CREATIVE THINKING: A MODERN ARTIST'S NOTEBOOK
These articles were all written between 1968 and 2010 on scraps of paper and in notebooks. Most represent an outline of the idea that our need for art arises from a desire to suppress a primal sense of perception we still inherit from our animal origins. I outlined this theory in a book entitled The Animal Within and described how we began making traditional art objects to transform our old intuitive way of sensing the world. Modern art was then shown as an attempt to rediscover this lost perception.
This idea is only just beginning to filter down into academia. (The Art Instinct,by Dennis Dutton is one example.) Art writers seem very reluctant to try to explain their sacred subject by evolutionary principles. Art, like religion, is still thought to be far superior to that vulgar concept that we emerged from animal beginnings. Art is imagined as being allied to the highest workings of the human intellect. Only human beings create art and therefore art must be a sign that we have been endowed with unique abilities of the noblest kind. Evolution requires less egocentric thinking.
From the biological point of view, we alone create art because we have evolved a state of mind that cuts us off from our old animal sensations. These old animal sensations are generated by powers of instinct and any attempt by intelligence to grasp this experience will drive an artist to try to intensify how we comprehend sight, shape, sound and movement.
At the turn of the twentieth century, artists began to grasp this concept and started looking towards making art objects in new intuitive ways, but these artists never fully embraced the ideas needed to clarify their quest. Signs are beginning to appear that evolutionary psychology will supply the authenticity for a theory of art that reveals we have always created art objects to suppress a way of looking that was once solely generated in our mind by instinct. This theory is pointing us towards seeing the art experience as an inner sensation of objects and events generated in our mind before intelligence controls our powers of recognition. It is this experience that the founders of modern art set out to explore.
When researching this idea it threw up no end of other avenues of enquiry. Most are related to art, but the view that animal instinct underlies our powers of perception now pervades our modern mind. You will therefore find that I have also extended this concept to other subjects. There are musings about lamp posts that do not light up in the dark, a view of an expanding universe that only appears to do so because the future could be smaller than the past, a comment on artists' excrement and other observations on day-to-day life. These essays are not presented in any particular order, but please remember that whatever subjects I have written about I am not looking for proof of concept, just an insight into creative thinking.
What are you talking about?
Who is an Artist?
What is an Art Object?
Art Transcends All Cultures
Cultural Distraction in Modern Art
So you want to be an artist?
Why Your Child is Unlikely an Art Genius
Is Modern Art Emotionally Disturbed?
The Rose and the Cockroach
The Founding Principle of Modern Art
Contemporary Art and the Betrayal of Modernism
How do you stop someone recognising what is in front of them?
Art is Not an Object
Darwin and Art
On Shape and Form
On Dysfunctional Lampposts
Is the Future Smaller than the Past?
The Artist, the Scientist and the Priest
Is The Future Smaller than the Past?
The Little God of Science
Order in Chaos: Part One
Order in Chaos: Part Two
It should not even be art
An Artist’s Excrement, or, What is left over after the artist has tried to create art.
Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde
Laurel and Hardy: Another Fine Mess You Got Me In To
Historians and Artists
Dear Mr Van Gogh
The Child’s Moon
An Accumulation of Errors
More, or less, Art
A Tale of Two Paintings
Just a Word?
A Day in a Cave
The Good Artist
Shark Fin Soup
Photography and Art
The Time Machine
A Beautiful Sunrise
The Future of Modern Art
What Are You Talking About
I suppose the best way to describe what I am talking about is to say that I am trying to look past our entire intellectual and intelligent idea of art. People only see the end result when they look at art objects. They think the objects themselves are art but, for an artist, a work is a translation of the way we sense the world. What people fail to realise is that no artist can portray this sensation.
I am talking about art as an inherent way of sensing sight, shape, sound and movement that lies beyond the control and organisation our intelligence imposes over what we experience. Artists glimpse this underlying view, but any control and organisation imposed by their intelligence to structure a work is going to transform what they try to experience. This is the way our mind has evolved and so our intelligence works to suppress an old underlying way of looking. When an artist creates a work they will either use their intelligence to control and destroy the underlying view, or they will try to find a way of working that lets the underlying view emerge.
What seems to have upset a lot of people about this idea of art is the implication that an artist is not driven to create art by a superior creative power of intelligence, but by an underlying animal sense of perception that our intelligence has never learned to comprehend. Because our intelligence has evolved away from being able to recognise this underlying animal power of perception, we are continuously being pushed to increase our intelligent sense of order and organisation to try to give it a form of recognition. This idea requires us to look at all the great art in our history as having been created because, subconsciously, we have evolved to hide an animal way of sensing objects. Such an idea as this could never have been contemplated before the modern age. Almost all of the history of art occurred before the biological concept of evolution was understood and, as such, art has always been looked upon as a product of superior intellect. To the traditional idea of art, we alone of all creatures here on earth create art objects because we alone possess the superior state of mind required to discern the qualities that art aspires us to attain.
Modern art sees this differently. Because we now understand evolution, it can be seen that the opposite of this idea may be the case. We alone create art because we have evolved an intellect the cuts us off from the animal state of mind. This creates an `unidentified feeling' at the back of our minds and any attempt to picture this `feeling' drives our intellect to push our powers of perception to a higher sense of order and organisation. Until modern times, this higher sense of order and organisation is what all art objects have always reflected.
This drove us to create all the great art of the past because our intelligence has never been able to formulate a way of visualising the old animal way of sensing that our mind still generates in the depth of its being. Our intelligence has, and still is, driven by our intellect to seek out more and more creative insight into how we recognise our powers of perception, because the view we have evolved away from is far more powerful and emotive than the one now created for us by intelligence. Artists have always sensed this more powerful underlying perception, but until the modern age they were never in a position to understand what this power was.
One of the reasons that modern art no longer upholds the qualities that traditional art always aspired to attain is because modern art is an attempt to look at this animal power of perception that pushes us to seek higher forms of order and organisation in everything we do. We have evolved to transform our old animal power of perception and replace it with a far more successful but `tame' view that is ordered and controlled by our intelligence. If we look at all art with this idea, we see that modern art is trying to visualise the cause of art whereas traditional art just reflects the effect.
When you look at a traditional painting like Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (1485) or a modern photograph like Andres Serrano's Piss Christ (a photograph of a statue of the crucifixion that has been urinated upon by the artist, left to dry and exhibited in 1987 as a work of art), you are looking at art objects that have been created by the imposition of intelligence over what confronts us. You are looking at the effect of art not the cause. You might feel the Botticelli is a beautiful image whilst the Serrano is downright disgusting. This like or dislike of any image, however, is really a side issue based upon aesthetic judgements concerned with the subject portrayed in the work. Behind this masquerade lies another level of perceptual awareness and it is this that exists behind all works of art.
It does not matter what the work of art is: a cave painting, a religious picture in a church, a landscape or a modern, ready-made object. All these art works will stop you sensing the deeper level of perceptual awareness that your mind is capable of generating by allowing your intelligence to control and organise how you recognise what you see. All traditional art gives you a recognisable image and so your intelligence does not `feel' any underlying disturbance in what you experience. A lot of modern art tries to stop you recognising what you see; this opens your powers of perception and allows you to sense an underlying experience of your surroundings generated in your mind by instinct.
The problem with modern art, as I see it, is that our understanding of the idea of art itself has not yet adjusted to the implications that we have animal origins. The theory of evolution is, in comparison to the history of art, very recent. The history of art is thousands upon thousands of years old compared to little more than a hundred and fifty years since the idea of evolution emerged to become general knowledge. Most of our ideas of art are, therefore, still founded upon the belief that art is a superior human achievement because animals don't have the ability to create art. The theory of evolution turns this view on its head by implying that we have emerged from animal origins by adaptation of animal powers of perception. This implies that our intelligent mind has evolved to hide the animal powers of perception we once lived within and we are, therefore, driven to create art because we are cut off from experiencing the animal view still generated in the depths of our minds. The order and organisation that our intelligence now imposes over how we comprehend images, shapes, sound and movement in art objects suppresses a deeper animal `feeling' of our experience of these sensations. Modern art reveals this idea to us and, in the hands of an artist who understands this idea, will show us works that try to avoid the control and organisation our intelligence imposes over all we see and do.
Art's beginnings stretch back into prehistory and so we still approach any attempt to understand our need to make art objects with obsolete ideas founded in old values. We still imagine art as a gift of creativity fostered by a belief that the human intellect was blessed by divine intervention. This idea led us to see art as a product of a superior state of mind that placed us above a world full of coarse animal vulgarity. As the theory of evolution became general knowledge, this idea of art has been replaced by a view that our need for creativity is the outcome of modification and adaptation of the animal mind. It now seems probable that we are driven by a psychological desire to seek to create a higher order of awareness for sight, shape, sound and movement in the form of art objects. The way our mind has evolved from animal origins makes us try to intensify our powers of perception because we inherit a primal view of objects and events that we no longer know how to recognise.
It can now be understood that early artists were driven by our emerging intelligence to give this power of our animal perception a form of recognition by pushing sight, shape, sound and movement into a higher arrangement of order and organisation in the form of art work. This created all the superb painting, sculpture, music and dance in traditional art because artists are sensitive to this underlying animal experience and are, therefore, driven to look at our day-to-day level of perception to try to find a deeper emotive view of what they see. Modern artists realised that this deeper emotive view of perception is not God-given but is animal in origin. Any attempt to recognise this animal power of perception through intelligence will always transform it because this is what our mind evolved to do.
This original animal power of perception, therefore, drives us to increase our intelligent perception because we cannot give our old animal way of sensing the world around us any intelligent forms of recognition. Traditional artists have always used intelligence to try to visualise a power of perception generated by instinct, but we now understand that this could never show us sight, shape, sound or movement as it is sensed by instinct. It can only show us the view in a way that has been transformed by intelligence.
Modern art reveals that any art object created through our intelligence always works to stop the experience of underlying powers of perception generated by instinct. Modern artists who understand this will try to find forms that they can create without intelligent influence. Modern art, if true to this founding principle, should be an attempt to remove our ideas of recognition from our experience of objects and events.
That was the idea that modern art arose to explore, but not every modern artist understands this idea and for this reason we get disruptive and distorted images of things that we know how to recognise presented as modern art. The Serrano Piss Christ is such an image. It is not a work of modern art that tries to show you forms sensed by instinct; it merely disrupts what you know how to recognise in an attempt to shock you. This was not the remit that the founders of modern art set out to uphold. The original concept of modern art was to explore ways of creating forms that helped you sense sight, shape, sound and movement at a more primal level of perceptual awareness. This requires a move away from forms that intelligence knows how to recognise, towards creating forms that we have never seen before.
Both the Serrano Piss Christ and the Botticelli Birth of Venus present intelligently controlled and organised visual experiences. They do not make any attempt to help you look beyond this world of intelligent recognition we live with every day of our lives. To look beyond this day-to-day level of perception you have to ignore what the artist is trying to say about beauty or religion or anything else for that matter. You need to concentrate on the very basic principle you are confronted with. Here, in front of you, is an image you know how to recognise through your powers of intelligence and this is going to stop you sensing the object in an inherent and intuitive way.
If we replace the Botticelli and the Serrano works with an abstract painting like a Jackson Pollock drip painting, we will find ourselves confronted by an entirely different experience. A painting like this has been created by removing as much intelligent control and organisation as possible from the way the paint has been applied to the canvas. Standing in front of an object like this will open our minds up to sensing what confronts us in a far more inherent way because our intelligence cannot find any forms of recognition to impose over the experience that we are faced with. Our intelligence has no image to recognise and no subject to distract it from `feeling' this other visual way of experience that is still generated by instinct in the depth of our mind. It is this depth of perception that the founders of modern art set out to explore and all their attempts were focused on helping us experience this depth of perception for ourselves.
There are, however, problems with this; first and foremost, our intelligence is going to scan any abstract painting to find an image that it can recognise to subdue the sense of uncertainty that emerges in our minds when we find ourselves confronted by something that we cannot recognise. Our intelligence is very clever at doing this because it has evolved to suppress this sensation of uncertainty. We evolved to do this because it gave us a greater chance of survival in the animal world in which we once lived. Because of this desire of intelligence to always find some form of recognisable image in all we see and do, trying to create art that avoids this influence is going to be hard work. If the abstract painter has been careless or inattentive, he or she will have created inadvertent subconscious forms of recognition. We will discover shapes that resemble faces or figures, or some strange alien landscape in the blobs and dribbles of paint that have been splashed around, in the same way that we find images in twisted tree trunks, wind eroded rocks or clouds drifting by on a summer's day. Our intelligence does this to stop any uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty entering our powers of perception.
The second problem is that of the abstract painting itself; if our intelligence fails to discern any form of recognisable image in the abstract it will start to look for some other way to stop the feeling of uncertainty being generated in our mind. We search for some form of order in patterns rather than any recognisable image. Composition of colour, harmony and balance is what intelligence looks for if it is deprived of forms of recognition. So, our abstract painter is now going to have to avoid this consideration if he or she wants to force us to look deeper at what they have created. As a result, our abstract is going to start to look more and more like a horrible mess. No recognisable image, no composition, no nice colour, but we are still going to have a problem; our intelligence won't give up its power of control and organisation over what we are looking at that easily. The next thing intelligence is going to throw up to stop us sensing by instinct is the very knowledge we hold that makes us see this painting as an abstract. The very idea of classification is going to work to help our intelligence stop the feeling of uncertainty entering our minds. It gives our intelligence a `pigeon hole' in which to place the object so that we do not have to think about it in any other deeper way. Classifying an object is another way of blocking out any uncomfortable feeling we suddenly find ourselves confronted with when faced with an object that we cannot readily recognise.
Instead of looking at the abstract to face the sense of uncertainty generated in our minds, our intelligence panics and looks for the next best sense of order and control it can impose over our powers of perception. In this case, classification will place the object into a new form of ordered and organised idea that intelligence knows how to identify. It's no longer a picture with a recognisable image and it is not very well painted so there is no skill or control over composition. The colour is all muddy and full of sand and other debris, but it is still a painting and so it can be called an abstract and this is enough knowledge to impose over the experience to stop any sense of uncertainty being felt in our minds.
What if it was not an abstract painting? What if it was an object we could not easily recognise or categorise; something so out of place in an art gallery we just would not consider it to be art? How is our intelligence going to react now?
Most of us know the feeling. We walk into a nice clean art gallery that obviously sells works of art to a discerning clientele and there, in the middle of the floor, is something so out of place we just don't understand how this could be called art. I don't mean a pissed-upon photograph of a crucifix, an unmade bed or a big dead shark; these are objects we can easily recognise, which are just trying to shock us. These artists may present their efforts in a modern art context but upon analysis they are really only doing what traditional art objects do; they are presenting easily recognisable subjects just as the tribe or the Church and State have done in times past. The only difference is that these artists fill their work with self-opinionated ideas rather than collective needs about hunting and fertility rituals or religious belief or propaganda. They make no creative effort to find ways of searching for forms beyond the control and organisation our intelligence imprisons our powers of perception within. Shocking us won't push our powers of perception beyond how we recognise what is in front of us. Modern art arose to try to break free of this prison of recognition built around our powers of perception by our intelligence. To escape requires the artist to undertake a search for forms that our intelligence has never learned to recognise and it is this search that was at the root of what the founders of modern art started to reveal.
Most modern artists today have abandoned this search. Most prefer to present something ridiculous and outrageous to shock us because this subject in the work does not require the depth of creative insight needed to find images and shapes that our intelligence has never seen before. This return to `subjective' content in a modern work of art will always overpower the deeper sense of perception that we still possess in the oldest animal areas of our mind and it was this realisation that the founders of modern art set out to explore. A pissed-on photograph of a crucifix or an unmade bed might shock us, but what I am talking about are objects that look beyond this shallow surface of subjects like sex, violence and the neurotic state of modern life. What I am talking about are objects that help us descend into a state of mind that we have learned to keep hidden behind all the control and organisation we impose over everything we see and do.
I think that's what I am talking about?
Who is an Artist?
Most people think of an artist as someone who paints pictures, carves sculpture, composes music or choreographs dance. Anyone making such objects does little more than accept without question the established dogma that painting, sculpture, music or dance are art. Their minds are not, in any way, disturbed by any other deep-rooted experience of the sensations of sight, shape, sound or movement that these objects embody. Traditional art hides the ability of an object to arouse inherent primal sensations from within us by making the artist fill their work with controlled and organised images that our intelligence knows how to recognise. We feel at ease because the traditional artist offers us an experience that makes no effort to look deeper into our mind.
An art object like a landscape painting of mountains or repetitive images of tins of soup makes no attempt to push the powers of perception of the viewer to the deeper emotive level of awareness that we all possess. Anyone, who calls themselves an artist, should be capable of becoming aware of the deeper inherent power of perception that our intelligence works to keep suppressed in our day-to-day experience of the world around us. Being able to sense this deep-rooted experience, and knowing how to translate it into some form of objective work without letting intelligence destroy it, is what distinguishes an artist from people who just know how to paint pictures, carve sculpture, compose music or choreograph dance.
An artist who senses this deep inherent power of perception is very unlikely to just make art objects that reflect what our intelligence likes to recognise. Such an artist will be searching for a way to present sights, shapes, sounds and movement that force us to sense in a deeper inherent way. These artists will attempt to disturb our established view of the world around us. They will realise that our mind looks for something it knows how to recognise to stop us sensing this deeper power of perception that resides behind all that we see and do. Searching for images that break through this intelligent wall of recognition is what modern art came into existence to explore.
Creating art objects in the traditional way can, therefore, never reveal this depth of emotive perception that we all possess because we have evolved to transform this sensation, inherited in our mind in the form of animal instinct, into a controlled and organised experience of all we see and do. This control and organisation imposed over our powers of perception by our intelligence is what traditional art objects present to us. They show us pictures, sculpture, music or dance that works to suppress a way of sensing sight, shape, sound and movement that lies behind the way we organise our understanding of the world. There lies within all things an original experience that is generated in our minds before intelligence can apply recognition to what we see. This original `feeling' is an old inherent way of looking that we have learned to suppress in our powers of observation. A modern artist should be trying to find ways to bring this feeling back into our mind, but we must realise that our intelligence always tries to stop the experience being sensed. This is because of the way our mind has evolved to keep this original powerful depth of perception subdued within our controlled and ordered view of the world.
Objects like pictures, sculpture, music and dance will always hide rather than reveal a deeper underlying power of perception. Our intelligence works away every day to keep this intensity of perception out of our experience of the world by generating recognisable images to suppress it. Our intelligence does this because this old depth of perception generates a very powerful way of sensing objects and events that would disrupt the control and organisation that we use to structure our view of the world. This perception is still working in our minds, but it is now kept buried under the vast command exerted over our way of looking through intelligence. We no longer know how to experience our old animal way of sensing the world because, to get a look at it, we have to transform it into an image that intelligence knows how to recognise. This always destroys the inherent instinctive experience that would, if we knew how to sense it, reveal the world around us in a very deep, emotive way.
Traditional art allows intelligence to transform and destroy this deeper experience that our intelligence keeps out of our day-to-day awareness. Modern art arose to try to find ways of looking without this imposition of intelligence over what we experience so that we might get a glimpse of this far more powerful and original way of perception that is still in our minds.
This inherent power of perception comes from our animal past and is still generated in our mind before intelligence can impose any order and organisation over it. This animal power of perception creates an interpretation of sight, shape, sound and movement that intelligence has never learned to recognise. We have evolved to take this experience and transform it into our conscious mind. For this reason, we never get to experience the power of this older way of knowing objects and events. Now we only look through intelligence and so this way of knowing the world will always subdue the old, original experience by imposing order and organisation over it. In doing this, we have lost access to an innate power of perceptual awareness in our mind. It is buried by the power of our intelligence.
The majority of people painting pictures, carving sculpture, composing music or choreographing dance impose intelligent control and organisation over this older emotive power of perception that lies behind their need to create. This inner sensation, generated in the depth of our mind by instinct, is `felt' as disruptive and chaotic, and so the artist works to suppress this sensation by structuring a work into a very controlled and organised object. This is what traditional artists do, but a modern artist needs to be a person seeking to find a way to bring this emotive power of perception into the world without intelligent transformation. As you can imagine, because our intelligence has evolved to look at the world around us through a transformation of this older emotive power of perception, trying to get a look at it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible. Understanding modern art, therefore, requires learning a way of looking that we have evolved away from being able to comprehend. It requires us to look towards disruption and chaos as an experience pregnant with an unexplored way of sensing that we fail to recognise because we have forgotten how to use our old animal powers of instinct.
Because painting, sculpture, music and dance are intelligently controlled creations, they always work to destroy the emotive power of perception that a genuine artist should be capable of sensing. For this reason, it is now understood that the old ways of creating art came into existence to help intelligence hide the animal perception we still possess. These powers are buried in our minds and to get even the smallest glimpse at them modern artists are forced to find other ways of creating works that are not dominated by the control and organisation that intelligence always wants to impose over everything. For this reason, a work by a modern artist who understands this idea is going to look or sound as if it has been made by accident rather than in any controlled and organised way.
Who is an artist? An artist is a person who senses the world around them in a deeper, more emotive way than the rest of us. Artists are people who are susceptible to an older `animal' way of perception that we all inherit from our past. Learning to paint pictures, make sculpture, compose music or choreograph dance won't make you an artist. Such acts create wonderful objects that are often made with great skill and perfection but work to bury the underlying experience that drives us to be creative. Knowing how to sense beyond the intelligent control and organisation needed to make an art object, and having the ability to translate that experience into the work without intelligence destroying it, is what makes you an artist.
What is an Art Object?
Art, up until the twentieth century, displays control and organisation imposed by our powers of intelligence over the creation of an object. In most cases, this control and organisation is structured into the painting or sculpting of a recognisable image or the composition of music, the telling of a story or choreography of a dance. These art objects uphold ideas about how we humans perceive the world around us. The art work tends to reflect how we interpret our belief in subjects like superstition, religion, science, aesthetics, beauty, love, sex and a myriad of other observations about day-to- day life. A painting, for example, could simply portray a peasant labouring in a wheat field, whilst an opera will portray a vast spectacle of colour and drama to tell a story of love and tragedy. All these subjects are infused into a work to make us more attentive to an emotive experience for what is called art.
When we look at a picture, read a book or go to an opera our mind focuses on the subject of the work and ignores the object itself. In the case of painting, the object itself is no more than paint, canvas and wood in a frame. In music or opera, the object itself is the stage, the sets and the actors or musicians in a large building. Art has, until modern times, always worked to stop us sensing the reality of what we see by directing our powers of observation towards the subject being portrayed. Up until modern art, this `direction' towards the subject in a work of art was thought to be what art was about. Subjects were painted, sculpted, sung about, written down or danced to display a great sense of perfection and organisation whilst the object itself (the paint, clay, paper, noise or movement) was never thought about. This traditional idea of art, therefore, teaches you to ignore the reality of the object and appreciate a refined sense of perfection that an artist exhibits in a work.
That is one way of looking at an art object but, after the turn of the twentieth century we have had to learn to look at art objects in another way. We now understand that all works of art present us with two ways of looking at what confronts us. The first way of looking recognises a great sense of control and organisation within the subjects that the artist imposes over the material they use to make the work. This is the traditional idea and in a painting the subject might be a portrait and this image will dominate the reality of the paint and canvas. You look to ignore the material and comprehend the image. The second way of looking would ignore the image that the artist portrays and only sense the raw material of the object itself. This second way of looking is what we might term a primal experience of what we see.
In all traditional art, the first way of looking works to stop you sensing an object in the second primal way. The second way of looking would, in the case of a painting, only allow you to sense the paint and canvas and you would fail to recognise the subject that the work portrays. This first way of looking reflects how we all learn to identify the world around us by looking for something to recognise. This way of looking stops us sensing the world in a primal instinctive way.
Art was, until modern times, considered to be all about creating this first subjective way of looking. Art was only concerned with creating an image in a work and the object itself was considered as no more than background support. A painter learned perfect technique to create an exact image so the subject they portrayed was clearly recognised whilst the paint and canvas had little to do with this `image' in the artwork. A composer writes music so that, when performed by an orchestra, the work organises sounds into harmony and melody and any noise is subdued. This is the traditional view of what an artist should be doing. The artist portrays a subject not an object. The object was looked upon as no more than a tool to give the subject substance. The reason art was so engrossed in this subjective way of creating a work was because few realise that we possess an older inherent way of sensing objects. People thought that we only had one way of looking at the world and this way was structured and controlled by our powers of intelligence. Art was, therefore, thought to be an intellectual refinement of this awareness of our ability to impose order and organisation over our view of the world and so an artist took material and moulded it into a subjective artistic experience.
Modern understanding has changed this view and a modern artist must now comprehend that we have evolved a power of intelligent perception from another older way of sensing objects and events. Because art is intrinsically bound to how we comprehend sight, shape, sound and movement, this other older way of sensing will always underlie everything an artist does. This other way of sensing knows how to look at objects without the imposition of intelligence. It is now believed that we have inherited this instinctive way of looking from our animal ancestors. It is believed to be a primal sensation of objects that once gave us a way of comprehending the world before we learned to impose any intelligent ideas over what we see. This primal sensation of an object still exists behind all we see and do and, for a modern artists, this implies that any subject in a work of art will have been created by our powers of intelligence to impose control and organisation over our old inherent way of perception.
