Monday, January 04, 2010

The Ideal In The Derivative

Like many long articles this is mirrored in the writing section on my website, Let us begin!

One of my rules of creativity is that an artwork should be "unique", that is not based on previous artworks but a new and fundamental truth instead.

The first reason for this is out of courtesy and self-respect. If an artist is anything he or she should be imaginative, and it's a personal admittance of failure to be so lacking imagination that an artwork should based on someone else's idea.

A second reason for this rule is a belief in a higher idealism, that some pure thing, idea or "shape" is being translated by the artist to the viewer and that this translation is always imperfect. To translate from an already imperfect translation, could never come closer to the ideal than the original artwork.

However, all good rules can be broken at certain times. So here is why those two reasons are bogus, and why an artwork can justifiably be based on another artwork.

To address the first point; all imagination is based on experience. The brain accepts inputs, processes, then outputs. The outputs can be actions or internalisations. Internalisations are very like actions. It has been shown that athletes that imagine training train at least fifty percent as well as athletes who perform actual training. If this model is correct then the quantity of ideas is based on the variety of input and the processing power. Thus an artist who has seen ten images will have fewer ideas than an artist who has seen one thousand images, assuming identical processing power. In the modern world most creative images are not paintings; whether advertisements, films, television programmes, computer games, etcetera. All images ever seen together constitute inputs and every output will be a processed mix of that which is input. The output itself can be an input. Such use of the brain is called "musing"!

There is undoubtedly some part of the brain that can create images, a blind man gaining sight for the first time might be able to paint, but perhaps that person would only recognise and like the result if it tallys in some way with images experienced since seeing. With no experience of images, the result of a totally blind painter would be equally meaningful and meaningless; no more useful or interesting than a brain scan.

Imagination is often processing based, which at least involves sufficient visual memory to process and hold images and ideas on a large scale. When this is taken into account, all images are copies or derivations. This negates the first point about derivative art and imagination.

The second point is that art represents a truth that is never represented perfectly. There are two arguments to counter this.

First that this is a trick. Just because one truth is represented imperfectly it doesn't mean all other truths are. A painting doesn't have to convey what the artist wanted. A painting can mean something different, but still true, raw and touching to a viewer. In this case an artwork can convey ideal knowledge.

Secondly it is possible to calculate or see the ideal that the artist was aiming to represent, and then re-represent that in a better way.

Thus, an artwork can be based on a previous artwork and still represent a new and fundamental truth. My false dichotomy is hereby evaporated!

Comments anyone?


Kathy said...

Mark, I think I follow your logic, and you make a good argument that all works of art must be derivative because of the common input/output we all process in our daily lives. I'll slightly modify that by adding a hypothetical. If you stand twelve people on a street corner and ask all of them to pay attention to a single event (let's say a car bumps into a pole in front of them) and then interview each person alone afterward about the precise details of what was witnessed, you'd get twelve different answers with some similarities. The reason for this is that we don't perfectly process the input because of our brain's
physical limitations, the slightly differenty body chemistry of each person, and the unique set of life-experiences that bias how each of us views the world. All this leads us to different interpretations that contain a unique element which stands out from the common elements we all share. Since no two people can have an identical set of life experiences, the probability that no two people will process the same is very high. Therefore, there is potential for unique expression in every person, even if some of the elements of that expression are derivative.
Does that make sense?
Great post ...

-Don said...

Wow! My brain, which was just starting to get back to normal after our deep fireside conversations on Kathy's blog, now hurts again. I've found the best cure for this is to go back to the easel and try to digest while I create my derivative interpretations of what has come before. A few thousand years ago King Solomon said, "there is no new thing under the sun". I think that still applies...


Mark Sheeky said...

I'd like to think that Solomon was making a joke about the sun being new. You're right Kathy, everyone's interpretation will always be different. People are more complicated than snowflakes! Also new combinations can arise all the time. I've seen a fire, and the Mona Lisa, so the Mona Lisa on fire becomes a "new" image.

Anonymous said...

The science of origami shows us that many forms (if not all), including our DNA derive from a flat plane- however, the folding configurations are endless. Sheesh Mark- I slept on it and that's what I came up with. Probably watching too much public television. The short analysis- derivative- YES- original- MOST DEFINITELY.