Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Progress in Art


Progress in Art – Suzi Gablik

In order to clarify my thoughts on reading this book I am paraphrasing the contents and adding my own thoughts (in red)

There are three basic stages in Development:

Elective ( medieval including Greek, Egyptian and Oriental) Static images
Iconic (Renaissance) Perspective
Symbolic – Post Cubist Modern art

During the Renaissance in order to improve form through perception, perspective was developed. In this way truth and reality change with cognitive understanding; it being a revolutionary process.  Michael Foucault thought that ‘Episteme’ represented the so called spirit of the age – the order of things.  However why or how Epistemes change from one stylistic movement to the next is not explained.  He asserts that they follow on, but not from the previous Episteme.

Gablik believes stylistic changes are not a jumble, but part of a pattern of development reflecting cognitive systems and historical development of conceptual frameworks (paradigms)

When artists see plurality of perspectives it is both pre-operational (enactive) and formel-operational (symbolic).  In the medieval period artists did not understand the single viewpoint so their groupings of people may have had multi-perspectives.  The same is true of the cubists.

Cubism destroyed Euclidian space by introducing different viewpoints.  Cezanne turned perspective inside out (literally) so that the pyramid comes forward, therefore no distance or space is implied. Whole picture is of equal value.  This leads to Pollock’s field painting.  Volume over void is dispensed with. This advance occurred at the same time as the development of the Hydrogen atom, and although it was unknown to the proponents of Cubism it involved the same qualities of time and space.  So was this just a coincidence or is there a pattern emerging?  Jung thinks coincidence is meaningful involving processes in the unconscious (collective) and there is a mathematical formula for the coincidence phenomena. Suzi Gablik thinks it concerns the unfolding of “laws of development” within the cognitive processes. The Cern LHC experiments do not appear to have impacted on the global consciousness and likewise this “development” is showing signs of not being achieved, the Higgs Boson can now only appear in a relatively small segment of the graphic data, around 120 – 140.

Cubism released art from descriptive line and colour as well as from perspective so in terms of Foucault’s Episteme which parallels the paradigm, the twentieth century begins a new framework.  New styles according to him resemble but do not derive from each other.  Through this new apprehension of things, new visions of time, space, logic and chance are possible. 

De Stijl in Holland (Mondrian Van Doesburge) move to Neoplasticism.  Pollock moves to field painting eliminating line as the border of a plane.  Malevich in Russia paints the Black Square in 1914 and explores Suprematism where white ground equals infinite space.  Rodchenko and Lissitzky also develop ideas along this line.  Kandinsky in 1910(sic) paints his first non-objective picture, though real elements still appear.  Kupka paints The First Step in 1909 and in my view is the first artist to explore abstraction contrary to popular belief in Kandinsky. Nonetheless the principles of balance, harmony order and regularity still apply.

Gablik questions how ancient decorative rings appearing on pottery in the Elective period vary from Jasper John’s “Target”.  Many other apparently abstract motifs appear in Roman, Christian and Oriental art, so how is this progress? Answer: in modern art it is a thing on its own, not a decoration.  The intention is entirely abstract without purpose and distinct from craft. (but isn’t all art without purpose, it is only the object the decoration appears upon that has purpose, what distinguishes it from craft?)

Abstraction: the development of cognitive processes and conceptual modes dominate and transcend perception, moving from reality to possibility.  (Kandinsky and Malevich did not always paint in abstract ways, does that mean they progress sometimes but not at others, or move from one paradigm to another)  Malevich explores distortion with warped rectangles, then there is Dibbet’s Perspective correction and Mangold’s incomplete circle as well as Barry La Va’s points.  Theory and logic are now artistic motivators.  Arp’s free forms.

Spills, heaps or piles differ from organized lines and columns, representing relationships in a state of flux.

In science too there is a shift from surface appearances to underlying structure and pattern (CERN HC – pattern inferring predictability, but not yet achieved) Morris and Serra explore the effect of gravity on matter i.e. leaning, hanging and balancing.  Vorticists – latent or potential energy.  Futurists – movement, speed.

