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    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/19/2006 Article Image:
    By /index.php?/user/8-davidm/">David Misialowski (2006)

    In earlier essays, I talked about the problem of demarcating art from non-art, and efforts to judge art as either good or bad. All such efforts, it turns out, are elusive.

    This raises another interesting question: Is art, in and of itself, (apart from its particular products) necessarily a good pursuit? Might it be a bad pursuit instead? Or if such a question is too parochial, resting on assumptions of "good" and "bad" that cannot be shown to be objectively true, maybe we could ask whether the assumption that making art is intrinsic to human nature is true and if it is, whether this fact gives it some special status.

    A well-known critique of art (the arts in general, not just visual art) can be found in Plato's Republic. At the risk of oversimplifying it, the critique is along the following lines: First, art does not impart knowledge. Socrates asks why people should listen to Homer. Do Homer's tales tell us anything about reality, or are they just made up by someone who does not have direct knowledge about which he speaks and hence of no value? In the case of poetry and the arts, there is a danger of the artist "bewitching" his audience into emotive beliefs (under the spell, perhaps, of meter and line in poetry, or alluring colors in visual art) that do not correspond with right reason. This can be especially problematic because in Plato's Republic, people would carry out tasks according to their talents, and one such vital task is that of the Guardian. Guardians would be "bred" instinctively to defend the state against enemies, without ever acquiring the corrupted desire to turn upon the state (for they would be armed, and presumably have the power to do so). Also, guardians must be conditioned to never to desert those whom they defend in time of peril. Such people, Plato felt, needed to be trained to resist the "bewitchment" of art, which, he felt, could undermine their reason and hence their conduct.

    Second, the arts are a form of mimesis, of attempting to imitate or represent reality. In the context of Plato's Forms – the idea that there are perfect and immutable universals, such a Bed, of which any particular bed in reality is but an imperfect representation – it then turns out that a painting of a bed is a still more-imperfect copy of an imperfect copy of the form Bed. However, the artisan who makes the bed must, if the bed is to be well made, possess expert knowledge of the form Bed; the painter of the bed needs no such knowledge, and hence his representation of it does not have the value of conveying knowledge. What is it, then, that the artist conveys? Mere appearances. Socrates suggests that if one were interested in conveying mere appearances, one might just as well walk around with a mirror. In that way one could reproduce the sun, the earth, other people and so on, but we see that this sort of effortless mimesis requires no knowledge on the part of the mirror-bearer, and hence can convey no knowledge to other people. Socrates says: "The real artist, who knew what he was imitating, would be interested in realities and not in imitations; and would desire to leave as memorials of himself works many and fair; and, instead of being the author of encomiums, he would prefer to be the theme of them."

    Plato believed that music, poetry, dance, and the visual arts could, unless regulated, undermine the foundations of a well-regulated state, which for Plato involved division of labor among specialists. He did not wish to banish art, but to bring it under the purview of proper philosophy, of right reason. Practically speaking, that would mean state censorship of the arts, a proposition far from unfamiliar to history. Plato’s attack on the artist if often thought ironic, because he himself was a literary artist who produced his philosophy in the form of dialogues.

    These sorts of criticisms of art as a general project, especially the view that art can undermine morale, and threaten the public order and the legitimacy of the state, have echoed down the ages. That the state fears art, and struggles to censor, repress, mold and guide it, finds its culmination in the 20th century totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Maoist China. Each banned art that it deemed "degenerate" and mandated an art of social realism that validated and glorified the aims of the state. One shouldn't suppose, however, the Plato would have favored Nazi-style censorship, because presumably he would have condemned the leaders of such totalitarian regimes as being morally and philosophically unfit for their tasks.

    There is another, less well-known critique of art, to which I alluded briefly in Part One of the two-part series that explored the question of what Art is. It is the nagging, atavistic notion that art, as a project, represents not a glorification of the human spirit, but rather is a symptom of its deformation. The idea is that art, strictly, is superfluous, and that the undivided psyche - the truly healthy individual - has no need to make art, or to experience the artworks that others have made. This idea finds expression in the view that rather than make works of art, one ought instead to be an "artist of life". Paul Klee wrote, "I paint in order not to cry." Presumably, then, had Klee felt no impulse to cry in the face of reality (i.e., had he been psychically whole), he would have felt no need to make art.

    The anarchist-primitivist John Zerzan, in his essay The Case Against Art, argues that art has no place in an "unfallen social reality" because there is no need for it. What is an unfallen social reality? In Genesis, we read of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. This was their fall. Metaphorically, the expulsion story can be seen as an account of humans abandoning (for some reason) the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that they and their ancestors had pursued for millions of years, and turning to agriculture instead, a move that culminated in the rise of civilization (from the Latin civis, "inhabitant of a city".)

    Zerzan argues that with the rise of civilization, humans adopted in earnest for the first time symbolic thought, which includes visual art, writing, music, numbers and mathematics. Zerzan makes two broad arguments: the first is that civilization, and the agriculture and predated it, is bad, not good; and from this it follows that symbolic thought (including visual art) is a symptom of psychic deformity. Pre-civilized people, he argues, failed to make art, not because they were the intellectual inferiors of modern, civilized man, or not because they wished to make art but lacked the material means or time to do so, but because they had no need to make art.

    This critique stands Plato's on its head: rather than being a threat to the state, Zerzan argues that art is a symptom of it. At the same time, Zerzan's critique seems to have something in common with Plato's concern that mere mimesis is empty, because behind each work of art stands a Form, or Idea, that is itself perfect and of which the imitative artist has no knowledge. Zerzan's "perfect" resides not in Forms, but in pre-civilization. He argues that pre-civilized life – the life of hunter-gatherers – was characterized by "the longest and most successful adaptation to nature ever achieved by humans, a high degree of gender equality, an absence of organized violence, significant leisure time, an egalitarian ethos of sharing, and a disease-free robusticity." He cites a number of archaelogical studies that support his thesis.

    In his essay, Zerzan writes: "The primary function of art is to objectify feeling, by which one's own motivations and identity are transformed into symbol and metaphor. All art, as symbolization, is rooted in the creation of substitutes, surrogates for something else; by its very nature therefore, it is falsification. Under the guise of 'enriching the quality of human experience', we accept vicarious, symbolic descriptions of how we should feel, trained to need such public images of sentiment that ritual art and myth provide for our psychic security."

    Zerzan's account of art (his whole account of human history) reverses the traditional account. But we must remember that the traditional account – of man's steady "progress" from prehistory to agriculture to civilization to moon shots and the rise of the Internet – is an account generated from within the context of civilization. It should be unsurprising that civilization would have a favorable story to tell about civilization. But that just means that the civilizational account of art – and of all history – is theory laden, and presupposes a set of values that remain unexamined.

    In the context of art – or, more broadly, "symbolic thought", as Zerzan calls it – we have the following civilizational account, for instance, of the Neanderthals: they were similar to, but crucially different from, Homo sapiens. It appears that they were smart, but not quite as smart as us, and that is why they died out. Their lack of "smarts" can be seen in the fact that they did not appear to have much symbolic thought. It appears that they did not, for example, make art. The making of art, one supposes, is the product of a higher intellect, and the presentiment of culture. And, of course, from within the context of the civilizational critique, culture obviously is good.

    But Zerzan and others offer a different account. The Neanderthals, we should remember, had brains that were slightly larger than those of Homo sapiens. To believe, then, that they were not quite as smart as Home sapiens, is to accept without critical analysis the idea that not making art (or not tilling the land or not building cities) indicates a certain mental "lack". But what if the opposite is true? What if the refusal to make art, to build cities and to wage war indicates, instead, a psychic wholeness that modern man lacks? This is the idea that Zerzan and others put forward.

    In his essay Running on Emptiness, Zerzan quotes James Shreeve, author of The Neanderthal Enigma:

    ... where the modern's gods might inhabit the land, the buffalo, or the blade of grass, the Neanderthal's spirit was the animal or the grass blade, the thing and its soul perceived as a single vital force, with no need to distinguish them with separate names. Similarly, the absence of artistic expression does not preclude the apprehension of what is artful about the world. Neanderthals did not paint their caves with the images of animals. But perhaps they had no need to distill life into representations, because its essences were already revealed to their senses. The sight of a running herd was enough to inspire a surging sense of beauty. They had no drums or bone flutes, but they could listen to the booming rhythms of the wind, the earth, and each other's heartbeats, and be transported.

    It is worth looking at the critiques of Plato and Zerzan and attempting to reply to them, both in where they differ and where they overlap.

    Where they differ most, it seems, is in their presuppositions about civilization. For Plato, civilization was obviously a good thing, though it was important to build the "right" kind of republic. It is curious that Plato's Socrates, who consistently subjected the presuppositions of others to the scalpel of critical inquiry in the form of questions, never exactly (it seems) asked a couple of key questions: First, why was it good, or necessary, to ask the sort of questions he asked? Was it possible that he was attempting a reductive analysis of many topics that resist reductionism? And second, isn't it possible that Socrates' whole project of questioning, and reductive analysis, relied on the implicit assumption that civilization was a good thing? In the absence of civilization, would his questions (or any philosophy) have made sense? (Of course Plato, through Socrates, defended the project of civilization, but it does not seem that they conceived an alternative to civilization that would have involved anything other than chaos.)

    For Plato, civilization, specifically in the form of a well-regulated state with a precise division of labor, was unquestionably a good thing. The bewitchments of art, however, posed a threat to the social order, and needed carefully to be monitored and censored. Zerzan notes that in the modern world, "Freud, Marcuse and others saw that civilization demands the sublimation or repression of the pleasures of the proximity senses so that the individual can be thus converted to an instrument of labor." Seen in this light, the making of art could be interpreted as an effort to subvert or overthrow these control mechanisms, to defeat sublimation and bring to the surface man's uncivilized psyche. From this perspective, Plato was right: art represents a threat to the social order, to the well-regulated state. Certainly the Nazis knew this, although again we need to distinguish between the form of control over the arts that Plato espoused, and that which the Nazis practiced.

    But for Zerzan and other primitivists, the making of art – indeed, all symbolic thought, including the use of language – represents, not a threat to the state (civilization), but a manifestation of it. For Zerzan, symbolic thought stands in relation to civilization as the tumor does to the underlying cancer. Remove the underlying cancer, and the tumors will wither.

    Where Zerzan and Plato overlap in their critique of art, it seems, is in their belief that mimesis is pointless or destructive. For Plato, the imitation is two steps removed: a painting of a bed, for example, is the imitation of a bed in the real world that itself is an imperfect (though less so) imitation of the Form or Idea Bed, which is all that really exists. For Zerzan, the imitation is removed at a single step: we should not worry about Forms but about reality, and reality is all that there is. What need is there to imitate reality, except for the damaged psyche that has been civilized or domesticated, and has retreated into the damaging virtual world of symbolism? Recall the example of Neanderthals who failed to make art, not because they lacked the requisite materials or mental skills, but because "they could listen to the booming rhythms of the wind, the earth, and each other's heartbeats, and be transported."

    Let me try a brief reply both to Plato and Zerzan, one that necessarily will be summary and nature and limited in scope.

    Let's start by examining Socrates' complaint that art does not embody any true knowledge. After all, what do we learn by standing before a realistic painting of a meadow or field? Well, we could learn what the meadow or field looked like, but we could do that by standing in the middle of a real meadow or field. What do we learn by standing in front of a work of non-representational art (which sort of art Plato did not consider, because it did not exist in his culture)? It would seem that we could learn very little by way of propositional knowledge, or scientific knowledge, or knowledge of that sort.

    But is that the only sort of knowledge worth having? Surely not. This would reduce to the doctrine of scientism, that the only knowledge worth having is that acquired by scientific inquiry or, more generally, the proposition that only scientific statements are meaningful statements, a proposition that seems to be self-refuting, in that the statement does not seem to be a scientific sort of statement.

    Rather than look for knowledge of this sort in works of art, I suggest that we look for other kinds of knowledge that can be equally valuable, or more so, than a scientific or philosophical kind of knowledge. In art we can find beauty; we can have our emotions stimulated, and the work of art (whether paintings, or literature, or music) can stimulate thoughtful reflection. Yes, perhaps this sort of stimulation might be "bewitching", in the sense the Plato feared, but to accept this sort of objection, one must accept Plato's argument that there is a certain type of person or persons who "know best" what society need: the wise men. This idea is open to severe objection, but to muster the counterarguments would be beyond the scope of this essay.

    In non-representational works of visual art, we are presented with visual music, and the eye might respond to it with the same rapturous delight that the ear finds in rhythms and harmony. In literature, a work of art invites us to empathize with the characters (if they are well-drawn) and in so doing we might gain insights into own lives, and the lives of others. Literary works like Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov tackle the great themes of philosophy: is there a God? What is man's relation to God? Where does good and evil come from, and can the beneficence of God trump great evil, like the torture or murder of children? Surely such reflections – such knowledge – will be valuable to some people. I would argue that if only one person found value in such works, then the works are valuable, and the argument that art fails to present knowledge is defeated.

    Also, recall that Socrates said: "The real artist, who knew what he was imitating, would be interested in realities and not in imitations; and would desire to leave as memorials of himself works many and fair; and, instead of being the author of encomiums, he would prefer to be the theme of them." But, if the Homeric artist needs to be shunned or at least controlled, then who would make the art ("bewitching" heroic poetry, in this case) of which the Great Man would be the theme?

    What about the Platonic idea that visual mimesis is an imitation of an imitation of The Real Thing? This idea presumes that the concept of Forms, or Ideas is valid; and surely this, too, is open to severe objection. In fact, I do not think that most contemporary philosophers subscribe to the notion of Platonic Forms, although many do believe in the existence of universals of a certain type. But even if Plato were right, and that real reality inheres in Forms, so what? If it were true that mimesis of the kind that Plato talks about were somehow bad or pointless, then it would seem, following this logic, that it would be bad or pointless not only to paint a picture of a bed, but even to build a bed! Sure, the artisan has more knowledge of the bed (under Plato's account) than does the painter, but his version of the universal will still be flawed and imperfect. Then why build it? Because one needs a place to sleep!

    And likewise, maybe one paints a picture of a bed because it gives one pleasure to do so; and also, no two paintings are alike, and in painting a picture of a bed, an artist will inevitably be making a statement about his own values, perceptions, and his inner life – and this might be thought valuable for any number of reasons. If I paint a picture, I make a statement about myself, and someone might find such a statement useful in getting to know more about me. It seems hard to argue against the potential value (at least) of this state of affairs. Also, again, the argument against mimesis of a bed, or anything else, presupposes that there is only one sort of knowledge worth having, broadly a kind of scientific or philosophical outlook, whereas in fact there might be proliferating knowledges worth having that Plato does not consider.

    What about the Platonic objection that art, if not regulated, can pose a threat to the state? This idea interestingly seems at odds with the argument that art is somehow pointless, an imitation of an imitation of the Real Thing. Which is it? Is art pointless and therefore futile, or a threat to the state and therefore potent? In reply, I suppose, the defender of Plato would point out that, through his mouthpiece Socrates, he was making the case that a certain type of art is pointless: the painting of a bed, for example, a reproduction that could more efficiently be accomplished by holding a mirror before it. Other types of art – Homeric poetry – are potentially threatening, for the bewitching spell that they could cast, undermining reason.

    Art is a threat to the state (or can be) and can serve as a rallying point, an icon, for certain ways of thought or living. We saw, in the essay on Guernica, how Picasso's work has become an iconic statement of opposition to war, and through it one can feel empathy for the victims of war, and the victims of suffering in general.

    Plato's distrust of art presupposes that the state takes precedence over the individual, and that the individual must be subsumed to the state, and pushed into specialized roles. This idea has waxed and waned through history; today it is widely thought (or at least espoused, perhaps as propaganda) in Western societies that individuals are more important than the state, and that the latter derives its powers from the consent of the former.

    Zerzan thinks that this Western idea of how the individual stands in relation to the state is wholly false, and that civilization is based, today as ever, on slavery: In the past civilizations had real slaves (unpaid, kept in chains) but the need for such slavery passed away only with the arrival of ghost slaves; i.e., hydrocarbon slavery, the energy provided by the remnants of living things that died millions of years ago. Still, Zerzan argues, all people in modern society (except perhaps for the elite at the top of the pyramid) are slaves: wage slavery, he says, is slavery. After all, the real slaves of the past actually were paid: they were given food, because they had to be kept alive to do the work that was required of them. Today, wage slaves are given food in the form of money. In the past, slaves who rebelled or tried to run away were constrained, tortured or killed; today, civilization has more subtle methods of dealing with its slaves. A rebellious wage slave is free to trade his wage slavery for poverty, hunger and homelessness whenever he wishes, and no one will stop him because there will always be somebody to replace him.

    Be that as it may, let us now turn to Zerzan's critique of art: that art is the manifestation of the deformed psyche, and that this deformation has its roots in civilization. Remove civilization, he argues, and you remove art. For millions of years, man and his immediate ancestors did not make art. Art – and symbolic thought in general – arose in tandem with civilization, Zerzan says, and represents civilization’s contaminants, as complicit in the deformation of the human psyche (and as reflective of it) as the division of labor, the invention of war, and the existence of armies and police departments for the purpose of controlling the wage slaves and enforcing division of labor and productivity. Remove these corrupting underpinnings and art vanishes; one becomes the so-called "artist of life", transported, as the Neanderthals purportedly were, by the thundering of the herd, the booming rhythms of the wind and by their own heartbeats.

    Plato complained that visual art was an imitation of an imitation of the Real Thing; Zerzan’s views overlap to this extent: that art is an imitation of the Real Thing but one step removed from reality, not two steps as for Plato, but removed nevertheless. He writes: "Part of training sight to appreciate the objects of culture was the accompanying repression of immediacy in an intellectual sense: reality was removed in favor of merely aesthetic experience. Art anesthetizes the sense organs and removes the natural world from their purview. This reproduces culture, which can never compensate for the disability."

    Perhaps he is right. But so what? Another way to look at the situation is like this: art is a defense mechanism against culture, not a manifestation of it. Presuming Zerzan's thesis to be true, that prehistoric man had a superior life to that endured by modern man under the bit and spur of civilization, then art can be seen as the antidote to conformity, the manifestation of the rebellious spirit. This certainly would seem to be valid for the artist who goes against the established norms, who refuses to conform to conventional theories of art (and we have already seen the accounts of Manet, the impressionists, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso and others smashing the platitudes and certitudes of what civilization determined to be "art"). Maybe Zerzan is right, that there existed some Edenic pre-civilized world in which art, and symbolic thought, was superfluous. If that is true, then one might suggest that today, art in the hands of the artist would be like guns in the hands of slaves: If the slaves use the guns to good effect – overturning the rule of their masters – then afterward, they can put away their guns. If Zerzan is right about the discontents of civilization, then maybe art is the gun to blow it away, and when the job is done, the artist can lay aside his gun: his paintbrush, pen, flute.

    Zerzan argues that the rise of art, and of symbolic thought in general, occurred in tandem with the start of agriculture, which prefigured civilization. The making of pictures and sculpture, the invention of numbers and math, and the rise of the written world, he says, went hand in hand with the start of civilization, and were used to reinforce it. Hence, he argues, art can never be value free, but is a tool for promoting the worldview of those who would divide labor and introduce commodification, production and inequality into the world. The early purpose of art, he says, was shamanistic: the shaman was one of the first specialists (division of labor) and art's purpose was to inculcate the doctrines of those who held power. As an example, think of Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. While we celebrate them for their beauty, it is reasonable to suppose that their main function was propagandistic, to flatter the vanity of the ecclesiastical authorities of that period, and to validate both their authority and the narrative of Christianity.

    But Zerzan's account of art faces a challenge. Paleolithic man - prehistorical man - was making art on cave walls 30,000 years ago! This is long before the start of agriculture, which is approximately 10,000 years old. How does Zerzan account for this discrepancy?

    He doesn't, because he can't. This isn't necessarily an indictment of his account, because no one knows why Paleolithic man began making cave paintings, or what purpose they served. But, because we don't know the answers to these questions, Zerzan is free to invent his own answers. That's OK, but we must note that he begs the question, presuming what he must prove: that art represents the outer manifestation of inner deformity, and is absent from the undivided (pre-civilized) psyche. Thus Zerzan assumes that Paleolithic man began to paint (in certain places) because those particular tribes were suffering from some psychic dislocation, some phenomenon that was prefiguring the division of labor and the invention of agriculture, even though these phenomena were still millenniums in the future. He writes:

    The veritable explosion of art at this time bespeaks an anxiety not felt before: in Worringer's words, "creation in order to subdue the torment of perception". Here is the appearance of the symbolic, as a moment of discontent. It was a social anxiety; people felt something precious slipping away. The rapid development of the earliest ritual or ceremony parallels the birth of art, and we are reminded of the earliest ritual re-enactments of the moment of "the beginning", the primordial paradise of the timeless present. Pictorial representation roused the belief in controlling loss, the belief in coercion itself.

    Now, for all I know, he might be right, but again notice that he is begging the question. Zerzan's thesis is that symbolic art arose hand in hand with agriculture and then civilization, and that it served a shamanistic function of diverting people from authentic contact with reality in the service of the state. In the case of cave art, to save this thesis, Zerzan must assume, without evidence, that there was some disjuncture in the Upper Paleolithic, tens of thousands of years before agriculture was invented, that somehow prefigured agriculture and civilization. As speculation this is fine; as an argument it is weak. Just as readily, we can tell this story: the rise of cave painting, thousands of years before agriculture, is a defeater for the notion that art and symbolic thought is a product and enabler of civilization. The artists of the Upper Paleolithic made their art for some reason but that reason had nothing to do with civilization. Maybe they tried it and found that it was fun!

    What should we conclude? Maybe that to be against art, for any reason, is to adopt a particular narrative whose assumptions must be examined on their own terms. Of course, to be for art, is to do the same thing. That is one reason, I guess, we have philosophy: to make us critically examine our own presuppositions. But then, alas, philosophy ideally should tell us why we should even bother to do this. Because for Zerzan (as for Nietzsche?) philosophy is as superfluous as art is, as indeed morality is for that matter, with morality being yet another symptom of the cancer of civilization that Zerzan thinks is destroying the human psyche and killing the world.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/19/2006 Article Image:
    James Howard Kunstler is a former writer for Rolling Stone and the author of nine novels and four non-fiction books, including his most recent, The Long Emergency. In it, Mr. Kunstler portrays a 21st century in which the southwest United States is largely reclaimed by desert; the interstate highway system has crumbled; the industrial and high-tech economy has gone into a terminal tailspin and the main economic activity of the United States is food production, with food grown and consumed locally, through hard physical labor.

    The suburbs are slums, the big cities have contracted severely and people are forced to live locally, in small towns and without most of the amenities to which we have grown accustomed. The United States itself might break up into autonomous regions as big government, like everything else that is big, withers and gets small. It is a world in which the Industrial Revolution seems to have been repealed.

    What accounts for this dystopian view, and why should we take it seriously? The answer lies with two interlocking propositions: The first is that we have good grounds to believe that we are at, or near, the peak of global oil production. When the peak is passed, oil production will decline relentlessly, at a time when oil demand will be greater than ever. And the second proposition is that the complacent assumption that something, anything, will replace oil - nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, what have you - is false. For a variety of reasons, Kunstler and others argue, these alternative energy sources will not scale to meet even a fraction of the needs of our current industrial, high-tech civilization. If this is right, globalization, thought to be the wave of the future, is already a thing of the past. Mr. Kunstler agreed to an interview with the Galilean Library, and we appreciate his time.

    - Interviewed by David Misialowski (2006).

    DM: In your book, you speak of attending a conference in which the depressing long-range prospects of the earth were discussed, and said that the experience made you feel like "gargling with razor blades". This was the same feeling I got reading your book, which, after all, deals with prospects not in some unimaginable future but right around the corner. Given these twin theses - that we are at or near peak oil production, and that no alternative energy source or strategy can plausibly replace an economy built on fossil fuels - why shouldn't anyone who believes this gargle with razor blades?

    JHK: I'm describing some pretty sharp discontinuities in our way-of-life, but not the end-of-the-world, or even the end of civilization. The circumstances that I present imply that we have to make other arrangements for daily life. I think we can accomplish quite a bit toward that end, but we have to be willing to let go of some enormous previous investments. We are not going to run WalMart, Disney World, and Northwest Airlines on wind-power, switch-grass, uranium, or used french-fry oil. We will be foolish to invest our remaining resources in a defense of suburbia, since it would amount to a defense of the unsustainable. But there's an awful lot we can do to change the way we occupy the landscape, and the activities we bring to that. Forgive me for complaining, but I am often misunderstood on these grounds. I suspect readers are projecting their anxieties on my argument and coming to somewhat different conclusions than I do.

