Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fractal Art

By Raj Mathur Life Positive, April 1996
Pack up your easel, palette and paintbrushes. Turn, instead, to the mouse and the PC. Just a few clicks away, lies pixel art that arises from fractals or geometric figures. Fragmented, irregular and magical, it takes you to a whole new world. A world where there is beauty in form, rhythm in color, order in chaosFractal geometry was accidentally discovered about two decades ago by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who was born in Warsaw, and later shifted to the US, where he worked at IBM. While plotting the imaginary values of the square root of minus one, Mandelbrot found beautiful patterns and shapes that repeated themselves in different scales-like the shape of a tree is mimicked by the branch, the branch by the twig, the twig by the leaf.
The art of fractals is both simple and complicated. Simple, because, given the right mix of software, hardware and imagination, even the guy next door can easily work at producing them. Complex, simply because if you take a fractal, zoom into a small part, and then blow it up, you find the new picture is at least as complicated as its original. The basic pattern of the fractal is repeated, but, with each repetition, the pattern differs slightly. The beauty of the whole process is that this continues however deep you zoom into the fractal. This form of art is used by musicians. It is also used by economists, geologists, filmmakers and, of course, by computer enthusiasts such as Raj Mathur who has generated the images that you are seeing here.
Compact discs of readymade fractals are readily available on the market. But Mathur works from a fractal program and a set of formulae to evoke these beautiful images. So, in a sense, he has technically generated them. He is, however, quick to give credit to the original authors of the formulae-Michael Coddington, Ian Adma, Richard Hughes, Pieter Branderhorst, Scott Taylor and Ethan Nagel. Says cyber junkie Mathur whose social life seems to be restricted to the computer: "Fractals are absolutely fascinating. If my math were better, I would have learnt more about them. But, even without math, I am quite happy to generate and view them." To view Raj Mathur's fractal art, click here.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Where art is part of integral yoga

Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram Natalia Kravtchenko, Vladimir Zaitsev
From ancient, miraculous stones build the steps of the future. Nicholas Roerich
CULTURE OF PEACE Edited by BAIDYANATH SARASWATI 1999, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts
Not only are the names of Rubens, Velazquez, Griboedov and many others immortalized in art, but also for their unforgettable advice in the field of statesmanship. Objects of art themselves very often were the best ambassadors, introducing peace and friendship. It is known that the exchange of art treasures prevented misunderstandings and was ahead of verbal agreements.
The remarkable results of art in education were proved by the experiments of Tagore in his university, Visva Bharati. All the programmes of this institution were based on unity and harmonious relationship with nature and development of the sense of beauty. A great deal of art and creativity is involved in the educational process of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, where it is considered the foundation for the intellectual and spiritual development of man. Here art is part of integral yoga and creativity is the active power in the evolution of man.
Considering the ‘culture of peace’ one should not forget the original experiments in the field of culture conducted by the great peace-builder Nicholas Roerich. At the end of the 1920s he established in the United States an international institute of art named Corona Mundi and a museum which were prototypes of contemporary academies of fine arts. Musicians, painters, poets, writers, architects, scientists were united in these creative communities under Roerich’s slogan ‘peace through culture’. Later this idea was extended in artistic activity in the preservation of cultural monuments and treasures of art. It finally materialized in the international memorandum, the ‘Roerich Pact’, signed by 54 countries in Gaag after World War II. For the first time cultural heritage was recognised not as a luxury, but as a necessary foundation for the spiritual being of mankind. For its humanism contemporaries named this project the ‘Red Cross of Culture’.
In the service of peace and spiritual principles, art and creativeness reach their highest self-expression. For the spiritually alive human being the value of art lies in its beautiful existence, in its great mystery, in its mighty transforming and purifying power (catharsis). Through art one discovers the whole universe of the human spirit, limitless spaces of human thoughts and feelings. At one moment through the charming sounds of music or rhythm of ancient chants one may be united with events going back to thousands and thousands of years ago. Art in its sublime forms and expressions gives us an opportunity of unforgettable experience, it reminds us of a different kind of reality, the origin of existence.
The process of creativity is comparable with the spiritual path (sadhana). In all fields of art meditative disciplines are a normal part of human experience and have a profound effect on artists. The insight born of these disciplines inspires a sense of participation, of identification with all life. In Russia there exists a system of inner discipline of the artist formed during the centuries. Most powerfully it was expressed in the art of icon painting.
Long before starting a painting, artist practises prayer and silence and maintains mental and emotional purity. These helped him to achieve the resonance, like a musical instrument, to be one with the subject of his painting.
There is a certain duty and responsibility of the artist towards his invisible ideal. In icon painting the main stress is on the expression of inner beauty, spiritual power, where they are considered limitless love and compassion. In the instructions to the artist we read: ‘Maintain the unity of your will. Do not listen with your ears but with the mind. Do not listen with the mind, but with the spirit. The spirit is an emptiness ready to receive all things.’
By stilling his heart, that is, shedding thoughts and emotions of his personal life, an individual can reflect on his heart-mind the power of High Consciousness (the holy spirit, tao, atman, etc.). The sense of another reality within allows the artist to find out new artistic and technical solutions. So in some old Chinese paintings one may discover that what seemed to be empty was never vacant. Obviously the artist was able to suggest aliveness in unfilled surfaces and employ empty space in ways which are extremely daring. Poetically it can be illustrated in the following lines:
Stillness — a transparent mirror for celestial reflections.
Stillness — a morning song forgotten by mankind.
Stillness — the sound of eternity amidst the cries of the earth.
Stillness — the invisible door to the silence.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Because it does not aim at being artistic

Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram Natalia Kravtchenko, Vladimir Zaitsev
From ancient, miraculous stones build the steps of the future Nicholas Roerich
CULTURE OF PEACE Edited by BAIDYANATH SARASWATI 1999, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts
One would be able to reach it when the difference between mechanical civilization and the coming culture of the spirit is realized. ‘For man intellectually developed,’ writes Sri Aurobindo, ‘mighty in scientific knowledge and the mastery of gross and subtle nature, using the elements as his servants and the world as his footstool, but undeveloped in heart and spirit, becomes only an inferior kind of asura (demon), using the power of a demigod to satisfy animal nature.’ Observing the historical panorama one may find that civilization is created during a few decades, while culture is based upon achievements of thousands years.
In art of this subtlety there are qualities that go farther than naturalness or realism. The process of communication between artist and object creates specific relationships between them; the artist is much more attracted to the inner content of the subject than to its external attractiveness.
There is always difference between likeness and truth. ‘Likeness could be obtained by shapes without spirit, but when Truth is reached, spirit and substance are both fully expressed.’ Evidently, beauty does not necessarily spell perfection of form. This has been one of the favourite tricks of artists in Japan and in some Scandinavian countries — to embody beauty in the form of imperfection or even ugliness, or asymmetry. All these methods of creativity served one main desire of the artist — to reveal another nature of the subject, to express its inner cosmos.
Thus in the art of icon painting we are moved first of all by the unspeakable beauty of the artistic image, which is transformed from the personal into universal. We completely agree with the opinion of Nalini Kanta Gupta who wrote on the Upanishads: ‘Art at its highest tends to become also the simplest and the most unconventional; and it is then the highest art, precisely because it does not aim at being artistic. The aesthetic motive is totally absent in the Upanishads; the sense of beauty is there, but it is attendant upon and involved in a deeper strand of consciousness.’ Indeed, at its highest, art does not tolerate any conventionality, nor violence. In the very foundations of being lives the concept of beauty, and where there is beauty, there is peace.
In Beauty we are united!
Through Beauty we pray!
With Beauty we conquer!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On being an Art Critic

The highest aim of the aesthetic being is to find the Divine through beauty,” – Sri Aurobindo (Gems from Sri Aurobindo V1. by M.P. Pendit) posted by Mary Lee Pappas at 10:29 PM
A First Person on Being an Art Critic - Does Indianapolis want arts criticism?
By Mary Lee Pappas NUVO art critic spring 2005
  • Should an art critic write about artists whose work they collect?
  • Should an art critic fraternize with artists they write about?
  • Should they accept gifts from artists they’ve written about, be an exhibition consultant, sit on boards of visual arts organizations, or exhibit their own artworks?

