Yuri Tarnopolsky                                                                                           Essays

20. On Artificial Art

art. pattern. knowledge. understanding. analogy. configuration. transformation. opart. new and different. novelty.

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 Essay 20. On Artificial Art

I am going to make a picture that may pass as art if neatly framed.   
My art is not real. It is artificial. It may seem even more artful than real art. Or less. In the realm of art, a consensus on value judgments can only be posthumous. 

Art consists of relatively contained areas defined through periods, geography, movements, and schools (note a similarity with philosophy). One of them is Op Art.

                                     (Optical art). Here is an example: Cherry Autumn by Bridget Riley.

                           Here is a big name in abstract art: Orange and Yellow by Mark Rothko

In my technique I am completely limited by the functions of the drawing software. Instead of brush and paint, I use Microsoft Draw from Office 2000, Windows 98.
I start with a closed curve built on 9 points:

  Curve 1      Selected points 

I can edit the curve by moving the points. When I move the points, they drag a part of the curve with them. What I want to preserve is:

    1. The curve is closed.
    2. The number of editing points is 9.
    3. The curve remains "smooth," i.e., it does not show sharp angles (does not kink).

The rest—position in the plane, size, color, fill, etc., (the Draw has a lot of nice functions)—will remain unchanged.

Next, I am going to edit points by moving them along the arrows. I call this change Transformation 1. It will define a new Curve 2.

Transformation 1:    Curve 2: 
 Next, I will apply a two-color fill  and get Result 1.
  Result 1 I frame it into Picture 1 

I can frame some intermediate results of my work on Picture 1:  points of the Curve 1 and Curve 2, which I will call (because the frame makes the picture) Picture 2 and Picture 3:

Picture 2         Picture 3

In these two pictures I do not show the curve. The "full-filled" pictures consisting of closed filled curves can be called realistic, as if we lived in a world populated by closed curves.

Picture 2 can be called impressionist.  It contains some elements of Curve 1 —points—in a stylized and exaggerated form of colored circles. Still, it clearly hints to Curve 1.

By making small incremental changes in the positions of the points, either one by one, or several at once, I can produce an infinite  series of realistic curvaceous Rubensean pictures or equally large collections of their "impressionist" derivatives.

Picture 3 completely breaks away with realism and portrays points for their own sake, so that the curve behind the points is left to the viewer's imagination. If most viewers could agree on connecting the points of Picture 2, they would sharply disagree regarding Picture 3. For some of them there would be no reason why the points should be connected by a single closed curve, and they would connect them like stars in constellations.

I  would say that Picture 3  is truly abstract. But still, there is a weak connection to reality: nine coins on a table could inspire a picture like that and I could give it a title: Nine coins. This is a property of art: to revoke something outside the picture.

The relationship between art and reality is analogous to ...analogy.

The three pictures, therefore, represent three indefinitely large families of pictures: filled curves, points that unambiguously suggest curves, and points that suggest either a multitude of connections by closed curves and/or open lines or a complete disconnectedness ( I could call Picture 2  No exit and Picture 3 Solitude). These families are patterns.

While whole libraries are written on art and artists, describing their style, mutual evolutionary relations, and various idiosyncrasies, each of  my styles (and, I believe, any modern style) is defined in a very precise way by:

        1. Lego of building blocks (generators). It is stored in the Draw software. It consists of points, lines, fills, and transitions from one to another.

        2. Rules of regularity of connections that tell which combinations of generators (configurations) are allowed and which are out of whack. For example, the rules may state that only single closed curves are regular, although  a huge variety of other pictures  can be created from the same generators .

        3. Similarity transformation of one picture into another (point editing, color and  fill change), that preserves some properties, for example, property of being a closed curve or a set of points, so that all pictures within the pattern are similar. Technically, the transformation here is a multitude of arrows:


       NOTE: Such transformations are mathematically
       described in terms of group theory.

        4.  Frame. Without a frame, it is not a picture and no one will buy it.

         The four aspects define a pattern.  If  we compare pictures 2 and 3, considering picture 2 regular, we may say that picture 3 is irregular (the reverse may not be true). We can, however, consider a different pattern where both are regular.

The picture by Bridget Riley is a spectrum-like series of thin vertical  colored lines.    (More by Bridget Riley). Riley was among the founders of Op Art and her striking pictures of the 60's seem to anticipate computer drawing.

The picture by Mark Rothko is a configuration of a pattern that can be described as vertically arranged, approximately rectangular, mostly monochrome areas against a monochrome background. An infinite amount of such pictures can be produced. In fact, the number is usually limited because the art is a product for sale and mass production brings down price and is subjected to the whim of the market. Mark Rothko came to his signature pattern only after a personal evolution as painter.  It is his pattern evolution that makes him an interesting painter.

Pictures by Rembrandt show human faces and figures. Remarkably, it is very difficult to describe Rembrandt's pattern, but his paintings are impossible to be mixed with anybody else's. Their description would involve such words as humanism, compassion, depth, artistry, drama, tragedy, passion, richness, psychology, etc. He went through a dramatic evolution in his life and painting.

No doubt, significant part of Rembrandt's complexity can be attributed to the content, model, nature, and the artist's personality and life. To separate the technique from the content is a difficult task, however.