    DM: Last August, The New York Times Sunday magazine featured peak oil as its cover story. Early in the article, the author said that the impact of peak oil "on the American way of life would be profound: cars cannot be propelled by roof-borne windmills. The suburban and exurban lifestyles, hinged to two-car families and constant trips to work, school and Wal-Mart, might become unaffordable or, if gas rationing is imposed, impossible. Carpools would be the least imposing of many inconveniences; the cost of home heating would soar -- assuming, of course, that climate-controlled habitats do not become just a fond memory." After that, though, the author abruptly dropped the matter of future prospects, and devoted the bulk of his article to assessing Saudi oil capacity claims while talking about how Americans would need to practice conservation and pursue alternative energy sources, as if these options were solutions. Is the failure of the mainstream media to seriously examine the possibility that there are no solutions that will rescue our way of life in the face of fossil-fuel depletion an example of the "consensus trance" concerning our prospects that you speak of in your book? And if peak oil as a topic is nearly invisible in the mainstream media, why is it so dominant on the Web?

    JHK: The failure of the mainstream media is pretty impressive. The author of that NY Times article, Peter Maass, was on NPR's "Fresh Air" show the day after his piece came out in the Sunday Magazine. Terri Gross asked him the inevitable question -- "what can we do" -- and Maass answered, pretty lamely in my opinion, that we should work on making cars that get better mileage. This is typical of the collective failure of imagination. There are, in fact, many intelligent things we could do, from restoring the US railroad system -- which would have the greatest impact on our oil consumption, and quickly, than any project we could do right away -- to reforming our planning-and-zoning codes comprehensively, to commencing a high level public debate on the need to re-launch a nuclear power program. We could promote walkable communities and public transit on the fine-grained scale. Unfortunately, we are talking about none of these things. Another example: a few weeks ago the NY Times Sunday book Review ran a cover story on Francis Fukuyama's new book concerning his disappointment with the Neo-cons and their foreign policy in particular. The review was by Paul Berman who has written extensively about Islamic terrorism. The word "oil" was never mentioned in the essay. Weird. Just in the past two months CBS's "Sixty Minutes" show has run two major pieces filled with gross misstatements about the extent of the Canadian tar sands and the value of coal liquifaction. CNN ran an equally misleading piece about ethanol on a recent Sunday night. All three shows declared that these various "alternative" resources would rescue us from the problems of the global oil predicament. They were a terrible disservice to the public, and will only promote more delusional thinking.

    DM: A typical "green" website, or book, or organization, paints a rosy scenario of renewable energy powering a pollution-free civilization. An example is this page, in which it is asserted that "Solar energy is presently being used on a smaller scale in furnaces for homes and to heat up swimming pools. On a larger scale use, solar energy could be used to run cars, power plants, and space ships." Yet in your book, you lay out, in some detail, why solar energy, and none of the other anticipated replacements for fossil fuels, will work. Could you summarize your position on this?

    JHK: Solar energy just isn't powerful enough to accomplish all those things we are wishing and hoping it would do. It can do many things, but on a very modest scale. The problems I discussed in the book had to do with whether we could manufacture the components for these technologies without an underlying cheap oil economy to enable all the advanced metallurgy and fabrication processes necessary to make photovoltaics, batteries, wind turbines, et cetera. I don't think we know the answer to that, but I am inclined to think it will be extremely difficult, especially if we don't get going on a new generation of nuke plants.

    DM: You spend of good deal of time in our writings stressing the difference between energy and technology, to show why we should not expect a quick fix from the latter to solve our problems. Could you elaborate on this?

    JHK: One of the principal delusions coming out of all this is the belief that energy and technology are identical, mutually substitutable. This is just not true. The Boeing 757s (and all the rest of the jet fleets) are either going to run on liquid hydrocarbon fuels or they ain't gonna run. No "technology" is going to fix that. And we are not going to change out the world fleets of the Boeing and Airbus jetliners, either. This is typical of the extreme wishful thinking we see out there.

    DM: A number of places in your book, you speak of the necessity of keeping "the project of civilization" going. Yet given the dire scenarios you outline, how is this going to even be possible? And if it were possible, what would civilization look like, say 50 years hence? It what ways might it even be better than what we have now, something you also suggest is possible?

    JHK: I think civilization will continue, but at a more modest scale. It is not absolutely necessary to have 6.5 billion human beings on this planet, or for them to be deployed in super-mega-giant hyper-cities. Industrial technology has brought out a streak of grandiosity in us that is very unfortunate, perhaps tragic. We are going to learn a harsh lesson.

    DM: In your book, you say that the war in Iraq was justified for a number of reasons, and that it could be the first in an increasing series of "resource wars" that might involve us in a confrontation with China. Recently on your blog, you also defended the idea, as reported by Seymour Hersh, that the United States was making plans to use bunker-busting tactical nuclear weapons against Iran's suspected uranium enrichment sites. Ultimately, you suggest, our real reasons for the confrontations first with Iraq, and now seemingly with Iran, are about access to oil. But, if we are at or past peak oil, what would be the point of endless confrontations and wars over dwindling resources? Instead of fighting for the remnants of stuff that is going to vanish anyway, wouldn't it make more sense to spend our time, money and energy retrofitting our economy for the new conditions?

    JHK: I've basically said that the American public has gotten the war they require. A lot of self-congratulatory "progressives" such as Harry Shearer on NPR complain about the war, but they're still enjoying the motoring fiesta. There's a lady in my town who drives a Ford Expedition with a "War Is NOT the Answer" bumper sticker on her car. At every opportunity I tell her that war IS the answer -- if you want to live like that. Progressives have been demonizing political leaders who are merely defending a way of life that people at all points on the political spectrum still expect to maintain. I take the position that we'd better start thinking of making those "other arrangements." The political left is just as AWOL on the railroad question as the right wing is. I think it would indeed make a lot more sense retrofitting our economy and changing our behavior, but the fact is that nobody
    wants to do that. So, we have a resource war instead.

    DM: In The Long Emergency, you emphasize your view that the creation of suburbia represented the greatest misallocation of resources in human history, because it depends on a car culture that will be unsustainable in an energy-poor world. Is there anyone or anything to blame, though, for this state of affairs, should the suburban (and urban) collapse you foresee come to pass? Looking back, would we say that capitalism, with its manic mantra for growth, was to blame? Or is blaming an economic system
    too simplistic?

    JHK: The suburban way of life IS going to collapse, in the sense that it will lose its usefulness and its monetary value. While there were some bad actors in the story -- like the General Motors and Firestone Tire conspiracy of the 1930s to systematically destroy the streetcar systems all over America -- in general one can say that suburbia was an "emergent" and "self-organizing" phenomenon like countless other social systems. It was a response, in America, to cheap oil, cheap and abundant rural land, and to the inadequacy and artlessness of our cities. It also represented a kind of indulgence we granted ourselves for winning World War Two. It turns out to have been a rather tragic enterprise. I certainly don't blame "capitalism," which I do not regard as either a belief system or a form of politics, but simply a set of laws governing the behavior of surplus wealth.

    DM: In your book, you talk about the fantasy of unending growth, writing, "If we project 'housing starts' ninety-nine years forward at current rates, there wouldn t be a single buildable quarter-acre lot left in the world." The foregoing suggests to me a couple of things: first, that even without peak oil, the growth fixation is a dangerous one; and second, that perhaps there was something inevitable about the plight of civilization, as you suggest it will play out. Populations of all species grow exponentially in the presence of abundant resources and in the absence of serious predators or competitors. But frequently, they use up their resources and their populations crash. In using and then exhausting our fossil fuel endowment and growing from a population of one billion in 1800 to six and a half billion today, do you think it is possible that we are simply replicating on a grand scale the experience of the reindeer on St. Matthew Island?

    JHK: Well, I think Malthus was essentially right. And I think Joseph Tainter has described the mechanisms of cyclical human failure very accurately in his phrase "over-investments in complexity with diminishing returns." The oil age was very special. Malthus wrote his famous essay about fifty years before the oil extravaganza started. His basic idea is sound. Oil postponed the Malthusian reckoning with our numbers. It's coming around again at a far greater scale, now, and it is liable to be a gnarly spectacle.

    DM: I sometimes personally think that we'd actually be better off without most of the things that we take for granted: TV, cars, computers, mega chain stores, processed food and on and on. The reason is that all these wonders of what you call "the drive-in utopia" seem to have a great many unintended adverse side effects. What do you think?

    JHK: I certainly agree. I don't write better because I have a computer (I composed my first five novels on typewriters or by handwriting.) Computers have not made me more efficient; they only waste my time -- for instance seducing me to submit to interviews out of sheer vanity. In my experience, I've had better times drinking and playing guitars with my friends than watching TV or driving on I-87. I think we way under-appreciate the negative consequences of our technofied experiences.

    DM: You have said that one concrete step we can take now to prepare for the future that you describe is to rebuild the national railroad system. If you were given unlimited power to "get things done", what other steps would you take?

    JHK: I would follow my friend Jeff Brown's excellent suggestion and replace the federal payroll tax (FICA) with a stiff gasoline tax. I'd legislate comprehensively against further suburban expanasion. I would do everything possible to reactivate our watefronts for shipping -- most of them have been dedicated to parks and condo development. I would re-direct all agricultural subsidies to small-scale, local farmers. I would begin at once a debate at the highest level about whether to go forward with investments in nuclear power. Many other things will tend to take care of themselves. For instance, increased energy prices will eventually put an end to pernicious activities like WalMart.

    DM: In your book you write: "The circumstances of the Long Emergency will be the opposite of what we currently experience. There will be hunger instead of plenty, cold where there was once warmth, effort where there was once leisure, sickness where there was health, and violence where there was peace." This is a very bleak prospect to hold out to young people. How do they typically react when you present this prospect to them in your lectures? And what do you say to their responses?

    JHK: I have to remind them that sometimes it is necessary for individuals and groups of people to show some heroism and fortitude. The time for being crybabies is over.

    DM: I notice that you have an interest in the visual arts: that you paint, and that you discuss architecture a good deal, and at your website you maintain an "Eyesore of the Month" inventory of what you regard as architectural blunders, including works by some of the most famous names in modernity. You described David Childs' revised plans for the Freedom Tower as Ground Zero as lacking "the common dignity of a bowling trophy". I get the feeling that you think much of what we take as being "great" in architecture and the arts is a kind of tumor-like outgrowth, or overgrowth, of the one-shot bonanza of our fossil-fuel blowout, and that much of what the elites today believe to be significant accomplishments in the visual arts and architecture might seem, to our descendants, as grotesque or even insane. Is that a fair assessment of your views, and does it apply as much to canvas art as to modern architecture? What kind of art -- visual, literary, musical -- do you think will arise during the Long Emergency that you foresee?

    JHK: Well, that is a fair assessment. I think Modernism in the arts was a fiasco -- but I hasten to add that Modernism only expressed the various guises of entropy at work in our culture during this period. The high-energy industrial experience has left us quite crazy, afflicted, demoralized, and injured. I very emphatically believe that our spirits will automatically respond to the vicissitudes ahead by restoring true notions of beauty and truth to the arts and to architecture.

    DM: This website is primarily devoted to issues in philosophy. Does philosophy have anything to say -- even if only by way of consolation -- for what we face, if it comes to pass? I notice that you repeatedly stress, in your book and other writings, your view that "life is tragic". Is that a key part of your philosophy, and does it inform your response to the long emergency that you predict? Who are your favorite philosophers and thinkers, and what relevance, if any, do you think their views might have to the conditions that you think we face?

    JHK: Yes, I believe we lost our recognition of the tragic element in life, and that this loss has made us foolish and ridiculous. My education had a lot of holes in it. I flunked philosophy 101 and never took another course in the field again.

    DM: What are you currently working on? Your blog is amazingly busy, so I gather that takes up a lot of time. Are you writing, or planning to write, another book?

    JHK: I am in the middle of a post-oil novel -- since that is a world that can only be imagined, not reported upon directly. I think people will be interested to receive a detailed, imagined picture of this future. The job of fiction is to create a plausible world. My blog connects me to my readership, but it, too, has diminishing returns. My email load as become a tremendous burden and an obstacle to getting things done. For the moment, I have accepted these consequences, but I can imagine a time ahead when I just "go tune my fiddle".
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/18/2006 Article Image:
    By /index.php?/user/8-davidm/">David Misialowski (2006)

    ... "cries of children, cries of women, cries of birds, cries of flowers, cries of timbers, and of stones, cries of bricks, cries of furniture, of beds, of chairs, of curtains, of pots, of cats, and of papers, cries of odors which claw at one another, cries of smoke pricking the shoulder of the cries which stew in the cauldron and of the rain of birds which inundates the sea which gnaws the bone and breaks its teeth biting the cotton wool which the sun mops up from the plate which the purse and the pocket hide in the print which the foot leaves in the rock." - Picasso

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    The above is part of a poem that Picasso wrote to accompany a set of drawings in the nature of a comic strip that he made early in 1937, also called Dream and Lie of Franco, and reproduced below. In it, Picasso depicted Franco as a diseased polyp, a malignant and oozing thug that, in one panel, devoured the entrails of its own horse.

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    Picasso had never been a political artist, and as Jung noted, his images seemed increasingly to withdraw from objective reality and primarily reflected some inner psychic state that he was trying to work out on canvas. He made no war-related art during World War I and after the war he turned from the cubism that he had invented and began painting figures in a neo-classical way, a move that might have been a parody of such art. Later he turned to an increasingly obscure version of surrealism that involved bizarre and unsettling distortions of the female form, possibly a reflection of his troubled relations with women.

    But by the mid-1930s, the apolitical artist who had been born in Spain but had spent the last 30 years of his life in Paris was confronted by the Spanish Civil War, embodied in the form of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the military renegade who was leading fascist forces in an effort to topple Spain's republican government. Picasso made his art and poetry skewering Franco after the latter had led his forces on ruinous marches through Picasso’s homeland.

    A little later in 1937, representatives of the Spanish government asked Picasso to paint a mural for the Spanish pavilion of a world’s fair that was scheduled for Paris later that year. They knew that Picasso’s sympathies lay with the republican government of Spain, and they wanted an explicit visual statement supporting it against Franco.

    Picasso demurred. He told them that he was not a political artist, and that he did not work on commission. Nevertheless he ultimately agreed to the project, but weeks went by and he did not know what he would do to fill the immense space - nearly 26 feet wide by 12 feet high - that was being prepared for his much-anticipated work.

    On April 26, 1937, Nazi bombers destroyed the ancient Basque town of Gernika from the air. Hitler's forces were now openly aiding Franco in his drive to topple the Spanish government and also defeat Communist fighters who were assisting it. The aerial obliteration of Gernika was a new thing in the world. There had been air warfare in World War I, but this was the first time that a civilian population was specifically targeted and the scale of the bombing was unprecedented. When Picasso, in Paris, learned of the attack, and saw black-and-white photos in the newspapers of the dead amid the ruins, he knew that he had found his subject for the Spanish Pavilion: Guernica, the Spanish rendering of the Basque Gernika.

    Below is the very first study for Guernica, which Picasso executed with a few lightning pencil strokes:

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    A figure bursts from a window, holding a light. Below a dying horse writhes in the center of the composition, and off to the side a bull watches. Intuitively, with a few quick strokes, Picasso had captured his subject.

    Why the bull and the horse?

    Picasso was raised in the culture of the bullfight. The bull, the horse and the man in the ring had played central roles in many of his motifs, and in the early 30s, in particular, he had begun to explore the myth of the Minotaur, the half-man half-bull of Greek mythology that was imprisoned in a labyrinth built by Daedalus. The Minotaur in the labyrinth was also a central concern, in literature, of Borges, and less directly in the form of Steven Daedalus in the labyrinth that Joyce built called Ulysses.

    As Picasso developed his work, he paid little attention to the particulars of the town of Gernika itself. This is because Picasso, in this work as in so many others, was concerned with universals rather than particulars. One way that scholars and historians have often judged art as influential (while avoiding problematic value judgments of whether it is good or bad) is when a work somehow transcends the particular circumstances that inspired it, and speaks across cultures, across time and place. Such works seem to have more influence - they endure in human memory, even across centuries - because in them, even modern people can recognize meaning.

    Picasso instinctively was striving to make his mural Guernica one such painting, a work that would speak, not so much to the particular circumstances of the Nazi bombardment and slaughter of innocent civilians in a particular town, but to the timeless theme of war’s horror, of the tenuousness of life and the way that death can be both sudden and brutal. In Spanish culture, the horse and bull in the ring were symbols of uncertain life and sudden death, and represented stylized warfare.

    Picasso worked to refine his figures in May 1937. Here is an early study of the head of the horse that would eventually dominate the center of the painting:

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    Picasso had long ago mastered and abandoned realistic or mimetic art as too limiting. He was a distorter and inventor of forms. To those who have a hard time seeing art as anything but the mimesis of forms in the outer world, one could pose the question, Do you think that this horse's head would have had more power, more terror, a more nightmarish aspect, if he had painted it realistically? I doubt it. Picasso understood that he needed to make monstrous forms, nightmarish things, in response to a monstrous and nightmarish act. The monster in art was nothing new, though the style of depicting it had changed. Consider Bosch's depictions of hell, an example of which is below - a surrealistic painting long before surrealism had been invented:

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    In addition to the bull and the horse, Picasso filled his canvas with human figures in various states of suffering and disorientation. Here is an early study, that, while it would change quite a bit, still already captured, starkly, the terror and suffering that he wished to convey. One could scarcely imagine a more dreadful image than that of a screaming mother with her small child dead in her hands because of bombs falling from the sky. The image is all the more powerful because of its brazen distortions, echoing the fragmentation and obliteration of the city under assault:

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    This image could be thought of as a modernistic heir of Michelangelo's Pieta:

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    As Picasso worked and reworked his figures, he arranged them in various compositional studies. The following pencil drawing is already extremely powerful and unsettling, though it does not even contain the weeping woman with child that we have just seen:

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    It is interesting to speculate, already, on some of the possible symbolism of the figures, which eventually took on a mythic but also somewhat enigmatic cast in the finished work. Of the final forms, Picasso said, "This bull is a bull, and this horse is a horse. It's up to the public to see what it wants to see."

    But it is possible in this early study to discern some literal meanings, which might have been why Picasso revised it, and made the horse and the bull more problematic in their relationship. The horse, buckled and broken and fallen to earth, head twisted around in agony, can be read as symbol specifically of the victims of Gernika, and more generally of the suffering people of Spain or of suffering in the abstract. The monstrous, robust, upright bull, which seems to have entered the scene as if invasively, could be Franco. There are fallen warriors to the lower left - the defenders of Republican Spain - the innocent civilian horrified by the devastation, as represented by the woman holding the light, and to the far right we find a defiantly raised upright arm clenched in a fist: the salute of the defenders of the Spanish republic.

    Picasso continued to refine his figures and change the composition, a process that was recorded in photographs by his lover Dora Maar. The fallen figure with the upraised arm and clenched fist was moved to a more prominent role in the center of the canvas, but Picasso eventually discarded the form, apparently because he believed that the detail was too heavy-handed, too obvious. Again, he was striving for something timeless and universal, something that would transcend the particulars of the event (for who knew whether an upraised arm with a clenched fist would always be associated with the defenders of Republican Spain, or even that it would always be associated with anything positive?) The version with the upraised fist that did not survive the final pictorial cut is below:

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    As it happens, rather than any upraised arms or clenched fists, the hands of all the people ended up splayed, disorganized, stretched out in pleading gestures and shot though with lines that could be interpreted as slashes, symbolizing wounds and the threat of death, or as the lifelines of palms, symbolizing the promise of life.

    The horse went through many poses, but all its postures were intended to emphasize horrific suffering, the impression of being flayed alive. In one version, Picasso rendered a miniature Pegasus winging its way out of a gaping wound in the side of the dying horse, an obvious resurrection motif, as if Picasso were showing that in dying, the horse (whether it represented Republican Spain, or humanity in general) was destined to experience rebirth. Again, he evidently decided that this icon was too obvious or heavy-handed, for he removed it from the final picture, and the only symbol of hope that eventually remained was a flower in the right hand of the broken warrior that lay across the bottom of the picture space.

    Picasso's figures and the composition co-evolved, and he eventually combined them into a mammoth triangular composition at whose apex was the light clutched by the woman leaning out the window and a form next to it suggesting either another electric light or perhaps the sun or even a bomb, and thus the picture equivocates between night and day, and between indoors and outdoors. This seemed appropriate, because the Nazis had thoughtfully destroyed so many buildings in Gernika that most people who remained alive did not have roofs over their heads and hence were simultaneously indoors and out.

    We can examine the symbolism of the figures.

    The Bull

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    For me, this is the most intriguing figure in the mural. In an early version of the work, which we have seen, the bull seemingly suggests Franco. In that version, it was the only undamaged animal or human in the scene, and it had a large, invasive, bullying presence, suggesting a brute force presiding over the destruction that it had wrought.

    In the final version, the creature is much more ambiguous. Borrowing from the multiple perspectives of cubism, Picasso worked the magic of making the head seem, simultaneously, to be in profile and facing the viewer. The expressions is confused, even startled - what you might expect to find on the face of a bull that has been flayed by a matador, but the animal shows no evidence of wounds. What's more, it seems to hover almost protectively over the weeping woman clutching her dead child. On the other hand, one could imagine that the woman is screaming, not just for her dead child, but in terror at the enormous (and evil?) animal that is looming menacingly above her, its head just inches from her own. The meaning is ambiguous, but the anguish and chaos are clear.

    The Horse

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    In most early versions of the work, the horse has collapsed, writhing, on the ground, dominating the lower part of the canvas. In the final version, it is rearing up on galloping legs, its contorted and agonized face providing the focal point, under the lamp and "sun", of the painting. The horse has been pierced by a lance, and a gaping wound in its side is no longer softened by a regenerative Pegasus winging out of it.

    The animal is clearly on the verge of collapse, in its last throes, and if we take the horse to be a symbol of Republican Spain, then Picasso seems to be saying farewell to it - although the war was still going on, Franco's forces were in ascendance and would win. Picasso probably intended the horse as a universal symbol of human suffering, with certain particulars representing Gernika or Republican Spain. For example, some have thought that the myriad notches in the creature's hide, like the marks someone makes on a prison wall to chronicle the passing days, are meant as notches for each person who died in the Gernika raid. That, like so much else about the work, is pure speculation. Picasso did not discuss Guernica, and resisted the reductive analyses of others.

    Fallen Warrior

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    The fallen warrior is terrifying. The expression - so simple a child could have made it, the sort of criticism that Picasso interpreted as a compliment - has the power of a drawing made by a disturbed child who is trying to work out some awful trauma, perhaps a sexual assault by a trusted adult. Apparently the warrior has been decapitated, and he is at least partly being crushed by the crumpling horse. Unlike in earlier versions, his fist is no longer thrust upward in the Republican salute, which had been a potential sign of hope or at least defiance. Instead one hand shows fingers splayed and what look like wounds crisscrossing the palm. The other hand clutches a futile, broken sword and a flower, perhaps a symbol of hope and regeneration. But we see that the bent leg of the crumpling horse is destined, probably, to crush the flower and the corpse of the warrior.

    The Woman Holding the Lamp

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    The woman holding the lamp, the very first form that Picasso sketched with lightning pencil strokes in his first study for Guernica, was said to be based on one of his lovers (he had two women fighting over him during the painting of his mural, which amused him, and he goaded them on). The figure's face radiates a combination of shock and infinite compassion as she looks out on the shattered world where man and beast alike rear and buckle and sob. The light she holds could be construed as a beacon, representing hope, but the light it sheds is on a vista of chaos and death. Compositionally, the light provides the apex of the overall triangular shape that dominates the scene.

    A Fleeing Woman?

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    I find this woman also to be ambiguous. One the one hand it could be that she is fleeing the bombs and the carnage, and like the other figures she bears what look like slashes, on the one visible palm of a hand and the one visible sole of a foot, suggesting mutilation, perhaps even hinting at crucifixion. On the other hand she seems to be rising up to the vortex of terror at the center of the image, toward the rearing and bucking horse. Perhaps she is on the verge of some effort to soothe or even try to save the immense, tortured beast with its side ripped open and bearing the fatal javelin in its back.

    A Falling Woman?

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    This figure, too, is ambiguous. Is she falling? Or are the flames consuming her, and is she reaching upward for helping hands that are not there? Terror and bewilderment mark her expression, like those of the others. All the human figures in the scene are women, except for one child of indeterminate gender and the fallen warrior. Possibly Picasso is using the feminine as a metaphor for vulnerability in the face of masculine warfare that has evolved into mechanistic, psychotic and implicitly misogynistic slaughter, an effort by the fascists to destroy the feminine part of the male psyche. The woman’s raised arms could also suggest crucifixion.

    One should notice yet one more figure - a crowing cock - in the upper left quadrant, between the braying head of the horse and the enigmatic bull's head. Mostly lost in shadow, a single ray of light provides a horizontal white element on its body, a lighted feather perhaps, that creates a unifying form tying together the heads of the horse and bull.