This idea was never understood before modern art and so artists always worked to suppress the primal sensation of an object. With the rise of modern art, we see an attempt to get rid of the subject imposed by the traditional ways of making art objects. The idea is to remove the subject in order to try and get a glimpse of this other older way of looking. This new idea of art began around the end of the nineteenth century and, to cut a long story short, eventually led to paintings that did not display recognisable images and performance art that did not uphold any composition or organisation. This way of trying to rid art objects of controlled and organised subjects reached its ultimate conclusion in the work of artists who collectively worked as a group known by the arbitrary word Dada.
Dada implies that the art experience is not a subject that can be portrayed through an art object by the artist because art is a purely objective sensation of any object. To Dada, art is a primal way of sensing what confronts us and any object could provoke this sensation from the depths of our minds. With this understanding, art shifted away from the idea that it was about a certain kind of creative act given form through a work. In place of this idea arose the view that art was a direct experience of ANY object sensed in an intuitive way and no work was necessary to provoke the art experience from our mind. This way of thinking about art reveals that all objects, art or not, reflect the way we have evolved to hide an original way of looking behind our ability to project ideas of control and organisation over all we see and do. Dada implies that the art experience has nothing to do with any ideas that artists portray through art history. All those images of superstition, religion, science, beauty, aesthetics, love, war, sex or any other subjects have been imposed over the art object to stop you sensing it in a primal way. These subjects have been placed within an art object because, before Dada, artists had no idea that we inherit another older way of sensing objects through instinct.
Because modern art is a recent development in a very long history of art, almost all of that history is filled with subjects that have nothing to do with this discovery. All traditional art, therefore, reflects ideas about culture and society that distract us from the art experience itself. With the establishing of the idea of evolution and the realisation that we have emerged from animal origins, modern artists began to comprehend that the art experience is an actual physical sensation. It has nothing to do with the higher workings of the intellect but is a `lower' sensation `felt' in our mind because of the way our mind has structured itself. Animals do not create art because they have not evolved the structure of mind that drives us to suppress the primal sensation of an object. Only human beings make art because our mind has evolved to take that primal sensation and transform it into a recognisable idea. This allows us to see objects and events around us in a controlled and organised way, but this leaves us with a lost `feeling' in our minds that is a remnant of our old animal way of sensing the world.
Artists are people who are susceptible to this underlying influence that is a primal sensation of any object. Most of us don't sense this primal sensation because our minds enforce absolute control and organisation over our powers of perception. We, therefore, suppress the old experience in our view of the world by imposing intelligent ideas to recognise what we see. The primal sensation can only be known in our mind when we find ourselves without any idea to give an object recognition. This sensation would reveal an object to us through our powers of instinct, but we have all evolved to suppress this view by projecting intelligent ideas over all that we see and do.
This understanding has revolutionised our idea of art by shifting the belief that art was an intellectual achievement portrayed through a subject, towards the realisation that art is a primal sensation of any object. The modern view is that the old idea of art has always worked to suppress this primal sensation within our view of the world. We made art objects in prehistory because, as our intelligence began to dominate our mind, we needed to find a way to stop that old direct way of sensing objects from disrupting our new emerging state of mind. Modern artists realised that the art experience is not, therefore, something that can be portrayed as a subject through painting, sculpture, music or dance because art is our old primal sensation of any object. The traditional way of making art objects takes this primal sensation and imposes an intelligent form of order and organisation over it. This always works to suppress the original experience and this is what art objects arose in prehistory to help us do. This is the understanding that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century and is now beginning to filter through into academic art theory.
The modern idea of art reveals that our minds have evolved to block out a primal sense of perception that we once lived with. Our powers of intelligence have evolved to replace our old instinctive way of looking, but the view is still generated in the mind. Modern art points towards this understanding and shows us that we began to create art objects to help us suppress the sensing of an object or an event as it was once generated in our minds in an old intuitive and inherent way. It can now be understood that all traditional ways of making art objects work to impose a reflection of the way we sense the world as a controlled and organised experience. This way of looking interrupts the old view that once generated our awareness through instinct by taking that sensation and replacing it with an intelligent idea. This forces us to ignore the original experience and transforms the sensation in our minds before we can become conscious of it. This is what the mind evolved to do because it gave us a great advantage in the struggle for survival within the animal world.
Traditional art objects show us that we always look to recognise objects and events through an intelligent idea before the old way of sensing by instinct emerges into our minds. This is what all traditional art teaches us to do. If we think of a picture of an antelope painted on a cave wall, the image works to replace the sensation of the real antelope in your mind. With this new controlled and organised image in your head, you then have the power of an idea that works to suppress the sensation of a real antelope. The image and its associated idea interrupts the direct experience of this creature and this gives you a distinct advantage in controlling how you react when you next go hunting for an antelope. In the struggle for survival, you can begin to suppress the old animal instinctive sensations that would have dominated your mind in the real world and replace them with ideas of images that control and organise your reactions. In this way, your mind can overpower your old way of sensing the world through instinct and replace that experience with a view of the world seen as recognisable ideas.
As our new emerging powers of intelligence began to take hold from our primal state of mind, we began to see the world around us in this new way. We began to create a controlled and organised way of looking at objects and events through ideas and this is what a traditional art object reflects. Traditional art objects, therefore, show us a translation of an inherent sensation of an object. We ignore the reality of the art object and project an idea of a subject over what we see. In the case of a painting, we ignore the reality of the wall or the canvas and recognise an image, and this is a record of the way our mind has evolved to look at the world. We now learn to look in this controlled and organised way at everything and we no longer know how to sense the inherent way of looking at the reality of what confronts us. We suppress the primal sensation in our powers of perception by projecting intelligent images over all we see and do.
To recognise this old primal sensation of ANY object, you can only `feel' for what you see through instinct. You cannot hold any intelligent ideas in your mind because such ideas would allow you to suppress this `feeling' generated by instinct. We used to live with this direct `feeling' for everything around us, but the view is now lost because we ONLY know how to look by projecting intelligent ideas over what we see. Our mind has evolved to stop us looking in this old inherent way and so we now sense uncertainty if we come across an object that our ideas fail to recognise. In art, this causes most people to reject a work in which they cannot find a subject. The idea of art that most people carry around in their minds conditions them to expect to see a controlled and organised image like a landscape or a portrait, or whatever. When these kinds of subjects are missing, such people think the work is false and inartistic. If the work is a painting it will be frowned upon because it will probably have been created by throwing and pouring paint rather than a carefully rendered image. Because anyone could throw paint at a canvas and call it art, people think that the artist is a charlatan, but what the inartistic work is doing is forcing you to look at an object without a preconceived idea. This opens your mind to the old inherent way of sensing and you begin to feel a disturbance in the ideas that you always impose over what you see.
When we come to consider a modern work of art, this `objective' way of looking without ideas begins to dominate what we see. This is because a modern artist will be (or should be) trying to remove the subjects that traditional art always portrays. The modern artist has to find a way to remove our powers of recognition from an object so that we can begin to look through an instinctive power of perception that we have inherited from our past. By the middle of the twentieth century, this idea became the founding principle of modern art.
Modern art is, therefore, a different experience to the traditional intellectual understanding of art and, because of this, if you try to understand modern art in the traditional way, you are going to find it lacking in content. It is not going to conform to any idea of art that you believe in because the work is not going to display any of the values that you have been conditioned to look for. The founders of modern art realised that they had to keep all intellectual content out of the work so that it could create a direct experience. A modern artist who understands this will create a work that will, for the lack of a better way of saying it, try to create a `funfair ride'. Now, let me clarify that remark before someone gets the idea that I am endorsing turning art galleries into amusement parks. I know this has already occurred – I saw the helter-skelter installed in the Tate Modern that drew vast numbers of people who seemed to enjoy the free slide – but I am not endorsing this kind of object as a work of art because there are other considerations that should be taken into account. For an object like this to create a modern art experience it has to do more than just give us a funfair ride. The ride gives you a direct experience but this, on its own, is not enough. To be useful to the modern understanding of art the work must also stop you projecting any intelligent ideas of recognition over what you experience. Your mind will have no difficulty recognising a funfair helter-skelter in an art gallery and so the object is not going to work in the way that a modern art object should. It is not going to disturb your powers of perception and only when an object does this will it provoke the sense of a primal way of looking.
The helter-skelter makes the point about avoiding intellectual ideas. It sets up a direct experience of an object but that is only half the understanding. What is missing from this experience of a helter-skelter in an art gallery is the ability of this object to stop you from recognising it. To uphold the idea of a modern art experience, you not only need the direct experience of an object but you also need to get the object to provoke a primal sensation from your mind. The helter-skelter fails because you have an idea you can use to recognise this object and this idea will suppress the primal sensation of what confronts you. The primal sensation can only be sensed when you have no ideas to impose over what you see. With no ideas, you will have to revert to sensing the helter-skelter through your old animal powers of instinct. I am labouring this point because you need to understand these two ways of experiencing objects in front of you. Without this understanding modern art simply does not make sense because you will look at it to find an intellectual idea, but modern art is not like that. It is a direct experience that tries to make you look without intellectual ideas so you can sense your old inherent `feeling' for a primal sensation of what you see.
For our experience of any object to be primal we need to stop ourselves projecting ideas over what we see. We need to sense an object through our old inherent powers of instinct, but the very way our minds have evolved works to stop us doing this. A helter-skelter in an art gallery hits this problem just as presenting an unmade bed, a urinal or any other ready-made object will. You come to look at these works with a mind full of intelligent ideas and these ideas allow you to identify these objects; this power of intelligent recognition will stop you sensing these objects in a primal way. This is what your mind has evolved to do and, therefore, any artist who wants you to sense an object by instinct has to find a way to remove your intelligent ideas from what you see. This, believe me, is very difficult to do.
We all learn to project intelligent ideas over all we see and do but, for an artist, this way of looking stops us sensing in a deeper intuitive way. If you paint a picture the image itself will give the viewer an idea that works to suppress the primal sensation a modern artist wants you to experience. For any painter aware of this the only course of action is to remove the image; this is what Jackson Pollock tried to do by dripping and pouring paint onto a canvas. This forces the viewer to look in a deeper way but they still have other ideas that they will call to mind to stop the primal sensation in what they see.
We all have ideas that give us recognition of paint and canvas and so these ideas will stop you sensing in a primal way. Our very powers of perception won't let us look at anything without projecting an idea to give recognition to what we see. It seems that our minds now actively work to stop us sensing the world in an objective primal way. If we could remove our intelligent ideas from what we see we would find ourselves with a completely different experience of what confronts us. Remove your idea of a helter- skelter in an art gallery and you would find yourself sensing this object through your old animal awareness being generated in your mind by instinct. This experience is what modern art tries to place before us but it is very difficult to get our mind to relinquish its need to project intelligent ideas over what we see.
With this idea, let us see if we can clarify how this primal sensation of any object makes an artist want to create a work of art. Let us imagine an artist who wakes up one day and sees an object in his or her studio that is seen every day. This morning, for some unknown reason, this object stands out more than usual. There is `something' about this object that draws the artist's attention to it and, today, this `something' has become more noticeable than ever before. Let us say it is a very ordinary object like a pot of flowers. Today this pot of flowers is `calling' to our artist and he or she grabs a canvas and starts to paint to try to capture this `something' that has aroused a feeling of passion for this object. What are we to make of this? Nothing about the pot of flowers has changed. It is exactly the same pot of flowers as it was the day before and it stands in exactly the same place in the same light of this new day, but today it seems different. Our artist has sensed a shift in perceptual awareness.
This anomaly in our artist's powers of perception implies we have two ways of looking at what confronts us. Both ways show the same view of the world but one way is very old and is generated by raw animal instinct whilst the other way transforms that `feeling' into a controlled and organised experience generated by intelligence. This controlled way of looking now dominates all our minds and stops the old view from being recognised. If, for some reason, our controlled and organised way of looking at the world falters we get a glimpse of this old animal view. It filters into our thoughts but we will not know how to recognise it. We will `feel' a shift within our powers of perception, but we possess no way to picture this other inherent animal way of sensing. Our minds have evolved to suppress the view and so we will try to transform this strange `feeling' into a controlled and organised experience. Our mind will work to stop the old animal way of looking from emerging into our conscious view of the world. This is the way we have all evolved to transform our old innate way of looking into the intelligent view we now live with.
Let's get back to our artist who has woken up and noticed that a pot of flowers in the studio somehow `feels' different in appearance to the way it looked before. I would explain this kind of artistic experience as being caused by the artist's intelligent mind having relinquished some of its control and organisation over his or her powers of perception. The artist has sensed the underlying structure of the old animal way of perception and set about trying to give it recognition. The problem is that this way of looking cannot be easily identified because the only way we know how to recognise our powers of perception is through intelligent control and organisation and this way of looking has evolved to suppress the other view. Our artist grabs a canvas and starts to paint this pot of flowers in an attempt to give this strange `feeling' some form of identity. Now, depending upon how perceptive this artist is, he or she will either swamp this strange `feeling' behind a controlled and organised image, or try to alter this view to give the painting a more emotive, intuitive form of appearance. Our artist will either paint a nice representational picture of a pot of flowers or something as different in appearance as Impressionism, Expressionism or even a total abstract.
Now we have a painting of a pot of flowers and, regardless of what it looks like, we are asking the question what is an art object? We are asking why this object made of paint, canvas and wood is a work of art. This painting has no social meaning nor is it trying to draw your attention to any kind of moral story about humanity. It has nothing to say about culture or the state of the world we live in. It is simply a painting of a pot of flowers. Because it is such a simple, uncluttered image it is drawing our attention to colour and form. These elements are the only ingredients that are left in the work that a traditional art lover can use to class our painting as a work of art. Now, assuming our artist has been very emotionally disturbed by this unidentified `feeling' that was felt for this pot of flowers, the painting is not going to exhibit very much intelligent control and organisation in the way it has been composed. It is not going to tick many boxes for the traditional art lover who thinks art is about good composition and skilled workmanship in the rendering of colour and form. Our artist has been very deeply disturbed by a `feeling' that he or she has no way to identify. This will have pushed our artist to alter how the pot of flowers looks in an attempt to get a glimpse of the underlying power of another way of perceiving this object that the artist felt in the depth of his or her mind. Every day the artist has looked at this pot of flowers through intelligent powers of controlled and organised perception but, this morning, our artist was caught off guard and a view was sensed through this artist's old animal instincts.
Our artist struggles for an hour or two to capture this `feeling' but what will result will almost certainly be disappointing. The artwork is very unlikely to capture this `feeling' because the artist has to use his or her intelligent mind to apply the paint to the canvas, and intelligence has never learned to recognise this `feeling' generated in the old animal part of the artist's mind. Intelligence only knows how to transform the `feeling' into something it knows how to recognise and this will impose order and organisation over the art object and subdue the emotive animal powers of perception that this artist felt. Our artist will struggle and by lunchtime will scream, `It is impossible,' throw the painting down and run out to the nearest café to drink cheap vino until nightfall. Perhaps tomorrow our artist will try again before the flowers fade and die.
In this little story we can see the art experience as a shift in the powers of perceptual awareness that drives an artist to rearrange what they know how to recognise in an attempt to grasp a view they cannot. Modern understanding is beginning to reveal that this unrecognised sensation in what we see is a remnant of our old inherent animal way of looking at the world. This older sensation lies hidden behind the controlled and organised view that our intelligent mind generates to dominate our powers of perception; if we should just get a glimpse of the older view, we will not know how to recognise the sensation. This underlying animal perception is inherent in all of us from our primal beginnings and, because we have evolved to suppress this sensation, it will drive an artist to seek out new forms in what they do. For a modern artist, this inspires them to react against established styles and technique to find unrecognised ways of creating art.
I think that we have arrived at an answer to our question of what is an art object. Art objects are products of an underlying sense of perception that is still generated in our minds. This drives anyone who senses it to want to intensify how we comprehend sight, shape, sound and movement and this results in the creation of a work of art. The cause of art is therefore a primal sensation and cannot be given recognition through our powers of intelligence because our intelligence evolved to suppress this state of mind. Because intelligence cannot picture our old inherent way of sensing, an artist will be forever driven to alter our intelligent powers of perception and this will make artists rearrange how they recognise sight, shape, sound and movement into art objects.
Modern art arose to try to remove our continuous need to find recognisable content in a work of art because this does not lead us closer to the primal sensation of an object but pushes us further and further away from sensing it. We look for forms of recognition because when we fail to recognise something we begin to be disturbed by our old inherent way of sensing returning into our powers of perception. A modern artist who understands this will create objects that try to disrupt our powers of recognition. The objects will try to make us become aware of a primal inherent power of perception rather than help us suppress this sensation.
Of course you must realise that not all artists believe this idea and many will not accept that this is what modern art is about. Because of this lack of a coherent strategy, artists will have other ideas that will impose intelligent order and organisation over what they create. This imposition of intelligence within art will always work to stop the underlying primal sensation of an object being `felt' because this inherent sensation is easily swamped by intelligence. Our mind will try to stop us sensing this inherent experience by filling our minds with intellectual ideas. Such art objects will be full of recognisable subjects that may look spectacular, be very impressive and have been created with great skill, but all this `content' will bury an underlying experience that is the power of art. Such work will suppress the shift in our perceptual awareness away from the primal sensation of objects and it was this shift that modern art set out to explore. Finding a way to reveal this sensation without intelligence destroying it is the greatest of all challenges.
Art Transcends All Cultures
In a superb book of great clarity on contemporary art theory, entitled But is it art? Cynthia Freeland says, `It is often hard to understand what is valued in the art of another culture, and why. African masks and carvings, like Zuni Indian fetishes and Hindu classical dancers, are components of religious ceremonies. To me, Islamic calligraphy on a mausoleum or mosque look like beautiful decoration, but it has meaning I miss out on because it reprises verse from the Holy Koran in Arabic, which I cannot read.' *
This way of looking at art as having a diversity of meanings in relation to different times and cultures is typical of how people are taught to categorise art here in the Western world. I prefer not to understand what other cultures value in their art, preferring to simply look at all objects, art or not, in terms of their ability to be sensed by instinct. To my way of thinking, we all inherit an animal sense of instinct and whether we are ancient or modern peoples from primitive or sophisticated cultures, none of us has ever been able to recognise this inherent animal power of perception in the depths of our minds. We all evolved away from sensing it a long time ago, but none of us have lost the ability to generate this sensation within us. All of us still `feel' it to some degree or another and we are all driven to give it some form of recognition. I believe that this is what drives artists to create art. The artist probably will not be aware of this underlying influence and will make art objects for cultural and economic reasons. These objects are what we see from history and from every corner of the world, but behind these cultural objects lies this inherent `feeling' for a deeper instinctive sense of perception in our minds.
The key understanding behind this idea is to realise that we cannot give this inherent sense of instinct any form of recognition through our intelligence. If we try to do this we will always transform this inherent animal `feeling' for perception into something that our intelligent mind knows how to recognise. It does not matter if your intelligence is primitive or of modern sophistication; all that a primitive or modern state of mind will do is dictate the cultural status of the object. If you are born into a Zuni tribe, the art objects you will make will end up being influenced by Zuni Indian fetish because you will use this learning to give some form of recognition to the art experience. If you live in a Hindu society, your art will be influenced by Hindu classical dance for religious ceremonies for the same reason. If you live in the modern Western world, your art will probably be influenced by ideas of urinals or an unmade bed because this is the cultural form of recognition we now place upon the idea of art. The important thing to realise is that none of these objects can give you the art experience. They are objects that artists have made because they have been driven by the art experience to try to give it recognition. As I said, I believe we cannot do this through intelligence. All we will do is transform the art experience into some form of cultural identity and the time and place of your birth will dictate the content you will impart into the work.
If you look at cultural objects from different times and places and try to see what these items have in common you are going to find all the diversity very confusing. This is because art is a deeper sensation than that of culture. Culture is what an artist is driven by, with time and place endowing a work, but the driving force behind this act is what you should be thinking about. You need to stop looking at the cultural content of the object because this content will vary considerably between different races and societies around the world. The way you need to see this picture is to realise that none of these objects reveal art. What they reveal is a form of recognition that the art experience has been transformed into because the artist cannot give the `feeling' called art an identity. This `feeling' is animal and inherent within all of us and our intelligence has evolved to stop us experiencing it. Our intelligence transforms the art experience into a recognisable object to suppress it and this is what we see as a vast diversity of culture from the past and the present in every corner of the world.
The animal `feeling' I am talking about underlies all this cultural work and is universal for all artists in all times and cultures because we all evolved from the same animal ancestors to inherit it. The art objects will be full of the ideas and meanings relevant to the times and places of their creators, but they all originate from a need to give this deeper animal sense of awareness some form of recognition. The unidentified `feeling' will be structured into the art object and will be transformed by the culture that the artist is born into, which dictates what the artist creates.
The artist `feels' an underlying power of animal perception but he or she will transform this sensation into an object that we recognise as full of cultural meaning relating to the time and place that the artists lives in. This object is really like a remnant that is left over after the artist has tried to give the old animal sense of `feeling' some form of identity and will have been concocted by intelligence to stop that `feeling' imposing any influence over the work. The object the artist will end up creating will be full of the cultural and economic baggage that the artist lives and works with. What we need to realise is that this `content' imposed upon the object will now work to stop our old animal `feeling' for an intuitive and inherent way of sensing entering our mind.
Cynthia Freeland says that, to her, `Islamic calligraphy on a mausoleum or a mosque looks like beautiful decoration.' This tells us that she is only looking in one way at this object and her thinking is being directed by Western-learned understanding. She is applying a learned aesthetic idea of beauty to the shapes that she is looking at because she cannot read the wording. She `feels' she is `missing out' on the meaning because she possesses no Arabic, but this is her intelligent mind working to stop her sensing the object in any other way. This shows us how our intelligent mind is always transforming a deeper animal sense of instinctive awareness when confronted with something we fail to recognise so that the object will not disturb our powers of perception.
Like Cynthia, I cannot read Islamic calligraphy but I look at it in a different way. Because I cannot read it I do not miss out on the art experience I am looking for. I am given an advantage over someone who can read it because what I am looking for in this object is not its cultural significance to Islamic religion but the object's ability to help me sense the world around me by instinct. I am looking for the base sensation of an object not cultural meaning and this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks anyone interested in modern art has to overcome. To put it bluntly, culture is not art. Art is a deeper more inherent sensation of any object and transcends all culture. Knowing this allows you to see objects from any culture as art without having to `miss out' on the meaning.
If I stop myself applying aesthetic ideas of beauty to Islamic calligraphy I can push these strange shapes to help me even further in my quest to sense an object through my inherent powers of instinct. Islamic calligraphy is art to me because, being unable to read it and by stopping myself thinking of ideas of beauty, the writing has the ability to penetrate my intelligent powers of perception. You have to stop yourself thinking that Islamic calligraphy is art because it reflects religious meaning to someone who can read it or because it upholds any other intellectual idea, like beauty or aesthetics. Try to stop yourself thinking in this way and try to reverse the process going on in your mind. Consider this writing to be art because, without the knowledge to read it and by stopping yourself seeing it as beautiful, you are forced to sense it using a far more ancient part of your mind. Activating this old part of your mind will be reverting to sensing by instinct and this is as close to the art experience as you are ever likely to get.
To see this calligraphy as art you need to ignore its meaning and its beauty and just `feel' for its form through instinct. You will not find it easy to do because your intelligence has evolved to block this old experience of an object from disrupting your powers of perception. This `blocking' is exactly what Cynthia did when she was confronted by Islamic calligraphy. Because she could not read it, she shifted her focus to the next best intelligent idea her mind could throw at what she was looking at. Her mind was working to stop the unidentified writing from provoking an animal sense of instinct and so, instead of facing this `feeling', her mind jumped to find the next best idea she could come up with. This was her intelligent, intellectual idea of beauty that her interest in art had taught her to look for. It is a nice, `safe' form of recognition designed to stop any uncertainty and sense of instinct that the mind generates.
To my way of thinking, Cynthia missed the art experience that Islamic calligraphy could have revealed to her because she was searching for a way to understand what she was looking at. To experience anything as art you have to learn not to understand the object in front of you; ignore its cultural meaning and any aesthetic qualities or workmanship it may hold. These intelligent ideas will dominate your powers of perception and block out the deeper animal instinct for what you are experiencing.
For an object to revert to its ability to arouse this ancient animal sense of instinct from your mind, you need to see the object devoid of intelligent ideas that imposes any powers of recognition over what you see. Believe me, this is very difficult to do. Islamic calligraphy, if you cannot read it, is an object with some of this power. It looks like nothing you have ever seen before and you cannot give it a form of recognition. It is not like Egyptian hieroglyphics that, even though few of us can read the language, are full of images we can recognise. Islamic calligraphy looks abstract to a Western mind. It, therefore, has this power to provoke the animal sense of awareness from within us that generates the art experience from deep inside of us. But, if you see it as decorative, or if you are able to read it, you will not sense this power of instinct within. You will block it out by transforming the sensation into a form of recognisable identity given to you by your powers of intelligence. Your ability to experience Arabic writing as an art object will have been lost and in its place you will see decoration or readable words with religious meaning.
