced unless they are of a wild imaginary world like gaming art. In other words, people are being retrained into losing their tastes for anything visual that isn't strained through a computer. So much for the antiseptic designs of computer gadgets which have become the universal picture frame.

Visual patterns are at their very root, human embellishments. They may serve religious, ceremonial or any number of human experiences where time is not of the essence. Rather they express a freedom in time, a way of life with time to luxuriate in the patterns themselves and the luxury of time in general. Simple patterns serve a sense of a carefree state, joy and a lack of purpose. Ukrainian Easter Eggs may serve a religious purpose, but they take all season to make. Making patterns passes the time and in them time was lost in a pleasant and human way.

Disney is also struggling to make money on their recent algorithmic animations, one reason being the stories are weak. Yet despite the low returns they went the way of creative destruction and got rid of all their remaining animators.

Science may be able to measure our reactions and serve to manipulate us beyond anything yet known, but algorithms are not persons, places and things and in them there is no story. But I'm afraid your end game story is a bit too real to deny.

kev ferrara said...

David, there are distinctions to be drawn, qualitative distinctions, between such surface level feelings toward a work of art as sentimentality, sympathy, repugnance, wish fulfillment, erotic attraction, etc, (which are not disinterested) and the more abstract emotions that derive from compositional effects. The word "effect" is a term of art, meaning deep feeling conveyed by a work of art by virtue of sublime expression. Without such deep feeling, whatever it might be (and the possibilities are quite vast) we are probably not looking at a work of Art with a capital A.

Of course there always going to be variations of the art experience with people who are hypersensitive or dulled in sensitivity who either can't tolerate or can't detect sublimated intensities of expression or meaning. And of course among people who just like the surface level stuff, which is more entertaining than artful.

The reason it is more "practical" to note the effect of a picture, is because in doing so you are paying attention to the main artistic reasons the picture was made, (The generalities of an artwork are the essence of it.)
and thus will find yourself more sturdily on the trail of figuring out how and why the picture was composed.... Which is the heart of the lion. Rather than getting lost in the weeds of intellectual investigation of surface level artifacts and accidents... which may be fun, or at least occupying, but will only ever lead to a (literally) surface level understanding of the work.

This all assumes that one actually has a practical interest in knowing how good art is composed. Given that Antonio draws and seems practically interested in what makes art tick, I thought it essential to criticize the impracticality of his a-compositional, math-based approach.

Tom said...

"Art makes order out of chaos, do they still teach that hogwash in the schools? It's liars who give order to chaos, then go around calling themselves artists and in this way give art a bad name.... When do you see Dostoevsky laying out his reality with a T-square?"

I like your use of that quote David.  Use a ruler, use a algorithm, don't use a algorithm, don't use a ruler, but deciding one over the other doesn't matter much .  What you are curious about is what matters.  When you know what you want to do or say, you will find the right tool. There is a lot to be learned from both the T square and our instinct.

 I am saying this lightly.  Notice a oppositional "pattern" in the contrast of the Dunn and Wolfe  quotes?  Notice the oppositional pattern in our posts? Emotion-reason, artistic- intellectual, science-art, Dionysus-Apollo, the artist is divine- the artist is damn.  Makes you wonder what Thomas Aquinas realized when he put down his pen.

I am in the DC area, the reason I mention it is, did you see the Munnings show in Middleburg?

Tom said...

I am not sure I know what an "abstract emotion" is but I am remained of the young Stephen Dedalus, "The esthetic emotion is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing."

kev ferrara said...

Actually, Dunn and Wolfe are quite on the same page.

Tom said...

Yeah I see that I just locked onto the t-square part of the quote.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kev ferrara said...

Looked up the Daedulus quote and he seems to have sloppily swapped in "static" for the word "disinterested" which comes fom Kant. Disinterestedness is the actual idea at play.

António Araújo said...


Really?!... bro?

You're gonna bring "that other poster" into this? "Mr Carley"?

Kev, "Mr Carley" was a troll, and probably just a pseudonym for someone who was too cowardly to say nasty things under his own name. You know the type, "I did not say that, it was Mr. hat".

Since you weren't here when he passed by you probably didn't catch the smell.

I let mr "bro" slide back into the darkness, and I would expect you to have the good taste of doing the same. A philosopher like you should not take trolls into his entourage nor quote from the sayings of shadows.

I'll answer *you*, tough. When I get back.

Tom said...

I haven 't read it years but the last chapter of Portrait of an Artist is dedicated to aesthetic theory. I believe Stephen was using Aquinas as his model.

I think he was saying that stasis is the result of the aesthetic encounter.

António Araújo said...

>And then, of course you will demand I produce my research

Huh? What research? Never crossed my mind to ask you for anything.

You must be confused. It was "that other poster" that asked to see my stuff. I never even asked *him* for anything back, why would I ask you?

Anyway, I know how these things go. I still remember how it went when you and Rob Howard shared portfolios. You said his portraits were ok but his composition sucked, and he said the same to you...minus the portrait part.

"That other poster" was nicer to me than you were to each other. At least he said I was a *talented* highschooler.

You see how it gets confusing for an amateur, when the professionals both claim the other doesn't know his business? How do I know which feelings to trust? I could have checked which of you published more (that would be Rob, no?) but publishing is no measure of quality. (Neither, by the way, is an absence of publishing.)

As for me, I liked both your stuff and Rob's. I thought your Zombie Cowboy was a nice comic book.

And I freely admitted, twice, that my knowledge of composition sucks. Is that what you call arrogance?

If drawings are contentious, why would I go into your research? I probably wouldn't understand yours, and you sure as hell would not understand mine. That is why I get mine peer-reviewed instead of just showing it to my close friends and my cat. One needs outside advice to help us check we aren't just raving. Of course that is no assurance either. But when, say, the nice people at the american math society say my paper is ok to publish in their journal, it does give me some credence that I am not a complete faker. Of course, I just solve specific problems. A revolutionary philosopher might have a harder time finding someone competent to evaluate his broad systematic work. (Rule of thumb: if they like it, they are competent.)

António Araújo said...

>constant insistence that all >investigative methods are equal >when it comes to art

Equal? Never said it. Don't think it. Went over this 10 times already. Read again.

>And you think I am arrogant for >believing that there are >fundamental agreements

Again, no. I believe you are arrogant because you have an incredibly arrogant personality. People take pains to pussyfoot around your delicate sensibilities but anything other than basking in your sunlight ends up in these endless, tiresome arguments that all revolve around trying to assure you that nobody was trying to steal your limelight, we are just expressing our own interests and views, whatever their importance. I love this blog but I always regret posting here because of your endless hostility.

