patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘books

Kierkegaard’s Repetition

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After several repeat readings of Kierkegaard’s book Repetition…

…a major theme of which is the impossibility of repetition, I have become convinced once again that repetition is indeed impossible. At the risk of repeating myself, I will say again that repetition  is indeed impossible.

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Written by Andy Parkinson

July 25, 2012 at 7:30 am

Do the arts make us better?

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In the chapter entitled Do the Arts Make us Better? from John Carey’s book What Good are the Arts, he answers his own question with a resounding no. Apparently the arts do not make us better. “Better in comparison to what?” I hear you say. Well, here he has in mind mostly ‘moral betterment’. I am interested in the question with a therapeutic meaning: do the arts make us better i.e. heal us, or at least make us feel better (than we did before looking at the art)? More specifically I am interested in the ability (or otherwise) of visual art to do this.

I saw a blog post at air about an evaluation of their arts programme in Derby Hospitals carried out by the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham in 2010. It concluded that visual art in this environment implied, for many, a taking of pride in creating a high standard of care, that artworks also acted as a distraction from health issues and as a therapeutic aid to well-being as well as providing a practical means of “wayfinding” within the hospital.

I recall that about a year ago I was at Sandwell Hospital, accompanying my son who was having an operation, and what a stressful experience it was. The paintings on the wall (many really good ones) certainly acted as a distraction for me and as a kind of therapy. I wasn’t the patient but I was in need of cheering up and I got that from the paintings. Clearly, not everyone did, I was already interested in seeing paintings, and much of the ‘therapy’ may have been simply the pleasant surprise of seeing good art in this environment. I would much rather be in a gallery than a hospital after all! Nevertheless I have no doubt about the positive effect it had on me.

I am also connecting the qualitative study by the University of Nottingham, my experience of wellbeing, and an upcoming talk I am looking forward to hearing on 27 May 2012, at the Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno by Jane Raymond PhD, Professor of Visual Cognition Psychology, Bangor University and University of Birmingham, entitled From Seeing to Feeling: what does the human brain do when it looks at paintings? A gallery talk specifically with the paintings of Mali Morris in mind (and in view).

Written by Andy Parkinson

May 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

The Music of Painting

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There is an impression that results from a particular juxtaposition of colours, lights and shades: what one might call the music of painting

Eugene Delacroix

… is quoted in the frontispiece of  Peter Vergo’s book The Music of Painting, first published in 2010 and just out in paperback.

 

according to Charles Darwent, Art Quarterly, it’s “a must-have for anyone interested in why modernism looks (and sounds) as it does”

good job I have it then! It was a birthday present, and I have just started reading it.

The front cover shows a reproduction of Theo van Doesburg’s Rhythm of a Russian Dance,1918. Music and dance have an obvious connection with each other and a less obvious one with painting. I have blogged about it before in relation to Mondrian, whose work also features in the book, in a chapter entitled Art, Jazz and Silence. I am also reminded of another book  Music and Modern Art, edited by James Leggio, and containing a chapter by Harry Cooper called Popular Models: Fox-Trot and Jazz Band in Mondrian’s Abstraction.

In a recent Rough Cuts video, James Kalm reviews the Stanley Whitney exhibition Left to Right, at Team Gallery (some great pics here ) saying of Whitney  “His approach to color and rhythm are akin to the spontaneous riffs of great jazz solos”.

In Blogland, Scott Van Holzen’s blog  art in music is dedicated to paintings based on musical themes and Ruth Gray, tells of how listening to some old records, she feels inspired to paint the colours she hears. I guess that making a connection between visual, auditory and kinaesthetic arts is almost bound to get somewhat synaesthetic.

Against Nature

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When I was an art student, many years ago, our Aesthetics tutorial group were encouraged to read Against Nature by JK Huysmans, one of those books that I find stays with you for a long time, in that it keeps coming back to memory. I do not know how much that is to do with the brilliance of the book and how much the brilliance of the tutor.

When I was visiting Nottingham Contemporary recently I saw a copy in the book store and wondered why they had it there. Then, when I saw the Klaus Weber exhibition, it became clear.

Sun Press (Against Nature) contains layers of allusion to the natural, and our idea of it. A heliostat on the roof concentrates the sun’s rays to print A Rebours (Against Nature) by JK Huysmans in the gallery below. The ultimate natural force is harnessed to slowly reveal a book that was explicitly a break with the 19th century Naturalist style of literature.

An alternative translation of the book title is “Against the Grain” you can read the whole book here.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 26, 2011 at 9:45 am

If you want live music you have to live it

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“If you want live music you have to live it” said dance band leader Dennis Halfpenny at the closing dance of 2011 by The Terry Peters Big Band at the Regency ballroom, Sutton in Ashfield on Saturday night.

Live music is wonderful and dancing to a live band is surely the best way to live it.

