Krista Azzara recently wrote the following on The "Art Free for All" discussion started by Fry Karins on LinkedIn: "Reality is everything there is. We don't understand how everything works. But lack of knowledge is not evidence of things supernatural. Period."
I responded the following:
I would suggest that for the sake of intellectual coherence the sentence "lack of knowledge is not evidence of things supernatural" has to be complemented with "lack of knowledge is not evidence that things supernatural don't exist".
What I want to propose here is that the whole of reality is inaccessible to humanity which is the reason why humanity recourses to "foundational stories" (worldviews) in order to keep some cohesion among its particles. In other words humanity is condemned to accept the fact that the truth about everything there is, or the whole of reality, is inaccessible. As Einstein jokingly noted the fish have no way to know what is outside the ocean and this he said was the reason why he felt so much attracted to mysticism or the "awe before the unknown".
Joining this fundamental character of reality with the observation that biological evolution is paralleled by societal evolution political scientists, philosophers, anthropologists and other scientists are recently at last starting to come to the realization that societies absolutely need something to glue their individual particles in order to ensure their own reproduction. In other words without such a glue (worldviews) societies collapse and when societies collapse individuals die because their survival and thriving is entirely dependent on what their "societal order" has to offer them.
This idea that worldviews are paramount to the survival and reproduction of societies begs us to try to understand how they strategize their survival and reproduction. Yes since the down of time human societies have devised strategies to ensure their survival and reproduction. The subject, as a whole, is unfortunately too vast to enter in a discussion about it here. I'll thus limit this comment to the observation that, what we started to call art with Modernity, were in fact no more than a bunch of societal practices at fostering societal cohesion.
Till today words and concepts are the instruments of those who shape and share the knowledge. The vast majority of the population, in whatever society, don't have the capacity to comprehend most of those words and concepts and even less the ideas expressed through them. We can regret this but it is nevertheless a fact that societies have to take into account in their drive to survive and reproduce. This is the reason why the worldviews, or foundational stories, in the minds of the men of knowledge could only be transmitted in the form of visual signs and the creation of those signs was the domain of craftsmen.
Visual arts were thus devised to share a common understanding of reality and other arts were devised for other practical purposes.
This mechanism is observed to be at work everywhere on earth and along the entirety of our human history till... yes this mechanism was interrupted around 1900 by the avant-garde. The questioning by "Modernism" of all past certainties and the affirmation of its search for deeper levels of meaning, unfortunately, did not succeed and the art world plunged into the utter confusion of "whatever is art" that soon became the fodder for financial speculators.
So now what?
1. The general environment we find ourselves in:
- the mission assigned to itself by the Avant-Garde was like a suicide. How could "artists" who had not received the necessary education to think about reality, I mean with some validity, conceive of a newer and deeper vision about it? It was an impossibility and it remains so till this very day. The question, I think, was the right one , for, modernity indeed unleashed not only real material progress but also the degrading of the human condition into the single preoccupation with material possessions...
- as the result of this single preoccupation with material possessions we observe the atomization of our societies that inevitably concluded in the melting away of any remaining societal cohesion. How to call otherwise the looting of the common good and the multi-generational savings of the middle class by the banksters and other cronies who bought the political decision making process? And they now want to compensate the disappearance of the necessary societal cohesion by the use of mass manipulation and brute force. Totalitarianism is the last name of the new political and social game in the West.
- ever heard about chemical poisoning, peak resources, climate change and so on? Late-Modernity seems to be plagued with unmistakable side-effects that, threatening the survival of individuals and societies, foreshadow the demise of modernity as the worldview of a historical period that spanned a short few centuries.
2. The human perception:
- we appear overwhelmed by the emergence in our consciousness of a new societal environment. We sense something big is going on but we fail to grasp what will be the outcome. On one extreme are those who put all their scientific faith in the coming of the singularity. To me this looks suspiciously like the Christian belief in paradise. On the other side are those who believe that economies and societies are waiting to collapse which could eventually bring about the demise of our species. But this kind of thinking let's no space for "system adjustment" or re-balancing which are the common response of complex systems that are overloaded or imbalanced.
