Thursday, August 26, 2010

Huge Leaps Still Possible? Open Thread

I spent my vacation reading a book on the Medici's that was alright (but what the author seemed to understand about homosexuality [a topic he raised incessantly] could fit on the head of pin). I did appreciate how well he moved the story along and the character development he was careful to build. But in general I won't recommend it. I will ask for others' recommendations on the family, though, as I'm currently obsessed with what drives people to patronage.

What struck me the most while reading, however, was the monumental leaps forward made by the artists of the Renaissance. Yes, many of their "advances" were more accurately rediscoveries, but many of them were not as well. As I read, it occurred to me, especially when it was noted how much advances in art at the time depended on advances in science, that with the specialization that science has reached today and what at least appears to be only incremental progress in most science fields now (where's my flying car and transporter bay, eh?), art may have reached a similar point of specialization and thus a point at which only much smaller steps are likely to be seen.


Oh, we do occasionally see exhibitions on "New Abstractions" or what have you, but rarely do any of the works therein seem entirely revolutionary. And there are intriguing new approaches in photography that seem to be capturing more and more people's imagination, but even these seem incremental in comparison with Brunelleschi's brilliant egg dome solutions or Leonardo's subtle psychologically charged and anatomically miraculous portraits.


Of course it's not entirely fair to compare artists coming out of the long dark Medieval period who happened upon these great road maps left by the Roman and Greek geniuses to guide them and then were able to carefully protect their secrets due to the lack of mass communication and mass transportation (so that viewers had to travel in person to see, process, unravel, and incorporate their advances) with those artists working in the Internet age in which any image photographed by a cellphone and then posted to a website will be immediately viewed around the world and possibly appropriated, if not parodied, within hours.

Or am I too close to the issue? Do others see huge leaps forward in art that I'm taking for granted? Consider this an open thread on the limits of advancements in art, as well as whether they're still tied to science or some other discipline.

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26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm ready to read a good book on the Borgias if anyone can recommend one. Am anticipating the Showtime series that is filming and want to know the historical facts before the bodice ripping starts.

---ondine nyc

8/26/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Yes, the Borgias make the Medicis look like Puritans.

One other thing you take away from these histories is how utterly and repulsively corrupt and immoral most of the Popes from that time were. The Borgias Pope (Alexander VI, I believe) made Don Corleone look like a saint.

8/26/2010 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I know this is rather a radical view of art, but I do hold it to be true -

the arts right now are as vital and thriving as in every epoch. Art doesn't really progress as we tend to view it. What it seems to do is reflect and illustrate insights into how our social paradigms of the world have shifted and changed. If society is in stasis (as Pharoahs Egypt might be perceived to have been) then art will remain stable reflecting the lack of paradigm shifts in society.

Yet when your paradigm shifts, when science has spawned a technology that changes how you interact with the world, and so modifies how you know of the world, silently shifting your paradigm of the world, then art will move to keep abreast of that shift. When society is full of diversity, full of multiple interpretations of the world, well art will speak out loud of all those diverse and concurrent ways of knowing the world. Appearing to be full of divergent art forms, without direction, when it fact art is still only reflecting how we now know of the world - it hasn't changed its agenda in that sense. Its still art doing what it always has done.

When we live in a world full of statistics, you'll find art that expresses that way of knowing the world, when we live in a world where religion is the ground of our paradigm, you'll have art forms that celebrate that, when you have technology that changes how you interact with the world, and H Innis has shown how all technology does this inevitably without conscious intent, then art steps up and says hey -look at what we have become - do we really wish to go in this direction?

Art makes conscious the unconscious changes the a society has undergone, hence allowing society to choose to continue in that direction or to choose another direction. Art leads only in the sense of bringing to our consciousness these changes, not so much in causing the changes. So art doesn't really advance, it keeps pace with society, letting society to see how we have changed our paradigms of knowing.