    Composition and Gray Scale

    Picasso painted his work in black, white and gray. He was never a colorist, in the way that Van Gogh was, and his cubist work was frequently almost monochromatic. It might have seemed that an obvious way to give the work expressive power would have been to fill it with lurid colors, like the red of blood. But Picasso resisted this. Black and white provide the sharpest contrast of all, and enabled him to make his tormented figures stand out with the immediacy of graphic design.

    Despite the white/black contrast, the picture space seems flat, consistent with the modernist concern for avoiding what they saw as the pointless illusion of depth. Although the figures seem to be caught in a hurricane of chaos, and the forms themselves are in some ways chaotically drawn, the composition as a whole has a massive and almost serene stability, because of the great implied triangular shape that dominates the center of it.

    It seems to me that Picasso's figures have the enormousness and immediacy of cave painting:

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    Like those images painted on cave walls, or the figures that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, they have a haunting, almost shamanistic feeling to them. Their ugliness, their contorted and twisting postures and their amazed and terrified expressions emphasize the unprecedented slaughter that they are enduring - as well as the universal theme of human suffering. The figures are ugly in a conventional sense, but the composition as a whole is strangely beautiful. This antinomy of beauty and death also lies at the heart of the bullfight that provides the work with its underlying visual metaphor, and is echoed, too, in the antinomy of white and black that dominates the mural.

    These strange figures look like wiverns conjured from coal-black nightmares, like hallucinations spilled from the head of a man twisting and turning in a dreadful sleep while running a high fever. One could imagine some sacred ceremony by the light of torches, in which shamans wearing disguises of the bull and the horse and the horrified women troop past, as part of a secret midnight rite of passage, perhaps an initiation into the mysteries of alchemy.

    In the past, artists had painted realistic scenes of death and slaughter on the field of battle. But they had made their pictures at a time when there were no photographs and no movie reels. Picasso had to find a visual shout that would exceed the shrill volume of the images of the destruction that already dominated newspaper front pages. And he had to find a new visual vocabulary to respond to something that, at the time, was truly unprecedented: the deliberate murder of innocent civilians by aerial bombardment.

    Picasso finished the work in a few furious weeks of work, and it was installed at the Spanish Pavilion in time for the fair. The pavilion was filled with other works that broadly supported the goal of Republican Spain and opposed Franco, and Picasso’s work was dismissed by the press in Nazi Germany, which suggested that Germans ignore the "Red" Spanish pavilion and especially Picasso's work, which they assured readers was a chaotic and meaningless mess that could have been thrown together by a four-year-old.

    Picasso's mural drew a mixed reaction. Some people did not like it because it was not mimetic. Others felt it was not specific enough with respect to the bombardment of Gernika (but remember that Picasso was seeking after the timeless). A few felt that it was too ugly, too offputting, too unbearable, a feeling that only confirmed its power.

    Franco's forces won the civil war, and the self-styled Caudillo took power and held it until his death in 1975. The painting grew in stature when it was realized that in addition to providing a cry over protest over what had happened in Gernika, it proved to be prophetic. World War II was just over the horizon, the Nazis were heating up the Holocaust ovens and all sides in the tragedy to come were getting ready to rain death on innocent civilians from the air. Warsaw. Rotterdam. London. Dresden. Hiroshima. Nagasaki.

    During the war, Picasso remained in a Paris under Nazi occupation, and it is thought that only his international celebrity status prevented him from being deported or maltreated. Picasso said that a Gestapo officer once visited him in his studio and saw a photograph of Guernica. "Did you do that?" he asked. Picasso said that he replied, "no, you did."

    After the fair ended, the work went on various international tours to growing acclaim, and it ended up at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Picasso had stipulated that the work should eventually find a permanent home in his native Spain, but only after Franco was gone and republican institutions were restored. Franco outlived Picasso by two years. Picasso died in 1973, at 92. He had never returned to Spain.

    With Franco gone, the dictatorship ended and Spain again embraced democracy. Guernica was moved to Spain in 1981, where it remains. Since 1937, it has become an icon of anti-war sentiments, and the most well-known painting of the 20th century. It was in the news just a few years ago, when a reproduction of the painting at the United Nations had to be covered up to avoid embarrassing Colin Powell during a speech calling for war with Iraq.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/18/2006 Article Image:
    Del Ratzsch is professor of philosophy and chair of the Philosophy Department at Calvin College. He specialises in the philosophy of science and has written extensively on issues surrounding design arguments.

    - Interviewed for TGL* in 2006

    TGL: How and why did you become interested in the philosophy of science, and in design arguments in particular?

    DR: I have a love affair with science dating back to my early teens, and was initially working toward a physics/mathematics degree. Although I changed paths partway through and ended up in philosophy, I never lost my science fascination (maybe even science envy?), and gradually snuck back in a science-related direction via philosophy of science. And some of the things that had interested me in science had had philosophical overtones.

    One other factor is that I was raised in a quite conservative Christian environment; my early love of science - especially a fascination with evolution and cosmology - seemed on occasion to collide rather hard with various specific beliefs I had acquired. That led to a general interest in science/religion issues, creation/evolution issues and eventually to traditional design and contemporary Intelligent Design (ID) issues.

    TGL: How would you characterise the debate surrounding design in science? Why has it become so acrimonious and could it have been otherwise?

    DR: The term "unfortunate" comes to mind. There is a whole battery of fascinating issues which design questions raise but unfortunately in some circles on both sides, emotion and agendas have trumped responsible investigation of issues. Fear of allowing one's opponents to make any points has led to pretty skewed caricatures, and on each side both a lack of respect for the opposition and bitterness over low blows, misrepresentations, incompetence-fueled vitriol, etc., from those opponents has resulted in some on both sides excusing themselves from the bother of getting even the positions of the opposition right.

    Although the issues and groups are in fact distinct, many of the same combatants from earlier creation/evolution disputes have aligned themselves along ID/anti-ID lines respectively (e.g., some creationists adopting ID as another, seemingly more scientifically respectable anti-evolution weapon). Many have brought their pre-existing hostility with them into the new context. But that parallel alignment isn't universal. Many old-line young earth creationists have been very critical of the Intelligent Design movement, and quite a number of Christian anti-creationists have become staunchly pro-ID. (Of course, many ID advocates have blistering things to say about theistic evolutionists.) Even a few unbelieving anti-creationists have become quite sympathetic to ID. Despite the genuine distinction between ID and creationism, in anti-ID circles there have been extended, deliberate attempts to transfer the substantial intellectual opprobrium of creationism onto ID - hence the insistent use of the term "intelligent design creationism" - without acknowledging, the differences between the two. And in the other camp, many vocal anti-evolutionists have (I think mistakenly) embraced ID as inherently anti-evolution, overlooking, e.g., the fact that one of the main formative figures in the movement - Michael Behe - has repeatedly declared in print that he has no principial problems with common descent whatever. Many lay creationists also mistakenly take ID to be merely a plug for gaps they see in nature and which they think evolution can't fill and endorse it for that purpose.

    I think that another part of the explanation for the acrimony is that many on both sides intuitively (and often only tacitly) correctly recognize that there are potentially some deep matters at stake - from the nature of science to the nature of human cognition to the nature of nature itself and perhaps ultimately to some basic and seriously consequential naturalism/theism issues. It really does matter how things come out.

    TGL: What motivates you to continue working in this area, given the hostility on all sides that is associated with it?

    DR: Well, some would say sheer perversity, but I hope it's a bit better than that. There have been times in my own life when I desperately wanted to avoid having to admit that the (of course) sleazeballs and gross incompetents on the other side of some issue from me might be right on some key point. Who wants to give people like that a chance to say "I told you so"? In such situations there has always been the temptation both to accept 'refutations' of the opposition uncritically - even gleefully - and to dismiss opposition arguments without really staring them in the eyeballs, feeling virtuously superior all the while. And the more deeply one is committed to views in the area, the stronger the temptation. But the ugly truth is that sometimes when one really does do the homework, one discovers that one's opponents are not absolutely without exception loony and morally vicious, and even if they are generally wrong they may (no doubt by sheer accident and for all the wrong reasons, of course) have gotten hold of some genuine embarrassment for one's own view which needs to be addressed.

    It seems to me that some of the design issues are too important to let heat trump light, which has undeniably been part of the story to this point, and that the vitriol from both sides is an index of that importance. There are few matters that go deeper than the nature of human cognition, the nature of the reality we inhabit, naturalism/theism questions, and so forth. So I have wanted to try to wrestle some of those issues to the ground. I don't think I've completely managed that at this point, but that is hardly a unique position - at least as I see it, no one else has either. And besides all that, I just find the issues fascinating.

    TGL: In the conclusion to your book, Nature, Design and Science, you write regarding the legitimacy of involving supernatural design in science. You say that "contemporary culture has on this question opted for easy resolutions". Could you explain what you mean by that?

    DR: I had several things in mind there. The question of whether or not principles involving supernatural intelligent design can play any legitimate role in science under any circumstances turns out to be a quite complex one. Indeed, that question is the focus of the entire book. But - first - many people try to answer it by appeal to some definition of science. Of course, no one has a complete and defensible definition of science, and the definitions (or partial definitions) of science generally employed for this purpose are demonstrably oversimplified, and once suitably complexified they no longer so clearly do the proposed work. Second, many assert that design theories ultimately reduce to God-of-the-gap views and that such views are scientifically, theologically, or otherwise unacceptable. Among the problems with this shortcut dismissal are that although many design theories are indeed gap theories, some are not (e.g., what ID advocates sometimes refer to as "frontloading," according to which God built all the relevant potentials and capacities and directions into the original creation, subsequent developments being the designed, natural, unbroken, and continuous unfolding of those primordial potentials).

    Furthermore, gap theories turn out to be not quite as easily dispatched as often thought. At the very least, it must be admitted that they are logically impeccable - if nature, chance, humans, aliens, etc., can't produce something which is manifestly sitting in front of us, then alternatives other than the supernatural are rather scarce. (Of course, establishing that impossibility is a large and very sticky wicket.) Gap theories might not be science (at least, that is widely asserted), but that will depend again upon a definition of science.

    Third, many hold that science and religion function completely in separate domains generating an easy dismissal of religion – and of course of (supernatural) design – as irrelevant to science. Unfortunately, such ‘separation’ views (e.g., Gould’s NOMA) are highly problematic – indeed, I think that they are irreparably inadequate.

    Of course, in a more general sense a number of vocal disputants in the ID case take easy routes by partially relying upon stereotypes, over-generalizations, catchphrases, mockery, straw men, and secondary literature. Here is one very simple example from one side at the lay level. It is now routine for the media to specifically define Intelligent Design as the view that the world or life is "too complex" to have arisen naturally, by accident, etc. That's easy to grasp - but simply inaccurate. Not only does it not even fit many historical design arguments, but the complexity mainstays of ID arguments involve not mere high complexity, but very special and specific types of complexity - "irreducible complexity" (Behe) and "specified complexity" (Dembski). That is not to say that their proposals work (and I argued in the appendix of Nature, Design and Science that Dembski's proposal is not adequate to the task he assigns it – Dembski disagrees), but it is to say that the proposals are not as simple as they are routinely represented as being.

    TGL: You also argue that design could have some possible "payoffs" for science. What are some of those payoffs?

    DR: First, I'm glad that you were careful to say "could" and "possible". I don't see the Intelligent Design movement as having yet made their case here, although I don't see any principial reason why they can't. Most of what I see as possible payoffs are indirect and not necessarily near the empirical ground level. That is not a criticism, of course, since that characterizes a lot of essential and profoundly consequential components of science - e.g., shaping metaphors (17th century machine metaphors), 'maxi-theories' (Darwinian evolution), and even structuring presuppositions of science (uniformity of nature). Such things primarily guide, specify boundaries, and dictate norms for theory construction, theory acceptability, concept legitimacy, success criteria and the like.

    Those sorts of things have a subtly exercised but ultimately huge impact on science. Think of the consequences of the early modern shift from organic to machine metaphors in science. (Incidentally, note that both at the time were seen as products of design.) A design outlook would offer additional perspectives, additional conceptual resources, additional explanatory themata, additional shaping metaphors. And we humans have been pretty bad at guessing what concepts wouldn't ever be of future use, as every scientific conceptual revolution attests. Historically, design ideas served as important and fruitful heuristics in various disciplines and indeed continue to do so implicitly in e.g. biology. If design ever does alter science (again) I think that this deep shaping level is one important place to look.

    Even in the empirical trenches, design isn't necessarily a total no-show. Cosmological fine-tuning has a least a whiff of design about it, and least action theories - notoriously redolent of design - are, according to e.g. Planck and some others, scientifically more productive than purely mechanistic theories. Furthermore, given the role of theology in the rise of science itself, and given that the cosmos which science presupposes has a creation-esque flavor (orderly, law-governed, elegant, intelligible, coherent, unified - as one might reasonably expect of a deliberately designed creation), it may be that science itself is a design payoff. (I've discussed some of these issues in more detail elsewhere.) In any case, design theories might conceptually lock into those design-shaped foundations more elegantly than do non-design or anti-design theories.

    But perhaps most importantly, if - if - the cosmos or some things in nature are designed (and surely that isn't a matter to be decided either by philosophical edict or by appeal to human definitions of science), then genuinely understanding the relevant phenomena (and isn't that what science is about?) is likely going to require employment of some design concepts. But again, the above largely represent potentials - I don't know that anyone has detailed working proposals at this point, or knows specifically what such proposals would look like.

    TGL: Many design arguments have relied on the recognition of design through inference or induction. You've written about an alternative - recognizing design through perception. Could you talk about what you mean by perceiving design and what implications this view might have for design arguments?

    DR: Nearly everyone realizes that old-style foundationalism is a failure. One of the more intriguing among the multitudinous proposed alternatives has been the contemporary revival and spinoff of some of Thomas Reid's proposals, including the "Reformed Epistemology" developed by Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and others. On Reidian views, our beliefs about the past, other minds, the existence of the external world and so on are not the products of arguments (or inferences, decisions, or the like), nor, rationally, need they be - which is a good thing for our prospects for rational propriety, given the twin facts that (i) there are no known past or present such arguments that actually work and that (ii) neither that failure nor even the apparent unanswerability of skeptic arguments seems to make the slightest difference to anyone's actual beliefs in the past, other minds, the external world, etc. On the Reidian view, we have innate faculties which simply generate such beliefs (both general principles and specifics) within us, and if these faculties are operating properly and under appropriate circumstances, the produced beliefs are rationally legitimate for us. Reid catalogued a variety of belief areas in which such belief-producing dispositions operated - again, the past, other minds, the external world, as well as basic moral principles, principles and processes of reason, acceptance of the testimony of others, aesthetics, and of present interest design in nature which, by a very short inference, led to conclusions about a designing mind.

    Not only do I find much to like in this general type of view, but it struck me as interesting that just as unshakeable belief in the external world continues serenely on in the face of both the failure of positive arguments and the apparent power of skeptical cases, so widespread belief in design continues serenely on in the face of both difficulties in positive design arguments and the apparent power of the well known criticisms of such cases. My "Perceiving Design" was an effort at explicating Reid's own (fairly limited) remarks on design in the context of the contemporary design discussion.

    Reid's basic idea was that we perceptually (and immediately albeit often implicitly) recognize marks of design and that it is a short (inferential) step from that recognition to the thing in question being designed and the existence of a designing agent. Among the marks Reid cites were contrivance, order, organization, intent, purpose, regularity, beauty and adaptation.

    Perhaps the most immediate consequence for current design discussions would be to relocate some key parts of the issue. More or less every current contribution to the discussion presupposes that design is a matter of inference - indeed, Dembski's initial book, still the technical manifesto of the design movement, is titled The Design Inference. The pervasiveness of that presupposition is why Neil Manson (editor of God and Design in which my paper appeared) refers to the paper as "disruptive".

    In any case, as I argued in that paper, even if inductive inferences are essential to many design cases, the base cases from which the inference proceeds cannot be inductive (on pain of regress), but must arise in some other way. Reid's suggestion may be quite important for those cases. Indeed, alternatives are rather scarce. There has been some interest in the idea, and even one recent doctoral dissertation on the topic by John Mullen at Notre Dame.

    TGL: Design arguments are often associated with the idea of "gaps" in nature. How important are gaps to design arguments?

    DR: For some design arguments, they are crucial. For instance, Dembski's 'explanatory filter' is completely gap-driven. I don't see that as necessarily a defect. We routinely employ gap arguments in all sorts of contexts. For instance, the SETI program is a gap-searching project - trying to find signals which nature alone couldn't or wouldn't produce, then constructing alien-civilizations-of-the-gap arguments. Further, it is nowhere written in stone that nature has no causal or explanatory gaps of the relevant sort. For all we know nature may contain gaps which can only be bridged by divine action. And that could be intentional - God might like running some things in nature hands-on, and might have created nature to allow for that in its normal operations. Anyway, gaps and gap arguments as such are unproblematic in principle.

    Of course, there are serious questions concerning how we might identify supernaturally bridged gaps as such, especially scientifically. Such gaps might thus be inconvenient - or worse - for our investigative efforts and procedures, and we might have no choice but to assume continuity as a working strategy, but we can hardly demand that nature conform herself to our limitations - i.e., we cannot very appropriately issue inflexible ontological edicts propped up solely by reference to our epistemological limitations. Reality, it seems to me, is a bit more independent and robust than that. But many see gap-type arguments as having a troubled history and a troubling character.

    But not all design arguments are gap arguments. In fact, during the heyday of natural theology - late 18th and early 19th centuries - non-gap arguments involving the interlocking structure of laws, cosmic order, the elegance and beauty built into nature, and the like, were very widely seen as preferable to and more powerful than gap arguments. And many contemporary ID advocates also embrace some non-gap arguments, including the 'frontloading' picture mentioned earlier. Front-loading types of design pictures go back at least to Augustine.

    More specifically, gaps have to do with e.g. mechanical causal histories, whereas design has to do with intentional histories. Those are in many cases intimately related issues. Gaps can be important clues to design, since depending on the context an actual mechanical, causal gap could suggest agency as a causal factor, and it is a relative short step from there to design. But the issues are distinct, and the ritual allegation that design views are all God-of-the-gap theories is inaccurate philosophically, as well as historically and contemporarily. There are, again, many (especially lay) design-gap advocates, but the blanket universalization is straightforwardly mistaken.

    It is also worth noting that if nature is designed and if it does contain causal or explanatory gaps, then any prohibition on gap theories will nearly guarantee that science - discarding one failed non-gap theory only by replacing it with another (not yet failed) gap theory - will not self-correct in the usual advertised way, and that science will never correctly understand the relevant phenomena.

    TGL: It has been argued that the gradual "erosion" of scientific gaps has made religious belief unnecessary. What do you make of this argument?

    DR: I'm suspicious. The "erosion of gaps" argument is both factually and philosophically weaker than usually acknowledged. Gaps have certainly evaporated in some cases under pressure of scientific advance, but I don't know of anyone who has actually done the work of constructing a historical induction for the usually assumed constant drumbeat of collapsing empirical gaps. The case is complicated by e.g. Kuhn's contention that sometimes in scientific revolutions ground is lost and previously closed gaps suddenly re-open. (Of course, from a design perspective, even one genuine gap would be of logical interest.) And intriguingly enough, at least one gap - cosmic fine-tuning - seems to be gaping ever wider the more fully it is investigated. The platform for this induction is missing a couple legs.

    And beyond that, I don't think that science can even in principle provide a total account even in its own terms. Science requires a battery of presuppositions and those presuppositions are not direct results of science - they are conceptual structural materials science itself depends upon and without which there would be no science. Thus if we are rationally justified in accepting science then we must be rationally justified in accepting those foundational presuppositions. But not being results of science, their rational justification cannot rest upon science, but must lie beyond science. Thus, if we take science and its results to be rationally justified, science is not the only source of rational justification. There must then evidently be some deeper source of rational justification. Historically religion played a significant role here. But the present point is that even if the usual empirical gap-closing induction worked flawlessly, the story - even of science's own rational legitimacy - is not complete, and may require design ideas at some deeper level. (That would be an analog of Darwin's suggestion in his notebooks that design did not operate at the level of organisms, but that the deeper laws might be designed.)

    The important point above is that this "unnecessary" claim rests upon a massive induction - from an alleged unbroken track record of closed gaps to the continuation and presumably eventual closure of all or nearly all such gaps - and that neither the history nor the projection is as straightforward as widely presumed.

    In any case, since as noted above both historically and currently some design arguments have no connection to gaps at all, even were the huge induction to go through compelling us to believe that someday all empirical gaps would be scientifically closed, it is not clear that that would be fatal for design positions.

    But your initial question had to do not just with design views, but with whether religious belief itself would be rendered unnecessary. Although that is commonly answered in the affirmative (e.g., Weinberg holds this position), it is not clearly true. The only way to make this claim even prima facie plausible is to see religious belief as functioning solely as a competitor to science, its only function being explanatory on the same level as science. There is a lot of pretty a priori speculation about how religion must have resulted from primitive people trying to cope with the world by inventing religion as an explanatory system, but I know of no good arguments for that, and arguing that an essentially ever-incomplete science either leaves no room for religion or is complete enough to render religion superfluous - especially a religion which goes beyond mere primitive attempts at explaining nature - takes more of a case than I think anyone has yet made.

    But all that said, I think that one should be very wary of identifying something in nature as indicating a gap. Creationists and some (especially lay) ID advocates have been very – overly – ready to see gaps, and some opponents of ID have made the complete absence of any gaps in the entire cosmos a matter of principle. Neither position, it seems to me, fosters a suitable readiness to see what nature might have to say on the issue. And isn't that supposed to be part of what science is about?

    TGL: Theories about the relationship between science and religion vary widely. Some people think religion has no place in science while others believe that religious books can directly provide content for scientific theories. How would you describe the relationship between science and religion?

    DR: To say that views "vary widely" is putting it very diplomatically. I would tend to say that they are all over - and often off the edges of - the map.

    Some of the usual categories (e.g., complete separation, complementarity, conflict) are, I think, demonstrably defective - sometimes woefully so. Clearly, there are integral connections - both historically and philosophically. To reprise just one, science cannot operate except with foundational presuppositions and assumptions of (and a world actually exhibiting) order of some level, consistency, intelligibility, etc. - i.e., a world like a creation. The necessary metaphysical and conceptual resources match up to a creation-like picture pretty nicely. As Paul Davies puts it in his Are We Alone?:

    But saying how deep the 'internal' connections may go is a tricky business. Since we have neither innate concepts nor direct experience of most theoretical matters - e.g., quantum phenomena - we cannot escape employing metaphorically the concepts we do have, trying to refine them and make them fit. (Indeed, Mary Hesse has argued that theoretical explanations just are "metaphorical redescriptions" of phenomena.) Given that metaphor is required precisely because our human concepts don't always map one to one into or onto nature, conceptual material which is extraneous to the theoretical situation at hand but which may be an irremovable constituent part of the concept unavoidably employed, gets imported into
    science. And it turns out that some of the metaphors in question have theological roots.

    But would any project that took explicit account of any theological theories or resources be science? In general, I have a sort of nostalgic soft spot for the old "damn the torpedoes" conception of science as going after the truth no holds barred (the phrase originally from Bridgman, I think). From that perspective, if we have rationally defensible reasons of whatever sort for thinking that something is true, then if that truth has implications for scientifically relevant issues it is not clear why as a scientist one should always be obliged to pretend to be ignorant of that truth. So if it should turn out that, say, Scripture provides rationally justifiable grounds for some proposition relevant to some scientific matter concerning the history, function, character, or contents of the cosmos, I don't see any inviolable reason in principle why qua scientist one is utterly forbidden from taking that possible truth into account in one's attempt to understand that facet of the cosmos. (On that general principle count, I think that some creationists are right.) Of course, one might need a case for the rational justification in question, and such cases might be difficult to generate. (And some creationists have gone way off the track in this area, and also concerning what Scripture really says, what science is and says, etc.)

    Given human history, it might even be the best practical strategy to take absence of rational justification as the preliminary provisional default value. But that's no big deal - in fact, that is true of scientific proposals as well, which is why scientists typically demand replication, why the scientific mindset is often described as a form of skepticism, why Popperianism takes attempts at falsification to be the definitive scientific task and so forth.

    TGL: In your paper Humanness in their hearts: Where science and religion fuse, you've argued that many of the cognitive processes involved in scientific thought are the same as the ones involved in religious thought. What implications does this have for how we think about their relationship?

