CREATIVE THINKING: A MODERN ARTIST'S NOTEBOOK
The Little God of Science
For many people, the idea that God may not exist is abhorrent and immediately provokes a sense of overwhelming dread. The thought that there is no life after death for believers signifies that they will be lost beyond all salvation and they cannot face the thought that they might be living in a universe that has no purpose to existence or any reward for virtue in an afterlife.
As science discovers more harsh facts about the physical workings of the universe, it begins to look increasingly likely that the cosmos is a place without divine intent or preordained design and has little to do with the religious belief in God. And yet, in this factual, scientific vision of the universe, an idea of God seems to be needed more than ever before. What other idea could stop us from succumbing to an all-consuming, selfish decline into anarchy and despair if the universe itself is but an accidental event, hell-bent on total self-obliteration?
We need an idea of God, but because we now live with a picture of a universe built upon repeated experiment and confirmed observation, none of the present concepts of God adhere to the principles of science. All ideas of God see the being as a metaphysical entity with no physical existence. God is a one-off event that cannot be measured or calculated and observed, but only believed in with faith and, in some cases, dogmatic power of authority that you must never challenge. This way of picturing the reality of the universe with belief is not the way of science. Science needs facts and the facts, at present, seem to suggest that God either does not exist, or has little to do with the workings of life and the universe.
Under the strict rules of science, we live in a universe that can only be known by calculation and repeated observation of phenomena. The idea of God as put forward by religion is a belief that offers no such proof of concept. God has no physical substance that could be seen as measurable. God is an entity of supernatural form that is imagined to affect our thoughts, but displays no physical presence other than that of ideas, driving those who believe to make extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice. Great books have been written and edifices built to uphold the belief in the idea of God but, to science, an idea is not a probability until proven by repeated experiment and confirmed observation. When science can measure the presence of God, the belief will become a part of what science deems to be knowable, but until then it seems more probable that God does not exist. The universe, to science, is a godless place that seems to want nothing more than to dissipate all of its energy as fast as it can and return to the absolute dark, cold, stillness that was its beginning. Thanks to science, our modern view of the cosmos pushes us to the brink of being overwhelmed by the feeling of total hopelessness. We stand alone because we evolved in an unguided, blind process of evolution without purpose or meaning.
The process has created wonderful living creatures, but it is a blind process and so all this wonderment has but one end. Evolution, in a godless universe, can want but one thing and that is to follow the desire of the universe to return to dark, cold stillness. To do this, evolution creates wonderful, complex forms of life that compete against each other to become the most efficient living forms that there can be in any given environment to consume everything as fast as they can. It is a bleak vision of events, but surprisingly there is an idea in science that might make a good case for a picture of God that we can calculate and observe in this seemingly bleak event.
Science today has created a vision of a godless universe where matter and energy emerge from The Big Bang; a calamitous event creating everything that we know from what can only be described as nothing. Nothing, to science, is a place so small that it has no dimensions or time. This place is so cold that it has reached a temperature of absolute zero where everything is in a state of inertia without energy to give matter substance. The place is beyond calculation and so, without numbers, you cannot theorise before this event. This Big Bang started time in a disturbance that erupted and united energy and matter to create a universe filled with light and energy. In this scenario, energy should have rushed to dissipate itself back to the dark, cold, still timelessness that is incalculable to science. It should have all returned to nothing, but it failed to do so because of an odd imbalance. In the violent birth of the universe, vast amounts of energy created matter and matter then attempted to release the forces now trapped within it. The universe expanded and, because it emerged from nothing, it should have instantly dissipated its energy back to absolute zero.
Somewhat like throwing a stone into deep, calm water, The Big Bang should have returned its disruption back to perfect calmness by dispersing the disturbance into the overall stillness of an infinite void. It would, of course, have been instantaneous. It should have happened in an immeasurably short instant in time because the universe is an infinite `heat sink'. The universe appears to be a hot object in an infinity that should absorb all heat and reduce it to absolute zero. All the energy from The Big Bang should have disappeared into infinity and reduced to a level that would be too small to be measured and could no longer have any effect. The birth of the universe, as we know it, should have been nothing more than an instantaneous hiccup in a place of infinite cold, dark stillness.
The universe should have cancelled itself out at the instant it occurred, but the disturbance created an arena defined by energy that created matter, and matter traps energy. The event created an impasse where the energy could not disperse back to dark, cold nothingness. Objects like stars do not just burn off the energy and matter into inky, cold, darkness; they set up a balance of nuclear forces within that arrests this desire for self-obliteration. An average-size star will burn in a stable way for a hundred million years or more until the impasse deteriorates and the star finally gets to explode and then collapse into a black hole of its own making. For a short while – in the life of a universe – the star will burn steadily and, bathed in its comforting glow, a planet with the right elements at the right distance will sustain the optimum temperature to begin a process of `cooking' the inert elements into living things.
Single cell organisms begin to emerge from an amalgamation of elements that trap and convert energy into a self-replicating concoction fashioned from some primal soup of chemical components. The prototype organisms will rise like loafs of bread in an oven to feed upon themselves. They will learn to aimlessly bump into each other and consume one another to build more complex forms in a meaningless struggle for survival. In this scenario, the idea of God has no influence over events because blind, unguided forces work to ensure that the struggle will propagate more and more elaborate living organisms that become highly skilled at hunting and consuming everything because this is the desire of the universe. The universe wants to rid itself of energy and return to dark, cold stillness.
It's a grim picture that will strike a sense of doom into any good God- fearing mortal, but in a universe that wants nothing more than to rid itself of all energy, living things should be trying to follow this harsh, mindless, natural course of events. Living things should be trying to destroy each other and consume as much energy from the environment around them as they possibly can. It is indigenous in the material that makes us what we are. There is, however, one small glimmer of hope in this awful scientific picture of events and it lies in understanding the odd impasse that keeps the universe from rushing back to its dark, cold origin.
In science's depressing picture, the universe wants nothing more than to rid itself of all energy, but because of an odd imbalance, it is stopped from rushing back to oblivion. Because of the odd impasse within The Big Bang, stars do not just throw their heat and energy back to the infinite, dark coldness that surrounds us. Stars are not like light bulbs; they don't take energy from a grid of generated power, but they stand alone, having formed in stellar dust, as a balancing act between the energy that they generate and the matter they lose. The energy/matter equation creates an impasse that resists the headlong desire of the star – and by inference the universe – to return to its state of inertia that is nothingness.
Here on earth, within the steady warmth of one of these stars caught in this impasse, life begins with only the desire to consume everything around it and to multiply as fast as it can. It is the underlying principle of all things, but as life gets more complex in the pursuit of this desire, it also reaches an impasse. Just like the nuclear events in a star, living things achieve a state of balance between the consumers and what is available to be consumed. This is why, here on earth, big, fierce animals are rare. The hunters are always fewer than the hunted because nature sets up this balance that sustains living things within a food chain. The smallest things breed in vast numbers that are kept in check by larger things that feed upon them. For this equation to work, the bigger things must be fewer by comparison. The balance fluctuates as natural disasters occur and the environment changes, but evolutionists tell us that natural selection soon redresses the balance and life settles back into some sort of equilibrium.
We alone, amongst all things on earth, seem to be the only creatures to have flaunted this procedure created by natural selection. We have emerged into the modern age to manipulate this food chain for our own ends and create a population explosion that has begun a headlong rush to deplete the natural world of its resources. Human beings at the top of the food chain should be few in numbers compared to the rest of the natural world, but we are not. At this time, we stand on the brink of becoming aware of what has happened to us. We have bred unchecked into the modern age and, rather than restrict our numbers, we opted to deplete the earth's resources to uphold our ever-increasing populations. We have only just woken up to try and learn to live by means of energy conservation, but the true desire of all things is to breed and consume at as fast a rate as possible.
Whether or not we succeed in learning to live within our means will ultimately depend upon how strong our intelligence is at resisting the natural pull of the universe at work within us. Is our intelligence powerful enough to realise that what drives us to conquer everything around us and to breed beyond natural limits is not a superior, God-given gift, but a natural, mindless force inherent in every cell and sinew of our being? A force that wants us to break out of that odd little impasse that stops the sun collapsing in upon itself and holds life here on earth in balance. Here on earth, most living things attain a way of living by instinct within this impasse and uphold the balance of life over extinction. It is a hard lesson to learn, but intelligence has not yet fully grasped it. We still see ourselves as superior to all other living things. After all, animals have never achieved the great feats of engineering and civilisation that humans aspire to. We can fly higher and faster than any birds and dive to great depths beneath the seas. We can explore distant worlds and stand upon the moon. We can calculate forces, predict events and control disease. We can trawl fish from the seas into extinction and we can cultivate and genetically modify animals and food to sustain our ever-expanding numbers. And, oh yes, I almost forgot, we can create wonderful music and art. We are indeed great in comparison to the lowly animal, but for all our greatness the animal has achieved one thing we have yet to aspire to. The animal, with its sense of instinct, has learned to live within the impasse that keeps the mindless pull of a universe from achieving its end and ridding itself of all energy and matter. The animal has achieved what we have yet to understand; life is not about advancing upon success above all other things, but it is about learning to survive within limitations.
Every day, the sun shines out its message to life on earth. It says, `I survive in a universe that wants nothing more than to extinguish my life-giving warmth and light because I have set up a balance that conserves my energy from the very forces that want to consume it.'
To know this is to know The Little God of Science. Here, God has become that little imbalance at the beginning of everything: a little discrepancy in forces that should have cancelled each other out, but did not and, because this happened, the sun warms the earth and the elements knitted into the building blocks of life. We stand here on this planet looking out upon a vast, endless cosmos because the energy in the universe is trapped. It wants to escape back to the nothingness where it is forever cold, still, silent and dark, but it cannot.
The Little God of Science has given life enough time to evolve by chance mutation into thinking, reasoning beings that now face the dilemma of having to understand that we may have been pushed into existence because the universe wants to break the impasse that is life on earth. The material from which we are made is full of the desire to consume all the energy it can find to return to its preferred state of dead, cold inertia. Life sets up a balance to resist this desire of the material from which it is made. Such a balance is abhorrent to a mindless universe that wants to rid itself of all energy. The God in us could be that little impasse that tells us that we cannot go on consuming the resources of this earth because that is exactly what the universe wants us to do. We need to conserve energy and live within our means because, only then, in balance with the natural ability of life to uphold an existence in a place that wants only to wipe it out, we will have understood the purpose of our being. We will have understood that intelligence may be the most incredible thing to have evolved from life on earth, but it could have emerged to further the will of the universe to rid itself of all energy and matter.
The desire in all material is to dissipate energy, and our DNA, which guides our growth to intelligence, is material that still has this desire inherent within it. It will propel life to mutate into forms that are more successful because such forms will then begin to consume the environment around them at an ever-increasing rate. In other words, they will begin to follow the desire of the universe and start to dissipate energy. It is only because other living things evolve at the same rate that this desire is kept in check. The universe wants us to rise and consume all life and resources upon this earth and, in this scenario, the idea of God is the feeling within us for that little impasse that tells us to resist this urge. We have evolved away from sensing this impasse by instinct and must now learn to understand and live within it by intelligent awareness. Our salvation may well turn out to be this Little God that science has revealed to us. It has no image and looks like no living thing, but it exists in the universe and it can be measured, calculated and understood. The little impasse at the start of time, which conserved energy in a place that should have dissipated it to nothing, has been passed to us from the sun we live around. It has been placed in the care of living things that have learned to uphold it by blind instinct and now this Little God rests within us.
People tell me that God is love, but I see love as a pattern of energy that creates a balance between two, or more, forces that would, if this balance were not attained, consume each other. I think that when we `feel' love we sense the ultimate outcome of the material from which we are made that is being propelled by energy, trapped in all things, to resist a need for self- annihilation. One could argue, therefore, that love exists in this universe not by preordained design but by necessity.
Everything is made of the need to consume all around it, but within this event a balance emerges from an impasse that this need creates. Everything contains the ability to consume and to love. Think of the sun; this object of light and warmth wants to do no more than consume the planets that orbit around its influence, but within this event a balance has emerged that resists this end. To my way of thinking, this is the first sign of a crude form of love in the universe. The solar system has no living awareness, but the basis of this mindless event is what manifests itself in our need for love. A star does not `feel' love for its planets, but the two things create an impasse: a desire, if one could call it that, to resist the forces at work that want to destroy the star and its worlds. If such a balance did not exist, the star would consume the worlds and itself. It is the very nature of the universe that surrounds us to want to do this, but within this event a balance emerges that stops the universe annihilating itself.
Life here on Earth must have this need for self-annihilation at its heart. All livings things want no more than to multiply unchecked and to rise up and consume all things upon this earth, but like the sun, living things create an impasse within this event. The basis of all things is to consume, but this drives things to attain a state of balance between the forces that want to consume them and what is available to be consumed. At the base of this event is a balance that stops the universe from self-annihilation.
I believe that in human beings, love is the most refined manifestation of this fundamental display by the universe to find a balance that resists the forces at work that want to pull this event apart. Love is a balance reached by two, or more, things that want, by desire, to consume each other. People love because they overcome the need to consume. They create, and thus come to `feel', a bond that is the most fundamental law that lies at the core of all existence. Like the very atoms of our being, we attract and repel each other. We orbit and we bond and we `feel' love and, for a short while, we experience the inherent fabric of the universe to resist the fall back to dark, cold oblivion.
Holy Particles or As Close to God as Science is Ever Likely to Get
This essay looks briefly at the idea that a balance of mindless forces not only stops the universe from collapsing under the effect of gravity, but works to push material into order and organisation from chaos. This event could be used to picture a way to understand how ideas of good and evil might have emerged in our thinking without the need for preordained design.
Gravity is a mindless force that wants to collapse the universe, but it cannot because other mindless forces occur at a subatomic level, which are made of elementary particles that repel each other at close proximity. Most of the observable universe cannot be pulled by gravity to a point of ultimate compression because the forces at work within the subatomic level of events stop this happening – the exception being when a star dies in a supernova. This event creates so much energy that it compresses the subatomic particles in the star and gravity creates a black hole.
Our star is a long way from becoming a supernova, so it continues to burn steadily because the nuclear forces have been pulled by gravity to a point where they repel each other and set up a chain reaction that gives off light and warmth. This event has occurred all over the universe and appears to us in the form of galaxies of stars and nebula of dust and debris. The universe does not collapse because of this balance between subatomic forces and gravity. Gravity is not strong enough at this microcosmic measure of existence to pull the subatomic particles together and what results from this phenomenon is balanced equilibrium where objects get pushed into displaying a form of organisation. Instead of just collapsing back into a chaotic singularity, the universe displays order and organisation over events without any need for preordained design.
What we end up with is a universe full of objects that display a pattern of events over chaos. Planets end up orbiting stars because stars cannot collapse in upon themselves and the planets, as they try to fall towards stars, get propelled into accelerated orbits that offset the pull of the gravity of the stars. Mindless physics creates this event, so why don't we formulate a way of understanding a similar effect to generate a state of order and organisation in our mind?
Creatures like us, living in a universe that has formed under this mindless principle of cause and effect, would appear to act in a controlled way because our minds will be pushed by this effect that the universe upholds. Just as planets create order and organisation around stars, why not imagine that a similar, mindless effect could align thoughts into order and organisation. Such a mind could be compelled to generate thoughts that try to control themselves to uphold a balanced existence by nothing more than a mindless force of physics being `felt' at the microcosmic scale of brain activity. Take this idea one step further and you have a basic model for understanding a state of mind where acts of goodness, morality and compassion could be the result of organised patterns being enticed from the activity of brain cells by a force field that pervades all things. Acts of evil, debauchery and selfishness would be the result of patterns of thought that have failed to reach this state of organisation.
Opposing qualities in our states of mind are `feelings' that we are constantly battling with in life and are seen by most people as occurring within us because of an outside influence from a higher working of a mind of God- like origin. From somewhere beyond our place in the scheme of things, a God and a Devil tries to influence our affairs. A more down to earth explanation can be arrived at with no more cause than the effect generated by a mindless force field similar to gravity. This force would be working at a molecular level of existence. It would push a mind that generates thoughts to attempt to form conceptual activity to uphold a state of order and organisation or fall towards chaos. It would uphold the same principle that gravity displays in the way it organises galaxies, stars and planets to uphold order and organisation in the universe that wants nothing more than to collapse into chaos.
Such a force field would work to influence impulses generated by the physical structure of a mind at the smallest microcosmic distance that chemical reactions must travel between the transmitter and receptor of a brain cell. This would give a calculable and predictable cause for a state of mind that fluctuates between thoughts of good or evil for no other reason than that of the need to uphold order and organisation within chaos. Under such an effect, our state of mind could be driven by brain activity in one of two ways; if brain activity is aligned towards order and organisation we would find ourselves in good thoughts whilst brain activity that escaped this effect would be distorted by chaos. Presumably, we would find ourselves manifesting evil thoughts. Our feelings for good or evil would have nothing to do with a greater mind than our own. Good and evil would have, at the very core of brain activity, a physical influence of a mindless force pushing brain activity towards order and organisation, or away from it.
A mindless force field could be modelled in such a way that pervades the whole universe just as gravity does. This mindless force field would make its influence `felt' within the physical working of a mind in the same way that gravity is `felt' by stars and planets to push them into order and organisation from the chaos at the beginning of time. This force would – when a cell in our brain is excited – cause impulses between the transmitter and receptor to seek to align themselves towards order and organisation for no other reason than because of a law of physics.
A force field for mind activity could be mapped by science like gravity around a solar system. This force field would be pushing a mind that generates thoughts to align these impulses into order from chaos. This is what we see on a large scale in the universe under the effect of gravity; planets settle into order and organisation around stars because they are compelled by gravity to fall towards the star, but the energy of acceleration of the orbit offsets the fall to oblivion. The planet gets trapped around the star in a stable orbit. Apply this principle to activity going on in brain cells, and a model could be calculated that reveals a mind generating thoughts that will try to align themselves into patterns of order and organisation. Such a force would have no more purpose than gravity displays upon worlds, but the effect on the workings of a mind would propel us to seek to attain a state of mind fluctuating between good and evil. Just like gravity, this force would be present as a very weak field of effect generated by elementary particles of subatomic dimensions. Science might give them a name like Holy Particles.
The Holy Particles would be generating a force field that would be `felt' when transmitter and receptor cells fire to generate thoughts. Cells would be working within the effect of the force field and, like planets compelled to orbit around a star, the excitation of a brain cell would be compelled to seek some form of organised pattern in relation to other excitations from other brain cells doing the same thing. The result would be a brain full of ordered impulses that arise from an effect created by a mindless force in exactly the same way as the universe has organised itself under the effect of gravity. Few would say that a planet orbiting around a star is an event that was preordained; it is understood as an effect caused by the force of gravity. So, why should anything in a mind be under any other kind of influence? The presence of a similar force field could also be acting upon physical events going on in a brain structure in just the same way as gravity acts upon worlds. Such a force would only be `felt' as an effect upon the way a mind generates thoughts that try to uphold order and organisation over chaos.
Gravity is the great organiser of galaxies, stars and planets that emerges from the chaos at the beginning of time, but gravity is too crude to influence the workings of a mind at the level of transmitter and receptor cells. Gravity exerts its influence over great distances, but a far more refined force field of subatomic particles would need to be identified for what we are trying to imagine here. The effects of gravity can be recognised in the universe because we can predict its presence from the way inert objects behave, but a similar force field influencing living brain cells would be far more difficult to model. The space between a transmitter and a receptor in a brain cell is microcosmically small. Gravity is a weak force that we recognise because it shows its effect over vast distances, so what we want to imagine is going to be many trillions of times weaker because its effect only shows up over the microscopic distance between a brain cell.
If science could discover such a weak force influencing the electrical and chemical activity between brain cells, it would be the basis of a model of the mind that would not need preordained design. A state of mind could be envisioned that seeks to attain controlled thoughts through the same principle of the presence of the force of gravity that pushes planets into orbits. Such a force field would create an idea of God that scientific reasoning could uphold: Holy particles that are mindless but generate a force field that manifests in thoughts that try to align into order and organisation over chaos, which, by inference, drive us to attempt to realise good over evil.
The traditional idea of God as a creator of the universe and of all life and moral values rests uneasy in science because it requires a vision of a being with intent who influences His will over all things. God's presence is imagined to have no physical structure in the known universe and God cannot be measured, calculated or modelled in mathematics to predict His effect. His influence is imagined as a hidden event beyond physical reality. God is believed to give us free will to act as we see fit so that we might come to know Him through our own desires. He is thought to have made a universe not so He would command over it, but for us to emerge and recognise His presence in our need to act through selfless love and compassion to uphold the goodness of His soul that He has imparted into all things.
For science, this is an unsafe hypothesis. The universe that science envisions must be understood as an idea that is not preordained but emerges by cause and effect. The effect is order and organisation caused by events that can be seen to be capable of being confirmed by observation and repeated experiment. The religious idea of a universe created by God does not fit this criterion. Miraculous one-off events are not the remit of science and for this reason the creation of the universe and life within it is thought by mainstream science as unlikely to be a product of intentional design. Science looks towards understanding the universe and life as the result of a set of circumstances that have brought about order and organisation from chaos. The circumstances have occurred because a set of conditions arose that, if science could replicate, would give us the answers to how the universe and intelligent life originated.
If God is to be included in this scientific model then the values that religion tell us we should aspire to uphold will have to be pictured in a very different way. Religion tells us that God wishes us to attain goodness, morality and compassion and the Church tries to accommodate this idea in our scientific age by reinventing itself to embrace the discoveries of science. Religion tries to adjust to scientific understanding, but science is not so obliging. Science is more exacting in its discipline and religion would have to present a radically altered idea of God to get the premise to be taken as a proven theory by science. Because of the miraculous nature of the religious idea of God, the notion remains a fringe concept within the mainstream of the scientific search for the cause of our existence.
For science to acknowledge an idea of God would require God to exhibit a physical form that can be measured and predicted. God, in the cold hard core of scientific reasoning, would have to be an entity that can be understood to exist within the boundaries of probability. A scientific model of God would have to be seen as a physical force of some kind that made its presence known within the universe: a force buried in all things that is working away to make its influence felt. In science, this force cannot be thought to have a plan of preordained intent. It would have to be mindless and, like energy itself, would be working away to propel the chaos of creation that erupted at the beginning of time towards organisation, complexity and, eventually, life with intelligence. This intelligent life would then have to manifest itself into the qualities of mind that the religions tell us God wishes us to uphold. God would have to be a predictable event that can be repeated by experiment. God would have to be less miraculous and create the required values of mind by cause and effect that could be detected in physics. This effect would have to exert a presence at a microscopic level of existence that influences the transmitter and receptor cells in a brain. For science to accept an idea of God, we are going to need the very biggest of all particle accelerators that humans could ever make.
Science is never going to go as far as to postulate a religious God as the creator of the universe because the present theories predict that the universe had the potential to generate material from nothing. Give a scientist a particle accelerator to play with and the happy scientist will split atoms to create matter from pure energy. Such matter is the building material of a universe and matter is created by energy. It can be demonstrated here on earth on a very small scale with a vast amount of energy. From this creation of matter from energy, science gets numbers (equations) telling us that without energy we have no interaction between events, so you cannot calculate for effect. It is, therefore, accepted that a place without energy cannot be measured and does not exist.
The universe, to science, begins from nothing. You do not have to picture where it came from because, without energy, you cannot measure it and so it is not a place. If a place existed before the universe it would need to display a force and would be calculable and, therefore, it would not be the beginning. Science's universe, therefore, begins from where calculations cannot work and this is as nothing to a scientist. To find a universe from nothing you need an almost unimaginably large burst of energy to create everything that now exists in time and space from a place that was incalculably small.