When science flourished and changed our paradigm of life as orbiting god to orbiting mankind, then you saw art reveal this shift, humanism in the arts expressed the new humanism in society. Art expresses these paradigm shifts and isn't limited to shifts caused by science, shifts can be ecologically imposed or philosophically explored or ...
Its the change that art reveals, and when you have multiple concurrent changes, the bounty for art is as diverse. The current calls for public art that is interactive comes from the paradigm shifts caused by mobile digital technology and devices.

In any epoch, you can measure the social paradigm shifts by the historical art expressions. It isn't Hegel's spirit of the age that art is inspired by, but concrete paradigm shifts that art "mirror" and brings to our attention.

In a society where the social paradigm shifts are endless and without priority, then our art will appear to be such as well.

But it still is just Art, still thriving, still crucial for us to know who we are. Still potentially full of beauty, wonder and awe.

8/26/2010 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous sabine carlson said...

i see artists today to be more mobile in time. If there were leaps before, perhaps now it is the territory dirctly underneath such leaps that is being examined.
A leap might have gone in a specific and linear direction, while today the process of mapping in between points of starting and landing might look as if without direction.
An unlinear progress could be a visual way of linking together that which we can't yet comprehend to be next to each other.

8/26/2010 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

For starters in the Renaissance there was "Art and Science," an environment where artists were also involved in scientific inquiry. Today, the proper distinction is "Science and Technology."

I disagree that science is only making incremental progress (as you imply it, since science always progresses incrementally). What has occurred in science over the last 100 years has been a true Renaissance in knowledge. The sheer number and areas of discovery make it impossible for any single individual to know it all at once. This leads to specialization which does create its own compartmentalization problems but which has now engendered new philosophical approaches towards interdisciplinary research.

We are progressing slowly towards a science fiction future but one which is not quite like what the earlier visionaries projected. Still; we have Dick Tracy wrist watches and computing devices which exceed the wildest imaginations of 100 years ago.

The idea that "art may have reached a similar point of specialization and thus a point at which only much smaller steps are likely to be seen" is debatable.

First I think the idea that art "progresses" towards something 'better', or towards some exclusive 'universal truth' is false. Part of this idea is a leftover from late Modernism which suggested that art was progressing towards some self-reflexive truth. This includes a final and essentially complete definition of the boundaries of abstract painting -- what is left are the endless variations of design bolstered by artists statements.

In other media, since we can expect an endless supply of new technologies, we can also expect a continuing parade of novelty.

What do we really expect from our art?

8/26/2010 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

@Gam -- well said.

8/26/2010 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Saskia said...

Well said, Gam, George, Sabine.

Just over a decade ago when I was in school, the internet was just beginning, social media was practically non-existent, and video and other digital technology was just beginning to blossom. There has been a lot of new technology finding its way into our world, and into art rather quickly, in my mind.

George says What do we really expect from our art?
Indeed!
There seems to be a lot of contradiction of late concerning this question.
And on that note, are giant leaps forward even desirable in this day and age? It seems that the world is crying out for all of us humans to stop and slow down, and to realize that all of our actions have consequences. It's time for a slower, more considered pace of things to come, in art and everywhere else for that matter!

8/26/2010 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Innovation doesn't happen in the absence of constraints. At this point, what desirable thing in art is not possible? Maybe nothing.

8/26/2010 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I really appreciate (and am impressed) by most of what Gam has written, but don't entirely agree with this:

"Yet when your paradigm shifts, when science has spawned a technology that changes how you interact with the world, and so modifies how you know of the world, silently shifting your paradigm of the world, then art will move to keep abreast of that shift."

During the Renaissance, artists were often creating the new science in service of the work they wanted to create. They were not waiting for someone else to invent it and then responding.

In other words, they were driven. I think Franklin phrased it correctly. They had constraints and those led to their innovations (necessity being the mother of invention).

I don't agree that nothing is not possible in art today. Even just from a technical point of view with video art, there are artists chomping at the bit for better cameras or lighting or editing tools. Ask Shane Hope what art he'll make as soon as a printer can print a copy of itself...and yes, he is working on one.

