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Sunday, 22 May 2016

When a Distinguished Professor of Art and Technology asks questions …

A person carrying the weighty title of Distinguished Professor of Art and Technology has been asking questions. This is what he asks of people – the recounting of experiences by way of giving advice to young people who wish to follow a dual arts-science career path:
1- What is your background as a scientist? In the arts, design or humanities?
2- When and how did you become involved in a hybrid art/science practice?
3- What have been the major obstacles to overcome?
4- What have been the greatest opportunities/breakthroughs?
5- What would you do differently, knowing then what you know now?
6- Any advice for someone who may want to walk in your footstep?
7. Add other questions and your responses you think are relevant.

We sense the cult of Leonardo at work here! So, as art has no rules, and the words that oft in my head sing, dance, and play, are today in cooperative mood, to these questions, this is what we say:
Beware Distinguished Professors of Art and Technology asking strange questions grounded in rationality. Beware too, people who provide rational answers to the professor’s questions. The excess of rationality found in the West is its great flaw, and in continuing with this singular obsession, a cradle of woe is what you will discover, if you have not so realised already. The evidence is all around, but Narcissus would rather die than look away from his beautiful reflection, and now he seeks ‘artists in residence’, who have also fallen in love with the reflection, to convey his beauty to what he thinks are the ignorant masses, who he believes, are experiencing a ‘science information deficit’. His desire, is that they too can join in with the celebratory ‘dancing with glee’ while standing on the ‘edge of doom’. If you oblige you will find yourself entering dangerous territory, so please, stay away, or be with them condemned, by future generations, who may ask you: why did you abandoned us to this illusion of a paradise to be attained that could never have been, for it was, like all before, ‘such stuff as nightmares are made on’. We are!
As for titles, seek them not, for they are heavy millstones around the neck, which along with other millstones, restrict movement, limit actions, and prevent the doing of what now needs to be done. The priest called Copernicus and the citizen-scientist known as Kepler will, in an indirect but related way, explain. Koestler will act as your guide and their interpreter for he knows much about such things. The citizen-scientist called Darwin understood millstones, so he too can explain. C P Snow did not understand millstones – although he had many – for he was a scientist with a fragmented and reductive mind; hence he is unable to explain without making gross simplifications which render his ‘opinions’ to be what they are: technocratic in the extreme. Artisans, practical people of all kinds, thousands upon thousands of them that history never recorded, living in the Renaissance period (which extended over several centuries), could also explain, for they experienced the result of millstones on a daily basis; these were the millstones of elitist groups, who kept things apart, but this is not the Renaissance that you probably learned about, which is partly another modern myth; a strange mix of facts and fictions, wherein you believe that which suits you best, and where the contributions of learning and knowledge from Islamic, Chinese, and other Asian scholars and artisans has been quietly written out of history – it is a very European al-gorithm.
Beware also those who say things such as “I think therefore I am armed” – they do not, they are not. Such people are potentially very dangerous for they too are but the children of ideology and dogma – but this time secular in nature. If any of those who utter such a strange statement ever studied, through cognitive psychology, the complexities of the workings of the human mind, then they did learn very little. Our friend and colleague Will, from his pen, as is often the case, conjured words to suit the theme:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