According to “The Visual Art Critic: A Survey of Art Critics at General-Interest News Publications in America” by Columbia University’s Journalism Program in 2002, there was no consensus among the 169 art critics surveyed (myself the only Indianapolis representative) regarding blanket ethical conduct within the American art world.

This perhaps resulting from the public’s equally as uneven expectations of what art criticism ought and ought not to be. An opinionated bunch to begin with, participating art critics had to have written at least twelve ”evaluative” pieces the previous year to qualify for the survey. Those are reviews that make judgments regarding quality, purport, and context based on the work, the artist, the venue, the curatorial competence, and sometimes funding. It’s gauging art instead of strictly spouting anthems of advocacy, subjective explanations, and taking strict emotions into account.
Critics, predominantly employed as part-timers or freelance at both daily and alternative weekly papers, were actually found to be “intimately connected” to their local arts communities. Is this conflict of interest, or fundamental for the role? 24% of us had worked in museums, 18% in commercial galleries, while nearly half of us were artists – 70% of whom exhibit or have exhibited their works. 14% were employed in art-related industries. Four out of five newspaper critics and three out of four alternative weekly critics collect art. Though 90% of the critics were curiously Caucasian when multiculturalism in visual art is ever present, well preparedness for their work varied greatly.
The majority of practicing art critics had on average 13 years of journalism/art writing experience. 20% of art critics had no formal training in art or art history, while only 26% of us actually had a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. in art history. But, apparently it doesn’t really matter who’s writing about art anymore. Some artists should, “Park their paints,” and let go of ego, pride and fickleness local painter, art historian, and gallery owner Doris Vlasek Hails said to me once. But there has been an increasing trend for artists and arts organizations across the country to steer clear of uncompromising critics and seek-out positive press thereby creating their own undeserving derivative art stars. Some buy it. As our local visual arts community flourishes so too do the proliferating and, more often than not, only moderately talented artists who Indianapolis audiences so anxiously and sometimes bafflingly accept.
  • Can anyone who can afford rent at a trendy studio be an artist?
  • Are gallery owners and proprietors actually qualified to choose quality art to present to the public just because they can fund their venues?
  • Who is drawing the line between hobby and excellence?
  • Should critics simply relinquish themselves to this laissez-fare intellect regarding the fine art process and art history thereby giving artists and venues the praise they ultimately fancy?
  • Where does criticism fit in and who really wants it anymore?

Indianapolis appears to be succeeding at placing novelty (or propaganda at times) above discrimination. The survey makes an example of our city by stating, “Citizens of significant urban agglomerations, including Indianapolis and Las Vegas…do not have the benefit of hearing from an art critic who might qualify for inclusion in this survey,” from a daily paper. This perhaps in part because formal criticism doesn’t serve the city’s desires to make Indianapolis a cultural destination overnight. However, celebrating the mundane won’t make it happen either. Though art critics across the board thought they were writing for a “lukewarm audience that is not too well steeped in the arts,” nearly two-thirds unfortunately write strictly positive reviews, with “rendering a personal judgement” about the artwork being “the least important factor in reviewing art.” It’s a sorry commentary that’s ultimately destructive of the arts evolution (like Indianapolis’ visual art growth spurt), and the art itself. So are gallery openings where the art plays second fiddle to the party.

  • Are arts writers accepting expenses on press junkets?
  • Are papers merely supposed to conform, jump on the promotional bandwagon, and be another form of advertising?