Advances will come.

8/26/2010 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I also question the idea of 'huge leaps' in art. The last one of significance was Picasso's 1907 painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" which owes its inspiration and radicalness primarily to African Masks. Cubism proper was hard fought for, incrementally over the next 2-3 years. In present terminology it was a 'black swan' event, rare.

It appears that styles, or 'branding' in present terminology, provide some of the rollover previously posited as 'advancements' in art and tagged as being avant garde. In the latter half of the 20th century hegemonic styles were unable too contain the explorations of increasing numbers of artists. With hindsight it appears that 'style' became a secondary organizer under the umbrella of philosophy (postmodernism or..)

However, like styles, philosophies get used up and become dogmas attached to problems of an earlier era. This is where I think we stand at the moment. The last critical philosophies applied to art were all residues of Marxism and the industrial age.

Saskia mentioned the internet and social media, both are part of the new Information Age. For example, late 20th century criticism sought to define Photography away from 'true' representation, to free it from its mechanical correspondence to its subject, bla bla bla (you know what I mean).

However today, everyone knows about Photoshop, and everyone has a digital camera, the digital image is ubiquitous. A young artist with a camera, has a tool which makes a modifiable image. Everyone knows it's modifiable, therefore all of the old postmodern arguments are now a bit silly. On the other hand, this digital device and the tools to manipulate the image exist without qualification as a means of expression.

"Expression" can be Modernist navel gazing (art about art) or about the outside world, about life. Part of how our lives are changing is a function of how we are assimilating information and maybe more importantly how this information defines and describes our own lives and therefore how we use our chosen mediums to express ourselves and our times.

8/26/2010 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Brandon said...

New technology has changed how we consume art as well. I have seen a ton of art recently but never really seen it. Should artists think about that as well when they make work? I like the fluidity of today's possibilities.

8/26/2010 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Ed,
I quibble, but the idea of advancement in poetry (art) is a curious notion for me. There may be new strophes and meters and subjects, but the art, that which resonates in us, it is either there or not. Its like thinking there can be an advancement in love ...! There can be new expressions of love, but progress in love? It can deepen and become more real and intimate, but to call that advancement of love - progress in personal development maybe - but not in the thing we term love. I'm uneasy with the idea of art marching off somewhere.

In your example Ed of the renaissance, you even state that the artists created advancement in science which then informed their art, so art follows - or more poetically, it dances with the changes, it doesn't lead the change. (but then if you tango you know how close lead/follow may become) Change may follow art because of the art bringing to us notice to the paradigm shift - making us aware of it, but the art in and of itself in my opinion isn't the change per se. New media- new interactions - new subjects- new possibilities and new insights, but art seems to still simply be expressing those changes - that remains static (expressing change) - as dance may embrace new forms, but it is still fundamentally the same- an expression of human potentiality by human movement.

I can't see our epochs art as being static, but that is because I don't see our epoch as static. Yet I can't see art as being a itself as a progression of ideals, for me it simply echos society's progressions and not its own.

Im rambling and quibbling and not historically aware enough to give great examples.

Art still has an incredible amount to say, some of that old, yet many more new and some urgent.

8/26/2010 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Saskia said...

During the Renaissance, artists were often creating the new science in service of the work they wanted to create. They were not waiting for someone else to invent it and then responding.

I think that is still happening with artists today. I do agree that art today and in the past has never been totally reflecting the world around it, but also helps to creating the world, change, movement, as well.
An example of this came to light last year, when the NY times came out with this opinion column advocating for more interdisciplinary studies & collaboration between different departments in college. My friend, who was in a PHD program combining computer science with hard (medical) sciences, thought this was a brilliant, fresh idea, but I thought it sounded just like what was the hot topic in art school a decade ago-- not that I don't think it's a good idea, but seriously, this is news???

