Laodan's evolutionary patterns of beauty
What is art?
The arts did not fall from the sky for the enjoyment of humanity. No not at all. The arts emerged as a societal necessity and that's why they developed a societal functionality. But what is that societal necessity and what is that societal functionality?
Tribal societies covered between 90 and 95% of the whole time-span of knowledge producing human societies and the real initiators of the arts were the tribal men of knowledge who used the arts to share their knowledge about the working of reality with their fellow tribesmen. I should add that they were the initiators of the arts by sheer necessity. They were indeed feeling that their primary role was to do all they could so that their societies could reproduce in order to ensure the survival of the species. And to realize this they recoursed to practices that Early-Modernity later termed as being "the arts". Yes the application of the word art to these immemorial practices dates indeed from the Early phase of Modernity in Europe when artists were enrolled by the new rich long distance merchants to "illustrate" their new values of individualism and their glorious possession of material signs of richness that they thought differentiates positively them from the rest of the citizenry. That's how along the entirety of Early-Modernity the visual arts were constrained by the new rich to represent "the 3 obliged subjects": landscapes around the mansions, portraits of those living in the mansions and stills of what lays on the tables in the mansions. That's what Modernity later has wanted to eradicate with a vengeance...
In other words the traditional function of the arts relates to the necessity to ensure societal conservation and reproduction. Societies or groupings of individuals are the mode of organization of all living species. Indeed when a society collapses the individuals die and when the individuals die the species suffers the risk of being erased from the surface of the earth. The memory of the need for societal survival and reproduction is inscribed somewhere in the code of the individuals predictive computation machine that is the brain. But unfortunately, in the last 100 years of Modernity, humanity lost that memory...
That societal functionality of the arts was never really talked about. It was something like a given, as if there was a tacit agreement, that never was conceptualized. I think this is the reason why the aim of Modernism was never really questioned. Let's remember that the aim of Modernism was the search to represent deeper dimensions of reality which unmistakably implied that:
The consequences of the failure of Modernism, to attain the target the avant-garde had set for itself, begs that we finally came to terms with this non-pronounced societal functionality of the arts. I'll devote a special chapter to that question in "Book 2 of From Modernity to After-Modernity".
Let us just add here that, over 99% of the time-span of human history, all forms of art - visual – music – dance were sharing the same societal functionality but each according to its own specificity.
High and Late-Modernity derogated to this principle and the citizens of the world will have to assume the consequences of letting their societies navigate adrift.
If you are interested by this subject you may want to read "1. About the formation of human knowledge. 1.1. The context".
Thinking, painting, and writing.
The radical differences between the history of Western modernity and China's present entry into it offers a useful mirror for deconstructing our Western history. I have been observing China for the last 30 years and, the least I can say is that, this has shifted my outlook on life, art, and modernity.
I'm not actively participating in the working of societies. I lived in Europe the first 35 years of my life then I stayed in China for the next 15. By the year 2000 China was at the height of the side-effects of its rapid economic development and to preserve my health I decided to live in the US but after 10 years there I grew impatient. My mind was not accepting any longer to see how Americans, who are a bunch of really decent and friendly people, are suffering from the stupidity of their empire and I decided to spend my last years, where I have felt the freest ever, in China.
All those years around the world I have been observing and thinking about what I saw. I'm interested to understand cultural, economic, societal and environmental evolution. I feel that a clear intellectual understanding procures a high dose of aesthetic pleasure and so I write and paint about my thinking hoping to preserve and, if at all possible, to increase the aesthetic pleasure I experienced initially.
What I have been observing along all these years is the rapid fall of Modernity. I feel indeed in my mind and my eyes that we are living at the end of a historical era and that on the horizon we can start to see the gray fog line of what awaits us in the future. As you can imagine I'm passionately trying to decipher what is in that fog. My thinking and writing are thus about discovering the emerging patterns of what comes after Modernity. In my painting I try to give visual signs of such patterns that I feel are slowly shaping a new historical era that I call After-Modernity.
