The history of art through the ages reveals a constancy that, by conscious or unconscious applications, provides us with an omnipresent correlation dealing with the philosophical/scientific schools of thought and their paradigmatic changes in relation with contemporary artistic movements. This paper will try to scent the presumable paradigm at the beginning of the 21st century and consequently the co-related currents of artistic thought. From a global perspective, the ontological changes in the development in science tend asymptomatically towards man. It is Maslow's pyramid but in the opposite direction, returning to the basic needs. Will the next century be the century of humanism, since sciences and arts have for goal, and by definition, man?
The History of Art through the ages reveals constancy that, by conscious or unconscious applications, provides us with an omnipresent correlation dealing with the philosophical/scientific schools of thought and their paradigmatic changes in relation with contemporary artistic movements. Although different architectural and art theories (whether explicit or implicit) have not been yet erected in epistemological knowledge, this fact was, however, confirmed through many outward signs that were noticed by many theoreticians and philosophers.
The following is to scent the presumable paradigm at the beginning of the 21st-century and consequently the co-related currents of artistic thought. From a global perspective, we trace a curve of chronological tendency to examine the path and the leaning convergence of this quest.
In fact, in the history of science development, there are three paradigmatic changes, in spite of debates about their names and dates of emergence:
1- The Pre-Modern with Vitalism;
2- The Modern with Mechanism (the Classic);
3- The Post-Modern with Relativism and/or Systemism (Levy, 1989).
Accordingly, the artistic currents reflect diligently the theories, the methodological procedures, the ontological qualifications, the epistemological dimensions, the teleological means, and the relative values of these paradigms.
The Pre-Modern Paradigm: Vitalism
Vitalism extends from prehistoric times to the end of the medieval age. It divides the universe into two worlds: the vital and the physical. The divine vitality predetermines life differently from the physical and chemical procedures that stabilize the natural world.
The human mind changed while passing from metaphysics to philosophy and reason. Religion aided and secured the human soul, while faith and reason collided, bringing an ideological schism that was solved only after 12 centuries of trials (up until the Gothic age).
In art, different philosophies engendered their product. Simultaneously with homo sapiens, the genesis of art had different metaphysical interpretations and speculations of its raison d'Ãªtre: fertility, magic, cosmic explanations among others (Eyot, 1978).
For antique civilization, especially the Egyptians, hermetism and alchemy created the mystical Anthropocosm showing that man is not just a simple component of the universe but both its origin and end (Schwaller de Lubicz, 1977). Egyptian art, intact for 3000 years, is full of purity, symbolism and sacred geometry, all reflecting the ideology of its makers (Lawlor, 1989).
The Hellenic Pythagoro-Platonician philosophy with its algorithmic system discussed concepts such as Order, Idealism, Perfection, the Absolute, the Macro-Microcosm and Harmony (the Philolausian sense), generating Vitruvianism (symmetria, eurythmia, etc.) and the theory of proportions in architecture (Younes, 1996; Germann, 1991).
The Christian faith shaped art for centuries and the art of the Gothic period was its peak. The philosophy of Light (Emanation) of Pseudo-Denys (Dionysius the Areopagite) marked the history of architecture (Simson, 1988). Islamic art also expressed concepts of faith resulting in abstract geometry (metaphor of the divine presence in human creation), arabesque and calligraphy combining an intellectual "mathematisation" and showing the omnipresence of God and his infinite unity. Islamic art dematerialized space, transforming its architectonic qualities and values, and rejecting its physical reality (Grabar, 1977; Critchlow, 1976).
The pre-modern vitalists were dominated by religion, morals and ethics. Those "non-scientific" metaphysical values survived until the Renaissance - a transitional period between two paradigms - and marked intellectual changes (a general refutation of medieval standards) with a new altitude towards society, culture and the individual. Vitalism no longer gave a coherent interpretation of reality. Transcendentalism was replaced by autonomy and harmonious integration. Plato and Christianity were reconciled in a mathematical interpretation of God and the universe based on the Christian vision that man is God's image, symbolizing harmony of the Cosmos (Wittkower, 1988).
Man was no longer bound, he was free. This new humanist environment gave and encouraged the participation of man with God in creation, with a tendency to "scientize" art and architecture and mathematize the beautiful. The sympathy between the platonician microcosm-macrocosm concretized by the vitruvian image of man manifested itself in the palladian Villas embracing cosmic attribute (Mattei, 1993).
The Modern Classical Paradigm: Mechanism
With the start of the 17th century, the Mechanist vision replaced Vitalism and promoted Realism, Idealism and the Age of Light. Based on a Cartesian rationalism and on a Newtonian empiricism, this paradigm provides assumptions and principles based on discoveries made by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Bacon and Descartes, which stipulate that:
- The universe is no longer closed but infinite. It is a machine, not an organic entity.
-The hypothesis of heliocentricity replaced that of "geocentricity".
