Evolution and the Undermining of Art
From the cave paintings of the Horses Heads to figurative art today, visual art is about perception and subject. We artists, and our ancient ancestors, look at the world around us, focus on important aspects of it, digest it, then, in acts of passion express our view of humanity. Visual art is inextricably linked to human evolution; its best examples further our potential as human beings. Visual art refines our perceptions, explores our emotional potentials, and expands our minds. But for the last century art has been under attack.
In the mid-20th century these three forces––Kant’s philosophy, abstract expressionists, and the CIA––congealed ostensibly to champion freedom and originality, instead accomplished an undermining of art and consequently humanity. The connections and machinations are so complicated and obtuse it is hard to take them seriously, but it does make a difference in understanding them, at least in the sense of whether or not our culture evolves.
Progress is Not Automatic
There are a few things that are embedded in our DNA, like sex and consciousness, but art is one of the most powerful. It has been said that the human species doesn’t have instincts—that we have to make choices, make mistakes, and figure out future directions. We can implode, exploit wars, exterminate populations, and commit suicide. There are no guarantees that philosophers, experts, government institutions, and artists have it right. And we are only a few nuclear explosions away from eradication. It is a sobering obligation that we must choose and possibly be tragically wrong and sometimes be wonderfully right.
Da Vinci, Study of Hands c. 1474, in silverpoint on prepared paper heightened with white (chalk?).
Visual Science and Heart
This sketch by da Vinci represents everything great about humanity and art: skill, discovery, knowledge, light and shadow, science, empathy, humanism, beauty, and effortlessness. An interesting thing is that this work uplifts us and can inspire our farthest reaching aspirations whether for science or heart or both. Da Vinci’s near-contemporary, Vasari, wrote about him:
“Leonardo’s disposition was so lovable that he commanded everyone’s affection… his magnificent presence brought comfort to the most troubled soul; he was so persuasive that he could bend other people to his will. … He was so generous that he fed all his friends, rich or poor… Through his birth Florence received a very great gift, and through his death it sustained an incalculable loss… an artist of outstanding physical beauty who displayed infinite grace in everything he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied were solved with ease.”Continue reading “The Cult of Oblivion: CIA, Abstract Expressionists, and Kant”