Art has no boundaries. Avant-garde as an ideology. Breaking of the vessels. An attempt at unceasing innovation. Style pursuing style. No time to mature. All these led to creative freedom to the degree of superficiality and lack of orientation. Everything is permitted, possible, no longer any criteria for what is correct, beautiful or good. Bad art too evolved into justified ideology. Paintingenclosed itself within its four walls and got detached from a direct connection with spectators. It became elitist but sometimes autistic too.
However, that same avant-garde, the same multi-pluralistic possibilities, also exposed new esthetic regions and enabled unheard of artistic experiments. The new revelations expanded both the artists’ and spectators’ field of vision. New horizons were opened in the field of plastic arts. We learnt to think anew, to think differently about painting, art and reality alike.
The question is whether we can accept the fact that painting as an art medium,which has a tradition of many years, must be sacrificedfor this fascinating revolutionary period. For hundreds of years of pictorial tradition passed down from teacher to apprentice may get lost. It doesn’t suffice to display past works on museum and gallery walls. The pictorial corpus should continue in a process of incessant renewal by inner growth. Abandoning the pictorial medium leads to negligence and shallowness, and painting as an art medium could fade and even die.
Yet, painting cannot possibly be killed. Painting is just like speaking. This is a mental function combining both the neuro as well as the psyche, namely both the brain and the soul. As a child learns to walk even if obstructed, so he is innately prepared for the functionof painting. This preparedness is realized within us during the first years of our maturation, during the sensomotoric stage when we observe reality and scribble on paper. Painting develops naturallyfrom designing primary schemathrough maturation of the presentation of the external in innocent realistic figuration. As a person matures in the higher brain functions such as speaking or writing, so does he develop in the actual work of painting.
The painting activity is not realized just privately, detached from any social context. A number of theories claim that human speechhas evolved not only as a result of maturation of the central nervous system but also as a social communicative need which evolved into dialogue. The same holds for painting as one art medium among many. It was born also as an expression of the individual, but crystallized and developed in parallel in a broader context of interpersonal communication. Each art medium represents a specific mental activity. Music for example, represents the hearing function, painting - the sense of vision and fine motor skills, dancing – body movement, literature and poetry - man’s linguistic and conceptual abilities, and theater - human communication under the guise ofplay. All the senses and mental activities function in the broader context of one person opposite another, always. Therefore, on examining the art of painting, we should discuss the individual’s needs as well as the social dynamics generating configuration and styled changes in its language.
If we leave painting in the context of the individual’s natural activity only, it might fade away and die. An intensive and comprehensive action is required in the world outside, which would provide an energizing factor. We are now at this junction.
In order to breathe life into painting’s past tradition we should reconstruct the yesterday while relating to the relevance of the present needs. In order to generate a renaissance in painting, namely, a rebirth, we are required to present a new art theory, a new paradigm, a new guiding idea.
The evolution of painting, like any art medium, is influenced by both external and internal factors. The external, heteronomous factors are social, economic, cultural and political. The internal,autonomous factors are the language and logicof art and itsevolution in the context of form crystallization and deconstruction.
A world perception is reflected through every specific art language and style. Therefore, in a circular manner, if we succeed in creating a new philosophical paradigm of reality,this could influence thecrystallization ofa new pictorial style. Thus we wouldbe able to put into motion the wheels of renewal of that desired renaissance in painting - acurrently neglected medium of ar.
The new theory presented here is coined evolving realism, or neo realism.
This theory outlines the triangular confrontation between reality, the spectator and the theory mediating between them, and is subject to disagreement between three opinions. According to one opinion, there is only one absolute reality, only one universal spectator, and one ultimate theory which could mediate between them. The second opinion presents a polarized stand to the previous one bywhich reality is fluid, changing and multiple, and therefore relativistic. Similarly, there is no one spectator and each spectator is a subject with his own unique personality, which also changes during his specific biographical period and is influenced by the culture he lives in. The subject has no fixed traits. The mediation between the changing reality and the anonymous spectator is enabledonly by a great jumble of ad-hoc theories, which change according to circumstances, the relevant context and needs.
The third opinion, coined neo-realistic, and which we are adopting, considers that there is one reality but having numerous facets. There is one universal spectator but he is multi-cultural and multi-identical. There is one genus which unites the variation and the tendency to change. Mediation between a multi-faceted reality and the particular spectator, who is also universal,is facilitated by various alternative theories. Each theory serves a specific spectator vis-a-vis a specific viewpoint of reality. However, the various theories rather thanrebuff others, complement each other. They enable a transition from one viewpoint to many representing one aspect of a crystal-complex reality. The kaleidoscopic Rashomon is essentialfor presenting the difference between the theories, and also for presenting an integration of those theories into one overall picture. This is the neo-realistic philosophy that we are presenting here.