-The celestial and terrestrial phenomena are of the same nature, likewise for the organic and inorganic being.
-Knowledge is no longer in Nature. Nature is in knowledge.
The mechanists searched for truth with Physics, Astronomy, Mechanics, Optics, Chemistry and the desire to control nature, inaugurating positivism along with the emergence of moral theories. In art, Baroque artists saw in nature an honorable subject to investigate and to worship. From this point, the same concepts in science were concretized in Baroque and then in Rococo art and architecture. The same mechanical laws that control space (macroscopic and microscopic) were used by artists to represent the physical reality of this invisible universe. Time became a physical entity along with its antique and spiritual sense, and the preoccupation was the dynamic substance through space, time and light (Johnson, 1994).
These are some artistic concepts borrowed from science: the liberation and continuity of space, limitless forms in expansion, the dynamism of curvilinear forms (non-orthogonal), the demarcation of lines, the illusionism and the multitude of scenographic effects (optical illusions), etc. This led to plasticity, the symbiosis of traditional and contemporary forms in synthetic wholes. Even the void becomes an essential element in the artistic composition: space is created by architecture.
This mechanical mind of systematization, centralization, extension and movement was applied in urbanism (convergence towards centers), in palatial architecture (infinite perspectives), in landscaping (capricious, spontaneous nature), creating a variety of places in order to satisfy human sensation. This sensual plastic vision extended to sculpture, painting, music, literature and the theatre (Norberg-Schulz, 1975).
The 18th century saw attempts to unify science and philosophy but the result was completely the opposite: a schism occured between the two. The insistence on causality and the dominance of mathematical logic and the physical approach gave birth to the anti-positivist movement of the 19th century which, in return, established the human sciences.
The second half of the century is called the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason. The idea of systematization continued, and at the end of the century reason failed and the Romantic movement blossomed, denying the existence of science and affirming the superiority of art. Romanticism is not a coherent philosophy; it is the attitude of people which favors imagination and sensation over reasoning and intellect. Romantics think that science ignored the totality of the universe and the interdependence of its parts and, consequently, they refuse to dissect it, keeping the difference between the physical and organic world intact (Stevens, 1990).
With the idea of genius, romantic artists favored inspiration, imagination, the picturesque, the poetic, sensation, emotion, spontaneity, naivety, sensibility, intuition, creativity and the holistic approach. Man and the universe were re-united in that age of Eclecticism.
Paradoxically, the success in physics encouraged the science of sociology or empirical positivism, the science of religion, the science of history (dialectical materialism), the science of human nature and the science of commerce. In philosophy, we find the Dialecticism of Hegel, the Utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the Pragmatism of Pierce, Nietzche and Bergson and the phenomenology of Husserl. Other disciplines, such as psychoanalysis, were inaugurated by Freud.
The 19th century was especially interested in organic life and the Evolutionism of Darwin was an answer to the regularity of physics. This age of industry and of science knew divergent artistic tendencies. We class them in three principal themes:
1-Neoclassicism or Eclecticism with the Nationalists/Revivalists
2-Expressionism and Fauvism with the Freudians
3-Functionalism with the Marxists and Darwinists. According to Marx, all forms of cultures are determined by economical relations and thus we can understand the problem of historical changes. The Chicago School maintains that the building is a living organism and its function is determined by the immediate environment. Matured and developed by the Taoism of Frank Lloyd Wright, this organic link between life and art concretizes their principles and their forms (Frampton, 1985).
The first half of the 20th century witnessed an era of scientific revolution. The relativity principle, combined with theosophical and spiritual ideas, has cleared a path for a chain of artistic thoughts: Constructivism (along with the social goals), Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Art, Elementarism, Neo-Plasticism, etc. These schools aspired to express the essence of the universe, the deep structure of reality and objective Truth. In fact, time was no more absolute in this "neo-baroque" era. It was an elastic new dimension. Simultaneity; elimination of space, of frontiers; absence of reference; space in expansion; n-dimensional vision; unknown objects; different textures (collage); existence of spaces surpassing our sensory perception; a-gravity (Malevitch and the Suprematists); floating elements; absence of verticality-"horizontality"; kinetic rhythm; volumes enveloping void instead of masses; movement and light dematerialize objects; space-time distortion; "rhombused" squares; floating plans intertwining or fusing with one another; void as a constructive element; elimination of representation; etc (Ross, 1987).
In architecture, modernist functionalism had its climax in the first half of this century. With the Bauhaus, the theosophical inspiration was to bring back humanity to the primary social and spiritual harmony but this myth of "Cathedral" was transformed to a functionalistic one. With the contribution of the Gestalt theory, universal, a-historic and non-cultural, the schools of Beaux Arts have found new tools. With the international style of Mies Van Der Rohe, platonic purity synthesizes the standardization and with "le Corbusier", pythagorianism was conciliated with the sociology of dwelling (Risebero, 1983).
