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Lesson Plans


Re: contemporary art/aesthetics


From: Henry Taylor (taylorh)
Date: Fri Jul 21 2000 - 22:33:15 PDT

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    The power of the visual object, aesthetic and otherwise is that
    it can carry and express things which are inaccessible to words.
    If words alone are sufficient then the visual quality was
    probably inessential in the first place. Words are powerful
    things in their own right. It is easy enough for them to hold our
    attention and thereby to obscure visual understanding.

    As an artist I create art to express things which I cannot
    adequately put into words. If you scan my work what you will have
    at best is a poetic work of your own device with my work as your
    subject. Potentially we would have two separate and distinct
    works of art!

    There is a great deal of work which probably does not suffer much
    in translation from paint or stone to the scanning word. A great
    deal of art has been created over the years in the West which
    responds to the same mentality as scanning. This is a perfect
    match. Both processes share the same mechanistic and reductionist
    roots. We have more than 20,000 years of art most of it not made
    in the western academic and philosophical tradition; most of it
    can hoever be shoe-horned into that tradition through scanning.
    If nothing else, in non-western art, entire lexicons of aesthetic
    terminology and values, whole new sets of principles and elements
    pertinant to a work are not going to be reflected in the act of
    scanning. When we scan a non-western or pre-renaissance work we,
    in effect, describe a new, western, post-renaissance work which
    would be unrecognizable to a person/artist of its time and place
    of origin. That's a pretty heavy reduction.

    The basic principles and elements which we are so familiar with
    and which we so easily assume and pull into our discussions have
    had competition over the millennia. There is a huge body of
    material relavent to the art of India, for example, which is not
    reflected anywhere in our models of art. What exactly is it we
    discuss when we then scan a Ganesha figure or a Paravati? What
    makes our familiar and favorite principles and elements the
    appropriate ones? What are we missing by not knowing the
    alternative values and relationships possible for art.

    It's like having a big library full of books on art and when we
    want to better understand any work we always come back to the
    same carrel in the same wing on the same floor and use the same
    familiar books. Blow off tens of thousands of pages because they
    are inconvenient and unfamiliar. If we could further reduce our
    scan to 4 principles and 4 elements it would be even more so!

    So there three important points here:

    1 scanning reduces the discussion of that which is observed to a
    few familiar elements and principles from one familiar culture.

    2 scanning either ingnores those things which don't come easily
    to words or imposes words which only begin to approximate a
    visual experience or possibleunderstanding.

    3 scanning is entirely reliant upon words and ideas and therefore
    limited to the available vocabulary and general familiarity with
    ideas expressed over the centuries by many many people. If you
    don't know the words or don't know the people and their theories
    and models; if all you know are a basic 6 principles and 6
    elements and their basic qualities and relationships your scan
    will be pretty anemic.

    Scanning is very much like painting by numbers. It's a way of
    doing and of learning to do a thing. It has certain advantages
    and certain limitations among them a dependency on the quality
    and number of paints and brushes (or words and ideas) available.
    Instead of painting Scanning offers us the opportunity too be
    somewhat intellectual by numbers. Some people are impressed by
    paint by number efforts and some are impressed by visual
    scanning. Paint by numbers offers a small opportunity to
    understand color relationships. Scanning may be a little better
    as an exercise to learn about other kinds of relationships in the
    conception and production of art.

    Visual Scanning is not a bad thing I don't intend to suggest that
    its practice be abandoned. I do think that it is important to
    understand the limitations we face in its use and the quality of
    the data it produces.

    -henry

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