Friday, July 18, 2008


There is nothing, no reality, but sensation. Ideas are sensations,but of things not placed in space and sometimes not even in time.

Logic, the place of ideas, is another kind of space.

Dreams are sensations with only two dimensions. Ideas are sensations with only one dimension. A line is an idea...

The end of art is simply to increase human self-consciousness. Its criterion is general (or semigeneral) acceptance, sooner or later, for that is the proof that it does tend to increase self-consciousness in men.
Fernando Pessoa

He then goes on to make some interesting coments about the need to create one-dimensional art, but it is the idea of the end, or purpose, of art that interests me. It is to 'increase human self-consciousness', he says. I don't agree. That is a means, not an end. Increase human self-consciousness for what purpose?

To understand the inter-relationship of the individual and the community, and the community and the society, and the society and the neighbouring society; and within, around, above and below all of that to understand the culture that envelops you as individuals, communities, societies, and to understand the cultures of your neighbouring - friend or foe - societies. That is the end of art. It rehearses in mimetic form the reality which binds us. It offers the opportunity of understanding the double-bind that constricts us. It offers a way out.


Jim Murdoch said...

His reasoning is not that dissimilar to Descartes. Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, is rooted in a belief that our knowledge of the universe is purely empirical.

If all our knowledge comes via the senses then art provides interesting exercises to stretch those senses. Just as a work of art is more than the sum of its parts, likewise our understanding of art is more than our simple observation of it.

Understanding is more than knowledge just as wisdom is more than understanding, i.e. a man may know what an atom bomb is but he may not understand how to construct one and it's unlikely he'll be wise enough to know when to use it. In that respect I would suggest that Ideas are three dimensional. A line may be an idea but so is a cube.

Tom Conoboy said...

Thanks Jim, that's a very clear summation. And yes, I agree that ideas should be thought of as three-dimensional.

As for ideas, or art, stretching the senses, I think this is what particularly interests me, especially in relation to culture.

It is the extent to which art is a reflection of culture, or can shape it, which interests me. In other words, is it passive or active? If you look at the flowering of the renaissance, so much of that, now, is represented through its art - the way it left behind the old religious iconography, understood perspective and so on. That wasn't simply a representation of the change that was occurring in society - it was the change.

And that is why totalitarian regimes invariably crack down on art and call it decadent, dangerous etc. It is (or should be) more than mere representation.

Jim Murdoch said...

Art affects individuals, individuals affect society. Some will be affected more than others. Some are susceptible or sensitive depending on your point of view and others not so much. That is the way it has always been. The power of art can be magnified considerably by focusing attention on it. Tell a kid he can't have something and that's all he can think about.

It all goes back to an old garden, a couple of nudists, an unspecified fruit and a talking snake. Art is never simply representation. The fruit hanging on the branch of the tree was good to look at but what it represented was knowledge. Adam probably never thought twice about the tree: just another tree, what's there to think about? On the whole art is passive until it is activated. The snake made Eve look at the fruit in another light. And it's the same with so many revolutionary works of art, they're just people standing around half the time and who would think they had the power to subvert anything?

Tom Conoboy said...

"Art is never simply representation."

Yes indeed, that's the key point, I think.