It is like this with everything in the world around you. Any object has the power to help you sense the driving force of art, which is an old animal sense of perception still generated deep in your mind. Any object can do this but few will because your intelligence works all the time to impose some form of recognition over what you see to stop you `feeling' this primal sensation. This lost view lies hidden within everything around us and is universal to all art objects regardless of the cultural content and purpose the works are used for. It is universal because we all had a common animal ancestor who lived entirely within this animal power of perception that is now buried by our intelligence. Any attempt by our intelligence to look at this animal sensation will fail because we have to transform it into a recognisable object. We will find ourselves looking at an object that has been tainted by the time and culture that the artist lived within; the artist's intelligence mind only has this knowledge to use in any attempt to give the animal sensation within us a form of recognition.
The real identity of art, as an animal power of perception for the objects and events around us, is lost to us because of this transformation into some form of recognition that will be influenced by culture. It is inevitable in any work that an artist undertakes, but the secret is to realise what your intelligence is making you do. Learn to understand that intelligence works all the time to stop you sensing your surroundings through a very powerful underlying animal sensation that we all inherit from our primal beginnings.
*Freeland, Cynthia, But is it art? (Oxford University Press, 2002) p. 67.
Cultural Distarction in Modern Art
Most modern artists justify their work by claiming that it reflects the culture of our age: the repetitious images of soup tins, the empty space of a room that tells you that the air you breath is minimalist art, a wall of street graffiti rebuilt in an art gallery, or even dead animals sawn in half to expose entrails and raw meat that are pickled in vitrines.
They tell us such work shows concern over the fundamental dilemmas of human existence or the neurotic state of mind of the individual in a world of selfish indifference to the suffering of others. Themes in such work often reflect our isolation from the reality of events, the fragility of life, horrors of war, our unhealthy fascination with gratuitous sex or our growing dependence upon biological engineering to uphold an ever-increasing world population. Some modern art objects reflect how we allow ourselves to enjoy acts of violence with total disregard for the morality of what we do, or they reveal a lifestyle built upon the desire for selfish greed. Artists are seen as a barometer that reflects this worrying state of affairs as we propel ourselves into an existence dominated by the soulless corporate organisation, the desire of which is to increase profit by brainwashing the free individual into becoming a consumer of mass-manufactured products.
These subjects give content to a modern art object and this causes the degradation in the works placed before us. A chair covered in animal fat or a display of used items of personal hygiene, along with dried sperm and coagulated blood are all presented to reflect `concern' that modern society is pushing us to become insular, indifferent and uncaring. At first glance, it would seem a worthy cause and a good explanation of art to justify the apparent shift toward the bizarre and ludicrous. It is seen as the right thing to do, because what could be more important than art that reflects, and tries to influence, a way of life that is seen as undesirable, destructive and unsustainable? It is commendable, but I don't think it is right. I don't think an artist can have the slightest influence over events and I see this desire for subjects and social concern as a throwback to the traditional idea of art.
The traditional idea used art as a product in society where artists were employed in creating objects that always served a social purpose. The subjects were different to those presented to us today, but the principle is the same. Art has always been used to reflect the state of society and this, in my opinion, can only distract from understanding what art is about. Modernism tried to break away from this servitude to social usage because it was realised that art was independent: art has its own identity and it has nothing to do with society or culture. This realisation only emerged at the beginning of modern art. Before this time, all art had been used for other purposes. The animal pictured with coloured earth in prehistoric times was used to reflect the ritualistic hunting mentality of its age, just as a religious icon uses art to reflect the passion of the believer in an age dominated by faith in God. Today, an unmade bed in an art gallery uses art to reflect the neurotic state of mind of modern living. They are all objects that place the idea of culture over art rather than expound any understanding of the idea of art itself.
Modern art arose to break free from the shackles of this use and abuse of art. Modern art began to explore the identity of art itself and became a search for a purity of form and its effect upon our sense of perceptual awareness. Modern art arose to look at the world as an experience sensed through our powers of perception when freed from the intellectual baggage of subjective use and social concern. The leaders of modern art worked to keep this content out of their art in an attempt to find an objective way of perception, but it seems that their efforts were short lived.
Art today seems to have returned to the need for subjective content because it is easier to comment on what is going on around you than it is to try to discover something deeper within art that lies hidden in our minds. Social concern and the usefulness of art can only distract from the search for a true understanding of art, which was the endeavour of the founders of modern art. Such social concerns are better presented through television and the Internet because these mediums arose for mass communication and are far more effective at influencing us than the art of the individual will ever be able to do.
The founders of modern art knew that they had to break free from the old order. Society always uses art, and artists either allow themselves to be used or, if they are aware of this, they will try to create work that keeps clear of this cultural distraction. Art has always reflected the social place and the times into which it emerges, but this does not mean that this use by culture is the purpose of art. It only means that artists are not strong enough to resist this demand for their work by society. The founders of modern art set themselves the goal of exploring the nature of art itself and discovered that art has a far more profound meaning than its use in society.
Art is far older than society and stems from prehistoric times when our emerging intelligence was working to overpower our old animal state of mind. Art emerged in human beings because a change occurred in our powers of perception. This change gave us new powers of perception that were more successful than the old way of sensing the world, but the old view was far more emotive and direct. This old way of sensing was very prominent in the minds of our primal ancestors, and our new emerging intelligence had to find a way to suppress this old animal awareness. Creating art objects was one development to emerge from this need. We began to make drawings, sculptures, music and dance to bury the old sense of perception behind a new emerging awareness of control and organisation that these `art' objects began to teach us to recognise. Art arose to help our powers of intelligence dominate the older animal sensations that used to occupy our mind. By the time civilisations developed, the art object was well established and, therefore, society found a ready-made tool to give ideas like superstition and religion a recognisable image. Art did not develop for the purpose of making objects for these beliefs, but it had this purpose forced upon it as we emerged from our animal origins.
Art's original purpose was to enhance our powers of perception. Art taught us how to recognise control and organisation in how we perceived sight, shape, sound and movement, but this original need for art was forgotten. In its place arose this usage of the art object to uphold other ideas. It is this realisation that modern art arose to explore. To do this the founders of modern art moved their work away from social use and subjectivity to try to return to an exploration of a primal awareness that we have evolved to suppress in our view of the world.
If the artist is engaged in reflecting his or her concern over the beliefs or the state of society then the true understanding of art as a tool of perceptual awareness cannot be understood. This awareness for any object, which modern art arose to explore, requires a way of looking without any ideas imposed by intelligence dominating the experience of what confronts us. If the art object reflects social ideas or beliefs or the neurotic state of the mind in modern life, these considerations will stop the direct experience of an object from being sensed. The viewer will fill their mind full of ideas about the subjective content of the work. This social use of art has always stopped the idea of art itself being explored because the work was used by the tribe, the Church or the State to create objects that reflected the needs of these establishments.
Modern art arose to shed these burdens. It began to look at the world as a source of sight, shape, sound and movement that could be researched through the perceptual exploration of pure form. Artists like Paul Cézanne, Piet Mondrian or Jackson Pollock worked to rid their art objects of social reference or personal states of mind. They worked to discover pure form as sensed without intellectual distortion and distraction caused by ideas of having to work with a subject or a message in the work. Most of the artists who began the move to modern art understood how art had failed to reveal its true power and identity as a tool of perceptual awareness because of the continuous interference from the intellect and the needs of society.
At its inception, modern art was an attempt to look beyond these distractions. It was an attempt to see sight, shape, sound and movement in a more direct, emotive way, which can only be understood when our powers of perception are free from ideas held over it by intelligence. You cannot see the basic form of anything in front of you if you look to recognise a subject or search to discover meaning. These qualities belong to the intellect and have evolved in our minds to block a power of perception triggered by a far more basic way of sensing, which we still inherit in our minds. The leaders of modern art understood this most primary of all principles hidden behind all art. They worked to rid their creations of the elements of subjective distraction that always stop a deeper more ancient part of our mind generating its powers of perception. It is these powers of perception, kept subdued by our intelligent need for recognition, that modern art arose to try to explore.
Bringing social concern and subjective meaning back into an artwork is like returning to the traditional idea of art as a useful commodity for the tribe, the Church or the State. The fact that the needs of the tribe, the Church or the State have been replaced by an `art scene', which is populated by the idea that art can reflect the most bizarre and ludicrous objects, just returns art to the place it was at before Modernism. The rise of modern art revealed the true identity of art as a sensual experience that has always been kept subdued by the intelligent demand for control and organisation over all we see and do. That sensation cannot be experienced whilst the intellect is engaged with ideas about sex, death, violence, revolution, love, desire, beauty or anything else being portrayed in a work of art. The artist has to avoid these distractions to get art to work at generating a far deeper level of perceptual awareness for our primal sensation of ANY object.
That primal sensation is generated in a very ancient part of your mind, and intelligence will do all it can to stop you sensing it. Intelligence will try to find anything it can recognise or understand so that it can then block this other, ancient experience from emerging into your powers of perception. Modern art arose to stop intelligence doing this. It tried to find ways of creating forms that intelligence would have difficulty recognising so we could, once again, sense the world through instinct. Returning to a subject of social `concern' is a retreat from this discovery. It is a soft option because it takes a very deep creative ability to find forms that cannot be easily recognised by intelligence. Few of us have this ability and so most artists take the easy route and just present something we can easily recognise and try to justify it as modern art by getting it to relate to culture.
I think modern artists should stop being `concerned' with culture and avoid trying to reflect the sorry state of society and the degradation of modern life. Television and the Internet are far more apt at exposing this worrying development to us. I think modern artists should keep social concern and recognisable subjects out of art. They should explore pure form. It is what the leaders of Modernism began to do, but it requires a great creative insight to discover form that our vast intelligence cannot, or will find it difficult to, identify. It is only when our intelligence is in this state of uncertainty that we are perceptive to the deeper powers of sensory awareness that our minds work to keep subdued. Few of us have this ability to sense beyond our intelligent way of looking at all that we see and do and so most artists return art to the easy option. They just create something that reflects what intelligence knows how to recognise. This requires less effort; just create or find something that everyone can easily identify and make it big and outrageous. It seems the right thing to do, but it is not. It is a return to art made for society, and Modernism arose to get away from this old burden of usage that society demands from artists.
Modernism arose to try to discover a way of sensing the world around us through our old inherent powers of perception that we keep subdued by intelligent concern and recognition for what goes on around us. Modern art arose to try to discover a sense of pure form at the very core of our powers of observation. It is not easy to do because to look through instinct you need to look without intelligence imposing its powers of recognition over what you see and this is something we have evolved away from being able to do.
This instinctive view of our surroundings is something we no longer know how to sense and so our minds work all the time to overpower this old view by making us replace the `feeling' with something we know how to recognise. As a result, 99% of modern art merely reflects concern over the state of our urban minds. We see it reflected through all kinds of objects, from graffiti to ready-made, day-to-day things, but they all present images that we can easily recognise and this will always work to stop our minds sensing in any deeper primal way.
Every now and again you will come across an artist who steers clear of cultural subjects in art. You will find an artist trying to create pure forms in an objective way. These artists stay true to the founding principle of Modernism. They look deep within themselves, past all that intellectual baggage and individual neurosis. They search for a way of understanding sight, shape, sound and movement that we have learned to bury deep in our minds.
So You Want to be an Artist?
First of all, get all that bullshit out of your head that makes you believe that an artist has succeeded when they attain fame and fortune in the art world. This way of thinking will make you create work that fits an established view. This is not what art is about.
To be an artist you need to find a way to make work that no one has ever seen before and is unlike anything that has been done before. This is very difficult to achieve and it should matter little to you what other people think of the result. Indeed, because your work will be unlike anything anyone has ever done before, most people will reject what you do. Your work will not fit the established view and so you are unlikely to be accepted by the art world.
Anyone with aptitude can learn to paint pictures, make sculpture, compose music or dance, but creating objects like this will not make you an artist. Art is not an object you could make but a way of sensing sight, shape, sound and movement before you impose an established idea over these sensations. If you use established ways of working you will destroy the experience we call art. An artist with this understanding needs to find a way to create an image of original and intuitive appearance. An artist needs to search for new forms of perceptual awareness because it is only when we are in this state of mind that we sense the underlying view of all things that the established ways of making art objects arose to keep suppressed in our minds.
To be an artist you need to find a way of looking at the world like no one has ever done before. Few people seem to understand this principle and they think that replicating past artistic objects will make them artists. This is a mistaken belief because the only thing that makes you an artist is to sense an underlying way of perception that drives you to create original work. To do this means you need to get away from the established ideas. The established ways serve to bury the art experience because art is a way of sensing that can only be glimpsed when we are unable to project an idea of recognition over what we see. We see something we have never seen before and, because we have no idea that fits the experience, we sense what confronts us in a deeper primal way. This experience is what an artist should be capable of sensing, but we will only get this experience for ourselves if the artist can find a way to remove our established ideas about what confronts us.
Because of this, a modern artist has to find an original image, shape, sound or movement that disrupts the ideas that we look for in all we see and do. For this reason, it is no good painting a picture of a landscape or a portrait in the traditional way because the picture is not art but an object we apply an idea over. People call the painting a work of art, but in doing this they stop this object provoking any other deeper awareness of what they see. For a painting to give us the experience that artists sense in their view of the world, we need to see the painting as we have never seen a painting before. Few painters realise this and most continue to paint like other painters. This kind of object then works to stop you sensing the painting in an intuitive way because you will compare what you see to an established idea. If the artist could paint like no one before them then we would sense this painting with no idea to apply to it and the experience we would `feel' would be a primal sensation of an object.
So, it is no good painting something we know how to recognise. Imagining fairies or fantasies fails in this respect because we will have no difficulty identifying subjects like these. And it's no good painting like a Surrealist, or a Cubist, or an Expressionist, or an Impressionist, or an Abstract artist. It's all been done and these styles now enforce an established idea that people relate to. You need to break free from this established view.
Will a ready-made art object break away from this established view? No; it did when it was first conceived but now it is an accepted art object and so anybody presenting ready-made objects as art is just copying what Marcel Duchamp achieved. So, dead sharks, old sheds and unmade beds are now accepted art objects and will not work to remove our ideas about what we see. Sorry, but you will have to do better than this if you want to stay true to the founding principle of modern art. People will not see ready-made art objects in a new way that stops them recognising what is in front of them. No ready-made object in this day and age is going to work to provoke the sensation of a primal way of perceptual awareness that the founding principle of modern art arose to reveal to us.
What, then, is a modern artist to do to break away from the vast imposition of established ideas that we impose over everything? How do you rob the viewer of their ability to recognise what confronts them? To be a modern artist is to be a person who understands that you must, somehow, find a way to do this.
Having a big studio, an arts degree and all the equipment in the world will do nothing to help you get this result. To be an artist is to understand that you stand alone in this quest because you cannot turn to anything that has been done before for inspiration. Such a move will impose an established idea over what you are trying to grasp and this will destroy the sensation of an object that can only be sensed when you have no idea to apply to what confronts you. If you follow those who preceded you, you will end up with something that replicates previous works and this will distract from sensing what confronts you in an original and inherent way.
To be an artist is to condemn yourself to a solitary existence for the sole purpose of creating something unlike anything anyone has ever created before. You will probably struggle, day-in and day-out, in a damp bedsit searching for a new unrealised way of looking at the world. You will live in self-imposed exile because you need to avoid influence because you need a clear mind to find your own grasp of a deep sensation that your intelligence works to suppress in your mind. You cannot give an established image to this sensation because, as soon as you do, it will wisp away like some phantom and you will allow a recognisable idea to suppress the experience.
So, here you are, alone in your damp bedsit trying to create something that no one can recognise so that, when they come face to face with your work, they will experience the sensation that has made you struggle in this way in lonely solitude. They will look at your work and cry out, `This is not art.' They will shun your work because what you have created will not adhere to their idea of art. They will be horrified because they have no way to categorise what you have done and, therefore, no one will think what you have done is art. Face to face with your work, these people cannot use their ideas and so they will be confronted by uncertainty. They will be unable to suppress the primal sensation that your work creates in their minds and so they will reject what you have done. If you want to be an artist, this is the task that life holds for you. You will probably grow old, penniless and destitute in your damp bed-sit, surrounded by work no one else recognises or understands.
Perhaps, one day, someone will notice what it is that you have glimpsed deep within yourself that is so unlike anything anyone has ever done before. Perhaps someone will realise your work is so out of place that it has created a new way of looking. Perhaps they will grasp that you have tried to look in a primal way and they will befriend you. They will come to your damp bedsit and look at your work, which stands so forlorn and neglected. They will look in disbelief upon your tired eyes and listen as best they can to the rasping words that filter through your chronic pneumonia. They will hold your hand and, with your last breath, you can whisper into their ear and say, `I really was an artist.'
On the other hand, you could forget all that, go to art school, make objects like everyone else, get your degrees and a business plan and a gallery behind you. You will make a fortune, live in a big house with a real artist's studio and a helicopter on the back lawn beside the swimming pool. You can shout out to the world and say, `I am a success.' You will have no idea what the age-old sensation called art is because, to you, art is a product to be hyped onto the marketplace in a world that demands investment in trivia and instant gratification.
Why Your Child id Unlikely an Art Genius
It has become a cliché to promote the idea of the child artist. This three- or four-year-old paints like an Abstract Expressionist and is claimed to be a little art genius. Filmed in action and promoted by exhibition, the child's work sells for thousands of pounds and is presented to the art world as the next best thing since Jackson Pollock.
In reality, this pretence is about a parent or guardian seeing a marketable commodity that cashes in on a general belief that an abstract painting in some way possesses significant meaning. What you need to understand is that abstract art has no meaning. It has no subject and is an object void of skill and interpretation. Anyone could paint an abstract, even a chimpanzee can do it, but the point is that it has already been done and so if you paint an abstract you are not doing anything original. To be a genius artist, you need to do something that has never been done before and it does not matter what age you are.
Children, given paint and canvas, will create abstract art because they will approach the act of painting without preconceived ideas. This way of painting, free of intent, is what abstract art set out to explore, but to be a valid artist you have to advance this endeavour. No child, painting an abstract in this day and age, could possibly offer anything to advance upon what abstract art has revealed to us. To be a genius artist a child would have to paint like no one has ever painted before and this would mean that his or her work would not look like a painting that we would know how to recognise. Such a work of genius would not be a picture and certainly not an abstract. It would reveal a new, undiscovered way of creating images. To discover such a way of painting would require an exceptional ability of a highly original kind. It is the word `original' that is of importance; to be original is to conceive a way of seeing the world like no one has ever done before.
Albert Einstein was a genius because he saw beyond Newtonian mechanics. Einstein discovered a way of understanding the world like no one had ever done before. Jackson Pollock was a genius because he saw that the traditional way of applying paint to canvas in a controlled and organised way worked to stop us sensing objects in a primal way. The simple truth is that anyone copying Einstein's theory of relativity today would be regarded as a time waster because the next genius will discover a way to see beyond relativity. In art, the next genius will discover a way to make art that is neither realistic nor abstract or anything in between. A child encouraged by a parent or guardian to paint big abstracts like Jackson Pollock is, for some unknown reason, deemed a genius, but age has nothing to do with your ability to discover a way of looking at the world like no one has ever done before. Anyone painting today will either paint something we know how to recognise (like a landscape, a portrait, fairies or aliens) or they will paint abstracts like geometric patterns or accidental dribbles of paint. A genius will break free from these limitations and paint a completely undiscovered way of comprehending an image. This is what Jackson Pollock did. He showed us a way to paint without intelligence imposing control and organisation over the image. This, before Pollock, had never been realised. Everyone who took up paint and brushes set about creating an object controlled by their powers of intelligence and this way of working had always stopped an inherent view from being sensed in our minds.
Most people claim that what Pollock did was not art, but the point of what he did was to free painting from the imposition of intelligence. He did this because art, as I understand the modern meaning of the word, is a way of looking at the world BEFORE we impose an intelligent idea over what we see. No one painting an abstract today will advance upon this principle because we now have an idea to project over such a work created without intent. We call it Abstract Expressionism and this classification now gives us an idea that works to suppress the original disturbance that Jackson Pollock's work created within the art world. Children who are encouraged to manufacture exhibition format, abstract art offer no more than a commercial product made to adhere to this established idea and, therefore, such work offers nothing new to our understanding of art. Abstract art deemed to display signs of genius can only be the product of exploitation of the child's natural ability to play with paint. This can only have been marketed by a parent or guardian for the purpose of financial gain. Believe me, if the child was an art genius the work they would have made would not look like any painting we know how to recognise.
What is valuable in child art is that, if left uninfluenced by adults, the child can show us an insight into a view of the world without value judgements. Children will quite happily do this on a small scrap of paper on a kitchen table. Parents or guardians who claim their child's abstract offers something new to art impose a value judgement over the work. This will always destroy what the child shows us.
Is Modern Art Emotionally Disturbed?
Art as a therapy for the emotionally disturbed attempts to get the patient to direct their neurosis towards the control and organisation needed to create paintings, sculptures, music or dance. Art therapy offers the possibility of guiding the uncontrolled power of emotion into some form of ordered structure that will hopefully help to ease the afflicted soul so that they can attain a reasonable quality of life. It seems to work and there are examples of extremely powerful art created by people who have been overwhelmed by grief or some other deep event that has disrupted the ordered state of mind that keeps our view of life under control.
The basis of all modern art is the translation of these deep, emotive powers of perception into an object in an attempt to give structured meaning to an underlying experience of sight, shape, sound and movement in our minds. This imposition of our intelligent state of mind over a view that seems disruptive underlies all art, but only in modern art is an attempt made to give emotive content a greater presence in the creation of a work. Traditional art stops this emotive content by imposing strict control over the structuring of the work. This means that the modern artist is going to have to travel to a very emotionally disturbing place, beyond intelligent control and organisation, to glimpse a vision of the world that has become buried in the depths of our minds.
In traditional art, the translation of deep emotion is always subdued by the imposition of well-established and enforced techniques over how a work is created. What we will see in traditional art is an object that is dominated by intelligence, and any distortion of this intelligent view of the world by any underlying `feeling' is kept to a minimum in the art work. In the case of painting, we would expect to see a work that creates a skilfully portrayed image of what the artist has seen through their eyes. Traditional art keeps emotions under strict control and any hint of any disturbance that such `feelings' might reveal in our vision of the world will always be disciplined behind the precise representation of an image.
Modern art arose to try to give this emotive content in our powers of perception a greater presence. Modern art tries to recognise a far deeper way of comprehending the powers of sight, shape, sound and movement that we have evolved to keep hidden behind intelligent control and organisation. This means a modern artist is going to have to be emotionally disturbed because if they are not they will only produce art that is traditional in structure. The art will reflect the order and organisation we impose upon our experience of objects and events so that we are not disturbed in any way by an underlying emotive view. If an artist is very emotionally disturbed we would expect to see an art object that is less organised. For example, as a painting this would probably manifest as an image displaying heavy, jagged brushwork and less concern with a detailed image. Modern art emerged from traditional styles and technique because these rules and regulations dictate how the artist should translate perception into a controlled and organised image. This always destroys the more powerful vision of the world generated by our emotions. This way of working to translate the artists' emotive powers of perception into a very precisely organised work only reflects how intelligence commands our powers of perception.
We are all born to generate an emotive view through our old powers of instinct, but from a very early age our intelligence develops to suppress this experience by transforming it into a very controlled and organised vision of the objects and events that we encounter. Our intelligence subdues an original, emotive view generated deep inside of us long before we can become aware of it. Most of us will live our lives without ever coming to know this emotive power of perception buried inside us. We might get disturbed over something in life, but most of us keep this emotional disturbance under some sort of control through the order and organisation that our intelligence imposes over everything we see and do.
Intelligence gets very violent when it can't control our emotions. This is not to say that emotions are violent; I believe an emotional view of the world around us is very beautiful and quite unlike anything we can picture through our powers of intelligence. However, intelligence dominates this emotional view to keep it suppressed. This always works to stop us sensing a very deep and powerful sensation of the world. Any attempt to usurp intelligence to get a look at the beautiful view of our world through our emotions generates a violent reaction. Because modern art arose to try to show us a deeper translation of our emotive powers of perception, the result we should expect to see is an art object that intelligence has lost control over and this work will very often reflect violent acts.
Modern art is often disturbing because it upholds a loss of intelligent control and organisation over the deep inherent powers of perception that we try to keep subdued. This effect will appear in different degrees in the work the artist creates. The effect will vary somewhere between destructive, uncontrolled gestures to the perfect control and organisation imposed over the creation of an object by intelligence. What we won't see is the emotional vision. This is lost to us because the power of our intelligence will not let us sense in the way needed to experience this underlying view. It is lost because our intelligence will do anything to stop this vision of the world around us from entering the control and organisation that we have evolved to impose over all we see and do. Depending upon how the artist chooses to translate their emotive powers of perception, they will either create work that reveals violently disrupted or subdued images.
Most artists create works that reflect one or the other of these states of mind. A conceptual artist might argue that they do not create a work at all and so they are exempt from this translation of perception, but this is an illusion. They will want to tell you what their concept is and this will be a form of translation because the idea itself has no form until it is structured into language. This language will be controlled and organised by intelligence and this will be working to stop the emotions that triggered the idea from being recognised. Even conceptual art cannot free us from imposing intelligence over our view of the world. Intelligence has evolved to suppress an underlying view generated by instinct and so the conceptual artist will have passed through the basic process of art even though they choose not to translate the experience into physical form. It is the translation of emotions that is so difficult and so important in art. Translation of emotions into the content of a work of art is all that the artist has to show how deep they have travelled into this state of mind that modern art tries to reveal to us. An artist will either be creative enough to bring these emotional visions back to us or they will lose them by allowing intelligence to reinstate order and control over the experience to subdue it.