There was nothing before the beginning of the universe: no time or space, no heat and no dimensions to give a measure of existence. Science can demonstrate that a vast amount of energy will create matter from nothing and matter pushes time and space into existence to form many dimensions. Within a few of these dimensions emerged a universe that has organised light and warmth, and what created this organisation was not God but gravity. Our universe is understood to have been, at the beginning of time, very small and dense and the energy within this event is so great that no other forces can have effect. The beginning is all chaos and very hot, but as this unimaginably dense, hot event expands rapidly, the force of gravity emerges created by the acceleration of the matter that this energy has created. Gravity is a very weak force compared to the vast nuclear energy that created this universe at the beginning of time. To begin with, gravity has little effect. As a result, the universe expands exponentially from what science believes was a microcosmic beginning. Energy floods in to unfold the dimensions that bring time and space into existence, then, because this rapid expansion of energy must occupy the vast space it is creating, energy is dispersed and gravity begins to take effect. Gravity begins to be `felt' by matter and it slows the expansion. Gravity begins to work to pull the expansion of the universe back to its small beginning, but gravity is a weak force that only works over great distances, so it cannot stop the expansion.
Gravity's strength, compared to the forces that began the universe, does not take effect until the universe expands to a size where gravity begins to have influence. Gravity is a weak force and can only work over vast distances to slow this event down. As these distances start to be filled with the dust and debris that has been flung into existence, gravity begins to take effect and pulls the material into clusters that cool the universe. Gravity, the weakest force to emerge from the energy that creates this scientific model of events, becomes the most influential. Gravity vacuums up the dust and debris into nebulas that become the nurseries for the birth of stars.
A religious God cannot be imagined to exert any influence over this event because this universe is born of chaos. A God with unquestionable power over creation would be a fool to throw away that power to form a universe in the hands of chaos. It would be, as Einstein once pointed out, like playing with dice. Given infinite probability, one could argue that God will eventually hit a winner, but this hardly seems a satisfactory explanation for an omnipotent being to go about creation. If God is to be understood by science, the idea of God itself has to be pictured in a different way. God has to be seen as a physical force born of chaos that emerges, as the universe becomes stable enough to support life and intelligent self-awareness, to push intelligence to act with goodness, morality and compassion.
In the scientific picture of the universe, we are almost insignificant but for the fact that we have become aware of what has happened. From our little home on earth, we look in awe and wonderment upon the vastness of it all. Here we are, bathing in the warmth of an average-size star in an average kind of a galaxy surrounded by countless other stars and galaxies and we ponder whether or not we are alone. There are only two possibilities: we are alone and our intelligence is a one-off accident that has happened here on earth (if this is the case, we need not worry because it won't be long before we wipe ourselves out of existence) or we are not alone and life and intelligence is everywhere. If the latter is true then we are unable to find life because the place is so vast that we have not yet developed the tools to look in enough detail.
To science, therefore, God would have to be something calculable within this event. God would not preordain creation, but would have to be understood as a force waiting in total chaos at the beginning of time. Such a force could not be seen as possessing intent in the way that religion pictures God's effect upon all things. It would have to be a product of cause and effect, like gravity or nuclear fission. It would have to be a force of this nature, but it would hold within it the ability to propel material beyond merely forming it into order and organisation. The force would have to be much deeper than this so it can push material towards self-replication and eventually into self-awareness and, ultimately, to the highest order of thinking that religion demands of us.
Gravity and nuclear forces are not events of this calibre of fineness. The nuclear forces are the big, crude founding guns of creation and their energy brings into existence and propels matter into a universe. All this matter is full of energy and it emerges in chaos at the heart of creation, but these forces don't like being controlled. An expanding universe of space and time develops from the uncontrolled, chaotic beginning and, within this event, gravity waits to take effect. As all the energy begins to disperse, gravity gets to work and pushes this chaos into order and organisation. This creates a universe without intent, but these forces go no further. What we end up with, under the influence of nuclear forces and gravity, is a universe within which planets can settle in orbits at a distance around stars that (we hope) allow for life to emerge wherever this pattern occurs. Gravity gets us this far, but few would see gravity as God.
Gravity is a finer force that was hidden within the nuclear forces at the beginning of time. It was capable of pulling order out of the chaos that the nuclear forces created, but gravity is still a very crude force compared to one that science would need to envision to be capable of influencing our state of mind. Such a force would have to create an effect working within the chemical reactions taking place in our minds to influence our thoughts. Gravity passes through our minds all the time (we live within its effect), but its power of control and organisation over material is too crude for it to have any influence at the level of interaction between brain cells. So, to find a God for science we now need another force like gravity that is much more refined and works at an almost unimaginable, microcosmic level of effect to push brain cells to generate thoughts of control and organisation.
Gravity is a weak and crude force, but it has had a very influential effect upon events. So, if there is another force hidden within gravity that works to push material into life and can influence intelligence to aspire to acts of goodness and compassion, it is going to be many trillions of times weaker than gravity. Let us assume that there could be such a force. It will pervade the whole universe just as gravity does. All it needs for this force to exert its effect beyond the reach of gravity is the right conditions on a planet at the right distance from a star with enough material to build the basic forms of life. Gravity will have set this up and gravity will go on working to keep the planet orbiting the star, so our hypothetical force within gravity will then push material into the building blocks of life. Perhaps a force within gravity like electro-magnetism could set up the patterns in material trapped on a warm planet to replicate life. I don't know, but, to my way of thinking, life would have to begin through some sort of physical influence of this type. It would have to be pushed by a force like a gravitational field to organise material into patterns of self-replication. It's a big step from inert material to self-replication, but science will never accept that it is a miraculous event. To science, it is just a matter of finding the cause that creates the effect.
That, basically, is how science thinks the universe began and how life could emerge without preordained design. Now we need to move on from here to try to see how intelligence could aspire to the need to uphold goodness and compassion over evil through a similar set of circumstances. I know this can be hard going, but ideas can be fun to play with and Creative Thinking is the title of this book, so we can speculate as much as we like. Get a nice, relaxing drink and let's think a little harder.
Holy Particles or As Close to God as Science is Ever Likely to Get
We know gravity can get the materials created in chaos at the beginning of time into position around a star and, if it happens to be the right distance from a star, it can form a planet where all the material captured on this planet can start cooking. We can see that this is not a miraculous event, but it has occurred because of cause and effect. You don't need a God to do this; you just need a vast amount of energy to create matter and the explosion will generate material and accelerate it into time and space that will create gravity. The universe that emerges from this event will eventually feel the effect of gravity and begin to display order and organisation. Now, if we continue to follow this line of reasoning, we are going to need a similar force within the effect of gravity, which pushes material that has been pulled into the right place around a nice, warm star into self-replicating patterns. Science has not quite found this force, but it is looking very hard. If it can be found, what we will have understood is that the beginning of life is not a miraculous event but a built-in effect in material that emerges if and when the conditions are right. It emerges because the patterns of organisation that upholds life are present within the forces that create a universe. They are everywhere, but only take effect where gravity has created organisation from the chaos at the beginning of time.
The first `pattern' of organisation needed to create life is set up by gravity as the order of planets around a star. This can be observed, but science needs another `pattern' of organisation within this event, which can push material captured by gravity on a planet into life. Now, we are going to need to go even further than this because we need another force to create a`pattern' that organises thoughts. Gravity has got the universe organised and, within this `pattern', science hopes to find another `pattern' of more complex organisation that creates life when the conditions are right. This other `pattern' within gravity would get life up and running, but we need yet another `pattern'. Our `pattern' is even weaker than these first two and its effect will be to organise yet more order and organisation within a state of mind. Our `pattern', created by a force similar but far finer than gravity, is everywhere. Like gravity, it passes through all things, but only takes effect when order and organisation have reached a state of life that evolves into the complex nervous system that we call a brain. This complex construct of living cells grows to `feel' the effect of our universal force that pervades all things. Like a radio receiver, this brain starts to `receive' the effect of a force that was hidden at the beginning of all things. This force has to push the impulses that a mind generates to manifest themselves into an effect that aligns thoughts towards the goodness and compassion that we recognise over selfish desire and evil in human kind.
On our world, a force called evolution pushes life into more and more complex forms from basic prototypes. It is a mindless force that has no guiding hand. It achieves results by trial and error and, for the idea we are trying to picture here, evolution would have to be understood as a physical manifestation of a force field working at subatomic levels within the building blocks of life. The driving force of evolution would have to be an extremely weak force field that is operational under the rule of gravity and is `felt' by the genetic patterns that control the growth and development of living things. In other words, genes would be pushed around in this force field like planets under the force of gravity. This force would push genes into patterns of order and organisation. Could such a force have aligned the double helix that we find at the base of all life and could the force be detected? I am not a scientist so I could not answer that question. All I know is that if such a force exists it would give science a logical explanation for life to emerge and for intelligence to aspire to the higher values of thought that we believe God wishes us to uphold. It would come about like this: a mindless force of a magnitude far weaker than gravity would manifest itself into ordering and organising inert material on a planet to generate life. This material would, through evolution, gravitate towards more and more complex forms of organisation that, in turn, would `feel' the need to reach a position of goodness, morality and compassion. Nothing is preordained. Intelligence will seek to discover good over evil because these `ideas' are impulses that a mind will `feel' in an attempt to reach order and organisation from chaos. It is what the mindless force of gravity has achieved in the universe and, if this principle is inherent in the very forces that make up a universe then other mindless forces like gravity could exert their effect in the same way. Once intelligence has evolved, it will find itself trying to align the thoughts that it generates towards this `mindless' level of stability. The result of this mindless stability would be for intelligence to seek goodness and compassion because it is more ordered and organised than selfish, evil greed. It sounds far- fetched, but I am an artist so I have a licence for free reign in the realm of ridiculous ideas.
I imagine intelligence eventually emerging through unguided mutation in living things because this is the way that evolution stumbles towards complex, efficient, living creatures. Could another mindless force like gravity and evolution work to propel life into ever more complex states of mind? I don't know, but if our scientific view of the universe so far is correct then our state of mind is the result of unguided forces that pervade all things.
So, where does God stand if something like this is going on? I think the way science will learn to see an idea of God is all going to depend upon the discovery of other life out there in the universe. If life always emerges where conditions allow and it evolves towards intelligent self-awareness then I would think that science might begin to see an idea of God as a `force field' that pervades the universe and works to create order and organisation in a state of mind without preordained design. God would be a very weak particle (like the graviton) but of far, far greater finesse. Electrochemical impulses generated in an intelligent mind would be subject to the effect of the force field generated by our refined Holy Particles. They would work in exactly the same way as gravity exerts its influence in the universe. It would be a force field created by particles that are infinitely more intricate in their effect than the crude force of gravity that we know about: a force field that we `feel' as an effect upon the organisation of chemical impulses generated in our brain cells that drive those impulses like planets under the pull of gravity to seek order and organisation in chaos. This force could almost certainly be measured and predicted, but it would require sensitivity beyond anything that we have available to us in this day and age.
The discovery of such a force would take science one step closer to seeing an idea of God as a mindless effect of physics. A force field generated by infinitesimally small Holy Particles that propel thoughts to try to align themselves towards upholding that finest of all states of order and organisation over chaos: the desire to act in a selfless and compassionate way for the benefit of all.
Order in Chaos: Part One
Physicists tell us that if the exact conditions at the subatomic level of creation had been even slightly different then we would not be here to look in wonderment upon it all. A universe might have formed that would have evolved with conditions that would probably have cancelled everything out. The difference between this universe in which we live and one that would, at best, have been very different and without recognition is but a very small instability in the balance of forces that allowed order and organisation to emerge from chaos.
A modern artist should be interested in this idea because modern art is a search for forms created beyond intelligent control and organisation. It is a search for forms that exist in chaos that can only be sensed through instinct. What is at the very heart of this search is the reason why we are able to recognise a picture as different to the wall it is painted upon. Why do we discern the shape of a sculpture within the stone from which it is made? Why can we recognise music from noise or patterns of dance from movement? This ability we possess, which makes us experience this difference, requires us to comprehend order and organisation from chaos.
If we only sensed order and organisation or only chaos we would not recognise a picture on a wall, a sculpture, music or dance. To recognise these things you need to be able to discern the difference between these two conditions in the universe and this is very interesting because it appears that these two conditions ONLY existed at the beginning of time. Order and organisation emerged from chaos at the beginning of time and, because we did not arrive upon the scene until very late in this event, the chaos had already dispersed all over the universe and had been propelled into different degrees of order and organisation. Because of this, we should not be able to recognise the difference between chaos and order and organisation. We find ourselves surrounded by different levels of order and organisation in the universe, but not chaos.
The order and organisation that we see all around us today varies from the highest level that creates a living creature to the lowest levels in the death of a star, but everything upholds some form of structure. Chaos is not something that can be observed because chaos has no structure. If you find structure in chaos, like the endless repetitive complexities of a fractal pattern, you are not looking at chaos, but a form of order and organisation that you have recognised in chaos. When we recognise patterns in chaos we impose order and organisation into a view that can ONLY exist when these qualities are absent from our powers of observation. The question for both the modern artist and the scientist is, therefore, why do we believe that chaos is different from order and organisation?
This is what a modern artist should be interested in. Modern art tries to remove order and organisation from our powers of perception, but this has revealed that we cannot recognise chaos. We always end up with some other, lesser form of order and organisation that is more disorganised than what we started with, but this is never the ultimate state of disorder that chaos should reveal to us. A traditional painting of a landscape is an object full of order and organisation. The paint has been very carefully placed to resemble a picture we can recognise. An abstract painting created by the uncontrolled throwing of paint at the canvas looks like chaos but it is not. It still contains order and organisation created by the laws of chance. We might think that the result looks a mess compared to the recognisable picture, but this aesthetic consideration is shallow and should be ignored. The deeper implications of the abstract created by chance reveals that the paint has fallen into a form of order and organisation that begins to help us to sense the presence of chaos, but what the abstract shows us is not chaos. The abstract holds less control and organisation than the artist's intelligent mind would have imposed had the artist guided the paint, but another form of control and organisation emerges in the work. The abstract was created by chance but, because other forces came into play to influence the free-falling of the paint, its consistency and the speed of impact with the canvas, chaos was kept at bay. Deeper forces came into play to stop chaos creating the work. These deeper forces may not have been controlled and organised by intelligence, but the artist's efforts to remove control and organisation have still been denied. The creation of an abstract found another level of order and organisation.
For a modern artist, the act of creating an art object by chance is a search to find some way to bring forms of chaos into recognition. The problem for the modern artist, as for all of us, is that chaos is but a sensation that we feel; it is not a component in anything we do. We cannot give chaos recognition because what we end up seeing is just lesser and lesser forms of order and organisation. A computer-generated fractal pattern reveals this to us just as a Jackson Pollock drip painting does. These forms might become endlessly intricate or unrecognisable to our powers of observation, but they always transform chaos.
What the modern artist discovers is that we are forced to look through order and organisation because we cannot turn intelligence off to look through instinct. We have evolved away from this lower state of perceptual awareness. A modern artist should be, but is not always, looking to recognise lesser and lesser states of order and organisation in forms created by chance or accident. These lesser states of order and organisation should lead us down to chaos because science tells us that order and organisation emerged from chaos at the beginning of time. What is so odd is that chaos cannot be seen, but we `feel' its presence because we comprehend the difference between higher and lower levels of control and organisation in all we see and do. An abstract painting created by chance brings us nearer to sensing chaos than the landscape painting created by intelligent control, but it does not show us the state of chaos that we `feel' the abstract work should reveal. This implies that chaos would cancel itself out if we could remove order and organisation from what we see.
If we knock a cup off a table we notice that the order and organisation that the cup represents before it falls to the floor is destroyed. The broken pieces of the cup come to rest in another form of order and organisation upon the floor. We throw the broken pieces of the cup away because they no longer uphold the higher state of order and organisation that we once recognised, but the material that made the cup still upholds order and organisation whether it is broken or not; it simply does not hold the higher order and organisation that the potter imposed over the clay that was modelled into a cup. If, when the cup fell from the table, it fell into chaos, we would be confronted by a very different event. To us, the cup would have disappeared because order and organisation would have reached the lowest state of being and this would have cancelled chaos out. The cup does not show us this state of chaos when it is broken. It is stopped from falling to this lowest of all levels of existence.
The lowest state of order and organisation in the universe at the atomic level of events stops the universe from falling into chaos. If the floor was not there to stop our falling cup it would not break. It would go on falling under the effect of gravity until it reached a point somewhere just short of the centre of the earth where the forces of gravity would try to pull the atomic structure of the material out of existence. Here our cup would finally meet its fate. The force of gravity would overcome the forces at work inside the subatomic particles that uphold the order and organisation of the cup, and our cup would collapse in on itself and disappear into a black hole of its own making. If this happened, the small amount of order and organisation that the cup upheld would finally be lost and the universe would have moved one step closer to self-annihilation.
The cup, by being knocked off the table, was helped by a little addition of energy passing from you into the cup and this sent it on the start of its journey towards the ultimate fate that awaits all material. The cup tried to fall towards total chaos, but because the material of the earth has been pulled into a state of solid resistance around the point at the centre of the earth, the cup is arrested from its desire to reach this end. The cup only falls as far as the floor where forces generated by the impact rearranged the order and organisation that the cup upholds. To us the cup is broken, but to the mindless laws of the universe the cup has just rearranged itself into another form of order and organisation.
The cup does not seem to want to uphold the design that the potter imposed upon it any more than any other shape. The design was forced into the cup by the addition of all the energy that the potter exerted to create its shape. When the cup hit the floor new energy was imparted into it. This new energy gave the cup a new shape but, because it was unguided by human thought, the added energy of the impact with the floor lowered the higher order imposed upon the cup by the potter. The cup broke into pieces and created another lower state of order and organisation, but not a state of chaos. This is what is so interesting because the universe seems to want to get rid of these states of order and organisation that all things uphold. The universe does not seem to like organisation; it just appears to be stuck with it right down to the smallest level of atoms and the particles that hold the forces that stop gravity pulling everything to a point of ultimate compression.
Order and organisation are `captured' in the universe by the forces trapped in material. The energy in the atomic structure of all things cannot be compressed and so material just keeps being pushed around into greater, or lesser, forms of order and organisation. A potter can shape a cup from clay by adding more energy to push the material into a higher state of order and organisation and we can destroy this higher state by knocking the cup off a table, but we cannot get rid of the order and organisation. It just gets pushed into another form by the redistribution of energy.
Chaos is the strangest of all ideas because, like gravity, it does not really exist. We feel the pull of gravity because the universe has been propelled into accelerated expansion, and acceleration and gravity are equivalent. Remove acceleration and you have no gravity. It is the same with chaos; remove order and organisation and you do not end up with chaos because chaos must be equivalent to order and organisation.
Modern art reveals this to us. Chaos should intrigue the modern artist as much as the scientist because it cannot be reached. Everything upholds a state of order and organisation that will either be raised to a higher state by some form of controlled influx of energy or it will fall to a lower state by a loss of that energy. In art, this means that an artist will either work to impose the highest order and organisation over what they create by using their intelligence to guide and control the material into a design, or they will lower this influence to try to create something in an uncontrolled way. What the artist will discover is that they cannot completely remove this order and organisation from what they do. It is trapped in the work just as it is trapped in the material of the universe. Chaos underlies all art, but it can never be reached. The artist faces chaos at the beginning of every work, but just like everything in the universe, the artist will be pushed to display some degree of order and organisation in what they do.
Order in Chaos: Part Two
How does a higher level of order and organisation occur in a universe that is forever trying to fall back to chaos? How does something appear to gain more order and organisation in a situation like this?
The scientific explanation is that the total amount of energy that now exists in the whole universe must have been created at the beginning. Everything is falling back to a loss of energy because the total amount of energy at the beginning has to occupy a larger area as time goes on. The first law of thermodynamics is that energy is conserved. The first law tells us that the total amount of energy in the universe does not increase or decrease as time goes on. Energy can neither be added to nor taken from this equation and this means, in an expanding universe, energy is trying to clump itself into smaller areas within an expanding space. This clumping of energy creates heat and work in the process. If the expansion of the universe does not stop, the energy should eventually reach a level of dilution that would have no effect on material and the universe will end up cold and dead. If gravity is strong enough to stop the expansion of the universe, the space will begin to contract and the total amount of energy in the universe will begin to flow in the other direction. In a universe that is contracting, cold objects would get hotter and hotter.
We live in a time of expansion. A universe going in this direction obeys the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat cannot be transferred from a colder to a hotter object and disorder (entropy) always increases. This means that to stay warm we have to take energy from some place and consume it to maintain the level of heat and work that we uphold. In a universe under this effect, the only way to increase order is to take more energy from something else that is, like you, trying to uphold a level of energy of its own. You gain your energy (maintaining your order and organisation) because energy cannot be lost but can only be transformed into heat and work. The order and organisation of something else can increase your level of energy by transferring it, but what you remove the energy from will fall into a lesser state of order and organisation. Burning coal ends up as ash and releases light and heat in the process. The thing you took the energy from will fall into a lower state of order and organisation and this will give you a higher state for a short while.
The net effect of this process is that, even though you have gained energy, the overall order and organisation in the universe has fallen towards chaos. Energy has remained constant, but entropy has increased.
The interesting point in this idea is that the highest level of energy at the beginning of time did not uphold any order or organisation. It was total chaos, but when this vast amount of energy came into existence it created the space it occupies and the acceleration (distortion) of this expansion of space created gravity. Because gravity only takes effect over vast distances, the expansion of the universe at its creation was unchecked. The expansion was exponential, but the total amount of energy created at this first moment in time was not distributed smoothly as the universe was pushed into expansion. The energy got clumped together and trapped in the material that formed.
Human beings seem to have arisen from this event. We are little `islands' of highly organised order and organisation composed of tightly structured material in a universe that is trying to disperse us into an expanding space. In such an expanding universe, we should be torn apart as the volume of space stretches, but thankfully the acceleration of the space itself created islands of gravitational effect and this force keeps material clumped together so that the expansion of the universe cannot pull everything apart. Now, you might think that this makes gravity allied to our cause, but this is not so. Gravity would like to take us and do just the opposite of what the expanding universe is trying to do. Gravity would like to take us and compress the material that makes us what we are as tightly together as it can. Gravity would like to squash us out of existence. We are in a pretty perilous situation but, at the beginning of time, energy became trapped in the subatomic particles that make up all the material in the universe. The energy trapped in these particles repels other particles that are also full of energy and, at close range, gravity is not strong enough to overpower this effect and pull these particles together.
These forces at the particle level of existence stop gravity from compressing material all over the universe. In its attempt to do this, gravity forces material to move into patterns of order and organisation under a continuous `pull' as gravity tries to make material compress. Stars want to collapse in upon themselves, but the forces in the particles of the atomic structure of the star reach a point where they cannot be compressed any closer together and they give off warmth and light from the continuous interaction taking place. All the stars themselves try to fall to a point of ultimate compression at the centre of a galaxy, but the forces they set up between each other stop this from happening and propel them into spiralling patterns of organisation that we call galaxies. Our own world should be pulled by gravity into the sun, but it cannot follow this path because the force of acceleration created by this direction of travel creates a stable orbit that offsets the `pull' of gravity. Patterns emerge all over the universe as the expansion of space and the `pull' of gravity battle against each other.
This is where we live today. You might say that we are torn between the devil and the deep blue sea. A scientist would prefer to see that we arrived here because this universe set up very precise laws of physics at the beginning that create a reaction that forms a balanced, sustainable existence between two opposite forces: energy, that is expanding space, and gravity, created by the acceleration of this expansion. Within this event, energy sets up levels of order and organisation between interacting particles, but gravity cannot halt the expansion. Space is still expanding and, because energy is conserved, the expansion should be dispersing energy over the whole system, but this is not what we see. Gravity does not influence from the centre of this expanding universe but from clumped areas. Here, material is pulled into galaxies in this expanding space and these galaxies uphold order and organisation between the continuous attempt of gravity to `pull' this material together and the expansion of space that wants to rip it apart.