- complex systems as nature or human societies sometimes test their limits but at a certain stage they always react through adaptation and rejection. One thing that is certain is that modernity has been too successful for its own good and that the ensuing population levels are going to decrease to levels that are sustainable with the carrying capacity of the earth. Put like this a decreasing population can appear as a benign re-balancing but the most probable path this re-balancing is going to take is through violent disruptions when we reach as yet unknown threshold levels in one or another system or sub-system carrying human life. In other words a lot of suffering lays along humanity's path forward and the least we can say is that societies do not seem to be able to respond by anticipating the coming chocs and preparing for their absorption.
- There is no way to possibly forecast with certainty at what point of the polar line between singularity and collapse humanity will find its footing. But a landing at one of the extremes of the line has a very low probability to occur. Most probably we'll muddle through as a diminished species that will struggle to find its footing before restarting a whole cycle of progression under life's urge for more complexity.
3. The old dies while the new emerges:
The success of Modernity has overwhelmed our species. We developed a mass of disparate "knowings" that we then tried to connect and that scientific exercise worked so well that our numbers multiplied from a few hundred millions to nearly 10 billions within the span of a real short 2 centuries. But by all accounts we didn't have the wisdom as a species to project for the consequences of our actions. The question that arises here is at what level is the human wisdom operating. Is it at the individual level or is it at the societal level? If it is at the individual level than George Mobus might be right that humans did not evolve their brains far enough for wisdom to operate. But I feel it is more probable that this question of human wisdom does not operate at the individual level but at the societal level. This is the thesis that I defend in "From Modernity to After-Modernity" a book that I'm in the process of writing. In substance I posit that humanity and its road are being modulated by the dance between its "polarities". What I mean is that the interactions between individuals and their grouping (society) are fraught with tensions acting like bursts of energy that power the movement of their societies forwards or backwards. The wisdom of humanity, in other words, resides in ensuring a balance between its societal polarities so that a smooth survival and reproduction of human societies ensues. We visibly are still in the infancy stage of the build-up of such a wisdom. But let's not forget that we are a very young species indeed.
Our mis-step all along of Modernity was to let one polarity take the central stage. Individualism and all the paraphernalia attached to it became central to our behaviour and in the end we lost ourselves in obesity and superficiality. This inevitably destroyed any balance left between humanity's polarities and in consequence societies atomized and lost the necessary cohesion between their particles that would have ensured their smooth reproduction.
I suppose that the new worldview that will accompany what comes "After-Modernity" shall integrate the lessons of the debacle of Late-Modernity. My own limited contribution towards that goal is the thinking and painting I began undertaking since the year 2000 as I exposed in A second life.
4. The questions raised by modernism are still there to be answered:
Modernism in the end has come down to the self. But is it a reason good enough to accept the poverty of the ultimate outcome?
- we should not forget that this did not bring answers to the questions of a deeper meaning about what reality is all about that the Avant-Garde was after. One can evidently assert that those answers are not the point any longer but I contest this. When our societies are breaking apart and more and more people are searching for meaning in their lifes by joining past worldviews and new sects of all genres we evidently see that answers to those questions the Avant-Garde was after remain of fundamental interest to humanity to this very day.
- the self somehow imposed itself because there was nothing tangibly valid emerging out of the search of the Avant-Garde. Remained this "whatever" the guy who calls himself an artist says is art. Duchamp was so disgusted with the stupidity of the art world's answer to his "ready-made" provocations that he found nothing better than to flee the art-scene for as he was saying in the fifties he was tired to associate with individuals his intellectual friends characterized as "dumb as a painter".
- now in all fairness to the avant-garde and later painters or other visual artists we have to recognize that artists are not being equipped through their education to answer such a complex question as the avant-garde had made its task to answer. Let's remember that painters were no more than image makers, or crafters, till Modernity emerged and took over the mantle of Western societal worldview from the Christian church.
In summary the self of artists is not magically supplying visual signs of an understanding of reality that could put the minds of the citizens of Late-Modernity at ease. It's the contrary that happens. So societal cohesion crumbles into atomization and everyone feels abandoned... The need for visual signs about a worldview that could be shared with others are nevertheless being felt the world over with an intensity perhaps never observed in any other historical periods. The tragedy is that we have visual artists who are ready to work but they don't know what the message they should illustrate is all about so, as a last resort, they try "whatever" comes to them.
To be fair I have to say that it's not the responsibility of "artists" to come up with this kind of knowledge. But this is an all other question.