1.1: Response to Deborah (Daniel Hill)

 Deborah, re: I would phrase that differently. From my view, the main commodity of the future is the ability to emphatically embrace not knowing. The humanism we are discussing is closely tied to knowledge, sense-making, meaning. I am more interested in what shows up in the absence of those formalizations.”


Agreed, if this wasn’t a conversational type of writing, I would put my previous entry through a few more edits! But the format we are using for this symposium has the flavor of a live talk, where sometimes one wishes to go back and edit how one said something! Anyway, if I were to rephrase this particular sentence, I think I would likely address the word meaning (as Taney astutely points out) and not omit it. It is a vague word for our needs. Necessity calls for another!


The type of meaning I am referring to is tacit, unable to be told using explicit means (written and spoken word), non-discursive, embodied, and simultaneously- subjective and personal. This type of meaning is what I think all humans yearn for. It is the type of meaning yielded from a life immersed in creative practices, like art. The notion of meaning as the commodity of the future is one shared by Yuval Noah Harari who summarizes the power of this type of meaning when he says: "A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship. Whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is." We all have seen examples of individuals who have lived in accord to the system in every way and have succeeded in doing all the “right” things- but still, something is lacking- something significant. No amount of money or power will ever deliver it. Harari has also referred to the rise of the "useless class" in the 21st century- those with no options for a well-paid career due to those careers being taken by machine learning and artificial intelligence. This, in turn, will force an economic reform. Whatever that reform may be, the precious commodities of today- namely, money- will lose value/interest and give rise to the commodity of meaning (again, for the lack of more appropriate word). This personal, subjective meaning is one artists know well. A commodity of not knowing: if that means unlearning tendencies that have outlived their usefulness, I could go along with that. (I can think of a couple ripe candidates!)


I am interested too in what shows up in the absence or formalizations such as sense-making, but not really sure what that would be. I think we humans are built to find patterns and make sense of them. We are striving to make sense constantly- right now! - it is what we do. Making sense is imperative to acquiring this type of meaning I refer to. As an artist I would be afraid to lose these formalizations for they are tools, and the absence of sense may easily be construed as nonsense. This beckons of that horrible saying I used to hear in art school-“dumb as a painter”. Artists can be just as intelligent and conceptual as the scientist. But I think it is important that artists are taken seriously moving deeper in the 21st century. That means reckoning with the juggernaut called science.


Science, (the objective), must be acknowledged. No one can deny the success of science as a tool for problem solving. Art must exercise great care moving forward if it wants to restore relevancy, as it is already marginalized. If art can communicate with science, if science can have a foothold, however slight, into the subjective realm of art, we inch toward the notion EO Wilson has termed consilience. (Consilience means literally “a jumping together” and refers to a unification of currently disparate fields of human knowledge- the arts, humanities, sciences, etc.) This foothold is akin to the leading edge of a tree’s root, thin and wispy, sliding into cracks of the stone, and yet over time growing and splitting the matrix. This stone is the subjective realm of the unknown, that which currently eludes science.


Re: Bateson: I think what is being referred to in this wonderful quote is just this sense-making, the finding of this “pattern that connects” that Bateson has referred to and which in turn leads to this type of meaning. Notably, a symmetry is found here between objective and subjective equivalents- an inward meaning reflected in an outward meaning and vice versa: a unification of the opposites.


Re: mystic: This is a word I struggle with as it carries much baggage. The lure of the unknown- this fiery, passionate desire to understand that has driven us through the millennia holds a sense of mystery implicit. This is essential. I agree with you and yes, it is a difficult position to defend. Both (word and position) need to be expressed in a way that science can understand or contribute. Otherwise, it is too easily dismissed. However, I think we live at a fortunate time as interesting things are happening in neuroscience and consciousness studies for example. The near future may yield common ground atop which we may build.


Taney Roniger said...