Within any one of these `islands' of stars is turmoil as interactions between particles occur. On our scale of events, however, everything seems stable. Stars burn steadily and planets maintain their orbits, but beneath this surface appearance is chaos. Within all these objects, at a subatomic level of events, particles are never still. If energy enters this balance, particles will `jump' from one level of order and organisation to another. If enough energy enters the stable, balanced interaction, the particles will create a higher level of order and organisation as energy is transferred from one level to another. To us, this interaction reveals itself in a world of events, but beneath this is a world of energy that is being raised towards or away from levels of order and organisation.
Down on our little world all this seems far beyond us, but in the simple act of driving a motor vehicle we transform the energy stored in the fuel through an engine into movement. At a subatomic level of events, we have taken a lower level of order and organisation created by energy from the natural world and transformed it into metal, fuel, plastic and rubber to build the car. This has been achieved by adding more energy from the environment to raise this lower level of energy to a higher level of order and organisation. In a universe where the total amount of energy is always conserved, this use of energy is always at the expense of another level of order and organisation elsewhere.
In the case of fossil fuel, a level of order and organisation was formed by nature compounding carbon from the atmosphere of this planet through photosynthesis in plant growth. Over time, as all these plants died, all that stored carbon was compressed and buried underground. This raised a higher level of order and organisation in the atmosphere of this planet to allow more complex forms of life to evolve. When we extract this compressed carbon from the ground and use it to propel our vehicles from A to B, we lower the order and organisation in the atmosphere to gain a little higher order and organisation so that we can drive our cars.
Lower levels of order and organisation create unstable patterns in the balance between the desire of the universe to rip everything apart and the ability of gravity to stop this happening. It may not seem like this to us here on earth because the degree in the different levels of order and organisation we tamper with are minute. Our use of fossil fuel can only have a detrimental effect but, at the levels at the subatomic scale of events, it makes no difference. For us, burning fossil fuel will lower the order and organisation of the atmosphere; it can do nothing else because the transfer of energy from higher to lowers states is a law of thermodynamics and it cannot be broken.
If we take energy from one level of order and organisation to create another higher level, the place we take that energy from will fall towards chaos and, because we live in a closed system here on earth, we would expect to see the whole system adjust. How bad it could get is debatable, and scientists, because they rely upon observation and repeated experiment to confirm predictions, find themselves with conflicting evidence. Some think (or hope) that the complexity of nature has the ability to offset this effect, while others think that we should prepare for climatic change on a global scale. In the vastness of the universe, our tampering with energy is totally insignificant. The worst we could do is make life hell for ourselves and most other creatures that have evolved to a level of complexity that rely on the order and organisation that the atmosphere of this planet has come to uphold. Life is very resilient and will survive any disruption that we could cause to this level of order and organisation upon this world, but we will have become extinct. The life of earth has little interest in human survival. We are just another development in nature's attempt to maintain a balance in a system that just wants to fall back to chaos. If we cannot play by the rules, nature will just remove us from the equation. The system will fall to a lower state of order and organisation, and some other form of life that can survive a more hostile environment will replace us.
The universe is indifferent and does not have human interests at heart. The expansion of the universe and gravity are the two forces that hold ultimate command over our existence here on earth, but they are only interested in either ripping everything apart or crushing it out of existence. Our survival relies upon us realising that we must learn to uphold a sustainable level of order and organisation within the chaos that underlies this mindless event. The sun found this balance and so did the evolution of animal life here on earth, but it seems that we, with all our vast, intelligent understanding, have yet to learn to this lesson.
It Should not Even be Art
Art should be the one thing in your experience of the world around you that you cannot recognise. Think about it; there is nothing in your view of the world like this. You can recognise everything around you. If you are in a room you will see chairs, tables, cups, plates, windows, doors, walls or whatever. If you are outside you will see trees, hills, mountains, buildings, cars, roads, sky, clouds or whatever. You name it and you can recognise it. Art should not be like that. Art should be something that challenges this imposition of intelligent recognition over all we see and do.
Art should be a sight, shape, sound or movement that you have never experienced before. It should not even be art because if you recognise it as a traditional object like a painting or a sculpture, the work will have failed to break away from this need of intelligence to impose recognition over everything in front of us. If I could create an object that you did not know how to recognise I would be a happy artist. I would have succeeded. I would have made you see an object in the world that is not controlled and dominated by your powers of intelligence. You would be looking through instinct at what I have created and that is the very reason that modern art arose, to avoid traditional ways of making art objects.
The problem, for any artist who understands this idea, is that of translation. How do you translate an experience of an object or event that you have learned to recognise into an experience that you have never seen before? Most artists look at the world around them and translate the experience into something that we can easily recognise. This is not what art is about. Art is about a depth of perception beyond intelligent awareness. Knowing how to sense this depth of perception and create work that reflects this understanding without your intelligence destroying it is what a modern artist should be trying to achieve. It requires the artist to find a way to stop you from recognising what you see.
Art is the sensation you `feel' when you come across something you have never seen before. Art is a way of sensing the world before your powers of recognition suppress the original view. For this reason, an artist has to try to create work that cannot be easily identified. The old, traditional way of making art objects that you can easily recognise destroys the experience that a modern artist tries to reveal. Traditional art works to stop you sensing the deeper experience that is the true sensation an artist `feels' in the depth of their mind.
I travelled down to London to see a Tracey Emin art exhibition, from York to Kings Cross, and this, believe me, took a vast amount of effort on my part. I hate going anywhere near big cities because they seem to be heartless places full of selfish greed. I begin to sense this unsavoury human condition as soon as I get anywhere near the suburbs. Nevertheless, I took it upon myself to go to the Emin exhibition because I was curious to see a retrospective, showing twenty years of this artist's work.
Tracey Emin has aspired to the position of iconic status in British art and presents a powerful, feminist presence within the creative arena that art represents in our experience of life. She presents herself as a woman with considerable insight into human emotions that we men have little chance of becoming conscious of. She describes this power of the female emotive side of life so poignantly in her book, Strangeland, when she points out that she has more testosterone in her right foot than men have surging around their whole bodies. Her early life seems to have been a roller coaster of a struggle to emerge from adolescence, but she has faced this with an extraordinary truthfulness that she is not afraid to expose to us. She has emerged from a girlhood that would probably have turned lesser souls to suicide, but, having attempted to drown herself in the sea on more than one occasion, she seems to have surfaced to face her demons and mould herself into a very strong, mature woman.
To me, a retrospective of her work gave the impression of a person who has taken a life of emotional turmoil and channelled it into art. This gives her work a very powerful presence and it's not all about sex; the unmade bed or the tent with the names of all the men that she has ever slept with, or the endless drawings of self-masturbation, are all really incidental. They are the subjective content of her work, but the power of her art is deeper than this superficial level of observation. The outright ostentatious exposure of sexual promiscuity is predominant, but there are subtler feelings that emerge from this lurid side of her art. Within the overall view, something far more refined can be sensed: a wonderful feeling of a woman trying to regain some of the childhood innocence that is hidden behind the scarring and rape of a young life dominated by the physical abuse of her body. It was this depth of a gentle soul that shone out to me from behind the libido and, despite the harshness of the experience with which this exhibition confronts you, there is this sense of wonderment in much of what this artist presents to you. Like her life history, the exhibition is a roller coaster of a ride that flings you from absolute despair and disgust to moments of sheer adulation.
If you understand anything about modern art, you will know that art itself is about how an individual translates a very deep emotive awareness of life into some form of tangible experience. All art is about this translation of inherent feelings into conscious awareness, but the old, traditional view of art never allowed the kind of emotive power of insight into human instincts to be portrayed. Modern art now has the freedom to explore a way of visualising emotions without the burden of aesthetic rules and regulations. Modern artists fought to bring this freedom into art by destroying traditional ways of working. Many people react against this loss of values because they still look at modern art for a sense of control and organisation in what they experience. They still think of art as something inherent in skill and technique, but modern art has revealed that this way of working imposes a structure over the emotive experience that destroys it. The traditional idea of art as creativity presented through painting, sculpture, music or dance gives a limited view of the art experience itself. Traditional ways of making art objects forces the artist to subdue the power of their emotions into an established view. A lot of Tracey Emin's drawings stay within the bounds of traditional presentation, as do the ready-made and set installations, but at least this artist does not allow technique to distract her.
I read a review somewhere (Amazon, I think) that said, `I wish that the person who told Tracey Emin that she could draw hadn't.' Now, Tracey Emin is no draughtsman, but I am glad that she is not. If she had been then she would have probably destroyed the emotive power of her art behind very controlled and organised forms of skilled drawing techniques. The idea that an artist should, for some superior reason of intellectual snobbery, be good at drawing or painting is a throwback to the traditional imprisoning of art by arrogance. This way of looking for art as some kind of clever craftsmanship will always destroy the emotions that the artist is trying to portray. No matter how masterly an artist becomes at drawing or painting, technique will always work to suppress the emotional content that is the basis of all true art. Technique imposes intelligent ideas of control and organisation over a deeper, inherent way of sensing the world that can only be known through instinct. To get anywhere near to creating an emotive, poignant, sensual experience, the artist needs to be able to look beyond the old order and organisation imposed by traditional ways of working. We may feel uncomfortable with the result, but this feeling is the beginning of a way of looking without your intelligence suppressing the underlying view. As crude as such work may look, it at least gets your mind to `feel' an inherent sensation rather than intelligent complacency.
Modern art should make us `feel' uncomfortable and for this reason a modern artist has to work to stop the emotional experience in our minds from being subdued by our intelligent understanding of all we see and do. Subduing our emotional view of the world around us is what we have evolved to do, but this way of experiencing the world cuts us off from knowing very deep and inherent sensations that are still generated in the depths of our minds. Modern art emerged to try to find ways of sensing this inherent, emotive view, but to do so requires us to learn to look at the world without all the control and organisation that our intelligence imposes over what we see.
Traditional art emerged to enforce intelligent principles of control and organisation over the art object by translating our old, emotional powers of perception into skills like drawing and painting. This works to stop the power of our emotions from disrupting our view of the world, and a modern artist who understands this always has to work to avoid this control and organisation in what they do. The result won't look like `good' art because it has to try to avoid the imposition that `good' art enforces over our emotive sense of perception. By avoiding this need of our mind to seek perfect control and organisation, the artwork will display a lack of technique. In doing this, it will reveal a far more `unsettling' feeling in your mind. This feeling is being generated by emotions from a deeper, older part of your mind and because you have never learned to recognise these emotions they will disturb you. You will want to suppress these deep, uncontrolled `feelings' by looking for something that you have learned to recognise. You look for `good' art but Tracey Emin avoids this to force you to look at the world around you in a more direct way. What Tracey Emin wants you to experience, and what you should look for in all modern art, is, therefore, an object that works to help you sense unidentified emotions rather than an attempt to subdue them through technique.
Tracey Emin is good at doing this. She understands that art is not about creating an image but about exposing the emotions that lie hidden from us behind the order and organisation that all images impose over all we see and do. Artists who know this will always be driven to distort and destroy the control and organisation that we look for in our powers of perception. For most of us, this control and organisation is what we try to find when we look at art. It is what we look for all the time because it makes us `feel' nice, safe and settled. Nothing disturbs the way we have evolved to sense the world around us in a controlled and organised way. Disrupt this state of mind and this causes us to `feel' disturbed by anything that tries to avoid this control and organisation because such work is an attempt to look beyond how we experience the world.
The emotions that a modern artist must portray to us come from a part of their mind that we have no way to recognise through our intelligent powers of perception. If an artist tries to structure this emotive view through their intelligence they will transform the experience and what they want to portray will be lost. For this reason, traditional art, with all its beautiful and masterly skills, can never show us a vision of the world as seen through our emotions. Such work always destroys the power of the emotive experience behind technical control and the skilled image. Many argue that employing order and organisation is the only way to create art, but art is now understood as an emotive experience that can only be sensed when order and organisation are absent from our powers of perception. Traditional ways of working will, therefore, always suppress what the modern artist tries to visualise. The view that a modern artist now searches for is not `out there' in perfecting shapes and images of the world, but is `inside us' and generated in a part of our minds beyond intelligent recognition. For this reason, traditional technique imposes a regime over the creative act that always works to subdue the emotive forms that the modern artist now works to try to discover.
If you look at Tracey Emin's work for traditional art subjects and technique you will be sorely disappointed because that is not what Tracey Emin is about. She has tried to look beyond this limited and restrictive view because she is aware that the power of the emotions sensed in our minds could never be shown through `controlled' art. You need to be able to look through your own powers of instinct to understand art. You need to look for emotive content rather than technique and it is this that you find in abundance in Tracey Emin's art. When you do this, you find the deep innocence of visual awareness that is hidden behind all the degeneration and the sex in her work and shines through the squalor and depravity of life.
There are some hidden gems to be discovered on the tortuous journey of Emin's work: works that hint at an inner beauty of Emin that seems hidden behind the hard erection of sexual desire and self-gratification in much of her work. As you are propelled from one harsh depravity of self-abuse to the next, you sometimes get a glimpse of a softer Emin. I found it in a wonderful self-portrait that consisted of a helter-skelter made of reclaimed timber with a stuffed sparrow perched upon the top. In a work called It's Not the Way to Die, you come across a very unsound roller coaster in the gallery. You can almost sense the younger Emin in a Margate fun fair before the emotional upheavals began to plague her life. Feeling Pregnant was all sensitivity without pretence and the simple mono-print, Don't lie to me, was enough to give me the sensation that here was a beautifully sensitive woman who seemed so alone and yearned for the trust of a soul mate in her journey through life.
An Artist's Excrement or What is left over after the artist has tried to create art
Some years ago, an artist exhibited his excrement as art. The solid waste was sealed in tins labelled `Artist's Shit' and I believe that it sold as a collectable art object for quite an astronomical price. I can't say that I was very impressed. I can understand how such a gesture has the power to shock people but, as I have stated elsewhere, this on its own is not enough in any search to understand art. It just degrades any serious attempt to help people who find modern art incomprehensible to get to grips with the subject. Nevertheless, it is now part of the art scene, so, like it or not, it falls within my radar.
In the light of my idea, it is pretty obvious that this work is useless in the search for art. This tin of shit is just something brought into the art environment to shock us. What interests me is that this so-called work of art was created by instinct. We all do it without thinking as a natural process of our bodily functions. That is something to consider, but this artist then went and used his intelligence to shovel it into a tin. He imposed order and organisation over the instinctive act and this, under my criteria, destroyed the sensation that drives us to create art objects. Perhaps the artist should have just left his excrement where it fell because, in this sense, it would have at least been a natural, instinctive act. The laws of health and safety would probably close an art gallery that tried to exhibit raw sewage, but at least it would have been an attempt to create art by instinct. Of course, I am only joking; art is about looking deeper into our powers of perception, not about producing crude objects that just disgust us. Art is about how our intelligence interprets sight, shape, sound and movement in an intuitive way and an artist who understands this will be searching for a way to create forms before we suppress the art experience by transforming them into objects that we know how to recognise.
Even if he had not tinned it, the piece would still have failed as an art object, even though this artist had created his excrement through his powers of instinct. It would have failed because we would have come along and looked at it through our powers of intelligent perception. It would have done nothing to help us sense our powers of instinct in any inherent way. An art object, to work, has to disturb our powers of perception and this tin of shit is not going to do that. We are going to have no trouble recognising it for what it is. We are going to be able to see what it is and to smell what it is, so it is not going to work as an art object. The object will disgust us, but it does not qualify as a useful product in the quest to understand art. It is pretty obvious to me that this artist had no idea of what art is about. He just thought that making something outrageous was enough to gain him a reputation and a good price for what he did. This is not the remit of the artist. It discredits the idea of modern art and serves to alienate people even further from understanding the real purpose of art.
There is another way of looking at it; if you understand art as an instinctive power of perception that our intelligent works to suppress then what the artist creates is neither here nor there. It is not the important issue. The artist might create a masterpiece in the old, traditional sense of art by painting or sculpting. The artist might try to create something more `modern' like a pile of bricks, a tin of you-know-what or a big, dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde. It does not really matter because whatever the artist does it is not going to reveal this deep, inherent sensation generated by our old, inherent sense of instinct. The artwork, whatever it is, is going to be created through our intelligent mind and this act alone will destroy the sensation created by instinct that the artists must find a way to comprehend. Our intelligence will transform the sensation of instinct into something that it can recognise and the view that the artist wanted to reveal will have been replaced with a view that his or her intelligence has controlled and organised.
The simple truth is that intelligence cannot comprehend the view generated in our minds by instinct. We have evolved to transform that view and this is what an art object represents. Art objects are, like our view of the world around us, transformations of the sense of instinct into intelligent awareness. For this reason, art objects cannot show us the sensation that drives us to create art. They will, instead, become objects that try to alter our intelligent view of the world around us to try to draw our awareness to this instinctive view that underlies all that we see and do.
In this sense, the tin of shit is no different to a masterpiece like the Sistine Chapel created by Michelangelo (please do not infer from this that I am saying the Michelangelo is shit. That is not what I am implying.) The art in any object is not the subject that the artist displays. Art is not about the glorification of God or the sense of disgust for excrement. These are the cultural values imposed by the artist at the time and place when they made these objects. Michelangelo filled his work with religious subjects because he lived in an age dominated by religious belief and he was working for the Church. We should expect no less. The artist who filled a tin with excrement was doing the same thing. He lived in an age with no moral values and so he reflected this belief. That is subjectivity, but art is deeper than this. Art is a sensation that any object could work to generate in your mind, but objects fail to do this because they have been created by minds that are dominated by intelligent control and organisation. These artists transform the sensation of art into something recognisable and this, in effect, drives the art experience out of the work.
Michelangelo turned the art experience into a very powerfully controlled and organised image to glorify faith in God because that was the dominating cultural belief in his time. The other artist, who created a tin of shit, followed the same principle. It was a pity that he did not understand modern art. If he had, he would have tried to create an experience devoid of social comment. He would have tried to create an experience that showed us how to sense what we are confronted with through our powers of instinct. You would not expect this from Michelangelo because he lived in a time that had no understanding of our animal origins. Michelangelo believed that God had created us, complete and in working order from day one. An artist today cannot ignore knowledge of evolution and must understand that the way our minds have developed will endow us with a hidden sense of animal instinct that we will try to keep suppressed. It is what modern art should be trying to explore, but I don't think that a tin of shit helps us in this endeavour. Such an object is designed to shock us rather than help us look deeper into a way of perceiving that we have all learned to hide in the depths of our minds. Shocking us is not art; it is just ignorance.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
I go to my local art club once a week. In the village hall they place long tables down each side of the room and set about painting and socialising for two hours. The artists who attend create some superb work and local, professional painters attend to offer advice. I go because it gives me some contact with `normal' people who, on the whole, paint in traditional ways. I paint representational works to keep my love of skill and workmanship alive; I paint landscapes, faces and animals, but when I get home I become a different person.
On my own, I don't paint recognisable subjects. I steer clear of any subject in my work and I do it because this way of creativity helps me to search for forms by instinct. In the art club I look at and paint shape, colour, light and shade with intelligence. I am making images that I can easily recognise, but at home I try to find images that I cannot recognise. It is a different world where my intelligence is always trying to stop me creating forms instead of helping me create them. When you paint something you recognise, your intelligence works to help you. It is fully occupied, controlling your hand to guide the paint to reproduce an image of what you see, but when you try to paint something that you cannot recognise, your intelligence seems to be working to stop you. It tries to make you turn your unrecognisable work into something that it knows how to identify. Intelligence does this because it has evolved to suppress your old, animal powers of instinct. When you try to paint something that you cannot recognise, you begin to sense your instinctive powers of perception and intelligence, because it works all the time to overpower this sensation, works to find a way to block out the old experience. Intelligence tries to make you turn your unrecognised painting into a recognisable image.
Overcome this domineering power of intelligence is a very disturbing thing to do. I think that it is a kind of madness because when I paint an abstract I undergo a personality change. It does not happen if I paint straightforward pictures with easily recognised images. The pictures fill my mind with intelligent control and organisation and I am fully occupied with manipulating the paint to reproduce the shape, colour, light and shade of the chosen subject. However, I never try to slavishly reproduce exactly what I see. Sometimes a little freedom will creep in to give the image a less realistic appearance. I soften the light and blur the edges to give the image a personal touch but, on the whole, painting straightforward pictures with a recognisable subject is an undertaking fully controlled by my mind. Abstract painting is a different thing altogether. You don't want intelligence to have any influence upon what you are doing because if you allow it to take control you know you will lose the very insight that you wanted to discover. You want a subconscious level of perception to rise above intelligent control so that it will guide your hand to paint forms beyond recognition. For me, a painting is successful when my intelligence returns to look at what I have done and finds it cannot identify anything in the work. It's as if someone else has been painting while I have been away.
I think I am like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The room where I paint is his laboratory. The smell of the oil paint, the linseed and turpentine are the elixir that transforms me into an animal beyond intelligent control. I find it a bit scary sometimes and I have to stop and go back to painting a straightforward picture with a recognisable subject to bring me back to reality. What worries me most is that Hyde is getting stronger. Even the straightforward paintings are beginning to show his animal presence. The pictures are becoming more and more erratic as the brush that should be controlled by my intelligence is being pushed more and more by this ancient creature I have found living deep in my mind.
Laurel and Hardy: Another Fine Mess You Got Me In To
I do love to watch Laurel and Hardy in those old black and white films, but they now come packaged as digitally re-mastered. Don't you hate that phrase? Most people think it an improvement, but I feel that the scratches and imperfections gave character to the films. It is as if re-mastering has removed something I was enjoying. The films seem sterile and clinical and they are just not the same any more. In the future, can you imagine the Mona Lisa being restored with computer controlled paint brushes that will `remove' all the imperfections and re-master the master's great work to its original condition. Perish the thought.
Don't think that I am against computer generated painting programmes. I have toyed with them myself, but I love the imperfection of real painting. I think it's called the happy accident. You are painting away and it's not going as you predicted, but you begin to notice that in some ways it's better because it gives the work a sense of individuality that you would not have gained if you had enforced complete control. I err on the side of a bigger accident than most painters do because I paint abstracts, but the principle still applies. Too much control and it's sterile and dead or too much accident and it's lost to the forces of chaos that surround us. No matter how you paint or what you paint, the craft is a balancing act like walking a tightrope. To get to the other side, you must negotiate with the forces of nature if you want them to work in your favour. For the artist, it's a balancing act between a glimpse of something that we have never seen before and something that we know how to recognise. For a tightrope walker, it's a balancing act between gravity and movements in the body that must be predicted in an intuitive and instinctive way. There is no time to think on the tightrope. The painter faces the same need to find a balance in their work. Too much image and the work is sterile and dead and loss of control will bring disaster. I only wish that those who digitally re-master old films would learn that lesson and keep a little scratch or two in their perfect world.
There are many different meanings to the word `art' that are applied to cultural objects from all around the world. What we in the Western world see as art is often looked at differently in other civilisations. African masks are not carved for the shapes and forms that we consider a pre-requisite of art, but have other meanings that give them a revered place in tribal ritual. Here in the Western world, African masks are looked upon for their ability to show us a different sense of visual shape and form. To the modern, Western mind, art objects are seen as creations made by people who seem to want to draw our attention to a deeper, sensual experience of sight, shape, sound and movement than we normally encounter all around us.
Art is not just skill and craftsmanship. These qualities will attract us to an object, but art seems to be more than technical accomplishment. The content of an art object – its colours or the shape, sound or movement – gives us a refined appreciation for a human ability to comprehend these sensations. We don't just experience sight, shape, sound or movement in an art object, but we become aware that these sensations hold a deeper power of emotive presence than we recognise in day-to-day existence.
Most people apply this concept to all objects from all cultures. A traditional Australian, Aboriginal painting holds spiritual meaning to the native culture, but to a Western tourist the `art' in such a work is a display of colour and form that appeals to little more than an idea of decorative value. A tourist is very unlikely to take the time or trouble to seek out the meaning that the Aborigine associates with the images. The tourist bases their idea of culture upon different values and looks at the colour, shape, sound or movement in these tribal works as having little more appeal than that of decoration.