Writing and painting are complementary to me; thinking about what is reality, writing about that thinking, and painting with all that in mind. My painting is thus like an extension of that thinking and writing. I feel that painting helps me to clarify my ideas and project a deeper and richer meaning. While in my thinking I delve into something I’m conscious about my painting is more like a subconscious extended exploration in that thinking. The subconscious sets our minds free from all the stop signs to knowledge that we have accumulated along the path of our socialization and societal conditioning. It lets us see out of that box and discover dimensions of reality that are hidden to our conscious selves. I bet that you have understood by now that the artist I want to be is one that transforms into a man of knowledge at the image of the animist men of knowledge. Alas I feel like a man of knowledge without a society; as if that society has still to emerge...
a grand narrative
written in May 2012 with additional editing in October 2015
dreaming about continuity in the narrative of painting
The idea of painting something else than just one work after another without much of a continuity in the narrative was hanging in my mind since some years without my being able to formalize a satisfactory method for the narrative to grow naturally as in a written story. The written story has an abundance of images succeeding one another. One single image detached from the story loses much of its narrative power. The written narrative grows indeed out of the succession of images. That's what I was after. Not exactly a narrative as in the 12 stages of the crucifixion illustrated in the works hanging in Christian churches (the Christian narrative is illustrated in 12 pictures hanging on the interior perimeter wall of the church). What I'm really after is a succession of pictures that grows its own narrative.
That grand project started to take shape in my mind while I was day dreaming putting the finishing touches to the first work that would launch the grand narrative. See first painting in the gallery that follows.
possibilities on the 4 sides of a painting
As you might have observed this first work is quite intricate in its details. Its execution involved much work (over 120 hours for a size of 60 x 90 cm or 24" x 36").
I felt that the work contained "split seconds narratives" or short dreams interrupted by awakenings and it is as if the whole was somehow hiding a more profound meaning or evidence. I was puzzled by the possibilities that lay open on the four sides of that canvas and was debating with my spirit if a truer meaning would not eventually emerge by exploring in those confines. My spirit encouraged me to forget about past individual emotional baggage and social conventions and to plunge in the unknown. That's how I mastered the courage to dwell without any destination in mind and this exploration resulted in 9 canvas panels.
painting around a first panel; result = 9 panels
The 8 panels surrounding the central and initial work are terminated compositionally and colour scheme-wise but still need to be finished in their detailed renderings. The total size now reaches 180 on 270 cm (72" x 108") and, as for now, involved over 500 hours of work (In 2015 I added roughly 200 more hours in their finishing. I'll add images in the gallery of the finished version before the close of this same year).
As you can see a bigger story is emerging here but I still felt a lot more possibilities were hanging from the sides and I wanted eagerly to pluck those possibilities a lot further.
What follows is the addition of two layers of panels at the bottom of the 9 units which gives 15 panels. While working on these 2 rows I slowly became convinced that:
Total height now reaches 3 m or 120".
To avoid the need of scaffolding and a very large working space I believe that I will have to limit my further painting to the lateral sides. This is when my mind was flashed with a lightning rod of consciousness into the possibility to integrate time in the narrative. I decided that the right side is the past, the present assembling being the present and the left side being the future, past and future potentially holding more than one chapter each. And thus emerged the idea of a life work around a grand narrative.
What kind of shocked me, after disassembling these 15 panels (5 rows - 3 columns) and randomly reassembling them in a one panel horizontal stream, is the sheer diversity in those works. Check it for yourself. Being an impatient guy I started to play further... 7 columns and soon, I feel, the number of columns is going to grow again...
Galloping the path of an expanding narrative while "finishing" the execution of each panel...
I paint without plan in the tradition of automatism and I have thus no clue about what is coming my way. In other words I'm discovering the unfolding of the narrative while trying to make sense out of the paint material, the forms, and the lines that end up on the canvas as by accident and it's as if my subconscious mind was constantly searching for order out of the chaos created by automatism and directing my hand as if it was a child's hand. This trial and error process is time consuming but my mind feels that achieving order, or harmony, in the lines, forms and color combinations is somehow necessary... if for nothing else than as a token of respect for the viewer.
12 digital variations per painting in the Artsense series for a total of 480 variations that were given as prints (collection sold out ). The artsense painting series and their digital variations were accompanied by an Artsense book that is available here as an ebook