I don't know if you are a philosopher or just play one on the internet. But you do play very well the continental philosopher: the cult-building mentality in the way you piss around your imagined territory and dismiss everything that you think impinges on the admiration of both your personality and your ever-growing all embracing system.

António Araújo said...


>if went on a medical blog and >started saying stuff because I could >read a thermometer, I might get a >less than warm reception because I >couldn't speak their language.

as David says, 400 years of history have to be ignored to believe that geometry has no place at all in a discussion of art. So I don't think the analogy holds.

Also, I will point out that most of the accomplished illustrators I know have read even less philosophy than I did, and have only read the same type of art books that I have read on the matter of composition (books written by working artists with the usual basic advice - Dunn at best, not Aristotle). Yet when I meet with them, they are open to the hypothesis that learning of tilings and geometric patterns is useful in some way for their work. In fact I am the one who has to hold them back or they will go into over-enthusiasms over math-based systems of doubtful value like the silly mysticism around golden ratios and such.

I assure you that if I told them to read Aristotle or Kant in order to learn how to design comic books or paintings, they would look at me with much more suspicion. And these are professionals. Should they be dismissed from the discussion too?

António Araújo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurence John said...

David: "I won't be thrilled if my most private and sacred reactions to art can be charted and quantified in the form of electrical brain activity. Yet, if it is the truth it won't do me any good to run away from it either. That's my version of "practicality."

this seems to be a pet theme of yours David; the idea that in the future machines will be able to deliver all the emotional effect of a great work of art without having to actually have the 'art' there at all.
it's a very retro vision of the future, rather like the 'orgasmatron' in Sleeper; the idea that we'll simply step into a machine, press a few buttons and get a quick fix of whatever sensation or experience we desire.
it's also dystopian, because any thinking, feeling person knows that such a situation would only be 'fun' to sensation addicted zombies.

there's a type of tech-addicted breed who seem obsessed with trying to create in our world all of the future-fantasies they've read about in sci-fi.
i view most of it as a grand folly, doomed to fail, but i'm glad i won't be around in a hundred years to see how much of it has taken root.

kev ferrara said...

Antonio, there was no content to your last few posts. Just emotion, whining, rhetoric, cries of bullying, complaints of style, accusations of trolling, arrogance, etc. Tireome. This is you at your worst. The guy who was on top of the world is now the guy who will say anything to save face in the conversation just because I tried to correct/help you in one aspect of your artistic thinking. SOME CRIME! Now stop trying to paint me negatively because really all I am doing is offering free content to anybody who wants it. Stop your slander, stop the innuendo, just stop. Either accept the help I am offering, appreciate the info, or don't. But please god stop using this thread to try to win an imaginary popularity contest.

kev ferrara said...

Tom, yeah it is quite strange to have such a conversation pop up in a work of fiction, but that Joyce is a nutty one! Joyce/Daedulus does seem to be paraphrasing Kant without credit in that particular chapter. (It's easily available online.)

kev ferrara said...

I don't think I ever said that geometry or perspective should not be part of the artist's arsenal. Although we've all seen artists lose themselves in the surety of both to the detriment of their art.

I think the most interesting discussion of how geometry can be of help to the artist is found in a dense letter from the mystically-minded american landscapist George Inness to an editor who had compared him to an impressionist in print. It's available online somewhere.

António Araújo said...


the way you mirror unto me accusations that would fit you verges on the deranged.

But I can't keep on repeating the same things over and over. I am tired of this. I am tired of your dishonesty.

I will agree on one proposal, gladly, though: just stop.

I am dropping this subject, and I will do you the favor of not addressing you anymore. Do the same, or not, I no longer care.

kev ferrara said...

Deranged? Dishonest?

More slander is what you went with? Really? This would be funny if it weren't so sad.

António Araújo said...


>I was referring to the notion of >something coming from nothing, Ex >Nihilo. That would be the nothing >from whence we came, which we know >nothing about. Didn't genes and >evolution come after that?

My point is that you can get further back even. Cosmology speculates - with some evidence for it - all the way back to a big bang or whatever may or may not be a beginning. With what credibility I really don't know. (I had a semester of general relativity and some particle physics and read a couple of technical books on cosmology but can't say I understood it properly - just the kind of "understanding" an undergraduate gets on the run)

You mentioned somewhere else that it was anti-scientific for something to come from nothing. Well, it isn't really. I mean we have all sorts of well confirmed laws about energy conservation and all that, and some loopholes depending on the meaning of "nothing", but...in final analysis, what is scientific is whatever nature forces you to swallow. If somehow we found one day that something did come out of nothing (no energy conservation, nothing) then we would be very sceptical of it, yes, and would really demand very hard proof, but if all experience confirmed it then the scientific thing to do would be to accept it. Whatever is, is. There is no tenet of science that is immune, in principle, to alteration. Science is about the method (and even the method can be altered as we understand better what rational thought is)

Anonymous said...

Kev , perhaps what gets AA or earlier , L. John put off with you is a simple lack of grace in your communication , something which David A embodies and you lack . It wouldn't matter if you had read 10 times more books or had 10 times the artistic skills , a little more grace would be nice . You often throw out jibes like "it's obvious you haven't read - lets see your work - you still are'nt getting it - " and on .

Maybe you do this unconsiously , maybe purposly from spoiling for one more fight -debate to "win". You have some good ideas and things to say , then you provoke - which is something you don't seem to handle all that well yourself . There is not one bit of info - and you've shared some good ideas here - that could have been hurt with more grace - then a possible good conversation wouldnt be lost due to being overbearing with people . Grace is not tiptoeing on eggshells , it is a quality of good communication . Hope you consider this .

Sean Farrell said...

I think one-point perspective and tiles are pretty basic and no one said that there wasn't a purpose for geometric devices in art.

Your first point was in regard to the vertical and horizontal and in that you assumed that your mathematical way of seeing/thinking was conclusive and therefore you assumed your terminology correct in an artistic setting.

A vertical and horizontal is also four inverted arrows and as such can serve other visual purposes. An intersecting vertical and horizontal may also be used to pin an element to the picture plane which is a common enough device.

An arrow is the common visual term for what is called a vector in math. A vector or arrow reads in both directions if one is talking audio verses visual. It's perfectly fair if not correct to say a vertical is the opposite of a horizontal when it is referred to as a horizon line and intersecting vertical.

A straight line is not a pattern because the word pattern implies three or more, where as a straight line made up of a succession of points like animals tracks does create a pattern, while remaining a line; a linear pattern as per the cave example.

Even two equal and parallel lines may force one to look at the space between them and they become a unit, so pattern requires three or more, or three or more pairings since a pattern is a movement as surfacing. And of course a pattern may be made of far less rigid relationships. Is a relationship between a long and short line a pattern? No because they only move back and forth to each other. Duplicated a number of times that relationship becomes part of a pattern.