A professional person who studies art theory and its association to culture will learn to understand the ritual meaning behind an African mask or the spiritual content in an Aboriginal painting. They will try to adjust their Western value of art to accommodate the wider meaning of these other cultures. Now, you would think that this would be the correct way to learn about art. This should eventually lead to an idea of universal understanding. It should build a great library of knowledge that should work to reveal how we can accommodate all cultures and meanings into a grand theory of art. The problem with this approach is that, as more and more insights into different cultures are understood, the concept of art becomes more and more confusing. There does not seem to be any unifying theory that would encompass all the different uses of art from different times and demographic regions. In fact, in some ways, the self-centred, blinkered view of the tourist is more revealing than it first appears.
If we look nearer to home, we can see why this should be. Not so long ago here in the Western world, almost all art objects had a religious significance. The Western world was dominated by religious ideas like Christianity. These ideas were reflected in the art objects in much the same way as African tribal rituals are reflected in African masks or Aboriginal ideas of spiritual life are reflected in their paintings. Art objects from all ages and from all corners of the world are full of this kind of content and, to a tourist, it is not something that is looked at with any real depth of opinion. In a Western church, a Western tourist is going to understand the religious significance of the art, but in an African tribal village they are not going to have this insight. They will look with what I like to refer to as cultural blindness. They will see the colours, shapes, sounds and movements going on around them but not the cultural meaning. Bring an African tribesman to a Christian church to watch a Catholic mass and he will, like the tourist, see with cultural blindness. He will see all the colours, shapes, sounds and movements going on around him, but he will have no idea of the meaning. There is, therefore, an advantage to not understanding art. The blind view gives a universal comprehension. It is not a formal understanding like a doctorate in art theory gives you, but the `unlearned' view gives a far more inherent sense for the basic nature of the art experience.
Cultural blindness strips the social baggage of art away and reveals the art experience as a primal form of sensual awareness. That is to say, looking at art without any understanding of the culture that created it means that you are only going use your powers of perception without modifying them to accommodate any intelligent ideas of meaning. You are just going to use your physical senses. Your intelligence is not going to get in the way and this is the advantage that cultural blindness gives you when you look at art. Our physical senses are pretty well universal. I think that we can safely assume that a Western tourist, an African tribesman and an Australian Aborigine will sense sight, shape, sound and movement in much the same way. We may live in different cultures, but we all have a similar physical constitution. Our skins might be different colours and our tastes in food, clothing or hair styles might seem strange, but our eyes and ears and our hands and feet are going to give a sense of sight, shape, sound and movement to our minds that we can all understand. If we don't have cultural ideas, we are all going to look at art in the same way. We are all going to use our eyes, ears or hands and feet with cultural blindness and this is going to reveal the art object to us as a pure, sensual experience.
To stand any chance of seeing all art from all ages and from all corners of the world as having some unified characteristics, you are going to have to look beyond culture. I would even go as far as to say that art has nothing to do with culture. Culture has arisen as we have diversified as a species and settled into every corner of the earth. We have developed different ways of dealing with ideas about who we are and what, if anything, our lives mean. These ideas were mostly spiritual or superstitious before science and they all used painting, sculpture, music and dance to give some form of recognition to what we believed. We, therefore, find art objects full of cultural meaning, but it does not automatically follow from this that art is a product of culture. That is an assumption that we make because we see that all art objects are related to culture.
To my way of thinking, culture hides art. It distracts from a more inherent sensation of what the art object reveals to us. This inherent sensation is not related to intelligent ideas. It has nothing to do with beauty, superstition, religion or any other notion of a cultural meaning. These ideas have been tagged to art because without them we have to learn to look at what confronts us in a far more inherent way. For this reason, I am more inclined to believe that art is a purely perceptual phenomenon. Art is a way of sensing sight, shape, sound and movement that we have evolved away from realising surrounds us.
When a tourist finds him or herself in a foreign country, if they are culturally blind, they will find their own sense of cultural identity being removed from what they are experiencing. You cannot apply Western cultural values to an African tribal dance because the dance will have few of the recognisable components you look for in a Western dance; all the stamping and shouting that turns the tribal dance into a meaningful ritual is not like ballroom dancing. It has a different meaning. If you are a professor of art theory you will know this and you will not judge the tribal dance by Western artistic standards. You will study the tribal culture and learn what all that stamping and shouting is about, but in doing this you will not see how the tribal dance can be understood as art. This is because there will be no universal ingredients to link the two separate forms. If, on the other hand, you are ignorant of the tribal culture, you will be forced to look with a far more inherent sense of awareness towards what you are confronted with. This inherent awareness will not see the art object that you are looking at through cultural understanding. It will revert to a more basic power of sensing and this will direct your mind towards a more inherent awareness of the sights, shapes, sounds and movement confronting you. You will begin to sense the experience at a more basic level of awareness than you would have done had you had an intelligent understanding of the cultural meaning of the tribal dance.
What is universal in all art is, therefore, the ability of an object to make you sense your perception at a primal level of awareness. This is what we should learn to look for in an art object. We should learn some cultural blindness.
Historians and Artists
Be aware that the established history of art will teach you to believe that the word `art' has many meanings depending upon its use in different times and cultures. This historians' interpretation of art places emphasis upon art objects and their relationship to culture rather than the concept of art itself.
Art is now beginning to be understood as a primal sensation of sight, shape, sound and movement that transcends all culture, but this concept is not yet being reflected in art history. I have a vivid recollection of this realisation when I was given an art book when I was young (The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich).1 The opening paragraph says, `There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists. Once there were men who took coloured earth and roughed out the forms of a bison on the wall of a cave; today some buy paints, and design posters for the hoardings; they did and do many things. There is no harm in calling all these activities art as long as we keep in mind that such a word may mean very different things in different times and places, and as long as we realise Art with a capital A has no existence.'
Gombrich, E.H. The Story of Art. (Phaidon, Oxford 1989) p.3.
This paragraph set me on a lifetime quest to explain that art has NOTHING to do with taking coloured earth and roughing out an image of any kind. I knew this from day one because, as an artist, I sense that art is more than the sum total of all objects that artists have ever made. I see art objects as constructs that we make to impose a sense of control over a far deeper sensation of our view of the world, which intelligence cannot comprehend. To me, Art with a capital `A' is a very real experience in our view of the world, but the problem is that no artist has the means to visualise this inherent way of looking.
This inherent sensation drives artists to create art objects but, until modern times, no one knew why. The artist did not think about the art experience itself because they made objects that had a social use. This fills the history of art with subjects like hunting rituals, superstition, religion and even propaganda or other subjects of communal significance. This is what historians focus upon because it is a concrete component of the art object. It can be given a clear, precise identity, but the art experience is not like that for an artist. The art experience is an attempt to come to know sight, shape, sound and movement in a far more intense way than we normally experience in our day-to-day existence. Knowing how to translate this experience into an art object is what modern artists struggle to do.
Before our times, artist just got on with the job of creating objects and this `feeling' called art was just something you added to an accepted way of working to give the subjects in art a more intense appearance. This created all the great art of the past, but this `heightening' of sight, shape, sound or movement in a work of art always works to subdue the art experience itself. The artist might have painted an image of a hunting ritual on a cave wall, a vision of God in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, or simply a poster for a display board. The cave artist may have thought that he was creating an image endowed with magic, or, as Michelangelo believed, he was giving glory to God by serving the Church. Perhaps a commercial artist may think that he or she is helping to sell a product, but, behind this façade, the true identity of art is hidden. Art objects have always been used by society and it is these art objects that historians like to classify and talk about rather than any idea of an underlying experience that cannot be given any recognisable form.
The historians do not conceive of art as something independent to the objects that artists make and this is perhaps because art historians are not artists. Only artists feel this underlying sense of emotive perception in all that we see and do. This generates an experience of the world glimpsed before we impose a form of recognition over an object. Sensing this is what makes you an artist, but what the artist does with this sensation after they have encountered it is what differentiates a modern work of art from traditional content. In times past, this sensation was kept suppressed by technical skill learned through apprenticeship that produced objects for other uses. This leads to historians believing that art is the subjective content of an art object rather than an underlying experience of the world that an artist senses. The objects that artists make can be studied in relation to their cultures and times and this is what historians like to talk about, but the sensation that artists feel in their view of the world cannot be pictured. It has no recognisable form because it is a way of sensing before we impose an intelligent idea over what we see. This is not a subject that an historian is even going to comprehend let alone put into words. It has no logical structure and you cannot classify it.
Today, the art experience itself is understood to have nothing to do with the subject that an artist portrays in a work. The art experience is now seen as an inherent feeling for the direct experience of any object. To know this experience is to glimpse a view of the world through instinct as opposed to the day-to-day recognition given to you by your powers of intelligence. The essential understanding is that intelligence evolved to stop us sensing the direct experience of an object and, because artists in the past had no knowledge to understand this idea, they were not in a position to explore the meaning of what they did. Because of this, the history of art is made up of objects that reflect other ideas. Most of these ideas merely reflect the culture into which the artist was born. What historians write about is not, therefore, art, but the subjects that have been imposed over the art object because artists before modern times had a different idea of what the art experience was.
Artists have, until modern times, made art objects for all the wrong reasons. In most cases, artists had to earn a living and so they got their work used in a social context, but that does not mean that the purpose of art is related to this cultural or social use. It only means that the artist had to burden their work with the need to earn a living. In the past, the artist was, therefore, employed to create work to enhance ritual in primitive societies, or to adorn the church, or to serve the State. Only now, in this day and age, can artists create art for art's sake and this freedom allows for an exploration of the idea of art as an independent sensation of objects. For the first time in the history of art, a modern artist can try to avoid cultural content in a work. It is not an easy thing to do, but a pure search for the art experience can have nothing to do with culture because such ideas will impose a form of recognition that always serves to suppress the art experience itself.
Artists cannot give you a picture of this art experience. Art is a primal way of sensing and any intelligent idea will suppress it. I presume that historians have not yet adjusted their thinking to this point of view because, if they did, they would not write about art's objects that reflect cultural needs and social content. Historians would realise that these ideas suppress an underlying experience and it is this underlying experience that artists sense in their view of the world. Perhaps I should say that if historians sensed this feeling called art they would not be historians but would be artists.
Dear Mr Van Gogh
Dear Mr Van Gogh
I had the opportunity to stay here and I called in to see Doctor Gachet. I hoped to meet you, but the good doctor tells me that you went out very early in the direction of the wheat fields carrying paints and canvas. I would have liked to discuss the matter of colour and emotive form with you as I had hoped to find some way to work with these powerful tools in my own art, but I understand that the urge to get out and paint is more pressing than talking about what you do. I should undertake more practical work myself, but I find it difficult to discover an original way of my own. Painting has become such an abused technique in the place I come from and I would have to discover an emotive style of working that was unlike any other. This, as you well know, is most difficult to achieve. Expressionism is now looked upon as dated and out of fashion in the mainstream of art, but this is a great loss because your way of working has so much to offer.
I don't know how you feel about people who talk about your work or whether it concerns you what people think. I find most artists nowadays are shallow and aimless in their observations of the world around them. They are more interested with showmanship and trivia that will generate fame and fortune than any serious search for an inner `artists' way of emotive perception. Most prefer to be more detached and clinical in the works that they now present as art. Artists do not even make the works themselves but get outside companies to manufacture the objects. Most artists I meet seem to think that the product is more important than the act of making art, but I suspect that the loss of tactile feel for material has a lot to do with a clinical look of detached indifference that pervades the art of my age. It does not bode well for my time and I don't think any great art will emerge because few have the intensity or power of mind to look within themselves as you do. My problem is that it would not be sincere for me to adopt a style like Expressionism. I must strike out on my own and find my way of coming to terms with this emotive power for myself.
You would not believe the things being presented as art now. Anything seems to be the norm but none of it has any true depth of inner vision to disturb visual awareness like your work. None of the art of my time is clearly explained and this leaves art open to attracting much abuse that I find very worrying. Art has always been such an important part of the human struggle. I hate to see it so degraded by lack of understanding. Anyway, enough of the problems I face, you have your own needs to look after. I hope the headaches Doctor Gachet tells me have been plaguing you are not too severe. I wish I knew how to help you cope with this affliction, but I am afraid I would only get in your way. I just thought, as I was here, it was a good opportunity to meet you and express my admiration for your work. As I am unable to wait for you to return, I will just write a few ideas down whilst I have a coffee in the café. Perhaps, before it gets too late in the day, I will catch a glimpse of you upon your return from the wheat fields.
The Child's Moon
I once knew a child who thought that she could literally catch hold of the moon. She would love to get dressed in warm clothing and run into the garden on a cold, clear night trying to reach up to grasp the bright, reflective orb. She would laugh and giggle hysterically in a shroud of her warm breath because her prize was always just out of reach. I must admit that I was guilty of teasing her and encouraging her innocence. She was too young to understand the size and vast distances involved in her quest and I had no wish to destroy her happy fascination with a fantasy of her childhood. Within a year or two, I knew that beautiful idea of the moon and the image of her dancing in cold air would be gone forever, replaced with the harsh facts of reality.
The world is all too quickly understood by the growing intelligent mind and only the poet remains amongst us to hold on to the innocence we all felt in childhood. The scientists believe that they are revealing the reality of the world around us as they discover more and more facts, but their search is not one of innocence. It is the fantasy of this naïve sense of reality that is so important for the poet and the painter, as it must also be for the sculpter, the musician and the dancer. Unlike the scientist, the artist is not commanded by equations that determine the nature of the reality that surrounds us, but is fascinated in a wish to touch another awareness of reality from within.
Science is about observable facts and mathematical certainty in all we see and do, but art is about touching a sense of unknowing at the very heart of that ever-expanding vista. As science reveals more and more observable facts and our vision of the universe grows, art becomes an ever-deepening sense of uncertainty in the mundane. Art is the ordinary object you see every day and think you know. It is the cup upon the table or the plant in the sunlight. Science understands these things by atomic structure and photosynthesis, but for the artist they are objects we have never seen in their true appearance. This true appearance is hidden by the power of intelligence that makes us think that we know what we see. Art is the child's mind trying to catch the moon while the scientist and the astronaut have long disclosed the reality of what we see.
In science, the moon is a distant place to travel to and explore and to dissect and understand, but to an artist the moon is a sensation felt beneath all that intelligent knowledge: a sensation felt by instincts that have become hidden in the depths of our minds by the power of our intelligence. To instinct, the moon is not an object understood by its distance with an orbit of precise velocity and a trajectory that offsets the force of gravity. To instinct, the moon is not `out there'. It is not a satellite of grey dust upon which linger the footsteps and discarded machines of exploration. That is the moon that we have learned to see, but the moon we have learned to hide is the one that was but a presence amongst many things that showed us the world in a far more animal and emotive way. To this `animal' part of our mind, the moon was a feeling that exerted its influence upon our bodily fluids as much as it wields its pull upon the oceans. The moon was not an object to be understood, but a sensation to be felt within the mind. It was once for us as it is for the wolf that howls and moves in and out of shadows by stealth and cunning. It is a moon that we have forgotten how to see.
The moon we now look out upon through closed windows is dulled by the glow of the television and the warmth of central heating that removes the satellite's cold chill. Our world has become insular and secure, and within this intelligent withdrawal we have buried the sense of awareness for the base sensations of life on earth. The moon as sensed by instinct has long been buried within us to be replaced with a moon of intelligent understanding. And so it is with all things; we have become imperceptive creatures who have numbed our sense of instinct through the construction of an urban world made of concrete, glass and scientific understanding. Thankfully, there are still artists amongst us: people who still hold on to a sense of the moon with the child's innocent eyes.
An Accumulation of Errors
Learning to draw is an accumulation of errors. You sit at your easel in the life class and look at the woman who is to be the subject of your work. She poses in perfect light on a plain chair in the centre of a cluttered room, and a sheet of blank paper confronts you.
You look to gauge proportions in an imaginary void that is the paper pinned upon your board. The flat, white surface is an endless expanse without creation. You begin in uncertainty, but your pencil does not touch the paper. It hovers and moves a few centimetres above infinity and you ponder, like a god deciding where to begin, the genesis of a world. You try to imagine a sense of shape in the cold, endless place of white harshness to ensure your figure will emerge from the forces you must summon into being. The pencil begins to move above the white paper as you try to judge lines that must begin in the depth of your mind. The lines do not exist out there in the cluttered room or in the graphite of your pencil, but emerge, like phantoms, from the strange space of neurones and electrons that must unite within you. Like a maelstrom, your imagination gathers littered fragments of an idea from an ocean of thoughts and swirls them into a tangled knot. You look towards the model for guidance to help you bring her body into tentative shapes from the point of the pencil, but she offers no help to your pleading eyes. She sits motionless in thoughts of her own. You fall towards chaos.
Unlike the blank paper, the mind is not inert. It begins to guide the hand to control the movements to make the lines appear in that universe of white infinity. Like the first living molecule in a primal sea, a trace element appears that disrupts an unending stillness. A universe is born and must now evolve. There can be no going back. The forces of creation are set in motion by the first uncertain mark upon the paper. An accumulation of errors must begin to emerge.
Intelligence fails to see what is happening. It is too busy in the higher world of complex visual awareness that swamps the sense of uncertainty of the primal lines of creation with an urgent desire to control and organise the image you see before you. Intelligence forces the poor artist to look outwards at a world of recognisable shapes to fill the white paper with a sense of command for exact proportions, composition and balanced judgement. Intelligence craves to give recognition to everything and the artist is compelled to obey. Pushed by thoughts that work to block out any sense of uncertainty in what confront you, your mind races to stop that primal sensation for what you see rearing its presence at the beginning of your work. The true artist must overcome this power of intelligence to command the mind and allow a sense of what can only be felt by instinct to emerge. A glimpse of animal knowing is what the beginning of every drawing offers to reveal to you. You sense it, but you cannot see it. You work away to try to discover this ancient image, but with every move the drawing reflects more and more of how your intelligence commands your view.
Oh, what secrets would be revealed to you within your infinite, white universe of paper through that woman sitting over there in the life class. If only you could just look at her without all that clever teaching for the need for exact proportions and perfect shape. She is pregnant with what intelligence demands you see in its urge to fill the white paper with images of controlled lines, balanced composition, light and shadow. These things are what your mind craves to behold in its view of the world. Like the nicotine from a cigarette, your intelligence is drugged by a desire to control your work. You sense for a brief moment that she is not just a naked soul to be commanded by your mind because it wants perfect, visual judgement structured with precise attention to what the eyes see. She is so much more than that. Your mind must not destroy her presence, but caress her so that she can carry you deeper than you have ever been towards that infinite, white paper that waits to engulf you. Let her seduce you and carry you inwards with the mystery of her form. Let her pull you down into a depth of your mind where she is all power of desire and passion and animal instinct.
This is madness. She is beginning to dissolve into the space that surrounds her: a creature full of uncertainty that you must capture on the paper. Your lines betray a battle going on in your mind between perfect control and an accumulation of errors. You can see the conflict raging like a veil surrounding her flesh. Your uncertainty of the drawing is showing her true to you, but your intelligence wants to destroy her. Don't let your mind take control and command order and organisation; if you do, she will be lost. That gossamer woman you have discovered deep down in your mind; she is sensed for no more than a moment before intelligence floods in to guide your hand. What you sense surrounding her blows away like filaments of mist at the onset of the burning light that conscious thought brings into your mind. The war rages in the lines that tangle and converge upon the white paper. You don't want intelligent understanding to dominate your drawing and yet you cannot draw without it. You battle on, but intelligence commands vast forces to overpower you. Intelligence grabs the hand and forces you to submit, and that fleeting vision of that beautiful, gossamer woman is gone forever. In its place a controlled and organised construct begins to emerge like a mirror image that reflects what you see out in the cluttered room.
When the life class has finished, you look at what you have done. Your work has captured her likeness with skill and perfection, but this image is not the woman you glimpsed for a moment in the empty, white space of the paper. Your intelligence has transformed that primal feeling and destroyed your woman. She has gone forever. The woman out there in the room is getting dressed, but you hardly notice the final clutter of the end of the class. You mourn your loss and a shadow passes over you. The real woman stands beside you looking at her image.
"I like that," she says.
You smile. "Thank you," you reply.
When everyone else has gone and you are alone, you look at your work again and only you are aware that your drawing is not what you glimpsed for that fleeting moment before you began. Your drawing is a collection of controlled lines that resemble an image of the woman, but what you really saw before you put pencil to paper was a far deeper vision than that of flesh and bone. You sensed a primal creature, but your work has failed to reveal this inner experience. In its place is a controlled and organised picture of what you look out upon through eyes that no longer see the inherent view.
You pack your things and head for the noise of happy laughing and cheerful banter that is the world of real people. Your primal creature has gone and rather than be alone you go to join your friends for a drink.
More, or Less, Art
America turns out more modern artists in one year from her colleges and universities than the total number of all traditional artists working through the age of the Italian Renaissance. Suzi Gablik, in her very informative book, Has Modernism Failed? gives an estimate for modern artists working in New York as around 30,000 individuals at any one time. This proliferation of artists is a phenomenon that appears to have developed from the idea that modern art can be taught as a standard module aimed at producing people who possess graduate levels of artistic understanding.
I find the idea that you can be taught to be an artist a disturbing development because it has such a detrimental effect on a born artist, who is someone with the ability to sense our awareness of sight, shape, sound and movement in an inherent, instinctive way. The qualified graduate holds, in the eyes of the establishments, all the necessary qualifications and is, therefore, offered an open invitation to the art world. This worries me because the art world does not seem to know how to recognise a born artist because it is looking for someone that they think is qualified to be an artist because they went to art school.
A born artist is a person with a unique ability to sense a very ancient awareness for sight, shape, sound or movement. This awareness is inherent; we all possess it, but few of us become aware of it because our intelligence has evolved to keep it suppressed in our view of the world. Most of us just sense the world around us through intelligent learning and, if we think we can become artists by going to school or college, we are mistaken. No one can teach you to sense this depth of perception that you will need if you want to call yourself an artist. This awareness is an inherent sensation of a primal way of experiencing the world and it is inborn. Most trained artists will be making work that displays no sign that they possess this inner way of sensing because they will have been taught to make art objects that will merely reflect market requirements. We will find artists by academic qualification, but not by nature. This is the situation we are faced with today. Colleges and universities churn out thousands of trained art graduates, but searching for a born artist among them is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Art, today, has become a business proposition rather that a tool of discovery. The artist cannot get a gallery to take any interest unless they have a business plan and are academically qualified to get financial support. The artist is so busy getting established in this way that they simply never come to know the real depth of awareness that an artist should sense in their experience of the world. The struggling art graduate will possess this inherent, intuitive sense of perception – we all do – but it will be swamped by the demands of learned understanding. The artist today is more likely to be a businessperson that has emerged from an educational environment that has tailored this individual to manufacture to a set idea of the artist as a graduate: a person who will have learned that the all-important thing is to make an object that upholds the prevailing style in an art world, where success has nothing to do with creative insight. In place of this insight, the idea has emerged that art, like everything else in our modern, Western culture, is a product.
With the right approach and good business contacts, anything can be hyped as art. This situation seems to have appeared because most of the history of art, up until modern times, is a history of products that have always served a social need. Carvings for tribal hunting and fertility ritual, icons for religion, portraiture of the rich and famous or posters for propaganda can all be seen as useful artefacts created to uphold the needs of the tribe, the Church, the State or the collector. Today, the subject is more often self-opinionated. The artist reflects the state of modern life and makes work that uses everyday objects to portray fundamental ideas about the neurosis of being engulfed in a world of consumer values. To market any product in this day and age requires the artist to have to evaluate the on-going art scene and to produce work aimed at attaining an assertive position to take advantage of this marketplace.
