Ideas and Art
Notes on Iconology by Steven H. Cullinane
Monday, April 5, 2004 4:03 AM
Ideas and Art,
-- Motto of
From Minimalist Fantasies,
All I want anyone to
get out of my paintings, and all I ever get out of them, is the fact that
you can see the whole idea without any confusion. … What you see is what
Minimal Art remains too much a
feat of ideation, and not enough anything else. Its idea remains an idea,
something deduced instead of felt and discovered.
The artists even questioned
whether art needed to be a tangible object. Minimalism ...
Conceptualism -- suddenly art could be nothing more than an idea, a thought
on a piece of paper....
There was a period, a decade or two
ago, when you could hardly open an art journal without encountering the
quotation from Frank Stella I used as an epigraph. The bit about “what you
see is what you see” was reproduced ad nauseam. It was thought by
some to be very deep. In fact, Stella’s remarks--from a joint interview
with him and Donald Judd--serve chiefly to underscore the artistic
emptiness of the whole project of minimalism. No one can argue with the
proposition that “what you see is what you see,” but there’s a lot to
argue with in what he calls “the fact that you can see the whole idea
without any confusion.” We do not, of course, see ideas. Stella’s
assertion to the contrary might be an instance of verbal carelessness, but
it is not merely verbal carelessness. At the center of minimalism, as
Clement Greenberg noted, is the triumph of ideation over feeling and
perception, over aesthetics.
From How Not Much Is a Whole World,
Decades on, it's curious how much Minimalism, the last great high modern movement, still troubles people who just can't see why ... a plain white canvas with a line painted across it
should be considered art. That line might as well be in the sand: on this side is art, it implies. Go ahead. Cross it.
The tug of an art that unapologetically sees itself as on a par with science and religion is not to be underestimated, either. Philosophical ambition and formal modesty still constitute Minimalism's bottom line.
If what results can sometimes be more fodder for the brain than exciting to look at, it can also have a serene and exalted eloquence....
That line in the sand doesn't separate good art from bad, or art from nonart, but a wide world from an even wider one.
I maintain that of course
we can see ideas.
Example: the idea of
"What modern painters
are trying to do,
if they only knew it,
is paint invariants."
-- James J. Gibson, Leonardo,
Vol. 11, pp. 227-235.
Pergamon Press Ltd., 1978
For a discussion
of how this works, see
4x4 Geometry, and
Incidentally, structures like the one shown above are invariant
under an important subgroup of the affine group AGL(4,2)... That is to
say, they are not lost in translation. (See previous
Tuesday, April 6, 2004 2:45 AM
Ideas and Art, Part II
"We do not, of course, see ideas."
-- Roger Kimball, Minimalist Fantasies, 2003
"Idea (Lat. idea, forma, species; Gk. idea, eidos, from idein, to see; Fr. idée; Ger. Bild; Begriff)
Probably to no other philosophical term have there been attached so many different shades of meaning as to the word idea. Yet what this word signifies is of much importance. Its sense in the minds of some philosophers is the key to their entire system. But from Descartes onwards usage has become confused and inconstant. Locke, in particular, ruined the term altogether in English philosophical literature...."
-- The Catholic Encylopedia, 1910
James Hillman, A Blue Fire, p. 53:
"For us ideas are ways of regarding things (modi res considerandi), perspectives. Ideas give us eyes, let us see .... Ideas are ways of seeing and knowing....
Our word idea comes from the Greek eidos, which meant originally in early Greek thought, and as Plato used it, both that which one sees -- an appearance or shape in a concrete sense -- and that by means of which one sees. We see them, and by means of them. Ideas are both the shape of events, their constellation in this or that archetypal pattern, and the modes that make possible our ability to see through events into their pattern. By means of an idea we can see the idea cloaked in the passing parade. The implicit connection between having ideas to see with and seeing ideas themselves suggests that the more ideas we have, the more we see, and the deeper the ideas we have, the deeper we see. It also suggests that ideas engender other ideas, breeding new perspectives for viewing ourselves and world.
Moreover, without them we cannot 'see' even what we sense with the eyes in our heads, for our perceptions are shaped according to particular ideas .... And our ideas change as changes take place in the soul, for as Plato said, soul and idea refer to each other, in that an idea is the 'eye of the soul,' opening us through its insight and vision."
Hillman does not say where in Plato this extraordinary saying, that an idea is the eye of the soul, occurs. He is probably wrong.
Both Kimball and Hillman seem confused.
A more sensible approach to these matters is available in Brian Cronin's Foundations of Philosophy:
"3.4 An Insight Pivots between the Abstract and the Concrete
On the one hand, an insight is dealing with data and images which are concrete and particular: Archimedes had one chalice, one King, and one particular problem to solve. On the other hand, what the insight grasps is an idea, a relation, a universal, a law; and that is abstract. The laws that Archimedes eventually formulated were universal, referring not only to this chalice but also to any other material body immersed in any other liquid at any time or any place. The insight is constituted precisely by 'seeing' the idea in the image, the intelligible in the sensible, the universal in the particular, the abstract in the concrete. We pivot back and forth between images and ideas as we search for the correct insight. First let us now clarify the difference between images, ideas and concepts...."
-- From Ch. 2,
Identifying Direct Insights
Tuesday, April 6, 2004 10:00 PM
Ideas and Art, Part III
The first idea was not our own. Adam
In Eden was the father of Descartes...