Are the above descriptions of geometric or non-geometric visual events? They are visual events because the same principles apply when they aren't squared up or geometric. Any angle of intersecting lines can pin a point to the picture plane, etc., though a squared up one will work particularly well
with the squared nature of the picture itself, horizon line etc.. In the same way, simple patterns are mathematical as addition, but are visual in effect.

So what then is the artistic advantage of algorithmic patterns as opposed to patterns created by other means, such as a feathered effect on the surface of a painting? How do algorithmic patterns serve the visual arts in a way patterns hadn't in the past, or what purpose do they serve in art?

Thanks for explaining how algorithmic patterns become hidden as they become more complex, but this too is a visual event, of a different language than of the algorithms themselves. In the Disney behind the scenes documentaries, they show how they add little random movements to enhance the hiding of the pattern and may even do this algorithmically too, but the end result remains a visual event.

This why it would be wrong for an artist to speak as in medicine and a doctor to speak as poetry and a poet to speak geology and a mathematician to speak as art, or art as math as some have. When venturing outside one's own world, humility is in order. But for some unknown reason, everyone assumes they can speak and think visually.

David Apatoff said...

Antonio Araujo wrote: "as David says, 400 years of history have to be ignored to believe that geometry has no place at all in a discussion of art."

Actually, if I'd thought about it I would have said 2500 years, going back to the moment Pythagoras married quantity and quality by the mathematical spacing of sounds. (I tend to make those kinds of errors when I write impulsively based on feelings, without checking my math.)

Laurence John wrote: "this seems to be a pet theme of yours David; the idea that in the future machines will be able to deliver all the emotional effect of a great work of art without having to actually have the 'art' there at all. it's a very retro vision of the future, rather like the 'orgasmatron' in Sleeper."

I confess that this is an area of continued fascination for me, Laurence, in part because it is a moving target as the technology keeps evolving. I think it would be difficult to deny that this is where much of the action is today; technology has put a great many artists out of work, and changed the criteria for many of the artists that remain employed. How far will it go in "delivering all the emotional effect of a great work of art?" Well, that's the interesting question, isn't it?

If my words seem like a "retro vision" out of 1950s science fiction magazines, the fault is in my prose because the reality is quite exhilarating. (I suspect that if I wrote about "augmented light fields" that use the Wigner Distribution Function to expand light field representations, or Femtosecond Transient Imaging with short laser pulses, or EEGs and other HCI /neural interface and biofeedback devices that track the physical activity that accompanies our feelings about a picture or a video game or a movie, readers would go running for the door.) If it is any reassurance I recently spent time with Disney Research (which draws from advanced labs around the world), talking with their computer scientists and software engineers as well as top experts from the MIT Media Lab, Georgia Tech and others; I worked on a National Science Foundation grant roadmapping ways that computing technology is changing how art is authored and experienced; and earlier this year I dealt with Pixar and Fox artists on the way digital animation is transforming the historical role of the artist. (Funny, not one of them cited Woody Allen's orgasmatron.)

I don't claim to know where this is all going but as long as media and entertainment account for a $450 billion slice of our GDP you can bet that there will be no shortage of Thomas Edisons and Steve Jobs' working late to crack the code. I have great respect for them and I think it is too early to bet against them. Whether you welcome or dread the outcome, it is an exciting era to have a front row seat.

Sean Farrell said...

So it's not a law that something can't come from nothing? Yes, I've heard, they are fudging the meaning of nothing; that's what is being done at this time, the multi-verse. But somewhere there is a beginning, so the multiverse serves a temporary base while everyone waits perplexed or in a state of assumption on some wavy ground. But this is your field.
Good luck, Sean

kev ferrara said...

I don't see why the universe must have a beginning. Seems like a condition we have imposed because of our experience as humans.

Laurence John said...

David, if the digital arts / entertainment world was more of a niche thing that put out a few films a year that we could marvel at or not (as it was when Pixar first started out) i wouldn't mind.
but its the way that other traditional media have suffered as a result that bothers me. as Sean said above:

"In other words, people are being retrained into losing their tastes for anything visual that isn't strained through a computer."

anyway, that's just art and entertainment, not life or death.

what really troubles me are the Ray Kurzweil transhumanist types. it seems they won't be happy until we've grown synthetic human bodies in labs into which we can download our brains so that we can 'live forever'.

António Araújo said...


>Your first point was in regard to >the vertical and horizontal and in >that you assumed that
your >mathematical way of seeing/thinking >was conclusive

No. Please check above. In order:

"David: But for right now I would only note that horizontal and vertical are more orthogonal than they are "in opposition."

kev:David, you are confusing lines with vectors. The opposition to a vector that travels left is a vector that travels right. But the opposition o a horizontal line is a vertical one.

Me:Just clarifying, from a mere mathematical point of view, David is correct.

"From a **mere** mathematical point of view" - I said.
Then I gave *opinions* on the way I *personally* visualize things. I also said there are many valid ways to visualize those things. I DO NOT believe and DID NOT state there was a single conclusive way. I said "for me" about 100 times.

If you will forgive me, that is the last I will say on that subject.

It is not your fault, but I am exhausted because I went over this with someone else 100 times. I hope you'll understand.

>A straight line is not a pattern

I said nothing of lines. David said that, I believe, not me. I agree with him, actually, but that debate is vaguer and I don't have the strenght anymore. Anyway, you can take it up with David.

António Araújo said...

>one-point perspective and tiles are pretty basic

Not so basic: Not just one point, nor even linear perspective: there is spherical, cylindrical, and many others. Both spherical and cylindrical extremely badly treated, by the way, in ordinary books for artists. There is anamorphism. There are arbitrary, crazy perspectives that sugest new ways of showing objects in space. All of this is geometry. And tiles? Tiles are *not* basic. There are the basic tilings, but then there are crazy escherian distortions, and there are archimedian tilings, and there are amazing tilings that never repeat themselves. There are still new tilings being discovered, with design applications and engineering applications. There are foldings. There are fractal patterns. There are formal languages that build the images of trees and the sculptures of imaginary creatures from genetic algorithms (again, more patterns). It literally has no end. And if one-point perspective has something to say, then this may have something to say. When one-point perspective appeared this impacted greatly the way the organization of a painting was made. Are people really gonna say that they are so sure that all of these other things are totally irrelevant for that purpose? Will they state so even before learning how these things work?

>>everyone assumes they can speak and think visually.