For a work of modern art to achieve the kind of power to disturb our sense of perception, a very special kind of presentation is required. The work has to have the ability to help us look beneath the control and organisation that we impose over all we see and do. It really need not concern us what object or event the artist chooses to place before us. It could be a painting, a sculpture, music, dance or a ready-made. All of these objects will be recognised by our intelligence and this will impose a sense of control and organisation over what you experience. To be useful to the idea of modern art, the objects would have to work in some way to overthrow our need to recognise control and organisation in what we look at. This is not easily achieved. Almost all traditional art presents easily recognisable subjects or an experience that is fully controlled and organised by the artist's intelligence. Modern art arose to break free from this restrictive practice and to try to show us a way of looking that we do not normally encounter in our day to day lives.
Now, obviously, if you can recognise something in a picture like a portrait or a landscape, the intelligent organisation of such an image is going to work to stop your powers of perception sensing in a more direct emotive way. The same could be said of sculpture, music and dance. If these objects present a controlled and organised experience of shape, sound or movement you are not going to `feel' these sensations in the more emotive state of mind that underlies your powers of recognition. Likewise, with art that uses ready-made objects. Your powers of recognition are not going to be disturbed by anything your intelligence can easily identify. An unmade bed or a big dead shark will shock you, but it is not going to help you sense the object in front of you in any other deeper inherent way. You won't have any trouble identifying what you are looking at and that power of recognition will stop any sense of uncertainty, and the disturbing sense of inherent perception that underlies it, from being felt in your mind. The original purpose of modern art was not to shock people by showing them something bizarre or ludicrous, but to try to help them realise they inherit another way of perception that their intelligence works to keep hidden in their experience of the world. A lot of modern art today does not seem to uphold this principle. It seeks only to shock people by presenting as much degradation and disgust as possible.
For this reason, it begins to look like a lot of modern art is emotionally disturbed. This is constantly revealed in modern art magazines, where you expect some kind of enlightenment from those who write to fill the expensive pages. You expect explanation, but what you are confronted with is often a half-hearted attempt to mystify the most outrageous and seemingly nonsensical works with some vague idea of art as a reaction to the seemingly depressing and destructive nature of our modern lifestyle. Our modern way of existence may be of great concern to those who try to live their lives by some sort of moral standards, but I suspect that art that tries to promote the debauchery of a confused and distraught nature does more harm than good. It just adds more crudity to an already overloaded scene that sees the artist as someone who overindulges in the themes of violence, infanticide, sex and anything else you care to think about related to popular culture. This whole edifice of concern with modern life just distracts from the most basic principle of an art experience. I have never understood why a contemporary modern artist should think that art should reflect their personal state of mind. The founders of modern art never did this because they understood their quest. They realised that art has to be a search for pure form because anything else will just serve to give intelligence a way to stop you sensing this underlying experience in your perception in the world. Their personal `feelings' and their lifestyle had nothing to do with this search. An artist like Cézanne kept himself to himself and just got on with the job of trying to find a way to discover how to visualise emotive sensations without destroying them through an overbearing imposition of personal commentary. To do this requires a state of mind that is almost oblivious to the plight of the world. You have to be transcendental in a belief that art is a pure form of perceptual awareness that your intelligence, with all of its concerns, desires and selfish needs, can only distract you from attaining.
What will often occur before a modern artist works is a sense of instability, drunken stupor and schizophrenic attack. These states of mind open up the artist's awareness of the power of the emotive perception that is hidden beneath our day-to-day consciousness, but this behaviour is no way to arrive at a state of inner awareness. You have to be in a stable state of mind to be able to extract a glimpse of a deeper view of reality that a haze of the neurotic attack or a drunken binge opens your mind to sensing. The power of Vincent van Gogh's paintings does not lie in the deep depressive states of mind with which he found himself afflicted, but in his ability to give that depth of depression a visual structure either before or after the attacks. Van Gogh's state of mind was stable enough when he worked to allow his deep and emotive perceptual awareness to structure a `feeling' for what afflicted him to emerge into his work. His greatness lay in how he transformed that `feeling' from beyond intelligent control and organisation into tangible form without intelligence destroying it.
Most of us exist in a very stable state of mind because the power of control and organisation imposed by our intelligence over our deeper emotive `feelings' are kept under strict control. For an artist, this power of control and organisation manifests itself in forms of perceptual recognition. An artist is involved in filtering emotive `feelings' into recognisable forms of sight, shape, sound or movement. Traditional art always did this through absolute intelligent control being imposed upon inner `feelings' and this always transforms that sensation into a work that will be dominated by images that we can easily recognise. Modern art arose to break free from the imprisonment of intelligent control and organisation. Modern art began to create forms that were not fully controlled by intelligent awareness and were, therefore, difficult to recognise. This brings deeper `feelings' to the surface, which are generated by a state of mind beyond our powers of recognition. The results will appear as distorted sights, shapes, sounds and movement to the traditional techniques of art because intelligent control over the creation of images is being handed over to a deeper sense of perceptual sensing. What the leaders of this shift in art discovered is that loss of control does not reveal deeper images but only distorts the surface images that we know how to recognise.
What will emerge from a deep state of emotive perception are forms that we have no way of recognising. An artist cannot give these emotions direct recognition but can only transform them into intelligent visualisation. This takes powerful creative insight, and the difference between a great modern artist and a mundane artist is their ability to edge what we know how to recognise towards what we don't know how to recognise in the images they create. Today's contemporary modern artists don't seem to attempt to do this. They seem to have abandoned the struggle to transform deep, emotive instability into tangible form. They seem instead to confront you with their instability rather than an attempt to translate it into art. You find objects like an unmade bed that is presented as a statement about the confused hardship of a soul who exposes every aspect of a lover's emotional uncertainty in the clutter around the stained and crumpled sheets. This artist (Tracey Emin) is very emotionally perceptive, but makes no attempt to translate the powerful state of mind that she exposes to us into new forms of visual experience. It was this power of translation that the founders of modern art set out to achieve. Tracey Emin is not alone in this shift away from attempting to visualise the uncharted depth of human emotions. Most contemporary artists prefer to make a statement that they `feel' these emotions but they steer clear of any attempt to transform the `feelings' into new ways to visualise what lies beneath our ability to recognise the objects and events around us. It was this search for new forms of visualisation embedded in the depth of our emotive powers of perception that became the driving force of modern art.
Most contemporary modern artists choose not to explore their full powers of visualisation. They prefer to present you with objects void of translation. You find giant plastic babies or an even bigger dead shark or items like repetitious reproductions of Brillo soap pad boxes stacked neatly in the centre of an art gallery. They all seem to be designed to shock us rather than try to reveal any attempt to help us sense our surroundings with any inherent depth of emotive awareness. Art that shocks us does not help us understand other modes of perception; it merely generates a feeling of bewilderment, disgust or amusement that blocks the emotions.
It might be outdated to think like Cézanne, but here was a man who had a very singular understanding of perceptual awareness. He saw that our intelligence always works to suppress a far more emotive way of sensing the world around us from emerging in our minds. He realised that our powers of recognition work to stop us sensing our surroundings in this emotive way and he began to attempt to explore the world around him as a vision of basic form. He tried to reduce our powers of perception to an elementary level of awareness by giving emphasis to the primary shapes of the cone, the cube and the sphere. What he did was a very tentative move, but it began the shift in our understanding of how our intelligent perception subdues our emotions behind our powers of recognition. Remove what we know how to recognise from our view of the world and we begin to `feel' a far more powerful way of perceiving that is generated in our minds by instinct.
Cézanne reduced what he saw down to a more fundamental level of observation. He tried to look in this inherent, instinctive way and his work represents an attempt to wrestle perceptual awareness away from our dominant powers of recognition, towards sensing shapes in a more intuitive form. Cézanne was the first artist to understand that our intelligent powers of recognition work to stop a far more powerful sense of awareness from being experienced. His work represents the beginning of an attempt to formulate art as an experience beyond intelligent awareness. Cézanne began to realise that intelligence works to overpower a deeper sense of perception from emerging into our minds, but he could not go as far as to completely remove forms of recognition from his work. He adhered to classical technique and still believed art was a product of the intellect rather than, as would later be realised, a sense of an emotive animal perception that reside beyond intelligent control and organisation.
Cézanne's works point to the possibility that forms exist beyond intelligent recognition, but he was never in a position to understand the implications of what he did. He could never have done so because it was too early in the history of modern art for the idea to be fully understood.
You would think that this discovery would have encouraged modern art to progress, but this is far from the case. For one thing, no one pointed out the implications of what Cézanne discovered. Artists remained confused and found it difficult to completely abandon the traditional insistence that intelligent control and organisation are essential ingredients in the forming of an art object. It was not until 1943, when Jackson Pollock finally created a painting in which he tried to stop intelligence from influencing the work, that we saw a true attempt to uphold the principle that Cézanne had founded. Cézanne died in 1906 and so it took thirty-seven years for modern artists to extract the true discovery from the plethora of work that had been produced in this time.
From Jackson Pollock's efforts there should have evolved an exploration of forms created and sensed by instinct, but this never materialised. Instead, modern artists carried on making works controlled by their intelligent minds that imposed order and organisation over their view of the world. They carried on creating works that upheld recognisable subjects and images. This was probably because, like Cézanne, Pollock failed to clarify what he was doing. He must have understood the idea, but just could not put it into words that would have made it clear for less perceptive artists to grasp. Instead of becoming a search for forms sensed through our emotive powers of instinct, modern art began to reflect a vision of the world around us in a distorted way. Artists took what we know how to recognise and tried to fill it full of `emotions' reflected through distorted images. What they should have done, and what Pollock did, is to find images we have never learned to recognise. This is very difficult to achieve and it requires exceptional creative insight. Most modern artists never understand this or prefer to take the easy option and move away from this development. A lot of modern work – like Pop Art – moved back to images that are easy to recognise and made no effort to search for form beyond traditional subjects. Art as a search for pure objective form was thought too `serious' and fell out of favour to be replaced by art that was more `fun', with popular images that are said to reflect concern for modern life.
This was not the premise that Cézanne had founded or the discovery that Pollock tried to explore. What we have today is not, therefore, the remit that the founders of modern art set out to discover. The founding artists of modern art set themselves the goal of a pure search for a way to translate emotive `feelings' into forms of perceptual awareness that intelligence has never learned to recognise. It was this search for form beyond intelligent control and organisation that was the founding principle of modern art, but the concept never materialised. What we have today is confusion created by artists who have not understood, or don't want to uphold, this most basic premise in modern art.
Few of today's artists search for form beyond intelligent recognition. They `feel' emotional about the world, but they don't know how to bring that feeling to our level of intelligent awareness. It takes great creative ability to do this and merely presenting any object will do nothing to show us how to translate that inherent `feeling' into our lives. Most modern art we see exhibited today is just a failure to understand the founding principle of modern art. It has probably come about because that principle requires a serious commitment in time, effort and brainpower to search for forms that our intelligence has never learned to recognise. We live in an age of instant gratification where such a commitment is frowned upon. People don't want art to be serious; they just want fun.
Such an approach only places uncertainty and confusion before us and this has to be structured for it to become art. It is this structuring of uncertainty and confusion that was so powerful at the beginning of modern art and without it contemporary work is mediocre. It requires great creative insight to give structure to the emotive forms in the depths of our minds because without this ability you are just going to present an object that is easy for intelligence to recognise. This will allow intelligence to dominate and control the `feeling' that the artist tries to visualise. Modern art arose to try to stop intelligence doing this. It is a difficult thing to achieve because it requires exceptional talent to create an object that stops your intelligence projecting ideas of recognition over what you see. Your intelligence always wants to subdue the emotional view of an object that is sensed when we have no idea to project over what we see. An artist who is aware of this idea will be working to find ways of stopping intelligence from imposing its powers of recognition over the work.
Artists who do not understand this will present anything as art because they don't know what to do with the powerful state of mind with which they find themselves possessed. An artist must descend into this powerful state of mind and this means travelling into near madness to glimpse forms beyond intelligent control and organisation. Even when the artist has descended into this state of mind they are faced with having to claw their way back to the surface where we all live. The artist must hang onto what they have glimpsed deep within themselves and show us these forms without intelligence transforming it into an image we will recognise because our intelligence will be working to destroy that deep original sensation. Any such intelligent image that the artist imposes over what they sense will work to stop the original emotive view from being revealed to us.
Very few artists will have the ability to descend to near madness and bring the view back to our level of intelligent awareness without destroying it. Most artists sense our emotive state of mind, but few journey down there to get a glimpse of a way of sensing the world that intelligence has never learned to recognise. Most create something that our intelligence can easily recognise. This is not difficult to do because, nowadays, you can take any object, present it in an unusual way and call it art. This is not what the pioneers of modern art set out to achieve. They did not struggle to free art from the traditional restraints of painting, sculpture, music and dance so that an artist could present anything as art. They struggled to find ways of exploring emotive forms beyond our powers of recognition and to have the freedom to try to bring these forms into conscious awareness without the burden of traditional rules and regulations.
The pioneers set out to find ways of looking at the objects and events around us so that we could sense them without the control and organisation that intelligence imposes over what we see. You would think that it would be easy to do but, believe me, it is almost impossible to achieve. This is because our intelligence has evolved to overpower emotive sensations in our perception of the world and we, therefore, find that our minds are continuously looking for forms of recognition to suppress the inherent view. You can just scribble on a sheet of paper and you will begin to see how your intelligence begins to dominate the scribbling with some form of recognition. Your intelligence will set to work to find subliminal images and identify the shape of a face, figures or animals and a whole host of other subjects from the tangled mass of lines. Your mind is doing this to stop you sensing what is in front of you in an old emotive and instinctive way. It is what your mind learns to do from the day you are born.
Overcoming this power of intelligent recognition takes a vast effort of creative awareness. An artist trying to achieve this kind of modern art is continuously struggling to avoid any forms of recognisable content in the work they create. For this reason, most modern artists prefer to follow an easier path and present something that we can easily recognise. They present things in a disturbing way and then claim that it is a statement about social concern or about the dubious nature of modern values. This is false Modernism and is not what the founders of modern art set out do.
Modern art objects that reflect this kind of recognisable content and social concern are returning art to the traditional format. These modern art objects might reflect `concern' over genetic engineering or the destruction of the environment or the neurotic state of modern life. They use these images in the place of traditional subjects, such as mythology, religion or war, but they use art to give a social identity to what they do. This gives art an appeal to an audience, but it robs art of a deeper inherent power that the founders of modern art set out to reveal to us. Any artist showing work that reflects `concern' over the state of modern life is not upholding the founding principle of modern art. They are returning art to its former prison of social use.
Traditional art became the tool of these social needs, but modern art arose to get away from this burden. For example, in painting around the turn of the nineteenth century artists began to look at shape and colour to free it from the subject it was always expected to reflect. Modern art, at the beginning, became a search to find ways to look beyond how we recognise sight, shape, sound and movement. This requires artists to find images that we have never learned to recognise. The idea seems to have faltered because the majority of contemporary artists today have returned to presenting images and subjects that we can easily recognise. Because this return to recognition has re-emerged from an attempt to rid art of recognisable subjects, the effect has created a distorted idea of what modern art is about. The contemporary art scene seems to focus on fun, entertainment and the party mentality. This is a complete travesty and a betrayal of the principles of modern art. It is not true modern art, but traditional art disguised in a contemporary format. If these artists upheld the true principle of modern art they would be working hard to present a serious search for forms beyond intelligent recognition, but then, I guess, that would not be very popular. Few modern artists seem to want to attempt to go down this path of serious exploration.
To answer my question – is modern art emotionally disturbed? – I would have to say yes; a modern artist has to be afflicted by instability to discover the primal state of mind that modern art sets out to explore. Modern art has to display instability, but few artists today try to infuse this sensation into their work. They see art as a venture that is promoted and marketed as a commercial product. Modern art has ceased to be a serious search for our inherent powers of perception. Such a search is thought to be too serious in an age that just wants fun. Who in their right mind would want to look inwards towards a view of the world that intelligence cannot control? Who wants to be an artist who is going to have to struggle to ascend into near madness to discover unseen emotive forms in their mind and then struggle even harder to bring these forms back to our world? Who in their right mind would want to go to such self-sacrifice in the name of art? That would be just too much to ask, wouldn't it?
The Rose and the Cockroach
Imagine walking into an art exhibition that has only two works on show. One is a painting of a rose that has been pictured with wonderful attention to the detail of the flower. The artist has rendered the colour and transparency of the flower and has captured a subtle light and shade of the subject. This work has been made by an artist who has intensified the appearance of the rose to make us more aware of this visual sensation in our experience of the painting. The finished work hangs in a nice frame so that you can look at it and appreciate all the skill and effort that has been lavished upon the creation of this image. The other work is a squashed cockroach. This artist has trodden on the insect and then cut up the old grey floorboard upon which this dead crushed arthropod has congealed and this work now hangs next to the painting of the rose. It has no frame and is an unattractive, roughly sawn plank of wood with a squashed insect upon it. Both objects are presented as works of art.
To a traditional art lover, and the majority of visitors who come to art galleries, the painting of the rose is undoubtedly a work created by an artist. The squashed cockroach, on the other hand, seems at first glance to be little more than a bad joke by someone who deludes themselves as to their status as an artist. After all, anyone could stamp on a cockroach and hang the remains on a wall. How can you justify such a disgusting thing as having anything to do with art? What we need to realise is that neither of these objects are art. The reality of what confronts us is that one object is a painting and the other is a squashed cockroach. The fact that the painting shows us a picture of a rose is really incidental to the experience that we call art because art is not the subject of a work. The subject is a translation of the art experience.
In the case of the painting of the rose, the artist sensed an experience of a flower and felt that there was something profound within this experience. The artist set about trying to capture this profound sensation by painting a picture of a rose. It was this sensation that is art and, because this artist was talented in the technique of painting, he or she was able to intensify the visual appearance of the rose in the painting. The artist captured all of the information needed so that our mind would be able to recognise that they had seen something in their vision of this flower that they wanted us to become aware of. Creating the picture was an attempt to translate the art experience that the artist had sensed when they had looked at the real, living rose. Then, by painting a picture of this flower, the artist set about trying to draw our attention to the art experience. The problem with this approach to trying to be an artist is that of translation. The art experience is a direct sensation of perception and this direct sensation was what the artist `felt' when they looked at the rose. Being an artist, this person `felt' a deep visual sensation for this subject and attempted to capture this experience by creating a painting. This is what artists have always done from our most distant beginnings in prehistory. Artists are people who sense a depth of perception in the world around them and translate this experience into an image. The logic of this act is that the art object should then reflect this deeper sense of perception, but the reality is that this is far from the case.
In prehistory, this deeper sense of perception was part of how we comprehended the world because early people did not have the intelligent understanding that we now possess. The world to early people was a place full of unrecognisable feelings rather than the intelligent images that we now recognise. As a consequence, everything `out there' in the real world was sensed through an awareness structured through instinct rather than intelligence and the `feeling' this generated was one of unknowing. As intelligence began to emerge into this instinctive way of looking, early people began to develop the power to translate this `feeling' into recognisable ideas. Painting, sculpture, music and dance arose to give structure to this new way of looking at the world. This filled the primitive minds with images that could be carried back out into the real world and could fill their powers of perception with ideas. The old instinctive way of looking was transformed and the world became a place full of recognition. To begin with, these ideas were mostly of spirits that possessed all things and we see this sensation reflected in primal and primitive or naïve art. The images gave our primal ancestors a way to suppress the feeling of unknowing that dominated their view of the world. As time passed, this deeper sense of perception was seen in other ways, and art objects reflect these changing beliefs: superstition was replaced by religion and then by science. Throughout all this time, the old feeling of unknowing was being translated rather than revealed to us. To begin with, this `feeling' was infused into recognisable images and this gave what we might call the spiritual sense of the world to the work. This `feeling' has no recognisable form and so what the primal artist did was to translate this unidentified `feeling' into images they could identify. The world outside supplied these images in the shapes of animals and figures recognised in the twisted tree roots and in the cracks and shadows on cave walls. We began to outline these images with coloured earth and this gave us a way to `picture' an unrecognised `feeling' for the outside world as an inner spirit in a recognisable object. To the primitive mind, the image of an animal became an idea that filled the primal mind with the power of spiritual identity and this worked to overpower the sense of uncertainty that the real creature provoked from our old, instinctive way of sensing the world.
To get back to our painting of the rose, this is what we now see; the `feeling' that the artist sensed when they looked at the living growing rose was an unrecognised sensation, but the artist transformed this `feeling' into a factual image. Had the artist had a more primitive mind they might have painted a more superstitious or religious image of a rose, but this artist lives in an age dominated by intellectual awareness, so this painting is full of visual perfection. The painting is like a photograph, but is now thought to be `art' because it has been created with skill and craftsmanship rather than the click of a button. In fact, this beautiful painting of a rose could have been a photograph because we now look with a sense of factual observation and this is what cameras reflect.
Cameras do not sense the world in an emotive way; they are mindless devices. However, people are mindful and so, unlike cameras, people can sense the world in an emotive way. This is what our artist has done and, dependent upon the time and place in which this artist lives, this will impart an emotive experience into the images that are full of the ideas that the artist understands. Our artist lives in an age of enlightened awareness and so the image of the rose that we are looking at has been filled with factual observation. This is how art developed through the course of history, but what these objects really represent is a transformation of an unrecognised sense of perception into a controlled and organised experience. This experience will always reflect the beliefs of the artist and the cultures of the time and place in which the artist lives. The art object has always done this and, up until modern art, this was thought to be what art should do.
This reflection of cultural belief seems to be what art arose to portray, but what the work will show us is a transformation of the art experience into an object that adheres to the ideas relevant to the age in which the artist lives. This actually serves to destroy the experience itself. It transforms the art experience into an object that reflects intelligent ideas rather than creating an object that provokes the original experience that the artist sensed in their perception of the world.
Because the art experience resides at a depth of mind beyond intelligent control and organisation, you would expect the art object to reflect this deeper sense of perception. This, however, is not what happens. Creating a work of art transforms the experience. It infuses a sense of control into the sensation that the artist `felt', which works to stop the original experience being sensed. The artist is driven to try to give an unidentified sensation, generated by our old instinctive way of sensing the world, some form of recognition, but intelligence has evolved to suppress this experience. Whatever the artist does will translate the experience into a work and this work will reflect the time and place in which the artist lives. This tells us that the art object will always destroy the art experience that the artist senses because translating the experience into painting, sculpture, music or dance imposes an intelligent, controlled structure over a deeper sensation that cannot be sensed in this way.
What has all this got to do with a squashed cockroach? The answer is that the squashed cockroach should hold the power to help a viewer sense it in a far deeper way than would be possible if the artist had painted a picture in the traditional way. If we came across a painting of a squashed cockroach, even a bad painting that had little skill in its rendering of the subject, we could, at least, class the work as art by the fact that it is still a painting. We could look for the values that the act of painting gives to the traditional, learned idea of art and, even though the values are dubious, they are at least recognisable. A real cockroach squashed on an old floorboard is a different matter altogether. For the first time in the history of art, this squashed cockroach represents a work that is trying to expose the art experience to us rather than transform and bury it behind a work of skill and perfection.
This is what the squashed cockroach tries to do, but there is one huge problem with this attempt to get to grips with the art experience and this is our intelligence. Because the art experience is a sensation felt deep within our minds before we apply an intelligent idea to it, any such idea will suppress what we want to see. The dilemma of the artist is to find a way to look without an intelligent idea, but we are not going to sense this squashed cockroach in the instinctive, inherent way that the artist would like us to do. We are going to look at a squashed cockroach with a very secure, well- formed idea of what we see and this will overpower the primal sensation of what confronts us.
An artist, because they have, or should have, a deeper sense of perception than the rest of us, still gets a glimpse of this underlying power of the old way of perceiving that is hidden behind our intelligence. They still `feel' its presence within all they see and do, but the viewer is not so inclined. The squashed cockroach is an attempt to get us to experience a direct, primal sensation of an object, but this cannot recreate the primal experience of what confronts us any more than the painting of the rose that stands so elegantly beside it. Our minds will call up and project an idea to impose a sense of recognition over what we see to suppress our old, primal way of sensing this object. In a sense, the squashed cockroach is closer to the true sensation of the art experience than the painting of the rose but, just like the painting, the cockroach is doomed to fail. We know it's a cockroach and that intelligent idea will stop us sensing what we see in a truly inherent and primal way.
My dog-eared copy of The Principles of Art by R.G. Collingwood is full of notes scribbled on bits of paper and written into the margins. The binding has gone, most of the pages are loose and it has become a sad, tired, old book, but it is most dear to me. It has been beside me since 1960 and has been a constant companion that has travelled everywhere. On the inside page is scrawled a comment that says, "No, he [the artist] is not making his emotions clear to his audience or himself. He cannot give them intelligent form. It is impossible, they are lost to us."
Also, I have noted on page 110, "Answer. He has transformed the animal sensation he cannot identify into an intelligent controlled and organised form. He has lost it."
I did not fully comprehend what I had written. I was probably working at some other job, but there it is in black and white. I was beginning to understand that the emotions sensed by an artist are `animal' in origin. We can never give them form through our intelligent mind because we have evolved to translate and subdue these powerful sensations with which we once lived. The emotions we feel through our intelligent mind are suppressed by comparison to what the artist tries to comprehend. These emotions come from an ancient part of our mind that still creates a way of sensing the objects and events around us through powers of instinct that we have evolved away from being able to comprehend.