The modern artist no longer wants to struggle in isolation, searching to discover and visualise some vague, inherent, animal state of mind that will separate them from the mainstream market of modern culture. Today, the modern artist is more inclined towards being concerned with making a product that will place them as a successful member of this lucrative business scene. This art world is not based upon any understanding of the idea of art itself, but is tailored to reflect images of modern life rather than any concept of self-discovery. The modern artist makes objects today that are culturally orientated: paintings of mass-produced soup tins or replicas of Brillo boxes, items of personal hygiene alongside stained bed sheets or tins of shit and even defaced religious icons. All these art objects come from artists who think that art is a product of social comment on our present lifestyle rather than a deeper sense of awareness within our powers of perception. This is the work of artists who have been taught an idea of art rather than artists who are born to sense art as a power of inherent perception.
The born artist will understand that art has nothing to do with any object we can make and even less to do with marketing a product. Art, to a born artist, is an insight into how intelligence translates sight, shape, sound and movement to hide a far more powerful way of grasping these sensations from the depths of our minds. A born artist will understand that you cannot picture this sensation and so this artist will be searching for ways to explore this sensation. This means having to find ways to avoid easy-to-recognise content and commercial values or anything that imposes a known idea over the object that an artist chooses to use.
What we see emerging from colleges and universities is not a search for this insight, but rather an emphasis that seems to be structured to produce the business-orientated artist who is cultivated into a design element within a supply chain that churns out an elite, cultural product. This commercial mentality has swamped the founding principle of modern art.
There was a short time in the history of art, between the old order and the establishing of the contemporary art scene, when art was seen as a way of sensing the world and not a product for the marketplace. This concept of art was visualised by a few individuals who kept themselves away from establishments and worked in total isolation. They tried to reveal art as a depth of individual insight, and set about finding ways to translate this inherent sensation into a personal vision of the world. This became the founding principle, but art education today seems to have ignored this development and now works in favour of establishing a modular curriculum. This is the old, traditional concept of art that came out of the schools and movements that produced established styles.
Modern art emerged to destroy this way of working. At its inception, modern art became an attempt to show the artist as an individual with a unique, inherent sense of instinctive awareness and no two artists would, under this principle, ever translate this sensation in the same way. The founders of the modern concept of art understood this principle and worked to get away from academic teaching. Modern art began as a search for a solitary, inherent way of sensing objects and events. This sensation of the world underlies our `learned', intelligent view and so you cannot teach people to portray this sensation. The artist has to discover their own unique way of sensing it and their own way of translating this sensation into a work. Under this principle, no single artist should ever make a work that looks like any other work made by any other artist. This is what modern art is all about, but it implies that you cannot create `schools' or `styles' of art. Anyone who paints like an Expressionist after Vincent van Gogh is not interpreting his or her own inherent vision of the world, but copying this other artist's achievement. Anyone painting an action painting after Jackson Pollock is not interpreting their own inherent sense of perception, but copying the Pollock way of translating the art experience. Schools produce artists who follow established `styles' and this works against the founding principle that modern art arose to explore.
Any attempt to teach the founding principle of modern art to groups of artists will transform the sensation into an established, `learned' idea and this way of looking will destroy the principle because it requires a solitary, intuitive power of perception to grasp it. Contemporary Post-modern art, as it now emerges from art schools, is not geared for this endeavour. It propagates the idea that you can churn out modern artists to meet market requirements and, therefore, modern art is thought to be an intellectual product of higher learning.
The founders of modern art realised that art is a primal sensation that is inherent in our view of the world. This way of looking can only be sensed in a solitary, individual way because it requires the artist to look without learning. The way of looking has to be intuitive in order to glimpse the inherent view that surrounds us when learning is removed from our powers of observation. To be an artist is to be a person who senses a primal power of perception that is inherent from our animal origins. No one is going to be able to teach you to sense the world in this way because the ONLY way you can get a look at this sensation is to remove your learned ideas from what you do. This is what the founding principle of modern art was all about.
Jackson Pollock removed our `learned' idea about painting because the learned way was dictating how to create the image. Everyone was taught that painting had to be controlled and organised by intelligence. Pollock discovered a way to paint by instinct. This is a true reflection of the founding principle of modern art, but anyone painting in this way after Jackson Pollock is not discovering their own interpretation of their inherent way of looking. All they are doing is copying the Pollock discovery. Marcel Duchamp removed our `learned' idea that dictated that an art object should be something created in a unique way. Duchamp realised that art is a way of sensing any object. Any mass-produced object could, if you found a way to sense it through instinct without intelligent learning, create the art experience. This is a true reflection of the founding principle of modern art, but anyone presenting a ready-made after Marcel Duchamp is not upholding this principle; they are just copying Duchamp.
Each individual artist, to uphold this founding principle of modern art, has to create work that is unlike any other artist before them and this means that you need to work alone and in total isolation. Most who go to art school will believe that they can advance art by studying what has been done and modifying it to create their own version of an established view. This is a misunderstanding of the founding principle of modern art. A modern artist has to reject everything that has been done before and find a new way of individual, perceptual awareness.
This is what makes modern art such an apparently destructive endeavour. Modern art upholds that `learning' will suppress an underlying view generated by intuition and instinct. To get even the slightest glimpse of this sensation requires you to abandon all intelligent, established ideas and the job of a modern artist is to go and look at the world in an inherent, intuitive way. Doing that is hard enough, but then you have to bring this experience into a work so that it is unlike anything that has ever been done before. If you don't achieve this, the work will resemble something that has already been done and this `learned' view will suppress the inherent, intuitive sensation that the work tries to reveal.
Very few people will have the ability to sense the world in an inherent, intuitive way, let alone find a way to bring this sensation into a work without intelligence destroying it. Most will just copy the translation of this experience from what some other artist has achieved. This is the fallacy of the idea that you can teach art, because art students study what artists have done, but, to a modern artist, what has been done has destroyed the sensation that drove the artist to create the work in the first place.
Looking back over the history of art, it seems clear that the founding principle of modern art was very short lived. In the long history of art, it arose for the blink of an eye between the late nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century. What these artists achieved, and what their work revealed in relation to our understanding of art, erupted upon the art scene like a supernova. It flared up like a brilliant explosion of insight and realisation about the true nature and purpose of art. It was a burst of unrestrained energy that burned brightly for a short time.
Before this creative explosion at the beginning of modern art, artists had always been enslaved by market requirements. The market dictated the art forms an artist produced and this need to use art stopped artists from exploring the art experience as an inherent way of coming to know sight, shape, sound and movement. Modern art arose to break free from the limitation of art used as a product because it dictated the images that artists made. The leaders of modern art began to explore ideas about art itself by working `outside' of the market values. The search for this independent element, free of subjectivity, produced paintings, sculpture, music and dance quite unlike anything else that had been done before. It produced art that did not reflect any requirement other than that of the individual artists' inner awareness for an inherent sense of perception. Each artist tried to be a solitary explorer looking into their own powers of perception, as opposed to the idea of being part of an accepted style of art that should be useful to society. This was the founding principle of modern art, but it was very short lived.
The pioneers of this idea (artists like Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky and others) laid the foundations for this exploration of an individual vision into a deep, inherent human power of perceptual awareness. They stood like beacons pointing the way towards a new concept of art, but, by the 1950s, waves of modern artists came onto the art scene who had not learned, or did not understand, this idea. Artists merely adopted the styles of the discoveries. This is the very thing that the founders of modern art tried to avoid and what emerged was an art `scene' that became flooded with artists who copied the look of modern art as opposed to each artist exhibiting a unique, original insight. The founding principle of modern art was ignored and in its place emerged a `taught', established idea of modern art that mimicked the look, but not the founding principle. This Post- modern art `scene' made little attempt to further the search for the depth of perceptual awareness available to each individual artist.
Discovering this depth of perception within you requires exceptional talent; formulating it into an art object without transforming it into an established image requires even more talent. Very few artists will possess this talent and, as a result, the majority of contemporary work that followed the founding principle of modern art became superficial and did nothing more than swamp the original discoveries. New waves of modern artists swept onto the art scene and adopted the look of the founders, but not the insight. If they had understood the principle, they would have had to do what the founders did. They would have had to discover ways of creating objects unlike anything created by those that had gone before them.
The principle of modern art is to uphold an individual insight into perceptive awareness as opposed to an established view. This principle requires each artist to come up with a single, unique way of transforming their own depth of perceptual awareness into visual form. This would result in very few artists emerging in any one generation because the majority of us do not possess the inherent, born ability to grasp this insight, let alone formulate it into a unique image. To be an artist is to be a person who searches for this deep, inherent sense of perceptual awareness and you are either going to have the inborn ability to `feel' it within yourself or you are not. Most of us will not and so we will end up creating art objects that reflect the look of those more talented artists who have achieved this insight for themselves.
This search for each individual artist to discover a unique, original way of creating art is not a situation that can be tolerated in a consumer society that needs to feed an endless supply of students into educational establishments. Such establishments have to produce artists and the idea that the founders of modern art began to explore was one that sees the artist as someone born with an exceptional insight into our old, inherent, animal powers of perception. Teaching art cannot tailor itself to this criterion. It will fail because you are unlikely to find one in a thousand people with the insight and ability to achieve a result. You can teach people to draw and paint, to make sculpture, write music and choreograph dance. You can even give them the qualifications to claim that they are artists, but this will lead to products like those made by other artists. What you end up with is not an artist but a manufacturer of commercial artefacts. Even those who make art objects that avoid these traditional skills are still not going to turn themselves into artists just because they call what they do modern art. Presenting ready-made objects as art is not a free ticket to this path of deep, perceptual awareness. A bizarre ready-made object has become a socially acceptable product in the art `scene', but it is unlikely to draw our attention to the inherent, intuitive power of perception of an individual artist. Out of the probable 30,000 wannabe artists gushing from educational establishments year after year, you will be lucky to find one with the kind of depth of perceptual awareness and the talent to visualise it that the founders of modern art displayed.
The outcome of this situation is that there are now thousands upon thousands of artists making modern art that reflects no understanding of the true reason that modern art emerged in the first place. These `schooled' modern artists have been educated into producing objects to uphold the look of modern art as a cultural object, but this was the last thing that the founders set out to do. This educated way of making art as an object with social content returns art to the place it was at before the founders of modern art emerged. Now, instead of a unique search for our inherent, instinctive way of knowing the world, we have an art environment with a modern idea of culture and this works to pervert the true purpose of modern art being understood.
The idea of art as a search into our individual depth of perceptual awareness has been replaced with an idea of modern art as a product that reflects social values. You can teach this, but it will swamp the founding principle of modern art, which set out to transcend culture and reveal an individual power of perception beyond intelligent awareness.
Like it or not, this means that you cannot teach people the founding principle of modern art. This true principle cannot be tailored to meet educational needs and so students of modern art are led to create objects that reflect a consumer ethic to uphold modern culture. This is not what the founders of modern art set out to establish. The deeper, inherent view of art does not seem to have been realised. The original idea of finding an individual way of looking beyond our powers of perception was lost as the style of modern art was adopted into the schools. The original values were never understood and what emerged suppressed the spirit of exploration behind yet another established style called contemporary art. In place of the unique individual artist emerged the Post-modern artists who began to produce the look of modern art without the understanding, because this is what they were taught to do.
Today, modern art is produced in abundance with attempts to make the work socially meaningful. This type of modern art very rarely reflects any true attempt to explore the concept of an inherent, intuitive way of looking at the world. It cannot because if colleges and universities did teach this founding principle of modern art they would turn out very few artists. Educational establishments have to fabricate great numbers of graduates who need to succeed in the marketplace for the system to work. This is not going to happen if you make art a search into an individual, inherent, primal form of visual awareness. What we are faced with today is a marketplace full of a great number of artists taught to manufacture cultural objects that reflect some half-baked notion that fits into an established view. None of these artists are likely to reflect the founding principle of modern art in what they do.
The true modern artist will not produce a product that is socially useful and, as a result, this artist is extremely unlikely to be working within the established art scene. They will work alone in complete isolation and probably be so engrossed in this search for a primal, inherent way of looking at the world that it will matter little to them if other people see their work or not.
A Tale of Two Paintings
Imagine two paintings hanging on a wall, side by side, that portray the same scene. One is a superbly crafted landscape with precise detail given to every object and to the light and shade within the scene. Distant snow-peaked mountains are shrouded in clouds and small figures climb a path that snakes its way through huge, lichen-covered rocks in the foreground. The other picture is the same landscape and has been painted by someone else who stood in the same spot. This painter has approached the task of picturing this scene in a far less realistic way. The paint no longer depicts precise, fine detail, but is applied in a hurry, is very dominant and engulfs the image. The distant snow peaks are but quick, white slashes from a heavily loaded palette knife. The small figures are dark blobs that have only a vague appearance of human form and the rocks are great distortions of paint created by the tortured twisting of a broom-sized brush.
These two paintings, hanging side by side, show us that we human beings have two ways of looking at the world. We have a way of perceiving that is controlled by our intelligence that dictates an organised power of recognition over all we look at, and we have another way of perceiving that is hidden behind this intelligent view.
The first painting, rendered with such perfection over our visual understanding of what this artist saw, shows a mind dominated by intelligent control and organisation. This artist is undisturbed by any depth of perceptual awareness behind what they have seen. This artist sees the world like a still pond that gives a mirror reflection in their work. The second picture shows an artist that has tried to see the other way of perceiving that lies hidden behind the perfect control and organisation that dominated the first painter's view. This other way of perceiving is inherent within us all. It is far older than the intelligent view that the first painter captured in the perfect landscape. This other way of perceiving is an ancient, animal sensation that we all possess in the depths of our minds, which could reveal what we see as a very powerful, emotive experience.
The second painter sensed this emotive experience, but was unable to give form to this inherent depth of perception. This painter tried to modify the way that intelligence controls and organises our powers of perception to reveal the underlying view. The painter tried to allow the paint to dominate the image to give the image a more powerful presence in our intelligent sense of awareness. He or she tried to make the image stop us looking through our intelligent powers of perception so that we might glimpse something of this other underlying view. Did the second painter succeed? My answer would be a definite no because the second painter, like the viewer, has no way to recognise this powerful, emotive vision of things. The view is lost to us because we are forced to look through our intelligence and this way of looking has evolved to transform the view into a controlled and organised sense of perceptual awareness.
The first painter knew that we would easily recognise what had been painted through our intelligence. This painter did not try to make the painting do anything except reflect the smooth, undisturbed view that we carry around with us every day of our lives. Everything in this picture reflects what we would expect to see in the real world. The second picture tries to see something we `feel', but have no way to recognise. Because of this, the painter was forced to alter the realistic image to try to give some form of structure to a `feeling' generated beyond intelligent control and organisation: a `feeling' sensed by instinct in their view of the world.
The first painter ignored this feeling, or failed to sense it. Perhaps the first painter was just a perfectionist so engrossed in the technique of painting that it completely impeded any ability to become responsive to a deeper level of perception that should pervade an artist's view of the world. This painter only looked through intelligence and reflected this view into the picture. The second painter was less of a perfectionist but in being unconcerned with technical ability, this painter was more open to being influenced by this ancient, deeper level of perception.
The first painter's mind did what it had evolved to do. It saw the world around it and used its powers of recognition to block out any older, animal sense of awareness we inherit from our past. The second painter was perceptive enough to `feel' this older, animal sense of awareness lurking behind our intelligent view of all we see and do. The first painter was a superb craftsman, but the second painter tried to be an artist.
Just a Word
I walked through Trafalgar Square in London recently and someone had installed large tree roots from a tropical rain forest all around the fountains and called it `modern art'. It was said to be a work designed to draw our attention to the issue of global warming and the destruction of the rain forest. I find this use of the word `art' very disturbing. It is obvious to me that this `artist' has no idea what modern art was originally about because, if she understood what the pioneers of this movement had undertaken to discover, she would not be doing this sort of thing.
Art is not about social concern. I know such concern is important in our modern times, but I do not believe that using art to voice your concern is the way to go about achieving any kind of useful outcome. Art is not the medium for this kind of endeavour. Most people who saw these tropical tree roots knew about the problems of global warming and the destruction of the rain forests through more effective means of communication like television and the Internet. To me, calling this an art installation gave all the wrong signals. I think the idea was to make the `concern' more real to the viewer than it would have been if presented through some other media, but why did it have to be called art? The tree roots were very impressive to see, but so was Nelson's Column. This `art' installation did nothing to disturb my powers of perception for sight, shape, sound and movement, which should be the premise of all modern art objects. It drew my attention to the worrying concern of global warming, but this is not the job of art.
I had watched a wildlife documentary on the BBC the night before, with David Attenborough narrating on the sorry state of polar bears at the North Pole. This, to me, was far more emotive and disturbing, but he did not claim that it was a work of modern art. It was a well-made, informative documentary film without pretence. I don't see what bringing tree roots from the Amazon to Central London has to do with modern art. Call it something else, like `a natural history display concerned with the loss of rain forests'. Why call it modern art?
Global warming is a problem connected to our industrial, consumer society and the lifestyle it engenders; calling this kind of display of social concern a modern work of `art' is no more than an act of elitism.
These tropical tree roots were no small things. Each probably weighed in at several hundred tons and every one of them had to be transported by ship and road halfway across the world to create this modern `art' installation. God only knows how much it must have cost, how much fuel was consumed and the extent of the pollution that it had caused on the journey. If these facts and figures had accompanied this `art' installation it would have made for a very different awareness about just how much social concern this display of objects endeavoured to support. If this artist had used all that money, time and effort to conserve living trees I might have been more sympathetic. But then, thinking about it, such an endeavour would not have created a work of modern `art' designed to give the artist celebrity status. It would not have generated any media attention to help the artist gain a place in modern art history, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.
A Day in a Cave
If you have ever been caving you will know what fear feels like. I don't mean a walk down one of those caves with electric lights strung around the chambers so you can stand amongst the stalagmites and look up at the stalactites; I mean one of those caves that you end up crawling down in running, muddy water and in a darkness that even your powerful helmet light seems unable to illuminate.
In caves like that you struggle through stretches of narrow passage that are hardly wide enough for your body and you must twist and turn so that you are forced to contort yourself into the most unnatural shapes. At times, you find you cannot move and you have to stop and relax in order to arrest a sense of sheer panic engulfing you. You find your intelligence being unable to keep control of this deeper part of your mind that lives by instinct and you have to fight to stay calm and controlled. It is not for the faint hearted, but it exposes you to a `feeling' you never get to experience in day-to-day life. The panic is not the `feeling', but is your intelligence reacting to loss of control; the `feeling' I am talking about is something beyond panic. You possess no way of understanding it and it is so alien that it is like another person trying to take possession of your body. Unless you have ever experienced this state of mind, it is difficult to describe to you because language itself can only give a recognisable picture of a known idea, but what you sense cannot be seen in this way. It is beyond intelligent visualisation and is a pure, inherent sensation from your most distant, primal origins. The sensation seems to have been waiting somewhere deep within your very soul.
When I was younger, and my limbs a bit more supple than they are now, I used to love caving and regularly indulged in this hobby with a group of like- minded people with the knowledge and expertise to make the descents safe to undertake. I remember being with the group and struggling to inch forward through a seemingly unending narrow and featureless passage when I had the most ridiculous thought. It came to me that if I could create an art object that provoked this kind of sensation from the mind of a viewer I would have a work that displayed the very essence of the primal sensation that modern art should create.
That thought came back to me years later as I was chauffeuring two people on a `Grand Tour' around England and across Europe, looking at as many cities, towns and villages as they wanted to discover. There was no time limit as these two kind and considerate passengers had retired and just wanted to indulge their love of theatre and art with a sense of comfort and unhurried pleasure. The job offered little pay, but it included all meals and accommodation and it gave me the opportunity to travel to some of the places that I had only ever read about. It offered me the chance to see great art close up and at first hand, and I was desperate to find a way to supplement a dwindling income from illustration and design. I think I got the job because of my love of art rather than for my driving skills and so it transpired that I found myself heading towards the North of England in a very expensive motor car. Starting at Grosvenor House in Park Lane, London, the plan was to slowly meander towards Scotland and then down the East Coast before crossing to Holland. From there we would head for Germany, France and then on into Italy and Spain.
It encompassed a wide diversity of art. My passengers loved paintings, sculpture, theatre and architecture and they travelled with the sole desire to seek out as many of these objects as they wished to find. By the time we got into Italy, it was obvious that to continue without pause would take much of the enjoyment out of the riches that lay ahead of us. It was, therefore, decided that a good rest from travelling was prudent and we stopped for a length of time in Tuscany. My passengers acquired a beautiful old villa on the outskirts of Lucca for three months and all I had to do was hang around and make myself available if they decided that they needed the car.
I had small, clean rooms above a big garage that was detached from the house. This suited me because I liked time to myself. The windows had old, wooden shutters painted in cobalt blue, which had faded in the strong sunlight. Inside, I had a few simple furnishing and for meals I could meander across the courtyard to the kitchen of the villa. Here Luciella came each day in a tired old Fiat to make up lunches and evening meals. She turned the kitchen into a haven with a wonderful aroma of delicious food and lively chatter bathed in the most seductive style of true Italian hospitality. It was an ideal opportunity for my passengers to relax and for me to unwind and set my mind to writing out a few more ideas about art.
I would enquire if I was needed for driving and if there was no work I would set off walking the landscape. Footpaths etched the hills and some took you up towards high ground through a patchwork of old, stone walls and vineyards growing in a strong sienna earth. The days were continuously bathed in a shimmering light under a cerulean sky. It was idyllic living and, as I wandered around, I often stopped for a drink of water and sat looking down over the timeless red roofs of the old village, with its church and bell tower.
Sometimes, I would push my walk further towards the higher rocky regions that surrounded this place. On one of these extended walks I found a cave: nothing you would notice unless you walked up to it. The entrance was little more than a deep shadow in the bleached rock face but, if you entered and let your eyes adjust to the light, you were in a space big enough to stand in, on a rock-strewn floor that receded back into darkness. Others had been here – food wrapping and beer cans littered the gaps between the rocks at the entrance – but further in, the place held a wonderful sense of absolute solitude. I decided to return here as soon as possible with the intention of spending a day in a cave.
It was a week before I got the opportunity to return, but, with food, drink and a good gas lantern in a backpack, I set off very early to climb out of the village towards my find. It took an hour, but the sun had hardly begun to make its power felt when I arrived at the entrance of this little cave. I settled in with my notebook and cold, home-baked, anchovies and ham pizza with a bottle of water placed in a cool, dark cleft in the rock. The light outside strengthened as I sat wondering what to write about and slowly my eyes became accustomed to the shadowed darkness of this place. In the far corner, I noticed another passageway that was quite easy to squeeze through.
I used to go caving in the Mendips with a club. I loved the challenge of difficult descents into confined places, but you were never alone. You would not want to be down there alone in some of the caverns that seemed to entomb you and restrict your ability to move and to breathe. The safety line, light and the comforting voices of friends were essential equipment for such an undertaking, but here it was different; this cave was but a baby.
The passageway opened and I immediately got my shoulders through and found myself in a second chamber the size of a small room. I pushed my backpack ahead of me and crawled into this cave to settle down with only the soft hiss of the gas lantern as background noise. I sat in silence, looking at the veined patterns that covered the rock.
It takes very little time before your mind begins to search for recognisable shapes when confronted by blank walls in a confined environment. I was soon in the company of a great rearing horse and many distorted faces acting in a drama of both comic and tragic proportions.
It is difficult to imagine how much of a revelation this power of our imagination must have been to our primitive ancestors. To our modern mind, this image recognition is such an autonomous process. We do it every day when we look at pictures or magazines and as soon as we find ourselves in any kind of unfamiliar place, our minds start to generate this search for something to recognise. We create a way to surround ourselves with a power of visual control and organisation that works to stop a sense of what seems to us to be a feeling of unease in any place where images are hard to find. That sensation of unease that we keep out of our powers of perception must have once been something that our ancestors lived with in their experience of the world. It is something that we no longer sense because, every time we get close to encountering it, our mind gets to work to find some form of recognisable image to subdue the feeling. We use this power of our imagination every day without thinking, but like everything else in life, it has evolved from lesser forms. We must once have possessed a way of looking without the image recognition that we use to stop an underlying `feeling' of a way of looking from disturbing us. It must have begun from a primitive awareness for an image in the shapes and shadows in a cave.