-- Wallace Stevens, from
Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction
"Quaedam ex his tanquam rerum imagines sunt, quibus solis proprie convenit ideae nomen: ut cum hominem, vel Chimaeram, vel Coelum, vel Angelum, vel Deum cogito."
-- Descartes, Meditationes III, 5
"Of my thoughts some are, as it were, images of things, and to these alone properly belongs the name idea; as when I think [represent to my mind] a man, a chimera, the sky, an angel or God."
-- Descartes, Meditations III, 5
Begin, ephebe, by perceiving the idea
Of this invention, this invented world,
The inconceivable idea of the sun.
You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it.
-- Wallace Stevens, from
Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction
"... Quinimo in multis saepe magnum discrimen videor deprehendisse: ut, exempli causa, duas diversas solis ideas apud me invenio, unam tanquam a sensibus haustam, & quae maxime inter illas quas adventitias existimo est recensenda, per quam mihi valde parvus apparet, aliam vero ex rationibus Astronomiae desumptam, hoc est ex notionibus quibusdam mihi innatis elicitam, vel quocumque alio modo a me factam, per quam aliquoties major quam terra exhibetur; utraque profecto similis eidem soli extra me existenti esse non potest, ratio persuadet illam ei maxime esse dissimilem, quae quam proxime ab ipso videtur emanasse."
-- Descartes, Meditationes III, 11
"... I have observed, in a number of instances, that there was a great difference between the object and its idea. Thus, for example, I find in my mind two wholly diverse ideas of the sun; the one, by which it appears to me extremely small draws its origin from the senses, and should be placed in the class of adventitious ideas; the other, by which it seems to be many times larger than the whole earth, is taken up on astronomical grounds, that is, elicited from certain notions born with me, or is framed by myself in some other manner. These two ideas cannot certainly both resemble the same sun; and reason teaches me that the one which seems to have immediately emanated from it is the most unlike."
-- Descartes, Meditations III, 11
"Et quamvis forte una idea ex alia nasci possit, non tamen hic datur progressus in infinitum, sed tandem ad aliquam primam debet deveniri, cujus causa sit in star archetypi, in quo omnis realitas formaliter contineatur, quae est in idea tantum objective."
-- Descartes, Meditationes III, 15
"And although an idea may give rise to another idea, this regress cannot, nevertheless, be infinite; we must in the end reach a first idea, the cause of which is, as it were, the archetype in which all the reality [or perfection] that is found objectively [or by representation] in these ideas is contained formally [and in act]."
-- Descartes, Meditations III, 15
Michael Bryson in an essay on Stevens's "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,"
The Quest for the Fiction of the Absolute:
"Canto nine considers the movement of the poem between the particular and the general, the immanent and the transcendent: "The poem goes from the poet's gibberish to / The gibberish of the vulgate and back again. / Does it move to and fro or is it of both / At once?" The poet, the creator-figure, the shadowy god-figure, is elided, evading us, "as in a senseless element." The poet seeks to find the transcendent in the immanent, the general in the particular, trying "by a peculiar speech to speak / The peculiar potency of the general." In playing on the senses of "peculiar" as particular and strange or uncanny, these lines play on the mystical relation of one and many, of concrete and abstract."
Brian Cronin in Foundations of Philosophy:
"The insight is constituted precisely by 'seeing' the idea in the image, the intelligible in the sensible, the universal in the particular, the abstract in the concrete. We pivot back and forth between images and ideas as we search for the correct insight."
-- From Ch. 2, Identifying Direct Insights
Michael Bryson in an essay on Stevens's "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction":
"The fourth canto returns to the theme of opposites. 'Two things of opposite natures seem to depend / On one another . . . . / This is the origin of change.' Change resulting from a meeting of opposities is at the root of Taoism: 'Tao produced the One. / The One produced the two. / The two produced the three. / And the three produced the ten thousand things' (Tao Te Ching 42) ...."
From the web page
"He who has perceived the meaning of change fixes his attention no longer on transitory individual things but on the immutable, eternal law at work in all change. This law is the tao of Lao-tse, the course of things, the principle of the one in the many. That it may become manifest, a decision, a postulate, is necessary. This fundamental postulate is the 'great primal beginning' of all that exists, t'ai chi -- in its original meaning, the 'ridgepole.' Later Chinese philosophers devoted much thought to this idea of a primal beginning. A still earlier beginning, wu chi, was represented by the symbol of a circle. Under this conception, t'ai chi was represented by the circle divided into the light and the dark, yang and yin,
This symbol has also played a significant part in India and Europe. However, speculations of a gnostic-dualistic character are foreign to the original thought of the I Ching; what it posits is simply the ridgepole, the line. With this line, which in itself represents oneness, duality comes into the world, for the line at the same time posits an above and a below, a right and left, front and back-in a word, the world of the opposites."
The t'ai chi symbol is also illustrated on the web page Cognitive Iconology, which says that
"W.J.T. Mitchell calls
A variation on the t'ai chi symbol appears in a log24.net entry for March 5:
See too my web page Logos and Logic, which has the following:
In the conclusion of Section 3, Canto X, of "Notes," Stevens says
This is the logoi alogoi of Simone Weil.
In "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction,"
Wallace Stevens lists three criteria
for a work of the imagination:
It Must Be
by S.H. Cullinane
It Must Change
by S. H. Cullinane
It Must Give Pleasure
by S. H. Cullinane
Logos and Logic.
Page created April 6, 2004