Perhaps this is an indication that some “critics” should park their pens or thicken their skin. Perhaps local media should give more space and credence to the visual arts cultures of their communities, and artists should challenge themselves to create more than attractive formula paintings accompanied by contrived statements of purpose. Local eagerness to be exceptional in the visual arts has created levels of administrative and artistic inferiority that can be remedied by demanding quality and education from those that serve the arts community, critics alike. Inferring that arts audiences and potential arts audiences are un or under educated (as is the rhetoric from artists and arts orgs.) only serves to insult and estrange audiences…as does substandard art. Friday, November 11, 2005 posted by Mary Lee Pappas at 7:31 AM

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Divided Line in Art

Rimina Mohapatra Vista
"Why are numbers beautiful? It's like asking why is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don't see why, someone can't tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren't beautiful, nothing is."
Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös thus articulated his view on the sheer aesthetic of mathematics. Theories of art centrally rely on the idea of beauty which is usually characterized as the 'perception of balance and proportion of stimulus, harmony of form, rhythm or colour, fineness of artistic quality, candour, and originality'. It is the conception of such a symmetric, perfect, consistent harmonious world that the Pythagoreans conceived of through numbers.
For Plato, art is unreal appearance, because it lies in the realm of perception, changing, disintegrating in the world, almost like illusions. He says all this because he already has a framework of reality in mind, that is, ultimately reality is that which is invariant, spaceless, timeless, consisting of absolute essences. The unreality of art comes from the fact of its change, and further, from Plato’s view that what is seen is ultimately unreal. In contrast, mathematical truths are ever real because they are unperceived, pure and sublime, not vitiated by errors.
The object of art, like numbers, is abstract. In The Imaginary, Sartre speaks of the aesthetic object as the irreal. He points out that it is a mistake to think that the artist “realizes” a pre-conceived mental image onto the canvas. Rather, Sartre claims:
“What is real…are the results of the brush strokes, the impasting of the canvas, its grain, the varnish spread over the colours. But precisely, all this is not the object of aesthetic appreciation. What is ‘beautiful’, on the contrary, is a being that cannot be given to perception and that, in its very nature, is isolated from the universe.”
Further he says that the painting is simply an analogue for one to be able to construe the object of beauty, that is, the irreal whole. Clearly then Sartre has turned the talk around. He seems to be claiming that the real is in fact the physical painting. But certainly, it is not that we are engaged with when enjoying a work of art. That which is the object of our aesthetic muse is simply never the ‘real’ paint, strokes, grain of canvas, i.e. nothing of the physically perceived senses as colors, textures, etc. It consists in an entirely abstract, irreal object that is pointed towards by the actual painting. There may be nothing specific that can be pointed at to define a common notion of art. And yet, it does not follow that there is no notion of beauty or art that we can work with, which makes that what art is. This is exactly because some things do show up as works of art as against others.
What then is the criterion of art? In what way would be art accessible to us? How should we view art? If it is an abstraction, is it even worth nurturing? The question of the use value of art has been grappled with a phenomenal concern. In lashing out against such pragmatic anxieties, Oscar Wilde, long since engaged in decadent movements, famously quipped "All art is quite useless". He was, of course, a strong champion of "Art for art's sake" (l’art pour l’art) in defiance of those who felt that the value of art lay in serving some moral or didactic purpose, as social utility, etc. The view of art for art's sake reinforced that art was valuable as art, that artistic pursuits were self justified, and that art did not need moral justification — and in fact, was free even to be morally subversive.
Now, when does something turn into a work of art? Marcel Duchamp, perhaps one of the most important influences the post-war art scene, co-founder of a Dada group, was one of the first artists to use commonplace objects, readymades, as the basis for his artworks. His controversial work Fountain is a clear case that interrogates the conventional notions of art. Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can is another stunning break from convention, in constructing the idiom of the pop where his works profusely used dollar bills, soup cans, posters, soft-drink bottles, and garish nylon fibres. Art now seemed to have even lost the accompanying mark of artistic methods, tools and skill, employing techniques of commercial art and advertising, and thus giving a blow to the accentuated pretence of a high-culture versus low-culture chasm.
In a self styled remark he said, "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." The “superficiality” is the point of Warhol’s works. He brings forth a certain anti essentialist position on what art means to him, in his emphasis on rejecting the narrative of the concealed reality of art, the work of art and the artist. No attempt is made at analysing the subjective pathos, the intention or emotion of the artist.
By the last account it seems that nothing apart from the surface and the objects was art. In a way, we come full circle, for art for Plato too is in the realm of the sensible, i.e. in the world of change. Yet in another sense this is perhaps the total antithesis of a Plato’s dream to separate the invisible/intelligible and the visible/sensible, to separate the world of abstract forms [such as Beauty] and particular objects that may be beautiful, to separate the mind and the body, to separate the original and the copy, and so on. Whether or not there are essences to art, as the form of Beauty [cf. Plato’s Phaedo] or some archetype of symmetry, harmony, etc., are questions that would simply be irrelevant on the pop account of art.
Extending this line, Jean Baudrillard brings in the imaginative notion of hyperreality to explain how things are, in his Simulacra and Simulation. The idea of simulacrum would roughly be ‘a copy of a copy which has been so dissipated in its relation to the original that it can no longer be said to be a copy’. The simulacrum referred to are signs of culture technology and media that create the reality that we perceive, surviving on its own as a copy without a model. The 1999 movie The Matrix was based on this view of Baudrillard’s simulated world as being more real than the ‘real’ world.
In The Transparency of Evil (1993), Baudrillard speaks of a situation called ‘transaesthetics’ in which the so-called independent and isolated spheres of economy, art, politics, and culture, inter-penetrate each other. He claims that art has entered all facets of existence. Thus, the expectation of the avant-garde for art to inform life [cf. Oscar Wilde’s quip ‘Life imitates Art’] has been, in many ways, already fulfilled. Yet, this precisely means that in the incorporation and proliferation of art in everyday life, art itself as an independent and transcendent phenomenon has vanished. ‘Reality is therefore just another TV channel’.
Interestingly, Baudrillard makes use of Borges’ ironic fable of an empire whose cartographers create a map so minutely detailed that it covers the very things it was intended to represent. That is, the map turns out to be as large as the kingdom itself, to the scale! Now, when the empire declines, the map recedes into the landscape and there is neither the simulated copy or representation, nor is it the originally real that remains – but just the hyperreal. posted by Rimina @ 9:40 PM

