Art submitted to different conceptions of the world, squeezed by historicist theories, is reluctant to answer expectations with regards to the possibility of a perfect communication between citizens equal through a community of taste, submerged under the weight of the announcement of its approaching end, crushed under politics, reduced to the description of the social, torn apart by the requirements of the freedom of the artist, molded in all sorts of historically and geographically classified forms, melded into a whole by the theories on the fusion of art and life, underwent, throughout the decades, interpretations, manipulations, appropriations, to the point that we have forgotten the very existence of art works. They have become buried under all kinds of images and objects, when its very existence is not denied as historically exceeded or reduced to a simple element of communication between people. And yet...
From the premise that art is impossible to define (Kierkegaard) and the identification of beauty with simple subjective taste, art loses its specificity and any judgment on the quality of the work becomes impossible. The beautiful is considered obsolete and judgment on the quality of the work is replaced by other considerations such as novelty, message, action... these attributes can be a part of the work, but can in no way give it specificity. Gradually, the work itself eventually disappears.
Works of art were based on harmoniously ordered internal structures, on time by relating to the past, on the present by adjusting to their eras, and extended into the future by being founded on what is immutable, beauty. Thus, works of art acquires the shape of life, which gives to it is specificity, and which each new look reactivates to infinity. In such works, artists and viewers meet, and it is through them that man participates in and is part of the world.
The period during which a work inscribes itself is abolished, with artistic products becoming ephemeral. Through subjectivity, the production is only centered on the action of the artist, with
the art object's interest lying only in the signifying intention of the artists' project. And yet, art is precisely that which has no intentionality.
The viewer is reduced to participating in the game, deciphering the discourse or going along to be distracted. The viewer remains outside of the work.
Thus, in contemporary products of art, we witness the disappearance of the work of art, as these products are not based on any foundations and do not distinguish themselves in any way from any other object. Modern iconoclasm has triumphed. Being an iconoclast is to be against the world. Being against the world is to be against reason. It is to be against man.
The Aesthetics of Ugliness
Contemporary art, by refusing any approach to art other than that of the artist’s "mental map", cuts itself off from what is fundamental to art – beauty – and enters into its discourse. And yet, an artist’s discourse and intention cannot overlook images, since art is shown through what is visible. Thus, by violating all of the rules which enter into the elaboration of a work of art, contemporary art inevitably ends up colliding with beauty.
By showing it aside as superfluous, since it considers it to be purely subjective, and perhaps even decreeing that art does not even need visibility (Ben) contemporary artists find themselves faced with ugliness. There is no intermediate solution. Other qualifiers might be used, such as ugly, deformed, deranged, kitsch, monstrous, abject, sickening, aberrant, violent, convulsive, incoherent… it nonetheless always remains ugliness. Indeed, all these variants of ugliness populate contemporary art since, in art, avoiding forms is difficult. The question that arises is: does this art, which believes itself able to refuse beauty, really manage to escape it? For is not the ugly simply the opposite of the beautiful? Where the beautiful proposes harmonious proportions, the ugly proposes disorder all the way until the monstrous; where the beautiful proposes balance, the ugly delights in disorder; where the beautiful invites to pleasure, the ugly provokes disgust.
In order to escape this contradiction and affirm one’s work as a work of art, and not just as an ersatz, contemporary artists are left with owning the autonomy of ugliness. Taking their work out of the so-called dictatorship of the beautiful. This step was first taken by Raymond Polin: "What is ugly offends not by what it does not have but by what it has. It is not the absence of beauty, but the presence of ugliness, not a lack but an overfilling." Thus, the ugly, by becoming a presence (presence of ugliness), can claim a certain autonomy. It claims a reality onto itself, more than simply as the negative side of the beautiful. However, the ugly can never achieve any true autonomy, it can never be "an end in itself" (Rosenkranz). It is the workings of the world that gives beauty its foundation, it is in these workings, based on a perpetual and ordered rebalancing, that beauty draws its structure. It is the organization of nature that assigns objective criteria to beauty. It is in the power of life where it replenishes itself and is renewed. The ugly is its opposite, the moment of disorder in which everything plunges into chaos and death.
Of course, ugliness has often been a part of works of art, but it is imperative to distinguish the ugly in the work and the ugly of the work. The ugly in the work is an ugly form in a harmonious whole, it is an ancillary form, a moment in the artistic quality of the work. The ugly of the work is plain ugliness. Too bad for Nietzche, who declares that it is through ugliness that art is profound .(Twilight of the Idols)
What authorized the idea of a certain autonomy of ugliness is the affirmation of the subjectivity of beauty. And yet, for a work of art to be distinguishable from any other object, it must rely on an objective foundation, and the only possible objectivity is that of the beautiful since "the beautiful has only one type, the ugly has thousands." (Victor Hugo, preface to Cromwell).
