Posts Tagged ‘Francis Bacon’

The concept of the ‘objective correlative’, was first developed by T.S. Eliot:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

– T.S. Eliot, Selected Prose (Harmondsworth 1965), p. 102.

In general in Art, formal innovations don’t just occur for their own sake but because the artist has something new to say which requires these formal innovation for it to be communicated.

Arguably, this could be said of the 1997 installation pieces of Damien Hirst during the YBA’s SENSATIONS R.A. exhibition; constructing an object (using unusual and original materials) which will be the objective correlative of certain thoughts and emotions, of certain felt ideas.

Thus Hirst’s shark piece works as the ‘objective correlative’ of death in at least four ways:

  1. it is an actual dead shark;
  2. the shark is a powerful cultural signifier of the fear and threat of death;
  3. the curvature in the glass of the tank containing the shark reinforces point 2 by making the shark appear to move threateningly in the direction of the viewer; and
  4. the title of the work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, works in tension with the piece itself and with the taboo on ‘death’ in our culture.

Hirst’s use of real dead animals is an example of this.
The one object serves as an objective correlative for the fact, fear, threat and taboo of death.

I think, it forces a face to face confrontation with the brute fact of death upon a blasé modern audience which has superabundant images of death while its reality becomes ever more removed and hidden.

Short of exhibiting an actual dissected human corpse this was about as far as Hirst could go. Though Gunter von Haagen did eventually go further with his public televised autopsies.

In A Thousand Years (with its cow’s head, breeding maggots, flies and insect-o-cutor) Hirst displayed a work that is even more transgressive in its materials – not only dead flesh but living creatures that are killed before one’s eyes – and which incorporates a new element, smell (or rather stench!).

Here is represented not just death but a whole cycle of life and death, a mini-ecosystem complete with breeding, feeding and human intervention.

If it is a spectacle which evokes disgust and nausea, then that too is part of its statement. It asks us to examine our responses.

Hirst’s Away from the Flock is a white lamb with black face and feet suspended in a white steel and glass tank. It serves as objective correlative for rather different ideas and emotions.
Titles usually play an important role with Hirst. The work itself interacts with its title to represent and evoke separation, isolation, loneliness and abandonment, especially as these might pertain to a child. As such it generates an acute pathos.

Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding works with a related theme but to different emotional effect.

It consists of a large glass cabinet containing six shelves and on each shelf is placed a row of six or seven perspex cases each containing a suspended fish, all ‘swimming’ head to tail.

Here the artwork presents an embodiment of individuals as part of a conformist collective yet all isolated and hermetically sealed from one another (a ‘series’ not a ‘fixed group’ in the language of Sartre). Of course it might be objected, à la Lukács, that this is a profoundly false view of life.

I would agree in a full analysis, but it is also the case that this is an important element of human experience in this alienated society and that here Hirst has succeeded in giving powerful visual expression to this experience. The construction, it should be said, is composed in terms of its ordering of forms and colours, possessing some of the visual qualities of a Mondrian or Klee. Emotionally what it induces is not pathos or sympathy but a cold-blooded chill.

Hirst’s  work Mother and Child Divided was not in the 1997 Sensations show but I want to comment on it because I think it is Hirst’s most important work and because it brings together a number of the themes from the other works in that show. It consists of a bisected cow and a bisected calf.

Each half of the cow is placed in its own glass tank and the tanks are adjacent to one another but with enough space to walk between the tanks and observe close up the insides of the cow.
The same is done with the halves of the calf but the two calf halves are placed several yards away from the cow. Of all Hirst’s pieces this is the one that seems to have made the biggest impact on the public consciousness and this in itself testifies to the power of its concept.

However, what is most impressive about it is the way in which it functions as objective correlative for a range of different almost conflicting ideas and emotions.

  1. First there is the confrontation with death and dead flesh.
  2. Then there is the ‘shock’ of the violence of the bisection (shock like the shock of Goya’s  etchings of Napoleonic mutilation of peasants, not the Chapmans’ crude facsimile in fibre-glass) and disgust and distaste at the exposure of the innards.
    But this works in tension with the knowledge that this is how we treat animals and this is what we eat as food. One does not need to be an animal rights supporter or vegetarian to feel the force of this, just as one does not need to be a pacifist to respond to Wilfred Owen: Hirst is merely insisting we face facts.
  3. Finally the title (again) and the placing of the cow/mother and calf/child evokes the pathos, despair and separation anxiety of Away from the Flock and Isolated Elements Swimming.