Daniel, there's so much in your post that calls for response, but for now I'd like to push a bit further into one aspect, which is your characterization of art as trafficking in the subjective while science, on the other end of the spectrum, deals in the objective. For me, one of the most significant objectives in moving beyond humanism is to redefine what we mean by both terms, or to learn to inhabit a space somewhere between the two. In her new book, our fellow panelist Jane Bennett explores a new model of subjectivity in which the self is experienced as a porous being in constant dynamic interchange with the nonhuman forces that surround it. Acutely attentive and open to the world, this self lets itself be acted upon, influenced by, the material conditions and affective states of the things it encounters, in turn acting upon and influencing them as it "exhales" what is taken in. Because of its outward orientation (its being "dilated" to the world), and because it takes into itself that which it is not (i.e., nonhuman forces), there are aspects of this subjectivity that are distinctly apersonal and "objective." I find this a wonderfully compelling model for a new kind of subjectivity - one that dovetails precisely with my aspirations for art. Can we envision a model for art that is similarly apersonal? And might this be a way for art and science to meet in the middle, as it were? In any case, I highly recommend reading the book; I think it will make you reconsider many things that are taken for granted. (It's called Influx and Efflux, published by Duke University Press.)

Unknown said...

Taney that sounds fascinating and is also in line with what I have tried to envision for a beginning of consilience: a way to parse out that gray territory just a little. Indeed this is the impetus for my own work. I wonder if this new model of subjectivity, state you/she describes is one artists are acquainted. "Acutely attentive and open to the world, this self lets itself be acted upon, influenced by, the material conditions and affective states of the things it encounters, in turn acting upon and influencing them as it "exhales" what is taken in." This sounds familiar, like a sense of awe before some spectacle of nature and the spark of inspiration. I am curious to hear more. I ordered the book-

Taney Roniger said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Anonymous (forgive me, but I see no name here!). Yes indeed to your question about artists' familiarity with the kind of subjectivity Jane Bennett describes. In fact, Bennett begins her book by talking about her practice of doodling - the kind of thing you do while on the phone -- and how she noticed the peculiar sense of self that emerges when she's doing it. As an artist whose main practice is drawing, I can absolutely relate: there's something inarticulably special about the activity of drawing and the kind of thinking it gives rise to. (I would argue the same is the case with writing by hand, that beautiful and sacred practice now on its way to oblivion.) The central figure in the book is Walt Whitman, who Bennett sees as exemplary of this style of being a self (which makes perfect sense when you think of his acutely observant and ecstatic poetry). I think you'll really enjoy the book. Perhaps you'd like to say more about how this alternate subjectivity relates to your work?

Deborah Barlow said...

Thank you for your clarifications Daniel. And like others who have commented here, I found many new questions to be considered in this post.

As we move into the questions in Session 2, I am looking forward to probing more deeply into the connection/relationship/opportunity you see for science and art, art and science. And with several symposium participants who can be described as “artist/scientists”—or “scientist/artists,”--there is much more to be said.

And if there is time, would a more expanded explanation of this passage be possible?

“Science, (the objective), must be acknowledged. No one can deny the success of science as a tool for problem solving. Art must exercise great care moving forward if it wants to restore relevancy, as it is already marginalized.”

Daniel Hill said...

With this line, I am taking the "big picture" perspective. Arts and Humanities departments in universities across the country were having serious difficulties prior to the pandemic- now the red lights are flashing. And in grade school/middle school/High school level art is the first to be cut. Indeed my own son- the son of two devoted artists, did not have a proper art class until he was 10 or something. My point here is that to find some common ground with science would bring interest and funding toward a reappraisal of art education. If we want to know where things are going, we can look where we have been, and with art education, this is not a good sign. If art education fails us further, and no one cares about art, knows how to look at, think about art, how to value art beyond the market, where does this leave art in 10-20-50 years. I shudder to think. Science and technology are poised to explode exponentially in this century. Art has to fight for relevance- fight for its place at the table. It is sad and I wish it wasn't true, but all signs point to it being so.

Daniel Hill said...

Taney- "Can we envision a model for art that is similarly apersonal?" Employing an encoded system can do just this. I am now working on a set of cards divided into six categories (composition, interaction, process, title, etc, with a range of instructions from the specific to the vague. The cards are then pulled at random as I work on a piece. The system I had in place already had me feeling like a bystander to my own work- outside of it- and observing a process that exists independent of me. The cards are now upping the ante so to speak. Are the paintings/drawing apersonal? Not completely, but they is more of a balance between the personal and apersonal. Wish I could just jam that book into my head right now, just don't have time to read it before this wonderful conference ends!