I know you should refrain from making value judgements, but if you have a very singular and specific idea of art, as I do, you can't help but see ideas of aesthetics, culture and technique in art as distracting. I like the work of the late R. G. Collingwood because he had a nice way of distinguishing art. To this professor, there was "art falsely so called" and "art proper".
For me, "art proper" does not emerge until the rise of modern art and, even then, an awful lot of modern art is "art falsely so called". There are a small number of modern artists who try to create art proper, but they are few and far between. Collingwood saw art proper as emotive in content and outlined the view that, "Until a man has expressed his emotions, he does not yet know what emotion is." The act of expressing it is therefore an exploration of his own emotions. He is trying to find out what these emotions are. This is the basis of what I believe to be the driving force of all art. The difference between what I believe and what Collingwood saw is that I do not think a man (he would be branded sexist for such a remark today) can find out what these emotions are. I see the emotions that the artist senses as far older and more powerful than the emotions that we recognise through our modern intelligent mind. These older `animal' emotions are generated in an ancient part of our minds that sees the world differently to the place that creates our day-to-day perceptions. The emotions known to us at our intelligent level of mind are placid to what the artist tries to sense. The artist's intelligence tries to give some form of recognition to the deep and ancient power of perceptual awareness that we have evolved to keep subdued inside us, but I don't think we can do this. I think our intelligence is forced to transform these emotions to give them recognition and, as Collingwood said, this way of an artist "making his emotions clear to his audience" has evolved to subdue those deeper, `animal' emotions that the artist wants to get to know. I believe that the emotions Collingwood talks about are beyond the powers of intelligent control and organisation that we project over our perception of the world and so any attempt by an artist to portray the emotions will destroy them. Collingwood did not see it in quite this way, but I believe this is what modern art now points us towards understanding.
Collingwood, R. G. The Principles of Art (1958), p. 111.
Modern art shows us that we are never going to give these emotive `feelings' any kind of recognisable form whilst art remains under the control and organisation of intelligence. The `feelings' that art proper tries to manifest are `animal' in origin and we have evolved to transform these feelings in our minds. This destroys their emotive power and replaces the `feeling' with a controlled and organised sense of perception. It is what Collingwood was talking about, but he did not seem to make the connection that sees our `animal' state of mind as something pushing our intelligence to create art. Collingwood knew all too well the implications of Darwin, but did not relate the idea of evolution to the origin of art. I don't think Collingwood could bring himself to imagine that art was something animal in origin. He had a classical education and so he probably still believed that the driving force of art was something superior to the animal state of mind.
To my way of thinking, art proper is an animal experience of sight, shape, sound and movement. We cannot know this experience because our intelligence won't let us look at it. It won't let us look at it because it would disrupt the intelligent, controlled view of the world that our intellect has evolved from the animal mind to create for us. We can, if we are perceptive enough, get a sense of its deep, emotive power, but any attempt to recognise it through intelligence is going to transform the sensation into some form of controlled and organised experience that destroys it. This will suppress the animal power of perception and leave us with a `false' view of what we tried to experience. Our intelligence will have been driven to create a controlled and ordered view to replace the vision sensed by instinct, because this is what our intelligence makes us do. This has left us with an `animal' state of mind buried deep within our sense of perception that our intelligence cannot comprehend.
If, like Collingwood, we are talking about art as an emotive `feeling' that we try to translate into a tangible experience by expressing it, then we must realise that we are always going to end up with a `false' experience if intelligence has tried to visualise art. Only if art has been created by instinct will it be true. This is because instinct will not transform the animal emotions into intelligent control and organisation. The problem, if you have not already realised it, is that when we look at the `true' art that has been created by instinct, our intelligence is not going to be able to make sense of it. To do that, intelligence has to transform the view and that will destroy the original sensation in our mind. The art object will revert to becoming `art falsely so called'. Such is the dilemma of the modern artist.
The Founding Principle of Modern Art
Identifying the founding principle of modern art requires a shift in your understanding of the word `art'. You need to redefine the word so that it is not associated with any subject that an artist has portrayed. Modern art should not be thought to be about intellectual content, but about primal awareness. The late R. G. Collingwood laid the foundations of this idea in his book The Principles of Art, but did not go as far as to realise that an art object works to destroy our primal awareness of what we see.
Collingwood identified imagination and expression as the core of the discipline and saw that an artist works to attempt to give structure to this experience in the form of language. The art object was a language of emotive perception translated into visual, tactile or auditory forms. This gave a good explanation of art objects, but modern art does not always present a structured object and so the concept of art, as Collingwood identified it, requires further depth of interpretation.
Modern artists have gone beyond art objects and often present anything as art. Because of this move, you need to realise that any attempt to express the imagination (as Collingwood would have put it) is now thought to transform what a modern artist believes to be the art experience. A modern artist understands that you have to use language to express the art experience, but language will always be structured through intelligent awareness that acts to subdue deeper, emotive forms. For this reason, modern artists have to try to find ways to avoid the imposition of language in an art object because this way of structuring the art experience works to destroy it. This is the idea that has arisen into our times, but it has not yet been fully grasped. To a modern artist who understands this idea, the only way to avoid language is to try to avoid intelligent control being imposed over the act of creating an art object.
At present, there are only two ways to do this: you can go and find a ready-made object or you can create something by chance or unintentional acts. These ways of working do not transform the art experience through a language that is controlled by intelligence. Therefore, if this way of working can be made to create an imaginative experience, it will reveal the art experience in a more direct way. If modern art has achieved anything it is this realisation. It shows us that any attempt to portray the art experience into intelligent language will always destroy what the artist senses.
Modern art emerged to uphold this principle of trying to avoid the language of intelligent control and organisation being imposed over the act of creating art. This idea reveals that our intelligence always works to suppress another, older power of perception from being generated deep in our minds. Not all artists understand this concept and, as a result, many modern works present much confusion. Artists who attempt to create work beyond intelligent control and organisation discover that it is very difficult for us to look at any object or event without intelligence imposing our sense of language over how we experience what confronts us. The founding principle of modern art requires the artist to find ways to create objects beyond this imposition of language so that we are forced to experience what we see in an older, instinctive way. This idea of an inherent, instinctive way of sensing objects is at the very core of the founding principle of modern art, but few artists are going to possess the creative ability to achieve a result that upholds this principle. It requires the insight to create an object that intelligence cannot recognise and this calls for an individual to possess a great depth of perceptive awareness.
Few of us will hold this ability to sense the world through old, inherent powers of perception because we have all evolved to transform this sensation into intelligent awareness. Creating an experience that can be sensed without intelligence transforming and destroying it requires an inherent instinct for perception. This is the challenge that the founders of modern art laid before us. The search for a way to do this led to the fall of the traditional art object because these objects were made with much intelligence and, therefore, always worked to suppress any view generated in our minds by instinct.
Today, any object can be called a work of art if an artist chooses to give it that label. This is because art is no longer seen as a special object because the word has been redefined to describe a way of sensing ANY object. This is the modern understanding, but saying that anything can be a work of art without clarification is a meaningless statement. Under the founding principle of modern art, the idea that anything can be used as an art object only implies that any object will work to create the art experience if we could find a way to remove our intelligent powers of recognition from such an object. This would make us sense any object in an old, primal, inherent way. Not all artists understand this and, as a consequence, they just present any objects. This is just plain ignorance because the object has to be made difficult to recognise to uphold the founding principle of modern art. Presenting any object won't do this because we will hold an intelligent idea of recognition and this idea will suppress the primal inherent sensation of any ready-made object that the artist chooses to place before us. What a modern artist should say is that any object `could' be a work of art, but it will not be unless you find a way to remove your intelligent powers of recognition from what you see.
Everything around us is seen through intelligent ideas and these ideas work to stop us from experiencing the base sensation of an object that would confront us if we did not have ideas to project over it. This base sensation of any object can only be sensed through our powers of instinct, but to see this view we have to be able to look free from intelligent command. This is the founding principle of modern art, but it seems that artists today do not understand this idea. Presenting any object as a work of art simply fails to uphold this principle.
The idea that anything could be art would have appalled Collingwood; he saw the object created by an artist as an attempt to express a deep awareness of the world into a controlled object that is shaped and organised by intelligence. This object provides the deep awareness with an image, but the problem with this approach is that the image will have been imposed by intelligence over a sensation of the world that has to be sensed by instinct. Any artwork created by intelligence is, therefore, always going to destroy the power of a depth of perception in our minds that can only be sensed through instinct.
Intelligence evolved to block our instinctive way of perception because overpowering our sense of instinct gave us a great advantage in the struggle for survival. It allowed us to recognise objects and events in a controlled and organised way, but the art experience itself is a glimpse of the old view sensed BEFORE intelligence imposes control and organisation over what we see. If an artist merely presents any object as art, we are going to come along and look at it through an idea of recognition, which is generated by our intelligence, and this will work to stop us sensing the object in the old, primal, inherent way.
Presenting any object as art is, therefore, no more than gesture. It offers no solution, but simply says that you cannot create an art object through your powers of intelligence because your intelligence has evolved to destroy the view that art tries to look at. Just like a traditional art object made with skill and workmanship, a ready-made object merely reflects our imposition of intelligence over our inherent powers of perception. It won't stop you projecting an intelligent idea over what we see and, until an artist finds a way to do this, the inherent way of looking at an object through our old powers of instinct will be suppressed by intelligence. This suppressing of our old instinctive way of looking is what art objects have always shown us. The first artists created art objects to structure a way of looking through controlled and organised images that began to replace the old, inherent way of sensing the world through instinct. This, in effect, buried the art experience because that experience originates in our minds at a primal level of awareness.
Once our early ancestors realised that they could recognise an image of an animal on a cave wall, the old way of sensing that animal by instinct was transformed in their minds. Artists were people who outlined these imaginary images with coloured earth and this gave us all a new way of looking at the world through ideas. This began a journey away from the art experience towards more and more control over a new, intelligent way of looking at objects in the world. With an image of an animal in your mind, you have created an idea and this idea works to suppress the old way of sensing an animal through your powers of instinct. The next time you see the real animal in the real world you can now call into mind this new, intelligent idea and your way of looking will transform the old, inherent sensation that you would have experienced if you had no idea to look through. This way of looking through ideas worked to suppress the original sensation and replaced it with a new, controlled and organised way of looking. We now live with this new way of looking at everything and the old, inherent sensation of what we see is lost to us.
We evolved the ability to suppress an instinctive `feeling' for objects by discovering a way to transform the sensation into recognisable ideas that are structured through controlled and organised images. Art objects gave us this advantage in our powers of perception. Painting, sculpture, music and dance taught us to replace our old, inherent way of sensing the world through instinct and once you have learned this ability you are on the road to suppressing the view sensed by instinct. You can then begin the journey of learning how to manipulate the world through any ideas that images generate in your mind.
What is difficult to grasp with this concept is that the art experience becomes the original, inherent way of sensing, and objects are, therefore, created to stop that inherent view from being experienced. Artists have, ever since day one, worked to create objects that transform and suppress our old, inherent way of looking at the world. This is the understanding that modern art arose to reveal to us.
In any attempt to sense an object by instinct you will find yourself imposing an intelligent idea over the primal sensation that the object could create in your mind. This means that an artist has to find a way to work without intelligence. If a modern artist understands this idea, and is trying to create a work that upholds this founding principle of modern art, they are going to have to find a way of working to avoid images that we know how to recognise. Many artists just do not grasp this fundamental principle and so these artists will continue to create work that is fully controlled and organised by their intelligence. Such work will be easy to recognise. It will show us images or objects that we know how to identify through our powers of intelligence. The artist may place any object before us to remove the traditional idea of art, but this on its own is not enough.
When Marcel Duchamp placed a ready-made object into the world of art he understood the limitations. What Duchamp revealed is that the traditional way of creating an art object always works to suppress an underlying sensation of that object because we project ideas of workmanship and originality over what we see. We fail to sense the object in a primal, inherent way because our intelligence looks to impose this idea of workmanship and originality to stop the underlying experience of the object disturbing us. This underlying experience that we are talking about resides beyond any intelligent means of recognition. I know of no other way to describe it other than to call it a `feeling'. This is not a satisfactory word, but we are talking about a base sensation within our powers of perception that lies beneath language. This `feeling' cannot be given identity through our powers of intelligence and so any attempt to model it will push the artist to intensify our day-to-day awareness of sight, shape, sound, movement or words. That is to say that the artist will try to reorganise our day-to-day awareness because the way we look at all objects works to suppress the underlying `feeling' that we have no way to picture. The artist tries to express this deeper, inherent sense of perception by creating an art object but, as Marcel Duchamp realised, any intelligent work that tries to do this destroys the inherent sensation of the object. You cannot express an inherent way of perceiving because it is a direct experience of what you see. Expression is language and language has to translate a direct experience to make it known to intelligent awareness.
In our view of ANY object – art or not – we will ignore our inherent, primal sensation of what we see by looking through an idea that we hold in our intelligence. This idea will, if the object is a painting, look for an arrangement of shape or colour. We look for language to make sense of what we see and Marcel Duchamp placed a ready-made into the world of art to stop us from doing this. There is no language of art in a ready-made. The artist has not used any skill in making it and, if the artist chooses a bland object, it presents very little shape and colour. This should force you to look deeper into what confronts you, but this is the limit of the ready-made object. What Duchamp did not do is find a way to remove our ability to recognise the object itself. I think he realised that this was a vast challenge for any artist and so he made his statement and left it at that. Few artists have advanced upon his gesture, which can be summarised as no more than a statement that the art experience can be found everywhere and in anything. To progress, you have to discover a way to remove your intelligent powers of recognition from what you see, which a ready-made object does not attempt to do.
Another major headache for the modern artists is society's insistence that art objects should serve a useful purpose. For some ancient, dogmatic reason, society thinks that art should uphold its beliefs, but this only serves to distract an artist from the search for an inherent, instinctive way of sensing the world. If I understand Collingwood correctly, he tells us that the purpose of a work of art is to give expression to the idea of the imagination through language. In The Principles of Art, he tells us that we have to filter this out from all of the other content that we find cluttering up the work of art. The first thing Collingwood makes clear is that this idea of the imagination (and the depth of our perception that we now realise resides in the oldest parts of our mind) should not be confused with the subject of the work. For example, the subject could be a landscape painting, but the power of the artist's imagination is not the image of the landscape, with its trees and distant mountains; it is the transformation of an image into an expression of visual insight. We might question what this visual insight is and it is here that our founding principle of modern art differs from The Principles of Art laid down by Collingwood. The Collingwood work distinguishes art objects from all other objects by the infusion of this power of the imagination. A utility object does not display this power of imagination because it is designed for a purpose. If the object is a chair it will have been designed to offer comfort to the human posture in a seated position, but this is not art: it is a quality of design. In days of old, the chair might have been covered in carvings of gods or devils or, in this day and age, covered with patterns on pretty fabric, but this is not art: it is an idea that the quality of decoration can enhance the status of an object. Collingwood outlined all this in his authoritative way and pointed out that art is a further depth of sensual awareness imparted into the work by the artist. This depth of sensual awareness resides beyond the subject and the technique.
If we look at an object that is considered more artistic than a utility item like a chair, we have to identify this power of the imagination from the subject and the technique. Let us apply this consideration to an art masterpiece like the Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican in Rome. Here is an art object that is dominated by religious images and we can understand that this subject is not the art in the work, but the statement of the power of the Church and faith in the idea of God. The commission that Michelangelo was employed to fulfil required all his mastery over the skill of drawing and painting, but we would be mistaken if we thought this was art; this is technique. Infused within these two elements of the work is a vision structured through Michelangelo's imagination and it is this that points us towards what we want to identify as art.
Now, Michelangelo lived in a time dominated by the belief in God and, being commissioned by the Church, we must expect Michelangelo's imagination to adhere to ideas of a religious nature. What Michelangelo does is express his power of imagination through images of religious subjects and this infuses the work with a great sense of emotive power.
We can see that, under the principles of art laid down by Collingwood, this is the quality that we are looking for called art. It is not the subject or the technical perfection in the work that is art, but the power of the object to generate a sense of emotive response from our minds. Now, if you are a religious person, your emotive response is going to be dominated by this belief in the presence of God and Michelangelo's work will give to your imagination an image to intensify this feeling for your love of God. That is what the Church employed Michelangelo to do. If, however, you want to understand art then you have to realise that this religious subject is a distraction. If you want to experience art in the Sistine Chapel in Rome you need to look past the subject and the technical accomplishment that you are surrounded by and look at the work in an objective way.
If we compare the art in Michelangelo's work with a painting by Paul Cézanne in the late nineteenth century, we can see the idea of looking past subject and technique beginning to be revealed to us. Cézanne works to reduce the dominance of the subject and he lets the technique of painting work towards enhancing this emotive `feeling' in the work. Cézanne's vision of the world around him was not dominated by religion and he lived free from being influenced by the demands of organisations like the Church or the State for useful images to uphold their needs. Cézanne was in a position to look at the idea of art itself in a more direct way and he had more freedom over the forms that he could use to transform imagination into an expression in the work he created. In the work of Cézanne we see, for the first time in the history of art, a sense of awareness that art itself can be understood as an independent entity from the subject that the artist portrays or the technique being employed to create the work. Cézanne still paints recognisable subjects because he is only just at the beginning of this realisation. He is, however, amongst the first group of artists who began to understand that art is an independent sensation of an object that does not need a subject to be imposed upon it to give it meaning. For Cézanne, and other artists of his calibre, the subjects become a secondary consideration in an attempt to give a greater sense of emotive form to the actual painting itself.
Because Cézanne was at the very beginning of this exploration, he still looked to transform the emotive experience into language. This will be seen as a distraction later in the development of modern art, but for now it is still the only way an artist can structure the power of the imagination to give it expression. So, Cézanne kept his subjects simple; he showed us still life, landscape and portraits that tried to reduce the powers of our intelligent recognition in the work. He tried to sense our experience of the world through a more fundamental level of awareness. The logical progression from this move towards reducing the domineering power of the subject in a work of art, and the distraction such images place over our perception of an object, is to remove the subject all together. Cézanne began this move to try to allow the idea of art to be freed from the way our intelligence dominates how we recognise objects and events in the external world. Cézanne began the journey towards sensing art, as Collingwood identified it, `as imagination given form through expression.'
By reducing the dominant power of the subject, Cézanne started the move in this direction, but still the artist held onto a recognisable image. As other artists advanced upon this development, it did not take long before it was realised that our intelligent minds always look for something to recognise to stop us sensing an object in an original and inherent way. The domineering presence of a subject in art always works to subdue the power of our imagination. It transforms an inherent depth of perception into an image that our intelligence knows how to recognise and this will always destroy the direct view of an object that can only be sensed when we fail to recognise an image. Modern art, therefore, moved to push forms of recognition in art further and further away from what we know how to identify and, in the discipline of painting, this led to abstracts and the ready-made.
Moving away from subjects and recognition in a work of art, however, creates a huge problem. This problem is deep-rooted in our powers of intelligent perception. Since the artist is trying to express their power of imagination, and imagination is a vision of the world sensed before intelligence imposes recognition over the experience, any image is going to transform and destroy what the artist wants to reveal. Intelligence is going to suppress forms that are sensed in the imagination and the result is not a view of a deeper, inherent sense of perception, but a distorted view of what we know how to recognise through our intelligence. Our imagination is the tip of an iceberg; it represents a far deeper, emotive sensation of our view of the external world, but this view can only be sensed through our powers of instinct. We cannot recognise it through intelligent awareness because this way of looking has evolved to suppress the view.
Collingwood's Principles of Art accepted this, but he thought that this sensation could be portrayed as an expression of language built by intelligence. Collingwood did not see that doing this will destroy the experience itself and so Collingwood believed language was the way of structuring the imagination. Modern artists see language as a product built and controlled by intelligence that works all the time to stop a vast power of the imagination from revealing a primal sensation of what confronts us. This way of sensing is beyond intelligent comprehension because it comes from an experience of the world generated in our mind before we can give it any form of recognition, and so our minds are always going to work to transform and suppress this inherent view. For a modern artist, the problem is to find a way to look without structuring art through our intelligence. This means modern art, if it is to remain true to its founding principle, must keep away from what we know how to recognise, and search for forms that we have never learned to identify.
A modern art object should be trying to create this unidentified `feeling' in our minds by presenting an object that you will have great difficulty recognising. A modern artist can present anything as art, but if it is easily recognised then the experience that this gesture was designed to explore will be lost. Your mind will simply use an idea to impose intelligent control over what is in front of you to dominate the primal sensation of what you see. This act will subdue the underlying view of the object generated by instinct in the depth of your mind and, because the art experience is an attempt to get to know this sensation, the easy to recognise object will work to suppress what we want to comprehend.
The essential difference between the principles of art, as identified by Collingwood, and the founding principle of modern art, as I am describing it here, is that of recognition. For Collingwood, the principles allow for recognition of our emotions because Collingwood believes the artist "is conscious of having an emotion, but not conscious of what this emotion is. All he is conscious of is a perturbation or excitement, which he feels going on within him, but of whose nature he is ignorant. While in this state, all he can say about his emotion is; ``I feel ... I don't know what I feel. From this helpless and oppressed condition he extricates himself by doing something which we call expressing him-self".
The artist gives the perturbation (confusing feeling) an identity, but modern art shows us that this identity is imposed by intelligence, and intelligence draws on a stockpile of learned images to `tame' this perturbation of emotions. This is what our mind has evolved to do.
Collingwood, R. G. The Principles of Art (1958), p. 109.
Emotions are generated from an older part of our minds through a sense of inner, inherent instinct that originates from our animal past and manifests itself as forms of intuitive perception. This `feeling' of intuition gives a glimpse of objects or events beyond intelligent control and organisation. It is one of the most treasured sensations that any artist needs to possess because it is inherent and cannot be taught. Because intelligence evolved to overpower this intuitive, inherent, instinctive way of looking, we will always work to transform the view that it generates in our minds into images identified through intelligence. This way of thinking will always destroy the experience we call art.
This is what the founders of modern art set out to explore and they understood that you only get a glimpse of it when you fail to recognise an object. This means that a modern artist has to search for images that intelligence cannot, or will find it difficult to, recognise. Such images can only be created by allowing instinct to regain a presence within the act of creativity. Stopping intelligence from dominating the act of making an art object was the founding principle of modern art, which was clearly understood by the founders of the movement. Cézanne began to realise it, but he was in the wrong time. The discovery was only brought to realisation through the work of artists like Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock. The ultimate aim of modern art, under this criterion, would be to create images, shapes, sounds and movement that our intelligence can begin to learn to `feel' through instinct. This is immensely difficult to achieve because our mind has evolved to transform these sensations into controlled and organised images recognised through intelligence. Trying to create something that is not controlled by intelligence and has the power to reveal a way of perceiving without intelligence is going to be hard to do.
We always search for something to recognise to subdue the `feeling' generated by instinct. Most modern art just shows us things that we can easily recognise because you need great creative ability to discover something that intelligence has never seen before. This is why Marcel Duchamp believed that art itself is the discovery and not the object that the artist makes. Duchamp tried to show that the traditional art object always transforms the `feeling' that the artist tries to reveal into a controlled and organised language that works to destroy that `feeling'. Duchamp made the point by presenting a ready-made object as art, but this was no more than a gesture to expound the idea. The legacy of this gesture has been misuse and lack of understanding, which has given artists free reign to present anything as art. This was not Duchamp's intention and most artists who followed his gesture of liberation failed to understand its principle. Anyone presenting a ready- made object after Duchamp dishonours the true purpose of what he and the founders of modern art tried to reveal to us.
Presenting a ready-made or a found object as art is nothing more than a statement that the art object has to be structured beyond intelligent language. The ready-made or found object does not show us how to do this. It only removes the language of art. Upholding the founding principle of modern art requires the artist to find ways to show us how to sense an object before our intelligence imposes its powers of recognition over what we see. Traditional art has always destroyed this view by imposing an image structured by intelligence into an artwork. The ready-made got rid of this, but did not show us the way to get rid of our powers of recognition for any object. A work of modern art, if true to its founding principle, must now try to do this so that we can, as we once did in our primal past, sense objects through our old, inherent, instinctive powers of perception.
Contemporary Art and the Betrayal of Modernism
Almost the entire history of art is concerned with the subject of the image an artist makes, and the subject has always reflected ideas held about the world around us through the times in which the artist lived. The outline of a horse on a cave wall reflects ideas about animals that were in the minds of cave dwellers, just as an image of God painted on the ceiling of a renaissance church reflects religious belief.
Despite its untraditional presentation, you can see the same thing in a contemporary work of Post-modern art like Tracey Emin's unmade bed. Here is an object presented as art that reflects the ideas this artist has about her time and place in the modern world. Tracey Emin's art is a reflection of her life and she projects her struggles and phobias into her work. Looking at art in this way, you can see that, even though Tracey Emin's bed is not a work of art that adheres to traditional technique, it still upholds the traditional principle of subjectivity. The unmade bed reflects a translation of an emotive experience into an object. The art objects today may have changed in that they no longer adhere to traditional technique, but most artists still present recognisable objects and this power of recognition arose in primal times to subdue a way of sensing objects through instinct. This way of sensing is what modern art arose to explore.