    DR: That's a very good question, and one I've been working on for some time. It seems to me that it tells us at a minimum that any simple, sharp separation of science and religion does not reflect our cognitive and neurological architectures, that there are deep interconnections between what we take to be scientific and religious beliefs, and that cases for the two being in deadly conflict - which already fail historically and philosophically - fail at the even deeper level of neural structures giving rise to our very cognition as well. Some of the deep interconnections between science and religion I think ultimately track back philosophically to the created structure of the cosmos itself, but also back to the fact that inputs from neurological structures and systems routinely associated with science - e.g., reason - and those routinely associated with religion - e.g., emotion - are not completely separate or separable systems. There is increasing and no longer even controversial evidence that reason itself does not function properly in the absence of properly functioning emotion neural systems, and in some cases the structures themselves and their inputs and outputs are integrated - fused - prior to our having conscious access to them.

    Still, I'm not sure what all the positive implications are - I'm working on that - but again at the least it tells us that the structure, foundations, and cognitive underpinnings of science and religion are not in deadly opposition, as some contend.

    TGL: In that same paper you use analogies, rather than propositions, to describe the science-religion relationship. Why did you decide to take that approach?

    DR: Analogies (and metaphors and such) allow us to deal with and operate productively on a much richer and more complex conceptual landscape than do strictly propositional resources. It works much the same way (to sneak in an analogy already) that a visual graph typically allows an intuitive grasp of many aspects of a function which is much quicker, broader, and more employable than that offered by a complicated string of complex equations underlying the graph. (Recall Reid again - Hesse also.) The fact is that science isn't just propositional structures and processes, religion isn't just propositional structures and processes, and we humans don't operate cognitively - much less existentially - just in some abstract presuppositional realm, so it looked like a possibly fruitful strategy. In any case - sort of bearing out the point - the specific conception of science/religion relationships I had in mind seemed promising, and I still don't know how to - or if one can - reduce it to propositions, some algorithm, etc.

    TGL: In your review Design Theory and its Critics, you wrote that "If (perhaps for overwhelmingly good reasons) science is restricted (even just methodologically) to 'natural' explanatory and theoretical resources, then if there is a supernatural realm which does impinge upon the structure and/or operation of the 'natural' realm, then the world-picture generated by even the best science will unavoidably be either incomplete or else wrong on some points. Unless one assumes philosophical naturalism (that the natural constitutes the whole of reality) that will be the inescapable upshot of taking even mere methodological naturalism as an essential component of scientific procedure." This suggests that the distinction between the two forms of naturalism collapses, but there seems to be little awareness of the argument. Do you intend to develop it further?

    DR: I have discussed it some elsewhere (e.g., in "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles all the way down'" (Faith and Philosophy, Vol 21 #4, October 2004, pp. 436-455)). And I want to emphasize that - contrary to some critics of methodological naturalism - I don't argue that the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism actually collapses, but that in the context of some specific presuppositions the outcomes of application are indistinguishable. But again, the claim is a conditional one - if certain other assumptions are made. To flesh it out a bit, here's a chunk from the above article.

    But to actually answer your question, I may try to push it a bit further. But despite the above (and some other) reservations and qualifications, I think that methodological naturalism is a useful - perhaps even essential - provisional strategy, and one not to be lightly overridden.

    TGL: Much has been made of the importance of methodological naturalism, particularly as definitive of what makes something science. What do you think of the arguments in its favour?

    DR: Arguments for its value as a provisional strategy may be right. But even as a strategy, it has to be used with care. Over-rigid adherence can (as indicated earlier) have consequences for the self-corrective nature of science, and it can have other consequences (as noted just above) if care is not taken concerning what assumptions it is employed with.

    Arguments for it will depend in part on exactly what methodological naturalism is, and more care is required there than is sometimes given. For instance, it is quite common to see methodological naturalism defined as a requirement that science be restricted just to natural concepts, resources, data, and theories, that being interpreted to mean that whether or not philosophical naturalism is true, science must proceed as if it is. (That, for instance, is the position of the National Center for Science Education - or at least of its director.) But the problem here is that (as Boyle pointed out three plus centuries ago) nature in a created universe might well - indeed most likely would - be very different from nature in a random, chance universe. Thus, the typical equating of a restriction to the natural with proceeding as if philosophical naturalism is true, turns out to beg some deeper questions.

    Most of the actual arguments for methodological naturalism being a definitive, unchallengeable rule of science seem to me to be problematic. Very briefly, the three most common types of arguments are (1) arguments that anything non-natural is outside the realm of empirical detectability or testability, (2) arguments that allowing the non-natural into science is destructive in that it allows scientists to take the lazy way out in difficult scientific situations (simply saying "Well, God must have done that - no point in trying to figure it out", then wandering off to find the coffee pot) and (3) historical arguments claiming that the history of science has shown the bankruptcy of non-natural considerations in science. The first is the most prima facie plausible, but I think that there could be possible empirical cases in which the most reasonable conclusion would be that something supernatural was at work. (That's one of the cases I try to make in Nature, Design and Science.) Regarding the second, it is often the conviction that something is a product of design that keeps scientists in the hunt. Any company trying to reverse engineer a competitor's new computer model pays particular attention to puzzling components - refusing to give up trying to understand it precisely because they believe it to be a product of design. And of course historically most scientists took nature to be a product of design, and saw themselves as in effect reverse engineering nature - trying (as Kepler is alleged to have said) to think God's thoughts after him. The fundamental intelligibility of nature consequent upon its being designed by God was one of the key motivations underpinning the whole scientific project. But surely, it is argued, the history of science itself has established that allowing reference to the supernatural into science at ground level has simply failed - a la argument (3). But that argument too I think doesn't perform quite as advertised when one looks at the actual historical detail. (I won't go into the complications, but that's the case I tried to make in "Intelligent Design: What does the history of science really tell us?" (in Scientific Explanation and Religious Belief, eds. Michael G. Parker and Thomas M. Schmidt, (Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), Chapter 8, pp. 126-149).)

    TGL: Why should people be interested in the debate about design?

    DR: There is a lot tied up in the debate - everything from the possible existence of a designer, to whether or not there is genuine empirical evidence of a designer, to the nature of science, to the nature of the cosmos (designed or not), to some vexed political issues, is bound up directly or indirectly in the issue. And those are pretty large matters.

    Education policy has, of course, been the recent flashpoint. If the general design outlook is right, theories that deliberately exclude such considerations may well be subtly but seriously inadequate, and if teaching those inadequate theories in public schools is mandated by law, and if teaching the (ex hypothesi) true design theories is forbidden by law, the situation is problematic. Indeed, if we teach students the very best theories we can construct under methodological restrictions, neglect to point out that that restriction could have implications for the truth (vs. just the scientific legitimacy) of those theories, and present them as true, we are, I think, engaged in shady practice. So the issues of what ID is (vs. the heavily pushed caricatures), whether it could be legitimate science (the basic philosophy of science question), and whether it might be right (the scientific question), are potentially consequential beyond the level of mere academic interest. And of course, if ID is right, some pretty pressing questions about the character and intentions of the designer - whether supernatural or not - immediately arise. And those are significant regardless of what classificatory label - science, religion, philosophy - one sticks on them. But as mentioned earlier, I don't think that the ID movement has yet delivered the relevant goods on the scientific question.

    TGL: How can philosophy shed light on this and other debates concerning science? What is the relevance of the philosophy of science in general?

    DR: Philosophy of science can't, of course, dictate science to scientists (much less to reality itself). There are a lot of things it cannot even legitimately pronounce on. But although there is no known precise, complete definition of science, and although the competencies and boundaries of science are matters of dispute, philosophy of science can still underwrite some useful assessments, and sometimes needed refutations, of contentions concerning what science is and is not, what it can and cannot do, where its boundaries are and are not, and what its limitations are and are not - contentions which are invariably deployed in science/religion discussions. And often particular positions and arguments depend upon such contentions which are pretty clearly demonstrably mistaken. More generally, I think it can help us recognize instances where science is not given its proper due (which is now fashionable in some circles, and historically endemic in others) or where too much is claimed for science (which is typical in various anti-religious polemics and even among some proponents of religious belief).

    TGL: What are you currently working on?

    DR: I'm currently working on a book MS exploring some of the possible implications of recent neurophysiological research for science/religion relationship - trying to track in more depth some of the themes initially developed in "Humanness in their hearts" mentioned above. Longer term, I want to look in detail at evolutionary accounts of religion. And as department chair, a lot of energy goes into trying to keep my rambunctious colleagues in line.

    TGL: Who have been the main influences on your thought?

    DR: Lots of people, in many different ways. But if I were to pick one, it would be Alvin Plantinga.

    *Please note: For personal reasons unrelated to the content, the author of this interview has asked to remain anonymous. Any errors are the fault of the site owner, who transcribed it.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/17/2006 Article Image:
    By /index.php?/user/8-davidm/">David Misialowski (2006)

    People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree." - Picasso

    What more can anyone say about Picasso? Certainly I have nothing to add in the way of scholarship, so I will confine myself to unsystematic personal impressions, and in so doing I will risk barking up the wrong tree. Also, in these essays I have necessarily passed over a number of artists and events that might contribute to an understanding of the rise of 20th century art. But I am limited by space and time, in way that Picasso was not.

    We have seen how hard it is to define art. One idea, Wittgensteinian family resemblances, suggests that we should look at individual works of art by their overlaps and associations, rather than try to define art as a whole. With that idea in mind, how would one even define Picasso? There are Picassos that look nothing like other Picassos! It is hard to imagine that the same artist made the following pictures:

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    I think it is fair to say that no other artist in history was as versatile as Picasso. The Picasso style is the anti-style. Even with artists like Van Gogh and Cezanne, in whom we see sharp changes and evolution, we find elements of content or style common to their late work and their early work, and Cezanne developed a mature style that he refined.

    Everything is different with Picasso. He began drawing and painting as a young boy, a boy who painted like a man, and continued making powerful images until his death in 1973 at age 92. So he left eight decades of work, and during that time he veered in one direction and then another, inspired by muses who were often mistresses but also by others that, as Jung believed, might have been inaccessible even to him. His creativity was ceaseless, inexhaustible, unexplainable.

    It would be beyond the scope of this particular essay to study all of Picasso, an endeavor that in itself would demand many books (and of course, countless such books have been written). Consequently, I will confine myself to looking, first, at the Picasso who developed, in concert with others, cubism, which never became a school per se (though certainly seemed to be heading in that direction in the years before World War I), but had a decisive influence on the art and architecture of the 20th century. And in a second instalment, I will try to analyze his 1937 Guernica, a work possibly as iconic for its time and place, as the Sistine Chapel was for its.

    Cubism was an art of both intuition and analysis, of discarding tradition while pushing toward a new one. In trying to pin down what makes a Picasso a Picasso, it is ironic that we can't even say, "Well, Picasso was unique. He made and broke his own rules, and nobody else was him." But some art scholars have thought that cubism was his most influential visual contribution, and it turns out that this sort of painting was often so depersonalized that it is hard to distinguish a Georges Braque
    cubist work from one by Picasso. Consider:

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    One of the above is by Picasso and one is by Braque, but which is which? So Picasso even daunts us when we try to identify him by his originality. It seems that no matter what he did, he confounded expectations. Consider, too, that after inventing and refining cubism, he abandoned it and started painting in the following, neo-classical style:

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    Picasso, though a visual genius, like all artists existed in a certain cultural context, at a time of proliferating cultures that, fortunately for him, would admit of proliferating species of art. So we can approach his art in the context of its time. He was born in 1881 in Spain, to a father who a painter and a professor of art, and by his teens, he was painting magnificent mimetic works firmly in the Western tradition. He was 16 (!) when he painted the following work, Science and Charity:

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    He was 14 or 15 when he painted The First Communion:

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    Some people (almost always non-artists) say in derision, looking at mature Picasso works that seem childish, that "my child could do that". Picasso took such remarks as compliments, for he came to think of the works of children as superior to refined work. He wrote:

    Unlike in music, there are no child prodigies in painting. What people regard as premature genius is the genius of childhood. It gradually disappears as they get older. It is possible for such a child to become a real painter one day, perhaps even a great painter. But he would have to start right from the beginning. So far as I am concerned, I did not have that genius. My first drawings could never have been shown at an exhibition of children's drawings. I lacked the clumsiness of a child, his naivety. I made academic drawings at the age of seven, the minute precision of which frightened me.

    So anyone who thinks that Picasso could not draw and paint mimetically like a virtuoso, quite in the tradition of the grand masters, should have this misconception dispelled by the above works. Remember the age at which he pulled these off. Most painters have to struggle for years to achieve the technical mastery that Picasso possessed in his teens. Maybe one obvious reason why his painting got so weird later on is that it simply bored him to do, over and over, that which he had effortlessly mastered in his youth.

    A hundred years ago, he was living as a bohemian in Paris and he was a rebel, holding bourgeois values in contempt. By this time, although the normative aesthetic restrictions of the French Academy still held some sway, they were in disrepute among a growing number of avant garde artists, and the works of people like Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin were coming widely to be known and appreciated, not just by other artists but by the public, which had already embraced impressionism. This was consistent with a changing and fragmenting culture.

    The paintings that the Academy sanctioned were in many ways technically magnificent, but we have already seen their severe limitations with respect to other theories of art, and moreover, they were products of a certain philosophy: the philosophy of rationalism, scientism and realism, a belief in objective truth and value, and in cultural teleology, the conviction that Western Europe was "moving forward" toward something better.

    The industrial revolution and technological progress underpinned this teleological conceit, but more sensitive observers, like artists, noticed that every "advance" brought a host of new problems with it, like the overcrowding, unsanitary living conditions and poverty associated with urbanization. The rationalist, teleological conceit eventually collapsed in the charnel house of World War I, which itself was a dress rehearsal for World War II and the Holocaust. Some people who believe that artists actually are seers think that the distortions of the art of Picasso and others after the turn of the century were previews of coming "attractions" in the non-art world.

    Today, the artist as rebel, rejecting mainstream culture, is such a cliche that the artist who plays this role is probably no more unconventional than the conventions he or she is scorning, and one could argue that at the present, to be truly transgressive would be to become bourgeois! But at the time Picasso and other artists and writers probably were thinking more systematically about their rebellion, in a way that probably people like Van Gogh and Gauguin had not, their rebellion being mainly intuitive and reactive.

    Thinkers like Nietzsche, who argued for the absolute freedom of the artist and inveighed against the shortcomings of modern culture, religion and morality, influenced Picasso and the artists and writers in his circle. They thought that society was decadent and overcivilized and that visually, it needed to be reinvigorated. They prescribed a healthy dose of primitivism for the arts. They saw, and admired, the primitive and what they conceived to be more "natural" and intuitive living arrangements in the cultures of people in places like Oceana, and especially Africa.

    While European culture at large was stereotyping Africans as primitive in the sense of being not as "evolved" as Europeans (and thus providing itself with an excuse to steal African lands in the name of civilizing the barbarians), Picasso and the artists, probably, had their own stereotype of Africa, as a romantic paradise uncontaminated by civilization where the people, and the art, was authentic. Gauguin's earlier flight to Tahiti, where he made his best art, anticipated this view.

    In the milieu of African art, and the works of Gauguin, Van Gogh and especially Cezanne, Picasso gradually moved toward a synthesis, of their concerns, and galvanized it with his own unique talent. Before cubism, he went through his Blue Period (a period of personal poverty and the suicide of a close friend) and then his more cheerful Rose Period, during which he produced some striking drawing and use of color, but during those periods his art remained fundamentally rooted in the past, an art that was mimetic and story-telling. But by 1907, after he had absorbed African art and had been exposed to the proto-cubist experiments of Braque, his art changed. Consider this work, Three Women:

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    This picture from 1907 shows the influence of Cezanne and African art, but Picasso has made it his own. Recall how Cezanne made his figures monumental and depersonalized, particularly in his late studies of bathers; how the figures themselves seem to have been hewn from the stone, and how the clouds took on the aspect of mountains. Recall how Cezanne flattened the picture plane and took liberties with perspective, gently banishing the "window on the world" approach to fixed-perspective art. We also see those properties in Picasso's figures above, in an even more extreme way. We see it in the inhuman red color he chose to paint the flesh, and in the vivid way that he has articulated planes and angles, making flesh and rock merge.

    He Africanized the faces, consistent with his study of African masks, and he made positive and negative space ambiguous, particularly in the lower part of the canvas. At the same time he somehow charged these granitic and even bestial women with robust sexual energy. He arranged them in seductive poses, forcing the viewer to equivocate between the seduction of the poses and the sexless, rock-like planes and angles that comprise the poses. This sort of internal contradiction and ambiguity would become characteristic not just of the contents but of the formal elements of cubism. These figures obviously are a long way from the traditional depiction of the human form, especially that of the female, and it is thought the Picasso painted this proto-Cubist work to "catch up" with the similar works, though landscape studies, that Braque was making at this time. In his choice of color, form and composition, Picasso has replaced the idealized female form with the primitive one.

    (One could ask whether this effort by Picasso and others to infuse their works with the primitive, in the service of what they saw as the authentic, was inauthentic. After all, Picasso was a product of civilization, even if he rejected aspects of it. He did not have an "innocent eye" and moreover, probably neither did the Africans whose art he tried to emulate and transform. As I mentioned, one could argue that in romanticizing Africans, Picasso and other artists of this time were stereotyping them in their own way for an artistic purpose, just as the dominant culture was stereotyping Africans in a different way for a different reason.)

    In 1907 Picasso produced the following work, which art historians have judged to be a decisive turning point in 20th century art, not because the work was "good" (we have seen how problematic such talk can be) but because, objectively, it had enormous influence on other artists and their work:

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    The painting is called Les demoiselles d'Avignon, and it depicts five prostitutes in a brothel. After he painted it, he turned it to the wall of his studio, and for a long time he showed it only to a few fellow artists and writers like Gertrude Stein, and even they hated it. But remember that starting with Manet's 1863 painting of a picnic that scandalized the French Academy, many artists were continuously pushing ever further from academic standards. Picasso has arguably, in this painting, brought this movement to a culmination.

    In it, he rejected the canons of classical beauty in favor of simplified forms that hang together with sharp, geometrical angles and curves. He rejected gentle light-and-shading effects, with mixed and muted colors, in favor of raw, flat, garish color fields. He rejected "window-on-the-world" perspective in favor a flat canvas. He rejected traditional perspective for multiple perspectives. He rejected idealizing the female nude in favor of charging them with a primitive and overtly sexual energy. He rejected normative Western standards of beauty in favor of African expressionism, most notably in the faces of the two figures on the right that are actually depictions of African masks. As we have seen, others before Picasso rejected, to one degree or another, many of the Western traditions, but probably no painting before this work had displayed the flouting of those canons in such a fundamental and obvious way.

    Picasso and Braque essentially co-invented Cubism, working first independently and then yoked closely together, like "mountaineers", Braque said, and later many others joined in. Seeing an early Cubist landscape by Braque, a critic remarked: "Mr. Braque despises form, reduces everything, places and figures and houses according to geometrical schemes, to cubes." The term stuck, even though there was actually not much of the "cube" in Cubism. Recall how the term impressionism was born from a critic’s derisive description of a painting by Monet. Unsurprisingly, when Braque submitted his early, proto-cubist works to officially sanctioned art exhibitions, they were rejected. Manet would have sympathized.

    Here is a summary of the main concerns of cubism:

    I. Space and Time.

    Picasso, Braque and others, under the influence of prevailing intellectual trends, perhaps even the Special Theory of Relativity (more about this possible connection in a bit), rejected traditional conceptions of space and time. It is known that they were influenced by the work of the mathematician Poincar� (and see especially Conventionalism and the Philosophy of Geometry), who held that Euclidean geometry was conventional, a convenient but not necessary way to interpret the world, a view that put him at odds with the philosophy of Kant, among others. But by this time it was understood that there could be a proliferation of geometries, like Reimannian geometry, with its emphasis on a curved space.

    Other influences bore on them too, the same sort of influences that were undermining positivism: The X-ray machine had been invented in 1895, and by the dawn of cubism it was understood that there was a lot more to the world than met the eye - the visible world was the tip of a visual and ontological iceberg. At this time there was also much talk of the fourth dimension, in the sense of a possible fourth spatial dimension or in the sense of time as a dimension. Picasso and others knew that if one could view the 3D world from the perspective of a fourth spatial dimension, one would be able simultaneously to see the figure from all perspectives, and also its interior. If one could view a figure from the perspective of the time dimension, one would be able to see it spread out like a set of still frames in a movie - displaying what philosophers of time today would call its temporal parts. Being painters, they naturally tried to interpret these new ideas visually.

    II. Objective and Subjective

    Western tradition art placed a premium on planning. The world was believed to be an objective place, the same for all, and all who painted had to learn a set of standard techniques for grasping and depicting it. But as we have seen, this consensus of what the artist ought to do, and what the world was like, began to break up in the mid-19th century, and by the time of Picasso it was, at least among the avant garde movement, in ruins. While it is true that in the case of cubism, a good deal of analysis and planning took place, cubism essentially elevated subjectivism. Invention took precedence over planning. This was particularly true in late cubism, which came to be known as synthetic cubism, as opposed to the early stage of it, analytical cubism. Picasso left records of how he painted that included, later in life, movies of him in action, and he, like so many other 20th century painters, relied heavily on inspiration. He did not build his works from the ground up, as the Old Masters had done, but started some way, even arbitrarily, and often changed course numerous times, working and reworking the surface of the canvas or paper until he got something that he intuitively felt was "right".

    III. Inner and Outer

    While traditional painters were concerned with the outer world, Picasso was preoccupied with the inner one. Rather than depict the forms of nature that presented them to his eye, Picasso invented forms, a bewildering array of them over the course of his long life, taking the outer world as, at most, a scaffolding for his fantasies and inventions. Interestingly, though, Picasso, unlike so many 20th century painters, never went over into full non-representationalism. The figurative always remained central to his art, no matter how wild his distortions became.

    We can see the passage from the austere formalism of Cezanne to the formal Cubist dislocations of time and space by comparing the following portraits, the first by Cezanne and the second by Picasso, both of the art dealer Ambrose Vollard:

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    Just as a quick aside - for who can resist? - here is taste of what we have today, postmodern art, and for now I'll let the reader imagine the point. It is called Happy Mr. Vollard, as it is by T.F. Chen.

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    We saw that Cezanne, especially late in his career, was a formalist, and that a formalist is someone who, broadly, thinks that aesthetic pleasure, or experience, or insight, or whatever it is (assuming it is anything) that we derive from pictorial art has to do mainly with the way that marks on a surface are arranged, and not very much, if anything, to do with what is depicted (if anything is depicted). We saw how Cezanne depersonalized his wife in the service of form, and we see him doing so again in his portrait of Vollard, making the art dealer's face almost an abstract mask. But in his own portrait of Vollard, Picasso went far beyond Cezanne, while incorporating Cezanne's influence.

    Picasso not just flattened the canvass but fractured it, as if space itself were an object, one that the artist struck with the vibrant hammer blows of his paintbrush and broke to pieces. In this picture, we sense that there is no space - just faceted, jostling and interlocking forms vying for attention no matter where one looks. The work gives the impression of a highly complex stained-glass window through which the ochre of Vollard’s faceted but still recognizable face shines like a somber sun.

    In flattening the canvas and banishing the illusion of space between objects, Picasso subtly gave the impression that the figure was displaying itself from multiple perspectives, even from behind. The painting also features another kind of space, a tactile one: we sense that if we could run our hands over the surface of the canvas, we would feel the edges of the fractured space. Impressionism was a tactile art as well, but those who practiced it were trying to evoke the tactile sense of sun falling on surfaces by use of unmodulated brush strokes. In the case of Picasso's Vollard, light, shade and color are incidental; he made space itself tactile. In a Cubist painting, empty space ceases to exist, and so positive and negative spaces lose their articulation and separation. Passages are ambiguous.

    Cubists turned the hourglass of tradition upside down: Instead of depicting deep space from a fixed perspective, they articulated a flat surface from multiple perspectives.

    Picasso repeatedly subverted tradition, and for this reason some have thought him as a destroyer, a bull run riot in a china shop. It is true: he was a destroyer, but in the service of creativity. To call him a destroyer would be no reproach, unless one thinks that he was destructive, which many people do.

    Over the years, Picasso has inspired, mainly among non-artists, a range of negative feelings, including disparagement, condescension and loathing - even a burning hatred. See how, at Abstract Art, the author reassures her readers that while the bulk of Picasso's work is little more than a hoax (thus, unsurprisingly, indulging and validating their biases) he really could paint realistically if he wanted to, and she cites examples of his early mimetic work. She informs her readers that Picasso painted weird stuff because he knew that suckers were hooked on novelty, and so he gave the public what he wanted. Unsurprisingly, the author can't even keep basic facts straight: Contrary to her claim, Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (which we'll look at shortly) was not the first cubist work, Duchamp having painted it nearly five years after Picasso and Braque invented cubism. But this sort of ignorance, sadly, is typical for what passes as art appraisal by those who either don't know anything about art, or don't care about it. Consider, too, the Picasso: Fraud website. And so on.