I do think that it is false to think that knowledge from one arena (such as science)flows downhill into another (such as art), or visa versa, but exchanges do take place, often, and in large number. Art has its own mode of being, which is different from but connected to lots of other things.

Like I read in a notable blog quote of the day,
what would anything be, without everything else?

8/26/2010 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Note too that Renaissance domain knowledge was entirely macroscopic and the math didn't even include Cartesian coordinates, much less calculus. You need calculus to get through the door of harder computing problems, and linear algebra and discrete math are close on its heels. Then there are the engineering and logic problems particular to computing itself, which are considerable. Consequently the person who wants to make art using holographic projections or what have you might as well not go to art school. Expecting artists to do this kind of basic research is asking something extraordinary from them. The artists who adopted photography early on, Degas for instance, didn't have the chemistry knowledge to invent it. And yet the people who did are not remembered as artists. On top of all this, there's a quirky and nonlinear relationship between technological and artistic innovation. Can you name any great stereographers?

I think the pressing needs for art right now are to innovate the distribution mechanisms and the philosophical underpinnings. In October I'm going to be in a show whose curator is interested in what he calls "'lo-fi' art publishing - basically art-zines, published both in print and online... generous, democratic and, at least as a side effect, intent on getting out into the world." This will offer a take on the first problem. The second problem resists easy solution because it is entrenched in the academy, forcing innovators to wait for people to retire from tenured posts or die. Also, the whole tradition may be wrongly formulated.

8/26/2010 05:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

here is a thought experiment of some renaissance artistic innovations perceived as expressions of social paradigm shifts (this isn't scholarly, take it with 2 grains of salt)

One could on the other hand interpret the introduction of perspective into art as an expression of the social paradigm shift caused by the practice of science. Life was no longer a simple question of my relationship to God or to the King, but a paradigm shift towards this is my place in the world? The individual became the measure of the world. Giving it a new center.

It was a discovery of the world, dividing it up, classifying it into groups, measuring it all from one point of systematic logic. How does this relate to that, how do the pieces fit together? The visual space became one of order. From this point of view you could calculate and with geometrical precision, determine the relationship of objects to things to people. Ir was no longer simply of social relationships and obligations, but one of hierarchies
spatial dimensions. From here, with distance you could analyze things and ideas, the observer was to be objective and link his thoughts one to one in a hierarchy of thought, just as one was now able to visually link parts of the picture together and with systematic reasoning move through the visual planes and foreground and background. From applying reasoning to how one is supposed to see the world, blue haze in the distance ...., by observing ones own observing, you
could impart that experience to the viewer, Chiaroscuro because this is how we saw the world half hidden , half revealed, a place of discovery, of the known and the unknown, no longer simply a world of relationships and obligations
and experiences and hopes, but a realm of logic where you could move through it and understand it one element connected to another. analytical geometry and "Cogito ergo sum" view of the world can be seen in the masterworks of the epoch.

What Mr McLuhan describes as the aural world of relationships without distance, became one of separation and measurable time. The art of the epoch embraced this paradigm shift of inquiry and demonstrated in its form and subject and techniques its arrival.


more fun to look forward rather then backwards, but I do think all these diverging innovations mentioned in these posts need to be woven back into the strands of historical art to create a rope of continuation in the endeavor of art. I don't believe history needs to be an elastic band we need to break from, but series of strands of expressions that together become something stronger.

8/26/2010 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Now isn't the renaissance and maybe that's the whole point. Gam's take on the poetic is right on the money, for subjects we have universals like love but also the historic and contemporary variations. Great art is about the universals, it is about connecting 'life' the noisy substrate of our personal present with the universals allowing our poetic to bridge time.

The 'universals' are just that, aspects of the human condition which persist over time, love and sadness but also beauty and abstract thought. Every historical era has an evolving relationship with these universals and it is this evolutionary thread, winding its way through time which provides a history of our cultural evolution. In this respect, progress in art may be an expression of our evolution as a species.

