Archive for August, 2010

The Conceptual And The Incomplete

August 29, 2010

            Francois Jullien is a critical thinker who offers a unique collaboration of contemporary western philosophy, classical Chinese philosophy, and art. This blog articulated one of his works in a posting entitled The Contemporary Nude, November 8, 2009. There we considered his correlation between the existence of the nude in western art and the philosophical emphasis on “being”, a word he points out doesn’t exist in classical China. With “The Great Image Has No Form, Or On The Nonobject Through Painting” (2009 University of Chicago Press) he expands on this distinction between the philosophy of these cultures and their art. The classical Greek culture’s emphasis on being, and that if it can be, then it can be shown (materially or abstractly, with the emphasis on “be”), and therefore exists, results in a total devaluation of the non existent; nothing can be said about what does not exist (or everything can be said about it). The classical Chinese culture’s emphasis on the Tao and the Book of Change, where “there is” and “there is not” beget transitions and process, placed great value on what is not (though no value in “proving” existence). According to Jullien, the Greek outlook evolved into the emphasis on definition, clarity and completeness in western art. The Chinese outlook produced work that valued suggestion, haziness (where things go in and out of being), and the incomplete. To say that essentially western culture valued its qualities of visual art because they bespoke the thinking of the west would be quite adequate. Jullien points out that ‘to say that essentially Chinese art valued its qualities…’ would be totally out of bounds, not even within the ball game. He proposes this on account of the complete disinterest in what is ”essential” within the classic philosophy that evolved from the Tao and the Book of Change. To speak of “essential” is to define, clarify, as completely as possible. This was not the thinking of the classical philosophy of China. As Jullien puts it: “More radical than the question of what one thinks is the question of what one thinks to think – or does not think to think, does not think to question.” (pg. 80).

            Western visual art certainly has always been about what one represents with clarity, definition and completeness. This is still the case with much art produced by “Sunday afternoon painters” (the flowers or landscapes are portrayed so completely- “essentially”, the portrait looks “just like” the person portrayed- with nothing left out, etc.). What is surprising is to realize that it is also the case with what is considered the more refined, educated and “culturally representative” art. Here, the 20th century’s experimentation and fulfillment (of the end of art) resulted in the “conceptual” emphasis of today’s art. Yet the artists who rely on this, operate from an underlying, unrecognized assumption that what they conceive (conceptualize) is complete, a complete thought. Clarity and definition then follow in the various manipulations of presentation (akin to the “Sunday afternoon painters”). This has been the case historically in western art. Were this not the case, were it the case that the artist knew, acknowledged, and recognized that their “conception” is always incomplete, there would be no justification for the originality, uniqueness, or authority of the work or its creator. Anything could become anything, and be critiqued as just that. No, the conceptual is tied to the western tradition of art. The conceptual is “what one thinks to think”. To think incompletely, is to be outside the conceptual. The incomplete cannot be conceptualized.

Faith Based

August 22, 2010

            The premises are now wireless. Oh really? I can access the net from anywhere with my laptop or mobile appliance? That’s so cool. We are all really connected now.

            When buildings becomes wireless (and we all become connected), what will happen to the informational kiosks, like you see at airline terminals? What will become of the interactive monitors and screens found at commercial establishments to replace an actual person (clerk)? What will happen to all the electronic billboards and signs, be they in a sports arena or on the side of a building on a city street corner? Will they be replaced by urls, addresses, and apps like what one currently sees on T shirts or sporting events banners (Luke 3, 10-14) or the graffiti found in public restrooms (“for a good time call …”)? Will Capitalist commerce (as we’ve known it) abandon its profligate ways, its lascivious (and spendthrift) advertising, and finally get religion?

Two Tear

August 15, 2010

            This week, Google/Verizon unveiled the future of the internet. It was a short text. The specifics are uninteresting. The dialogue generated is. The corporate projection is for what factually becomes a two tier network with the distinction being on services purchased, not technological capability. Put crassly, one could possess the latest technological  marvel and receive the crappiest service, as well as the most out of date appliance and totally primo service. This definitely would be an additional marketing device to what has been, to date, a strategy driven primarily by the “latest” technological advancement (does it portend the eventual demise of exponentially expanding technological change?). It does signal the entry of politics into what had previously been the sole realm of engineering technology. I guess we are to believe that it is going to be like airline travel- everyone’s flight will arrive at the desired location, only some will have a better trip. Of course, the buzz word justification for all this is that consumers will now have “choice” and “options”.

            The dialogue generated is particularly worthwhile to note and follow. The political aspect of a two tiered hierarchy is totally elided. It is no surprise that the internet would evolve to reflect the two tiered hierarchy of the culture that spawned it. In this blog’s February 7 post, Communication Devices: Part II, we specifically looked at the two tiered functioning of culture and economy. That post concluded with a reference to Alenka Zupancic’s adumbration of a new “racization” based on economic conditions and status. The dialogue generated by Google/Verizon’s proposal likewise carefully disassociates itself from the recent covert Blackberry controversies in the Mideast as well as the overt political net control overtures in China, Australia, Pakistan, etc. The unabated obfuscation that our net, our culture, our government could be “like” these “other” cultures continues without shame within this dialogue. The ultimate obfuscation is the continued perpetration of our sacred “constitutional” mythology of separation; the separation of church and state, the separation of business and politics. Businesses, like churches, are to operate unfettered by government. Unlike churches, when they fail there is an assumed imperative that the government intervene in this vital social investment. Yet, as in the case of the Google/Verizon proposal, when dominant corporations brazenly flex their political muscle, by exposing their (in)vested interest in the organization of the social, the dialogue continues to perpetrate the myth that it is, after all, solely about business, and not about the social, the social state.