There is something always old, repetitive, and at the same time, always new, each repetition a beginning, in dancing that seems equivalent to what’s hapening with the music, and I wonder if the musicians feel the same way. This rendition of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)” will be similar but never identical to the last one or the one to come, and likewise the jive we danced to it. This “Veleta” will be like the previous and subsequent one, without ever precisely repeating.

For me, it is this repeating whilst simultaneosuly starting anew that living live music is all about. I think this is one of the reasons why I am so fond of the old-time dances like the Veleta, and why I hope that it will continue to be danced to live music for many years to come. There is something magical about following the tradition of dancing this to its own signature tune, the continued playing of it keeping it alive.

Does all this not connect to desire and drive? In Slavoj Zizek’s The Parallax View, he says

We become “humans” when we get caught into a closed, self propelling loop of repeating the same gesture and finding satisfaction in it

It’s not old-time waltz turns, or repeat pattern abstract painting that he is referring to, but it could so easily be.

Band photo by courtesy of M&N Photography

Metamodernism, Oscillation and the Beer Game

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In Luke Turner‘s Metamodernist Manifesto he says “oscillation is the natural order of things” and he, along with Robin van den Akker, Nadine Feßler and Timotheus Vermeulen, sees this oscillation ( “between a modern desire for sens and a postmodern doubt about the sense of it all, between a modern sincerity and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy and empathy and apathy and unity and plurality and purity and corruption and naïveté and knowingness; between control and commons and craftsmanship and conceptualism and pragmatism and utopianism”) as an indication of the emergence of a new cultural dominant – metamodernism.

I feel sure that I am mixing metaphors as I attempt to question the naturalness of oscillation by referring to a business simulation known as the Beer Game, invented, I believe, at M.I.T by Jay Forrester and referenced by Peter Senge in the opening chapter of his book The Fifth Discipline.

Four ‘players’ take up the positions of Factory, Distributor, Wholesaler and Retailer, making up a production and distribution system, the product being crates of beer, represented by coins or counters, that make their way from the factory, to the other sectors and ending up as sales to external customers.

There are some system conditions: no communication takes place between the sectors other than the placing of orders and the receiving of product (silence), and there are delays in production and  transportation as well as in processing the orders. Orders are made by external customers and they are re-acted by each sector concluding with the factory that places orders with its own workforce. The decision-making required by each sector, at the end of each week, is how many crates of beer to order from their supplier upstream.

The activity spans a simulated year, at the beginning the system is stable, customers are ordering 4 crates of beer per week and each sector has 12 crates of beer in their respective inventories. Each sector aims to minimise costs by keeping inventory down at the same time as preventing backlog.

In conducting this simulation (as I have done with groups over 100 times in the last two years) we always find that when external customer orders are stable, the system becomes unstable, with sometimes wild oscillation, (as well as amplification: the oscillation pattern becoming more pronounced the further upstream you go).  A flat line could represent the orders from customers whereas this graph shows the oscillating pattern of orders placed within the system.

Getting back to the Metamodernist Manifesto, if we were to think of orders from customers as the external environment or  ‘nature’, we might conclude that oscillation is an artificial experience. It is not the ‘natural oder of things’ so much as the invented and exaggerated response to external stimuli. We do it to ourselves (that’s what really hurts, apologies Radiohead).

Then again, we could say that it is ‘natural’ in the sense that it is the repeated and predictable response: it seems to come naturally to us.

Maybe what I am saying is that although oscillation may indeed be ‘the natural order of things’, the natural order of things is not itself natural. Whilst the territory is flat, our maps oscillilate wildly.

God and the art of seeing

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My brother Robert being a Baptist minister, I ought not to be too surprised to find on his bookshelf  God and the Art of Seeing by Richard Kidd and Graham Sparkes.

It caught my eye first of all because it sounds so much like another book I have enjoyed a lot: The Art of Seeing, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Rick E. Robinson. Well, it is nothing like that book! Kidd and Sparkes’ book is subtitled Visual Resources for a Journey of Faith. As you can imagine, it isn’t really an art book. And, as I am reading it, that’s one of the things I am enjoying: it is about the uses that people (can) make of art. And I do think there are also some very productive insights about the art.

There’s a chapter each on Edvard Munch, Marc Chagall, Stanley Spencer, Georgia O’Keefe, Jacob Lawrence and Vincent van Gogh.

In the chapter on Edvard Munch, discussing the painting The Sick Child, 1885-1886, the authors suggests that the many layers of over-painting contained in the twenty revisions, some layers invisible to the naked eye and conscious mind, expresses the passing of time as the dimension in which suffering takes place. Here form and content unite to express the same theme of suffering. I suggest that it could also be the case that whenever an abstract painting ‘records’ time through over-painted layers then suffering, is present metaphorically, suffering that is, in the sense of ‘struggle’.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 17, 2011 at 9:00 am