8/26/2010 07:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you read "The Shape of Time" or "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" it will frame the basic questions you ask. Both of these small texts are terrific classics and not to be missed.

8/27/2010 07:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Anonymous...what are the take-aways from those texts?

George,

I also think better expressing the universals can be aided by advances. Masaccio's introduction of real, indidividualized human emotions (a revolutionary advance over the Medieval idealizations of human beings) opened up a path by which universal human conditions could be so much better expressed, for example. They're intertwined in my opinion.

8/27/2010 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger Big No said...

Art and Physics is another fun book on this subject. I read it a long time ago. But as I remember it, the author's hypothesis is that 1) artistic and scientific advances are tightly coupled, and 2) in many important cases over the centuries, artistic advances actually predate related scientific ones.

The implication is that paradigm shifts in human thought are reflected first in artistic endeavors (or driven by artistic endeavors, if that's how you see it), which in turn open conceptual space for scientific breakthroughs.

Actually, if you accept the premise, there is an interesting question: are artistic advances just reflecting some deeper movement of the zeitgeist more rapidly than scientific advances? Or are they actually the driving force behind those movements?

8/27/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Ed: I also think better expressing the universals can be aided by advances.

I brought up the idea of "universals" in order to evoke those subjects which seem to persist over the ages. If we want to critically judge how universals are expressed, then we need to both consider the results within a particular era as well as over the broader scope of historical culture. Historical (philosophical) conventions of representation and the available media technologies provide limits on the forms the expressions can take. This inherently infuses the artworks with a patina which is a reflection of their cultural era and the "expression" is localized to this particular era.

When we look at artworks in an historical context, hindsight allows us to make comparative distinctions based upon our prejudices from the present. While our opinions and tastes are certainly valid, there is also no reason why they could not change over time.

If we shorten the historical distance the problem becomes more acute since the difference in taste and critical philosophies are cycling right under our feet. (we can't see the forest for the trees)

8/27/2010 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I believe that 'artistic advances' are cyclical and are related to how information is assimilated and passed between generations. That said, I think we are in the midst of one of these generational paradigm shifts. At its roots is the transition into the information age and the principle tool of this is the internet.

The internet is changing how we make art.

8/27/2010 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Dalifan said...

On that topic, 'Is art a reflection of society and humanity's 'evolution'', a new theory has surfaced recently that our brains are essentially being 'rewired' by our exposure to Google and the Internet.

It would be interesting to figure out if this has had an effect on the art expression of our historical place and how this effect differed from previous times.

I read an article a couple of days ago on this 'rewiring' (a loose term that I'm not sure I can agree with as a techie!) and ordered the book yesterday ('The Shallows' by Nicholas Carr) so my personal jury is still out on this one...

To explore this question myself, I wrote a blogpost a few months ago on the topic of information overload and is it preventing the development of unique new art forms...

Since I'm a computer engineer and an artist that has had limited exposure to art in the last three decades, I feel I have a unique viewpoint on this topic.

If you want to read my thoughts, I've added the link below. Thanks, Teresa.


http://surrealisticreflections.blogspot.com/2010/03/can-too-much-information-prevent-unique.html

8/27/2010 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

George, in terms of the internet, I think we're already into a different paradigm shift - (a post internet one extrapolated from the internet) - one of persistent recognition by things. The internet is no longer something out there that you connect to, it is embedded into our urban environment, that you are increasingly unable to disconnect from. From RFID tags to paypass zones which sense your transaction, to biometric recognition, to voice recognition systems, and gate (walking) analysis to gesture recognition to web cookies customizing the sites look and feel for your historical preferences to fiber embedding object recognition so when you walk into a store the appropriate level of services may be offered to you being a frequent member, to quick pass recognition for business class clients ....