    To be clear, no one has to like cubism, or any art, for that matter. As I have tried to show in the philosophy of art essays, attempts to define art, or to talk about good and bad art, founder on philosophical problems. But it is one thing to say that art comes with philosophical baggage, and another thing to dismiss out of hand anything that does not correspond to your art biases, while parading your ignorance of basic facts to boot.

    Some people question whether art, especially visual art, has any real relevance. In a future essay, Art as Power, I will try to answer that question. (Sneak preview: the answer is YES.) For now, I would like to suggest that the frothing hatred directed at Picasso (still!) shows just how relevant art is, and this hatred is no accident. It is a cultural phenomenon, and the hatred comes from a particular sort of person. I would also like to point out (and I will elaborate on this in Art as Power) that the three great totalitarian psycho-states of the 20th century - Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Maoist China - banned nonobjective and avant garde art, and decreed that realistic art, and specifically a brand of social realism that stressed the heroic, was the only valid art. In general, this aesthetic line is taken by most, maybe all, authoritarian states and by authoritarian personalities.

    Again, I will talk more about this later, but for now, I suggest these facts should give pause to those who find modern art alienating, baffling, depressing or a hoax. Surely, the Nazis, the Stalinists and the Maoists knew that it was not a hoax, and they knew what power modern art had - a power that was a gun aimed at their wretched heads. (No wonder Goring said, "When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun." For him, doing so was a matter of self-defense.) I should put it like this: modern art is on the side of the people. Ironically, many of these very same people are not on the side of modern art. Be that as it may, let's return, for now, to Picasso and cubism.

    As I have mentioned, in addition to a new conception of space, Cubists were concerned with differing concepts of time - rejecting the view that there was a privileged time, even during the same period that Einstein was showing that there was no privileged, Newtonian now. Maybe we could say that Cubism was post-Newtonian. To see one way in which the Cubists reinterpreted time, consider Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase:

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    It is Cubistic time-lapse photography, showing the fractured figure in its descent from top left to bottom right all at a single glance: time spatialized. This work anticipates the modern philosophical idea of temporal parts, which holds that people, and all objects, do not pass through time, but rather perdure, timelessly, within it. On this account, just as we have spatial parts, we have temporal parts. As the top of one's head, and the bottoms of one's feet, are examples of spatial boundaries, so, too, we all have temporal boundaries: birth and death.

    A 2002 Article in Physics Web explores whether Picasso knew about Einstein, and perhaps specifically special relativity, and whether this knowledge also influenced cubism. The answer is indefinite, but the science philosopher Arthur Miller nevertheless believes there is a link. From the Physics Web article: "Miller regards Cubism as a 'research program' in which Picasso, like Einstein, discovered a new aesthetic - the reduction of forms to geometrical representations." By this account, the boundary is blurred if not erased between art and science: artists carry out research as scientists do, and scientists make theories because they are aesthetically pleasing.

    In synthetic Cubism, Picasso and others extended their research program to collage, combining paint with found objects, torn newspapers and the like. Consider the following collage by Picasso:

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    The works of synthetic Cubism because simpler, more colorful, seemingly more intuitive and focused less on disassembling form, but reassembling it into new patterns.

    Even before Cubism, abstract, non-representational art was on its way, and, as I have argued, one could say that Cezanne himself, in his late paintings of a mountain, created the first truly non-representational works of the 20th century. But art scholars generally credit Cubism with inspiring many artists to pursue non-objective art who might otherwise have hesitated to do so.

    One should bear in mind that in this essay, I have treated of cubism in an introductory way, focusing on Picasso. Those who wish to learn more of this art movement will find a rich literature, both online and in print. And it, like all art movements, one can examine it from many perspectives that I have not even touched on here: gender issues, for instance, to which the art professors Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten devote an entire chapter in their book, Cubism and Culture. An overview of some of the other artists who pursued cubism may be found here.

    In his 1913 essay, "On Point of View in the Arts", the Spanish philosopher Jos� Ortega Y Gasset wrote, "The evolution of Western painting would consist in a retraction from the object toward the subject, the painter." Cubism simultaneously affirms and challenges this idea because it features a tension between objective and subjective, inner and outer, space and time. One the one hand it appears to be depersonalized in a way that seems to defy "retraction toward the subject, the painter". On the other hand, for all its formal innovations, it involves so much invention of form, and so much improvisation, that inevitably it speaks to the inner state of the artist.

    Although Picasso left cubism behind, its influence pervaded much of his later work. As a movement, Cubism broke up in the slaughter of World War I (in which Picasso refused to fight, and in which Braque was seriously wounded, but recovered to continue painting). Picasso reinvented himself as an interpreter of classical forms in a way that shocked many of his contemporaries, because his new approach seemed so unradical. (maybe Picasso already foresaw the possibility that to be truly transgressive, one ought to be bourgeois), but his "classical" forms are sometimes so strange, so mammoth and space-extinguishing, and so weirdly stylized (but exquisitely drawn), that some have thought them to be a deliberate parody of academic painting. Consider a few:

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    This detour into neo-classicism would prove to be a hiatus until Picasso's next great burst of activity, which involved, among other things, surrealism, an art movement that I will examine in a future essay, which will include a discussion of Picasso's surrealism.

    Picasso remarked that people who tried to explain pictures were usually barking up the wrong tree, but that didn’t stop Jung, after attending an exhibition of Picasso's works, from trying to understand what motivated the artist. From the perspective of the present, Jung's analysis might seem inappropriate, because Picasso was not his patient. Nevertheless his short 1932 essay remains interesting.

    Of Picasso, Jung writes:

    Non-objective art draws its contents essentially from 'inside.' This 'inside' cannot correspond to consciousness, since consciousness contains images of objects as they are generally seen, and whose appearance must therefore necessarily conform to general expectations. Picasso's object, however, appears different from what is generally expected - so different that it no longer seems to refer to any object of outer experience at all. Taken chronologically, his works show a growing tendency to withdraw from the empirical objects, and an increase in those elements which do not correspond to any outer experience but come from an 'inside' situated behind consciousness - or at least behind that consciousness which, like a universal organ of perception set over and above the five senses, is orientated towards the outer world. Behind consciousness there lies not the absolute void but the unconscious psyche, which affects consciousness from behind and from inside, just as much as the outer world affects it from in front and from outside. Hence those pictorial elements which do not correspond to any 'outside' must originate from 'inside.'’

    Jung ventures that Picasso's works are of the "schizophrenic kind" (though he later emphasized, in a postscript to the essay, that he did not wish to imply that he thought Picasso suffered from schizophrenia): "The picture leaves one cold, or disturbs one by its paradoxical, unfeeling, and grotesque unconcern for the beholder."

    For Jung, Picasso was on a quest (as who was not for Jung?). He writes that Picasso is ruled by the "symbol of the Nekyia", representing "the journey to Hades", and that Picasso is lured by the "underworld fate":

    ... the man in him who does not turn towards the day-world, but is fatefully drawn into the dark; who follows not the accepted ideals of goodness and beauty, but the demoniacal attraction of ugliness and evil. It is these antichristian and Luciferian forces that well up in modern man and engender an all-pervading sense of doom, veiling the bright world of day with the mists of Hades, infecting it with deadly decay, and finally, like an earthquake, dissolving it into fragments, fractures, discarded remnants, debris, shreds, and disorganized units.

    Jung writes: "Picasso and his exhibition are a sign of the times, just as much as the twenty-eight thousand people who came to look at his pictures."

    Picasso certainly was a sign of the times, despite or because of his bewildering originality. And perhaps the most potent sign of his times is to be found in his iconic mural Guernica, which I will discuss in the next instalment.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/16/2006 Article Image:
    By /index.php?/user/8-davidm/">David Misialowski (2006)

    In The Principles of Art, first published in 1938, the Oxford philosopher R. G. Collingwood wrote: "The artist proper is a person who, grappling with the problem of expressing a certain emotion, says, 'I want to get this clear'."

    Emotional Expression

    In The Principles of Art, first published in 1938, the Oxford philosopher R. G. Collingwood wrote: "The artist proper is a person who, grappling with the problem of expressing a certain emotion, says, 'I want to get this clear'." For Collingwood, art was, in part, a technical problem, though he was careful to distinguish it from mere craft – as in, say, the planning or making of a table also involves getting something "clear", but is not generally thought to be an example of making art. On Collingwood's account, what the artist was striving to get clear was a certain emotion, an inchoate feeling about himself or the world that he then articulated visually. If he succeeded in his endeavor, then presumably the viewer would somehow imaginatively enter into the work, and experience the same, or a similar, emotion. This doctrine might be called expressionist, and in addition to it, Collingwood was an idealist: He believed that a work of art did not even need to be embodied, but could be composed and exist entirely in the mind of the artist.

    Collingwood tried to distinguish emotionally expressive art – indeed, it appears, he defined art as emotionally expressive – from what he termed "art-so-called": magic art and amusement art. An example of magic art, in the field of painting, might be propaganda posters that are intended to arouse a certain feeling of patriotism, which might then be channeled into the appropriate context (such as manipulating people to go to war for their country, for example). Amusement art is intended to, well, amuse people. Funny drawings of people – caricatures, for example – are examples of amusement art.

    Can Collingwood's definitions suffice as a description of art proper? It would seem not. What about the minimalist art that we have already seen? What emotion is being worked out in them? None that are readily apparent, unless we wish to expand the definition of emotion to cover all expressed (or non-expressed) painted works, in which case Collingwood’s account reduces to circularity. Also, how could it account, for example, for the following work by Warhol?

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    Or what about this "work", The Fountain, by Duchamp from 1917?

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    The Fountain (really a urinal, obviously) was an example of what is known as a readymade, and today such found, or selected, objects, are widely viewed as valid art. Maybe it's a mistake to do that, but if so, we need a clear reason why it's a mistake – which just means, alas, that we need a watertight definition of what constitutes art, something that so far has eluded us. When Duchamp, who as we can see signed his "work" R. Mutt, submitted it to an exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917, the organizers of the show rejected it. Duchamp responded by writing, "Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He chose it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view - he created a new thought for the object."

    It's also unclear why so-called magic art and amusement art fail to qualify as art proper. Picasso made many paintings intended to amuse other people, or just himself. What about the following charming cartoons by Picasso?

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    Were these not art? And it could be argued that most Renaissance paintings were examples of magic art, under Collingwood's definition, because they were concerned with religious themes, and the goal of the artists who made them does not appear to have been getting clear on their own emotions, but rather stimulating or validating religious impulses in others.

    Collingwood's account of art is certainly true for some works - it fits much better with the Van Gogh self-portrait that we have already seen, for example, than does Bell's "significant form" account – but it hardly can provide a definition for all art, unless we are prepared to concede that many works we admire are not really art. The Sistine Chapel, for example, might seem to be a paradigmatic case of Magic Art, and hence not really art at all, if Collingwood is right. The biggest problem, though, is that there is no reason to take Collingwood's distinctions seriously, in my view. They don't seem to derive from any evidence, but have a strongly ad hoc flavor – they are made up.


    Artworld can readily account for everything from the Sistine Chapel to minimalist art to Duchamp's fountain, as well as the wide variety of installation art and computer art that we see today. It can account for just about everything! This is its great strength – but also, perhaps, its biggest weakness. After all, if everything is art, or at least potentially art, as Artworld suggests, then we could just as easily say that nothing is art. A theory that by definition accounts for everything does not seem to provide any information about anything in particular. Artworld might be seen as a way of accounting for what is sometimes called the transfiguration of the commonplace. In his 1964 essay introducing Artworld, Arthur Danto discussed what made Duchamp's "fountain" a work of art, rather than just another urinal. Or consider Warhol again, this time his "artwork" of a plywood Brillo box:

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    According to Danto, what made Warhol's Brillo box art was not that, unlike cardboard Brillo boxes, it was constructed of plywood, for that surely would be implausible; but rather that Warhol, in presenting it as a work of art, conferred, or invoked, a certain theory of art, like an aura or something, that made the thing art. In his essay, Danto wrote:

    What in the end makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is (in a sense of is other than that of artistic identification). Of course, without the theory, one is unlikely to see it as art, and in order to see it as part of the artworld, one must have mastered a good deal of artistic theory as well as a considerable amount of the history of recent New York painting. It could not have been art fifty years ago. But then there could not have been, everything being equal, flight insurance in the Middle Ages, or Etruscan typewriter erasers. The world has to be ready for certain things, the artworld no less than the real one. It is the role of artistic theories, these days as always, to make the artworld, and art, possible. It would, I should think, never have occurred to the painters of Lascaux that they were producing art on those walls. Not unless there were neolithic aestheticians.

    Influenced by Danto, George Dickie developed the so-called Institutional Theory of Art, which contends that the status of artwork is conferred upon a painting, an object, or potentially anything by members of the Artworld, who are not necessarily just other artists, museum directors, curators, critics and the like, but anyone who is interested in art. On this account, it might be possible to confer art status on a glob of grass. To do so, one might merely present the grass for appreciation. By appreciation, Dickie did not mean evaluative, as in "good" or "bad" art, but to be appreciated as art.

    The Artworld idea might have something in common with scientific theorizing: When the impressionists made their works, those works might not, at first, have been legitimate art, because they did not correspond to the prevailing "theory" of art at the time, which is that it ought to be mimetic. Then, when the impressionists presented their art for appreciation, it acquired a theory about it, the theory being that efforts to depict the effects of sunlight on natural objects out of doors were valid. Under this idea, art theorists, like their scientific counterparts with respect to observed phenomenon, sought to extend art theory to bring under its purview new kinds of painting that required an explanation or a justification.

    In his book Warburton pointed out several potential problems with Institutional Theory, one of which is that it seems circular: Works of art are presented for appreciation by the Artworld. And who are members of the Artworld? Those who present works of art for appreciation. Also, it seems one could declare, in advance, that every person or object in the world, from a blade of grass to Osama bin Laden, was a work of art. Who could gainsay him, if Institutional Theory is right? At all events, the idea is that works of art do not exist in isolation, but in a certain context. A Brillo Box in one context is a work of art, and in a different context it is just a box with Brillo pads in it. Just like sometimes a cigar is a cigar, and other times it is something else.

    Family Resemblance

    Since all the attempts mooted so far to define art, or to appraise it as good or bad in some way, seem flawed, or at least open to serious objection, it's possible that art can't be defined. That was the position of Morris Wertz, who argued, not just that it was hard to define art, but that it was logically impossible to do so. He took his cue from Wittgenstein, arguing that art was an "open concept", or a "family resemblance" term. This comports with Wittgenstein's discussion, in his Philosophical Investigations, of games. Games, Wittgenstein said, share no single common denominator, and so it's a mistake to try to find one. Rather, we identify games by their family resemblance - by the way certain properties of games, in certain contexts, overlap, but with no single property common to all. Wittgenstein wrote: "Consider for example the proceedings that we call 'games'. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? - Don't say: "There must be something common, or they would not be called 'games'" - but look and see whether there is anything common to all. - For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don't think, but look!’"

    He later writes: "I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than 'family resemblances'; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, color of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and cries-cross in the same way. — And I shall say: 'games' form a family."

    And just so, Wertz argues, art forms a family. But one might object (or maybe it could be argued that Wittgenstein picked a bad term) that families do have an underlying common denominator, the unifying principle of their genetic relatedness. And it is this genetic relation that seems analogous to what we want for a definition of art: some underlying, though perhaps hidden and exceedingly difficult to descry, common trait. But, maybe Wittgenstein is right (never mind the objection that the term family resemblance really does imply a common denominator) and there is little or nothing in common, art-wise, between a Rembrandt painting, say, and a plywood Brillo box by Warhol, except for a few vague or trivial overlaps (both are exhibited in museums, for instance). In that case, we don't have to worry about this whole subject! We can spend our time on more practical problems, like securing a reliable supply of Harp's lager. (And I suppose Wittgenstein’s diagnosis of language and concepts was intended to show that there are many things in philosophy we don't really have to worry about, since the worry arises from a mistake of applying language. But that's a topic others are much more competent to discuss.)

    Conceptual Schemes

    The idea of "conceptual schemes" goes beyond art to ideas of truth, language, perception, reality and so on, and like anything in philosophy is widely debated. If conceptual schemes fail to make sense generally, then the idea probably can’t be applied to art particularly. For now, though, it seems (to me) to make sense. With respect to aesthetics, "conceptual schemes", defended by Roger Taylor, means that "art" can only be defined with respect to the conceptual point of view with which it is viewed. If, according to the conceptual scheme (which could arise from an extensive web of presuppositions, conditioning, prior education, innate personal taste, cultural exposure and many other factors besides) you think that a painting of Elvis on black velvet is art, and that works by Picasso aren't, then Elvis on black velvet is art, for you, and Picasso works aren't, and there is nothing more to be said.

    What's interesting about this idea is that, combined with the "open" art concept touted by Wertz and inspired by Wittgenstein, it seems possible for one's point of view of art to change or evolve (which, like biological evolution, doesn't necessarily mean progress) in such a way that one’s conceptual schemes can change. Maybe someone thinks Elvis and black velvet is paradigmatic art, but possibly, given more information, he might come to see Picasso works as paradigmatic art, too. The reverse could also happen - someone who reveres Picasso might have, so to say, a paradigm shift, and incorporate Elvis on black velvet works under his conceptual scheme along with Picasso works.

    "Conceptual schemes" stands in counterpoint to the thesis that there is High Art and maybe Low Art, or Popular Art, and the former stands out because its subject matter is more complex or its forms are more interesting to look at. Of course, High Art vs. Low Art presupposes what we seek: some standard to differentiate between "interesting" and "not-so-interesting" forms; or between complex and not-as-complex. (And if complexity is vital as a criterion of art, it seems minimalist art falls outside the art net.)

    High Art vs. Low Art sounds like a return to the idea of significant form. But the exponent of such a theory might point out what seems to be a potential flaw in conceptual schemes: While it's true that some person who likes Picasso might be persuaded to broaden his conceptual scheme to encompass paintings of Elvis on black velvet, and vice versa; and while it's possible, it seems, that someone could undergo such a paradigm shift that he would stop liking the Elvis paintings and embrace Picasso, it does not seem plausible to suppose that very many people, if any, would stop liking Picassos (or, more precisely, cease to think of Picasso works as art, or at least as good art) and embrace pictures on velvet of Elvis instead. Since there are few if any examples of such a thing happening, it could be argued that there must indeed be some quality of Picasso works that decisively sets them above paintings of Elvis on black velvet, and it is just this demarcation we must grasp, but have failed to do.

    Art as an Evolutionary Process

    In 1859, Edwin Drake drilled one of the world's first commercial oil wells in Titusville, Penn. A few years later, in the other hemisphere, Edouard Manet painted his picture of a picnic that, as we have already seen, scandalized the art establishment and was rejected for inclusion in an exhibition approved by the Academy. Here, again, is that picture:

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    What in the world does an oil well have to do with a picture by Manet, or either one with the idea of art as an evolutionary process? Drake's drill began the Oil Age, and that age has led to a massive proliferation of population, wealth, food, technical innovation, and cultural fragmentation and diversity (as well as to more war, pollution, urbanization, suburban sprawl, overcrowding, and many other problems). I shall argue that a profitable way to think of art is to think of different types of art as different species, with some species subsumed under varying genera. These artworks, or types of art, have evolved to adapt to different cultural niches, or environments - and many of these environments came into existence as a direct result of the explosive rise in population and technical innovation that was touched off by the Industrial Revolution, and in particular by the Oil Age.

    The kind of art that we talk about when we refer to the 20th century, the art of the modern, would not have been possible in an earlier age, because the social, economic and political conditions that gave rise to this art would not have existed except for the Oil Age. One might liken the bursting forth, the immense and sometimes bewildering proliferation of artistic species in the 20th century, to the Cambrian Explosion. This art evolved to fit the niches that were made possible by the exponential growth of peoples and cultures that resulted from oil-based industrialization. They don't call it oil painting for nothing.

    In biology, the well-attested theory of evolution involves, fundamentally although not entirely, a two-step process: descent with modification. Replicators produce imperfect copies of themselves, which are then acted upon, or modified, by the environment. In turn, the successful replicators modify the environment that has acted upon them (think of all the ways that humans have modified the environment that originally molded them). A mutation in an individual might, or might not, benefit it, depending on the environment in which it happens to find itself. A beneficial mutation just means that it gives the individual a "leg up" over other individuals of its own species, or those of other species, in finding food and mates. Gradually this mutation begins to spread through the population, and over a period of time might lead to speciation.

    Life on earth started 3.8 billion years ago in the form of prokaryotes, simple one-celled organisms, and for a couple of billion years there was stasis. There were few if any selective pressures to drive the prokaryotes away from equilibrium, probably because there was plenty of food for all and plenty of vacant niches into which they could expand. A couple of billion years ago eukaryotes, multi-celled creatures, emerged, and then again there was a long period of stasis until the Cambrian Explosion, about half a billion years ago. Eyes, teeth, fins, and body plans emerged, and then an evolutionary arms race commenced that continues to this day.

    A similar thing has occurred in art, I would suggest. The idea of the artist as a risk-taker, an explorer, a creator who is constantly testing the boundaries of the acceptable, is a modern myth. Most art, throughout history, has been stable and predictable, and artists were the heirs of traditions. If anything they were more artisans then artists. They were expected to create in a certain way, and this is still true of surviving traditions like Islamic art. I think this is because the cultural niches in which the artists created, which may be likened to environmental niches occupied by creatures in the natural world, were for the most part stable and predictable. When such cultural niches fell apart due to pressures like famine or war, what followed was not a proliferation of new cultural niches, but a diminution of them, or a change to new niches that themselves became stable. The art that adapted to these niches was consonant with the stability of the niches, and the felt needs of their inhabitants, which in most cases were necessarily modest.

    A famous case in biology involves a frame-shift mutation that allowed a Japanese bacterium to eat nylon. That was a lucky break for the bug, because there happened to be some nylon lying around to eat. It shouldn't be thought that the mutation occurred in response to the presence of the nylon; quite the contrary. The mutation was a lucky break, but because the nylon was present, the nylon-eating bugs quickly proliferated: the mutation spread.

    These sorts of beneficial mutations can only occur in the presence of heterogeneous and proliferating environments. In the absence of such environments, life responds with prolonged periods of stasis, like the immense time that simple prokaryotes dominated the world. Frame-shift mutations enabling the eating of nylon, or other bizarre behaviors, probably happened innumerable times in the past, but were either useless or deleterious to the organism, and so did not spread through the population.

    So too with art. In periods of stasis - prolonged, stable cultures with well-worn traditions - the sort of mutations that might have produced the grandiose distortions of Picasso, or even the much more subdued (in retrospect) inventions of the impressionists - undoubtedly occurred many times. It's hard to imagine the impressionists were the first people ever to come up with the idea of painting out of doors with the specific goal of capturing the fleeting effects of sunlight on surfaces. It's even hard to imagine (although a little less so) that Picasso was the first artist to dream up the idea of painting a face in such a way to make it seem, simultaneously, a profile and a face staring straight at the artist. Undoubtedly most of the "innovations" of modern art were dreamed up many times, but they were innovations, so to say, without the nylon lying around that would allow them to spread. A painter who decided to create minimalist works, or to pursue abstract expressionism, at the time of Rembrandt, simply would have lacked the requisite cultural environment to nourish his efforts. The mutation of inventing such an art would have lacked an environmental scaffolding to bootstrap it: the prevailing environment would have selected against it. It took the fragmentation and proliferation of cultures, enabled by the rise the industrial revolution and specifically by the age of oil, to provide the environments in which artist mutations could flourish and spread. It is no accident that vast numbers of new species of art arose specifically in the 20th century. It is just because a vast number of new cultural environments rose in which such new art could find the food of understanding and approval.

    To return to the family likeness concept, we see that maybe there really is at least a vague sort of common denominator that underlies all art, be it Rembrandts or Brillo boxes. These species of art, no matter how seemingly different on the surface, evolved, in response to changing environments (cultural niches) and they did so from a common ancestor. (The cave paintings of 40,000 years ago?) In the same way, species as different as millipedes and humans also have something in common: if you go back far enough in time along the ever-proliferating tree of life, you will find a root node at which a common ancestor of millipedes and humans once dwelt. Thus all life is related, and by the same measure all works of art are related. Go back far enough in time, and today's Brillo Boxes and yesterday's Cezannes and Rembrandts can be traced to a common ancestor, a root node on the tree of art.

    Under this account, we might say that certain works of art, while superficially quite different, in fact bear many similarities, and that these similarities can be accounted for by appealing to an aesthetic equivalent of the biological concept of convergent evolution. So, while a Van Gogh seems to be wildly different from the works of the academics, they bear traces of convergent artistic evolution, in that each, in differing ways, is essentially mimetic. Other works, like minimalism or abstract expressionism, dwell on more distant limbs of the tree of art, but have their own convergences with each other.

