Sunday, November 2, 2014

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] Concluding Remarks -- The Plight of the Supernatural

Dear Yasminers --

As a way of concluding our discussion about the supernatural, I offer a few final remarks and invite others to do the same.

There is a philosophical argument that the term supernatural can be understood as the name for 'beyond what is knowable.' I understand that agnostic argument, but I doubt its material veracity. In the past, what was unknown and is now known, even if it turned out to be very different than what we had expected or imagined, was naturalized by virtue of our knowing it. This pattern is well established. The concept 'unknowable' is, I think, by definition meaningless.

A more prosaic argument for the meaning of the term supernatural is 'the magical kingdom' which supposedly underlies all material reality. This is the meaning to which the term is wed across multiple cultures, religions, and histories.

Thusly defined, for the last five-hundred years science has been this supernatural's antagonist. And for even longer, art has been this supernatural's image maker. I agree with earlier discussants that those established relationships and their inherent tensions do not fully define the contemporary art-science enterprise. But I maintain that art-science must engage that historic and ongoing tension at least to some degree, as an inescapable and critical part of its discourse. To do otherwise would be for art-science to have naively missed the an important implication of its own practice.

Finally, I conclude with a historical perspective. In Arthur C. Clarke's book and Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," a black rectangular monolith was presented as the symbol for a paradigmatic leap forward in human cognitive evolution. (As an aside, the monolith is interesting in light of Minimalism as an avant-garde contemporary art form at the time the book and film were produced. Minimalism is physical, sculptural, and concrete, of this world and not of the pictorial illusionistic world of the imaginary.)

One could say that metaphorically a similar monolith presented itself to the mid nineteenth century in the form of the concept 'abstraction.' Until the middle of that century, aesthetic experience had been largely invested in the illusionistic, pictorial, space of painting -- i.e., representational art. With abstraction and its commensurate decline of a reliance upon illusion to represent reality, world views that had been authorized, enforced, and codified for thousands of years in the fictional space of painting, began to erode. Over several decades, paintings evolved from being windows to an imaginary reality, into being real objects in the same real space as their onlookers. And at that same time, revolutionary discoveries in science were informing the nineteenth century's cultural/intellectual milieu. I maintain that this erosion of illusion in painting that accompanied a movement toward the concrete, symbolized the general decline of confidence in the supernatural brou!
ght about by the advancement of science. The traces of a cognitive change symbolized by art moving from fictional, pictorial space into real space -- the same space that science studies -- can be traced from its origins in the 1800s, through the twists and turns of twentieth century modernism, to the present engagement with art-science in the twenty-first.

These are some ideas embodied in my current exhibition REALSPACE, at the Williamson Gallery, Art Center College of Design, through January 18. .

Many thanks to Roger Malina and to the Yasmin list moderators for engaging this difficult and potentially contentious subject of the supernatural, and to the thoughtful and polite writers who contributed over the past few weeks, as well as those who followed the discussion from the sidelines -- this has been a stimulating conversation and I, for one, enjoyed it very much.


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