Sunday, June 05, 2011

Towards an Osirian Art

It has been well established that there are vibrant concerns for the future of the arts and the culture. To perceive the current crisis in the arts it might be good to look to the sciences for a pertinent analogy since scientists are the current locus of public thought in the search for truth. In the field of theoretical physics there is the well known rift between General Relativity Theory which explains large-scale phenomenon such as gravity, and Quantum Theory which is the science of the very small (or quanta). The rift caused by these two sometimes competing theories has led to many speculative ideas such as String Theory. A detailed analysis of these ideas is not necessary for our discussion. What is important is to see how the sequence of thought put into these sciences has led to a positing of a resolution. First, there is a problem: how do we explain the apparent problems with the speed of light? The solution is given in both the Special and General Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein. These theories appeared to account for the observations being made by the improved technology of the day. They also cleared away the problems of previous theories, notably those posited by Newton.
Though the road was paved for science to proceed for future generations, there is a lingering problem. Small scale observations being made at the subatomic level seem to contradict the formulations discovered by Einstein and others in this new theory. Physicists Warner Heisenberg and Max Planck among others aided in the formulation of Quantum Mechanics which helped to explain the observations that didn't seem to fit into the relativity theories. Now to the important point: the science of theoretical physics since the formulation of these two theories has consisted of the attempt at resolution between these two theories. The most dominant form of resolution is currently some form of String Theory with an addendum of a multiverse; but not everyone is in agreement and so there is a wide spectrum of ideas all being revised. Falsification tests continue to be sought out and run to try to find support for each respective position.The resolutions posited have given the field of study the appearance of warring factions each vying for their particular hypothesis to be the ultimate ‘theory of everything.’
Visual art, like physics, consist of strains of ideologies that are currently vying for a cohesive vision; but none exists. To make matters more confusing, there are many individuals in both fields who adhere to differing aspects of the multiplying theories. So, what are the current theories held by practicing artists? The two dominant forces that are at work or at war are Modernism and Postmodernism. Both offer unique solutions to the problems facing humanity. Modernism was the dominant expression of artists beginning in the Renaissance, but not self-conscious until the mid-19th century. Though now ostensibly dead, Modernism is still being relied upon by many Postmodernists as they exist and work. Postmodernism claims for itself a loose definition with no cohesive vision or dominant force within its ranks. It cannot consistently maintain its position and so still often relies upon Modernist thought. The crisis caused by the friction between the major two cultural traditions has caused smaller, often more radical groups to vie for power in the time of the possible renewal of the arts.
Many of these groups remain nameless, but most call for either a return to pre-modern times (The Arts Renewal Center, for example, call for a return to classical tradition, zealously announce the death of postmodernism (without positive assertions), or insist that we are moving into a post-art age.

However, the various positions and their cataloguing of facts and predictions do little to disentangle us from the quagmire. They all either feed the edifice of postmodern pluralism or are ensnared by its unloving embrace. A few of these are attempting to dismantle its critical theory.
These ideas, as interesting as they can be, usually fail to offer any meaning, at least any content that postmodernism doesn’t immediately drain away. For example, why should we forget what has happened, turn back the clock and ignore the last century? The answer has foundation other than some ardent romanticism. And will that illusion not break and issue out the same nihilism that consumed mankind in the first place? Or what can celebrating the death of postmodernism do if there is not a move towards something more substantial?
Donald Kuspit in The End of Art espouses the rise of “New Old Masters” as a more stable solution to the corruption in the contemporary art scene. From an external perspective this sounds right, but what are these masters supported be? How can there be a return to a respectful and meaningful beauty if there is no basis other than to fill a pragmatic moralistic need?
These shifting sands need not be the only alternatives. Christianity can offer a more stabilizing voice. It is the very ideology one from which Modernism and Postmodernism had their root and still rely on as a deep and obscured foundation. Christianity is the only voice legitimately allowing for the assumption that there is a reality out there to be had and that this reality is meaningful and can be explored. An ultimate meaninglessness alone would never generate such intellectual defenses or works of creativity that we see in the two dominant art movements; Christian philosophy is still at work.
For Christians, in the area of meaning, God is the source of all reality. It is not that God is in the material itself but outside of His creation. This sets up an inside and outside view.
First there is a God who is infinite and creative. Then there is the product of His creativity; something distinct from Him but bearing his mark, or, his aesthetic style. This means that while we are outside of God, we are inside His creation looking through his creation to its Source. This gives meaning to the particulars. All that we see is a gift given to us to explore, tend, and ultimately recognize as the handiwork of an infinite Creator. Though this view is also a return, of sorts, to the pre-modern times, the ideology itself contends to be locked into an unchanging reality and therefore timeless.
Next, there is an incarnation, a clothing of the divine, a melding into flesh the very God of the universe that exists outside his own creation. This begins the gospel. This is the solution to the rift in society; this is the ‘theory of everything’. There is a connection between the two realms of existence.

Our own process of creation has a corollary to the incarnation. Christ manifests himself in the form of humanity. The Ultimate had made its way into the particular. In the same fashion when an artist works he is drawing from the eternal wellspring of meaning and pouring it into the forms his hands make. No other view posited thus far gives such a comprehensive value to our existence as creators. No other view gives resolution to the crises by locating resolution in an outside objective Source that is eternal and personal; the two needs that Modernism and Postmodernism desire to have fulfilled, but cannot embrace. The two forms are not only present in Christianity, but are reconciled in our current space-time universe, and will be fully consummated when the move into timelessness occurs.


Christopher Brown said...

This is a great article/essay.

I do wonder though, why do you call it an Osirian art?

Nate said...

I am looking at analogues here. The sciences and art have certain similarities that made me find an interesting corollary. So too does the myth of Osiris to both the current status of art in the culture and with Christianity. They are corollaries only and cannot be seen as authentic representatives. So with the idea of Osiris I am suggesting the perseverance of art. Death will bring new life. Art will live again. In the myth Osiris is murdered by his brother Set and temporarily resurrected to create a progeny to defeat the evil Set. I had set up a similar dynamic in my explanation of the relationship between Modernism and Post-modernism. I would then be asking in effect, will Post-modernism be vanquished by a return to modern or pre-modern times? Then asked, "isn't there a better solution?" I tried to posit a more authentic solution by guiding the discussion away from the analogue (myth of Osiris), to the real (the object to which the myth points: Christ who is the 'real Osiris') because we are on a search for substance.
However, I fear that civilization will miss the point and again opt for myth. So what are we heading towards? Its still open; and I hope.

Christopher Brown said...

Mmm. That's good stuff!

Most of the Modern vs. Postmodern debate reminds me of the fall of Rome. The Romans quibbled, fought, and generally rough-housed amongst themselves for such a long period of time, and were then conquered by 'barbarians'. That's definitely over-summarizing it, but I think that allegory may provide hope for the Truth of Christ--the creations and ideas left behind by Rome allowed the Word a way through the Western 'pagan' world.