Abstract art is light on content or almost (but never completely) free of it. Even Rothko's colored spots show an emotional evolution akin to that of Rembrandt. Art is even more about life and death than philosophy.

Rembrandt is my favorite artist. His effect on me is comparable with that of music. But I take modern art seriously, too. I like everything innovative, original, and dramatic in form and I do not expect much content from modern art.

I like Rene Magritte (another his site) , Dali, and Clayton Anderson. This trio, as I now realize, answers my life long attraction to fantasy, mystery, and fairy tale. It was the mystery of transformations that attracted me to chemistry at the age of 14.

I like intellectual and emotional components in painting.  I don't like cubism and its heirs. It is too plain, even vulgar. Modern art, as a whole, completely lacks compassion and in cubism the void overflows into misanthropy.

I believe that after the Copyright Act of 1976 the borderline between art and commerce does not exist . This is especially true about visual arts, which are collectibles and a form of investment.

My previous explanations and demonstrations are themselves a pattern. When an author of a study discusses a painter (or any artist, writer, composer, etc.), the following aspects are commonly noted:

1. Classification by geography, time, school. Belonging to a family of similar painters.
2. Traditional components of picture: perspective, color palette, chiaroscuro, drawing, composition, texture, genre, etc.
3. Typical content, if any.
4. Relation to natural objects and their deformation. Is painting similar to nature?
5. Innovations  in methods and materials.
6. Connection to other painters and influences on the posterior ones.
7. Impact on viewers. Sales.
8. Artist's biography, credo, loyalties, transgressions, and perception by critics.

All pictures within a pattern are different, but not exactly new. The very first few pictures of previously unknown pattern are new. The subsequent ones are different.
A new pattern involves a change of blocks, rules, or transformations. If those changes are big, the pattern is radically new.
This is how art evolves, but as we can see, there is nothing dramatically specific of art except its relationship to model. The same happens with science, society, religion, technology, institutions, everything that evolves, and, therefore, the Everything. It evolves through the NEW and the DIFFERENT.

Instead of relationship to model and nature, there can be a relationship to laws, customs, principles, astrology, numbers, and other sources of order.

masks<--  My Picture 4  falls into the same pattern as Picture 1. The only innovation is that it consists not of one but of 8 closed and filled curves. But we did not set the number of curves as a rule of regularity. This is quite a different picture because it is influenced by a model: it is similar to the ancient theater masks. This is the ordering effect of analogy that I discussed in Essay 19. On Reading Across the Lines .

By applying the same technique, I made the following  picture:

Unfortunately, I cannot afford a good frame, and so this is not really art. Let's call it a study in similarity.

I hope this Essay demonstrates the difference between knowledge and understanding. Knowledge can be true or not if checked against reality. Scientific knowledge must not contradict experiment. Knowledge in humanities must not contradict sources, observations, and, if possible, experiments.  Knowledge of technology is judged by the successful production.

I perceive original philosophy as art that uses ideas as building material. Not accidentally, every philosopher since Kant invents his own vocabulary like an artist who introduces a new technique. Philosophers influence each other like artists and form school, but for them to speak a common language would be a disaster, like two ladies wearing the same dress at a party.

Understanding (which, as I believe, is the primary goal of college education), gives the structure of knowledge in a certain area, i.e., the map of knowledge. Thus, the above 8 (or more) aspects of art are such a map, a pattern that can be filled up with different knowledge, true or false, about different artists, with gaps or extras. Understanding is a framework, a pattern.

We may never have a chance to visit New Zealand or Ecuador, but the map tells us about their existence as nations, and we expect them to have detailed maps, economy, history, culture, and local food.

To get basic understanding of art means to learn components of art and their mutual relation, the general pattern of art, and go through a couple of examples.

To know art (never completely), one must devote a significant part of life to studying art. The same is true about chemistry and anything else, even the mating habits of crickets. To understand chemistry could take a couple of months. To learn it would take a couple of lives.

Plato and Aristotle created the first Western comprehensive map of knowledge, not necessarily true from our point of view. Since that time, the map has been in the process of expansion and correction (see Essay 19. On Reading Across the Lines ).

Art is one of a few things that cannot be false. Whether it is always true is questionable, but in a different sense. In nature and art we find a sweet breather from the daily fretting over  "true or false?"

High art invents patterns. Low art invents configurations.
High art transforms the viewer. Popular art transforms the artist.

I have always been deeply intrigued by the mystery of the transformation of art between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, starting with the impressionists and up to Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol.

Today, when I am guided by the idea of the evolution of Things against the stability of human nature, I believe that fine arts and literature felt the coming changes. They could be heard as we the hollow rumble of the train coming from afar with an ear pressed to the rail. It is not accidentally that pop art coincided with the time of the great explosion of the Things in the 60's (see Essay 4. On New Overcoats  ). Looking back on the development of art, I see the modern art as the art of Things.

This is a symbol of imperfection 

1. My pattern ideas are borrowed from Pattern Theory of Ulf Grenander:   Ulf Grenander, Elements of Pattern Theory, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
2. (2016)   I  had been mystified by modern art for most of my adult life until, finally, I immersed in it for almost three years. The results are reported in Essay 60, Art and Nexistence. It is also included in Last Essays.

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