    So, too, if we take this metaphor seriously, we must admit that species and genera of art, like life, are contingent; and that if the tape of history were rewound and played again, we would be liable to get works of art very different from what we have. Also, if we wish to push this account to its logical conclusion, we must admit that all art is "good" in the sense that it successful, success being defined by its very existence.

    Also, under the art-as-evolution thesis, just as certain species of art are "selected" by fitting in with cultural niches, the art then changes those niches, the way that life itself, on earth, changed the atmosphere, over an immense period of time, into an oxygen-rich one (and the way that humans are currently, it seems, producing a greenhouse effect). If a cultural niche "selects" Picasso art because that art corresponds to some felt need of the cultural environment, then the presence of these works can condition future generations (and different cultural niches) to an appreciation of it, which in turn can inspire new kinds of art.

    We cannot provide an iron-clad definition of art, or an evaluative one of what constitutes "good" or "bad" art, because this would entail foreclosing on art that departs from the definition, and there is no obvious reason why we should do this except for prejudice. But we can take the idea of family resemblance seriously, and suggest that art has a genetic basis, that it goes through a process similar to biological descent with modification, and that new art arises to fill new cultural niches, which are akin to new environments in the natural world becoming amenable to new species. If the world becomes so variegated that for the first time in history, nylon is lying around so that a chance mutation allows nylon-eating bugs to spread, so too if the cultural world becomes variegated in a like manner, we will have, so to say, "nylon-eating art mutations" (Brillo boxes as art? Picasso distortions as art?) finding a home and spreading, whereas at no time previous could they have found such homes, because the homes did not exist in the cultural environment.

    What about the future of art? If the above is right, art proliferation will depend on continued cultural proliferation. Some might say the reverse is beginning to take place, because of the cultural leveling entailed by globalization. Others dispute this, saying that globalization is not producing a leveling of cultures, but instead a cross-fertilization of them that will open up new niches for new species of art. Think about how, in the late 19th century, the arrival, for the first of time, of extensive examples of Japanese art into Western Europe inspired Van Gogh's work.

    Globalization, though, depends on intensive energy growth. We have reason to believe that this energy growth will stall, or even go into decline. We have reason to think that the world is at or near the peak of global oil and natural gas production; that the production of these two resources will go into decline; and that no alternative energy source will have the energy density or the economic scalability to replace them. We do not know that this will come about, but we have reason to think it might. If it does, the world will contract, and with it, cultural niches will begin to vanish. Globalization will end. We might experience, not art proliferation, but art die-off - and population die-off, too.

    James Howard Kunstler, the author of The Long Emergency, has argued that because of energy shortages, the world is going to contract. Population will sharply decline, and living will become intensely local again. Aesthetically, Kunstler apparently believes, the art of modernism, particularly architecture, was a grotesque manifestation of the deformities of modern life: an anti-beautiful art that reflected the tensions and bleakness of urbanization, poverty, war, overcrowding, suburban sprawl, and the ethic of the car, which allowed (even encouraged) us to despoil our living environments because people could go whizzing past them at 80 miles an hour, without having actually to look at what they had wrought.

    If the modern world goes into reverse, as Kunstler argues is inevitable, then art will contract: the kind of environments that nourish it will vanish, one by one; indeed, just as a practical matter it will be harder to do art of any kind, much less experimental art, because artists will lack the leisure time and resources to continue their investigations. We will then, Kunster argues, return to the traditional, normative standards of beauty and craft as our definitions of art. On this account, we might expect to return, at the end of the oil age, to where we started at the dawn of it: the art of mid-19th century France, perhaps, as enforced by academic and classical standards. Whether this art was beautiful is a matter of opinion - we are back to the problem of an objective definition of art, or a feasible standard to demarcate good from bad - but for all that, if Kunstler is right, it might be what we, again, get.

    What should we conclude? Perhaps just that the old folk adage is right: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Why should it take two essays, comprising more than 8,000 words, to explore or justify an adage that is a mere eight words long? Because I have hoped to make these philosophical essays, and philosophers, to use philosophy jargon, like to unpack things, especially if they seem self-evident and are only eight words long.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/15/2006 Article Image:

    By /index.php?/user/8-davidm/">David Misialowski (2006)

    Before moving on to discuss Picasso and the main art trends of the 20th century, I thought I'd tackle the vexing, "But is it art?" question that so many people voice when confronted with images that look like wild distortions of reality, or like nothing in the real world at all.

    We have already seen an excellent overview of aesthetics, and some of what I write might overlap with this work. I have always wondered about the "what is art?" question, but because I do draw and paint, I never worried about it too much. That might sound surprising, but I don't think it is, since I imagine at least some people who love to do a certain thing rarely philosophize about why they love it so much, or what it is, exactly, that they do. Does a bird ask why it sings?

    I have come to the following tentative conclusions:

    It is probably impossible to define art –- that is, attempts to demarcate between art and non-art seem futile, because:
    It is probably a logical mistake to try to define art – an example of a flaw in language use, or in conceptualization.
    Even if we could define art, discussion of what constitutes good art and bad art is largely meaningless, an example of the apparent fallacy of trying to derive prescriptive statements from descriptive premises. This is true if you say art is good or bad in the sense of approval or disapproval, and if you mean those terms in the sense of art being good with respect to how well it meets the criteria of art, then you have to establish criteria that probably can't be established.
    [*]The art that we have, and appreciate (or not) is entirely contingent: there was nothing inevitable about it.
    [*]It seems reasonable to suppose that there exist untold numbers of artworks (of all sorts, including music and literature) that have never seen the light of day but that, had they come to be known, would be venerated at least as much as the art that we in fact venerate, and perhaps more so. Think of all that we lost in literature because of the arson at Alexandria.
    [*]Be that as it may, veneration of art is unwarranted, since art cannot be defined and since discussions of good and bad art founder on logical fallacies, as mentioned above. Certainly, art can be appreciated (or not), and it can inspire (or not) thought and reflection.
    [*]To the extent that art can be discussed in terms of value, it is a cultural construct, an example of valuation arrived at by inersubjective consent.
    [*]The evolution of art can be likened to biological descent with modification, with types of art being "species" that are adapted to their cultural niches. As with biological species, it bears repeating that the art that evolved was contingent, and, again, should not be thought of in terms of "good" or "bad", but rather in terms of adaptive strategies, where culture, in the case of art, replaces nature as the selector. Just so, species in nature are not "well evolved" or "poorly evolved" (good or bad) but equally successful, with success defined by their very existence.

    As Paul Newall has demonstrated in his essays on the philosophy of science, science is theory laden, and there is no single "scientific method" or ironclad definition of science. If that is true for science, why wouldn't we expect it to be true for art? Indeed, it can perhaps be argued that art theorizing and science theorizing share similar strategies and objectives, and I'll return to this subject later. The good news is that if everything I have said above is true, then we can say these conclusions argue for art proliferation rather than constriction, even as similar observations with regard to the sciences argue for the proliferation of theories. And, all things being equal, I think it is better to have more things in the world that we call "art" rather than fewer things, if only because variety is pleasurable.

    There is another sense in which we can ask, "What is art?" and that is in the ontological sense: What sort of being does art have? Is it wholly physical? Is it mental? Is it the interplay between the physical and mental? Does it have some abstract reality, as mathematics seems to have? And what is color? What does it mean to have the experience of, say, seeing red? I'll touch on these questions, too, in a later installment, but the initial sense of the question "But is it art?" seems more pressing, because practically speaking, it bears on the issue of why particular works of art hang in museums and others don't; indeed, it makes one wonder why we hang works in museums at all.

    The "But is it art?" question elides into the question, "What is art?" (not yet in the ontological sense) because to ask whether a particular work is art, seems to require that we define art. But as I hope to show, as soon as we try to do this we wander down a labyrinth that seems to have no center and no exit.

    To simplify this discussion, by "art" I will be referring to visual art, yet the problem is common to all the arts. Suppose we define art stipulatively: in the case of visual expression, it is the intentional arrangement of pictorial marks on some surface for some purpose. Right away we run into problems: first, we have to explain why this arrangement of marks must be intentional; indeed there are artists who claim to work from the subconscious, and say that the marks that they make (or the words that they write, in the case of literature) seem to be dictated to them from some hidden source, perhaps a subconscious or even spiritual one. So we have a counterexample to intentionality. Consequently we have to modify our definition to say, "Art is the arrangement of pictorial marks on some surface for some purpose", dropping the word "intentional".

    What about purpose? Why must art have a purpose? Certainly some works of art do have a purpose; the Sistine Chapel art was intended to inspire religious devotion and awe (and also, perhaps, to flatter the ecclesiastical authorities of that period, and aid in legitimizing their power). But many other works of art, particularly in the modern period, seem to have been made for their own sake. Perhaps that can be called a purpose, but it doesn’t seem to be a purpose in the same sense that, for instance, a car is built for the purpose of providing transportation. So maybe we have to drop "purpose" from our definition. If so, we are left with: "Art is the arrangement of pictorial marks on some surface".

    Of course, this definition subsumes under the term "art" everything from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel to the doodles that you might make on a napkin while drinking your morning coffee. And now one must ask, if both are works of art, why is the Sistine Chapel reproduced in art books and your doodles aren’t? In reply we might say, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is good art, and your doodles are bad art (or at least not as good as Michelangelo's works). But now we have just pushed the problem one step back: After all, most people suppose that the term "art" incorporates some value system, some presupposition that "art" just means good art – for after all, the opposite of art is artless. If this is correct, then to ask, "What distinguishes good art from bad art?" really is to ask, again, what art is/ So we are back to square one: needing a definition of art.

    Recall Zola said that, for the painter, subject is a pretext to painting. Anyone who takes instruction in drawing and painting might quickly see why this is so. In drawing from the live figure, the very first thing you learn is that if you are to have any hope of grasping what is before you, then you must abstract the figure down to lines, curves, ellipses and other forms. These forms, obviously, are not the person being drawn — the drawing is not the thing itself. (I hope philosophers can agree at least on that much!) So what we have are marks on a sheet of paper and not a real person on a sheet of paper. The tension arises between emphasizing the marks in and of themselves and investing them with, or discovering therein, an aesthetic reality, or in manipulating the marks further to evoke the illusion, on paper, of a real figure. But no matter how "realistically" one works the marks, they are still marks. The so-called formalist suggests that since, in the final analysis, there are only marks, then the marks are what give aesthetic pleasure, and not anything that the marks denote. On this account, subject is secondary, if not irrelevant. This idea seems to be the one that Cezanne incorporated, especially in his late art, as I have tried to show.

    Consider the following Cezanne rendering of three figures:

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    Why did he leave this work so unfinished? Was it because he was not competent enough to bring off a finished study? Surely not. He left it unfinished deliberately, because he was seeking after underlying form, rather than mere description. On the formalist account, the aesthetic pleasure that we derive from a picture of the human form has little to do with the actual illusion of a person, but everything to do with the formal arrangement of the pictorial elements. So, for example, the formalist would say that the reclining figure at the center of the work holds our interest, not because it is a picture of a human being, but because of the interplay of the interlocking curves. These interlocking curves happen to suggest a person, but even if they suggested nothing in the real world at all, they would still hold our attention because of their music-like rhythm and energy. With this idea in mind, we now have what we might call an "art status" explanation for works like those of Jackson Pollock:

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    The reason why, on the formalist account, it is possible and even desirable to create such unfinished figure studies (or, better, works like Pollock's) is that such studies bring to our attention the significant form that underlies what the marks denote. If this is right, it provides a robust account of why nonrepresentational art is not just valid but successful, and perhaps even privileged.

    In his 1914 book Art, Clive Bell coined the term "significant form" as a way of explicating the work of Cezanne in particular, and to show why this work should be judged superior to works that lack significant form to one degree or another. Examples of the latter would be illustrations that are concerned mainly with visual reportage, with likenesses and storytelling — the very things, as it turns out, that many (most?) people are in fact attuned to. But one must ask, if people are attuned to visual reportage, and need to have "significant form" pointed out to them, then how significant, really, can this "significant form" be?

    In his 2003 book The Art Question, Nigel Warburton subjected "significant form" to the scalpel of philosophical critique and concluded that it was viciously circular and hence content-free. He points out that Bell defines "significant form" as patterns, lines or shapes that have the power to arouse an aesthetic emotion in us when we view them. But surely, while patterns, lines or shapes are, or combine to elucidate, form, it is an open question as to what makes these forms significant. Well, Bell says, what makes them significant, is that they arouse an aesthetic emotion. The problem is that under this account, the phrases "significant form" and "aesthetic emotion" are defined purely one in terms of the other, and hence the account is circular and provides no information. What Bell really seems to be saying is that,"“You'll appreciate significant form when you see it, because you'll have an aesthetic emotion; and if you don't have this emotion, then you can’t appreciate significant form." And now Bell's move is reduced to elitism: it seems to be nothing more than an attempt, by him, to elevate his aesthetic emotion to objective aesthetic emotion. This might do for him, but it can't provide any independent definition of art.

    Bell tried to find a common denominator that was true for all art, whether for The Sistine Chapel or works by Rembrandt. He also intended this definition to serve as a filter that would explain why your doodle on a napkin is not a work of art, whereas the Sistine Chapel is. But as Warburton pointed out, his attempt was circular and hence failed. It also incorporated the presumption that we must have a "common denominator" applicable to all art. As Bell wrote: "For either all works of art have some common quality, or when we speak of 'works of art' we gibber." But as we shall see, this statement probably constitutes a false dichotomy. It might turn out that all works of art do not have a common quality or, if they do, it is a trivial one. But it doesn’t follow from this that when we speak of art we "gibber". (Well, maybe I gibber, but this doesn't mean that we all do.)

    Does this mean that there is no such thing as significant form, and the whole project of Cezanne is erroneous? No, but it does mean we still have no demarcation criteria to separate significant form from mere form, or art from non-art. Moreover, even if Bell's explanation wasn’t circular, one has to wonder how it would account for minimalist art? What is the significant form of the following work by Mondrian?

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    Or this by Joseph Albers?

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    Or this by Ad Reinhardt?

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    The minimalist project seems, at least in part, an effort to deny form, significant or otherwise. These works were made long after Bell wrote his book, so it is possible that if Bell had been around to consider them, he would have deemed them not to be art. But here lies the problem with his, and potentially any, definition of art: it forecloses on creativity. The effort to define art begins to sound like the effort to define science: you can define them only at the risk of leaving out potential alternative concepts or art of science that may themselves prove, someday, to be fruitful, even if they are not currently so. To define in advance potential fruitfulness out of existence does not, in itself, seem to be a fruitful endeavor.

    Another problem with elevating significant form, whatever that might be, to a privileged status is that to do so seems to ignore, or by implication downgrade, so many actualworks that we call art that crucially and obviously depend on other factors. Consider this Van Gogh self-portrait that we have already seen:

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    It is true that this work is full of form, significant or otherwise, but who can contest the idea that what gives this painting its scintillating power is the expression on Van Gogh's depicted face? Even if we did not know that Van Gogh painted this work during a period of anguish, we would sense his anguish, or at least a certain severe intensity of feeling, from his expression. This is the sort of visual reportage that Bell would have us believe is secondary or even irrelevant to art. Surely Van Gogh would have found such a conclusion perverse.

    Formalism was not a new idea when Bell formulated his theory of significant form, going back at least to Kant (and undoubtedly much further, in various guises), who believed that aesthetics, or beauty, was founded on a handful of principles: it was free of concepts, it was objective, it was beheld with disinterest by the spectator, and there was, so to say, a moral obligation to appreciate it.

    For a work to be free of concepts, Kant appeared to believe, meant that the cognitive faculties were free to roam, uncontaminated by some prior concept of the thing under scrutiny. This seems like the idea of the "innocent eye" that many artists have espoused: a baseless concept, evidently, as all viewing is necessarily theory-laden. One can't escape one’s memories, dreams, concepts and prejudices in viewing a work of art or anything else, any more than the scientist can escape his presuppositions in formulating a theory, constructing a hypothesis or even deciding what to study.

    Objectivity, Kant supposes, has to do with the fact that human sensibility is universal, and people may be expected to come to the same judgments of beauty when their cognitive faculties are in free play, unhindered by concepts. Even if one were to accept the "innocent eye" presupposition that this thesis implies, many philosophers would vigorously contest this notion, and indeed it seems to beg the question of what is beauty by incorporating the definition of it in a premise rather than in a conclusion.

    By disinterest, Kant meant that the beholder of beauty had no personal stake in the matter; beauty, he suggests, holds one’s attention for its own sake. That is perhaps true, but certainly vulnerable to objection and counterexamples. If one finds a woman beautiful and wishes to possess her, one would have to argue, under Kant's account, that the beautiful woman did not really fit the bill for beauty.

    And finally, by moral obligation, Kant apparently believes that because judgments of beauty are disinterested, we are able to rise above ourselves and enter into a state of selflessness: "The enjoyment of nature is the mark of a good soul", Kant wrote; but again, one could contest this conclusion. It presupposes, among other things, that selflessness is a good thing; what if it’s a bad thing instead? Or what if there is no evaluative conclusion to be drawn from that state of selflessness (even supposing such a state is possible in the first place)? And anyway, what’s so obviously great about nature? Indeed, some artists think that nature is artless, for a the most part, a hodgepodge of clashing colors and meaningless forms, and it is the task of the artist to impose form on this melee, or maybe tease it out. One could argue that this was Cezanne's strategy.

    It should also be noted that Kant's formalist conception of beauty might rule out the aesthetics of painting altogether, because it might be argued, under his hypothesis, that the visual arts are hindered, or contaminated, by concepts. For Kant, evidently, beauty lies in nature, in the free, abstracted and concept-free play of light and shadow in a field of flowers, for example. I'll avoid wandering down this road, as it is too much of a detour from the path of this discussion, but if we take this idea seriously than it seems we would have to conclude that making art is superfluous. And in fact, many people have thought that the arts – all the arts – are a kind of illegitimate substitute for real life: that one’s goal ought to be, not to make art, but to live art – to be an artist of life. Unfortunately, since I am something of a potzer at real life (like a lot of people) further discussion of "the art of living", as we might call it, is beyond my competence. I shall leave that topic to the estimable Oprah.

    What else? One school of thought, which many artists subscribe to, is that a work of art is judged to be art, or to be good or bad art, according to whether the artist, in executing the work, achieves the goals that he set for himself.

    Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t work either, for a number of reasons. One problem, already mentioned, is that the artist might not always know what his objective is; he might be working from subconscious or even spiritual wellsprings. Second, while it's true that many artists meticulously plan their works, and then execute their plans (The Sistine Chapel is a good example), many others do not. A great many artists will say that their work evolves during the process, and frequently what they produce surprises them, rather in the nature of a revelation or a discovery. And there is a more perplexing problem yet: Consider, for example, the following painting by El Greco, which we saw in the introduction.

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    The figures are greatly elongated, and thus anatomically incorrect. It is supposed that El Greco elongated them intentionally, for the purpose of dramatic effect. It is even held, in the case of El Greco, that this was an artistically wise decision. But suppose new historical records are uncovered, in which we find El Greco admitting that he strove to replicate human anatomy as precisely as possible, but was too much of a bungler to do so. Would this mean that El Greco’s works would suddenly cease to be art? That seems absurd.

    Finally, if the intention of the artist is all that matters, or even if it is just paramount in judging art, what happens if the artist's intention is to produce a single red dot on a canvas? Surely that is not hard to do; indeed anyone could do it. So, if the artist succeeds in his goal of producing a red dot on a clear surface, has he produced a work of art? Or has he merely produced a red dot on a clear surface, with nothing else to be said about it?

    What about creativity as a definition of art? That is, perhaps we could say that a work is art, if it shows creativity. But how would we define creativity? It could be argued that anything that has been created, shows creativity by definition. One might counter that a work is truly creative if it bears the stamp of the individual who created it, the so-called "presence of the artist" that we saw in the chapter on impressionism, when discussing Pissarro. But why is this important? The modern Western world makes a fetish of creativity, but many art traditions, the Islamic tradition for instance, discourage "the presence of the artist" in favor of impersonal, patterned design that follows from certain learned formulas. So creativity, by itself, can’t serve as a definition comprising all art.

    In his book, Warburton, in addition to examining "significant" form, analyzed other possible definitions for art, including emotional expression, institutional theory, and Wittgensteinian family resemblance. In the next installment, I'll briefly summarize each of these, and then turn to the idea of conceptual schemes. I think, for now, that the idea of conceptual schemes, in conjunction with family resemblance, offers the best way of arriving at tentative though defeasible conclusions in defining art, to the limited extent that it can be defined. I will then offer a hypothesis of my own, in which I will liken the development of art to biological descent with modification.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/14/2006 Article Image:
    John Dupré is a professor of philosophy of science in the Department of Sociology and Philosophy at Exeter University in the UK, and also the director of Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society. I was able to ask him about several keys areas of his work and relate it to contemporary issues in both science and the philosophy of science.

    - Interviewed by Paul Newall (2006)

    PN: You have written that "mathematicism", or the extension of mathematics to areas of science where it can play no role, is a form of scientism and "a sociologically significant contributor to scientific prestige". Can you explain why prestige is important given that science is often thought of as an objective endeavour?

    JD: Prestige is important in science for the very simple reason that resources for science are limited. As Philip Kitcher eloquently explains in his recent book, Science, Truth, and Democracy, there is an inexhaustible reservoir of truth, and what science should aim to deliver is significant truth. Particular sets of scientific concepts, methods, instruments, and so on, give us a particular path into the endless thicket of potential knowledge, and which of these we invest in determines which more or less significant truths we may discover.

    For reasons that a number of philosophers of science including myself have emphasised in recent years the highest status mathematical work in science is not addressed to discovering truth at all, but at best to developing tools and methods. Even the "fundamental" mathematical laws in physics are not true generalisations about the world but abstract formulae that may or may not prove useful in specific applications carefully tailored to address real problems. (Nancy Cartwright's work over many years has been very important in making this point.)

    The problem with the field in which mathematicism has been most dominant, economics, is that the fetishisation of this tool construction activity has often led to a lack of interest in actually attempting to apply these tools to real problems. This has begun to be partly addressed by the project of experimental economics, which has investigated the basic psychological assumptions underlying economists' mathematical theories, and has found that they are often largely false. This raises serious doubts as to whether the mathematical endeavours that have been at the centre of high prestige economics have any real value at all.

    The basic position underlying my hostility to mathematicism is empiricism. The success of science has always depended on its connection to empirical reality. Of course, one must be a sophisticated empiricist nowadays. The world does not simply speak to the scientist, the scientist must develop concepts and tools to interpret the world. But if these are not constantly evaluated and refined in interaction with empirical testing, they have increasingly little value. My objection to mathematicism, then, is that it constitutes a divorce of scientific work from empirical reality. It is not, of course, a claim that mathematics does not have an essential role in science; it is a warning against mathematics becoming an end in itself.

    Sophisticated empiricism, for me, is ultimately the recognition that pure reason has never told us anything about reality. The challenge is to find ways of applying reason to developing ways of interacting with the world that can give us insight into reality. But experience of the world is always the final arbiter.

    PN: What other sociological factors play a role in science?

    JD: Science is a social process, and societies are extraordinarily complex things. So I certainly won't offer an exhaustive list of social factors that might affect the development of science. I'll just mention the factor that has been central to my work from the beginning, the development of scientific conceptual schemes. The sciences that I have been concerned with, the biological sciences and the social sciences, aim to tell us about things in which we have had a profound interest that long predates modern science. We talk about ourselves and the living world in a language in which fact and value are inextricably intertwined. I tried to develop this point in my earliest work in which I traced the various interest-relative ways in which people classify biological organisms. Even strictly scientific interests in biology are diverse, for example evolutionary versus ecological, and can lead to different classificatory practices.

    The problem that is not, in my opinion, sufficiently appreciated is that scientific findings cannot be purged of this interest relativity. Many scientific claims are presented directly in terms of familiar everyday language, imagining that the applications of these concepts can be investigated in a purely objective, interest-free manner. This is one of my main objections to evolutionary psychology, a "scientific" project that I've spent a good deal of time criticising. The idea that one can illuminate a human problem such as rape by observing the behaviour of ducks or flies is an extreme example of this insensitivity to the subtlety of human language. But of course the reason that these investigations interest people, in fact are a great source of best-selling books, is that people want to learn about rape (or violence, altruism, mate choice, and so on), so this simplistic kind of argument is largely unavoidable. We can formulate scientific findings in esoteric scientific languages that may reflect only scientific, not social, interests. But then if anyone is to care we need to translate the findings somehow into the language we understand.