In painting, as in the other arts, each style represents a theory which constitutes a viewingand representation of reality. Two basic viewing modes can be shown: the innocent eye which sees reality empirically and experimentally with minimum bias, in contrast to the thinking eye which examines reality as a stack of meanings and interpretations. The impressionistic manifest highlights painting on the basis of theory of the retinal innocent eye, while Paul Cezanne and his school favored painting on a basis of the thinking eye. Impressionism endeavored to present reality as a flicker of light photons on the eye’s retina, while Cezanne searched for a way to present the concealedbehind the world of phenomena, those geometric forms such as a triangle, circle and square constructing reality. When we observe reality, we see through the biological eye and the spiritual eye together, a sort of integration between innocence and wisdom. On viewing a bus, for instance, we identify a gray rectangle with two openings at the front and back. In contrast to someone who has never in his life seen a bus and thinks that he is facing an animal swallowing up humans in the front and ejecting them at the back, we understand that the bus is a transportation vehicle, and that people ascend and alight when it stops at the bus stop.
On seeing a vessel the prophet Jeremiahnoted it faced northward, he viewed a vessel as a vessel, but also polarized his interpretation projecting it o the morrow. When a child approaches a table and looks at the glass filled with water he touches, pours it and breaks it, for he views the glass but doesn’t see it. He hasn’t sufficient experience with the glass and therefore he hasn’t the ability to foresee that the glass is fragile and that the water is spilled when overturning the glass.
Heinrich Wölfflin researched the history of art throughout hundreds of years of culture and identified two structures, representing two viewing modes, which he called “Baroque” and “Classic”. The baroque style presents reality in a blurred form without clear contours, in silhouettes producing depth. In contrast, the classical viewing mode presents reality in lucid contours, sharp and distinct. Each object is distinguished from the other clearly and precisely. A parallel and compatibility exist between Wölfflin’s research on the two viewing modes, the baroque and the classical styles, and the innocent eye and the thinking eye, respectively.
Drawing 17.1: Copy of a self portrait sketch of Rembrandt in baroque style.
Drawing 17.2: Copy of a self portrait sketch of Rembrandt in classical style.
Drawing 17.3: Copy of painting sketch of Daumier representing the trial and error stage in designing the image.
Between the sections a series of styles can be presented representing interimstages. Sigmund Freud characterized two types of thought: primary and secondary thought. The primary thought is characterized as dream thinking, irrational, dependent and bizarre. Secondary thought in contrast, is sober, realistic, logical and rational. The innocent viewing mode can be categorized in the impressionists’ paintings and the thinking viewing mode in Paul Cezanne’s cubistic-analytic work, this in the context of the level of the organization of the secondary thinking mode, the rational and realistic. In contrast one can consider these two viewing modes, the innocent and the thinking, at a lower organizational level of primary thinking, the irrational and bizarre. For example, the lyric abstract of Zeritsky and the New Horizons group represents the absolute realization of impressionism. Everything flickers and isamorphous, the object has disappeared and the painting is abstract. In parallel, Cezanne’s realistic cubism is carried via Picasso’s analytic cubism to the level of geometrical abstract and a lowering of the object’s resolution level.
Ernst Gombrich, the art historian, claimed that the art evolves progressively, namely by means of sophistication of schemas presenting reality towards similarity, towards an emulation of reality while creating an illusion of mimesis.
However, Gombrich also turned our attention to the possibility of reaching that illusive representation of reality in two ways: adding information and increasing the resolution, or reducing information and lowering the resolution by locating important identifying features, allowing presenting only an essential and sufficient illusive hint of the object.
Modern art deconstructed form. It blurred reality (impressionism), distorted the form (expressionism), deconstructed it (cubism) and led to the disappearance of the object (abstract). Similarly, modern painting later abandoned the medium and allowed itself to research plastic art beyond the limits of the pictorial materials in the context of art of the body, earth art, conceptual art, the use of ready-made, exhibits and installations.
Drawing 17.4: Three sketches depicting the harming of man’s body in the context of body art.
Drawing 17.5: Bicycle crossbar connected to the bicycle seat for creating an image of an ox’s face with horns, in the context of ready-made art.
On the surface this is in opposition to Gombrich’s basic assumption concerning the progressive tendency of art in sophisticating reality’s mimetic representation. But it is not so. The transition from Egyptian art to Hellenistic art points very clearly to the progressive tendency of the sophistication of the pictorial and sculpture schemas by means of resemblance to reality.
On the other hand, one can simplify that realistic reality and find its important identifying features, thus creating the basic skeletal schema which compresses its main information.