Sean, I am a geometer. I have to visualize things in pretty complicated spaces. Imaginary spaces that have many dimensions. I also know how to work curvilinear perspectives. Given that I also draw and paint, and therefore can make some small intuitive connection to art, Is it so unreasonable to think that I may have access to some sort of visual language and thought? Enough to have something (at all) to contribute?...and might actually contribute if I didn't instead have to spend so much time defending my right to participate in the discussion at all because I dared to bring up mathematics.

Sean Farrell said...

An older insurance man once said to me a long time ago, It must be difficult to be a professional artist. Why I asked? He said, Because over decades of going into people's homes, it almost never failed that they wanted to show me one of their paintings. And he went on, It must be very difficult to do something professionally which everyone thinks they can do themselves.

You have proven my point about language from several angles. Don't take it personally, because it's an epidemic. It has become so common and tedious that many artists won't even discuss it anymore.

I mentioned tiles because you mentioned tiles, no?
It doesn't matter if something was done with a ruler, geometry, algebra or calculus. What matters is the product which is some kind of visual reality. In art we speak visually.

Carpenters are also visual and mathematical, but do they speak with the language of a visual artist? No, generally they speak and think in the language of their trade and so have you. No one here has stopped you from speaking visually.

kev ferrara said...

Selective quoting distorts the order of events and the sense of the conversation.

The context of the conversation about opposition began with this point by Tom about aesthetics/philosophy: "The horizontal and the vertical are at the heart of all pattern making. Hence the aesthetics or philosophy of opposition."

Then david says: I would only note that horizontal and vertical are more orthogonal than they are "in opposition."

Then I drop in to say that Tom is correct, that verticality and horizontality are opposites, still in the mindset that the context of the conversation was the understanding of aesthetics and art philosophy.

At this point, I did use the term "vector" to mean a line moving in a direction, which is its colloquial meaning as most people use and understand it. But one can see how the words "Orthogonal" and "vector" occurring so close together might make a mathematician believe that the context of the conversation had changed away from art to math.

The context of the conversation as being about the understanding of art was re-emphasized soon afterward.

I then tried to emphasize that aesthetic knowledge of what is opposite, compositionally speaking, is the sound way of viewing and learning about art. Talking about hidden, ultra-complex algorithms being, shall we say, the less helpful approach.

This was an effort to teach something to those reading, and especially Antonio, whose posts I have enjoyed in the past.

I was told that this was just my way of looking at it, and it was all my opinion, by this otherwise sensible and intelligent fellow who sometime later admitted his "knowledge of composition sucked."

I was then also told that I wasn't trying to teach anything, by the same person. (Called names too, thank you very much.) Which is a wonderful thing to hear after having tried to offer him knowledge that I consider absolutely foundation to the understanding of composition: the philosophy of opposites in aesthetics. Which is about how expression works and is utterly distinct from how mathematicians formalize/formulate their perceptions.

Leaving aside the clusterfucking of this conversation, the total lack of appreciation of this very real distinction between mathematical interpretation of phenomena and aesthetic expression of phenomena among practitioners in the sciences is the heart of the problem of its over-reach into the arts.

Anybody who thinks this is "just my opinion" hasn't looked into the matter and is just trying to score points on the David Apatoff Grace-O-Meter. ;)

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara and Mr. Etc.-- Kant seems to use the word "disinterested" in a different way than jurisprudential thinkers. This gives me flashbacks to a long paper I wrote on Kant's specialized definition of the terms "eudaemonism" and "abderitism" in his a priori approach to history. I hate to hang such large issues on the highly specialized vocabulary of individual philosophers trying to plumb the depths. The jargon in this field is complex enough without every philosopher customizing his or her own nuanced vocabulary. I still remember sitting in on Prof. Walter Kaufmann's graduate seminar on Hegel, listening to the discussion of Hegel's use of the term "sublation," and crossing philosophy off my list of potentially useful professions.

While I am a firm believer in the importance of precision in language, and believe that such precision is worth fighting and shedding blood for, I have to wonder whether some of the vocabulary in what Kev rightly describes as "dense material" passes the cost/benefit test. I value the rigor and internal consistency that Kant and Hegel contribute to aesthetics, and within the confines of their books their theories are elegant, but what happens when you let them out on the playground?

This group has previously kicked around the notion of a "sharp picture of a fuzzy concept," as opposed to a fuzzy picture of a sharp concept. Both results may be equally flawed, but for different reasons. The more we sharpen the definitions of some of Kant's specialized terms, the more I think we are taking sharp pictures of fuzzy subjects.

Sean Farrell wrote: "An arrow is the common visual term for what is called a vector in math. A vector or arrow reads in both directions if one is talking audio verses visual. It's perfectly fair if not correct to say a vertical is the opposite of a horizontal when it is referred to as a horizon line and intersecting vertical."

Holy smoke, is there anybody out there who is NOT a math professor? I offer you poetry about sex in a garden and death in wars. I offer you photos of Miley Cyrus twerking and Tracey Emin being awarded a CBE by the British crown for writing about the stench between her legs, and all you guys want to write about is when a line can qualify as a pattern comprised of points as opposed to an individual unit? Can I just remind everyone that Amy Lowell was using "patterns" as a metaphor to describe the social obligation to walk in the footsteps of the generations before you, be good, march off to war when instructed, and definitely keep your clothes buttoned up?

A while back I wrote a post called "Every Triangle Has A Thousand Angles" and you guys let me get away with it. We seem to have become a lot more literal since then.

Sean Farrell said...

Thanks for the list of new mathematical patterns
and you asked....

Are people really gonna say that they are so sure that all of these other things are totally irrelevant for that purpose? Will they state so even before learning how these things work?

A great many will say just that, because computers already perform these functions. There are many artists working in the gaming world and animation who paint upon fractal spatial realities and they don't know their mathematics either. Secondly, measuring reality or even creating a virtual reality mathematically is not the same as a tactile or poetic relationship with other subject matter.

I personally have little interest in these patterns
because I would rather draw people and find human beings and their relationships endlessly fascinating.

Perhaps you might want to look into the work of Dorathea Rockburne, a pioneer in this area of working with mathematics as its own aesthetic end
and the golden rectangle, triangle etc.

kev ferrara said...

I think, actually, David, I am with you. I am not a stickler for the systematizations of the philosophers, nor a stickler for just what words they use to describe what thing within their particular all-encompassing theories of everything. Except when I am trying to understand them.

I think the error that spans the history of aesthetics is the endless need to create and defend systems. I think the greatness of it was that the principles it uncovered are profound and useful in equal measure.

Sean Farrell said...

Sorry David, I was trying to point out that observations of simple visual realities are not mathematical but visual.

António Araújo said...


>No one here has stopped you from >speaking visually.

er...Almost no one. Not you, certainly.

But one is enough to keep a person answering the same thing over and over instead of moving on.