Most contemporary art does not try to advance this concept. Despite its apparent abandonment of traditional technique and the fact artists can now present anything as art, this way of working is not really any different from the art of the past. The contemporary artist no longer reflects hunting for food, procreation or a belief in God and blind faith as the most dominant ideas in their minds, but most contemporary art objects still uphold a subject. Contemporary ideas may be more neurotic than those reflected in artwork of the past (today we find an obsession with sex, violence and as much degradation as it is possible for the artist to place before us), but these works still display subjective content that is easy to identify.
There was a short time in the history of art where this was not the case. At around the turn of the nineteenth century an attempt was made to create art that was purely objective. Such art tried to remove the content of an easily recognisable subject and replace it with an object that does not reflect ideas about time and place. This objective art tried to reveal a far more universal recognition of form that was sensed as an inner awareness that we all possess and has always been subdued by the subject that the artist imposed over the work. This search for objective form was the founding principle of modern art.
If you look at the entire history of art as a contrast between subjective content and objective form you can see that the latter was a very short-lived phenomenon. We like to think that modern art allows artists a greater sense of freedom in what they can present, but despite the vast difference in presentation and technique and the subjects that the artists now place before us, the works still cling to the old values. Any attempt to explore the deeper, more universal presence of objective form in art seems to have been abandoned. Most contemporary, Post-modern art today has returned to presenting subjects, like endless repetitive images of soup tins, hyper-realistic portraits or a big, dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde. The reasons for our need to portray a subject are deep rooted in the psychology of our powers of perception.
Objective form is extremely difficult to comprehend in the world around us. It takes a vast amount of creative insight to get even a small glimpse of it because our mind has evolved to stop us sensing objects and events in an objective way. Our powers of perception have developed to be subjective. This subjective way of recognising what is in front of you arose in your primal ancestors to replace an objective way of sensing the world through instinct. We still inherit that old, instinctive way of sensing, but as our intelligence emerged to overpower instinct, we found ourselves developing this subjective way of comprehending objects and events. Human beings began to record this change in the way that we looked at the world in the form of artwork. We began to outline the shapes of faces, figures and animals in the cracks and shadows on cave walls and art followed this way of recording our subjective powers of perception right up until the turn of the nineteenth century.
Subjectivity is ingrained into how we transform our thoughts into conscious awareness, and art objects appear to have originated to help us reinforce this subjective way of looking at the world. Art objects from all ages and all cultures are full of subjects, but it does not necessarily follow from this that art itself is subjective. Art objects reflect our intelligent awareness of what we see around us, but that way of looking cuts us off from sensing the same view in an objective way. What we find in most art is that the subject dominates the work and, because we have evolved to see the world around us in a subjective way, we can understand that art has always been a reflection of this state of mind that hides the objective view.
Art reflects how our intelligence structures our view of the world around us, but in doing this it stops us seeing what confronts us in any other way. We see something and we project a learned idea over it; this transforms the objective form of what is in front of us into subjective content in our mind. An art object like a traditional painting or sculpture that shows us a recognisable image is a reflection of this thought process in action. The artist has looked at the world and, being an artist, sensed an underlying view of what they see. That view was objective, but the artist, like all the rest of us, transforms that view into subjective content in their mind. This is the way that we have evolved to look and it hides an underlying view in our powers of perception.
Almost all art is created this way. Traditional and a lot of modern art upholds this need for a subject in the work, but the original purpose of modern art was to find a way to remove the subject from the art object. This is very difficult to do because we are born to transform the objective sensation of what we see into subjective content in our minds and so most artists will impose a subject into their work. We do not get to see the objective form of anything in front of us because of the way that our minds have evolved to take that experience and impose ideas of recognition over everything. We all, artist or not, transform our objective view of the world around us into our subjective awareness in this way, but, because we evolved from animal origins, we still generate the objective view in the deepest, oldest areas of our minds. Because our intelligence dominates our powers of perception, it intercepts this original view and modifies it before we get a chance to become aware of it.
Artists have always sensed that `something' was present in the images they made, but this `something' was always thought of as a gift from an unknown source of creativity. The `feeling' for an objective view of what confronts us was thought to be spiritual or God given, but today this `feeling' can be understood as a product of the way our brain is working. It is a product of evolution that has arisen in human beings to transform our powers of perception from a raw, objective experience into subjective content. We do this every day with every experience we encounter and traditional art has always followed this mind process without question. The result always produces artwork in which the subject dominates the objective form of the art object. A traditional painting of a landscape, for example, is an object made of wood, canvas and paint that has been very carefully arranged so that you will ignore all this objective material and recognise the subject that the artist has painted. When you stand in front of a painting like this you transform your powers of observation. You ignore the objective reality of the paint, canvas and wood and look at the subject. This `need' to find a recognisable subject is clear to understand when we look at a landscape painting, but in our day-to-day encounters with ordinary objects, it is less obvious. Our powers of recognition have evolved to organise our perception of the world to generate a subjective view of all objects. We stand in front of an object and call up an idea to give it recognition. This transforms our objective view into subjective awareness and creates an experience of the world that works to hide far more original and base sensations of any object. These base sensations have become lost to us because of the way our powers of intelligence work to take these sensations and transform them into an organised and ordered, subjective idea of recognition that we learn to project over everything from a very early age.
The pioneers of modern art tried to break free of the subjective way of perceiving that dominates our mind. Most of the artists involved in this attempt to move art to objectivity avoided, as much as they could, subjects that distracted from this exploration of pure form. At the beginning of modern art, artists were unable to make a direct move from subjects in a work to objective form. It took some time and, to begin with, artists painted simple subjects like apples on a table or landscapes. This search for pure form was in its infancy and was slow to emerge into the conscious understanding of what modern art was trying to reveal to us.
As the pioneers pushed the subjective image further and further from their work, the objective nature of painting began to be exposed. This avenue of exploration eventually led to Abstraction. Abstract art reveals the disturbing realisation that we are unable to recognise the objective nature of what confronts us because our powers of perception have evolved to stop us sensing an object without an idea to project over it. The very idea that lets you categorise a painting as an abstract is an intelligent, subjective way of looking that works to suppress our ability to sense the object by instinct.
Abstract artists find that they have to stay within quite well-defined limits to avoid forms of recognition in what they do. Any forms that hint at recognition give our intelligent mind a way of ignoring the uncertainty that we feel when we fail to recognise something. This uncertainty opens our minds to sensing by instinct and our intelligence has evolved to suppress this sensation in our perception of an object or event. We look for something to identify as quickly as we can and this suppresses the uncomfortable feelings that flood into our minds when confronted by forms about which we are uncertain. Abstract art cannot break free from our powers of recognition and has to stay within the limits of geometric or organic shapes. For this reason, Abstraction throws up quite well-defined limitations as a search for objective form.
An attempt to move this limitation forward appeared in the guise of abstract action painting. This development revealed that forms could be created by intuitive actions – not accident – by stopping intelligence from having any influence in the act of painting. The idea behind this endeavour is that a deeper underlying sense of form can be bought into the work by allowing instinct to become the guiding force. In theory, this should allow us to reveal forms that have emerged from a deeper part of our minds. Intelligence is `switched off' while the artist paints and then, after the act is over, the artist looks through intelligence at what has emerged. This should result in the creation of forms that intelligence has never learned to recognise, but instead this throws up a further problem; because intelligence does not control the creation of these forms it cannot recognise them after they have been created. What results from action painting is something that looks accidental, but in fact possesses forms from within that our intelligence has no way to translate into a recognisable language. The work simply looks like the accidental throwing or pouring of paint onto a canvas because, with no subjective content, we find ourselves unable to grasp the objective experience. Because of these limitations it takes a very great sense of creative ability to find ways to create art that is purely objective and can show us forms beyond the subjective nature of intelligent recognition. The search for pure form and an objective art object is, therefore, very difficult to achieve. For this reason, most contemporary artists have moved away from this search for pure form in their work towards other styles that reintroduce the subject in art. An overall survey of contemporary, Post-modern art today reveals that the vast majority of work is concerned with reflecting some kind of recognisable subject and the search for pure form has all but been abandoned.
Most artists today see the search for pure form as a dead end. This is unfortunate because this idea that art has its own independent identity to the subject was the founding principle of modern art. It showed that art had always been subdued by the imposition of the subject in the work. A search for pure form has to be objective and an artist needs to create work that makes no reference to images that our intelligence has learned to recognise. To uphold the founding principle of modern art as an objective search for pure form, the disciplines of painting, sculpture, music and dance would have to present themselves to us as we have never experienced them before. This takes a vast amount of creative insight to achieve and it is for this reason that art as a search for pure form is no longer upheld as the main ingredient in contemporary works of art.
Most contemporary art has returned to portraying subjects because it requires less creative insight. It is easier to present something you can readily find and the more bizarre and ludicrous it is the better. This is the easy option because it is very difficult to create an image that you have never seen before. The return to subjectivity in modern art is a betrayal of the founding principle of the movement.
There is a reason why contemporary artists have turned their back on the founding principle of modern art and it is physiologically rooted within the way our intelligent mind controls our powers of perception. Our intelligence actively works to stop us recognising pure form in what confronts us because this sense of perception is generated by instinct and we have evolved away from knowing this view of objects and events. We have an inbred need to overpower the sensation of pure form in our view of the world because transforming it into a recognisable subject gave us a far better control of perception. Pure form has to be sensed by instinct and we have evolved to replace this perception with an intelligent power of recognition, which is structured around an ability to identify objects and events in a more precise way. Our intelligence has spent thousands upon thousands of years building the intelligent perception with which we now live and we are born to structure this way of recognising objects and events to replace our old, animal awareness. Our way of sensing objects and events now works to stop the primal sensations in the depths of our minds from disrupting how we comprehend the world around us. It is what our minds have evolved to do, but this power of perception now works to make any attempt to search for forms sensed beyond intelligent recognition very difficult to achieve. With our intelligence actively working against any attempt to search for pure form, it is not surprising that contemporary artists go for the easy option.
When the founders of modern art began to shift the nature of art from subjective content to objective form they began to wrestle how we sense an object away from the control that our intelligence imposes over all we see and do. To begin with, this was not a problem because the shift from subjective to objective art was not fully developed. Most of the early modern art still showed easy to recognise subjects like still life or landscape painted with bold brush work or in a fractured, distorted way, but as the concept developed the subject became less influential. The art object as canvas and paint began to take precedence over the subject being portrayed. The recognisable image disappeared and the brushwork was all that was left. This has an effect upon our intelligent powers of perception because our minds begin to sense uncertainty in what is being looked at. This provokes the older `animal' powers of perception and our intelligence will do anything to keep this sensation buried within our minds. If the artist removes the recognisable subject from the artwork we will find ourselves confronted by an object that our intelligence will have great difficulty finding an idea to project over. This opens our minds to sensing in the old, animal way and our intelligence does not want this experience to return into its way of perceiving.
Our intelligence has never learned to recognise an objective way of looking that sees the world in an inherent, instinctive way and the sensation that this view still generates deep in our minds seems alien to us.
Our intelligence will, therefore, do anything to stop this old sensation emerging into our view of what confronts us. I believe that most modern artists have abandoned this search for objective form because of this physiological influence within our minds to keep the view suppressed. Our intelligence does not want us to look in an objective way because we have spent our entire rise from animal origins creating subjective ideas to project over all we see and do. This makes us see the world around us in a controlled and organised way and most of us will spend our lives using this power of recognition to keep the objective `animal' view from being sensed in our day to day lives.
The founding principle of modern art arose to try to look beyond the power of our intelligence to dictate how we create art in a subjective way. By removing subjective content from art, modern artists began to shift our powers of recognition into a less dominant position in our experience of the work and this began to reveal the world in front of us in an objective way. Because we have evolved to stop this experience disturbing our powers of perception, our intelligence is not going to just let us look in this way. Intelligence won't give up its power over our perception without a fight and most of us will find ourselves searching very hard for something that we know how to recognise in an objective work of art. We find ourselves looking for faces and figures in the runs and dribbles of paint. This is our intelligent mind working to try to subdue the older, `animal' sensations that we begin to `feel' if we fail to recognise a work of art.
How Do You Stop Someone Recognising What is in Front of Them?
If we take a piece of paper or canvas and paint a picture of a simple object upon the flat surface then we find that the idea that the image creates in our minds becomes the subject of the painting. This way of creating art leads us to believe that the compositional arrangement of the paint is the work of art, and the canvas and paint is the object. This is not entirely correct.
A minimalist painting mostly comprises plain areas of colour and does not have a subject, but only paint upon the surface. In the absence of this subject we bring into play another form of identity that lets us recognise this minimalist object as a work of art. We don't fail to recognise the canvas because there is no image painted upon it. We shift our subjective awareness away from the layer of recognition that the artist should have supplied by painting an image and we impose another layer of recognition over what we see. In the case of a minimalist painting, we recognise that the canvas is, in itself, generating an experience through our subjective powers of recognition. The object itself is still recognised through an idea that we hold over what confronts us; the idea is not one about a subject that an image could portray, but now we bring into play another idea to stop us confronting the direct sensation of the painting as an object in its own right.
The painting, despite having no recognisable subject in the form of an image, is still a subjective experience. We still possess an idea that allows us to recognise the object hanging on the wall as a canvas that presents a minimalist presence to our powers of observation. To experience this canvas hanging on a wall in an objective way, the artist would have to find a way to stop us even recognising the canvas and paint. This, as you can imagine, is very difficult to do. We could cut the object up with a knife or bundle it in string or do hundreds of other things, but we will still identify what has been placed in front of us. It might not look like a minimalist painting, but we will still have no trouble recognising it as cut-up canvas or wrapped-up canvas. Our very powers of observation impose a subjective idea over everything we look at. For a modern artist who is working to create an object to provoke a primal sensation of what confronts us, the question is, therefore, how do you stop someone recognising what is in front of them?
If we paint a recognisable picture, we create a layer of subjectivity and this will make the viewer ignore the primal sensation of canvas, but even if we remove the subject they will not experience this canvas hanging on a wall in an objective way. The viewer will call up another idea to identify what we present to them and this idea will stop the objective experience of what they see being felt within their powers of perception. For this reason, finding a way to make an object that we don't know how to recognise has yet to be achieved.
The founding principle of modern art was that of an exploration of shape, colour and form as sensed without the burden of subjectivity. This sounds like a straightforward endeavour, but has proved almost impossible to attain because, even if we remove the subject from a painting and even if we remove the paint altogether, we still recognise the object in front of us in a subjective way. A modern artist who understands this idea might be trying to get you to sense an object by instinct, but to do so this the artist needs to stop you projecting learned ideas over what you see.
You will not look without an idea just because the artist has removed the control and organisation that you expect to find in painting, sculpture, music, dance or literature. In place of this loss of a subject you will see another layer of ideas that impose another layer of subjective observation towards what you see. You will now see a blank canvas or a block of stone, or you will hear random noise or see chaotic movement; these works do not reveal an objective experience because your mind finds the next layer of subjectivity in what you see and you use these ideas to recognise what confronts you. To create a true, objective experience of an object, an artist would have to stop you recognising the canvas, or the stone, or sound, or movement. This is almost impossible to do and what the founding principle of modern art has revealed is that the human mind seems to have evolved to need to impose some form of subjective idea over what confronts it. We are unable to look through our old powers of instinctive awareness, which would show us a vision of the world in an objective way.
This idea of art as a sense of objective observation arose from the subjects in art. In painting it can be seen emerging towards the end of the nineteenth century in the work of Paul Cézanne. The single-minded determination of this artist began to reveal the idea that shape and colour possess forms that are independent to the subjects that the artist chooses to portray. Cézanne said, "What I am trying to translate to you is more mysterious; it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the implacable source of sensations." He is telling us that he wants us to try to look at the world around us in a more objective way.
Lubbock, Tom `Great Works: Bathers (1902-06)'. The Independent, 26 March 2010.
The gauntlet was taken up and the idea advanced by other artists. What emerged was a movement called Cubism, which eventually led to Abstraction. In Abstraction, the idea of objective observation eventually ran out of creative content because artists found it almost impossible to visualise an object without reflecting some subject in the work. Without a subject, abstract painting became little more than decorative arrangement of shape and colour. An attempt was made in abstract `action' painting to get around this problem by trying to find a way to create form through unguided, instinctive acts, but the exploration was never fully realised. It fell into disrepute because it opened the floodgates for anyone to throw paint around and call it art. You did not have to be an artist to make an abstract action painting and the original reason for making work in this free, uncontrolled way was ignored in a rush of imitators who set about filling the art marketplace with pretty, coloured patterns on canvas.
Because it requires an exceptional creative insight to discover the objective presence of any object, very few artists in any one generation are going to advance upon this principle. Most will probably never learn to understand the principle let alone find a way to bring the idea into practice. Most artists have no idea of what modern art set out to achieve and so they work in blind ignorance and create art that merely follows the trends. It does not require a great creative insight to make an art object that mimics what has already been done. For this reason, most modern art today has returned to subjectivity and one rarely discovers an artist who is attempting to present work based upon a search for pure form sensed in an intuitive and inherent way. As this was the founding principle of modern art, it seems that this endeavour has been abandoned because it is too difficult to achieve.
If you look at any object, you will recognise it in a subjective way. You will project a learned idea of identification over what you see and, in doing this, you will stop the objective experience of what confronts you from being sensed in your mind. Your mind has evolved to do this because it gives you a great power of control and organisation over your perception of the world around you. For an artist who understands this concept, trying to discover a way to look at an object so that your powers of recognition are not allowed to dominate the experience is one of the greatest of all challenges.
Traditional artists don't comprehend this idea. They take tubes of paint or a lump of clay and shape these materials into something that they know how to recognise. The paint might be arranged into a picture or the clay into a pot, but the artist will have imposed an idea over the material. This will transform the material into something that we will also know how to recognise when we look at it. When we look at an art work, we see an arrangement of paint or clay that has had an idea forced upon it. This makes us look at the object in the same way that we view the world: through the ideas that we apply to things. The artist shapes the material to impose an idea over it and we look for this idea in the work they make. This shapes the way we look just as, in day-to-day life, our intelligence projects ideas over all we see and do, and this shapes the way we recognise the objects at which we look. Our way of looking, therefore, changes our experience of any object by stopping us sensing it in an original way.
What is so interesting about modern art is that it emerged from the realisation that the way we project ideas of recognition over the objects and events around us hides the primal sensation of what we see. This concept implies that, as we remove images of recognition from our powers of perception, we should begin to discover an underlying view. This is now thought of as flawed thinking because the underlying view requires us to remove all ideas and learn to sense by instinct.
Modern art has discovered that this is very difficult to achieve because we find ourselves unable to translate what is revealed when we are confronted by anything that removes our powers of recognition. We do not sense the objective experience generated in our minds by instinct, but we sense the loss of the subjective sensation that our intelligence finds it cannot apply to what we see. We find ourselves confronted by a sense of uncertainty and this translates into a view sensed as disorder and chaos. Without intelligent recognition the world looks disruptive, but this sensation emerges within us because we have lost the ability to look at the underlying view through instinct. We fail to comprehend the original view and, in its place, our intelligence finds it has no way to sense what confronts us in a primal way. We simply no longer possess a way of grasping how to look through our powers of instinct.
What modern art started to reveal is that our intelligent way of recognising the world hides an underlying view that senses objects and events in a more direct and emotive way. This other way of sensing is generated by the older, inherent powers of perception that we have evolved away from being able to recognise. These older powers of perception are still inherent from our most distant, animal beginnings but, because of the way evolution brings about adaptive change, we have learned to transform these sensations. We have to give them some form of controlled and organised structure through our powers of intelligence and this destroys the sensations generated by instinct. This is the way our intelligence has evolved to comprehend the world around us.
Any artist who realises this and tries to follow the principle of modern art (laid down by Paul Cézanne) to its logical conclusion will find that they cannot shape the paint or the clay into something objective. Try as you might, it leads to abstraction because our intelligence, if it cannot translate the shape into something it knows how to recognise, will merely sense what confronts us as disorder. If the artist stops shaping the paint or the clay, we won't see something that we cannot recognise. We just end up seeing paint or clay.
The challenge that Cézanne laid before modern artists is the most difficult of all challenges that the human intellect has to face. The challenge is one of having to find a way to comprehend the world around us in an intuitive and inherent way BEFORE intelligence imposes any ideas over what we experience. Not many modern artists rise to meet this challenge. Most prefer to return to creating images that are easy to recognise. Intelligence makes us look at the world in this way by imposing preconceived ideas that we learn to apply to all we see and do. What we recognise could be something very simple, like a cup, a chair or a table, but this power of recognition will stop you finding a way of seeing these simple objects without the imposition of these intelligent identities.
To look without these ideas requires a way of sensing without intelligence and this is the challenge that modern art faces in anything it places before us. Believe me, it is immensely difficult to find anything in this world that your intelligence cannot recognise. Your intelligence will impose an idea over everything so that you will not be disturbed by any `feeling' that is sensed if you could stop intelligence imposing ideas over what you see.
If we remove an image from a painting we can begin to move away from what we recognise, but this will not lead us to the primal, objective state of mind that we seek to discover. We will find that we have not moved away from seeing an object without intelligent recognition, but we will find ourselves confronted by another level of recognition. We now find ourselves looking at nothing more than paint, canvas and wood and the primal sensation is still out of reach. The step down would be to find a way to stop you recognising the paint, canvas and wood, but that, believe me, is yet to be achieved.
It seems that a modern artist who understands this idea is faced with an insoluble dilemma. How is an artist going to find a way to remove our intelligent powers of recognition from an object so that we can begin to sense it in the old, inherent way? Cézanne understood this idea, but was not in a position to comprehend the full implications of his discovery. Cézanne believed that intelligence had the power to transform this underlying perception into an art object. This way of approaching art is now believed to be self-defeating because intelligence evolved to transform the emotions that an artist senses in their view of the world. The art object you create will, therefore, work to destroy the emotions that you try to portray because they originate from an older, animal power of perception. Modern art now realises that the artist needs to find a way to stop intelligence from destroying the way we sense the world around us by instinct. To do this, the artist needs to make or find a way to stop someone recognising what is in front of them.
Art is Not an Object
In this day and age, any object can be presented as a work of art. The reason for this shift in the status of the idea of art, away from established rules and regulations, is that it is now understood that art is not an object. Modern art has revealed that art is actually a sensation, generated in our minds by the way an object affects our powers of perception.
Traditional art objects, like paintings, sculpture, music or dance, display a controlled and organised arrangement of sight, shape, sound and movement and so, when we look at them, our minds generate a sensation that we know how to recognise. In front of a work of traditional art we `feel' comfortable; our intelligence projects an idea of control and organisation over what we experience and our minds generate a sensation from this information that allows us to recognise what we see. In a realistic landscape painting we recognise the arrangement of paint upon the flat surface of the canvas as a representation of the way we recognise a real landscape in our view of the world around us. The sensation we `feel' when looking at a realistic painting in an art gallery is one of control and organisation that our intelligence projects over our powers of perception. It is the same `feeling' of control and organisation we get when we stand and look at a real landscape in the open air.
If we bring in a pile of rocks and throw them unceremoniously in an art gallery we find ourselves confronted by a different sensation. Our intelligence will `feel' a loss of the control and organisation it projects over our powers of perception because we have learned to expect an art gallery to exhibit objects that reflect a high degree of this `feeling' of control and organisation. A pile of rocks no longer does this. For one thing, it requires little skill to create and anyone could do it. You don't need to be an artist to exhibit a pile of rocks in an art gallery, but, more importantly, this pile of rocks will have altered the sensation generated in your mind that normally controls how you recognise what confronts you in an art gallery. The pile of rocks in this situation causes your mind to lose some of the control and organisation it normally imposes over your experience of the world around you.
You will begin to `feel' another way of sensing this object. Most of us will try to block out this other `feeling'. We will not see the object as something we could experience in another, deeper way, but we will `feel' a loss of control and organisation in our idea of art. Most of us will stop a deeper sensation from entering our minds by resorting to the idea that this so-called work of art is fraudulent because it does not adhere to the established view that we expect an art object to display. We will `block out' a deeper way of looking that is void of recognition because this is what our mind has evolved to do. The first thing our intelligence does when we look at any object is find, as quickly as it can, this sensation of control and organisation in our powers of perception. This is the way our minds work because this projecting of an idea of recognition over our powers of perception gave us a greater chance of survival. This way of looking, therefore, dominates our powers of perception and stops the old inherent way of looking from entering our view of the world.
Traditional art came about to reflect this need of intelligence to uphold our way of sensing that now dominates our minds. All traditional art is made and controlled by intelligence and so it always displays a view of sight, shape, sound and movement that intelligence has imposed its powers over. If an artist creates an art object by removing this imposition of intelligence we will find ourselves faced with an object that begins to provoke a sensation from our minds that we keep suppressed. Our natural reaction will be one of rejection, but an artist is, or should be, a person who is more perceptive to how our ideas about what we see affect our view of the world. If you call yourself an artist, you claim to be more sensitive to the way you experience the world and your job is, therefore, to try to show us how to look in a more emotive way. How you go about doing this is what differentiates the traditional idea of art from modern understanding.