Such simplification,rather than reflecting regression in Egyptian painting, it points to progressionbeyond the real. Paul Cezanne’s realistic cubism exposes the basic geometric structures building reality, the concealed forms composing the phenomena exposed to the eye. Such painting does not represent a deconstruction of form towards regression buta process of simplification of transition from concrete realism to a higher generalization.
The question is whether Mondrian’s abstract, which formed in a gradual process from the figurative tree to the abstract, is also a generalization, and therefore progress, or is it only a deconstruction of form, withdrawal and regression.
In parallel,is the expressionist style distorting form in an exaggerated mannerfoundin the style of Van Gogh, Soutine, Modigliani, Francis Bacon and German expressionism, a deconstruction of form or a higher construction? So it is also concerning surrealists, who reveal the primary thought processesin painting, namely thought of the bizarredream and the irrational; so it is also concerning the infantile-naïve painting of the artists Klee, Rousseau and Miro. The question to be asked is whether these styles impart regression or progression in relation to reality, withdrawal or progress.
In order to solve this mystery we are required to use the assistance of the psychologist Jean Piaget, the 19th century neurologist,Juglins Jackson, and the contemporary neurologist, Oliver Sacks. Piaget presented the development of human thought as a progressive transition from one schema to another, in a progression to be called “a march towards balancing”, from the age of zero up to the age of eighteen. Juglins Jackson described the structure of the nervous system under the influence of evolutionary theory, and stated that man’s brain is built in levels. Therefore, the moment brain damage occurs in the upper regions the lower mental functions which were inhibited are now released. Jackson said that “illnesses are not created, but released”. If we combine Jacksonand Piaget, we could say that the moment an upper mental schema is damaged, a lower schema is released. As an example, Oliver Sacks described a patient suffering from the disease of agnosia. He was engaged, among other things, in painting and was would paint in the realistic style. After having been afflicted with agnosia, a disease causing difficulty for a person to identify an object’s recognizable features, his paintings deteriorated and transformed from a realistic to a cubistic style followed by abstract amorphous shadowing. His art broke down parallel with the internal destruction which the disease caused.
Drawing 17.6: Deconstructing form by an artist under the influence of L.S.D.
By analogy we ask whether modern art damaged naturalism, deconstructed the form and released lower schemas, shifting from secondary rational thought to primary irrational thought in a multi-stage manner. The answer to this issue depends on the question whether Egyptian painting is an earlier and more primary stage, schematic for the idealistic painting of Hellenism and for the realistic painting, or perhaps it represents a higher abstract schema of reality in general form in relation to the Hellenistic style arising later.
When an autistic child draws people in an elliptic schema, with two points representing eyes and two lines representing a nose and mouth, he apparently has undergone regression towards the concrete.
But perhaps we can doubt this and ask if it represents the face in a manner that is both more abstract and more general? The child’s painting moves from the scribbling stage to the schema and up to the realistic representation.
Drawing 17.7: Child’s painting combining scribbling and the schema and up to naïve realism.
In Piaget’s and Inhelder’s opinion each stage represents a geometric world view. The scribbling represents the topological geometry, the schema represents the projection geometry and the realistic painting represents the Euclid geometry.
In Piaget’s opinion, the child’s artistic development represents conversely the historical development of mathematics in the context of the history of ideas. Gombrich claims that in order to draw a table in Euclidean perspective one needs to know how to draw a table on the basis of a projected schema.
He adds that we cannot escape the Egyptian within us. Namely, in order to draw realistically we have to know how to view reality and present it on a basis of the projected sketch as the early Egyptians drew. This takes us back to the neo realistic theory stating that theories complement rather thanrefute each other.
The history of painting, like the history of art and like the history of ideas, is built on a synthesis between two axes, the linear diachronic axis of time of past - present – future, in contrast to the synchronic timeless axis. On the time axis each system is open, and a great variety of heteronomous influences exist. But how do all the events become organized into cause and effect and to one totality? The historical events crystallize into a structure in the context of the concealed, hidden, timeless and synchronic axis. The basic assumption is that reality takes place simultaneously on the linear time axis but also on a basis of archetypical structures representing primary ideas.
Piaget himself discusses this issue in researching the individual’s thought process. He claims that the child’s transition from one cognitive schema to another is enabled as a result of three things: the healthy maturation of the central nervous system, the child’s interaction with his physical world by means of toys and objects, and his interaction with his social world. Piaget emphasizes that these three elements are essential but not sufficient to explain the creation of the new schema: “it seems to me that the external structure (the schema) evolves from an in time process. From the moment the balancing structure crystallizes it is saddled to the individual. This necessity demands the wholeness of the structurewhich is now considered timeless. Having used terms which may appear contradictory, but if you wish I would say that we are reaching a kind of a priori power which evolves in the end, not at the starting point. It evolves as a result of a process and does not serve as a source and it takes for itself from the a priori only the power and not the preliminary design” – Piaget.