Believe me, it sort of feels like a bigger deal when you're the one on the receiving end.

>I mentioned tiles because you mentioned tiles, no?

Sure! And 1-p perspective. But my point is that both those things, being geometrical tools, had a big effect in the end product of art, as you say. Didn't they change the type of art that was created? Perspective was a big deal in the renaissance.

Didn't advances in optics instigate a lot of new art movements?

What I am saying is that those other more complex things I mentioned in the last post - and many others I didn't - are no different in nature from 1-p perspective and the simpler tiles. They are just newer and more complex. So, couldn't they turn out to be relevant to art just like 1-p perspective and simple tiles were in their days?

The thing is, those newer more complex things are often unfamiliar to artists, because of a language and cultural barrier. So perhaps it is useful to bridge that barrier to see if any of those things can either be new tools for art or simply new inspirations for new subjects and new ways of seeing old subjects.

I tell you, there may be more technology today, but we do not have such an interplay as we had between art and science in the renaissance or even the XIX century. In terms of curiosity at least. Artists use technology, but don't like it and shun the understanding of the principles behind it. In other times they reveled in them.

If you read the books of perspective for artists of the XIX century you see they are far deeper and more rigorous (and more beautiful when they have plates) than current ones. And you read older books and you see artists enthusiastic about all sorts of geometrical constructions and machinery, both in an utilitarian way and as inspiration.

It is that sort of interplay that I think may be useful. One visual language influencing the other. And that is why I mention these things.

As an example of the kind of perspective book we don't have today, here's William Ware's "Modern perspective" from 1882:


It is FAR more geometrically correct than the usual modern book, and still it is far more suited to use in freehand perspective drawings. Also, it treats cylindrical perspective properly though not very thoroughly. More importantly, it deals properly with perspective distortion. It is rare for a perspective book not to say some piece of nonsense about that like "perspective distortion occurs because the retina is not flat" (REALLY?) or "it happens because the cone of view is too wide compared to the human field of view" (not the point). Ware gets it well enough.

And the plates are wonderful by the way! They aren't in the archive but I managed to hunt them all down from various sources (people selling them by the unit on ebay and so on). I keep them on my dropbox for my students. Enjoy:


Sean Farrell said...

PS: Aren't Tracy Emin and Miley Cirus the natural extension of generations imagining everything is a barrier? No one is holding anyone back anymore. If someone says anything they're an old reactionary bitty, so let it go.

No one is surprised and people have turned away but for the media itself. Culture has become as dissolute as its people or elite leaders perhaps. Forgive me, but it's an old story. As Richard Lewis once joked something along the lines of, All my married friends have to dress up as Pilgrims to get excited.

Anonymous said...


In my first exposure to Kant, I was convinced his writings were opium induced babbling (Heidegger is still highly suspect). Perhaps in the original German things aren't so confusing.

Kant's notion of disinterest concerns only a "pure" judgment of taste; he also allowed for two other "impure" judgments. For example if I look at a painting and discern that it has a beautiful composition, that would be a "pure" judgment of taste (the beautiful). If however I see a painting of an attractive woman, because I find the woman (i.e subject matter) attractive, Kant would call that a liking for the agreeable (what the senses like in sensation) but it is not a pure, disinterested judgment. Thirdly judgments of the good concerns a liking for things that are ethically or morally attractive (for example a painting of the Parable of the Good Samaratin) but again it is not a pure, disinterested judgment. But of course theoretically we could (I'd hope Kant would agree) through reflection set aside our interest in the good and agreeable in a particlar painting and come to a judgment concerning the beautiful.

It's not hard to understand how someone who lives and breathes illustration would not find a whole lot of merit in "disinterestedness"; frankly I would not fault an illustrator who was disinterested in Kant.

Sean Farrell said...

You are making much more interesting comments than you did earlier and I do appreciate the links. They're tools of course in the service of subject matter. Right now these things are serving the gaming industry, which leaves a lot to be desired in terms of humanity. That might be one reason it's not catching on, because how it's being used leaves people cold.

What you're talking about may well provide something we long for but won't understand until we see it utilized by the proper hands. Even in complex patterns, people sense a falseness in super tight mechanical uniformity. Most of the patterns used in or as Fine Art today are of a broken variety, carefully done by hand. They are almost barely patterns.

That's my opinion on it. Somebody else is going to see it differently.

Sean Farrell said...

I think the concept of a professional army verses the conscripted one has also decoupled people from their social connections as well. Here we sit as our country considers entering yet another country and war and commentators on PBS giggle that China is still “into the sovereignty thing”. Combined with decades of senseless exhibitionism, the concept of a citizenship and a country with a particular purpose in dignity seems to have dissolved.

António Araújo said...

>until we see it utilized by the >proper hands

That's why I think it may be useful to spread at least the awareness that it exists.

If only one in a thousand artists that hear of these things find them to their taste, and one in a thousand of those manages to imagine a proper use for then...well, then we need to tickle a million of those to get somewhere. :)

Scientists themselves can't be expected to both create these things and be able to find their proper artistic uses (if any) - it is just asking too much. You don't have so many Leonardos born every century...

António Araújo said...

>I personally have little interest in these patterns
>because I would rather draw people and find human beings and their relationships endlessly

You'll be surprised that drawing people is what I enjoy. To tell you the truth, I don't even care all that much about art as much as I care about drawing. I like to look at people in the subway everyday and draw them. I like to observe them, and I like the act of putting the marks on the paper. It seems childish to say it this way. To me drawing is a mixture between a pleasurable physical act and a form of investigation of the things around me - another tool for seeing stuff, just like geometry is. It is only accidentally about creating a beautiful final object. The thing I always liked in life was drawing, and that is why I didn't go to art school when I had to choose - I feared making it a job, with all the obligations attached.

But here is how things get mixed up with geometry for me: you know when you learn about the planes of the head? Everybody does at some point, say, in Loomis. Well, of course the "planes" of the head in a Loomis book aren't really planes. They don't really fit well together, they are not really plane and there are gaps if you try to imagine them in 3D. Loomis kind of cheats, because you don't really need them to be planes. If you get one of those Asaro sculpted models of the head, you'll find that they are "almost" made of planes, but not exactly. You could make it all out of planes, but then you'd need lots of them and it would get fussy. Above all, you get many choices of possible sets of "planes". Well, it fascinates me to consider what those shapes are, how they can be chosen in so many ways, what is essential about them, what geometries will possibly still approach the character of the head, beyond planes. I find that this helps me understand better the faces around me. But then I start to think of differential geometry and of the various types of curvatures, and of geodesic curves, and that mixes with the way I see a head. To me, that enhances what I see. It makes me learn more about heads, but also more about geometry.