The Post-Modern Paradigm: Relativism/Systemism
The second half of the 20th century has known a transgression from the "mechanic" paradigm to the systemic one. This is attributed to three factors:
1-The emergence of new theories (Einstein and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle) under different labels: Phenomenology, Constructivism, Systemism, Ecologism, Polytheism, Complexity, etc.
2-The epistemological critique of the "classical" paradigm: Positivism, Atomism, Analytism, Determinism, Objectivism, Causalism, etc.
3-The consequences of diverse technological and socio-economic "catastrophes": pollution, nuclear, totalitarism, "informatisation", etc.
The phenomenologists, contrary to the positivists, believe in all sorts of evidence (not necessary perceivable), avoid pre-definitions and are holistic. D. Canter and C. Norberg-Schulz were the first to apply it in architecture. Subsequently, it was applied to urbanism. Values and senses are significant for the individuals. Understanding and communicating is the most important relationship between the architect and the client, necessitating a consideration of values, beliefs and motives (Dufrenne, 1953).
Another alternative to phenomenology was structuralism (and later semiology), in linguistic (signifier and signified), in literary and in anthropological studies. It is a way to perceive language as a system of structure, to see how these systems function and how they generate sense. Language is a social institution, and culture can be read as text (Lyons, 1968).
The self-criticism of structuralism has given rise to post-structuralism, which reinvestigates the sign system (language or other). The aim of the adepts of Nietzsche in denying the Absolute was not to construct hermeneutically the text, but to prove by deconstructing it that it can give a multitude of meanings to the reader. Consequently, uncertainties and ambiguities caused the death of the author since the reader deciphers the text according to his prejudice and preconception. The post-structuralists have shown the failure of phenomenologists and structuralists to institute human science, and, therefore, humanity (Jencks, 1981).
Post-modernism in art and architecture (begun in 1970s) dealt with the Nietzschean concepts (raison d'etre, logic, a-tectonic) combined with concepts borrowed from relativity (relative time, time in action) under a refusal of positivist reading.
The first post-modernists insist on any sign system to communicate (evoking concepts from the structuralism and semiology), adopting historicism. They are hybrid and eclectic in order to be distinguished from the traditional revivalists and to promote the internationalization of art. At the same time, they refuse standardization at the expense of variety and polychromy; purism to pluralism; functionality to fictionality (meta-narrative, allegoric, symbolic and semantic); clarity at the expense of ambiguity and irony; evidence versus incredulity, double coding and unpredictibility; simplistic forms versus dualism and complexity; "reductivity" versus the holistic (Harland 1987).
The second post-modernists, or deconstructionists, re-questioned the raison-d'Ãªtre of things and their principles. They doubted logic (it is a beautiful esthetical illusion), they doubted the Ideal (it is not the Real). Hence nihilism and the devaluation of values.
In addition, thanks to the positivist critique and the "catastrophe" theories, we have noticed a new terminology in art for the first time: fragmentation, irregularity, indeterminism, dislocation, chaos, ambiguity, uncertainty, complexity, arbitrariness, logocentrism, presence/absence, symbiosis, subversiveness, etc. Recently, emerged (from the theory of information and the cybernetic) cyber-space: ana-morphic (continuous change), virtual reality (the non-physical existence), the death of the object (no depth, no background, no horizon), etc (Stevens, 1990).
To sum up, from the paradigmatic changes and the different supporting philosophies and from the diversity of fields presented, it is clear that:
1) From the beginning, man quested for TRUTH in the world and increasingly pointed to himself; science legated abstract, hermetic and mystic notions towards an intelligible science of logic and mathematics;
2) The curve of the different disciplines tends asymptotically towards MAN. In fact, the eternal pursuit of truth passed from metaphysics to physics, chemistry, and has come closer towards man by tending to biology. Thus, another inherent characteristic of man, which is economy, has imposed itself as a factor in his circle of life. Zooming in, man's values have constituted the science of his affective consciousness and his phenomeno-existential dimension, ending in the exclusive characteristic of man, that is LANGUAGE (the sole attribute amongst the creatures that determines our perception and interpretation of the universe).
Although the drafters of paradigms claim that there will be a reappearance of Romanticism (due to the incapacity of reason and science to attain knowledge), or of Absolutism (claiming that we will be able to surpass difficulties) - there are indications of a more humanitarian tendency. Thus, logically, the 21st century appears to be aiming at man. It is Maslow's pyramid but in the opposite direction, returning to the basic needs. The next century will be the century of humanism, since sciences and arts have for goal, and by definition, man.
Undeniably, it is by man, for man and through man that humanity can reach the end of this eternal quest of all history, which is the TRUE, the GOOD and the BEAUTIFUL.
Written by Farid Younes, Ph.D. presented at the "International Symposium: The Christian Humanism in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis", Saint John the Lateran Pontifical University, December 3-4, 1999, Rome, Italy.
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