Art contains, like language, inner principle of proliferation.  Art’s conceptual possibilities are like evolution with ever increasing diversity and complexity with mutations and blind alleys, an infinite process, but I would argue that representational art is equally infinite.  I cannot see the need to accept abstraction at the expense of realism, surely they co-exist when both still have infinite potential.  If the two are not mutually exclusive it does not mean art history does not progress, one can influence the other.  I also think “progress” in art is a misleading term. Dynamic would be better, as Gablik concedes aesthetic improvement is not implied, indeed some may be regarded as regressive.  Photo-realism suggests representation is still alive.  New media – wax, oil pastels, cake pastels, interactive acrylics; different supports: computer graphics, 3D, holograms, virtual reality.  All these technical developments offer new techniques for the development of art, is this what causes progress? For example the development of tube oil paints and the feruled brush made en plein air painting possible for the Imressionists.

Internal v External Histories of Art

Social conditions which are external cause change – Gombrich.  Inner logic – Wolfflin and Riegl, according to inner laws of development (again this polarized thought promotes one at the expense of the other, why not both, one stimulated by the other?)

Wolfflin – inward necessity unfolding a psychological process.  Perception develops independent of external influences.

Gombrich – Symbols developed from a common stock will have a certain family likeness. (If by this he is referring to ubiquitous motifs then these could be both interal (collective subconscious according to Jung), and external observed in nature.  But how or whether they can be invoked at specific periods in history is another matter)

Wolfflin and Riegl suggest an irresistible engine driving history with recurring cycles, linear, painterly, planar, recessive.  Gablik: assumed intervals of mental growth, producing historical/cultural change.  A state of knowledge makes history move.  These limit the range of possibilities at a specific stage in history, influencing and intervening in artist’s achievements.

I have a slight problem with this as I think that ideas and styles are disseminated throughout the artworld either because of direct contact with other artists or through exhibitions.  These states of knowledge or not a global phenomena.  These so called paradigms didn’t exist at one specific time even in the Western world.  Why don’t these trends apply in other intellectually adept places at the same time, i.e. Far East, South America, because ideas are communicated and geography is a factor, which surely affects progress.

Piaget had present day understanding of development theory, Wolfflin did not. The transition to higher organization results in cumulative (not cyclical) changes that are irreversible therefore change has a continuous direction – progression through re-organization, culminating in the qualitatively new. What of Photo-realism, and Pop Art both of which use representational art and indeed collage initially used by Cubists, decades before.

Wolfllin unsure if internal or external influences caused change.  Reigl: Change in style was a re-orientation of artistic intentions.  Such change in form comes from the forms themselves, a ‘will to form’ seeking to realize itself. Reigl sees all styles as having equal value.  He believed in a divine plan towards a transcendental end. It was a spontaneous process towards realisation of next stage.  Gombrich sought empirical elucidation rather than general trends. Reigl’s idea of a ‘will to form’ was unscientific.  The emergence of new concepts, for Gombrich were not the result of supernatural agencies.

Popper asserts an evolutionary process not something “inside” it. Organic growth, according to Popper results from free behaviour not determined by laws of history.  If pre-determined historical forces at work, no power could alter them in the light of experience.  Gombrich wants only to look at how things happen, not why.  Change is connected to attitude, interests and conditions in the environment; also social factors, as does Arnold Hauser, therefore change is dependent on external factors.

Gablik: Wolfflins ‘the apparatus of apprehension fulfilling itself’ and Reigl’s ‘will to form’ become explicable with the ‘cognitive’ approach to development.  Only pre-determined by thought forms but not goal-oriented.  It leads to more complex functions not necessarily improved ones. (This seems to leave the door open to those who see abstraction and modern art in a negative, regressive way). Outward expressions of internal cognitive changes respond to external pressures and demands.  (So history is both internally and externally stimulated as I thought) Some environments stimulate perceptual and representational strategies. Gablik concedes internal and external influences can co-exist and are interdependent. (Hooray)

Perspective follows sequential character she says but later developments are not necessarily so.  Increasing integration through stages of development.  Karl Popper science can only be proven false.  Art cannot be falsified.  Scientific knowledge proceeds by “conjecture and refutation”.  Gombrich’s “schema and correction” or “making and matching”

This works for representational perspective which had scientific testable outcomes.  Is the finished article like the real thing?  Abstract art is not subject to test in the same way.

Abstraction offers no standards because there is no measurable criteria, no visual truth.  So is it a loose end?