And then, of course, it is just fun to let go of this and just draw freely. But the freedom and the thinking enhance each other.

António Araújo said...

Also, about hidden patterns (not in a tiling, but in our visual brains). It bugs me why caricature works (enhancing the most salient features, etc). Caricaturists say "a caricature may be more similar to a person than a photograph". Sure. So can a portrait. But the thing that bugs me is that in fact, in a way, a caricature can be more similar to the person than the person itself. :))) This looks like a logical contradiction, but not really. They have experimented with monkeys and caricatures and found that there is a certain zone of the monkeys brain that light up when he sees a person X. Now, it lights up when he sees a photo of the person. And it light up much more when he sees a good caricature of the person. But suppose that this region lights up even more with a good caricature of the person X than with the actual person!! - then you can say that the caricature looks *more* like the person than the person itself. :))) Now that gets me wondering not about the hidden patterns in the brain (neuron pathways, whatever) but about the hidden patterns in the abstract geometry of face recognition. It makes me imagine a space with many dimensions and an infinite number of points, each of those points being a possible face. Real faces, caricature faces, and so on, and how the face of Mr X relates in that space to all those other faces, some of which will be deemed close enough to be recognized as X and some to be even more like X than X itself, though, for instance, they may have unnaturally long noses and therefore be quite metrically different from X :)

There are many such games that come to mind. I find it interesting to think of drawing as an auxiliary tool in thinking and observing, even more than a tool for creating artworks. Drawing has many uses and only some are artistic but all are interesting.

(This makes me insensitive to the fear of some hypothetical futuristic robot that would make good drawings. The robot could not steal my personal pleasure in doing the drawing for myself)

Sean Farrell said...

If you're enjoying yourself you're in a good place. Well yes, but just as Big Blue took the glory from chess champions, a lot of human skills are being washed away. Another reason artists aren't seeing technology as a new renaissance is because they're surrounded by it and their relationship to it is one of convenience. It's not the same three dimensional, or flesh and blood relationship.

Since yours is a personal pursuit, you have the opportunity to explore drawing without the constraints of commercial interests. Everything doesn't have to be precious. You have the freedom to draw the subject, who the person is, what their gesture is telling you about their mood, what they're clothes are saying, etc. You don't have to throw away your present preoccupations, but add something to your observations that isn't from the same old pipeline. There's something immediate about drawing where an honest observation often wins the day. Thanks and enjoy.

Tom said...

"Artists use technology, but don't like it and shun the understanding of the principles behind it. In other times they reveled in them."

Here, here! Antonio
I have found those old books the most useful.  They give you principles like you say, which are quite starling in their comprehension. Going to museums and seeing what artists from the past have done I knew there had to be more to painting and drawing then contour drawing and copying negative shapes.  School was very modern.

They never considered anything to be flat.  Everything was volume and space. Everything is  thought 3d.  I even started buying old text books on Descriptive geometry. (is it even taught in schools anymore?) With the planes of projection and finding exact points in space.  Great stuff and very refreshing after the mind numbing thought of art school. Proportion, ratio, scale, surface all became much more comprehensible.  I even started reading books like D'Arcy  Wentworth's tome On growth and from.  It seemed to me to be so much more connected to reality then Art School thought.I  think geometry is deeply rooted in art maybe it even makes art possible. It has allowed me to experience space(I don't know how else to say it)  and it is so much more satisfying then the modern ways drawing is taught. As Eugene Carriere (French artist) said, "In nature all is volume,plane, proportion, all is architecture ."

Another book I found at the same time was Vernon Blake's "the art and craft of drawing"  he also wrote a few other books that are short "The way to sketch," and "Drawing for children,"( kids must have been a lot smarter in the 1920's.)

As far as art and science goes, I don't know who owns gravity but as Blake writes in The Way to Sketch, "All form is governed by physical laws of the universe.  The shape of a mountain is the result of the action of gravity and the cohesion of the different rocks that compose it. The shape of a tree or a plant is again the result of the laws of organic growth, combined with those of gravitation.  In our drawings we must indicate the existence of such laws...it is the seizing on these facts which gives life and naturalness to drawing."

In all three books he address perspective.  As he writes in The way to sketch, "perspective when treated fully, becomes really quite a difficult subject, and demands considerable mathematical knowledge."

António Araújo said...


>If you're enjoying yourself you're in a good place

That's *it*! :)

I think kids know better what drawing is about. :) Some years ago on a christmas morning I had 5 kids all around me while I sat, peering over both my shoulders and pulling at my sleeves while I tried to draw, going completely nuts wile I handled their requests: "draw me a horse!" "now a whale!" "I want a dolphin!", and of course, the youngest going "can *I* color mine?" while their dog sat on my lap, going crazy, not understanding what all the excitement was about :). These kids see polished 3d cartoons everyday, but they still like to see a rough sketch being born. (and then color it to pieces :))!!!)

(and a bit later, the much older cousin of one of them asked if I could draw *her*, posing on the couch - ok, fully grown women also know what drawing is about :)) - and her little brother went "Don't you want a dolphin instead?" (with a roll of the eyes as in "girls are weird")

António Araújo said...


it's like you rolled out my favorites. :)

I was completely taken by Blake's "the art and craft of drawing" when I first read it. I think it was my first "serious" (whatever that is) book on art. Those other two books of his I only found out about many years later.

Then I heard of Darcy Thompson's "on growth and form" but had to wait years to get a copy of the Dover edition (it was before amazon and it was tough getting some books in Portugal - you waited ages only to hear that the request had been forgotten and then had to wait again!). The funny thing is that I think I got even more from spending time imagining what the contents would be like than from actually and finally getting and reading the book!! :D

>Descriptive geometry (...) Proportion, ratio, scale, surface all became much more >comprehensible

I used to get so disappointed at the ways measurements from the model were taught in my art classes :).

Although I equally love the usual methods of contour drawing and such (the Nikolaides-style stuff that gets taught in modern art classes). It is good to use both types of thinking. The frustrating thing is that only one gets taught ("use your right brain" is half of a good advice - it is a shame to waste half a brain).

By the way, on the off chance you don't know this, you would love Robert Beverly Hale's books ("Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters" and "Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters"). Hale taught anatomy at the art student's league and he was big on the renaissance-style geometric thinking. If you can, get the tape of his anatomy lessons that is floating around the net - it is grainy and faded but wonderful). On top of everything he had a great (and sometimes biting) sense of humour.

Oh, Hale is unfortunately gone and the tape is sold by some crazy people at a small fortune (with what I hear rumored are slightly questionable copyright claims). It is so absurd a price that I would not blame anyone who decided to torrent it instead (not that I would ever condone or incite the stealing of intelectual property (bla disclaimer bla)) but I hear there is a copy out there...