 Or … rot, decay, or be a barb.
Unless you are oriented to psychological and sociological learning, it is unlikely that you will know much about that of which I speak, but as these are one of the means of illuminating millstones and the oddity of human beliefs, the study of the social sciences should be on your life agenda; you will need that rarity of things called an open mind to engage constructively with the complexities of multiple truths.
When young learn how to die; then you will know how to live. When young set yourself the goal of reading all the great literature that humanity has produced; be humbled by the impossibility of the task. Then learn how to choose wisely.
Master the art of transcending disciplinary boundaries. Penetrate deeply into other peoples’ territories. Leave a mark to show that you have been there. Observe the reactions of those people whose territory you have entered, and recall this every time you hear people speaking about multi-, cross-, inter- or transdisciplinarity. Be amused by what you hear. Take the time to understand what these terms mean, for such understandings will put you in a position to see through the rhetoric that often surrounds such words, which take no effort at all to utter. Then you will be able to act in ways that few others can. Separation is an illusion; a human construction; a social construction.
Spend time with people who make a lot of noise so that you will discover just how empty they can be, then, never waste your time with such people again.
Seek out solitude and silence and learn to listen to the voice of your soul. Let it be your guide for it will never let you down. Follow your dreams wherever they may take you.
Observe life to a degree that Dickens would admire, for this is the source of art’s endless fountain. Learn to look into the souls of men – and women too as they are increasingly being expected to behave like men, and are doing so!
You have hands with opposable thumbs for a reason – use your hands to make things.
Travel in time to discover why the European world creates futures very similar to the past, only with more advanced science and technology, which are then used to wage war on an industrial scale and to destroy the planet in pursuit of the demands of one of their gods – money. Discovery for yourself the nature of Europeans and their colonial offspring – they are but Ancient Romans doing what Ancient Romans did, only more efficiently, which is their Enlightened way. Do not be party to their collective delusions and denials. Visit Rome and stand among the ancient ruins – then find understanding, because for such people there is only Decline and Fall.
Do not seek fortune and glory otherwise you will end up like Indiana Jones: ethically compromised, keeping company with bad people, and having to go to extraordinary lengths to extract yourself from problem situations that are of your own making. Do not seek to associate with people with power and influence: their power has corrupted them and it will corrupt you too.
Seek the answers to the question: why such advanced knowledge yet such simplistic beliefs and so much ontological oversimplification?
Do not be naïve about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) – there are enough naive STEM people in the world already; we do not need anymore. Thwart STEM peoples’ efforts to use art to project their imperial power on to humanity. Wear camouflage and infiltrate their academies, funding agencies, organisations, companies, institutions, etc. See what actually goes on and what people say when they think outsiders are not present. Collect evidence and identify their many weaknesses – these are not difficult to spot. But do not succumb to their ideologies. Then use what you have learned to unleash the forces of creative destruction against them, for the days of countermovements are over – now is the moment for a new scientific revolution, the creation of a new science that most of the ‘olden ones’, and their ‘artists in residence’, will, like the ‘scholastics’ before them, not want to see or to understand. And strangely, art is the means to achieving this, but this not what you are expecting is it?
Do not participate in the creation of new ideologies like art-science and art-technology, for these are but more of those binaries, dualities, and dichotomies so loved by the European mind. Never use words such as nexus, crossing, bridge, hybrid, integrate, intersection, cross-fertilise, spill-over, and so on; these are but the chains that keep you bound to a world that has already passed into history – Prometheus’ invisible and silent chains. They are part of the self-constructed prison known as your values and beliefs. Instead, set yourself free and learn to fly like an eagle.
Spend time with nature and in the summertime sit among the flowers and talk to the bees and listen to what they have to say to you.
Work for the benefit of future generations for they are more likely to understand and appreciate your work.
Never accept what people say – check for yourself. Always go back to the original source, for it is surprising how much distortion and simplification takes place as a result of material being passed from one person to another. Discover what has been left out as a result of unquestioning acceptance. Go to extreme lengths to track down original sources.  This is why there are National Libraries – use them.
Develop critical thinking and writing capabilities as practised in the social sciences. Be a gadfly. Write books about your work, and, if you indie publish, make sure that copies of these books are placed on deposit in your National Library collection. You never know who will look at your work in the future.
Set unrealistically high standards for yourself which you will constantly fail to attain – then learn. Keep on learning. Develop the self-critical skills and intuitions needed to know when your work is poor and when it is moving towards something else. ‘Paint fakes’ so that you will recognise when your work is not a fake.