Initially artists used ‘memory-pictures’ to produce objects, just as a child produces a picture based on his level of comprehension, regardless of the fact that the model is in front of him.  Such a way of thinking about art doesn’t work with non representational art. I believe it does, the concept is conceived in the mind it is insubstantial but there all the same and is part of the cognitive process which I feel needs further explanation before one can make explicit deductions. Duchamp naming the urinal as a work of art eliminated any “work” in the art. So that art becomes something else. (wasn’t this just a regressive blind alley?)

The art object is a by-product of the artwork.  This is the only explanation that holds, it is a philosophical enquiry rather than a creative piece of art. (I am not sure I agree, as even with Abstract art this is determined by the artist and therefore involves the creative process) The idea of something “fitting the facts” no longer exists, no criteria for measurement, no rules for progress.  Thomas Kuhn suggests an open-ended paradigm.  Searching for the unknown.

Definition of paradigm: “A paradigm is a unifying ground of pre-suppositions that influences and makes possible certain ideas and practices and provides model problems and solutions”

Kuhn asserts it is a new way of seeing.  Similar to Foucault’s episteme.  Kuhn suggests such frameworks (paradigms) fit systems together rather than discovering the truth.  Gombrich says truth is pursued by successive approximations.  Kuhn’s idea may not lead to truth and this appals Popperians, as Kuhn thinks any match between a theory (theory provides a “technique” which may not match reality but can approximate it or present a possible facet of it which is true) and ‘reality’ (I think it was Bertrand Russell who said if I stub my toe against a table leg it seems real enough to me, although theory would have it consist of molecules)  may be illusory, that science may not evolve towards anything.  Popperians say this would lead to scientific breakdown.  Without a goal-oriented process what does developmental progress mean?  When one paradigm simply replaces another, how can that be deemed progress?  Do things change by discussing alternatives, as Popper does, or do processes defy rational analysis as Kuhn suggests?  Is truth ‘out there’ complete and invariable or is it transitory, relative only to certain periods? (even Einstein’s theory is having to be amended and that was not considered in doubt, until recently)

Piaget sees laws of universe relating to our interaction with it.  Knowledge not truth or reality but interaction between knower and known, depending on culture, linguistics and biology. In the child’s fit with reality he uses his system of reference, by heeding the child’s explanation it is possible to determine subjectivity and the influence of the object, “objects as we now conceive them to be”, according to the scientific norm (?) and this may be just a stage among other stages, the true nature of external reality is left open. (it is unknowable)

The individual’s perception is like a road-map changing through time just as the collective history changes through time.  So progress is not made through the accumulation of knowledge, but made by leaps into new systems.  Abstract or modern Art not descriptive but offers a different possibility. Issues are resolved within a framework then a new paradigm is explored and resolved and in this way progress is made. Why did this radical overthrow of perspective/representation occur and a move made towards innovation?

Cognitive growth doesn’t imply epistemological growth according to Marx Wartofsky.  So later stages do not necessarily imply greater truth. (Higgs boson)

Outcome of abstraction unforeseen ( infinite and not goal-oriented) unlike representational art. Presumably a new paradigm shift will enable change, but I would like to argue that subsequent paradigms render previous ones dormant not irreversible as Piaget does,  so that elements from them can be resurrected and used in new ways.  I can’t see that this would affect progress.

Therefore Gombrich ‘schema and correction’ bring change, until by such ‘making and matching’ the form is realized.  Both Popper and Gombrich see historical change as evolutionary, a process of natural selection where the best “fit” wins.

Kuhn suggests novelty comes about through a paradigm shift, but asks where do they come from, how does science decide which paradigm to choose?  He believes there is no right or wrong, it is part accident, personal and historic, but this undermines progress.  To overcome this there must be something underlying change or history is neither integrated nor continuous, but advances through ‘jumps’.  This would undermine the developmental process where concepts are reconstructed with new insights evolving from previous gains, thus forming integrated structures.  Kuhn does not unravel sudden insight versus slow development so the problem of emergence of new forms in unresolved.

Popper suggests no evolution nor succession only change.  The idea of a law determining evolutionary change is misguided.  Piaget suggests cognitive growth influenced by both biological (?) and environmental input as individuals interact with their environment.

Gombrich and Popper see variation and selection as diversity and complexity of forms, whereas it serves only to eliminate forms. Gombrich doesn’t identify development and therefore progress in his ‘schema and correction’, thereby reducing earning to a succession of changes.