And now a new science, neuroscience, is diving into this vital question for man. Faced with a work of art, there is no neutral observation. Thanks to recent research through medical imagery, it has become possible to disentangle, when faced with the beautiful, on the one hand the emotional reactions linked to pleasure or displeasure, and on the other aesthetic appreciation.
During experiments in which people were placed in front of art objects, researchers discovered that two different circuits of the brain became activated : the evolved cortical circuit and insula, and the emotional circuit and amygdala. When experiments were conducted to gauge reactions to works of art created according to the golden mean by showing subjects antique and Renaissance sculptures, it was found that harmonious proportions are perceived by everyone as being such. Everybody sees harmony and balance in a work of art. The same circuits become activated – those of the evolved cortical circuit. The responses are very quick, almost immediate. Shortly after, deeper, older regions involving emotions become activated. Then, our experiences, our memories, our states of mind become activated, and a second answer follows: I like it, or I don’t. Although we can all appreciate the beauty of the Victory of Samothrace, some of us do not like it. (I knew a Victory, what a bad memory!) Thus, we must distinguish, on the one hand, the objectively beautiful linked to physically measurable harmonious forms and relations and, on the other hand, the "subjectively beautiful" (I like it – I don’t like it), which results from affective emotions. On the one side, it is the external world, the harmony of the world, and on the other side, our personal baggage. Most often, affective emotion overwhelms aesthetic emotion and we may not love quality works, while being seduced by works of no aesthetic interest. This is why the idea of subjective beauty has become so ingrained.
However, "the study of our brain’s responses to beauty and the resulting psychological modifications show that we mentally imitate such a statue, that we unconsciously appreciate the harmonious proportions of a composition, that music relieves us, that such a painting will be seen by our brain as a loved one." (Pierre Lemarquis, Portrait of the Brain as an Artist). For our physical and mental health, it would be ideal to trend towards the joining of beauty with "I like it." To reach this joining, it is necessary to regularly see different works, to learn, and to distance oneself from oneself. In this context, ugliness is reduced to what it is "a destructive contradiction which designates either the vulgar as opposed to the sublime, the amorphous as opposed to the beautiful, or the repugnant as opposed to the charming or the pleasant." (Rosenkranz).
Finally, modern art based on ugliness conveys neuroses, anxieties and various pathologies which, without being elaborated within an aesthetic setting, but presented in the first degree, exert a harmful influence on the viewer. Instead of linking it to the harmony of the world and the energy of the living, it proposes decomposition and death.
Dear ... (New Caledonia)
Thank you for your interest in Art Résilience. I think that your search and ours will coincide despite the difference in the two fields. In our case, Résilience is part of the very heart of the
issue of art. As you have seen in the text, we feel that art contains something permanent through all periods – something that defines it precisely as art. For us, unlike contemporary art, this
immutable aspect of art makes it so that it isn’t arbitrary. There is structure (beauty) that escapes the subjective desires of artists, yet which still allows them to project their own character
onto the substrate, thereby meeting the dual requirement of an artwork: the immutable and the temporary. To access the work, artists must partially take distance from themselves and open up to
In this respect, your proposal of art as a tool of resilience may ring true. I think that in order for a child to find the resources within himself to allow him to overcome trauma, he must open up to the world and above not, not close down. This is where art can be useful, as long as teach it to him not only as an expression of his impulses, but by guiding him toward the deep structure of the work: the one joining the world.
I’m available to answer any further question or to provide further détails.
Text selected by Irena Grant-Koch
At a time when there is increasing desire to bridge the worlds of art and science, general relativity reminds us there is artistry in science.
The art and beauty of general relativity
26 novembre 2015, 02:10 CET
General relativity isn’t only a powerfully descriptive theory, but there’s a beauty in its elegance.
Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in Science Communication, University of Melbourne
One hundred years ago this month, an obscure German physicist named Albert Einstein presented to the Prussian Academy of Science his General Theory of Relativity. Nothing prior had prepared scientists for such a radical re-envisioning of the foundations of reality.
Encoded in a set of neat compact equations was the idea that our universe is constructed from a sort of magical mesh, now known as "spacetime". According to the theory, the structure of this mesh would be revealed in the bending of light around distant stars.
To everyone at the time, this seemed implausible, for physicists had long known that light travels in straight lines. Yet in 1919 observations of a solar eclipse revealed that on a cosmic scale light does bend, and overnight Einstein became a superstar.
Einstein is said to have reacted nonchalantly to the news that his theory had been verified. When asked how he’d have reacted if it hadn’t been, he replied: "I would have felt sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correct."
What made him so secure in this judgement was the extreme elegance of his equations: how could something so beautiful not be right?