António Araújo said...


what do you know, someone put the tapes on youtube!


(actually I think the "someone" was maybe(?) the guy who originally taped them - Hale's student Tom Hall, who (if I am getting this right) was not the person who was selling the tapes at those crazy prices)

Copyright is such a mess. Screw it. Just enjoy the tapes :)

I dunno if the whole set is there. I sent you the link for the ribcage set.

Tom said...

"I used to get so disappointed at the ways measurements from the model were taught in my art classes "

Exactly.  What amazed me about sight measuring with your pencil was it was a really the use of perspective. I.e comparing the distance and heights between things with your pencil held horizontality or vertically. Almost as if that was all that  perspective had to offer.  But almost know one would mention the controlling ground plane upon which all the objects sat.  Planes would be mentioned in the most general way, but defining what a plane was so you had a clear understanding in your mind forget about it.

I will check the tapes out. Thanks

António Araújo said...

>sight measuring with your pencil

When you do that in the traditional way what you are measuring is really the *tangent* of the visual angle. (in spherical perspective you'd measure the angle itself, and in cylindrical you'd measure the angle on the horizontals and the tangent on the verticals)

Of course, measuring the tangent is very sensitive to the distance you hold the pencil from your eyes (hence the need to watch your shoulder stance, etc)

Then if you make proportional measurements, you get errors from the proportions - plus you end up doing counting and arithmetic in your head - funny enough I don't like doing that when I'm drawing. :) I like to think of maths before I draw so that won't have to think of it *while* I draw (not even simple stuff like counting how many heads fit into a torso, if it can be avoided).

When you do sight-size instead you don't have to do any "accounting" BUT you are stuck in the observation point and you "draw with your feet". Not cool.

One nice way that I found to avoid all this is to measure angles instead and triangulate the lenghts(for some reason I've never seen this taught). I don't mean the subtended visual angles with vertex in the observer eye, but the angles between a model's reference points in the perspective plane. You imagine triangles with vertices on the important points of the model (say 3 bony points of the sternum+shoulder girdle). Then you measure not the lengths of the sides of the triangles but the size of the angles (say by checking with a pencil against the vertical, or with two pencils against each other). The cool things is that *angles are scale-independent*. Meaning that if your arm is a bit more or less stretched doesn't make any difference: **Angles are automatically sight-sized** without you having to stand at a particular distance. But how do you get the lenghts? You get them automatically by finding the intersections of the lines. This is hard to explain in writing, but basically you are doing triangulation. You set one side of the triangle to whatever you want to fit on the paper, and the missing point is found by the intersection of the sides whose angles you measure from the model.

Another advantage is that if you want to change scale you don't have to do it by fractions (say one-third scale), you choose whatever size is convenient for the major line of the drawing and everything else comes into place automatically in scale without having to do any arithmetic.

After a while you don't even measure angles by lifting the pencil - you measure by tracing the imaginary lines over the model in the air and then repeating the motion on the paper by muscle memory - you only measure the angle with your pencil if you want to check your accuracy.


António Araújo said...


I also find that for me it is a faster and less intrusive method to get quick measurements of people in the subway or the street. You hallucinate the triangles and you mentally flick your pencil over the diagonals and "feel" very easily what the angle is without having to actually measure it by raising a pencil (which of course I'd never do in the subway). I find it more accurate and faster than imagining, say, "how many heads fit from X to Y".

Also: if you get good at measuring angles in the imaginary perspective plane you can deal better with those situation in freehand drawing where you know some lines should converge but can't actually find the vanishing point without a giant piece of paper or some disagreeable mechanical trick.

This works only for small cones of vision, of course, like any of the classical methods (drawing small scenes, a couple of people, etc). For larger ones you start getting distortions. But you solve that by going to a cylindrical perspective, for instance (or spherical). Basically the thing is that for small cones, the tangents and the visual angles are more or less the same thing, but for larger angles that breaks down.

ps: This could have been better written, sorry, but I'm in a rush. I have a deadline monday morning and will post little or nothing until then.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc.-- How would Kant's scheme guide the young man who pondered, "I can't figure out whether I like girls because I like curvy lines or I like curvy lines because I like girls"? As I understand it, Kant would classify the first situation as pure, disinterested judgment, but classify the second situation as impure, interested judgment. What's a fellow to do?

By the way, I dug up the sentence from Hegel that was my turning point away from an academic career in philosophy: "This sublation in a double sense of its otherness is at the same time a return in a double sense into its self. For firstly, through sublation, it gets back its self, because it becomes one with itself again through the cancelling of its otherness; but secondly it likewise gives otherness back again to the other self-consciousness for it was aware of being in the other, it cancels thus its own being in the other and thus lets the other again go free."

I asked myself whether the energy required to master such a sentence was likely to pay off in the quality of life for me or for anyone around me. I didn't need one of Antonio's complex algorithms to weigh the costs against the benefits.

Antonio Araujo wrote: "Drawing has many uses and only some are artistic but all are interesting.
(This makes me insensitive to the fear of some hypothetical futuristic robot that would make good drawings. The robot could not steal my personal pleasure in doing the drawing for myself)"

I think the reason that's true is because you are in the rare and blessed position of an amateur drawing for personal pleasure. When I can arrange my life that way, I appreciate that it is a gift from the gods. On the other hand, if you are trying to meet a tight deadline, make more money, beat a competitor, demonstrate technical skill you lack, satisfy an art director's unreasonable changes, make an animated movie, etc. that hypothetical future robot can begin to look pretty good. (P.S.-- It's amazing and heartening that the simple magic of creating a likeness still charms kids and their older cousins alike).

Sean Farrell wrote: "Aren't Tracy Emin and Miley Cirus the natural extension of generations imagining everything is a barrier? No one is holding anyone back anymore. If someone says anything they're an old reactionary bitty, so let it go."

I agree that Emin and Cyrus don't have the social constraints that thwarted Amy Lowell's heroine. There are no societal consequences to their heedless behavior (unless you count wealth and fame). Yet, people can't seem to function in a psychological vacuum, and to the extent they succeed in purging all that obsolete shame and guilt, personal karma seems to catch up with them. I think both of these ladies are sad and damaged.

Sean Farrell said...

I think your humanity is giving the two ladies great latitude with the benefit of doubt? We can't be sure they are damaged children. Damaged implies they are deserving of pity, help or at the very least some sympathy.

Lady Liberty was a bare breasted woman leading a murderous charge, a symbol. Tracy Emin is a bare breasted symbol of that triumph. Why else would she be given an official honor? What else could it be for? Where else was the revolution going to go? Didn't the old stories of character involve great obstacles? If every obstacle or proscription were interpreted as an oppressive enemy of liberty, even death as some are now talking, then what else could possibly have come of it? What symbols then have been replaced? It makes perfect sense that she may be as vacuous and stunningly simple as you have described her work, without the slightest misgivings.