    It is sometimes presented as an objection to this line of thought that physics and chemistry, at least, are sciences that use entirely objective languages generated solely by scientific experience. So shouldn't the biological and social sciences aspire to the same objectivity? The point that this objection misses, I think, is that the objectivity of the physical sciences is based on the fact that the matters they discuss are not ones that anyone else has any interest in, apart from purely epistemic interest. Electrons, say, were developed as a scientific concept in an entirely esoteric scientific context. Of course we care about some of the applications of the physical sciences. But the idea that physics might be free of social values hardly suggests that there are value free atomic weapons or nuclear power stations. And as explained in my answer to the first question, what we find out about physics or chemistry may certainly reflect the interests to which we hope to apply our findings, as is often claimed by those who point with dismay to the extent to which the physical sciences have been funded by the military.

    PN: How can science benefit from sociological study?

    JD: This is a very large question of which I can only scratch the surface. As I just mentioned, whatever else science may be, it is a social process. Understanding the way this social process works is surely one fundamentally important approach to understanding science. Though I am not a sociologist of science, my current job is as director of a Research Centre mainly concerned with social aspects of contemporary biology, specifically genomics. There are a host of important questions about how the production of scientific knowledge interacts with the rest of society that require sociological investigation. As should be clear from my previous remarks, this is not just a matter of the reception of science by particular interested groups and publics, but also a matter of how these groups affect the science that is produced. This is surely something scientists as much as anyone else would benefit by understanding better.

    Related to my remarks about the importance of analysing concepts, I am very interested in the transmission of ideas between different groups of people. A term such as "gene" is understood in very different ways by different groups of scientists, and as scientific findings disseminate to doctors, lawyers, genetic counsellors, and the public at large, different understandings again emerge. This semantic drift has been a major focus of study at Egenis.

    PN: In your work The Disorder of Things you claimed that there are problems with falsificationism. What are they and what do you make of the reliance on it as a demarcation criterion by many in the debates over creationism and ID?

    JD: One problem with falsificationism is that it is a relic of a philosophy of science that held science to be fully intelligible as a set of propositions (laws, theories, etc). As I have said already, I take a particular scientific project to involve a number of elements: methods, concepts, background assumptions, instruments, and so on. (This is the most important thing that philosophy of science has learned from Thomas Kuhn, though no doubt he is not the only person who has tried to make the point.) It is these diverse elements of a scientific field that make the falsification of a prediction impossible to interpret in any conclusive way - our background assumptions may have been partially mistaken, our instruments may not have worked in quite the way we expected, and so on. No one is going to abandon molecular genetics, say, because it makes a few false predictions, simply because it is currently an enormously productive and successful scientific endeavour.

    Of course this leads me to conclude that falsification is not the right concept with which to confront creationists. But the general picture of a successful scientific project will serve very nicely. Creationism has, as far as I can tell, not a single scientific achievement to its credit. Its "instrument" is a book written by a large number of different individuals in the distant pre-scientific past. Its main arguments are generally highly confused claims about scientific problems that a very successful scientific programme has yet to solve - and of course, any science will have plenty of those. And, to be blunt, its central explanatory concept, God, is one without a shred of empirical evidence. As I argue in Darwin's Legacy, prior to the development of compelling evolutionary theories, our ignorance about the possible origins of life were such as to make an intelligent creator a hypothesis worth considering, though as David Hume brilliantly showed in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, such a speculation was extremely tenuous and told us little we wanted to hear about the nature of God. As an empiricist I cannot see any conceivable role for the concept of God in science, at least pending His or Her decision to present Himself or Herself for empirical examination.

    PN: Why do you think so many people, particularly scientists, have a "commitment to a universe amenable to one systematic and orderly description", and why do you not believe that such a universe exists?

    JD: I might begin by saying that, at least among philosophers of science, I think that this commitment is in quite rapid decline. My main answer must, once again, be an appeal to empiricism: there is no evidence for such a systematic and orderly description. What we should certainly agree is that our description of the world should be coherent, non-contradictory. I suspect that underlying a lot of the insistence on a unitary account of the world is a vague sense that only such an account could meet the condition of being coherent. But I can see no credible grounds for this assumption.

    There are a number of reasons why I do not believe a unified account of the universe is possible. I'll mention two. First, once again, is empiricism. While there are of course many points at which different parts of science interact and combine, I see no tendency towards unification. Unifying projects proposed by philosophers, such as the reduction of the mental to the neurophysiological, are not only exposed to powerful philosophical objections, but also are very diffusely reflected in scientific practice.

    Second, there is a widespread assumption that causality flows only upwards from simple things to more complex things. This is of course a very metaphorical expression, and exactly what it means depends on an account of causality and what it is for it to "flow". Without trying here to sort out these notoriously difficult questions, it seems to me that this assumption expresses an ungrounded dogma. I cannot see why emergent properties of complex things should not cause the movements of their constituents, and it seems to me that this happens all the time. It is properties of me, including very complex relations to my social environment, that explain and, I would say, cause the movements of physical particles in my fingers as I type these words. Of course the arrangement of particles and molecules in my body are also necessary for the emergence of the powers displayed in my typing. This two way casual flow between levels of organisation is one of the things that makes biological processes so difficult to understand.

    PN: What is reductionism and why do you object to it?

    JD: Reductionism is the project of explaining the sciences of complex things, without remainder, by appeal to the laws that govern the behaviour of their constituents. I have already mentioned many of the reasons why I reject this position. Clearly it is incompatible with the downward causation I have just described.

    Reductionism tends to come down in the end to the conviction that the laws of fundamental physics are universal in scope. If this were so, any laws claimed to apply to complex entities would have to be deducible in principle from these fundamental laws, or false. I can't address the details of the argument about fundamental physical laws. But one reason for being very sceptical about the conviction just mentioned is that it seems to be a hangover of the general view that science is ultimately directed at discovering universal laws, an idea that has proved to have little relevance to, for example, the biological sciences. A concept that has largely superseded this for most philosophers of science is that of a scientific model. Models provide partial representations of aspects of reality that provide more or less valuable, but always partial, insight into the complexities of the real world. Nancy Cartwright in particular has offered compelling arguments that so-called fundamental laws are higher levels of abstraction still that are useful in devising more concrete models. If this is right, the basic premise underlying reductionism is a non-starter.

    PN: What do you consider to be the "limits of science"? Why is scientific imperialism (or "the tendency to push a good scientific idea far beyond the domain in which it was originally introduced, and often far beyond the domain in which it can provide much illumination") a problem?

    JD: I certainly don't want to specify the limits of science a priori! My point, which follows from my remarks on reductionism, is only that scientific models are useful for a very specific set of questions. Evolutionary models, to take one example, have been enormously successful in helping us to understand the processes by which new forms of biological organisation emerged from earlier forms.

    A saying of which I am rather fond is "if one has a hammer, everything looks like a nail". This gets at what I mean by "scientific imperialism". It is no doubt a natural tendency, when one has a successful scientific model, to attempt to apply it to as many problems as possible. But it is also in the nature of models that these extended applications are dangerous. The abstractions that work well in one context may eliminate what is essential in another. So human behaviour, for instance, though it is certainly an aspect of a biological entity that emerged from features of earlier biological entities, is very little illuminated by standard evolutionary models. Human development and human social organisation are two crucial aspects of the aetiology of human behaviour that standard evolutionary models abstract away from, and the attempt to make this particular "imperialist" expansion is to provide a parody of human behaviour.

    I do think it is a reasonable hypothesis that the project of finding a general theory of human behaviour lies beyond the "limits of science". This is simply because the models that we have must abstract so drastically to provide useful and intelligible insights into very specific aspects of human behaviour that it is difficult to imagine how they could develop into one supermodel. I certainly won t rule this out a priori! But I think the onus of proof rests very much with the advocate of such an imagined achievement.

    PN: What is your view of the manner in which concepts from the philosophy of science are employed in contemporary debates? Does it help for philosophers of science to explain the difficulties associated with demarcation, for example, or can questions of what is or is not science be addressed without them?

    JD: As with scientists, philosophers will only provide useful interventions in public debates if they are able to express their findings in the terms in which those debates are framed. I don't think a concept such as demarcation is especially problematic, provided it is made clear that it is simply a word for distinguishing science from non-science. Having said that, I think that the concept of demarcation tends to suggest that there is a sharp line and some definite criterion that sorts the scientific sheep from the scientific goats. I think this is a highly misleading picture. History and philosophy are not (in the English speaking world anyhow) considered to be sciences, but they can be entirely credible grounds of knowledge. And sciences differ greatly in their epistemic credentials. As I argued in The Disorder of Things, I think we are much better to think in terms of epistemic virtues, features of an investigative practice that confer credibility. No doubt the cardinal empirical virtue is a proper connection with empirical evidence, which is the large grain of truth in the criterion of falsificationism. I don t know whether "epistemic virtue" is a good concept to apply to public debates, but the idea behind it is surely not especially esoteric.

    PN: In your new book Darwin's Legacy, you are critical of the appropriation of evolutionary biology by psychologists. Why do you think evolutionary biology can tell us little about human nature? Why do others believe it can do more?

    JD: As described above, evolutionary psychology is the paradigm of scientific imperialism. There is vastly more to human behaviour than an understanding of the evolutionary process that provided us with the capacities for behaviour so variously exercised by contemporary humans. Of course that is an interesting and difficult question, and a modest evolutionary psychology that attempts to address it - and there are modest evolutionary psychologists - is entirely respectable. My objection is to the project that supposes that specific behavioural dispositions can be inferred from evolutionary reflection, and that has usurped the name "Evolutionary Psychology".

    My first objection is that this project is distressingly a priori. General reflections on evolutionary theory are taken to provide strong grounds for believing that humans have specific behavioural dispositions. Second, the project assumes a very crude view of genetics. The argument that our behaviour essentially evolved in the Stone Age presupposes the idea that evolution involves the gradual accumulation of genetic variations that generate behavioural dispositions. A quite simplistic view of the relation between genes and phenotypes is implicitly assumed. Thirdly, the vision of evolution - gradual accumulation of genes with definite phenotypic effects - comes from the 1950s. We now know that evolution can involve a great range of reorganisations of the developmental process, as well as of the genome, and can draw on a vastly greater range of developmental resources than this model assumes. These resources can range from the epigenetic - aspects of cellular chemistry that are transmitted in the maternal cytoplasm - to the construction of a developmental niche by former generations. In the human case the latter would include such things as schools and hospitals. Developmental cycles have had access to a great variety of potentially decisive changes in recent human history, and the assumption that our basic psychology is stuck in the Stone Age is entirely groundless.

    It's difficult to speculate on why this programme is nevertheless so popular. No doubt a part of the problem is intrinsic to interdisciplinary work. It is difficult for a psychologist, say, to keep up to date with developmental and evolutionary genomics, so the danger of basing theories on antiquated science is ever present.

    I do have more cynical suspicions, I must confess. Evolutionary Psychology has provided a wonderful recipe for best-selling science writing. Perhaps many people do like simplistic stories, and Evolutionary Psychology offers simple compelling Just So stories that mesh nicely with many stereotypes about human behaviour. The fact that these stories can have the effect of reinforcing such stereotypes and making them seem inescapable makes this activity not just bad science but, unfortunately, potentially socially harmful. That they can have these effects is not merely speculation, but is something that is being empirically explored and confirmed by some of my colleagues in social psychology at Exeter.

    PN: What are some of the philosophical issues surrounding genetics and genomics and how do you think the philosophy of science can help address them?

    JD: A fundamental issue is making sense of the concepts of "gene" and "genome". The former has been of increasing interest to both philosophers and historians of science. Historians have helped to understand the major disjunction between the classical "Mendelian" concept of the gene and the various concepts that have emerged from molecular genetics and genomics in the last half century. Philosophers have tried to make sense of this diversity of meanings and the relations between them, as well as the errors that can arise from conflating them. One noteworthy contribution has been the book by my colleague, Lenny Moss, What Genes Can't Do, in which he expounds a fundamental division between concepts of the gene directly related to phenotypic outcomes, and concepts grounded in molecular biology. He argues that the conflation of concepts of these two kinds has been central to public and professional misunderstanding of the concept. Another has been the project in "empirical philosophy" by Paul Griffiths and Karola Stotz, who have explored what scientists mean by molecular genes and have found very little consensus. As I mentioned above, another very important project is tracing the relations between these diverse meanings of "gene" in professional scientific contexts and the understandings that are imported into various contexts outside science itself.

    The concept of a genome has received less philosophical attention, apart from a general understanding that widely disseminated metaphors such as blueprint, programme, and recipe are seriously misleading. These, in fact, reflect exactly the conflation or confusion between concepts of gene connected to phenotypes and concepts derived from molecular biology. Another fundamental issue is the relation between understandings of the genome as a purely informational concept, as in the idea of the human genome as a particular sequence of nucleotides, and its treatment as a physical object interacting in diverse and complex ways with the cellular environment.

    One might wonder why these were questions for philosophers rather than scientists. Scientists in these fields typically work in very well-defined areas for which very specific understandings of the "genes" with which they are concerned are well entrenched. Reviewing the diversity of such entrenched meanings both contemporarily and historically is not something they are normally called on to do, but is very important for developing a coherent overview of this scientific activity and its epistemic and social significance.

    PN: What do you think is the relevance of the philosophy of science today? What are the main issues you are interested in other than those in the philosophy of biology?

    JD: Science is (rightly in my view) the major authority on how we understand the world today, but what it is, and why it (sometimes!) deserves that status are very poorly understood. For this reason I think philosophy of science is an extremely important area of intellectual activity. A rather different activity, though certainly not unrelated, is science criticism. The authority of science presents a danger, only at its most obvious when actors in white lab coats endorse dubious health aids on television. It is inevitably difficult for most people to assess what is a well-grounded scientific fact and what is pseudo-scientific speculation, and philosophers of science have a potentially vital role in trying to explain the basis for making such distinctions, and in criticising ungrounded scientific claims.

    It has to be said that a lot of contemporary philosophy of science is rather distant from these vital public concerns, and while some of their more esoteric concerns may be valuable, in a world in which no one much thinks intellectual activity is worth supporting for its own sake, I think it is very important for philosophy of science to engage more visibly in public discussions of the value and nature of science. One of my general interests that goes beyond the philosophy of biology relates directly to this belief, and is the extent to which scientific theory inevitably reflects social values.

    PN: What is Egenis and what is the extent of your involvement?

    JD: Egenis is part of a very large investment by the Economic and Social Research Council in investigating the social impact of developments in genomics and related areas of biology. It includes two other research centres and the Genomics Research and Policy Forum in Edinburgh. While the elements of this investment form a closely interacting network, the research centres have particular strengths and expertise, and Egenis is distinctive for its focus on detailed analysis of the production and content of genomic knowledge. This is dependent on close collaboration between the core work in social science and biologists and philosophers of biology. In parallel with the development of Egenis, the University of Exeter has developed an outstanding group of philosophers and historians of molecular biology (with major support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Wellcome Trust).

    My current full-time job is Director of Egenis, including the work in philosophy of biology. This is an exciting interdisciplinary project, and though there is inevitably a fair amount of straight management involved, the presence of such a substantial and diverse group of experts in numerous aspects of genomics provides an extraordinary intellectual opportunity. And, fortunately, I do find some time to write philosophy, both independently and in collaboration with colleagues!

    PN: What other projects are you currently working on?

    JD: My work at the moment is very much concentrated on philosophy of genetics and genomics. I'm near completion of a collaborative book on the philosophy and sociology of genomics with my colleague (and Co-Director of Egenis) the well-known sociologist of science Barry Barnes. In the longer term I'm looking towards a book that will integrate this recent work with the ideas initially developed in The Disorder of Things, and will provide a wide-ranging ontological account of biology. At the time of writing I am on a short leave from Egenis as holder of the visiting Spinoza Professorship of philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. This requires me to deliver two public lectures, for which I have chosen the title "The Constituents of Life". I am hoping that these will provide a skeleton for this developing project, which may become a collaborative venture with some of my fellow philosophers of biology at Exeter.

    PN: Who have been the main influences on your thought?

    JD: For some reason I have never been comfortable with this question. One undoubtedly important influence has been Wittgenstein. I was an undergraduate at St. John's College, where the resident philosophers were Peter Hacker and the late Gordon Baker, renowned experts on Wittgenstein's thought, and serious early exposure to Wittgenstein has had important influences throughout my career.

    I have always been impressed by two sometimes underrated philosophical virtues, clarity and humour. These partly explain my selection of two other influences, Hume and J. L. Austin. Though much of Hume's philosophical system is fairly clearly indefensible today, his commitment to empirical knowledge is still inspiring. And his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion should be compulsory reading for all first year philosophy undergraduates (especially in the U.S.!). Austin is not a very fashionable philosopher today, but his combination of clarity, stylistic brilliance, wit, and common sense remains something to which I shall always aspire.

    I should also mention that I am very proud to be associated with what has increasingly been referred to as the "Stanford School" in Philosophy of Science. I have mentioned Nancy Cartwright, who was my colleague at Stanford for many years, as was also Peter Galison, who has made decisive contributions to understanding the nature of experiment in physics. I only overlapped at Stanford very briefly with Ian Hacking, but his work in philosophy of science has been an inspiring model for me. All of these people, not to mention a good number of younger philosophers who did their PhD work at Stanford, share commitments to the diversity of scientific practices and the social embeddedness of science, while at the same time having a real interest in the detailed content of scientific knowledge. The opportunity to work in this philosophical environment has undoubtedly been a major influence on my philosophical development.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/14/2006 Article Image:
    By /index.php?/user/8-davidm/">David Misialowski (2006)


    In July 1890 van Gogh painted this landscape, Crows Over the Wheatfield:

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    Shortly after painting this, he shot himself. He was 37 when he did.

    Except for a few anecdotes and some historical context where necessary, I have refrained from discussing the details of Van Gogh's tragic life, one in which he chronically lacked food and died penniless and scorned, denied even a proper burial at the Auvers cemetery because the priests disapproved of his suicide. I imagine the public is aware of the Van Gogh story in its broad outlines, because it has been mythologized in film and print, and moreover the contemporary clich� of the starving artist, or the rebel artist who must fight for acceptance and notoriety, has evolved directly from the Van Gogh mythology. But the myth of Van Gogh is not as important as his art, and it would be a mistake to subsume the latter under the former. The accomplishment is what counts, and not the details of his life, and his work would influence other artists, not because of his life history, but because of the work itself. I hold, therefore, that the details of his life are unimportant, and to recount the story of the tragedy that engulfed him would be superfluous. Van Gogh said that we take a train to go to a town but we take death to go to a star, and one presumes he is painting on a star even now, employing not a mere three primary colors, but infinite primary colors.

    The Vincent Van Gogh Gallery claims to have assembled all of Van Gogh"s work, including his paintings, drawings and his letters (he was a prolific and immensely talented writer). If so, this is an unprecedented achievement.

    "Render Nature by Means of the Cylinder, the Sphere, the Cone, all Placed in Perspective." - Cezanne.

    Art historians regard Van Gogh and Cezanne as "postimpressionists", though lumping them together this way seems to reflect little more than a poverty of imagination, given that it is hard to imagine more dissimilar artists. Art lore has it that the two met only once, Cezanne hovering over Van Gogh's shoulder while the latter was slashing and dashing away at a work (he frequently turned out one masterpiece every hour, on especially fecund days) and finally proclaiming, "You, sir, paint like a madman!" Then Cezanne stalked off in a huff.

    One can imagine Cezanne's indignation, because he painted slowly and methodically, so much so that sometimes the fruit rotted and the flowers wilted during his interminable still-life studies. Cezanne is an odd duck for the non-artist to get a handle on, but understanding what he was up to is important if one wants to understand many of the main trends of modern art that descended from Cezanne. (There are those who say it's not really possible to understand what Cezanne was up to, and even he might not have completely known.)

    It's clear that the goal of the academic painters was to create images of photorealistic fidelity to nature, while bypassing the real world altogether in the service of story-telling works dealing with religion and mythology. We can see that the impressionists were mainly concerned with capturing the play of light, shadow and intense color during sessions painted while out of doors — capturing an impression of a moment in time, as when the leaves rustle in the wind and sunlight filters down through them. Van Gogh's preoccupations were a little more complex, but fundamentally it's not hard to see that he was concerned with capturing, on canvas, some inner reality of his subjects, while transforming them according to a new conception of color. But what did Cezanne want to do?

    Consider the following still life by Gustave Courbet, a pioneer of French realism who also moved away from academic traditions but never went over to the more radical approaches of the impressionists and the post-impressionists:

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    This is focusing on a basket of apples and bears a lot of similarities with early still lives done by Van Gogh. It is a realistic portrayal of the subject. Now look at the following still life by Cezanne, from around the middle period of his career:

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    This looks rather odd, and might even strike some as unpleasant. It's also unclear what Cezanne is trying to accomplish. It certainly doesn't fit into any known paradigm that we have encountered so far: realism, academicism, impressionism or, for want of a better term, Van Goghism.

    Looking at Courbet's work, we see that, although he is getting his hands dirty with realism in a sense that the academic school would have shunned, the painting is still traditional in that it has a recognizable subject in the foreground set against a distinct (in fact black) background. The concept of rendering volumes and creating the illusion of depth perspective by means of shading (light-dark contrast) is called chiaroscuro, and had been around for several hundred years by the time Courbet executed his work. One could note the irony that "realistic" paintings depend on illusion. To render, on a two-dimensional surface, three-dimensional objects existing in space requires that one use paint to trick the eye. And by this time, some artists might have been wondering whether this centuries-old trick has played itself out. Couldn't there be something more important to painting than using a trick?

    One could even see this problem as a philosophical one, having to do with the question, "what is a painting, anyway?" One possible answer is that a painting is an object in its own right, and the degree of reference to the outside world that one might give it is purely arbitrary.

    In his work, Cezanne has gently flattened the picture plane. The painting seems odd, at least at first, to eyes schooled in realism, because it lacks depth. The "background" begins to march forward to meet the shapes in the foreground, so that there is an "all-over" effect of painting, absent from the Courbet piece. This flattening isn't too dramatic - the white of the bowl is in high contrast to the shadow behind it - but look at how the glass practically becomes part of the wallpaper behind it.

    This is important because any artist who works in any medium will tell you that there is a terrific tension between the "window on the world" concept of art and the flat picture plane concept. While employing the former technique can offer the illusion of realism, using the latter can often produce much more interesting compositions and designs, and of course, it is a more authentic utilization of paint, if one considers the idea of employing "illusion" in art to be a bit suspect. One obvious potential defect to the Courbet approach (depending on one's conceptual scheme for what constitutes art, of course) is that a lot of the surface of the painting is wasted in dead black, and how interesting is black to look at? In contrast, flattening the picture plane enables the artist to produce interesting pictorial elements all over the canvas, rather than just in the foreground.

    All pictures, whether "realistic" or fully nonrepresentational, are abstract. This just means that they are composed arrangements of lines, curves, colors, areas and volumes. In a representational piece like Courbet's apples, the painter uses these tropes to evoke the illusion of real objects existing in the outer world. Nonrepresentational artists will use them to evoke paint as paint. The Cezanne piece exists somewhere between these two poles, though still much closer to Courbet. Toward the end of his career, as we shall see, Cezanne had evolved to make paintings of a mountain that began to look little if anything like a mountain. By the time he died in 1906, he had arguably gone over to full nonrepresentationalism, painting the first truly modern works of the 20th century.

    In the sort of "illusion" painting that is necessary to produce the realist "look", the foreground is generally quite distinct from the background, and the subject of the painting - in the case of Courbet's work, a basket of apples - defines what is known as positive space. The background is called negative space. In the more abstracted work of Cezanne, positive and negative space can assume equal importance, and even exchange places. This means, again, that the artist has more opportunity to use the entire canvas, rather than just the foreground, to create things that are interesting to look at. This fact alone could be seen to give flat-canvas painting an advantage over "window on the world" painting.

    A much more dramatic example of Cezanne's evolving approach may be found in the following still life:

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    At first glance, the work may best be defined by all that the artist is not trying to do: He's not trying to achieve photo-realism. He's not trying to tell a story. The work has nothing to do with mythology. He's not trying to capture the play of light and shadow. He's not even particularly interested with any idea of color. So, what is Cezanne trying to do? I think Cezanne's work is best thought of as pioneering excursions into the investigation of form, of how paint can be formally and maximally arranged on a flat surface to produce some kind of effect on the mind or imagination of the viewer. Recall Zola's observation that for the painter, the subject is merely a pretext for painting. While this was never quite true for Van Gogh, it was absolutely correct for Cezanne, perhaps moreso than for any painter in the 19th century. Because of this concern, his work was also fundamentally impersonal. Consider this portrait of his wife:

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    How happy could Madame Cezanne have been with being considered, by her husband, as a scaffolding for formal investigation? For certainly, this work is nearly void of any hint of the personality or inner character of the subject, a preoccupation that greatly concerned Van Gogh in his figurative studies. The work is an exercise in form and nothing more!

