Introduction to my letter to an artist
IMPORTANT: Please realize that this short introduction to my letter to an artist, and the letter itself (entitled, The Treachery of Abstraction), are both adopted from a printed collection of essays. As such, both will often refer to other content inside the printed version from which they are taken. Therefore, you’ll be encountering a mix of references such as “in this essay.”
Also, having been taken from a printed document, they include reminders that the reader is currently viewing these little black letter-forms on a reflecting substrate – on the printed pages of a book. Of course, that particular reference will not apply here either since you’re viewing these tiny black shapes on your computer monitor right now via projecting light vs. reflecting light. Correct?
The "page 4" tab under this menu selection will take you to an expanded version of my letter that I directed to three artists a few years ago. This full letter will provide a brief insight into the logic that is, in part, shaping the byproducts of my latest experiments. I believe it will also give you a better glimpse into one of the more challenging ramifications of our new subject matter under investigation, as it directly relates to some of my images as referenced in the actual letter itself.
Important: The introduction below is intended to validate my assertions made in The Treachery of Abstraction.
An alternative strategy
As a critical part of our investigations, we’re necessarily going to be expanding upon our modern (but somewhat restricting) conceptions of the word image. We’ll do this in order to help us identify the place from where – and perhaps even why – that critical thingness that comprises visual art most likely evolved. But for now, try to momentarily accept that the popular word image can refer equally to three related conditions as listed below. We’ll go into more detail later as to why it benefits us to temporarily update our definitions. For starters, these considerations will eventually help us better understand its relationship to hominid’s own origin and cosmetically advancing appearance.
Before reading the letter – The Treachery Of Abstraction – please consider these three definitions of image:
1) The original formulation of a thing by nature before it is factually perceived by a flanking entity.
2) The mental duplication of a thing by nature as conceived through nature's performance of consciousness.
3) The subsequent rendition of a thing by nature in response to a perceived presence within nature.
As I mentioned, the importance of these considerations will be discussed in more detail later. As you can tell right away, I’m going to insist that the structures that pragmatically allow for the portrayal of construct-image obviously had to exist before those formulations were subject to identification-as-image by consciousness.
I’m betting that this slight variation in thought will allow us to consider more effectively evolution’s primordial relationship with image. It’s even possible that our speculations could provide us with further insight into evolution’s final debut and design of the entirety of humankind.
Let’s face it. It’s natural for humans to take credit for the chronological debut of certain phenomena. This is due to our evolved ability to perceive, comprehend, and ultimately identify various stimuli as a direct result of one’s observations. In short, humans are programmed to ascribe a state of existence to certain things as they are believed to coincide with the clever perception and naming of those things; and this also includes the naming of our actual experiences of things (re: seeing, touching, hearing, etc.).
This behavior was evidenced when hominids evolved to be able to specify the distinctions between (A) one’s initial perception of stimuli from (B) a preexisting condition that allowed for that perception. Below are three questions that can activate one's inclination to establish mental specificity as it relates to that which we consider to be the "chronological existence" of things.
1) Did light exist in nature before it was perceived and subsequently named by consciousness?
2) Did color exist in nature before it was perceived and subsequently named by consciousness?
3) Did form exist in nature before it was perceived and subsequently named by consciousness?
The spirit of these inquiries might also bring to mind another popular riddle. They’re similar to asking if it’s possible for sound to exist in nature without an entity being present to interpret certain vibrations of air (a wave action involving molecules) as sound. Let’s revisit that question to demonstrate a similarity – and an important but sadly missing approach to both the question and its answer.
In most forums, it's phrased something like this: “If a tree falls in the forest and there was no one around to hear it, would it make a sound?” That’s a popular inquiry for sure. And we already know the answer according to science. But the question innocently distracts us from identifying any other hidden and possibly critical dimension of inquiry. It seems that the correct answer is meant to pedantically quell the thirst of one’s otherwise natural curiosity. That is to say, the correct answer offers us an extremely high degree of finality, the same of which is provided by the words The End; or better yet, End of Discussion. Could there be any benefit for artists to rethink that riddle today from a different perspective?
The correct answer certainly does not entice anyone to consider an alternative relationship between nature’s “motion of air molecules” and nature’s eventual “perception and naming of that motion,” a sensory-based phenomenon manifested through the clever process of evolution. The two separate things – the specificity of moving air molecules and the specificity of the eventual perception and subsequent naming of that experience – are magically related, of course. And there certainly could exist an overlooked source of meaning within this classic association, within this symbiotic and most likely self-calculating relationship.
I personally think the connection between any of nature’s events and their perception by hominids might be worthy of a fresh kind of investigation, especially during postmodernism, and most importantly by other curious artists like myself.
So for now, let’s regroup. And even consider the following avenues of thought for a moment
1) Is it possible that an unsuspecting feature within the behavior of moving air molecules essentially "paved the way" for its own translation by hominids? After all, when we detect and interpret the motion of air molecules, we’re simply translating movement in nature that is occurring from within a flanking location inside space.
2) Is it possible that an unsuspecting feature within the behavior of visible light essentially "paved the way" for its own translation by hominids? After all, when we visually detect and interpret the objects around us, we’re simply translating the light that is coming toward us from within a flanking location inside space.
Here's the bottom line: Has anyone bothered to speculate as to how nature’s movement of air molecules and nature’s electromagnetic energy might have possibly played an unsuspecting role in the eventual capturing of nature’s audience-of-consciousness?
The same suspicion about some undetected meaning could involve the primal existence of form in nature too. We realize that our invention of the word form is designed to identify nature’s perception and formal acknowledgment – by that same nature, by the way – of the actual presence of form that hominids have finally recognized to be clearly on display for us.
But then, there are a multitude of things in the universe that existed long before we perceived them and, as a result, systematically created names for our experiences of those things. And our fabrication of a clever name for a process or an object observed to exist in nature should never stop us from challenging the origin of the logic that’s involved in hominid’s own powers of comprehension. In other words, it’s about time some of us start connecting a few more of nature's dots, so to speak – especially those yet-to-be-connected dots that I will insist are currently being overlooked by contemporary artists.
More things to consider before reading my letter, The Treachery of Abstraction
Two critical questions: 1) Should artists remain convinced that our critical ingredient Thing-Image established its factuality only after certain objects were perceived and then named by consciousness as being constitutions-of-image? 2) Or can we eventually discover an alternative strategy of thought, perhaps one that allows us to advance beyond that antiquated categorization of image as being an entity that achieves its existence only after a conception-of-image occurs, or only after an artist’s subsequent rendition-of-image is displayed?
Again: I’m now going to suggest to my comrade-artists that the structure that ultimately portrays construct-image necessarily had to exist – as image – long before that formulation was subject to identification-as-image by hominids.
In the published essay we will also be referencing some anthropological research involving the popular concept of image per academia. Conclusions by some within that discipline imply that hominid’s proprietary notion of image as currently accepted – that is, the proposed event-chronology of first-image or image-one – was able to establish itself only after the conception of image took place. In this classical sense, image is not only linked to – but strictly limited to – evolution's event known as imagination. But to my understanding, anthropology is not necessarily tasked with exposing any hidden connection between “hominid’s scribing of shapes onto rocks” and any yet-to-be-formally-recognized mechanism in nature that very well could have initiated vision-based behavior in primitive hominids – a concept that this artist chooses to investigate from a more creative perspective.
At any rate, please hang in there with me while we focus now on a popular category of painting that most of us still gladly label as "abstract". This quintessentially modern and very popular genre is the focus of my letter to an artist, The Treachery of Abstraction. Please enjoy.
– David Orr Wright–