Tag Archives: psychology

The arrow of time & art

Marshall McLuhan caused wide irritation with h...
Image via Wikipedia

Should we see art history as linear, with the phases, fads and movements embedded in the moment, or can we continue to learn from them, revisit them over time.  Indeed, can all of art exist simultaneously?

There is a bias toward linearity in art history, but it is tiring and probably unhelpful in the end as it suggests constant endings and beginnings, transitory moments of insight. From a structural perspective, it sees previous art as being a foundation for what follows (was that the point of post-modernism, with or without the hyphen?).  This view traps us within the arrow of time view of … time.  That what is past is past, and we move forward in some way, through the present.  Just when you thought you understood something, it morphs into something else, and then that has its day and we all move one.

What was exciting about cubism was its efforts to understand relativity theory, and the new understanding of the physical world that emerged at the same time.  Did Picasso and Einstein ever have coffee together?  But today, few artists have come to grips with the quantum nature of the world, and the possibility that time may not even exist.  That of course doesn’t mean that history doesn’t exist, but it does suggest that a temporal view of historical learning may not make much real sense.  From an art history perspective, it suggests that we might grow more artistically if art were seen simultaneously rather than in periods.  Yes, we have evolved new tools and ways of seeing, but that confuses the technologies of art with the insights that artists bring.  That styles change reflects sensibilities and the economics of art.  Some art requires electricity, some big walls.

McLuhan did say there was a difference between the medium and the message.  Perhaps we have become confused.

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Do artists think?


Drawing Machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When an artists ‘does art’, what are they thinking?  Are they merely in the moment or are they constructing some sort of story (narrative for the remaining post-modernists out there)?  I continue to have a problem with art that is mute, because it makes me wonder if the artist was also mute, perhaps without thought even.  The challenge for artists is convincing dispassionate viewers of their work that they have engaged cognitive faculties within the artistic process.


What would it be like for there to be art without mind behind it?  Easy.  Attach your computer printer to a computer running a programme that produces various images, pictures, etc. in an automated mode.  Digital art, without the evidence of intelligence behind it.  A bit like the room full of monkeys at typewriters (remember those?) inadvertently producing Shakespearean prose.


The problem art critics have is that they must assume that there was intelligent life in the studio when art was being produced.  The evidence that this is not always the case is the never ending efforts by critics and art historians to find the artistic merit in often quite mediocre works.  Indeed, to ascribe high artistic values to work of technical quality, perhaps (I’ll grant them that), but of quite mindless content.  Academics can slag off mediocre writing by calling it journalistic; other writers can be accused of writing pulp.  Bad visual art is, what?


So the evidence for me that some artists do not think is that in other fields of human endeavour we have ways of making sense of this, but in art, it seems anything goes.


Do you recall the film, The Moderns, where the actor John Lone as Bertram Stone says: “I don’t give a damn for your silly opinions on the value of art. There is no value except what I choose to put on it.  This is art because I paid hard cash for it.  Don’t you understand?  Your precious painters mean nothing to me.  I could have Natalie’s mutt shit on a canvas and if I pay five thousand dollars for it, you critics would call it a masterpiece.”  The joke, if you know the film, is on them.


Maybe Bruno Frey is right.


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All that is real, isn’t, really

Black Square, 1913, Oil on Canvas, State Russi...
Image via Wikipedia

I am still trying to make sense of Malevich.  His book, commented on in an earlier posting, published in English in 1959, but dating much earlier, still feels fresh and insightful and I continue to be taken by his approach to ‘treating’ realist painters, by prescribing the medicine of Cubism.  Some artist friends say that they can’t see anything but a tree when they see a tree, while I not only know that it isn’t really real (thinking as a physicist), but that it is really colourless, to the extent that the light bouncing off it does depend on specific types of sensors to ‘see’ the colours themselves.  One only needs to put a deep red filter over a digital camera lens to learn that hampered in this way, digital camera sensors pick up the infrared end of the spectrum.  Lie on the ground, and look up at the tree through a camera so equiped, and voila, gone is the green and gone is the “tree”.

I was thinking of the notion of the “abstract imagination”, when perhaps I should be thinking of the “realist imagination” to the extent that what we see is a fabrication, while what we imagine is directly constructed by our mind.

To that extent, then, abstract works really must be completed by the viewer, in a dynamic relationship between two worlds, the artist and the viewer, as their minds overlap through the work.  The problem for many abstract works is that the viewer is unable to complete the work, it remains senseless either on the canvas or sitting on the floor, requiring interpretation by a third party (suitably qualified of course at such matters and usually suitably incomprehensible terminology).

Such works are silent, but not brooding, merely vacuous.  A bit like reality.

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Linking my own artistic vision to my professional work presents challenges, partly in working with the abstract concepts of policy work, which pays the bills, but finding client receptivity to the representation of concepts visually.

On a work visit to Toronto, I encountered a firm, Infonauts, which specialise in visual representation of data, on maps.  I like this idea, as it brings together our own notions of time and space with powerful visual images that we can take in quickly.

In art, there is a tension between pure representation and abstraction.  With maps, though, we are reminded that the terrain in not the map.  Abstract visualisation helps us explore the maps of reality more thoroughly than just painting pretty pictures of vases.

Dining on light

Summers are a wonderful time, with great hot light in the middle of the day and lovely reddish tones toward the end.  Mornings are a joy as the sun creeps over the horizon, signaled by the spreading light, then the first flash of yellow.

I often draw on the daily fluctuation of colour in my paintings, and being up early every day, I get to enjoy each new beginning.  Even after the sun has gone, there are still traces of the sun in the high sky, purples, magentas which can be detected with suitable long time exposures using a camera, when the eye only sees the dark.