Work with dead artists for they have much to teach you. Do not join grazing herds. If you want to engage in collaborative activities, be very selective whom you choose to work with.
Never place scientists and artists on pedestals. These people are human and as such are deeply flawed, just like everyone else. Do not use Leonardo da Vinci or C P Snow as a justification for what you do – this will only demonstrate that you ‘do accept’ what other people say without checking, that you did not learn to choose wisely what to read, that you did not master the art of transcending disciplinary boundaries, and that you have missed the point completely.
The reputations of these two are mostly not of their own making, being modern constructions – strange beliefs and ‘superstitions’ about what they were but never were, or what they said but never said, or what they did but never did, or what they wrote but never wrote, or what is known but is not known. The myths that now surround both of them are like the haze of dust that gathers on hot summer days, just waiting to be blown away on the breath of the wind. Be that wind.
And if you do not take note of this, you might end up like those STEM people from prestigious institutions, who recently expressed, in a ‘review’ paper entitled Art on the Nanoscale and Beyond, simplistic justifications for art-science convergence, based on – simplistic notions of Leonardo and Snow. But what matters learning and knowledge when fortune and glory, power and influence, are on your mind? This is the nature of the ethical melt-down occurring in the world STEM, for it is in any case a shallow ethic, very easy to ignore when convenience demands – disassociate yourself from this and speak-out; condemn all such forms of moral corruption.
Of such STEM people one can say that, here be conquistadors, the existence of which Edward O Wilson denied, who are now rewriting and simplifying (as is their way) history, in support of their colonising agenda. It is but a timely reminder of the sand, the lack of foundations, the intellectual emptiness, and the lack of knowledge, upon which much of the STEM world’s interest in the ideologies called art-science and art-technology is built. The European Commission’s DG CONNECT is a star performer in all these this respects.
Thus, in speaking of creativity, communication, the promotion of science and technology, and things most sinister with Orwellian undertones that Joseph Stalin and other tyrants would have understood, STEM people disclose their ‘will to power’ and their staggering lack of vision and imagination with regard to art’s role in research, and thus do all such people become the source material for the fountain; they will discover to their cost, that the pen is far mightier than the Scanning Electron Microscope and other such ‘boy's toys’, which is why Stalin and others exercised strict control over the arts. STEM people will do the same, and it begins with the ‘cheque book’ and words like “you can use this, but our permission comes with terms and conditions attached”. And thus too do they become like the medieval Church of Rome – oh dear you are making another future just like the past; it is a very European algorithm.
On the matter of Edward O Wilson and his strange notions of consilience  – steer clear of this for it is deeply flawed thinking, being as it is a product of a man, a scientist, with several millstones around his neck. Do not look too optimistically to the consilience ‘second wavers’ for they too have millstones around their neck. Avoid becoming ‘entangled’, for there are more millstones to be found here too. Instead, reinvent the world of knowledge by creating new ‘Theories of Knowledge’, suited to 2016 and beyond, for what exists today is more appropriate to 1916, 1816, 1716, 1616, 1516, 1416 … and BC in Ancient Greece  as well.
Now is the time, after the deconstruction of the post-modernist era, to put the world back together again in a different form. Thus, being as you are, an artist, and not being constrained by rules, conventions, boundaries, and such forth, use your imagination to imagine the unimaginable, and then watch with delight as they wriggle and squirm and then a heretic proclaim you to be, for they, the people of STEM, are but ‘people of the book’, the products of a Western secular Abrahamic culture whose time is done, although someone needs to tell them this, for they, to their beautiful reflection, are still bound; feet and minds firmly planted in the past.
Discover the mysterious East. Travel there – literally and figuratively. Come to understand that in the motion there is stillness and in the stillness there is motion, and how this insight can be used to transform science and humanity. And to the East I now turn my face and speak: See their weaknesses. Stand on the shoulders of giants to see further than they can, to discover the coming age of the Tao, and in the names of two giants, Howard Rosenbrock and Joseph Needham, two of a kind, you will find the beginnings of what you need. Art in a different way, will make a difference too.
Now cometh to an end these words of guidance and in closing I say, to the discovery of all the ways of knowing turn your attention, and practise as many of them as you can. Above all, learn the hermeneutic way of knowing so that you will be able to understand what I write.
To those who understand the words that I speak in silence, does the future belong – it is a place where no Ancient Romans (or Greeks) will be found for a different kind of person will there dwell, and a different type of science will they practise as well. And to our dear friend and colleague Will, we yet one more time do appeal, for words of ending to provide:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

And thus the world turns …

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