Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Art, Reality, Concept

My grandparents, who were avid birders, preferred those bird books with color illustrations to those with color photographs. The reason was because the illustrated great kiskadee (or fox sparrow or scrub jay, etc.) looked more like any great kiskadee they would see than did the photograph, which was of a particular great kiskadee. The illustrator has done the work of creating an image -- an ideal, or concept -- of the great kiskadee, which is impossible to do with a single example. To create a concept, you must have more than one example of the object being conceptualized, and a conceptualized object makes other similar objects easier to identify. But if you have a single example to work with, you are uncertain if a similar object really is of the same kind as the object of comparison.

We create concepts -- ideas, or Forms -- by taking a set of similar objects and mentally subtracting the differences. We then give that set of objects a label to help us hold them all together. Metaphors are necessary to reorganize our conceptual categories. They create new overlaps, stretch our conceptual categories, and push us into new territory. All art is metaphorical.

All art too is conceptual -- in part. More accurately, art lies on the borderland between the conceptual and the perceptual. Even the most accurate photorealistic painter doing a portrait necessarily has in mind the faces and bodies of every person (s)he has seen. The painting contains within it the tension of representing the object painted and representing the concept of the object painted.

A concept is a concept of something. Those abstract artists who claim to be painting "pure concepts" are thus doing nothing of the sort. One can paint a conceptual tree, a conceptual dog, a conceptual horse, chair, or person -- or even geometrical shapes representing higher-order concepts/abstractions -- but what would it even mean to paint the concept of concept? (A paradox arises here: doesn't the concept of concept necessarily contain itself?) A painting or other work of art is always representational -- concepts are mental. Thus, any work of art is the best that artist can do to represent the meeting of the mental/conceptual and the real/perceived world.

We use representations to communicate to each other. A word is a representation of a concept, and a concept is a mental representation of a set of various similar objects. My set is not your set, so what we communicate is never without some noise or error. If I say "tree," I may be thinking of maples and you may be thinking of pines, so there will be some level of miscommunication. We also have different emotional tags attached to concepts (which include experiences). I will experience Turner's "The Shipwreck" in a different way than someone who has been in a small boat on stormy seas. BOth experiences are equally legitimate, though each will result in different interpretations.

Art is thus a kind of language, as it communicates information from one person to another. Art too is most beautiful when it achieves the balance between the conceptual -- which is one -- and the perceptual -- which is many. This is also reversed, and this reversal is most evident in art -- because the concept is one made of many, and art represents one thing being perceived by the artist. A beautiful work of art represents this tension between the unique object and the conceptual one derived from the subtraction of the uniquing elements in each individual object in a set. This tension is necessarily present in what we typically think of as being representational work, but can be lost in the most abstract works. It is also lost in those works that push toward the perceptual/reality. Such works may not lack in beauty from other paradoxical tensions inherent in the works, but such works won't be as beautiful as they otherwise could be. They may not even be works of art.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lice Art

Now we have Head Lice Art. Germans covered in lice in an Israeli museum -- and they claim they didn't think of the first thing that popped into MY mind when I read it was Germans doing it. Otherwise, what an incredibly stupid and boring stunt. I'm not calling it art. Kitsch is the portrayal of a world without shit (Kundera), but what's the word for the opposite, where you portray a world as nothing but shit?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Taskmasters and Gurus

Here is a really thoughtful piece on the Shvarts debacle. Here is the problem, as far as the author is concerned:

"It is often said that great achievement requires in one's formative years two teachers: a stern taskmaster who teaches the rules and an inspirational guru who teaches one to break the rules. But they must come in that order. Childhood training in Bach can prepare one to play free jazz and ballet instruction can prepare one to be a modern dancer, but it does not work the other way around. One cannot be liberated from fetters one has never worn; all one can do is to make pastiches of the liberations of others."

But isn't anarchy, meaninglessness, and nihilism kinds of shackles? Disorder prohibits freedom just as much as oppressive laws. Art must have good sets of rules to maintain its freedom.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reinventing the Sacred

Looks like Stuart Kauffman has a new book coming out: "Reinventing the Sacred. Here is an excerpt from the book. I think it's pretty exciting stuff.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A poet everyone should read

Frederick Pollack teaches part-time in Washington. D.C. and writes poems. I think he writes seven days a week, twenty hours a day. He is prolific, and he is unlike any other living American poet. Read the following, and you'll begin to see why.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture -- Mission Statement

My wife, Anna, and I will be setting up a nonprofit organization we are tentatively calling "The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture" -- a think tank to promote the creation of a naturally classical culture. Below is our mission statement. I would appreciate any feedback, recommendations, etc. on it.

The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture

Mission Statement

The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture is working to change the culture by promoting progressive natural classicism in the arts and humanities.

Censors of every ideology know the power of the arts and humanities. Culture emerges from the people, who are influenced by the culture. Politicians follow the people; the laws they pass are shaped by their perception of what the people want. Thus, if any long-term support for free markets and personal liberty is to occur, the changes must be made in the culture rather than with the politicians. If we have a culture which promotes freedom, truth, beauty, meaning, value, and virtue, we will have people who will support freedom, truth, beauty, meaning, value, and virtue in their lives as a whole, including in their politics. The top will be changed by changes at the bottom.