The discussion on progression and regression is based only on the linear and diachronic time axis. The basic assumption is that there are a number of archetypical viewing modes which are actualized anew during the course of history in various versions. The same lady in a different garb. We should research and reveal the structures of impressionism, cubism, expressionism, abstract and surrealism as meta-styles and archetypes, and the nature of their actualization in various forms in each period they appear.
Therefore one can draw the conclusion that the Egyptian painting on the time axis basis is more primitive than the Hellenistic painting, and therefore regressive. However, on the basis of the timeless synchronic axis it represents a cubistic meta-style; so it can be said that the Egyptian painting is more advanced than the Hellenistic and therefore is progressive.
Each pictorial style represents an epistemological world perception. One can present world perceptions as possibilities recurring in each generation in various manners according to new needs. Gombrich claims that artists do not paint what they see but what they think about the world. They present their world perception through the painting.
The question is how is the connection between the two axes, the time and the timeless, the diachronic and the synchronic,is created. This connection is analogous to the mutual relationship between physics and mathematics. Indeed, physics represents the world of thebeing, the rapid, dynamic and changing, while mathematics represents the static is, the absolute and the concealed. We are always amazed at the enigmatic connection between mathematics and physics, between mathematics and biology. But Einstein amazed us when he said: “if mathematical statements are correct they are not connected to reality, and if they are connected to reality they are not mathematical statements.” The same holds for the enigmatic connection between the two axes, the time and the timeless. One is not possible without the other. But the synchronic structure is always manifested differently and uniquely on the changing diachronic time axis in every historical period. Every myth has an archetypical genus but the realization of the myth in place and a specific historical time lead to radical changes to the extent that the same source (genus) changes in order to adapt to the current needs.
Modern painting has exposed basic structures and archetypical styles over a short period of time and with a large range of viewing modes and expression. We have been exposed to a vast collection of “isms” and styles. Each style represents an archetypical world picture from realism to the abstract. Even on abandoning the pictorial medium it is possible to explain their existence as essential starting conditions enabling the observing of reality and its representation in the painting mode. The extra-medial plastic art can be positioned outside painting on an evolving continuum not responding to the chronological development in which it was created.
In the beginning everything was one – the artist, audience and the work. Art was equal to life. This is the living theatrical situation.
Later the artist – audience – worktriangle was cracked. The artist had to expose himself as separate from reality by means of body art.
Upon separating, he succeeded in observing and seeing reality. He was obligated to touch that reality and impart meaning to it by means of earth art.
Henceforth the artist and the exterior are one. The exterior is revealed as a framework of the objects through ready-made art.
Further on, the objects received meaning depending on the connection to their environment, this by art exhibits.
Oncewe have an object, it is given a name, it possesses conceptual meaning. Conceptual art enables calling the objects by name and allowed to view and understand them in relation to their immediate environment.
The first and primeval view is expressed also in impressionism, but still before that by optic art and kinetic art.
From this moment one can describe the history of modern painting not through impressionism but from below upwards, namely, from the automatic painting as creating the primeval scribbling, continuing with the flicker of points and hues in lyric abstract and ending in the expressive abstract in the erupting painting. Later, the first schemas are created by means of naïve abstract painting such as that of Juan Miro and Paul Klee, followed by naïve painting. In the context of naïve painting the proportions are subjective and the associations are bizarre, such as in surrealistic painting. The schemas undergo higher resolution in the context of analytic cubism, which is transmitted to a higher resolution in the direction of impressionism and naturalism alike. We are faced with the presentation of the development of modern painting in reverse, from below upwards.
In the context of the neo-realistic style the modern artist is assumed to attempt the reconstruction of past styles not in an anachronistic manner but by presenting them as meta-styles while searching for their relevance to current needs. The neo-realistic viewing is a Rashomon viewing while observing reality in a kaleidoscope manner, searching for possible integration between a multiple of styles supposed to represent many facets of that same reality. Reality is one but multi-faceted, and soisits representation by means of art on the basis of various viewing modes in the context of the styles. In the words of Picasso: “art is a lie through which the truth is seen”.
Drawing 17.9: Chaos and entropy in Jean Arp’s painting.
Drawing 17.10: The circle asa good pattern and the missing circle as a bad pattern. The spectator’s eye complements the missing part and closes the bad pattern according to the good pattern.
The writer: Igal Vardi.