Although what you say is possible, I'm not seeing enough inconsistency to credit the two exhibitionists with any other symbol than the end to obstacles and a new era of personal indulgence. That's what they symbolize; not intimacy, not psychological damage but rather, the world as a great public forum of vapid indulgence. Is that a pity? I don't know, but their symbolic message.

Of course not everyone is going to be Audrey Hepburn, blowing people away with her dignity, manners, beauty and charm. Neither is everyone interested in compromising their own dignity just because these two exhibitionists do, but is there any doubt that such is what they symbolize and is being intentionally promoted and celebrated by those who honor them?

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell-- I do think these ladies are sad and damaged, despite the fact that the Saatchi Gallery says, "Emin's triumphed over all and has money up the whazoo to boot."

Sure, the male dominated art patrons and galleries are infatuated with a female artist who prances around in the nude, flaunts long lists of the people she has slept with, makes a sculpture of her rumpled bed (complete with worn panties, condoms and human secretions) and paints crude, explicit images about how much she loves fucking. This is every man's dream (from a safe distance), a guaranteed attention getter. People want to believe in her the way they wanted to believe in Linda Lovelace.

If I felt Emin was an empowered, responsible feminist who was getting rich exploiting the baser fantasies of men who are easy to manipulate, I'd say "hooray-- she's a crappy artist but she has elevated the strip tease to a level where she not only extracts more money but also gets a CBE from her slobbering audience. She makes them applaud like trained seals for her most simple minded platitudes as they wait for the good stuff." But you don't have to watch Emin too long for the victimhood to begin to ooze out from behind the artwork.

The product of a broken home, she claims to have been abused as a child, then raped at 13, and then became anorexic. Next she had a nervous breakdown. Understandably, she says she is bad at having relationships. In a later adult relationship she claims that almost every night she was "subjected" to anal sex. In a big, messy public squabble, that particular boyfriend disputed her claim: "She also says that she suffered constant diarrhoea and piles, but she never mentioned this to me and I think I would have noticed as apparently every night I was "subjecting" her to anal sex." (http://www.stuckism.com/childish/ChildishOnStrangeland.html)

And on and on the misery goes. One man recalls, I "distinctly remember her telling me that she wanted to be "fucked so hard that she wouldn't be able to walk... in the morning". If you knew of her background, would you take this request at face value, as the genuine desire of a happy, healthy woman?

Emin strikes me as a train wreck, and I think much of her fame and fortune is attributable to the fact that people like to watch train wrecks. This brand of fame is not, in my opinion, nearly as healthy as the plain old sexual voyeurism that I initially assumed was the reason for her success. I think it's just plain sad that she has to open her veins for this kind of return.

Mr. Etc. and Kant would say that her success is based upon the public's "liking for what the senses like in sensation but not a pure, disinterested artistic judgment."

kev ferrara said...

You nailed that, David.

In my view, disinterestedness is one of the great contributions in the history of aesthetic philosophy. There is no better way to distinguish the deep from the cheap. Which is why the idea has been banished to the libraries.

Sean Farrell said...

Thank you for the information and the link to the interesting story by her boyfriend. It certainly explains your reasoning. As a public figure, she's still a kind of symbol and if nothing else, she is ahistorical and perhaps a heroine of disassociation, another trendy concept.

So with pity upon her, she remains apart of a now long list of vaulted exhibitionists in the jumbled world of celebrities. For the public, all this has become a long yawn, while the media continues to sell it as if people are outraged. Certainly, it's easy enough to find a few who would mouth repulsion, but the WWII generation and those a little older are largely gone with only the media feigning moral outrage in hope of generating a story.

The whole matter is something of a mystery, with the sexual revolution now deader than dead, that this continues on as if anew among the elite purveyors and buyers of art. It's very hard to imagine that the (art) revolution has anywhere to go from here.

Maybe they will play around with the formalism of the mathematical matrix superimposed on everything for a while and people will wander in and out of galleries like zombies who've long given up and forgotten they were looking for the holy moment. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

How would Kant's scheme guide the young man who pondered, "I can't figure out whether I like girls because I like curvy lines or I like curvy lines because I like girls"?.... What's a fellow to do?

Consult the wisdom of Solomon?

How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O prince’s daughter!
The curves of your hips are like jewels,
The work of the hands of an artist.

Richard said...

"a pure, disinterested artistic judgment"

What on Earth is that?

Richard said...

As far as I can tell, from what I've heard/seen/blah blah blah, aesthetic judgments go through three phases, the last of which I could see as being "pure, disinterested artistic judgement", but I would prefer to describe it as being "boner-less".

So, Artists find something that give them an art-boner, which is not necessarily unlike a boner-boner.

They share what they found around. Make the composition like this, make the girl look like this, put a little swish and a little swash over here, add a sailboat so the viewer feels wealthy, add this filter so the viewer feels hip, and this title so they feel educated. Whatever. We've got a boner-factory on hand.

Critics figure out, more or less, why it gives them, too, an art-boner. They give the elements all fancy terms. "Gesture", whatever, bleh. Artspeak.

200 years later artists who aren't causing any art-boners of their own go and dig around in these books trying to figure out how the old guys gave people art-boners and self-consciously adopt the old guys' systems, and much to their surprise, no one is getting art-boners from that stuff anymore, but these new guys are heavily invested in the old system being The Shit™ so they swear off ever getting another boner, or giving one.

And in the end they'll just worship the old guys to make themselves feel better about not having found anything that gives people boners. That sounds like pure, disinterested artistic judgement to me.

Anyway, Miley, Emin, they give me boners, although not necessarily artsy boners, although again, those two things aren't terrible unalike, nor even mutually exclusive.

Sean Farrell said...

Hi Richard,
I see your having fun, but somebody who is already happy or satiated in a matter can experience a disinterested relationship.

A disinterested relationship goes way back in western history, a disinterested love, etc. is an old idea. The concept of an objective reality implies disinterested observation, which differs from indifference. Yes, it implies an absence of want or avarice.

chris bennett said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: You nailed that, David.
In my view, disinterestedness is one of the great contributions in the history of aesthetic philosophy. There is no better way to distinguish the deep from the cheap. Which is why the idea has been banished to the libraries.

David certainly did, a marvellous appraisal of a complex phenomenon.

And I agree with you on the 'disinterested' point. It's often thought of as 'detachment' or 'coolness'. I believe it is why the rape scenes in 'A Clockwock Orange' are shot the way they are.

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