It is now almost impossible for us to know just how powerful a revelation those first glimmers of image recognition must have been. Without this power, the world outside was a place void of any conscious recognition: an empty and blank view filled with `feelings' created by instinct. The world was not the place that we now see, full of understanding and `known' objects and events given identity through images and ideas. Our way of looking had to be learned and our distant ancestors were living by instincts that sensed the world without this ability. They must have experienced their surroundings in an animal way that saw everything by blind intuition as they sheltered in caves with a sense of fear for the world that surrounded them. With the awakening of our first glimmers of intelligent awareness, the cave suddenly became a womb in which we began to cultivate a way of looking at the world that slowly overpowered our instinctive, animal sense of perception. To sit in the flickering of firelight, looking at blank walls and to notice the outline of a face or a figure must have been quite a revelation. Your mind finds a way of projecting a form of recognition over a part of the world around you that does not display this `feeling'. Slowly, what had once been sensed through instinct must have emerged into intelligent awareness and the world began to be `seen' in a new way. The presence of objects and events out in the world changed from being a sensation `felt' without images and ideas, to becoming a view `seen' through a new, evolving power of intelligent recognition.
It all must have begun in a cave like the one in which I was sitting and writing on a summer's day in Tuscany. Our distant ancestors must have sat like this, surrounded by walls of shapes and shadows that began to reveal themselves to minds that were beginning to evolve an emerging power of intelligent awareness. This simple event would have far-reaching consequences in how we would eventually emerge from prehistory to recognise and learn to control the world around us.
By outlining an image on a cave wall with coloured earth, the first artist acknowledged this new power of recognition. What resulted from this event was a record of a new way of thinking that was emerging from the old, animal way of instinct. The first images in the history of art are a reflection of this thought process taking hold in our minds. The images represent a way of thinking that was beginning to emerge to hide the old way of sensing the world.
We now live with this power of recognition over everything we see and do, but the first artists did not possess this advantage. They were making the first step towards gaining a state of mind that was driving them to create a power of perception that now works within our minds to block out the older, inherent way of sensing the world through instinct. To us, the whole world can be imagined like a picture on a cave wall, but to our primal ancestors this view did not exist. Everything outside was sensed in a different way and, with the first image upon a wall, that old sensation of the world began to be replaced with a new way of thinking. The new view ignores the inherent, instinctive way of sensing the world and replaces that experience with the idea of an image. We sense the image instead of the rock that it is painted upon because we have evolved to look by projecting ideas over all we see and do. We now see everything, every day, through this power of recognition that began in primal times with the simple act of recognising an image on a cave wall. For our ancestors, this idea of an image was only just beginning to emerge into their minds, and painting, sculpture, music and dance are a record of how primitive people gained this new way of looking. We are now born to learn to create this way of projecting an idea as an image over all we observe and undertake. This gives us a view of control and organisation in our awareness of the world around us, but our ancestors had to discover how to build this way of looking.
It seems to me that the key development in this event must have been this recognition of the shapes of faces and figures in places where they do not exist. A face that you suddenly recognise in the shape of a rock or in a twisted tree root must have triggered this new power to project an idea over an object. The old `empty' way of looking through your powers of instinct was void of ideas and revealed a completely different view of the world. Slowly, we learned to replace this way of sensing with a new way of looking through ideas that are projected over what we see. We still inherit the old, instinctive power of perception and so we find that, whenever we are in a place of isolation, our intelligence begins to sense this primal view behind our intelligent need to hold images and ideas of recognition over everything around us. This drives us to imagine faces and figures in the landscape and this suppresses the old, inherent `feeling' that would re-emerge into our minds. Painting, sculpture, music and dance must have emerged from this evolution of our powers of recognition. We must have begun to notice images, and have taken coloured earth and have outlined them to give this new sensation in our minds some form of reality. We created art objects and our old way of sensing by instinct began to be replaced with a new way of looking at the world.
Sculpture would probably have arisen in the same way. Noticing that a stone or a rock resembles a face or a figure is only a short step from moulding clay or mud to give this power of recognition reality. Music emerges out of sound that, once your mind begins to notice, can be structured into an ordered pattern of control and organisation. Movement becomes arranged into dance for the same reason. All this looking to recognise images as ideas gave us a new way to see the world around us. Sight, shape, sound and movement that had once been something that we just reacted to within day-to-day events emerged into recognisable patterns or an image all around us. The world became a new experience revealed to us through the power of image recognition.
Translating this sensation into an art object gave us a way to give reality to the imagination. Our new emerging intelligence found the tool it needed to carve out a vision of our surroundings that we now see through a new, structured and controlled way of looking at the world. This event must have been one of the most monumental steps in helping us emerge from our animal beginnings: like standing upright and finding that we could use our forelimbs to pick up and carry objects. With the development of art, we began to see the world through a controlled and organised power of image recognition and this replaced a view that once only showed us a view through instinct.
Painting, sculpture, music and dance are the objects that we left behind as we went about learning this new way of ordering and controlling our awareness of sight, shape, sound and movement. Art objects would emerge to embody this sense of order and control right up to the end of the nineteenth century. Only after this time do we see an attempt by a few enlightened artists to relinquish this control and organisation in their work. They begin to disrupt painting, sculpture, music and dance in order to try to reveal that art arose to suppress an instinctive way of sensing.
Noticing the shape of a face or a figure in the rocks or walls of a cave was the start of this journey, which has led us to learn to bury our old, instinctive way of perceiving and replace it with our present day way of looking through intelligent ideas. Painting pictures, like carving sculptures, writing music or choreographing dance, is a reflection of how we used this process of image recognition to project ideas of control and organisation over all we see and do. These `art' objects are what we have left behind us as we developed our intelligent powers of perception to replace our old, inherent, animal way of sensing the world. This event created all the wonderful and exquisite art of the past, but all this traditional art hid the fact that we once knew another form of perception.
It is very difficult for our intelligent mind to sense the old view because we have evolved to completely suppress it in our minds. Because of this, we now find that we no longer know how to sense any objects or events around us in the way that our ancestors did. We have too much knowledge and this fills our view of the world with vast powers of recognition that swamp the underlying view. If you sit for a day in a cave, every rock and stone is soon given a place of recognition in your powers of intelligent awareness. There is very little around you that disturbs this power of perception. It projects a huge sense of order and control over all that you see and do in your experience of the world. Our ancestors did not possess this sensation in their mind; a cave was not sensed in the way that we now understand it. The cave must have been more of a `feeling' for what was a less disturbing sensation encountered in the outside world: a feeling that has no recognisable image because it belongs to the sense of instinct rather than intelligent understanding.
I have been in caves that are more disturbing than the one in Tuscany in that they are alien environments to this intelligent sense of control and organisation that we surround ourselves with every day of our lives. These places often require a vast physical effort to get through and the situation forces you to have to control the sense of panic that often arises when the confinement is extreme. It is as close as you can get to sensing a state of your mind that exists outside the control and organisation that you project over your view of the world. It is both exhilarating and, at the same time, frightening to become aware that your mind is not as fully in control of your thoughts as you believe. When instinct begins to return into your view of the world, you have no way to comprehend it. Your intelligence has evolved away from living within its powers and your intelligence begins to panic. To control this, you have to learn that this old, inherent sense of instinct is not something that you need fear. It once served as the only way to survive. It is a wonderful feeling beyond intelligent knowing, but intelligence does not like sensing in the old, instinctive way and so panic sets in.
Noticing faces and figures in the shadows and shapes of the cave walls, which we then outlined with coloured earth, began this journey to suppress our old, instinctive way of perceiving. We began to create image recognition that gave us the power to control every aspect of our intelligent view of the world, and our old way of knowing by instinct was buried in our minds. It is still there today, waiting for you to find yourself unsure of what you see or in a place that robs you of your sense of control and organisation over your view of the world. In this state of mind, your old, animal instincts will flood back and intelligence will, for a short time, be pushed aside. You will experience the world as never before and you will sense what the modern artist tries to reveal to you: an old, inherent way of looking that has become buried in the depths of your mind.
As the light faded, I gathered my belongings and my scraps of paper and notes. Outside, the day was waning, but the air was still warm from the power of the sun's heat. I began the long walk back to the villa and, with each step away from the cave, I pictured my journey like our human rise from animal beginnings. I walked away from a blank wall that I had learned to fill with images recognised in the cracks and shadows. Now, in this vast outside world, I had a way of suppressing the old, instinctive view. I had a way of projecting images over all I could see and this new way of looking, built from intelligent imagination, filled my mind. This idea lingered as I descended the narrow path around the hillside until the village came into view. I sat for a while on a wall and listened to the sounds of happy voices filling the still air. Like a distant melody made from the past, the words had no meaning, but were only sounds drifting on the gentle breeze to meet me. Nothing disturbed me in the distorted voices because I had learned to impose an idea of recognition over everything around me. I knew without thinking how to stop an inherent way of sensing from re-emerging into my mind. My ancestors had given me this ability and their old, inherent view of the world was a sensation that I had evolved to suppress and leave behind me like those deepest dark corners in a cave.
The Good Artist
To most people who do not understand modern ideas of art, the accepted belief is that an artist is someone who paints pictures, carves sculpture, writes or performs music, tells a story, acts in a play or choreographs a dance. This belief gives people a definition for the word `art' that allows them to categorise objects without question. People with this idea don't ask the question, what is art? They know that art is an object created with a good degree of skill and perfection that is reflected through the subjects that the artist chooses to portray.
Armed with this definition, most people will look upon a good artist as someone who shows skill in one of these endeavours. A painter, for example, is thought to be a good artist if they make a recognisable picture that has been composed with technical perfection. A bad artist would show no skill in the work they make. A good sculptor carves a superb form rather than a distorted, ugly shape. A good musician performs finely structured music instead of random noise, and a dancer choreographs performance, not a lot of disruptive jumping or tripping about. A good author writes a well-structured book with a powerful, emotive story and an actor gives a great performance, and so on and so forth. From this point of view, art is an act of control and organisation applied to the creation of a work that gives us awareness of a greater sense of admiration and pleasure for all the effort that the artist has put into the work. We `feel' uplifted by a great painting or sculpture and we are elated by emotive music, dancing, acting or a good book. Such a view leads to disappointment if the object is less than impressive in skill and workmanship. A person who holds this idea of art will often criticise objects said to be art that fail to reveal any control or skill in their creation. Such people dismiss this kind of work because it lacks the values that they apply to an idea of art that is unquestionable. Art is the creation of objects made with skill and craftsmanship that allow us to appreciate a greater sense of human perfection above the crude vulgarity of everyday things.
Today, this view is seen as overbearing and restrictive because art is thought to be more than a desire to impose perfection over how we control and organise our understanding of the world. Traditional art objects, like paintings, sculpture, music, and dance are structured by our intelligence to uphold as much of this control and organisation as we can impose over an object. We are born to seek out this power of control and organisation in our view of the world and so, when it is missing in anything we come across in day-to-day lives, we begin to feel disturbed.
This is how our powers of perception have evolved. We have learned to structure a controlled and organised view of all we see and do and this is what we look for in good art. Bad art simply fails to meet this expectation and so we reject it. This need to find an idea that we know how to recognise evolved to stop us from sensing in a deeper, inherent way.
What we should realise is that `bad' art does something to our minds that `good' art does not. Bad art disrupts our powers of observation. It disturbs our expectations of what we should see and this exposes us to a deeper, older way of perceiving that we once knew through instinct. Every minute of our waking lives is spent keeping this deeper, more emotive power of perception from disturbing the ordered and organised view of the world built for us by our intelligence. A traditional artist works to uphold this view through imposing as much order and organisation in the work as they can. When we see a `good' work of art we feel at ease because it does not disrupt our intelligent, controlled way of suppressing our old, inherent powers of perception. Our intelligence gains instant control over our view of what we see and this is what our mind has evolved to do. We, therefore, look to gain this state of mind as quickly as we possibly can in all that we see and do. We look for `good' art because it works to keep a deeper sensation of what we see from entering and disrupting our intelligent powers of observation.
Modern art arose to try to break free from this intelligent need for control and organisation because it was realised that our minds work to transform and suppress an older way of looking in our day-to-day experience of the world around us. This is what our intelligence makes us do and traditional art arose to help us keep a deep, underlying power of perception subdued. Because artists are people who are, or should be, more sensitive to emotive feelings than the rest of us, they become aware of this underlying power of perception in our experience of the world. Artists have always sensed this underlying experience, but they have always suppressed it into intelligent control and organisation in the form of painting, sculpture, music or dance. These `good' art objects make no attempt to explore the emotive power of perception that has driven the artist to create a work of art.
The whole history of traditional art from its distant beginnings reflects this view and it works to hide an underlying sensation of the world generated by an older, inherent, emotive sense of perception. The history of traditional art, therefore, represents a reflection of the way that our minds have evolved to keep that old, underlying sensation buried. Every time a traditional artist tries to bring any of this underlying view into their work they will be pushed, by the control and organisation that their intelligence tries to hold over this sensation, to increase the perfection that they try to uphold. In psychoanalytical terms, traditional ways of making art objects work to suppress an underlying power of perception and we, when we look at the work, will feel safe and undisturbed by what we see. Traditional art objects, therefore, work to hide an old, inherent way of looking because our mind actively works to stop the old view from being seen.
Modern art arose to try to find a way to use art to get a look at this suppressed, underlying view that we have evolved to overpower with the ideas that we now project over all we see and do. It is now realised that this underlying view is actually an old, inherent way of sensing sight, shape, sound and movement that we once used to live with in our animal past. This way of looking is different to our intelligent, controlled view because it is generated by instinct. The view creates an entirely alien way of comprehending the complexity of the view of the world that confronts our senses. This view is still generated, but our intelligence now works all the time to stop us from recognising this experience. Because of the way evolution has structured our minds, we always look for something that intelligence knows how to recognise rather than something that we cannot recognise. We are born to look for `good' art because we do not want to be subjected to the old, inherent state of mind that `bad' art brings into our experience of the world.
Shark Fin Soup
In 1991, the British artist Damien Hirst exhibited a work commissioned by the art collector Charles Saatchi. The work presented a large, dead tiger shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde and it was entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.
I am not sure that you should read too much into the title of this work because it is deliberately ambiguous. The title, however, alludes to a state of mind that, presumably, the viewer should be aware of when contemplating this work. Damien Hirst does not explain his concept clearly, but prefers, like most modern artists, to shroud the work in vague rhetoric. The inexplicable meaning of the artwork is presumably part of the art experience.
Now, I have a very specific and clear, single idea of what art is about and, rightly or wrongly, I apply this idea to any work that I encounter. I also apply it to day-to-day life because, to me, art is an experience of a deeper level of perceptual awareness of the world around us. It makes no difference to me whether I am in an art gallery or out in the world because the art experience is an inherent way of looking that I try to discover in all that I see and do. I expect to find this inherent way of looking more easily in an art gallery because I believe that art is an attempt to reveal this depth of perception. To my way of thinking, everything in the outside world is too easy to recognise and so what we experience `out there' overpowers any ability that we might have to sense those objects and events in a deeper, more intuitive way. In an art gallery, the outside world has been removed – to some extent – and so we expect to find an attempt to reveal this deeper power of perception being placed before us.
We all possess this deeper level of perceptual awareness for the objects and events around us because it is instinctive and inherent from our animal origins, but the experience has been replaced by a sense of control and organisation generated by our powers of intelligence. Intelligence now dictates how we recognise all the objects and events that we encounter and this stops us from experiencing those objects and events in a more primal, emotive way. To me, art is a search for a way to bring this primal, emotive experience of objects and events into our intelligent, controlled and organised view of the world around us.
Most of us, who are not artists, will keep this old, emotive experience out of our experience of all that we see and do. We do this by looking at the world through vast powers of intelligence. These powers transform the old, emotive view into a controlled and organised sense of perception and this destroys the other way of looking that we inherit from our animal past.
To me, the original aim of modern art is simple and clear to understand: modern art tries to place before us an object or an event that we will have difficulty recognising through our powers of intelligence. A modern work of art should do this so that we are forced to sense what is in front of us through our older, animal powers of perception generated in our mind by instinct. That is what I believe modern art originally tried to do. It is easy to comprehend, but when I enter an art gallery I rarely find work by an artist that comes anywhere near to upholding this belief.
These old, animal powers of perception are always felt when we have difficulty recognising what is in front of us. In our day-to-day lives we very rarely come across anything that we fail to recognise, so this old, animal sensation is never aroused in our minds. Our intelligent powers of recognition emerged to dominate our minds because they gave us a greater chance of survival in the animal world in which we once lived. Because of this evolutionary development, we now keep our old, animal view of the world suppressed. Modern art arose because, as our animal origins became general knowledge, it became clear that the traditional way of creating art was working to stop us from sensing in the old, animal way. Modern art arose in an attempt to find ways to sense the world around us without intelligence destroying the deeper, more emotive view generated by our ancient instincts. Modern art tried to find a way to create a vision of perception that intelligence would find difficult to recognise.
To me, a modern artist should be someone with the sensitivity to look at the world in a deeper, instinctive and inherent way and should possess the ability to bring this experience into our view of the world without intelligence destroying it. This is easy to understand, but very difficult to achieve. The artist is going to have to find a way to get this experience into our view of the world without imposing the order and organisation that intelligence needs to stop us looking in the old, inherent way. It is the greatest of all challenges confronting a modern artist and, in my opinion, it distinguishes the true power of an artist from the lesser efforts of those who would have us believe that they are artists when, in truth, they have little idea of what modern art is about.
Such `false' artists do not have the sensitivity that allows them to become aware of this deeper power of perception and they have even less ability to get that sensation into our experience of the world. When I look at a work that claims to be a modern art object, I am looking for a clue as to how this artist has sensed our inherent, animal depth of perception and translated that experience into their work.
If the artist does not tell us what they are trying to do, we are left to our own interpretation. We might read a statement like the official Tate description of Damien Hirst's work, as approved by www.groveart.com. Here is a weighty intellectual analysis aimed a justifying the presentation of a ready-made, or in this case a captured and preserved natural object, as a work of art. Damien Hirst's work is described as being `explicitly concerned with the fundamental dilemmas of human existence; his constant themes have included the fragility of life, society's reluctance to confront death, and the nature of love and desire, often clothed in titles which exist somewhere between the naive and the disingenuous. Dead animals are frequently used in Hirst's installations, forcing viewers to consider their own and society's attitudes to death. Containers such as aquariums and vitrines are used as devices to impose control on the fragile subject matter contained within them and as barriers between the viewer and the viewed. The animals are preserved as in life, but at the same time are emphatically dead, with their entrails and flesh exposed'.
Quotation from a Tate description of Damien Hirst's work as approved by www.groveart.com (Oxford Art Online).
To my way of thinking this kind of description draws your attention away from the art experience as I have envisioned it here. Instead of helping us look towards this object in an intuitive and inherent way we are encouraged to fill our thoughts with profound rhetoric. This makes people think modern art is created to reflect deep intellectual understanding but the founding principle of modern art was to find a way to look void of meaning. To work as modern art an object needs to help us look in a primal intuitive way without intelligent understanding.
All art is about how we perceive the objects or events around us and how we translate that sensation into an image. The traditional way is to translate our powers of perception into a recognisable image. In times past, this was not a problem because we had no idea that we inherited other animal powers of perception that are kept suppressed by our intelligence. Modern art emerged in an attempt to find a way to remove our intelligence from what we see so that we could begin to get a glimpse of the underlying animal view. This implies that a modern artist has to find a way to stop us from recognising an object. It is only when this has been achieved that we will sense what we see in the old, inherent, instinctive, animal way.
Modern art was never conceived as a useful product, `explicitly concerned with the fundamental dilemmas of human existence'. Those concerns are a throwback to the traditional idea of art, which saw artists working for the tribe, the Church or the State. Artists' justified their work in the past by structuring it to reflect these `fundamental dilemmas'. These dilemmas and concerns used to be about hunting for food, upholding an unquestionable belief in God or keeping yourself in good favour with the ruling elite. Today, our concerns are apparently about `the fragility of life, society's reluctance to confront death, and the nature of love and desire'. Modern art, however, emerged to break free from the idea that art had to serve some social purpose by portraying meaningful subjects. At its inception, modern art tried to become a pure search into our powers of perception. In the absence of any clear statement by Damien Hirst to the effect that he is aware that modern art is such an endeavour, I have to come to my own conclusion about what his work is trying to do.
First of all, the experience of finding a big, dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde in an art gallery is, at best, odd. In today's modern art scene, it is not unusual. We have been confronted by ready-made art objects since Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal in front of the selection committee for the 1917 New York Society of Independent Artists. It was promptly rejected, but times have changed and the ready-made art object is very much a part of the modern idea of what constitutes an artwork. So, the fact that a dead shark confronts us is, in itself, nothing to shout about. Although no one had gone to the expense of getting a dead shark into a tank of formaldehyde before Hirst, it is still little more than a ready-made, and ready-made objects have been done before. The big shark is more spectacular than Marcel Duchamp's urinal, but the point of the ready-made art object was not about presenting spectacular objects, but about raising questions concerning our definition of what art is.
Duchamp tells us that anything could be an art object because art is NOT an object, but a way of sensing what confronts us. Duchamp made the gesture of the ready-made to make this point, but (and it's a big but) the ready-made, to fulfil its point, would have to work to disrupt our powers of perception. Duchamp did not do this. He made the gesture that told us that art is a way of sensing any object, but the next move would have been to show us how to sense an object without our powers of recognition. Only when we achieve this will we sense any object in a deeper, inherent way. Traditional art cannot do this because you will project your powers of recognition over the work and this will suppress the view of the object as it could be sensed by instinct.
Modern art arose to find ways of removing our powers of recognition from an object. It tried to place before us objects that push our intelligent powers of perception out of the way so that we are exposed to a far more powerful, underlying sensation of awareness. Duchamp realised that any object would do this if you can find a way to stop your intelligence from dominating your experience of the object. Marcel Duchamp established this monumental realisation concerning our understanding of art, but he did not make any attempt to find a way to stop you from recognising a ready-made. He was a leader in the discovery that any object could be a work of art, but that is the extent of his achievement. It was the greatest realisation in the history of art, but few seem to have clearly grasped what he did. The logical conclusion from his work would have been for artists to find methods of presenting any object in a way that stops us from recognising it. This would then force us to sense it in a primal way and this is the founding principle of modern art that Marcel Duchamp revealed to us.
Artists who choose to present ready-made objects after Duchamp don't seem to have understood this idea. Let me say it again as clearly as I am able: any object has the power to provoke from your mind an old, inherent way of perceiving and the founding principle of modern art was to find a way to get you to confront this sensation. This is what Marcel Duchamp realised and so he presented a ready-made object as a work of art because any object could do this job. What Duchamp did not do was show us how to look at any object without our intelligent power of recognition. You need to do this if you want to sense any object in a primal, inherent way. Duchamp made no attempt to remove the identity of the urinal because he knew that this was a vast challenge. He just made his statement and left it at that. A modern artist today cannot just go on doing this. Times have moved on and the challenge is to find a way to show us any object in a way that will allow us to see it through our old, inherent powers of perception.
This is immensely difficult to do. You cannot paint a picture of an object in an attempt to change the way you recognise it because people will think the painting is art instead of the experience that you are trying to show them. You want people to sense what you place before them through their old, animal powers of instinct, but if you paint a picture, even though the paint may be very emotionally applied to canvas, the object is going to be recognised as a painting. This is an intelligent idea and will work to stop you sensing the painting by instinct. Neither can you merely place a ready-made in front of a spectator because they are not going to know how to translate the experience into a deeper, more emotive sensation generated in their mind by instinct. The spectator is not an artist and so they will look at the ready-made through their powers of intelligent awareness. They will see the object for what it is and it makes no difference if it is a urinal or a big, dead shark.
