Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] on the roots of evil

I've been thinking about abstraction in a time of total surveillance and big data. Snowden's revelations show us that the security services can and do keep detailed tabs on what we do and construct profiles of us all. Computationally it is not a big deal (well, it's big data) to model a few billion objects (people) and look for patterns and connections between them. Some strict and precise filtering allows human beings to consider (in a humanly possible manner) the very few instances they might be interested in. This is a realistic proposition.

Such surveillance is essentially a process of representation. It is more or less a process of abstraction and remains, at least in its traces and certainly when a lot of data is collected about a specific subject, a model of a person that could be considered a data portrait.

To my mind this is might be described as the "root of all evil".

Logically, therefore, there is a clear moral argument for total abstraction - or what Max Bill termed concrete art. His intentions may have been Marxist but I feel there is a clear argument here for the moral high ground being held by concrete or non-representational art when we live in an age where we are able to realise that to represent is to control. Less a Marxist proposition, more a post-Marxist Foucauldian ethic. Non-representational art is possibly the only art form that is not complicit in 'representing to control'.

However, there's a contradiction - the contradiction always implicit when you choose to walk away from the problem. Concrete art might allow the artist to occupy some form of moral high ground - but it means they are unable to engage in the dirty messy world they are seeking to transcend, thus making it difficult to potentially make a difference.

I've never been able to resolve that problem.



Sent from a mobile device, thus the brevity.

Simon Biggs

On 9 Oct 2013, at 20:29, Paul Brown <> wrote:

I think the use of the word 'abstract' is misleading here. By definition an abstraction abstracts from something. A better term may be Art Concret as redefined in 1947 by Max Bill modifying Van Doesburg's original 1924 definition:

"We call Concrete Art those works of art which originate on the basis of means and laws of their own, without external reliance on phenomena or any transformation of them, in other words, without undergoing a process of abstraction. Concrete painting and sculpture are the formulation of what is optically perceptible. Their means of formulation are colors, space, light, and movement."

Bill would have been amused by the suggestion that such art was "the root of evil". For him the purity of art concret made it the perfect manifestation of Marxism in the arts.


On 9 Oct 2013, at 16:20, Paul Fishwick <> wrote:

> Simon
> The original post "naked math is the root of all evil" was likely meant to
> be provocative, so I am guilty in a need to respond -- probably
> a mistake. Here is the post for reference:
> The term "naked math" refers to mathematics without context. Mathematics
> "within a context" usually refers to mathematical modeling -- that the
> mathematics models or represents something in the real world. My point
> was simply to rephrase this in terms of something that the Yasmin group
> might find equally appalling (or not?): what is the art analogy of naked
> math? It would probably fall into the general area of abstract art -- something
> performed and executed that is not representational of the world, and so
> is equally as "naked".
> I find that looking at arguments but placing them into a different context
> is educational and enlightening.
> As to "beauty", quite right, this could be a lengthy discussion on
> aesthetics. I look at art because it conveys a story or I find it interesting,
> or is relevant to my life, in some way. Whether that is the same as "beauty"
> who knows. Eco seemed to think so:
> -p
> On Oct 8, 2013, at 7:31 AM, Simon Biggs <> wrote:

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