Culture as capital

RANJIT HOSKOTE The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Jan 01, 2006
If historical ignorance obscures the true nature of a literary achievement, an obsession with commercial value — which has dominated reportage on the realm of contemporary Indian art during 2005 — can destroy the possibility of viewing the real accomplishments of visual art. The torrent of words wasted to express rage and outrage at the phenomenal price-linked developments in the market for postcolonial Indian art, for instance, eclipses all serious discussion of works of art as invitations to the senses, provocations to the intelligence, gestures staged against several contexts of feeling and viewing.
The fact that art works are not only objects carrying monetary value, but that they are also discursive and communicative objects — that they reveal their meanings most fully when they are talked about with sensitivity, attention and insightfulness — is being eclipsed by the shallow, ill-informed, often factually incorrect and painfully naïve reportage that passes for cultural journalism today. Unlike Ghalib, contemporary Indian artists do not even have to wait for the gates of the final passage to open; the truth of their art is already being buried by trashy coverage that misses the point of an artistic project, accompanied by the tunes of a publicity apparatus that plays up the man (or woman) and not the work.
The epoch that opens up before us will be one in which transitive selves and their nomadic creative impulses will have to confront, not only official structures, but also the more destructive fixed-frame approach of the mass media.
  • How, as we go along, is India's creative capital to be rescued from the oblivion of excessive visibility?
  • How shall we evolve forms of attention that enhance aesthetic experience, rather than killing it?
  • How will creative individuals find communities that sustain them, rather than relying on fan clubs that cannibalise them, or remaining trapped in ghettoes where familiarity has long ago bred an aesthetic complacency that is far worse than contempt?
  • How are writers to win the space of retreat, and artists to secure the repose so necessary for them to tap the deep springs of their art, to maintain contact with the operative rhythms of their work?