    If you look at this work closely, you quickly realize that Madame Cezanne just happened to be an expedient prop. Had Cezanne deemed it necessary, or if he had had the props handy, he might just as well have used, in the center of the canvas, a pink elephant or the tooth fairy. As it happens, the perimeter of the work is just as interesting, and maybe even more so, than the prop in the center that happens to be a vague likeness of the painter's wife. Notice how, on the left, there is straight, vertical form that shoots up to a yellowish, partly obscured square shape (window? picture on the wall? Does it matter?) that stands in sharp contrast to the sweeping curvilinear folds of the drapery to the top right, which then taper off to a dramatic diagonal shape driving the eye back down toward the lower part of the canvas. All these interacting tensions are made more dramatic by the fact that form in the middle of the canvas (by form, that would be Mrs. Cezanne) is tilted (was she drunk?), a tilt that itself is contrasted with a titled portion of the wall that proceeds from lower right toward upper left. Also, notice how the interplay of the rectilinear forms on the left, with the curvilinear and diagonal ones on the right, create a negative space in which Mrs. Cezanne is embedded, which itself is a very interesting shape - the shape, actually, of a harp. This painting is all form; a composition of interplaying shapes. Color, light source, personality, story-telling, the subject itself, are all incidental, to the extent that they exist at all. Cezanne is in love with form as form; he wants to bring forward formal interplay for its own sake, and suppress all the traditional concerns of Western portrait art (and art in general).

    Consider another portrait of Cezanne's wife, in which the artist again focuses on form to the exclusion of content, but this time his special concern is with defining form according to color:

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    Again, Cezanne has flattened depth perspective, suppressed shadows and created an all-over compositional feeling. And again, there is little character in the face - a dramatic difference from portraits by Van Gogh, in which expressions are often so intense and revealing that they seem almost fissionable.

    The composition has a simple big shape: It is a mountainous triangle (the body) set against a great circle — the red chair. The circle terminates without closing with endpoints that themselves are circular, and the abstracted shape could be read as a chair or, perhaps, jaws. (In his youth, Cezanne painted rape scenes.) The face is full of gloriously abstracted-out color: Ochres, oranges, blues, greens, and violets, all of roughly the same value or brightness, meaning that they harmonize, with no color sticking out from the rest.

    If you look around the painting, you will find that virtually every patch of it consists of splotches of color that go marching across the canvas, creating a vibrancy and a dynamic the causes the painting to move. Color patches exist even in the vibrant red. Despite all these vibrant patches that lend a hectic air to the painting, Madame Cezanne somehow seems as stable and monumental as a mountain. The eye is constantly seduced by the competing forms of the circle of the chair and the triangle of the human form. The bright red circular shape drives the eye around and around, and even though the chair does not completely close, the four-sided blue decorative shapes on the ochre wall, also arranged in a circular pattern, drive the eye from the top circular shape that terminates one end of the chair, to the bottom circular shape that terminates the other, and so the circle is closed.

    But the triangle form of Madame Cezanne, especially emphasized by the interlocking hands and the way the arms bend and rise toward the pedestal of the shoulders, lure the eye away from the circular chair, and up into the face, which itself is another circle, or an oval. And there the eye lingers over the color patches of the face, until the red chair seizes hold of one’s view and drives it round and round again. One can occasionally break free of this visual ride by letting one's gaze descend down to the folds of the dress, which are painted to resemble vast terraced boulders. It is almost as if this whole painting is more of a landscape than a figure study.

    Notice that the chair can't possibly look like this in reality. Cezanne, in the service of a rhythmic composition, has simply abandoned traditional perspective and instead invented multiple perspectives. He would do the same in his landscape painting. His use of multiple perspectives, flattened picture space, and emphasis of dramatic form over literal representation, anticipated and inspired Cubism.

    Cezanne's march toward this conception of art was a long one, and he started off in a more or less traditional way, painting foreground-background pictures that told stories, ones that often traded on mythological themes. Consider this early Cezanne:

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    Foreground figures, background landscape. Window on the World. A story is told: that of an abduction. The only thing that distinguishes this is his unusual use of color. Later in his career, his figures, as in the case of Madame Cezanne, became formal devices, hardly recognizable as people. Consider his bathers:

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    This work is monumental, and increasingly nonrepresentational. The background of the clouds and sky has practically merged with the foreground of the greatly simplified human forms, creating an all-over design scheme that can't be sustained by traditional window-on-the-world painting. As with impressionist art, and the art of Van Gogh, there are an increasing number of broken brush strokes in this work, but they are not used in the service of delineating dapples of light. They seem almost arbitrary, but they are really being used to accentuate form. The clouds in the background might just as well be mountains, and the humans in the foreground could as well be outcroppings of rock or even trees. What matters is their arrangement, in the service of the composition of the whole canvas: Their faces are mere smudges, but their postures, the directions they face and the stances that they take create dramatic tensions that captivate the eye and drive it around the canvas, settling it down to look in some places, scurrying it off in different directions at other places. The overall effect is one of monumentality, as if Cezanne has striven to capture a timeless reality that lies behind and beneath the tableaux of women bathing. This goal, in fact, is quite the opposite of what the impressionists were after: they were trying to pin down a fleeting moment in time; Cezanne was, by now, seeking to capture and depict the bedrock of the timeless.

    After his paintings of bathers, and toward the end of his life, abstracted his conception of form away from the rudiments of realism. Increasingly, the subject of his painting became, not the things in the world that he painted, but the interplay of the paint itself. This is the birth of nonrepresentational art that would hold so much sway over the 20th century, and persists in varying forms until the present day.

    Biology students are very familiar with charts of transitional fossils. A famous one shows the progress of skulls from our pre-hominid ancestors to present day humans. Later in life, Cezanne painted one particular mountain, again and again, and I suggest that these paintings represent transitional fossils from late 19th century art to modern art. Consider the progression of paintings of Mont Sainte Victoir:

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    I'm not sure that these are in precise chronological order, but even if they're not, it doesn't effect that larger point, which that toward the end of his life Cezanne was painting less the mountain, then he was painting the paint. He had discovered a new way to make art — the interplay of form divorced from subject. Here is one of his last works, Garden at Lauves, which is pure color composition:

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    The 20th century had arrived.

    In Clive Bell's book Art, first published in 1914, he attempted to explicate what Cezanne was up to by inventing the concept of significant form. Bell argued that for all his apparent departures from traditional painting, Cezanne was in the true tradition of art, for all great art embodies significant form, which is the arrangement of lines, shapes and colors in some profound relationship that seizes the attention and ignites the imagination. On Bell's account, the content of a painting is irrelevant; and indeed, to focus too much on representationalism runs the risk of destroying significant form and reducing a work of art to a mere description, like a court document perhaps. This view of art is central to the thesis of formalism, and it is also an attempt to define art. The attempt to define art is an essentialist project. Before moving on to discuss Picasso - perhaps simultaneously one of the most heralded and most misunderstood painters of all time - I want to take a closer look at the thesis of formalism, and indeed at the philosophy of art, which will be the subject of my next essay. To broach the question, "What is art?" is to open up the possibility that one can have a deeper understanding of all art. But we shall see, among other things, that the thesis of formalism as Bell would have it probably can’t be logically sustained, for it appears to be circular. It is even possible that no essentialist account of art succeeds, in which case those who attempt to articulate such an account might find their time better spent reading Wittgenstein.

    Here is an extremely interesting review of Cezanne by a Washington Post writer, which offers a different take on Cezanne and disputes some things that I have said in this essay.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/12/2006 Article Image:
    By /index.php?/user/8-davidm/">David Misialowski (2006)

    I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green. – Van Gogh

    Art legend holds that Vincent Van Gogh had a brief musical career, lasting a few minutes. Convinced that there was a deep connection between color and music, he decided to take piano lessons. During his first lesson, he banged down on various keys and, depending on the note that he produced, yelled, "Prussian blue! Chrome yellow!" His teacher fled, terrified, deciding that she was dealing with "a madman". Thus ended Vincent's musical career.

    In 1885, Van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters, seen below, bringing to a climax the first phase of his art career, which I discussed in the introduction: that of "social realism" in painting, or social documentary of the plight of peasants.

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    A couple years later, having moved to Paris to live with his brother, he produced this landscape, Wheatfield and a Lark:

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    Could these two works be by the same artist? What had happened to Van Gogh?

    What had happened was that, while in Paris, he had seen, for the first time, the works of the impressionists. He was also introduced to the art of the Japanese, the product of a tradition unlike that of the West. These encounters with color and with the East had a galvanic effect on Van Gogh. As the above painting shows, he quickly mastered the techniques of the impressionists. And the focus of his art had changed: Whereas before he was committed to being a "peasant painter", he had now become interested in art as art, in the interplay of color and light for its own sake.

    Like others at the time, he was gradually drifting away from a concern with the subject of paintings and toward a preoccupation with the painting itself. But, unlike others, he would never truly abandon the subject, because Van Gogh saw painting as a humanitarian enterprise, and thought that art for its own sake was pointless. This conviction put him at odds with the ideology of the impressionists, and it was also at variance with the observation by Zola that we have already seen, in which it is contended that for artists subject is a mere pretext for painting.

    This tension between concern for subject and preoccupation with the formal elements of painting would enable Van Gogh to produce canvases of unsurpassed originality. One can look at a lot of impressionist art of this period and gradually come to see that, while all of them have their elements of individuality, nevertheless they begin to seem, in their broad outlines, curiously alike, suggesting that impressionism was evolving toward another school, different from academic classicism yet a school nonetheless. But no one can look at a Van Gogh and mistake it for the work of someone else. There is no school in Van Gogh: there is just Van Gogh, schooling us.

    It seems that Van Gogh had the personality of someone who must take everything to extremes. With him, it was all or nothing: there was no midpoint, no midtone, as it were, to his undertakings. When he was an art dealer, he tried to persuade people not to buy the pictures that he was charged with selling, because he had deemed them to be inferior. When he was a preacher, he gave away all his possessions. When he discovered absinthe, he couldn't stop drinking it. And when he discovered color in his career as an artist, he took it to heights – extremes – that no one had seen. For him, color became visual absinthe: it was intoxicating.

    Holland Meets Impressionism Meets Japan

    The years 1886 and 1887, when Van Gogh lived in Paris, proved to be the seedbed for the crop of art that he would reap in 1888, in Arles, France. Van could not settle on a "method" of painting. He was constantly absorbing new influences, and attempting to fuse them into a coherent whole. He started out in the tradition of Dutch painting, a tradition that stretched back at least to Rembrandt, with a muted palette, dark, somber colors and a focus on portraits and realism. When he encountered impressionism, he felt a need, not to go over to the new art, but to combine it with what he was already doing. And finally, in discovering the Japanese, he wished to combine their way of doing art with impressionism and with Dutch realism. This was going to be a tall order. Could he do it?

    Here is a Japanese print that Van Gogh actually owned:
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    The difference between Western and Eastern art is obvious. The Japanese were not concerned with realism as such, but with broad, unmodulated color fields, sharp contour drawings (that is, a concern with outline) and decorative composition. These concerns are at odds not only with academic classicism and Dutch realism, but also with impressionism. Would it be possible to fuse all these competing artistic strains into a new art?

    Yes. Van Gogh did it. Arguably no one had ever accomplished such an improbable fusion before he came along, and maybe no one except Picasso has done anything like it since.

    I suggest that the following two paintings, of the art dealer Pere Tanguy, represent the turning point of Van Gogh's career, on the road to Arles:

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    In the first canvass, we have Holland, impressionism and Japan fused into a single work. We see Holland in the thickly painted and molded hands and head, and in particular in concern for shading in the latter. We see impressionism in the broken brush strokes of the clothing, and in the color variations of the lighted side of the face. And we see Japan – literally – in the background, a set of Japanese prints that Tanguy had in his shop. The composition is also Japanese in its decorative arrangement of elements and in its flattened surface, de-emphasizing the "depth" of canvas that Western artists were so concerned with - the need to create the illusion that a canvas was a window looking out on the world. We also see Japan in the contour drawing, the outlines: Van Gogh has outlined Tanguy's upper body and legs in bright red! Who would have thought to do such a thing? Even the Japanese restricted their outlines to black.

    The second painting is even more Japanese and impressionistic, with less Holland in the mix. Shading is de-emphasized, and Van Gogh has also adopted the expedient of molding the volumes where we would expect shading to be with color. Look carefully at the hands, and you will notice that where we might expect to find shading in muted, toned-down colors, we instead find pale violet. Impressionistic brush strokes and broken color swarm over the canvas like tribes of ants on the march, particularly defining the clothing. But the whole figure has been flattened and gently merged with the background, giving the picture an all-over, decorative feeling, rather than separating the figure (foreground) from the prints in the background. The background itself is full of delightful touches, with Van Gogh abstracting down the Japanese prints and even, in the lower left and right corners, turning to pure color invention in a way that anticipates nonrepresentational color painting.

    Van Gogh's original heroes were Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Delacroix and the peasant painter Millet, and by this time elements of all four, plus the Japanese and the impressionists, were abounding in his work. No one else at this time (that history has recorded) was even attempting to pull off such improbable fusions. Van Gogh's discoveries in Paris would set the stage for his accomplishments in Arles, in the south of France, where he moved in early 1888. Almost as soon as he arrived, he painted this portrait of a local peasant woman:

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    The whole of Van Gogh, up to that moment in time, is on display: his humanitarian concern with ordinary people, especially peasants, as exemplified by the old woman's captivating expression; the Japanese arrangement and color choices; and the impressionistic broken brushstrokes. But he painted this picture in the dead of winter, and in the months ahead the sun of Arles would arise like a revelation. And when it did, Van Gogh would himself have yet another revelation: That color could be used, not just realistically or impressionistically, but symbolically, and even arbitrarily. When he made this discovery, he would produce what art historians generally regard as his greatest and most influential works.

    As we have seen, Millet was one of Van Gogh's heroes, and in the introduction, we saw comparisons between Millet's work and Van Gogh's early peasant paintings, which he himself would later dismiss as "brown gravy" paintings. This famous Millet painting, the Sower, particularly influenced Van Gogh:

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    He returned to the theme of the sower many times, and in the full summer of 1888 he knocked out the following variation on a theme:

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    Whoa! What's this? It's certainly not your grandfather's sower! It's all done in yellow and violet! What's more, Van Gogh had the temerity, not just to paint the effect of sunlight on objects, which was the main concern of the impressionists, but also to put the very sun in the sky. He was now using color symbolically, and he had leapfrogged the impressionists. In looking at Van Gogh's work in 1888, one can have the sense that his creations make impressionism seem as fusty, timid and dated, as the impressionist works made the academic works seem. In a letter to his brother, Van Gogh wrote that he wished to use color forcibly, even arbitrarily, as a means to express himself. But we should be careful not to read too much into the term "arbitrary". By this, Van Gogh meant that he no longer would let himself be too concerned with local color; the way colors really seem to the eye. It didn't mean that he would just use any old color in any old way. In fact, Van Gogh had adopted a method from color theory, and he was pushing this method to its extreme. While breaking the rules of painting as defined by culture, he was paying close attention to the rules of painting as dictated by color. Color, not culture, was Van Gogh's god.

    Complementary Contrast as the Foundation of Van Gogh's work

    Recall, in the discussion of impressionism, we touched on color theory, and learned about primary colors and their complements, also known as secondary colors. When you put a primary color alongside its complement, it creates what is known as complementary contrast, and the effects are powerful. Why this should be so is another subject, and touches on the philosophy of color, including issues pertaining to the ontic status of color, which I'll address in a later essay. For now we can stipulate that primary colors in juxtaposition with their complements have certain effects, and Van Gogh exploited his knowledge of these effects to produce a series of paintings that changed art history, and influenced an explosion of pyrotechnic color in the 20th century. Let's see what he did.

    Van Gogh's yellow-violet sower composition is an example of the complementary contrast of yellow and violet. Recall that yellow is a primary color – containing no color other than itself -- and its complement, violet, is a 50:50 mix of the two remaining primaries, red and blue. Artists had long known of the effects of complementary contrast (but none had taken this knowledge to the logical extreme that Van Gogh did). Briefly stated, when primaries are in juxtaposition with their complements, the inner character of each color is somehow reinforced or magnified. Thus yellow, when next to violet, seems brighter, more intense, and purer, than when it is juxtaposed with any other color. And violet seems darker, more robust, and more vivid when it is placed next to yellow, than it does in any other juxtaposition. Artists say that the yellow-violet complementary contrast exemplifies, in color, light-dark contrast, and only the contrast of black and white is more dramatic in this regard.

    Color does not objectively exist. This seems like an weird statement, but the truth of it is evident when you realize colors always exist next to other colors, and look different depending on which color they are oriented with. We can easily see this by examining the following color juxtapositions:

    The orange against the blue, is the same orange as the patch against the green, but they look different, the orange against the blue (its complement) being much more intense. By contrast, the same patch of orange against green seems darker – like a different color. Since color is defined by its appearance, and nothing more, we might as well say that these two patches of orange are different colors, even though they were taken from the same lump of pigment (a fuller discussion of color interactions may be found here).

    Since a color can never be lifted out of its surrounding environment and examined in isolation from other colors, there is no objective fact of the matter about orange, blue, yellow, or any other color. Colors manifest themselves only in relation to other colors, and hence the number of colors is potentially infinite. Knowledge of how colors interact with one another is important for any kind of painting, but such knowledge is especially vital for the kind of work Van Gogh was doing.

    If yellow-violet is considered the light-dark exemplar of complementary contrast, red-green is considered the complementary contrast of mutually intensifying chroma. Chroma refers to a color being at maximum saturation, void of any hints of shade or tint. That red and green reinforce each other in this particular way probably has something to do with the fact that these two colors, when converted to gray scale, are exactly alike: If you take a black and white photograph of a pure patch of green against a pure patch of red, the photo will display a single, undifferentiated gray tone. Since they mutually magnify each other's chroma, they can be used, Van Gogh believed, to express the terrible passions of humanity. And that is what he tried to do, he said, in this painting of the Night Cafe, where he frequently drowned himself in absinthe after a long day painting out of doors:

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    Next we have the contrast of the primary blue with its complement orange. This, too, has its own special kind of contrast: it emphasizes, as no other color juxtaposition can, the contrast of warm and cool colors. In color theory, warm colors push forward toward the eye, and cool colors recede. When you place orange against blue, the former maximally pushes forward, and the latter maximally recedes. Orange burns like a furnace, and blue becomes as refreshing as limpid water. And so it is in Van Gogh's exploitation of the blue-orange contrast in this painting of the peasant Patience Escalier, which the art critic Meyer Shapiro declared was probably the only great painting of a peasant ever executed (and light years removed from Van Gogh's own brown-gravy studies of peasants in his early career):

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    The sky of the Arles summer is an orange furnace, and the peasant wears, in his clothing, a mantle of limpid blue water to cool himself. The hands and face combine Dutch realism, the concern for capturing a likeness and a particular expression, with the impressionist concern for broken color brushstrokes. The composition and contour outlines (notice the red outline of the hat) are Japanese. Van Gogh has, again, fused Holland, Japan and impressionism, but now he has added symbolic color taken to a chromatic crescendo, exploiting the rules of complementary contrast to create a smoldering symphony in blazing orange and becalming blue.

    We shouldn't think that Van Gogh tried to systematize or scientize this process. It’s not as if, before executing the Tanguy paintings, he said to himself, "I'll do the hands in head in Dutch, the clothing and flesh in impressionism, and the background and composition in Japanese". The synthesis of competing strains of art that he created arose naturally, instinctively as it were, from the knowledge that he had gained. Similarly, he did not make a system or a fetish of complementary contrast, and indeed he often worked in near complementary contrasts instead, favoring compositions juxtaposing strong yellow with Prussian blue, not violet (Prussian blue being blue-violet, midway on the color wheel between red and blue.) He especially favored this approach for scenes painted at night (it is said that at night, he painted by the light of candles affixed to the brim of his hat), as we can see in the following:

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    We also see his penchant for the near-complementary contrast color key in his painting of the yellow house in Arles in which he lived:

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    When a critic schooled in traditional painting saw Van Gogh's yellow-on-yellow compositions, he yelled, "Everything is yellow! I don't know what painting is anymore!"

    In 1888 in Arles, Van Gogh also applied symphonic color orchestration to portraiture, and we have already seen one such portrait, that of the peasant Escalier. Here are others from that summer, the summer of "the high yellow note", as Van Gogh put it:

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    Van Gogh also executed many self-portraits during his career, and in the most representative of such works during his Arles period, he depicted himself as a Japanese bonze, in homage to the art that he loved and that so influenced him:

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    This is just a sampling, and some of his subjects he painted again and again. In all, we recognize varying degrees of the tremendous art fusion that he had wrought: we see Rembrandt, Holland, impressionism, Japan and symphonic color orchestration based on complementary contrast. Impressionists could not create an art like this because, ironically, they had limited themselves to a system – even as the academics had confined themselves to their own system. Van Gogh was not interested in system, but in synthesis. In this, he presages Picasso, the ultimate synthesizer.

    A frequently overlooked element of Van Gogh's oeuvre, which is now coming into its own with the publication of two books and a recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is his drawing. For a long time, and certainly when Van Gogh was active, drawing was downgraded, considered to be, not so much art in its own right, but preparatory studies for paintings – the blueprints of the house, as it were. Indeed, this prejudice was so deep and long lasting that Michelangelo, nearing death, ordered that all his drawings be destroyed (fortunately, they weren't). Today drawing is recognized as art in its own right, entirely self-sufficient. Using the reed pen in 1888, Van Gogh developed a visual iconography of stipples, swirls, dots, blots and hatched lines that somehow, quite surprisingly, mimics color in black and white. Consider his painting The Harvest:

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    Now look at his reed-pen drawing of the same subject:

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    Wow! Personally I'd say the drawing is just as "colorful" as the painting, if not more so.

    Van Gogh painted his bonze self-portrait, which we have already seen, in exchange for the following portrait by Paul Gauguin:

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    This exchange of gifts was preparatory to Gauguin, like Vincent chronically short of money, joining Van Gogh in his yellow house in Arles, to found what Van Gogh hoped would be a permanent artists' colony, the "studio of the south". Gauguin was a bit older than Van Gogh, and had had a colorful life, moving from the merchant navy to become a stockbroker, and then abandoning the business world for art after being exposed to an exhibition of impressionist paintings. He was especially influenced by the impressionist Pissarro, but by the time he joined Van Gogh in Arles, he was moving away from impressionism and toward "abstraction", which for him meant painting figures and landscapes from memory, and interpreting them through a use of color that did not depend on light coming from some direction. In short, like Van Gogh, he was using color symbolically, and his works and those of Van Gogh would prove to be the inspiration for the later fauves, or "Wild Beasts". Below is a representative work by Gauguin, Jacob Wrestling the Angel:

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    The union of Van Gogh and Gauguin proved to be transitory and unfortunate. Gauguin tried to persuade Vincent to quit painting from life and to paint from memory and imagination instead, as he was doing. Van Gogh tried, but could not bring himself to drop a real-life subject, because as we have noted, his conception of art, no matter how much his actual work evolved, remained humanitarian, and to abandon real-life painting seemed pointless to him. The clash of wills eventually led, as I noted in the introduction, to Van Gogh's first bout with mental instability, in which he cut off the lower portion of his left ear. Gauguin departed Arles after that incident, and later would sail off to Tahiti where he would produce what are generally thought to be his greatest works. On online compendium of Gauguin's work, about 145 images including his Tahiti creations, may be found here.

    Van Gogh's breakdown led to recurring bouts of mental instability, during which he was unable to work, and it became necessary to confine him, for a time, to an asylum in Saint Remy – where, during periods of lucidity, he continued to draw and paint, actually producing an enormous number of canvases, as if he anticipated that his time on earth was short. These works included numerous brilliant landscapes and the following jarring self-portrait, which vividly announces the virtuosity of his drawing and painting skills in dramatic tension with the disturbances that were haunting his mind:

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    The last act of a career that would span a mere ten years, during which Vincent produced 864 (!) oil paintings, to say nothing of a vast collection of watercolors and drawings in ink, charcoal and pencil, would take place in northern France, in Auvers. There, under cooler skies, his palette darkened again, somewhat intermediately between his initial "brown-gravy" pictures and the sun-smote canvases of Arles. Some critics have thought that his last works were inferior, or that they showed signs of mental deterioration, but this view today is contested by other scholars, who see signs of a new and important synthesis going on in these works, one to which Vincent himself alluded, saying that he wanted to recover some of what he had learned in the early stages of painting peasants, and apply those lessons to his new conception of color. In addition, one can see, in the late works, an increasing drift toward greater abstraction and even the foreshadowing of nonrepresentationalism. Consider these works from Auvers:

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    Some (though by no means all) of his final work, in Auvers, increasingly pushes toward abstraction, toward the dissolving of subject in a swirl of paint. He has also adopted elements of yet another new style, introducing into his work a lot of curving lines that coil and slither across the surface of the pictures like animate snakes made of pigment.
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