objects recognize you and have a persistent knowledge of your historical preferences ... the paradigm shift is of things recognizing our personal "preferences" and interacting with us based upon those data trend sets for you and you alone. Our attitudes towards privacy will shift, our expectations of responses and ease of transactions will lull us into assumed custom personal experiences. Art will tend towards balkanization and dialoque within a given class of "clients" - enter the museum and a custom tour will be offered to your known preferences from your prior museum tours, the possibility of accidental discovery and exploration will give way towards catering to your known wants. Artworks will move towards an intimacy which is based more on prior personal trends then to shared human universality (want a story book with your name in it? how about a doll that looks like you, that can speak your name, ....

we'll be less and less exposed to changes in perspectives (only chat to your friends on facebook or do you follow strangers?...) of being and have blinders placed upon our horizons.

That the internet has moved towards the dispersed cloud, and is enshrouding our urban environment with its sensors has shifted our ways of interacting with the world, changing our ways being and so of knowing the world, rewiring our brains... it is an old old concept, it remains applicable today as when Plato decried the rise of the technology of writing and the inherent loss of memory and so of epic poetry ,,, i think you're right that we are undergoing another paradigm shift, but I think the technology is already beyond the internet into yet a different paradigm shift. Art will follow.

so much to gain, so much to lose

8/27/2010 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Our brains are essentially being 'rewired' by being alive. There are a number of recent articles of the "TV rots your brain" ilk at the present (See NYT) It's all nonsensical pandering to techno-phobia.

One defining characteristic of the Information Age is that there will be 'information overload.' Part of this information has been accumulating for centuries stored as analog data in physical objects accessible to only a few. Today Ernst Haeckel's Radiolaria book from 1862 is available online (and as a modern reprint). The internet is functioning as a crude front-end for a database of human knowledge (and its misinformation)

The culture as a whole must contend with a surplus of information, it is a condition of the time and therefor a condition which artists also must contend with. If it freezes artists, then they have little to offer but this is a characteristic in all ages, if for different reasons. Moreover, the information itself, or its delivery systems may or may not be a subject for art. Consider Jennifer Dalton's recent piece "Making Sense" which is intertwined with both the information overload and its delivery systems.

Yet, direct reference to the information is probably not what is going to drive the art of the near future. Neither is technology, which can only provide incremental improvements to the existing mediums and at best deflect attention away from the universals and towards craft fetish. Rather what I think the internet is doing is making a new kind of aesthetic synthesis possible by allowing easy randomizing of historical information (art, artists, culture etc) so that it may be recombined in new ways. The old linear structures of the historical are being broken. While this was always possible (Picasso+African Masks) it wasn't always as easy as it is now. It's still up to the artist what to do.

8/27/2010 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Gam, what you are describing is an entropic path. (settling towards homogeneity of the ordinary) - Great art, which is all that concerns me, is anti-entropic, rare and therefore exceptional because it separates itself from the ordinary.

It is important to separate out the artists (poets, musicians and other creatives) from the masses. And, while I think the internet is changing everything, it and any of its spawned technologies are only tools or obstructions, towards dealing with information. It is the job of the artist to give the culture what it needs, not necessarily what it wants.

8/27/2010 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

bummer George,
my response is over 4096 words long

the joys if the internet!
I'll have to look up entropic. But if you mean that my interest is in the mudane, the quotidienne, the day to day experience of a life lived, of the here and now - then yes, I do profess to valuing the entropic. I think one may find the reason the Hudson River School was valued was because they turned to the American landscape - the here of what is around us- to express the "universals" found in landscape painting. The same for the Group of seven and other movements in other countries. It wasn't so much patriotism that gave rise to their acceptance, but their expression of the universal within the quotidien -ditto for Carravaggio and so many other masters.

but for the shift from the we to the me, from the generic to the specific as imposed on us by the technologies of the intrAnet (vs the internet), why art is now requiring an interaction by the viewer (vs the public) to become customized - projections on the Brooklyn bridge, sitters facing the artist as part of artwork ... well the numbers curtail that,

and i probably missed your point anyway

8/29/2010 07:26:00 AM  

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