Art On The Bridge

August 8, 2010

            This weekend Zanesville has its annual art show located on its famous Y bridge, literally. It is really quite amazing; art encamped on one entire leg of the bridge. The rhythmic peaks of the white tents follow the gentle arc of the bridge like the back of some giant caterpillar poised above the water. Upstream there is a “falls” created by a low head damn on the Muskingum, downstream the river is significantly wider from the Licking’s contribution. Literally a river runs through it. The tents “on” the water were filled with predominantly 2D works, ceramics, jewelry and a smattering of 3D pieces. Noticeably absent was the “expanded” art given as a reason to question the viability of teaching sculpture as a discrete course (Sculpture Xchange, post of July 30, 2010). There was no performance art, no mixed media, no installation work or electronic art.

            Most people thought that what was presented by the numerous artists there on the bridge was art. The show’s sponsors solicited entries through a call for art (and artists). I assume that means no immediate need for Wikipedia. Yet these “expanded” arts (which consume our region’s professors of sculpture) were not present. In light of the collaboration Sculpture Xchange’s concern for the viability of the future of teaching sculpture, this becomes a curious disjunct and raises some pertinent questions. Just what becomes of those who have “learned” (been taught) art, the “expanded” arts, in the large number of university art programs? Just where are these expanded art forms found in an available-to-the-general-public sense (as in festival or show)? In the vernacular of pre Post Modernism, are we to assume that these expanded arts -the reason for questioning the viability of sculpture as a stand alone endeavor in the first place- are to be considered “high” art (fine art), and what appears on the bridge is “low” art (not quite ready for fine art status)?

            OK, so we all know about the biggies like Burning Man, but what about where we live, day to day? Besides, a heck of a lot more people than the number that participated in Burning Man pass through university art mills and do their time in the “expanded” arts courses every year.  Summer art festivals abound in diverse communities throughout the U.S. and, well, the “expanded” arts rarely make an appearance.

            The afternoon included a wonderful visit, and some stimulating conversation with Thomas Nelson who was showing his paintings on the bridge. Thomas has paid his dues, teaching expanded arts (multi media and electronic art). When we discussed this, and why it is that he chooses to be represented by his paintings, he spoke of a need for something tangible in art, something enduring. True, electronic media endure, at least until the power goes out, the battery runs dead, or someone turns off the switch (or forgets to turn it on). And yes, what was on the bridge can be seen as just more stuff, clutter. Yet the tactile quality is part of its attraction, something not a part of the expanded arts. This appears to beg the question of just exactly what the future viability of expanded arts may be. Is it only a fashion trend that accompanies our culture’s insatiable desire for the latest technology, always outdated by the time it is implemented? Or does it suggest the demands of a presumed (but unspoken) viewer self censorship requisite for affiliation with the venues where most expanded arts are found (see Another Peek At The Contemporary Nude, post of April 19, 2010)?

Antony Gormley, The Austrian Alps, And The New Green Economy

August 1, 2010

            “Pack it in. Pack it out.” is the green motto unofficially posted at most mountain trail heads. Too much detritus left on the road to Everest; getting to be a real problem, let alone an eyesore. So the new green economy acts as “social” conscience to spur us on to think before we act, and to act with each other and the future of the planet in mind when we do.

            Old Lady Bird Johnson and her highway beautification project. Get rid of those pesky highway billboards and replace them with blue bonnets and other wild flowers. Wonder how she would feel about Antony Gormley’s latest in the Austrian Alps?

            Why not have some quaint WWI era biplane droning overhead pulling a banner promoting the number one pharmaceutical product that makes Tiger’s putter flutter to the alpinistas below? No, No, the continuous daily droning of the plane’s engine would be worse than the vuvuzela’s at the World Cup. Well then, how about Pepsico quietly, but stylishly, reminding those healthy hikers of the refreshing benefits their bottled water product provides at 100 designer kiosks scattered across the 2,000 meter altitude? Too despoiling of the “natural” wonder that draws folks to such heights, you say. OK, how about a hundred Gormley’s instead?

            So, what is it? More important to act as needs to be, or to call attention to how others need to act? Perhaps it is not as brilliant, but more committed to embrace the urgency of the new green economy by acting as though tomorrow were today (the only way it ever became today, historically) rather than calling attention to it in the Plastiki manner so that others “ought” to embrace it. Any arguments for why the Gormley brand is exceptional, and thus “belongs” in this open space treasured by so many, likewise can be utilized to justify inserting the Pepsico brand. Please, spare me the conceptual, “Fine Art” justification. You can’t embrace the (commercial) creative genius of a Warhol, Hirst, or Koons, and then conveniently elide the Gormley brand. When will the Imperialist disposition that the world is my canvas finally perish in western art?