Translation is the name of the game, but there are very few artists out there who are exploring this idea. This is because it takes vast creative ability to find a way to show us something that we see every day in a way that helps us to see it as we have never seen it before. Most modern artists just do what Marcel Duchamp did, but in a more spectacular way. They present a ready- made without any attempt at translating the object into an experience that we can sense through instinct. I have seen graffiti-covered prison buses and even real helicopters presented as spectacular ready-made objects in art galleries that do little more than Duchamp did with his urinal.
A ready-made is a ready-made – full stop. The object is what it is and placing it in an art gallery is not going to disrupt our powers of recognition. It makes no difference if you make it big and spectacular because it will be no more than a gesture. Placing a ready-made in an art gallery is aimed at disrupting your intelligent awareness of a day-to-day object by removing that object from its normal environment. The point of this disruption is to make the spectator sense the ready-made object without their intelligent powers of recognition. If you could do this, you would open their minds to sensing what is in front of them by instinct. That is the idea that modern art tried to uphold, but the reality is that the spectator's powers of intelligent recognition are very domineering. An artist might be able to sense objects in a more inherent, original way, but the spectator will not. They will invoke their powerful way of looking, generated by intelligence and so they are not going to see a ready-made in any other way. All they are going to see is a urinal or a big, dead shark. This will do nothing to help them sense what they see in a more emotive and inherent way. The artist needs to make the spectator sense by instinct and this means finding a way to translate the experience of an object so that the spectator cannot use their intelligent powers of recognition to identify what they see. This is very difficult to achieve and distinguishes a true modern artist from someone who just follows the trends. It means creating an object that the spectator cannot easily identify through their powers of intelligence, and this will force them to sense what confronts them in a more inherent, instinctive way. That, in my opinion, is what modern art should be trying to achieve.
In today's modern world, sharks are not unknown and are certainly not unusual enough to disrupt our powers of intelligent recognition for what we see. We all know what a shark is and so coming across one in an art gallery is hardly going to help us sense what is in front of us by instinct. Our intelligence will have no difficulty identifying what we are confronted with. Most of us have seen the film Jaws and photographs in books and displays in natural history museums. Where I live there is a huge, preserved sperm whale hanging in a whaling museum that is wonderfully impressive to look at. It dwarfs you and, because I look at all objects around me in an attempt to sense the world through my powers of instinct, it is quite a thing to behold. As a poor artist, I have no way to get this big whale into an art gallery (not that I would want to) so that the whale could begin to generate the sense of instinctive awareness for someone else who came to look at it. The logistics would be a nightmare, but more important is the fact that any viewer coming to see my big, stuffed sperm whale is just going to see this incredible, natural creature through their powers of intelligence. They are not going to sense the whale by instinct because their intelligence is going to suppress this experience with their knowledge of whales.
I don't want the spectator to recognise the whale, but I want them to sense the underlying power of perception that the whale has the presence to generate in their mind. The problem is that the whale is not going to do what I want because it is too easy to recognise. The sensation that I want this object to create will be lost because of the spectators' power to identify what you place in front of them. What I will end up with is not an art experience, but a natural history display. I could give my big whale an obscure title to try to make the spectator think about what they experience in a more profound way, but, to me, this is not going to offer any clear understanding of what I, as an artist, am trying to do. My big, preserved whale, like Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde, is not going to work to provoke a sense of perception generated in our mind by instinct. In its place, we will sense what we experience through our powers of intelligence because this is how our minds work to keep instinct from being known in our view of the world. An artist, in my opinion, should be someone who tries to find ways to make people look without the intelligent control and organisation that they impose over their view of the world. This is what I look for in a work of art. A ready- made object like a shark or a whale is not going to help in this experience because our intelligence knows how to recognise such objects and this power of recognition always works to subdue the experience as it could be sensed by instinct. A modern artist needs to present objects that you will have great difficulty recognising through your powers of intelligence so that you will sense them in a more inherent, intuitive way.
Why am I saying all this? Because I have this single idea of art as a sense of inherent awareness for the objects that surround us. To me, an artist with Damien Hirst's stature and reputation could be doing so much more to advance this idea of art rather than confounding it behind easy to recognise objects shrouded in vague titles. The really interesting thing about the Hirst shark is that when he originally had the object made it was apparently badly preserved and started to decay. To me, this decay began to create a more interesting art experience than the shark did when it was first displayed. Hirst replaced the rotting shark with a new one that was properly treated with formaldehyde and showed no sign of decay. This, to my way of thinking, is a misfortune. If only Hirst had realised that, as the original shark decayed, it began to offer a far more unsettling sensation of perceptual awareness for what you are looking at. The rotting shark began to lose its identity as a shark and began to become harder to recognise in the murky soup that fogged the inside of the tank. To me, this was beginning to move The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living towards a much more disturbing and, therefore, instinctive experience for those confronted by it. I know the collectors are not going to pay millions for a rotting shark that they cannot see because of the fog of decay, but if only they had realised that the work would, in my opinion, have been a more profound art experience if they had let nature take its course.
Art and Photography
It has become fashionable to print photographs onto canvas and present them as art. I prefer a glossy finished photograph because it is true to the medium and I don't think that a photograph should pretend to be something it is not. A photograph is a photograph not a painting, so why print it on a canvas? This will not turn a photograph into a work of art. It mimics art, but ultimately shows a lack of understanding. People think that paintings are art, but these `products' are what artists make in an attempt to interpret the art experience into some tangible form. It is the experience that is art and not the work the artist makes.
The problem is that many people who take photographs, paint pictures, carve sculpture, compose music or choreograph a dance do not understand this principle. They think what they do is art and so they make objects that look like similar objects from the history of art. They try to make photographs look like paintings because paintings are objects classed as art by historians. To an artist, the object is simply an attempt to get a look at an experience that underlies how we recognise sight, shape, sound and movement. A charlatan thinks that the object itself is art because they do not possess the depth of perception needed to sense this underlying experience in their view of the world. They make objects that do little more than reflect the traditional appearance of a painting or a sculpture because they think that this will make them an artist. This is far from the truth. In fact, these objects are the remnants from real artists who have tried to experience the world in a more direct and emotive way. It is this direct, emotive experience of the real world that is art and not the work that results from attempts to visualise this experience.
Before the invention of photography, artists had always used painting, sculpture, music and dance to translate the experience that is art into an object, but what our modern understanding of art has taught us is that these objects can never reveal the art experience. That experience is one of a direct sensation of the real world and not a picture of it. No picture, in itself, can create the art experience, but what an artist tries to do is create an object that has the power to stir an emotive `feeling' from the viewer. It is this `feeling' that is art. This art experience is not sensed by all of us because you need a certain ability to look at the world around you in a deep, emotive way. Most of us sense in a shallow, intelligent way. What we see around us is not an experience that disturbs our powers of perception because our intelligence dominates our view. For an artist, this intelligent interpretation of perception works to hide another, deeper view of objects and events that is generated in our minds by instinct. This `feeling' underlies all that we see and do, but most of us keep it subdued and out of our day-to-day view of the world by projecting our intelligent powers of recognition over everything. Our way of looking at the world keeps the deeper `feeling' for perception out of our experience.
To be an artist you need to `feel' that your powers of recognition for the objects and events going on around you are working to hide this deeper view of the world. This will drive you to want to look at the colours, shapes and forms in a more emotive way. Painting, sculpture, music and dance are attempts to do this. An artist will take our intelligent awareness of these sensations and try to intensify how we recognise them to show us a vision of perception that is more emotive than in our day-to-day lives. Art is this deeper power of emotive perception for the objects and events around us, and art objects are attempts to translate this sensation into a form that we can recognise. The great problem for traditional artists is that of the translation. These objects have become recognised as art itself rather than as an attempt to translate the art experience into tangible form.
The idea that an object is art has emerged for two reasons. The first reason is that we now understand that the art experience itself could never have been comprehended until our modern age. It takes a certain amount of knowledge concerning our evolution from animal beginnings to understand that we generate deep, instinctive ways of perceptual awareness for the objects and events around us. This knowledge was not available before the turn of the twentieth century. The idea of evolution is a modern concept and so, for the first time in the history of art, artists are able to realise that art objects have been created by intelligence to hide an underlying, instinctive experience of the world that is still generated in our minds. This idea is relatively new to art and has not yet been fully accepted by people who write about it. We now realise that traditional art objects are created by our intelligence to stop an underlying power of perception from being given recognition. This is what our minds have evolved to do, and traditional art reflects the way that we control and organise how we now uphold our view of the world.
The second reason that we think of paintings, sculpture, music or dance as art is because this emotive state of mind is very powerful and would destroy the control that our intelligence imposes over all we see and do. Traditional art emerged to help create our organised, intelligent way of looking and so it is this sense of order and control that we look for in art objects. When we find this missing, we are confronted by a deeper `feeling' of uncertainty for what we see and we very often reject the work as a poor attempt at creating art. If the art object is full of organised, controlled images – as traditional art objects are – then our intelligence can recognise what we see and the deeper sense of animal feeling is kept subdued in our minds. For this reason, most people will like tradition art and loath modern art because modern art tries to remove the sense of order and organisation that your intelligence imposes over what you see.
We like to class photographs, paintings, sculpture, music and dance as art, just as we class apples and oranges as fruit, and motorcars and aeroplanes as machines. This idea of identification and classification also works to stop the deeper, instinctive view of these objects from disturbing us. Our intelligence, giving us a way to quickly categorise what we see, stops a deeper, instinctive view from entering our minds. A true artist will understand this and try to create an object that our intelligence will have difficulty categorising and recognising. This is what modern art arose to do and (because this idea was not understood until the turn of the twentieth century) all traditional art will work to stop the deeper power of our animal sense of perception from being `felt' in what we look at. Traditional art is made through intelligent control and this subdues the underlying experience of the world generated by our old, animal powers of instinct.
For a modern artist, the understanding is that if you photograph, paint, sculpt or compose an idea of what you think this underlying animal power of perception looks like, the viewer is not going to sense it. The viewer is going to come along and, because they class photographs, paintings, sculpture, music and dance as art, they are going to be looking for the control and organisation that they expect these objects to show them. The viewer looks through their powers of intelligence at all they see and do and they will have learned to see art as an object rather than a translation of a real world experience that can only be sensed when their intelligent ideas are absent from what they see. To an artist, this presents a huge problem because what an artist wants the viewer to experience is this deep, emotive sense of perceptual awareness generated in our minds by instinct. This experience is also generated in the viewers' minds, but they kept it out of their experience by projecting their intelligent powers of recognition over all that they see and do. The viewer will use these powers of recognition to `block out' the art experience that is only sensed when intelligence fails to recognise something.
Very few viewers of art understand this idea and will see the photograph through their powers of intelligent recognition. They will, therefore, `block out' the deeper, more emotive experience of art. They are going to stand in front of a photograph and use their intelligence to comprehend the image that the camera has captured. Because the viewer has been presented with a photograph, they are going to identify and classify this object within the history of similar objects and this is going to stop them from experiencing the true power of art. Instead of sensing a direct, primal experience of this object, they are going to look through an intelligent idea that tells them that this is a photograph. This intelligent idea works to stop them seeing the photograph as an object that they don't know how to recognise.
What is a modern artist to do? The only way around this problem is to move away from the traditional techniques. A modern artist needs to move away from making objects using traditional techniques because these objects will always work to destroy the art experience.
Now, the die-hard art lover scorns photography because it is a relatively new medium in the history of art objects. Photography has a short history compared to that of painting and so, because the die-hard art lover classes all art by history, this upstart of a medium is a disturbing experience. Being concerned with the representation of light, colour and form that is then translated onto a two-dimensional surface, photography creates a picture. It is, in many ways, like painting, but it is not a painting and it is a mistake to try to make a photograph look like a painting. For the die-hard art lover, printing a photograph onto canvas is an infringement upon their sacred ground.
What photographers need to realise is that photography does not need to mimic the look of a painting because photography reveals something that painting cannot. The photograph shows a wonderful, mindless vision of the world around us, and a modern artist would sell her or his soul to get a look at this mindless vision of the world. It is what modern art arose to explore, but (and it is a very big but) we don't know how to look at photographs without imposing our intelligent powers of recognition over what we see.
The camera is a machine with no mind. It can, therefore, offer the artist a way of seeing the world as we once did before our intelligence evolved to dominate our powers of perception, but the problem is the photographer. The photographer has a mind and so, even though they carry a wonderful, mechanical eye around in their hands, they don't know how to look without intelligence. The photographer cannot see what the camera sees because their mind gets in the way. We still inherit the old way of looking once created for us by instinct, but, because we have evolved into intelligent creatures, we now transform this vision into forms of image recognition. This has evolved in human beings to replace the old view, but for an artist this view is still `felt' in the depth of their mind. This is what true artists sense, but those poor artists will be unable to formulate a vision of this old, inherent way of sensing the world.
Because a camera has no brain, it shows us a view of the world before our intelligence imposes its powers of recognition over what we see. The art of any photograph, therefore, lies in finding a way of getting the camera to show us how to sense an image beyond intelligent control. The camera always photographs this view, but the photographer cannot see it because the photographer's mind will always look for something to recognise. It is what the photographer, like the rest of us, has evolved to do when they look at the world around them.
An artist is someone who is aware that this way of looking works to stop us seeing the underlying view that we have inherited from our primal beginnings. To be a work of art, a photograph would have to find some way to reveal this view to us. The photographer, with the mindless eye of the camera, is going to need to find a way to bring an inherent, instinctive perception into the image that they create. The realisation is that the art of photography is not about the photograph itself, but about the mind of the person who holds the camera. The photograph, in the hands of the artist, is no more `art' than any other form of translation that the artist chooses to use to give the emotive experience called art some form of structure. To be art, the photograph would have to be an attempt to reveal the artist's deep sense of emotive perception for the world around them rather than just a reflection of what their intelligence sees. The camera records this deeper, inherent view that intelligence stops us seeing. A camera can do nothing else because it is mindless, but when we look at the result we will transform it into a picture that we can recognise. Just as in the real world, we will not sense the instinctive, inherent way of looking, but we will replace it with the intelligent, controlled image that we know how to recognise, and this will suppress the underlying view.
The inartistic will just point and click. With all the automated exposure, image correction, fine focus and colour balance, their little box of tricks will record an exact image. Our intelligent mind will recognise the scene that has been captured with such precision and we will have fond memories of a moment that has gone forever. Our loved ones smile back at us from some long lost time and place and now only the picture remains. It is a wonderful thing, but it is a long way from art. We could, of course, print our image on canvas and call it art, but this photographer is not an artist. This photographer thinks printing a photograph onto canvas will make the picture a work of art, but all it does is impose another intelligent idea over what you see to suppress your inherent way of looking.
The Time Machine
The time machine has been invented. You can buy an inexpensive, disposable one from many shops and keep it in your pocket. It is called a camera.
Most people think that a time machine would be a device to take you back into the past or forward into the future, but this is wishful thinking. From our place in the present we have only memories of what happened yesterday and we use a camera to record the present time so that we can recall those memories. We can look at the picture and remember loved ones we have lost and imagine that, if a time machine could be invented, we could go back and stand beside those so dear to us. We seem to be travelling in time from the past, through the present and on into the future. It `feels' this way, but I have a suspicion that we are victims of an illusion.
We tend to imagine the past as a distant place. We conceive a view in our thoughts of the past as being like the here and now. If a camera could be sent back it would show us what this distant past still looks like. We imagine the past like a world that, if only we could travel back to it, would be somewhere solid and real that we could stand within and walk around. Our inexpensive camera tells us a different story. It photographs here and now, but it does not record the past. What a camera actually shows us is that the past is not a distant place, but is right here where we stand at this very moment. The past has not gone anywhere, but what is happening is that the material that makes the present is rearranged. The material that makes us at this present moment is continuously being propelled from one state of order and organisation to another. We exist in this changing pattern of events. One could say that the material that makes this one moment in time is all there is. The material has not been left in the past as we move on into the future. What has happened is that the material has been rearranged to uphold the present and the past has no material substance. It is no more than an idea because the arrangement of material that made the past has now shifted into a different order.
We see that bones in the ground are the remains of loved ones that we once knew, but what we should realise is that they have not gone into the past, but they have lost the ability to uphold a pattern in all this material that surrounds us. That pattern has rearranged and so our loved ones no longer stand here because the material that made them has fallen into disorder. Our loved ones are not in the past because there is no material in the past to make them. The material is still here with us, but it has rearranged.
Our loved ones are no longer with us because they could no longer uphold the pattern of material that allowed them to exist. We are left to look at the disorder of that material that can no longer generate their life that we so loved and cherished. We still stand in the same place that they occupied, but we are still able to generate the pattern of material that keeps us here, and so we are conscious of the one continuous arrangement that makes the moment for all of us. Those souls who are now dead have lost their arrangement of material, so they are no longer able to generate a state of mind that would allow them to stand beside us. When we die, the material that allows us to generate our consciousness will have fallen into disorder. The pattern of material that makes us what we are will be rearranged into a different state of order and organisation that does not have the ability to generate our presence of mind. The material that makes us what we are will still be here, but will be rearranged into a different order. This rearranging of material continues unceasingly and it takes our loved ones from us and it will, one day, arrive to take us. One day, we will find that we are unable to uphold the higher order and organisation of material that generates our conscious thoughts and we will fall to a lower arrangement of material that, for us, will bring death. All the material that makes us what we are will still be in the universe, but it simply will not uphold the pattern that gave us life.
My beloved dog lies buried under a tree that we planted upon his final resting place. His body and animal mind have long rotted away, but the minerals that gave him his life now shine through the leaves above our heads as we sit in the shade of this tree on a summer's day. To me, it is not an unpleasant thought to imagine that a little of my dog remains to nourish the leaves that flutter in the wind.
The order of material that we uphold as a living person gives us the ability to be aware of our moment of existence, but this moment has no past. The material that makes this moment remains in this one time and place forever, but the order it holds cannot be kept. This is what a camera shows us. We think that the past is the same as here, where we now stand, and could be revisited, but this idea is false. Only the present exists and it is the one and only order of things in the universe. The past is not a place that upholds any structure as time moved on because the material you need to make the past has stayed here where we are. All that has happened is that the material has lost the pattern it held and has rearranged itself into another pattern. What a camera photographs is this changing pattern of the present that has no past or future.
The camera does not show us that the past is a place that we could return to, but tells us that the present is all there is. The pattern that we recognise as the present is changing, but it does not leave the past behind because to do that you would need to create more material in the universe. This does not appear to have happened. At the beginning, the universe created a set amount of material that was propelled into a continuous rearrangement in one place. The ability to travel in time would imply existing in two, or more, places at once. As the material of the universe has already been created at the beginning, you would need to create more material. This would require more and more universes in the same place as ours, but all upholding different times. A physicist might calculate that the universe could forever recreate itself through quantum mechanics, but, as far as our moment of existence on the big scale of things is concerned, there is but one universe here and now.
This one universe is all there is because you would have to find a way to rearrange the material in the present to recreate the past in order to have a place to go back to. Time travel implies that you would require many universes, all recreating the past and the future over and over again, or you would have to destroy the one and only universe here and now in order to take all the material around you and rearrange it to rebuild the past.
To put it in simple terms, the past and the future are the same place in this one universe that surrounds us. The material that makes you and the universe around you at this one moment is the same material that made the universe what it was a moment ago and what it will be in a moment to come. You cannot step from one time to another unless you imagine endless universes that all follow each other in time. The machines that we see in science fiction stories have no grasp of the complexity of the challenge that a time traveller would be confronted with. It's entertaining to think up as many universes as you need, but physics only suggests that it could occur on a very small scale. Physics at the sub-atomic level of existence is one thing, but a camera shows us a more realistic idea of time as it appears to us where we live. The camera captures the pattern of only one arrangement of material that is right here, right now. The camera seems to freeze a view of this one continuous shuffling of the one amount of material, but it does not, as most people believe, record the past. The moment is still here, but the material is no longer in the order that the camera recorded.
The camera shows us that the past and future do not exist, but the one moment where we exist keeps rearranging the material from which everything is made. The pattern of this material will rearrange in this one continuous moment and where we once stood will be gone forever.
A Beautiful Sunrise
To stand and look at a beautiful sunrise is not, as you imagine, happening in the real world. In the real world, the sunrise is neither more beautiful nor less so than any other sunrise that occurs on any other day. You look in wonderment and awe upon this natural display in the morning sky, but what you see is only the event that has triggered a deep, emotive `feeling' for an experience that heightens your sense of perception.
What you do not realise when you look at a beautiful sunrise is that your intelligence has evolved to suppress this heightened sensation in your mind. Intelligence has evolved to make you think the sensation is `out there' in the real world, but what you experience is inside your head. You look out towards a more intense visualisation of light and colour in the morning sky but, in so doing, you suppress an inner sensation that this event has triggered in your mind. Your intelligence has made you transform a deeper, inherent way of sensing the world around you by projecting that inner `feeling' back out into the real world. If you only sensed the inner `feeling', you would not notice the sunrise, and, for the time the sunrise lasts, you would sense elation for light and colour in your mind. You would not know the cause of this `inner feeling', but only respond to the effect because the sunrise would be sensed by inner impulses and not by outer awareness.
We have evolved away from this inner sensation of the world as it is sensed through inner impulse. To us, the `feeling' of elation is subdued by our ability to associate the inner `feeling' to the outside event. We create a state of mind that takes the intense sense of visual stimulation inside us and projects this `feeling' back out towards the real world. This way of transforming an inner feeling into an external idea gave us a new way of recognising outside objects and events, and we gained a more intense, power of perception.
The animal mind does not seem to do this. If the sunrise triggers a `feeling' of elation in the animal mind, the creature will not know it is caused by the sunrise. The animal mind does not seem to translate inner feelings to intensify how they recognise external events. Long ago, in our primal beginnings, we saw the world in only the inner, animal way. We would not have related the inner `feeling' caused by the sunrise to the outside event that triggered it. We would have reacted by instinct, but, as our powers of intelligence began to evolve, we began to reverse this process. We began to project the inner `feeling' back out towards objects and events. When we began to draw the shape of an animal on a cave wall, we learned to relate the inner `feeling' sensed by instinct as an outside idea transformed into an image. This drove us to look at the real animal as an idea instead of an inner sensation. We began to see the world in a new way and, for the first time, we noticed a beautiful sunrise.
This may sound like a strange thing to say, but modern art is about trying to look without any idea of what you are looking at. Most people look at objects in the world with a mind full of intelligent ideas. This stops you from sensing a view that exists before you impose an idea over what you see.
People look at modern art objects in the same way that they look at all other objects in the world. They look through an idea that gives them the power to recognise what confronted them. When they encounter modern art that tries to avoid these values, they find themselves at a loss to make sense of what they see. People think that art created without any ideas will be void of content, but this is far from the truth.
Agnes Martin had a nice way of saying it:
"I don't have any ideas myself, I have a vacant mind in order to do exactly what the inspiration calls for."
This state of mind that Martin calls vacant is not empty. We all `feel' this sensation when we encounter something that we cannot easily recognise, because we find ourselves with no ideas to apply to what we see. We `feel' emptiness, but this feeling is generated by our intellect because of a loss of ideas, not because what we see is vacant of interpretation. The object looks meaningless because our way of looking is unable to comprehend what we see in any other way. Looking without ideas is another way of sensing the world around us, but we never get a chance to see this other view because our intellect has evolved to suppress it. When we get a glimpse of the underlying experience, we cannot recall the powers of instinct that we once used to give us a coherent way to structure this sensation within our perception of the world. We have evolved away from this view and so we merely sense the loss of our own powers of recognition.