A traditional artist is going to create work controlled by intelligence. If they are a painter, they will paint something our intelligence knows how to recognise and to do this they will adhere to strict rules that govern what is and is not art. A modern artist is going to have to avoid these rules because, if our intelligence can find any hint of these values in the work, it will use them to stop us sensing the work in any other way. The pile of rocks thrown unceremoniously in an art gallery is an attempt to do this. It tries to stop your intelligence dominating your powers of perception so that you can begin to `feel' another way of sensing what is in front of you. This other way of sensing is always kept hidden by intelligence, but it is still generated by instinct in the depths of your mind. Over thousands upon thousands of years, your ancestors learned to stop this old way of sensing from disturbing the intelligent way of looking that was beginning to emerge in their view of the world.
A pile of rocks is not an ideal solution to finding a way to look in the old, inherent way, but it is a step in the right direction. The problem with this pile of rocks is that you still use your intelligent powers of recognition to control the `feeling' that this display generates. What you are confronted with in an art gallery is a `feeling' controlled by your intelligence, but the artist wants to create another `feeling' that you very rarely encounter in your day-to-day life. This other `feeling' comes into your mind when the control and organisation your intelligence imposes over all you see is disrupted. The sensation that then begins to emerge is generated by your older, animal powers of instinct. This is what a modern artist could show you, but your mind will try to stop this sensation from emerging because you have evolved to look at everything in a controlled and organised way. Any inkling of the loss of this sensation of control and organisation by your powers of intelligence is going to provoke a feeling of rejection. The view generated by instinct is something that your mind no longer wants to experience because your way of thinking now spends every second looking to suppress the underlying view. You look for intelligent ideas to recognise in what you see and these ideas work to stop you sensing in the old, inherent way. Art is therefore NOT an object, but a sensation generated in your mind created by the effect that an object has upon your powers of perception.
Darwim and Art
For Charles Darwin, the concept of evolution was primarily biological. His principle concern was with explanation for complex body shapes and functions that appear in living forms by gradual adaptation. Each creature is considered to have developed diversity within physical characteristics over many generations to meet challenges in the environment and changing conditions within life on earth.
Evolution is a concept of adaptation. It sees a gradual efficiency in a species developing over geological time from prototypes that, once established, reproduce with variation to bring about a shift towards highly efficient life forms. The overview of the concept implies that all the vast differences in living things that we now observe in the world were established from a single (or a few) rudimentary form. A process called natural selection is understood as the mechanism through which this complexity is bought into existence. Natural selection will ensure that inefficient adaptations will die out to be replaced by more effective variations, which are better suited to survival in the environment. These efficient survival traits lead to a greater rate of reproduction that will ensure that better adaptations emerge within the species in the struggle for life. The scientific study of evolutionary biology credits this process with creating almost all physical developments within life through an unguided natural process that accumulated success from trial and error.
Darwin also considered it probable that his theory would hold true for states of mind:
"In the distant future I see open fields for more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by graduation." From these words emerged the study of cognitive developments in life forms based upon evolutionary principles: a slow adaptation towards diverse states of mind in different species created from modification of basic conceptual behaviour.
Darwin, Charles, The Origin of Species (1859), p. 449.
This would develop an increase in perceptual acuity and hold the possibilities of a biological explanation for complex and precise thought processes by means of natural selection. This concept is emerging within a scientific discipline called evolutionary psychology, which gives argument to a model of the mind as a modular structure similar to that of the body, with different adaptations serving a diversity of functions. Evolutionary psychologists believe that much of human mental activity is the result of modified patterns of instinctive behaviour that evolved in response to recurrent problems in human ancestral environments. The idea implies that all of our present forms of intelligent thinking emerged by adaptation of small variations in the way that our minds originally generated our thought processes through instinct. Most of our early ways of thinking would have been less accurate than our conceptual ability today. Our thinking would have been far more intuitive and, therefore, would have held the possibility of great diversity. This animal state of mind would have been less accurate but more open to adaptation and, from this, an increase in conceptual precision would have emerged through natural selection. Under this process, those amongst our species that developed this diversity within the animal sense of instinct stood a better chance of solving recurrent problems and would leave more offspring with reinforced patterns of conceptual behaviour. The evolution of a greater presence of mind can, in this way, be arrived at from animal origins.
This concept of an evolving complexity of mind has always met with strong resistance within the established views of religion and art. The highest of all states of mind is thought to be needed to comprehend religion and art and this way of thinking is looked upon as far more refined than anything that could emerge from underlying animal thought processes based upon trial and error. Religion and art are doctrines that regard their subjects as superior to animal developments, but evolutionary psychology would imply this was unfounded. To the religions and the arts, it might now seem unavoidable to deny that our physical bodies have evolved from animal origins and that instincts emerge by the same process. Most will accept this concept, but evolution extending to the superior religious and artistic states of mind by means of natural selection is a move too far. It is still sacred ground and few will capitulate to the idea that the animal state of mind could form the basis of religious and artistic modes of thought. I cannot speak for religion, but from my understanding of modern art it is beginning to look as if evolutionary psychology is going to formulate a pretty good explanation for evolving artistic levels of perceptual awareness from the animal state of mind.
To grasp this new evolutionary, psychological way of looking at art you must accept that the most base level of observation in any art object is that of the recognition of sight, shape, sound or movement into patterns of order and organisation. To see this view, you need to look beyond the subject that an art object portrays. The work might be an image on a cave wall, a rendering of a religious subject in a church or a simple commercial displayed on a poster advertisement. It could be a sculpture of a famous person, a story written as an opera or many other things. These are art subjects, but beneath this subjectivity in any art object is a re-organised sensation of sight, shape, sound and movement that gives us a greater awareness of a controlled pattern in how we experience the art object. This is the underlying base product of all art objects, but we do not look at this experience when we come to art. We tend to ignore this underlying base experience of colour, shape, sound or movement in favour of recognising the subjects composed into the art object. This is a natural inclination in our intelligent way of looking that always drives us away from experiencing the base sensation of what confronts us. We look to impose an intelligent idea over what we see to suppress the old animal way of looking through instinct.
The base sensation of any object is the most fundamental experience that we can arrive at by stripping away all intelligent ideas and cultural baggage from what we see. Art objects will always display – regardless of the time and place of their creation or the cultural use that they are employed for – an imposition of control and organisation by the artist over our ability to recognise sight, shape, sound or movement. The art object, when looked at in this way, can, therefore, be understood as an attempt to experience sight, shape, sound and movement in a far more organised way than we normally do in our day-to-day encounters with the world.
The artist may create works of art with a head full of ideas (they will fill their creations with images of superstition, religion, love, sex, beauty or simply a need to picture a tube of toothpaste for an advertisement), but none of these ideas should distract us. This is subjective content imposed by social requirements, but beneath this surface appearance we need to grasp the very basic premise of what it is that all art objects show us. The artist may not realise what they do, but the most basic of all acts undertaken in the creation of any work of art is the essential thing to understand. At a psychological level, art objects manifest themselves into displaying a need for intelligence to impose a sense of order and organisation over a primal experience of sight, shape, sound and movement. The artist's mind will be engrossed in a higher level of activity and will be concerned with subjects that he or she chooses, or is obliged to display in a work, but behind this activity is a deeper, inner sensation at work in the mind.
This deeper sensation is our old inherent sense of perception and in any work of art it will underlie the control and organisation that the artist imposes upon it. The work will be an intensification of the deeper level of perceptual awareness that is brought into mind to mould sight, shape, sound or movement in the artwork to a greater degree of control and organisation. This `raised' sensation of our powers of perception is what an art object places before us, but most of us ignore the sensation. We look at the subject that the artist has imposed upon the work.
From the evolutionary psychological point of view, art objects are constructs that we have learned to make in an attempt to raise our sensual awareness for sight, shape, sound and movement from a base, underlying experience. Some artists like to believe that this underlying level of experience in an art object is spiritual and originates from some distant realm of metaphysical influence within our minds. For evolutionary psychology, the art experience can ONLY come from an older, animal state of mind. This implies that the artist's work, at its base level of meaning, has been created to take an underlying sensation of sight, shape, sound or movement, which artists get an inclination for in their powers of perception, and transform it into painting, sculpture, music or dance. What the artist has done, psychologically, is suppress an old, animal sensation in their mind and, in so doing, the artist has been pushed to re-arrange our day-to-day awareness of sight, shape, sound and movement to a higher level of order and organisation.
To grasp this insight, it is essential for you to ignore whatever subjects the artist has portrayed in the work. What we are trying to comprehend is the underlying experience of any art object and this experience is universal to all artists regardless of what they portray or the times in which they work. An evolutionary psychological theory of art can ONLY be concerned with objective observation. The subjective content in a work of art is a distraction because we are talking about art as an inherent sense of perception that underlies our present-day, intelligent state of mind. This view would uphold that an artist still inherits an inclination of our old power of perception generated by animal instinct. This sensation will still create a primal view of objects and events, but because we have all evolved away from living within this intuitive way of looking, the view will be suppressed behind all we see and do. Some of us will sense this suppressed sensation in our view of the word, whilst others will just swamp it behind their controlled and organised, intelligent powers of perception.
I, as an artist, like to think I have a little of this inherent way of looking still at work somewhere at the back of my mind. To me, trying to get a glimpse of this old, intuitive sensation in my view of the world is what I believe being an artist is all about. It is really about depth of perception; you are either going to be imprisoned by your intelligent understanding of all you see and do or, like me, you are going to have this strange inclination that we have evolved to suppress an old, inherent animal way of looking.
For anyone interested in this idea, you need to realise that an artist cannot portray this inherent way of looking any more successfully than anyone else. The artist comes to see that this underlying sensation lies beyond intelligent comprehension. This is because we have evolved to transform our original, inherent way of sensing the world. We have learned, through trial and error, to take only the successful order of thinking from our animal state of mind and suppress the failed view. This gives us great powers of intelligent recognition, but it leaves us with an underlying remnant of our old way of looking. This old view is hidden behind the vast power of our successful way of generating our modern thought processes. Whatever an artist does is going to re-arrange the failed view into something that we know how to recognise because this is what our minds have evolved to do. All an artist can hope for is to find a way to express this inherent, intuitive experience and, in the case of painting, this would lead an artist to try to increase our awareness of shape and colour. Similarly, with music and dance, artists will be driven by an intuitive sensation of sound and movement to re-arrange noise or actions into forms that they know how to recognise to try to give the underlying view structure. The result will be an object that will attempt to intensify our day-to-day awareness of how we recognise sight, shape, sound and movement. Depending upon how perceptive the artist is, they will either work to impose intelligent control and organisation over the subject being portrayed, or they will try to disrupt this subjectivity. They will try to give us a glimpse into an underlying sensation of a more primal way of looking at the world.
Beneath all the images, stories and content in any work of art lies this evolutionary psychological implication that what an artist has done is sense an underlying power of perception, which is inherent from our animal origins. The artist introduces intelligently controlled and organised images in a work to try to give this sensation recognition, but this will suppress the experience. It will drive the artist to create work that intensifies our awareness of sight, shape, sound and movement. What the artist ends up with is an object that has been pushed to a higher perceptual level of observation by the underlying view.
The art experience would, therefore, be a product of diversity within our individual powers of mind that gives to some of us a deeper glimpse of an older, inherent sense of perception. The art experience would be a slight lessening of an individual person's intelligent powers of perception that would expose that person to an underlying view of objects and events still generated by animal instinct in the depths of their minds. Such a sensation would be a remnant of a genetic anomaly that we all possess but few of us sense, because we keep it suppressed behind our vast powers of intelligent awareness. An artist would be an individual who senses a little diversity at the heart of our powers of perception and this gives them a perturbation of the underlying animal view that we once lived within.
For evolutionary psychology, this would be the underlying principle at work behind all art objects that humans have ever made from the very beginning. Regardless of the subjects that have been portrayed throughout art history, there would appear to be an underlying influence at work: an inclination within the mind of the artist that we still possess an inherent, animal way of sensing objects and events that our powers of intelligence now work to suppress in our view of the world.
On Shape and Form
Most English dictionaries define form in a general way, as `the shape or configuration of something as distinct from its colour, texture, etc.' In art, however, the word has a deeper meaning. To the artist, form transcends shape. You can easily see the shapes in a painting or a sculpture, but you cannot see the form. Form is understood to be something of a far greater, subliminal quality that is not easily identified. Lancelot Law Whyte wrote, in Aspects of Form, `The artist knows the all pervasiveness and subtlety of form; his interest in external forms and his pre-occupation with the formative processes of his imagination make him what he is. But the exact scientist is often shy of approaching the problem of form, and naturally so, for he has no scientific philosophy of form to guide him'.
Law Whyte, Lancelot, Aspects of Form, (Lund Humphries 1968), p.1
What is this undefined pervasive quality of form that the artist senses but the scientist is so cautious to apprehend? Let's have a little think about this all-important aspect of the art experience.
I would be inclined to say that there would be no art experience without form and, since I believe that the art experience is generated from an inherent sense of animal perception, this would be the logical contender for something subliminal in our sensations of objects and events. Even if the artist cannot give the concept a logical scientific conformation as a predictable, measurable phenomenon, the idea of form is still `felt' by the artists to be an essential ingredient in the art experience.
Modern artists like the Dadaists might have believed that they could rid art of form, but they could only remove the old, traditional, intellectual concept that beauty was the structure of form. What the Dadaists revealed was that form is deeper than this shallow, aesthetic idea. Even the ugliest, most destructive acts have form. Form is intrinsically bound to any shape, but it is seen as something more than the shape. The shape is but a manifestation of form, just like the idea of life is seen as something more than the material that makes us what we are. Life is more than merely the ability of material to move in a controlled and organised way. Planets and moons seem to settle into such patterns, but the control and organisation that their orbits exhibit is the result of cause and effect. Life seems to exhibit control and organisation for reasons other than those of cause and effect. We can measure cause and effect, but we cannot put a measure of worth on life itself. It is the same with form. No matter what our intellect and learning teaches us to like and dislike, we should not be tempted to think of form as something elevated and superior in our experience of our view of the world. Form, like our animal origins in life, is something that does not quite fit the grandeur of status that we like to believe lifts us up above all other things. The tramp and royalty are equal in life as they are in form. Their shapes will be different as will their choice of fashion and lifestyle, but the form of these souls is as one.
How then are we to understand the difference between shape and form? We can calculate the volume of space that a shape occupies and we can gauge the differences between one shape and another, but none of this identification of structure applies to form. Form seems to be a universal quality of all things. To get to the root of the word, as art uses it, we need to look beyond intelligent, intellectual analysis. We need to `feel' for form like an artist.
Let us have a look at two simple shapes. Let's draw an outline of the shape of a six-point star and a circle on a flat piece of paper. The star will be created by a black line that has sharp corners and a jagged appearance, whilst the other will have a smooth, curved line to create a circle.
We should have no difficulty recognising that these two shapes are different. To get any idea of the form of these shapes, the first thing we need to do is get rid of any ideas of social implications towards the shapes at which we are looking. So, we don't want any religious ideas about the star and no mystical ideas about the circle creeping into our thoughts. All those kinds of notions are going to distract you from searching for the form of the shapes. It is the same with any work of art. You might be looking up at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome at those magnificent paintings created by Michelangelo for Pope Julius II, but the subject is not art. It is religious work and the Church is using art for its own interests. We, as artists, want to look at the art in this work. To do this we need to ignore the subject and search for the power of form that Michelangelo has imparted into his creation. Just like the six-pointed star, the shape will entice us to associate some sort of meaning to what we are looking at. The six-pointed star is seen by many as a symbol of the Star of David associated with Judaism, whilst the Michelangelo in the Vatican is a work of Christian belief. Both are shapes; the Michelangelo is more complex than the star, but both shapes are generating subjective ideas about religion. The circle is encumbered with the same problem. A mathematician will see it in a different way to a druid, but our concern, as artists, has to be about finding a way to look past these levels of subjectivity towards a deeper awareness of perception in any given shape.
Assuming we can get past this first stage of distraction, the next thing we need to remove from our thoughts is that of technical perfection. A lot of art is very beautifully made with great skill and craftsmanship and this is often seen as an identity of art in itself (not just craft objects like jewellery or macramé, but painting, sculpture, music, dance and even modern art like perfect replicas of Brillo pad boxes or a big, dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde). These nicely crafted objects are another distraction. You can learn to paint with great skill and to sculpt with a wondrous sense of perfection, just as you can learn to make music, dance and do many other things, but knowing how to carry this technical ability to reveal art requires an additional sense of awareness. Technical ability can be taught or bought, but the vast control and organisation that these abilities will impose over your work will not allow you to push past what this teaching will impart into your mind. To get beyond technical skill and perfection you require the inherent ability to sense form. You cannot learn this inherent ability that is so essential for the artist. You will either be perceptive to this inherent sense of form in everything around you or you will swamp it behind the power of control and organisation that technical ability places at your fingertips. Form, and the deeper awareness of sight, shape, sounds and movement it will impart within you, is the one ingredient in art that cannot be taught.
So, now we are going to ignore the subject in the shapes with which we are confronted and we are not interested in the technical skill or craftsmanship used to make these shapes. Instead, we are going to try to get a little closer to the `feeling' we want to understand as form. Let's keep it simple and stay with our star and our circle shapes. To get even the most slender glimpse of the form of these two objects we need to sense them in a far more inherent and basic way. We need to try to look without all the intelligent learning that fills our minds and makes us see a difference between the star and the circle.
Let's atomise our star and our circle to try to reduce our intelligent powers of recognition for the shapes.
We will still not be able to sense by form. No one can show form to you because to do so you would have to look at the shapes around you without the learned knowledge that you construct in your mind when you are very young. You have evolved away from sensing the world around you as form and have replaced that view with a learned understanding of shapes. We can push shapes away from learned understanding and this is what modern artists who comprehend this idea try to do. They deform and distort what you recognise to try to push you to sense the shapes beyond intelligent control and organisation. This makes your intelligence search for shapes, and the longer you can keep intelligence searching the more chance you have of sensing form. Let's make our intelligence search even harder for those shapes of the star and the circle.
Intelligence will now start to search for shapes. It is what your mind has evolved to do because it gave your ancestors a greater chance of survival in a world ruled by instinct. The star and the circle are still in this field of dots, but your mind might see other shapes. It does not matter what you see in this field of dots because all we are interested in is the `feeling' that your mind is open to while it is searching. This field of little dots is not very powerful, but go out into your garden on a clear, starry night and try to look at the sky without intelligent knowledge. Try to look without noticing those astrological signs like the Great Bear or Ursa Minor or whatever patterns reside in the cosmos above your head.
A clear sky at night is a wonderful object to sense by instinct. It is overwhelming and this `feeling' is as close to comprehending form as you are ever likely to get. Of course, however, we fill it with recognition. It's what we do because recognition creates control and organisation in our view of the world. Michelangelo filled his sculptures with control and organisation, but a modern artist who dumps a pile of rocks unceremoniously in an art gallery tries to avoid this power imposed by our intelligence over our experience of the world. Every day we look through these powers of controlled and organised perception and this hides the view of form that can only be sensed by instinct.
The next time you go out into your garden on a clear night, look up and try to ignore all that intelligent learning that fills the cosmos with recognition. Try to look without the perceiving that has emerged in us to overpower a view that once saw that night sky by instinct. You will fill what you see with controlled and organised ideas because that is what you have evolved to do. We once saw age-old patterns of mythological travellers to fill the void, but now we see clusters of galaxies and red dwarfs and the dust of supernova. We see numbers and equations that compress stars into black holes and slow time at the speed of light. Control and organisation create knowledge and so the night sky has been given a place in our thoughts that our intelligence can understand and manipulate. For the artist, the view should be different to this. The artist's night sky is a place without shape and is, therefore, all that remains of a sense of instinct in our view of the world. It is the last resting place for an awareness of form as was once seen by our animal ancestors through an ancient mind that we now keep buried behind the control and organisation that we project over all we see and do.
On Dysfunctional Lamp Posts
The traditional idea of art directs your mind towards subjects that an artist portrays in their work, with the identity of art being a product of the intellect infused into the object through technique. The story in a book is thought of as the artistic content, as is a picture in a painting. The technique is but a component that allows these subjects to be understood without distraction. Within this traditional idea you would expect music to be perfected to excite human emotions for a subject like nature, love or war without accidental noises disrupting the score.
The modern idea of art looks at this traditional approach in a very different way. A modern artist is not interested in any subject or composition or perfecting of technique. These traditional components of the art object are now thought to be a distraction that directs our thinking away from the art experience itself. That is to say that whatever the subject reflects and no matter how superbly it is made or performed, the experience we find ourselves engrossed within is NOT the art experience. Within the modern understanding, the subject and technique are irrelevant and it does not matter what object is in front of you. Any object could be a work of art because the art experience is a sensation that lies beneath all the control and organisation imposed through subject and technique.
Not all artists will agree with or uphold this modern idea. Many still cling desperately to the need for a subject and good workmanship in what they do, but at the forefront of modern understanding, these components are now seen to suppress an underlying sensation of any object. For a modern artist, this underlying sensation is what art should be trying to glimpse and all traditional subjects and techniques have always worked to stop this sensation being experienced.
The traditional view sees an artist as a barometer for the beliefs and aspirations of their time and place in society. If an artist lives in a time dominated by religious belief then the artist will create art objects that reflect this influence upon their mind and we would expect to see art objects that portray subjects used by the Church. If the artist lives in a time of neurotic insecurity, he or she will create art objects that reflect this state of mind and we would expect to find unmade beds or endless repetitive images of mass- reproduced products. These are the subjects infused into the works that, as often as not, reflect the state of the society that the artists find themselves working within.
To the modern understanding of art all this subjective content in an art object serves to hide the art experience as it is now envisioned. The subject in a work of art has always held a dominant place, right from the very beginnings of prehistory. Art has, and still is, portraying subjects that reflect the mind-set of the time and place in which the artist lives, works and dies. To the modern understanding of art, the content of an art object will always distract from the depth of perception needed to visualise a primal sensation that we all inherit in our view of the world.
Throughout the history of art no artist has looked to work outside the subjective nature of the objects that they created to find this primal view. The subjective nature of art always reflects the state of the society in which the artists find themselves living. This content in an art object has become established because artists have always worked to create the kind of objects that society needed rather than working to understand the nature of art itself. The idea that art should be useful and reflect concern for society is still pandemic in art objects even today. Modern art objects, like unmade beds or repetitive images of soup tins, are no different to cave paintings or religious images. They use less traditional technique, but they still present a subject designed to reflect a state of mind that upholds the beliefs of the time and place in which the artist works.
Some modern artists have realised that art has nothing to do with this subjective nature of the work. To understand what art is really about you have to look past all this usefulness. If you remove all this subjectivity from an art object you will always find yourself confronted by an actual object rather than an intellectual experience. You will find yourself having to look at the object without intellectual considerations and this way of looking offers a far more basic inherent experience of any object.
At the beginning of modern art, the most perceptive artists tried to find ways to get their art objects to move towards this more basic, inherent experience in our view of the world. These artists worked to reduce the subject from grand, academic content to simple, everyday observation. The great battle scenes and the portraits of the rich and famous gave way to images of peasants working in potato fields, paintings of the Sunday picnic or the simple, uncluttered clarity glimpsed in an unpretentious pot of sunflowers. Art theory sees this shift in subjects as socially orientated. It is thought to reflect the rise of the proletariat work ethic over the repressive ruling classes, but this shift in subject held even more profound implications for our understanding of art.
As the subject becomes less demanding, the actual art object begins to make its presence felt above the image in the work. In a painting, this usually gives rise to a more dominant influence of brushwork and vivid colours that reduce the detail of the subject being portrayed. The logical outcome of this direction of work is to create an art object that has no subject, but stands on its own with only its colours and shape to serve the art experience. This split artists into two groups: those who infused subjects into their work and those who kept the subject out of their work.
Herbert Read, in his book A Concise History of Modern Painting, classed this division between an art of internal necessity and an art of determined relations. The former leads the artist to try to portray an inner sensation that originates in their mind into an external art object and this is art known as Abstract Expressionism. The latter leads an artist to remove all reference to any inner sensation from the work and to make an object that stands alone with only its shapes and colours. This object does not try to portray the inner experience, but only to provoke it from the spectator. This way of working became known as Constructivism.
Most contemporary art today has backed away from this idea of Constructivism. Most modern artists have reverted to the need for subjective content in the mistaken idea that art should portray the artist's inner concern for the state of society. This is a retrograde step because modern art arose to look deeper into our powers of perception through the exploration of pure form and this cannot be achieved if the artist's mind is cluttered with social issues or their personal state of welfare. Modern artists might think it meaningful to portray subjects, but this is no more than a return to thinking that art should uphold some relevance to the times in which the artist is working. A shark in a tank of formaldehyde in a modern art gallery may not seem like a traditional art object, but it is no different to a religious sculpture in a church. We have to class these two objects as the same because the subjects they portray are working to distract us from a direct experience of an object. Art is not about religion or some vague idea about our reluctance to face death or themes of love, desire or sex. A true understanding of the art experience is concerned with discovering a purity of form that exists beneath all subjects. A shark, an unmade bed or endless images of soup tins are subjects, just like an image of an animal on a cave wall or a picture of Jesus Christ in a church. Modern art arose to break free from this subjectivity because it fills our minds with ideas that distract us from coming to know a deeper, emotive sensation in a direct experience of any object.
A modern artist who understands this principle will try to create work that avoids subjects. They will try to show you pure form because this experience lies hidden from you by the way your mind looks to identify everything you sense in front of you. When an artist creates a work that tries to `mean' something, that `meaning' will stop you from experiencing the object with your primal perception. This experience is what emerges into the exploration of art when freed from the need to portray subjects.