The quantum theorist Paul Dirac would latter sum up this attitude to physics when he borrowed from poet John Keats, declaring that, vis-à-vis our mathematical descriptions of nature, "beauty is truth, and truth beauty".
Art of science
A quest for beauty has been a part of the tradition of physics throughout its history. And in this sense, general relativity is the culmination of a specific set of aesthetic concerns. Symmetry, harmony, a sense of unity and wholeness, these are some of the ideals general relativity formalises. Where quantum theory is a jumpy jazzy mash-up, general relativity is a stately waltz.
As we celebrate its centenary, we can applaud the theory not only as a visionary piece of science but also as an artistic triumph.
What do we mean by the word "art"?
Lots of answers have been proposed to this question and many more will be given. A provocative response comes from the poet-painter Merrily Harpur, who has noted that "the duty of artists everywhere is to enchant the conceptual landscape". Rather than identifying art with any material methods or practices, Harpur allies it with a sociological outcome. Artists, she says, contribute something bewitching to our mental experience.
It may not be the duty of scientists to enchant our conceptual landscape, yet that is one of the goals science can achieve; and no scientific idea has been more enrapturing than Einstein’s. Though he advised there’d never be more than 12 people who’d understand his theory, as with many conceptual artworks, you don’t have to understand all of relativity to be moved by it.
In essence the theory gives us a new understanding of gravity, one that is preternaturally strange. According to general relativity, planets and stars sit within, or withon, a kind of cosmic fabric – spacetime – which is often illustrated by an analogy to a trampoline.
Imagine a bowling ball sitting on a trampoline; it makes a depression on the surface. Relativity says this is what a planet or star does to the web of spacetime. Only you have to think of the surface as having four dimensions rather than two.
Now applying the concept of spacetime to the whole cosmos, and taking into account the gravitational affect of all the stars and galaxies within it, physicists can use Einstein’s equations to determine the structure of the universe itself. It gives us a blueprint of our cosmic architecture.
Einstein began his contemplations with what he called gedunken (or thought) experiments; "what if?" scenarios that opened out his thinking in wildly new directions. He praised the value of such intellective play in his famous comment that "imagination is more important than knowledge".
The quote continues with an adage many artists might endorse: "Knowledge is finite, imagination encircles the world."
But imagination alone wouldn’t have produced a set of equations whose accuracy has now been verified to many orders of magnitude, and which today keeps GPS satellites accurate. Thus Einstein also drew upon another wellspring of creative power: mathematics.
As it happened, mathematicians had been developing formidable techniques for describing non-Euclidean surfaces, and Einstein realised he could apply these tools to physical space. Using Riemannian geometry, he developed a description of the world in which spacetime becomes a dynamic membrane, bending, curving and flexing like a vast organism.
Where the Newtonian cosmos was a static featureless void, the Einsteinian universe is a landscape, constantly in flux, riven by titanic forces and populated by monsters. Among them: pulsars shooting out giant jets of x-rays and light-eating black holes, where inside the maw of an "event horizon", the fabric of spacetime is ripped apart.
One mark of an important artist is the degree to which he or she stimulates other creative thinkers. General relativity has been woven into the DNA of science fiction, giving us the warp drives of Star Trek, the wormhole in Carl Sagan’s Contact, and countless other narrative marvels. Novels, plays, and a Philip Glass symphony have riffed on its themes.
At a time when there is increasing desire to bridge the worlds of art and science, general relativity reminds us there is artistry in science.
Creative leaps here are driven both by playful speculation and by the ludic powers of logic. As the 19th century mathematician John Playfair remarked in response to the bizzarities of non-Euclidean geometry, "we become aware how much further reason may sometimes go than imagination may dare to follow".
In general relativity, reason and imagination combine to synthesise a whole that neither alone could achieve.
Posted by Irena Grant-Koch, 31/01/2016
This is the view that beauty is a big, transformational thing, the proper goal of art and maybe civilization itself. This humanistic worldview holds that beauty conquers the deadening aspects of routine; it educates the emotions and connects us to the eternal.
By arousing the senses, beauty arouses thought and spirit. A person who has appreciated physical grace may have a finer sense of how to move with graciousness through the tribulations of life. A person who has appreciated the Pietà has a greater capacity for empathy, a more refined sense of the different forms of sadness and a wider awareness of the repertoire of emotions.
The shift to post-humanism has left the world beauty-poor and meaning-deprived. It’s not so much that we need more artists and bigger audiences, though that would be nice. It’s that we accidentally abandoned a worldview that showed how art can be used to cultivate the fullest inner life. We left behind an ethos that reminded people of the links between the beautiful, the true and the good — the way pleasure and love can lead to nobility.
Edition du Petit Véhicule
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Livre publié en novembre 2020
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