Cultures, economies, and free societies are all complex systems. Complex systems have bottom-up self-organization, evolve, are polycentric hierarchies, and involve nonlinear feedback loops. Such systems are generative of growth, freedom, value, meaning, and virtue. Thus, we seek to help create this kind of natural culture, one that is a complex, nonlinear, self-organizing, flexible hierarchy that will allow for greater freedom and creative innovation, limit power, and reduce coercion in favor of mutually beneficial exchange and assent. We also seek to oppose all attempts to create a simple, linear, coercive, rigid, egalitarian culture that makes people weak, passive, irresponsible, lacking in self-control, easily led, incapable of independent thought, nihilistic, and prone to engage in crime and self-destructive behavior – all of which makes a society conducive to the acceptance of totalitarianism.

Any real and lasting societal change must start in the culture – in the arts and humanities. If the people are to believe in freedom, truth, beauty, meaning, value, and virtue, then our arts and humanities must create or reconstruct freedom, truth, beauty, meaning, value and virtue in works which address themselves to the average person and not just to the specialist. In other words, we must support works that provide a counterpoint to those postmodern works which promote a simplistic, irrational, unbeautiful, nihilistic worldview that undermines rather than reinforces the creative freedom inherent in the world. Through journals and newsletters, articles and books, scholarly panels, media appearances, and special projects, EIFC strives to reflect the reality of the world as a self-organizing, nonlinear, creative, hierarchical, complex, emergentist system conducive to freedom.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Charles Jencks

Charles Jencks is one of the coolest sculptor-architects I have ever seen. His work is influenced by fractals, DNA, etc. Great stuff! If I could have a dream set-up, I'd have him design an outdoor theater and have my plays performed in it.

Starving A Dog

Not to be out done by a student at Yale, Guillermo Vargas Habacuc pushes nihilistic 'art.' Habacuc in 2007 took a dog from the street, tied him to a rope in an art gallery, and starved him to death. For several days, Habacuc and visitors of the show watched the dog in agony. (The gallery claims the dog did not die and claims they feed it only AFTER the backlash from the show. The gallery claims the dog was not on a leash, but there are plenty of photo-documentations that say otherwise.) You think that is bad, but here is the kicker, Visual Arts Biennial of the Central American decided they wanted Habacuc repeat the act for their 2008 biennial. There is an effort to Boycott this show in Honduras. Go here for more information and to sign a petition stop to Habacuc from killing another dog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nihilist Art Movement?

What would a nihilist art movement look like? We see a few artists pushing to that edge, and a few more in the nihilist space, so what if a large group of artists started working in nihilistic fashion. Would this lead to the end of history/end of the world that Modernism/Post Modernism wanted? Art ushers in what is acceptable in society, so if nihilism becomes acceptable, where would that lead the world? And do we have to get to nihilist art to have a strong enough reactionary art movement?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Art or Insanity?

Well, it looks like postmodernism has finally reached its logical conclusion in art: abortion. Seriously. There is a woman who has an "art" project that consists of her abortions.

How dare she call what she is doing art? There is no way I would put this in the same category as anything I or anyone I would call an artist does. This is perversity, pure and simple. Give me a pickled shark or chopped up cow any day of the week.

Seriously, what do we think of this?


As followup, the student is now saying she didn't actually do the abortions, but that it was a performance piece. How can we know that it is and not that the dean made her say it is?

And now, to followup on the followup, Shvarts is now claiming that she did do the abortions and that Yale is lying. So my initial suspicion was correct.

We either need a new word for the kind of thing this disturbed woman is doing -- or we need one for the work Michaelangelo and Shakespeare did, because I refuse to consider the works of these two to be in the same category as this woman's.

This is one of the most offensive things I have ever run across. And this is from someone who reads the Marquis de Sade (whose works I find to be mostly funny rather than offensive) and Bataille without feeling offended.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Truth and Beauty

I was looking at Wikipedia and I found their views on Beauty lacking. They point out that Pythagoras found beauty through mathematics. But most of the article is about human beauty. A real entry on Wikipedia should have been a lot longer and less shallow. The truth in beauty needs to be more defined. Let us dig a little deeper. If this group wants to affect people globally, I propose that someone edit the Wikipedia entry to fit a better definition, a more beautiful definition.

William Blake -- Controversial Hymnist

It seems that "Jerusalem," a hymn crated from a section of William Blake's "Milton" os causing a bit of a stir in England's churches. Too nationalistic? Doesn't really praise God? Blake not "Christian enough"?

Here are the words to "Jerusalem":

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

False Value

In a Post Structural sense, value in art exists as an arbitrary structure created by institutions and individuals taste. So, the cultural elite decide what valued art is. Of course, if this were true, how has art become more democratic? Maybe the elite are following a trend toward democratic tendencies. I suspect that if the value was truly arbitrary, elites would resist the trends of the society, because they are suppose to set the trends. So, if value in art is not arbitrary, need what is the value of the art? How do we measure the value of art? Can some of the value of art be from arbitrary forces?