For Piaget a ‘schema’ is a way of seeing, for Gombrich it is a technique for expressing what is already seen.  It cannot account for responses nor new levels of competence of learning.  It is trial and error (groping).

Jean Piaget states: either groping is directed by relating to external situation, so that groping isn’t pure or there’s pure groping taking place by chance with selection, after the event, of favourable steps.  Empiricists take the view that external reality is already there so only new for the discoverer.

Cognitive structures need to mediate between artists activities and external data.  There need to be sequential laws of cognitive development if history is to be effective.

Piaget has shown that sudden re-organizations are the result of successive long-range cognitive activity which is a continuous process, though there may be spurts and plateaux.  Gombrich assumes that the real world is the manifestation of many perceptions and viewpoints merged into a single objective whole, i.e. perspective, though concedes what we see is coloured by our own concepts. There is not one thing that we always see, therefore if there is no consistency to what we see, there is no consistency to what is depicted.  Gombrich doesn’t associate changes in ways of seeing with changes in cognitive development but an interaction between knowing subject and known object. He wants to assume there is an independent world which our senses take in.

Piaget argues that knowledge is neither subject nor object, but a subject/object relation constructed by the subject.  The mind never copies reality but organises it according to individual structures.  Stimulus doesn’t impose meaning, but is ‘read’ by assimilating into known patterns.  Gombrich conceded subjective element can’t be eliminated.  Art interprets and doesn’t record. He presumes an existence for object independent of act of knowing thus a disjunction between inner and outer experiences between the mind and the world, thereby assuming an independent world from the one we perceive.

Piaget maintains our awareness of the world can only function as perception of it, reality being unknowable.  Gombrich is somewhere in between asserting undeniable subjectivity of vision doesn’t preclude objective standards of representational accuracy. So he still insists on separation of mind and reality. 

Piaget’s research suggests knowledge doesn’t arise through senses therefore what we perceive cannot be a product of pressure exerted then and there by physical environment, but is built up by intelligence – a collaboration of mind and world, an assimilation. So reality is incorporated into subjects mental structures implying a transformation both of subject and object.  Experience alone insufficient for creating knowledge of reality if mental structures unavailable to incorporate results of experience.  What we see depends on what we learn. Conception is a step by step accrual of change going slightly beyond previous knowledge.   Piaget says object only exists relative to subject, the object is the result of a construction.

Gombrich sees the artist as being reactive rather than active, he doesn’t see the subject as capable of constructing it into an object of knowledge  (I think the artist merely interprets the object using whichever technique he feels will best express it, which will only ever be subjective)

J L Austin – ‘see’ and ‘reality’ are hard to define. In Gombrich what is ‘given’ is interaction between subject of object, so to understand reality one would have to study reciprocal modifications of subject and object. Gablik suggests we don’t see the same thing then interpret it differently, we see something different. (I tend to disagree, we interpret things differently according to cognitive ideas) She seems to contradict this by saying what is seen can’t be distinguished from subject’s interpretation.  Kant says to change one’s concepts is to change what one experiences and so one’s world.  (this assumes permanent change of concept, whereas I believe there are choices of concept which means that reality is rendered differently according to the conception.) To maintain a stable reality means keeping the given/interpretation distinction, so the subject is both passive receiver and active interpreter.  If this distinction is dispensed with our concepts cannot shape neutral material, as there is nothing to serve as the material. What we see is mediated by cognitive process that determines what we see.  Any shift in cognitive network causes us to see the world differently.

Conceptualizations are not only imbedded in, they transform perceptual reality.  What we consider reality appears because of our point of view.

Therefore an artistic style must describe how style is a call for and consequence of our way of seeing. (is it a call for an innovation or indeed a coincidence? A ‘call for’ suggests a prior necessity a control mechanism from where and decided when?)

Piaget’s research suggests the way the mind represents reality and organizes experiences pass through various phases individually and collectively directed by cognitive processes.

Paul Feyerabend agrees.  Nothing is fixed in nature, though change may occur over long time spans. (There has to be some kind of consensus about reality or the world is
 chaos)  Gablik supports Piaget’s view in that she believes changes are not random but given direction by organizing mechanisms which determine reality by problem solving or concept learning.  Cognitive processes intervene in formation of styles providing knowledge and limiting scope  An evolution of through processes providing indefinite array of possibilities.

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