The primal sensation of ANY object is a sense of pure form. This sensation is always hidden from you in your view of the world by your continuous, intelligent need to identify what you see. When you find you cannot identify a subject in a work of art, you begin to sense form by instinct. This experience will, for a very short time, open your mind to experiencing what confronts you in a primal way. It is this search for a primal sense of pure form that was the founding principle of modern art and it singles out artists who uphold this principle from those who allow the subject to return into what they do.
An artist may think that he or she is portraying their emotions by creating `modern art' that upholds subjects relevant to their time, but this is untrue. What they are doing is no different to what the traditional artist did. They may not produce paintings or sculpt images like the traditional artist (they may make bizarre and ludicrous things), but if the work is subjective, it adheres to the same approach of giving art a content that is, for some unknown reason, thought to be important. To uphold the founding principle of modern art, a work has to be a search for pure form and cannot reflect a subject. It has to be an object that we will find difficult to identify because, only then, while our intelligence is unsettled, we will sense with our powers of instinct. In this state of uncertainty, we find ourselves beginning to glimpse the primal sensation of the pure form in what confronts us.
This idea of the primal sensation of any given object is very difficult to experience because our intelligence has evolved to bury this experience deep in our minds. It belongs to a far older way of sensing the world around us that we used to live with in our animal past. We emerged to overpower this primal sense of pure form by recognising the world around us in a divisive way. We have evolved to look at everything through preconceived ideas that suppress the original view. Modern art arose to try to find ways to discover forms that our mind would have difficulty recognising by avoiding images that we could easily identify. Creating such work requires a move away from the subject in an art object to making work that presents a direct experience and is purely objective. This takes great creative insight because our mind works to impose subjective ideas that it knows how to recognise over all we see and do. This means that an artist needs to create work without influence from intelligence, and the spectator will have to be forced to look without being able to impose an idea over what they see.
If you think of art in this way, you realise that painting, sculpture, music and dance are objects that we created in pre-history because they helped us sense sight, shape, sound and movement in a subjective organised way. This gave us an advantage over our old, instinctive way of perceiving. Our ability to recognise an image on a flat surface is our earliest record of this way of transforming our perception of the world from a direct sensation to a subjective experience. This must have been a monumental event in the lives of our primal ancestors. We began to evolve a way of looking at the world through ideas and our original way of direct experience began to be overpowered. We emerged from a view of the world sensed by instinct into a vision created by intelligent awareness and the old, objective, direct experience was lost.
A mind that only generates its powers of observation by instinct will have a different experience of the world to someone who imposes intelligent ideas over all they see and do. For example, my dog would happily urinate up a Michelangelo sculpture if I let him. To my dog, the sculpture is no different to the lamp post in my road. It's just another object on which to mark his territory so that the other dogs know he is still around. To my dog, the lamp post is an object with no more status than a Michelangelo sculpture and this tells me that my dog's mind is sensing objects with a more basic awareness than I do. Now, you may think that this makes my dog ignorant. He has no sense of value or appreciation for the finer things in life and this is true, but he has something I have lost. What the dog experiences that I cannot is the primal sensation in both the lamp post and the Michelangelo.
To me, the lamp post used to possess a usefulness to light my road, but one night someone backed a car into it while trying to turn around and this lamp post no longer lights up. It has lost its function in life, but like a Michelangelo sculpture, it is, to me, an object that I still see through an idea. The lamp post has not disappeared from my sense of awareness for lamp posts because it no longer lights up, but now, every time I stand beside it while my dog marks his territory, I see it more like a work of art. It has become an object that allows me to recognise a little more of a primal way of sensing that I fail to see in the world around me. This dysfunctional lamp post now holds a greater power of form over function and I should, therefore, look at it like a Michelangelo sculpture. It no longer has a use and so, because I look at a Michelangelo sculpture for an appreciation of form over function, this lamp post should now display all the qualities of a work of art. I should now see this dysfunctional lamp post as equal to the Michelangelo because it is a useless object. The only thing in it is form, but what I find so intriguing is that I cannot see the similarity between a lamp post that does not light up in the dark and the Michelangelo sculpture.
In reality, a Michelangelo sculpture is really no different to a lamp post that has stopped working. The sculpture does not have an actual function in life, but we still recognise the identity of this object as having power over any useful function. In the case of a lamp post, its identity is of a utilitarian design. This identity is secondary to its function and so the lamp post is not as beautifully modelled as a sculpture because it was designed to do a practical job. Unlike the sculpture, this dysfunctional lamp post does not stand in the street and work at arousing some deeper sense of visual awareness for perfect proportions like a Michelangelo sculpture. It stands there to light my way so I don't trip over in the dark and sue the town council. There are ten more lamp posts down the road with the same utilitarian design, but now this dysfunctional one has suddenly elevated itself in my mind to the status of art. In reality, it has lost its electrical power, but in my mind it has gained a place in my thoughts that separates it from all the other lamp posts down the road. It is a very minor difference in my awareness of lamp posts, but its loss of light has raised its identity over its function and this has marked it out from the idea of all lamp posts that I hold somewhere in my mind.
If I could get this lamp post into an art gallery as a ready-made art object, I could raise its ability to provoke my awareness of form over function to an even higher level in my thoughts. It would fill the object with an even greater power to be noticed above its night-time job because it would make me see it in comparison to the idea of art as a search for pure form. It would not just be a lamp post that is different to all other lamp posts because it no longer works, but would be an object brought into the world of art where ideas of form dominate over functional use. Now, I will admit that the utilitarian design of this lamp post is not as pleasing as the Michelangelo sculpture, but that is only a matter of aesthetics. It's a matter of intellectual taste and that is only a surface consideration. If we think deeper than this, we can see that the shape does not matter. Whether the object has been crafted by skilled artistic desire or stamped out from a machine to industrial design standards is a side issue. What we are really seeing is the vast power of differentiation that we possess that allows us to see objects in many ways. This ability we possess to distinguish between a lamp post and a Michelangelo sculpture seems to be something that the animal mind fails to comprehend. Once again, my dog will happily urinate up both my ready-made art object in the art gallery and the Michelangelo. The idea of form over functional use makes no difference to the animal mind.
Learning to see this difference between form and function is the advantage that art gave our animal ancestors in the struggle for survival. When my most distant ancestors painted images of horses on cave walls, they created an idea that did the same job as this dysfunctional lamp post does to my powers of perception. They not only discovered the idea of a horse reflected from the reality of a blank cave wall, they also did something far more significant; they created, in their minds, the ability to differentiate form over function. They pictured the image of the horse on the cave wall; the ability to recognise this image in the absence of the horse itself gives us a unique way of comprehending the world around us. (This does not mean that we are unique; it simply means that we have developed a different way of organising how we see objects and events to the animal mind.)
Our ability to differentiate between a lamp post that works and one that does not (or a Michelangelo sculpture) gives us a sense of control and organisation over our awareness of our view of the world. This allows us to identify objects and events in a more precise way. We don't just see an object, hear a sound or recognise movement, but we sense a deeper awareness of order and organisation in what we experience. This awareness of order and organisation gave us an advantage in the struggle for survival because it allowed us to project recognition on to everything. It allowed us to identify things that are of no useful practical value to us, but are seen as noticeable, and this opens up a whole new way of manipulating objects. It gives us the ability to differentiate the forms of objects regardless of their function. We don't just see an object to mark our territory like my dog, but we distinguish between different shapes. We recognise shapes as indicative of their use and this gives us a far greater comprehension of the world around us.
Even when the object no longer has a use (as is the case with a lamp post that no longer lights up in the dark), we still recognise the shape of the lamp post. The lamp post does not change in appearance when it no longer has a use because, in our minds, we elevate the idea of a lamp post to a deeper level of awareness. An animal does not do this. To my dog, the lamp post is useful to mark his territory, but it matters little to him if it is alight or not. If the lamp post ceased to serve its `doggy' use, my dog would not stop to consider any deeper significance in its form. He would ignore it and, for all intent and purpose, the lamp post would cease to exist. It would dissolve into the background vision of the world of uninteresting shapes that my dog just ignores.
To me, the world is not like this. To me, the lamp post has gone out but it still holds a place in my awareness of everything that surround me. I don't ignore the lamp post because it is no longer useful; I generate a deeper sense of awareness and recognise the form over the function of the lamp post. This power of recognition is what must have driven us to create art objects. At its very beginning, before art was adopted by superstition, religion and a host of other `useful' needs, art had no function. It was simply a sensation that allowed us to recognise form over function. We began to notice the outline of animals and faces in the shadows and cracks in cave walls. This gives us ideas about objects that we then projected over the real things; those real things then became more noticeable than everything else in our primal vision of the world.
How did this greater sense of comprehension for form over function called art come about? Having a greater capacity of mind gives us the storage space for an increased depth of perception, but it does not guarantee that it will generate a greater sense of comprehension of form over function. I am reliably informed that a great volume of the storage space available to us in our minds is unused. If this is the case, it is not the size of our minds alone that creates the depth of perception we possess. Something has to drive us to look at the world in a deeper way and, as our modern understanding of life does not allow us to induce the intervention of superhuman influence, our depth of perception has to have evolved from our animal minds. In my humble opinion, this is what modern art arose to reveal to us. Modern art should not be concerned with creating art objects for social use, but should be trying to understand what has driven us to create art objects in the first place.
Art objects seem to be remnants of a way of sensing that taught us to recognise form over function. Noticing a lamp post that does not work among all other lamp posts is like recognising an image of a horse painted on a cave wall. Both sensations work to suppress a glimpse of this deeper awareness for perception with which we once lived. This deeper view did not see things as separate, independent objects singled out from everything else by function; it saw everything in a more primal, inherent way and so you would not, looking in this primal way, notice the image of a horse on a wall. You simply would not see it, but what is interesting is that we always do see it. We even see images in twisted tree trunks and wind eroded rocks. This tells us that we have lost the ability to look in the primal way.
Our primal way of looking is still working away deep inside us and, I presume, like all other animal minds, it cannot tell a picture of a horse from the wall it is drawn upon or a lamp post from a sculpture. It cannot differentiate form from function. My intelligence can easily distinguish the difference and this is the interesting point; my intelligence cannot see the lamp post like the Michelangelo. Even when I put the lamp post in an art gallery I still cannot see the primal view. Although this lamp post is now a work of art, it still makes me recognise it as a lamp post. As a work of art, the lamp post now has the same status as the Michelangelo and I should be able to see the lamp post as equal in form to the Michelangelo – a different shape but equal in form – but I cannot. I keep thinking that the Michelangelo is more artistic in form, but this is a shallow view. I am still looking at it through the old aesthetic idea of art. I should be able to look deeper than this and see the lamp post as I see the Michelangelo, but I fail to do this. My mind seems to have evolved to stop me looking at the world in this deeper way. My intelligence seems unable to recognise the view that placing a ready- made object in an art gallery should help me see.
The answer to my conundrum is to understand how my dog fails to see the difference between the lamp post and the sculpture. He does not see a difference because he is not being driven to recognise a higher level of order and organisation over his perception of the world. Our minds build this higher view of order and organisation and this then works to block the other view that our minds generate by instinct. We once lived without this order and organisation and we, therefore, did not have the control that we look to impose over what we see. The old view is still generated in the deepest parts of our minds, but every time our intelligence tries to look at it we are driven to see it through powers of subjective recognition. This drives us to differentiate between the lamp post and the sculpture. It propels us to want to raise our idea of the form of the lamp post up to that of the sculpture because I have placed the lamp post in an art gallery. This shows us that we are driven to create art because we cannot see the base animal sensation of the world in which we live. If I could see this base sensation of objects that is still generated in my mind, I would see both the lamp post and the Michelangelo as equal.
My intelligence won't let me look in the old, inherent way. My mind makes me recognise a lower form – the lamp post – through an idea of higher form that I believe is art. We can realise from this that our ancestors must have been driven to create art because art `pushes' us to intensify how we recognise objects and events. What we call art was a way of sensing objects before we imposed ideas of form over function in all we see and do. Art is an experience of the world that has no function and if, as many people do, you impose a function upon art you destroy the sensation. Art was the `animal' view of the cave wall before we recognised and outlined images upon it. When we began to draw images on cave walls we started to differentiate the form of an object – the image – over its function. This gives you an advantage through the ability to see the difference between an object and the idea needed to recognise the object as different from all other objects in the world around it. With this power of differentiation, our ancestors learned to enforce their new, emerging power of intelligent perception over the animal way of seeing. Our intelligence is now built on top of this animal view and this view is now buried deep within us. I, as an artist, still sense this old way of looking that continues to work away in my mind. My old way of looking still sees the lamp post and the Michelangelo as equal, but the experience is lost to me because my intelligence has evolved to stop me looking in this old, inherent way.
I should be able to look at a dysfunctional lamp post in an art gallery as equal to a Michelangelo sculpture, but I find that I cannot. I see a lamp post because my mind cannot look past my intelligent power to differentiate the form of an object from my idea of its function. In the Michelangelo, I look for the subject of the sculpture and recognise a perfect image of a figure, just as I look at the identity of the lamp post. Both, in reality, are equal. Both are objects that hold form over function, but this experience is lost to me because I will see the subject and not art.
The Artist, the Scientist, and the Priest
As a modern artist, I seek uncertainty and chaos in all I see and do. In traditional art, these components are thought to be undesirable and destructive to the control and organisation imposed over the creation of an art object. From a modern point of view, it now seems that we impose order and organisation over all we see and do to hide the feeling that uncertainty and chaos generates in our minds.
Being an artist should give you the ability to `sense' that there is, within the way we order and organise our powers of perception, an underlying view of the world. This view does not see the world as intelligence has learned to do and when we glimpse the underlying view it looks uncertain and chaotic. We begin to sense in an older, inherent way, but our minds no longer know how to comprehend this experience. The view is beyond our powers of perception because it can only be felt when the sense of control and organisation that our intelligence imposes over all we see and do is absent from our minds. The underlying view `feels' uncertain and chaotic and our intelligence works to keep this uncomfortable sensation out of our day-to-day powers of perception. In doing this, we suppress a way of looking that is generated in an inherent, primal way. This view is still working in the depths of our minds and could, if we knew how to look at it, show us how to look into uncertainty and chaos in an inherent and instinctive way.
We should still be able to sense this old way of looking, but what we find is that intelligence will not let us do this. Some of us `feel' the presence of this old, underlying sensation deep in our minds, but the only way we know how to look at it is to transform it into something that intelligence knows how to recognise. This does not reveal the view as sensed by instinct, but leaves us with a `feeling' that what we seek to experience is always just out of reach. The view is always lost to us because it is beyond the way we have learned to look. What we should see is a way of comprehending the world that is void of our intelligent need for control and organisation, but what we find is that we cannot grasp the view because what intelligence fails to recognise is sensed as uncertainty and chaos.
As a modern artist, this drives me to want to create objects that people will have difficulty recognising. I don't want to make art that is easy to recognise through our powers of control and organisation. I want to disrupt this way of looking so I can get a glimpse at the underlying view. What I see is uncertain and chaotic, but this is because I, like everyone else, have evolved away from being able to sense the world through my old, inherent powers of instinct. A modern artist senses that beyond intelligence lies another, inherent way of looking, but our need to control and organise our powers of perception destroys this underlying view by turning it into a `feeling' of uncertainty and chaos. To intelligence, the primal view looks destructive but this is only because it cannot be sensed through intelligence.
Science knows all too well that we have evolved from primal origins and that uncertainty and chaos underlie all they do, but to a scientist the universe has to be capable of being understood through confirmed observation and repeated experiment. This requires logical reasoning, but for an artist this way of thinking has evolved to suppress an underlying way of sensing through instinct. Sensing by instinct is not a reasoned act that would allow a scientist to formulate a coherent way to look at events and, therefore, I assume that the exacting mind of the scientist will be wary of approaching the problem of looking to find a way to sense events without intelligence. The scientist has to believe that intelligence is capable of comprehending the universe, but the artist is not so sure. I assume that this is what marks the difference between a scientist and an artist.
The scientist stands assured that the universe can, one day, be understood by human reasoning and believes that there is nothing that cannot be comprehended if we can gain the knowledge to model what surrounds us with precise, indisputable accuracy. A modern artist cannot believe this view because it represents the traditional artist's ideal that you can paint a perfect picture or compose a perfect musical score. For a modern artist, this idea has become undesirable in a work because the artist learns that uncertainty and chaos are integral components of order and organisation within an art object. To an artist, imposing more order and organisation over what you create does not lead to a clearer understanding of what you are trying to do, but just makes it harder to comprehend. In art, intelligence is destructive to the view you want to see because it works to hide an underlying sensation of all things that you could only know when intelligence relinquished its control and organisation over your view of the world. A modern artist, therefore, comes to see that the imposition of intelligence over what we see actually creates our sense of uncertainty and chaos.
What the artist seeks to see could never be comprehended by intelligence because the view implies that intelligence works to transform the view to give it structure. To the scientist, this way of thinking would make the universe incomprehensible and unknowable by repeated observation because any recognised pattern has transformed rather than revealed the view.
The priest, on the other hand, already knows. The answers have been written in scripture.
Is the Future Smaller than the Past?
This essay envisions an alternative interpretation of the Edwin Hubble observations, showing that galaxies are receding away from each other at speeds proportional to their distances. When calculated back in time, the Hubble observations predict an expansion of the universe after a singular event that is popularly referred to as The Big Bang. This paper gives an alternative model that predicts that the space between galaxies will be seen to increase by any observer because the observer will be unaware that the galaxy in which they live (and all other galaxies) get smaller over time. This model predicts that a view of the expanding universe that we observe will lead us to a mistaken conclusion because our observations are based upon a fixed point of reference.
To picture my model, you have to rethink your concept of how you measure the size of an object over time. Our present idea is that our measure of the space around us today can be used to judge the size of space yesterday. We do not believe that a cup upon a table was a different size yesterday as it is today; neither do we think that it will be a different size tomorrow. We believe in a fixed concept of size and this allows us to imagine that we can measure the past and the future. This allows us to picture the past as compressed because, today, we see the universe as expanding. Fig.1 shows the idea of size that we use to model our picture of a universe, which begins just after The Big Bang and then expands over time.
To establish a view of an expanding universe, we visualise that a measuring device is unaffected by the changing size of the universe over time. The universe is compressed and we picture that it occupies less space than the universe today because our measuring device has not changed size. We imagine that the device is fixed and immutable and so we can compare the size of the past to our imaginary measurements that are fixed in size. A different idea can be pictured by saying that if the universe was smaller in the past then any device we use to measure this event must be subject to this reduction in size.
Fig.1:To picture the universe as small at the beginning (black spot on left) you have to calculate a fixed measure of size over time. To do this you have to think of your measuring device as independent of the event. You are then able to measure the beginning as smaller than the universe today (black spot on right).
In this idea, when we turn the clock back, we are not allowed to use a measure that can be imagined to exist outside the event. As you can see in Fig. 2, our measuring device is now affected by what happens to the size of the universe.
Fig.2. With your measuring device inside the universe, it will be subject to the laws of physics that govern this universe. Just after The Big Bang (black spot on left), the measuring device has to be thought of as being compressed. This measure would (if the device could withstand the enormous pressures) still show a universe to be the same size as the one you live in today (black spot on right).
Because you can only make observations from inside this universe, you cannot determine the size of the universe in the past because if the space of the universe was compressed, the same would be true of everything inside the event. You must, therefore, imagine any measuring device as having been compressed as you calculate back in time and you cannot say that the device's standard of calculation is fixed and immutable. The universe just after The Big Bang may have been very small in size, but you have no way to establish this fact because your standard of measurement is inherent within the event. From this point of view, the beginning of this universe was very hot and compressed, but cannot be measured in comparison to a scale that we use today.
To get this model to show us the expanding universe observed by Hubble – with galaxies that look as if they are moving away at speeds proportional to their distances – we must now picture that each galaxy is accelerating inwards towards its own centre. The galaxies have to be pictured as getting smaller as time progresses and, therefore, any observer in any one of these galaxies will be subject to this law of diminishing size. The observer and their measuring device will diminish in size, but because the observer cannot determine what is happening, they will think that other galaxies are fixed in size and appear to be moving away.
In this model, the space of the universe that is established after The Big Bang begins full of hot, dense matter and, as time goes on, it becomes cooler and forms into islands of galaxies. This does not happen because the universe expands, but because the matter in the universe gets propelled inwards into clumped areas that get smaller as time goes on. Fig. 3 shows the idea as seen from this point of view.
Fig.3: To any observer in any galaxy in this universe (right side), the universe will look as if it is expanding because the observer gets smaller and smaller in the galaxy they occupy. The distance between the galaxies increases, but because you travel in this inward direction in your galaxy you cannot determine that the galaxies are getting smaller over time. In this model, the universe after initial inflation (left side) dissipates energy by an inward acceleration of matter.
In this universe, the galaxies become smaller over time. This does not lead to matter in a galaxy being compressed because you need to envision that the future is smaller than the past (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4: In the galaxy on the left, matter has remained fixed in size over time and has, therefore, crushed itself together in the future. In the galaxy of the right, matter has diminished in size over time (releasing energy as it does so) and has, therefore, created a stable event. For anyone inside the event, living within the galaxy on the right, nothing will appear to have changed size over time.
With this idea, you can calculate that, as the galaxies accelerate inwards, the distance between the stars and planets within the galaxies remains stable, but the distance between galaxies will appear to be expanding (Fig. 5). To any observer in this event, because they diminish in size along with everything that surrounds them in their galaxy, nothing will appear to change size within the area of space in which they live.
Fig. 5: To an observer in galaxy one, all the planets and stars within this galaxy display a fixed distance from each other because our observer cannot see that the galaxy they live within gets smaller between (TIME = 1) and (TIME = 2). At (TIME = 2), nothing inside the galaxy appears to have changed size, but if our observer looks at another galaxy they will think that the other galaxy is moving away. If our observer measures the distance to galaxy two, it will be increasing because galaxy one and galaxy two are smaller in the future.
Down on our little world, orbiting an average-size star in our galaxy, we will believe that everything is fixed in size in relation to all we see and do. We will, therefore, think that all other galaxies are fixed in size because this is the way we comprehend the galaxy in which we live. We will conclude that we are living in an expanding universe because we observe the other galaxies receding, but this is also the view that we should expect to see if our galaxy and all the other galaxies are getting smaller and smaller.
Here is a simplified way to picture this idea. Get thousands of spherical balloons and fix them at set distances from each other in a room. Blow the balloons up and find valves to regulate the air as it escapes from the necks of these balloons. Now imagine that one balloon is the galaxy in which you live and the other balloons are galaxies that you are observing. Open the valves to release the air from all the balloons at a set rate and imagine yourself getting smaller and smaller as your balloon loses air. Inside your balloon nothing appears to change size because you get smaller as the balloon gets smaller. If you now look at the other balloons, they will all look as if they are travelling away from your point of observation. You will think that you see an expanding universe, but, as our simple balloon model shows, this is far from the case. This model is not expanding, but because the balloons are getting smaller and smaller, it will look to any observer caught up in this event that the distances between the balloons is increasing.
We could be subject to this occurrence in our galaxy and we would have no way of knowing about it. The only clue is to look at the other galaxies, but because we believe that we do not change size, because nothing around us in our galaxy appears to do this, we will be drawn to an incorrect assumption. We will think that all other galaxies are travelling away at speeds proportional to their distance and we will conclude that the universe is expanding.
In this alternative model, all galaxies accelerate inwards, but the stars, planets and moons within the galaxies are not compressed because, as this acceleration takes place, they travel towards a smaller future.
Another point to consider in this model is that a star would release energy and generate gravity by acceleration as it travels in this inward direction. A star would be consuming matter from The Big Bang to do this. It would be an object that is still upholding the density and heat that once filled the whole universe.
From our point of view, a star will not appear get any smaller because we live inside this event on a planet that follows the same rate of acceleration towards a smaller and smaller future. The star appears to us to burn steadily at a set distance from us, but it is in fact consuming matter at a vast rate (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6: Everything looks unchanging in size to an observer orbiting a star because between (Time = 1) and (Time = 2) the observer has accelerated INWARDS with the star.
In this model, light does not leave a star and travel past us out into space, but stands still and the star burns inwards at the speed of light. Planets and moons are dragged down within this event, swirling into orbits as they get smaller and smaller inside the galaxy that they occupy. On one of these planets an observer will think that the stars and the galaxy are fixed and unchanging in size and are burning steadily. Light from a star will look like it is streaming past their world and out into distant space, but the observer has to realise that light is being left behind the star as it burns matter away. The observer lives on a world that is travelling through an ocean of light left behind the star as it gets smaller and smaller over time.
We travel in this direction, but we are not accelerating inwards any faster than anything in the space around us and so we do not get compressed or pulled apart. From our point of view, stars, planets and moons will look unchanged in size as they orbit within the sphere of effect of our galaxy. Everything will look fixed in size and light will look as if it is streaming out of stars and galaxies. We will have no way to see that everything is diminishing in size over time.
If we calculate this model back in time, we cannot know the size of the universe at its beginning. All we can say is that the beginning was a hot dense arena of unknown size. What happened then was that the hot dense arena that this event had established began to consume itself. It began to propel matter inwards into areas that would eventually emerge as galaxies. The arena of hot, dense matter that once filled the universe is now almost empty and cold because of this inward acceleration of matter. This empty, cold place has not come about because the universe has expanded, but because the future is smaller than the past.