For this reason, intelligence always tries to project ideas over any object that begins to provoke the `feeling' that arises from this underlying, inherent state of our mind. We have evolved to stop sensing this older way of looking and so we find that we possess a seemingly vacant `feeling' that is kept buried by our intelligence. Because we try to transform the view into something that we can control and recognise, we suppress it. An artist needs to be someone who tries to stop this happening in what they create. Like Agnes Martin, an artist should just "have a vacant mind".
What is in this vacant place in our minds that our intellect `feels' as an empty arena? I would say that it is our old, inherent sensation for the world around us. I believe that this other view is generated by instinct and I think that our intellect no longer knows how to recognise this old sensation. It looks vacant and empty to intelligence because intelligence has never learned to comprehend the view. It `feels' undesirable to our intelligence and so traditional artists found themselves driven by this feeling to intensify how they arranged sight, shape, sound or movement. They worked to bury this sensation and this drove us to create all the wonderful paintings, sculpture, music and dance in traditional art because we only knew how to rearrange our intelligent way of looking at the world. This will make us create more and more intense images of what we know how to recognise, as opposed to looking into the underlying sensation. This continuous rearranging of images into greater degrees of complexity is what traditional art does, but a modern artist should work in opposition to this idea.
Agnes Martin says, "I don't have any ideas myself, I don't believe anybody else so that leaves me a clear mind. Gosh, yes, an empty mind so that once something comes into it you can see it."
What a wonderful way of putting it: to be in a state of mind where you won't impose an established idea over the view of what your vacant mind senses.
I would say, "A modern artist has to stop intelligence imposing a recognisable image over a sensation generated in our mind by instinct, because we evolved to do this to suppress that underlying view." Not as poetic as a statement from Agnes Martin's clear mind, but it means the same thing. It is what all modern artists should understand.
The Future of Modern Art
In comparison to the history of all known art objects, modern art is a very recent development. If we take a crude idea of the time that we are talking about by imagining a sixty-minute clock, traditional art, as a creative effort in the fields of painting, sculpture, music and dance, emerges from prehistory to occupy almost the whole hour. Modern art, with its attempt to move art away from an association with the traditional idea of art objects, only appears in the last few minutes of this measure of time. If we imagine another hour added to this time, we will see that modern art is only the beginning of a deeper journey into understanding a shift that is occurring in our comprehension of the meaning of art.
What could this wider view of art be trying to show us? What is art if it is not an object like a painting, or sculpture, or music or dance? We are poised at the very beginning of a new concept of art, but it is not going to be easy to picture the full implications of what is starting to be revealed. As the minute hand of our imaginary clock moves towards the first hour of art history, the few final moments when Modernism appears is not enough to show us what this shift in our idea of art is all about. As time moves forever onwards towards the next hour, we can only look back over the past that stretches away into prehistory. We can look back, but we cannot look into the future to see where Modernism will take us. We can only surmise. We can only look at what has happened and try to hypothesise a possible meaning. This essay outlines the idea of what I think we are beginning to see emerge.
Modernism has removed the idea of art from traditional objects like paintings, sculpture, music or dance. Today, anything can be presented as a work of art. This is the most pronounced shift in our understanding of art, but it seems to provoke a reaction of despair and a conviction that art has lost its way. Many people see modern art as a retrograde step in art history because traditional art objects have always presented a very controlled and structured way of looking and thinking. The artist has always translated an idea of how they sense the world around them into a form of intelligent language. Right from the very beginnings of art, this is the procedure that artists have followed. This language has always reflected a subject that the artist has recognised in the real world and the art object always structured this view into an intelligent image of what we know how to recognise.
A painting of an animal on a cave wall remains a record of the prehistoric artist's need to find some way to grasp an idea of the real animal in the real world. We cannot know for certain what this idea was, but it seems probable that it was related to a sensation provoked by the need to command favour in success through hunting rituals. Religious images in a church always display the artist's devotion to the requirements of the church to glorify a belief in God. In this day and age, repetitive images of soup tins are more likely to represent an artist's fascination with the modern monotony found behind mass production. Artists have always worked in this way to give recognisable, subjective content to the work they undertake. This procedure, until modern times, has always been accepted without question.
From art's beginnings in the caveman age, artists have looked out at the world and translated what they saw into a work of art. The work has been used for many different purposes in society. This way of creating art with a recognisable subject was adopted by society and reflects how our intelligence dominates how we experience our powers of perception. It accepts without question that the identity of art is the content of an object made through the arrangement of colour, shape, sound or movement that imposes a way of comprehending the world, which is thought to be unique to human beings. This idea sees art as a product of the intellect that reflects grandeur in the way humans control and organise our awareness of perception. Only humans refine and appreciate a deep comprehension of sight, shape, sound and movement that we give acknowledgement to through the creation of traditional works of art.
Modern art arose to approach this translation of how we experience the world around us in a different way. The pioneers of modern art realised that any object created by an artist to reflect recognisable subjects, like a picture of an antelope, an imaginary image of god or a tube of toothpaste, will always stop us looking at the reality of what we see. The way we have learned to recognise an art object is as language imposed over the reality of an object. A picture of an antelope is imposed over the reality of the wall that it is painted upon, just as the carving of a figure is imposed over a block of stone. Music imposes ordered sound over a body of noise, just as dance imposes organised patterns over unguided movement. What the pioneers of modern art began to see was that this way of creating an art object works to suppress an underlying sensation that any object holds before we impose a subjective idea over what we experience. That is to say, a wall with no picture painted upon it gives a direct experience to your senses. Any image upon the wall will work to stop this direct experience from disturbing you. For a modern artist, the bland, undecorated reality of an object is a gateway to an older, primal sensation of an object that traditional technique has always kept closed.
Human beings have evolved to look at the world through our powers of intelligence and these powers have developed to stop the primal way of looking from infringing upon how we comprehend the objects around us. What modern artists realise is that this older way of looking is now hidden from us by our intelligent need to impose ideas of recognition over what we see. Even when we look at a blank wall with no image or decoration upon it, we still cannot experience the direct, primal sensation of what confronts us. Our intelligence still projects ideas towards the wall itself. We have evolved universal concepts about solidity and texture that we call into mind to stop our primal experience of a wall from disturbing us. Today, not even the blank wall generates this primal sensation in our minds and if you picture artwork upon a wall this act will move you further away from the primal sensation of what confronts you.
Modern artists began to explore the idea that by removing images and subjects from art you can begin to get a glimpse of this underlying primal sensation of an object, but this revealed that the primal sensation is still hidden by our ability to recognise the art object itself. Just like the cave wall, we have universal concepts about paint, canvas, stone, etc. that we call into mind to stop the primal sensation of what we see from disturbing our powers of perception. What modern art has revealed to us is that the sense of control and organisation that our intelligence imposes over our everyday experience of the world around us hides an underlying view that can only be known when we have no intelligent ideas to project over what we see. We seem to have evolved two ways of perceiving. One way is ancient and inherent from our primal beginnings and the other is a recent development in the evolutionary measure of time. This new way of perceiving is what we now live with every day and it works to suppress our original, animal way of sensing.
This animal, instinctive view is still inherent in the depths of our minds and it once showed us objects and events without the powers of recognition that we are now born to create with our intelligence. We no longer sense this original, animal perception in our experience of the world because we have adapted into creatures that now structure our way of looking through intelligent awareness. Our everyday way of sensing objects through intelligence has, therefore, evolved to transform our original perception that was, and still is, created in our minds by instinct.
At some distant point in our prehistory, we began to evolve away from sensing the world around us through animal instinct and we began to develop new powers of intelligent perception. Traditional art objects began to emerge as we developed this new way of looking at the world and so they will always reflect a way of organising and controlling our powers of perception, rather than upholding our inherent way of looking through instinct.
Our intelligent perception is now fully developed and is so powerful that we cannot sense objects or events in the original way. That view is now lost to us, but because it is an inherent view it is still generated in our minds. We now possess two ways of knowing sight, shape, sound and movement, but because of the power of intelligence, we are now born to create a type of perception that works to keep the older view suppressed.
If we look at the history of art in the light of this idea, we can see that the traditional methods of making art objects are actually a reflection of the way our minds looks for images to suppress the underlying sensation. Traditional art seems to have emerged from prehistory as our powers of intelligent perception began to take over our old, animal state of mind, and so our way of looking is now working to enforce a view of objects and events through our intellect. This enforcement imposes an idea over what we experience to stop the other way of looking, generated in our mind by instinct, from entering our powers of perception. Modern artists have come to realise that our intelligent view of the world works to overpower an underlying experience of every object and event. When an artist creates a work, they use their intelligence to structure the work and this imposition over what they show us will always stop us from sensing the art object before our intelligence dominates our experience.
For the first time in the history of art, we are beginning to realise that, up until the modern age, all art objects have been structured to stop us coming to know sight, shape, sound and movement in an inherent, intuitive way. It is now generally accepted that we have evolved from animal origins and we will have inherited a sense of perception that is still generated in our minds by instinct. Because of this understanding, we know that evolution has to adapt existing forms to do new jobs in the struggle for survival in the natural world. In our case, this adaptation occurred in the mind and we evolved a power of perception that now works all the time to suppress the inherent sense of instinct in all we see and do. We, therefore, live our lives with a hidden view of the objects and events around us and it is this hidden view that modern art arose to try to expose to us.
We are at the very beginning of this idea. It is little more than a hundred years since modern art began to establish itself and most of that time has been in turmoil. The period of time since 1900 has thrown up work made by both artists who understand this idea and try to advance upon it and artists who have no idea and end up creating art that reflects the old need for a controlled, recognisable subject. We are in a period of transition, but because we are at the very beginning of this development, the idea has not yet been clearly defined. Art theory is confusing because it has not yet risen to the challenge of formulating a logical explanation of art through evolutionary and psychological principles. No single theory of art exists that encompasses both the traditional and modern developments as views of the same underlying need to suppress a primal sense of perception.
The stumbling block is the age-old insistence that art is in some way unique to human intellect. No comprehensive theory of art is going to emerge while this bigoted idea of artistic supremacy persists. Art needs to be looked at as the outcome of the way that our biological evolution has pushed us to transform an older, animal way of sensing the world into our present day intelligent view. Such a course of evolution will have endowed us with old instincts in our powers of perception that our intelligence will be working to suppress. This is the idea that links traditional art and modern art into a united theory. It reveals that we developed all the grandeur and greatness in traditional works because our intelligence cannot formulate a coherent view of our old, inherent way of looking through instinct. Artists will sense this underlying, primal view in every work they undertake because they are looking to impose control and organisation over what seems, at the beginning of any work of art, a moment of uncertainty. Most traditional artists will work to stop this uncertainty from taking hold because it works to destroy the order and organisation that intelligence wants to impose over the work of art. A modern artist, by contrast, should be working to find ways to bring this primal sensation back into our view of the world.
Art theory has yet to establish this principle clearly. At present, we have many concepts that try to encompass ideas as diverse as culture, aesthetics and a whole host of other `superior', intellectual explanations for our need to make art. A universal concept of art will have to see that any art object, regardless of its use in society, is either going to be working to enforce our intelligent way of recognising our powers of perception or is going to be trying to remove these powers. This is the universal concept that links traditional art to Modernism. Traditional art always works to suppress our primal way of looking by imposing intelligent ideas of control and organisation over the creation of the art object, and Modernism, if it holds true to its founding principle, will be trying to remove this control and organisation from a work. The purpose of modern art can, then, be seen as an attempt to find ways to allow our primal powers of observation to re-emerge into our intelligent view of the world.
I place the winter of 1943 as a decisive point of transition. The place was New York, the artist was Jackson Pollock and the work was entitled Mural. Other artists had touched upon ways of working that allowed instinct to emerge over the control and organisation imposed by intelligence, but I think that Jackson Pollock blew the idea wide open. He found a way to work that got rid of all intelligent intervention in the act of painting and allowed instinct to guide his hand.
It is still too soon to see the outcome of this discovery. Most artists have still not grasped this idea and still create work through intelligence. Most art theory has yet to comprehend the view that evolution can be used to give a sound explanation of our need for art. To understand this idea you have to abandon the age-old dogma that art is a bastion of human supremacy over the animal world. This is archaic thinking in an age that has a theory of evolution, which places our origins in an animal state of mind that must have once sensed the world through powers of instinct. That view is still inherent within our minds and my belief is that we began to create art objects to find a way to suppress that old way of knowing the world.
Our old way of sensing by instinct is animal and still working away behind all we see and do. Like it or not, we all possess this view of the world. Most of us, however, ignore it by looking through our vast powers of intelligence. This is the view that traditional art reflects, but modern art arose to reveal that intelligence makes us look in this way to suppress the underlying view. All traditional art helps intelligence do this by imposing vast rules and regulations to maintain strict control and organisation over the creation of a work of art. Modern art arose to break free of this prison. It emerged to try to find ways of looking without intelligence, so that we might begin to learn to rediscover our old, inherent way of knowing the world.
To me, this implies that the future of modern art lies in finding ways to learn to look at objects and events through our old, inherent powers of animal instinct. If art theorists ever manage to agree and we come to formulate this idea, that modern art is a search for an intuitive instinctive way of perception, then we will be on a path to a logical understanding of why we have always needed to create art objects. It won't be a nice intellectual reason given through some frivolous insistence that we hold human superiority over the animal world. Those days have gone and any artist who thinks that art is some kind of intellectual act that gives them a place above the rest of life is living in the past. Religion might need to cling to this insistence that human beings have been given a superior place on earth, but hanging desperately to such an idea in art is outdated. It will stop you grasping a real depth of understanding into why we began to create art objects in primal times.
Art should not be looked upon as a superior act that raises us above the animal state of mind. It is better understood as a way of organising our powers of perception that we are driven to achieve, because we have evolved to stop ourselves sensing the world in our old animal ways.
Such a concept of art would allow us to see that, because of an evolutionary development in the structuring of our minds, we find that we cannot give an image to our old animal powers of instinct. That instinctive way of looking will still be felt behind all we see and do, but we will stop the old view from infringing upon the control and organisation that we now impose over our powers of perception. For this reason, an artist who senses this underlying view cannot just go and picture it. They will not know how to do this because their intelligence has evolved to suppress the view. It can only be sensed through instinct and no artist will know how to look at the world in this way. The artist will, therefore, be driven to rearrange how we sense sight, shape, sound and movement through our powers of intelligence. This will make the artist create an art object, but this does not mean that we are superior creatures because we are the only creatures on earth that do this. It just tells us that our intelligence has evolved to stop us from sensing in our old, animal way. We, therefore, increase our sense of order and organisation over what we see to stop the underlying view taking hold in our minds.
Modern art is only just at the beginning of this understanding. A few artists have grasped the concept and tried to put it into practice, but the majority still create art that does little more than bury this inherent depth of perception. A lot of modern artists will merely carry on doing what traditional art arose to do and this is to suppress the view sensed by instinct.
It is not an easy thing to try to learn to look through your old, animal powers of instinct. It is a view that we have all evolved to suppress in our minds. I think that a theory of art will eventually rise to clarify the situation, but it is, perhaps, not yet the time. Modern understanding has only been around for a few minutes in the hour of our imaginary clock of art history. It is too soon to tell if all the wonderful art of the past was created because our intelligence evolved to suppress our old, animal way of knowing the world.
I wanted to be a creative artist as far back as I can remember, but my start in life did not exactly help me in this ambition. I excelled at painting in school and often won art competitions up to the age of eleven. At this time in England there was a formal examination that determined if you would get into a grammar school or a state-run secondary school. Most children who passed the exam were tutored specifically to attain the results, but most stood little chance without this advantage. Being of a working class background, I failed miserably. As a result of this, I did not get a chance of going to a school where my talent for art might have given me a shot at carving out a career as an artist.
The inner city state secondary school that I attended was dominated by a work ethic designed for the sole purpose of turning young people into mindless factory fodder. As a result, I left school with no qualifications and found myself as a young, naïve labourer in a militant working environment, on a car assembly line. I somehow kept my love of art alive through this dreadful period of my life and, at twenty years of age, I finally got the nerve to just walk away from it all. I went to London with a portfolio that I had managed to put together in my spare time to try to earn a living from art. It generated a lot of interest, but little work and it took some perseverance before I finally managed to pick up jobs as a freelance illustrator and designer.
When commissions were scarce, I kept myself going by doing any `odd' jobs I could find. One of these, as a chauffeur, gave me a very expensive motor car in which to drive a well-to-do couple to all the best art galleries, theatre shows, concerts and operas all over Great Britain and Europe. It was during this time that I began to write about art. I compiled notebooks on what I believed art is really about.
The ideas put forward in this book began as scrawled and scribbled words written down in the most unlikely places. Often, while waiting for my passengers on glorious summer days in France and Italy, I would muse over art; or while cruising sedately around in their big Roller, an idea would germinate while my mind was on the task of driving. Subliminal messages from the animal within? Also, while wandering blissfully though art galleries and museums over many years, I began to notice an underlying theme related to the control and organisation that our intelligence seems to enforce over our powers of perception.
I have had to recompose the notebooks as they often contained the seeds of an idea written in an almost illegible dialect. The pages were full of bad grammar and atrocious spelling (lack of a decent education) and, yes, I will admit that I am still plagued by such an affliction. Nevertheless, it was all there: the glimmer of the concept that our intelligence has driven us to create great art to impose a sense of control and organisation over our powers of perception to hide a far deeper, animal way of looking that we have inherited from our primal beginnings.
I cannot tell you how I arrived at this idea. I think it had something to do with the way my lack of higher education made me look at everything from an `outsider' point of view. It forced me to make my own interpretation of accepted theory. Had my wish to become an artist when I was younger materialised, I do not think that I would have ever discovered this idea. I would have probably been swamped by the theories as they are taught in college and university. Such a way of learning makes you very knowledgeable, but to see beyond that knowledge requires some sort of leap of naïve inspiration. I think that my bad start in life ensured that I would be naïve enough to take that leap.
My idea might not be to everyone's taste, but art is not about what you like or dislike. Art is about trying to see the world around us through emotive `feelings' that are unlike anything our intelligence has ever learned to comprehend. I am convinced that these `emotions' are animal in origin and impart us with a power of perception that we have evolved to keep subdued in the deepest, oldest areas of our minds.
I, like most people, can see that traditional art is obviously far superior to what modern artists present to us today. Traditional art is full of control and organisation that seeks to explain art as an aesthetic experience above our day-to-day encounters with the base vulgarity of life. Traditional art sees the world as a contrast between beauty in order and organisation and ugliness in chaos, and this traditional view places itself as an agent in our quest for perfection within this imbalance. Modern art does not allow for this judgement in its perception of the world. Because of this lack of ideals, modern art looks degrading and removed from this perfection that gives traditional art such appeal.
Anyone with any sense of appreciation can see that humans did, and still can, create wonderful and beautiful things in the traditional way. This creativity is unique to human beings, but is lost in modern art because it is not about creativity, but about exploration. A lot of Western art theory sees this loss of creativity as a sign of decline. Some theorists see the decay in artistic standards as a reflection of the insulated, self-effacing nature of modern living. We have lost the ability to relate to the world we live in and, because of this, we destroy things from afar. `Dehumanised' is the word I believe that these theorists use to describe modern art. I think this shift from traditional creativity, as a quest for beauty and control in all we see and do, towards Modernism, with this dehumanised outlook on life, is more than just a reaction to social values.
To me, modern art is a deeper-rooted shift in understanding that coincides with our awareness that we have animal origins. This understanding has changed our idea of creativity from something that we thought we were gifted to achieve, from a higher influence seeded in us through powers from above, to something that we are driven to do because our animal mind pushes us from below. I believe that we create because of the way our minds have evolved to transform that animal view into our intelligent and controlled understanding of the world around us. It cut us off from the animal sensations within which we once lived and we, therefore, found ourselves unable to recognise the old, animal experience of sight, shape, sound and movement still generated in the depths of our minds. Every time we tried to give this lost power of perception some form of recognition, our intelligence was driven to rearrange what we knew how to recognise and this propelled us into more and more creativity. It pushed our original intelligent awareness of sight, shape, sound and movement to the higher level of control and organisation that we recognise in painting, sculpture, music and dance. We were, and still are, forced towards a continuous quest for perfection in traditional art and life because of this underlying animal perception that our intelligence cannot comprehend.
This is the understanding that modern art discloses to me. Modern art does not try to follow this course of action that pushes us to be creative, but reacts against it. Modern art tries to disrupt the control and organisation that we see in traditional art to expose the underlying influence that drives us to create such wonderful things. Modern art shows us creativity that does not come from great, intelligent supremacy given through divine intervention, but from the inability of intelligence to recognise the animal perception that it evolved to replace. Modern art tells us that our intelligence still senses this underlying animal perception and every time we try to get a look at it we will be driven to intensify our intelligent powers of perception. This will drive us to creative acts, but such acts always hide rather than reveal what is pushing us to be creative. That power is kept suppressed by the way that our own intelligence controls and organises our view of the world around us. A modern work of art should, in my humble opinion, try to force us to look through our old powers of instinct. Modern art should attempt to remove our intelligent view of the world to push us to get a glimpse of the underlying animal perception that has propelled us to such dizzying heights of creative achievement.
There can be no denial that traditional art is breath-taking compared to Modernism. It is overwhelming to stand in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican in Rome and, in awed silence, let your mind be engulfed by the sheer masterful control and organisation that Michelangelo infused into his work. I have wandered through fields of tall sunflowers in Southern France and found myself bathed in colour and light so strong that you just know Vincent van Gogh had been engulfed by a similar bombardment upon his senses when he had walked there all those years ago. I once witnessed a sunset in Venice that seemed to me to be the exclusive property of J. M. W. Turner and, in stark contrast, on a cold, grey day in Salford, I stood alone in an empty street that L.S. Lowry once painted so poignantly. I slowly came to realise that artists, all and everyone, have wandered around this world and sensed something that our intelligence was working away to stop us recognising in our perception of objects and events. Traditional art helped intelligence do this. It gave us vast powers of control and organisation over all we see and do. This then worked to block out our deeper sensation for an underlying power of perception that we sense when our intelligence is disturbed. In moments of distraction and uncertainty, or when nature overwhelms our senses with the power of her forces, we feel, for a short time, a way of glimpsing our surroundings that we inherited from our most distant, primal beginnings: a glimpse of a way of seeing that is kept subdued behind all the control and organisation that our intelligence seems to need to impose over our powers of perception.
I now understand that traditional art, as wonderful and superior as it is, represents a view of control and organisation that we have evolved to use to stop us from sensing in an older, inherent way. Modern art, by contrast, should be trying to remove this control and organisation. It does not always do so because not every modern artist upholds this idea. Most modern artists still present work that is fully controlled by their powers of intelligence. Such work may please us or shock and disgust us, but these sensations alone are not enough. A work of modern art should help us see beyond the control and organisation our intelligence holds over our powers of perception. Only when artists achieve this will they, in my opinion, have truly attempted to advance our understanding of why we have always held the need to create art.
As with any book, a name upon a cover is but a small part of a huge effort by many people who work away tirelessly behind the scenes. For me, it begins within a strange ritual that only my wife, Sheila, has come to understand. She watches my endless fidgeting and unrest and she senses in a way that only a woman can that I am beginning to be possessed. She waits and watches with great fortitude and then, when she sees the turmoil subside, she leaves me in solitude with a supply of tuna sandwiches and carrot wine. This unspoken bond between us is something priceless to me.
Once the genesis has passed, I find myself with a pile of grubby, sticky pages of scribbled words that display some sort of idea from the depth of my mind. I bundle up the work and off it goes for metamorphosis in the hands of my publisher. Here, Book Guild Publishing and a dedicated team take over, and my humble effort is moulded into a presentable format. From where I stand, it seems that publishing is a wondrous thing because it takes from me a strange creature that was born of my imagination and gives it substance. Many helping hands of encouragement from persons that I will unlikely ever come to meet will have aided this birth of this book. To all of you, whoever you are and wherever you are, all I can offer you is my warmest and most sincere gratitude.