Mother and Child Divided has the integration of thought and feeling and the combination of complexity with visual and emotional power that is characteristic of major art.

Significant art no matter how ‘new’ or ‘original’, always turns out to be the next step in an ongoing tradition. Nevertheless Hirst, on examination, is seen to be the point of confluence of a number of artistic streams. Most immediately there is the influence of Francis Bacon in the themes of framed and caged flesh (and also a distant echo of Rembrandt’s great painting of a beef carcass, The Slaughter House).

In the use of ready made materials, in the making of art out of apparent anti-art moves, in the mix of playfulness and high seriousness, he is clearly an heir of Marcel Duchamp.The use of the glass case also looks back to Duchamp (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, aka The Large Glass) and the vitrines of Joseph Beuys.
The white steel boxes expand the form pioneered by Sol LeWitt and the minimalists in the 1960s. 
And in the self conscious deployment of hype there is the unmistakable legacy of Warhol.

It is an art cliché that; reproductions cannot compare with the original works.
Often there is an element of myth involved here for the extent to which this is true varies greatly from artist to artist and work to work.
For example;  you can get a better idea of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from good reproductions than you can from the floor of the chapel. Gauguin, Miró and Mondrian reproduce excellently.
(Worth noting that works of art which became exceptionally well known – like the Mona Lisa, The Hay Wain, Monet’s Water Lilies, Munch’s The Scream, etc. – are often despised for this reason, but usually are powerful and important works in their own right.)

Van Gogh (because of the texture of the paint) and Pollock (because of the texture and the importance of the size) much less well.

With most paintings and some sculpture you get ‘a pretty good idea’ from quality modern reproductions.

This is not the case with much of Hirst’s work. The curvature in the glass in the shark piece and its visual effects do not appear in photographs.

The same is true of the flying and dying flies in A Thousand Years, not to speak of the smell, and you have actually to walk through the bisected cow and calf in Mother and Child Divided to experience its full effect.

In short, Hirst had to be seen first hand.

Whether this is a good or bad thing is a different debate but it is a fact which must be taken into account in discussing his merits.

 

I also wrote about Objective Correlative here: https://discordion.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/objective-correlative/

and here:

https://discordion.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/from-ebbw-vale-to-the-muslim-veil-a-review-of-david-garners-work-by-john-molyneux-senior-lecturer-in-historical-and-theoretical-studies-in-the-school-of-art-design-and-media-portsmouth-university/

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posted in BrainPickings.com

Sagan’s nine tools:
  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified.
    Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

 

Sagan’s 20 pitfalls of Critical and analytic thinking

 

  1. ad hominem — Latin for “to the man,” attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously)
  2. argument from authority (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia — but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out)
  3. argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn’t, society would be much more lawless and dangerous — perhaps even ungovernable. Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives)
  4. appeal to ignorance — the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  5. special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don’t understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don’t understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion — to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don’t understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)
  6. begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors — but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of “adjustment” and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?)
  7. observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers)
  8. statistics of small numbers — a close relative of observational selection (e.g., “They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly.” Or: “I’ve thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can’t lose.”)
  9. misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);
  10. inconsistency (e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they’re not “proved.” Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);
  11. non sequitur — Latin for “It doesn’t follow” (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was “Gott mit uns”). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;
  12. post hoc, ergo propter hoc — Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by” (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: “I know of … a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills.” Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons)
  13. meaningless question (e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa)
  14. excluded middle, or false dichotomy — considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., “Sure, take his side; my husband’s perfect; I’m always wrong.” Or: “Either you love your country or you hate it.” Or: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”)
  15. short-term vs. long-term — a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I’ve pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can’t afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);
  16. slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);
  17. confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore — despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter — the latter causes the former)
  18. straw man — caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance — a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn’t. Or — this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy — environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people)
  19. suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted “prophecy” of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television; but — an important detail — was it recorded before or after the event? Or: These government abuses demand revolution, even if you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?)
  20. weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”)

 

The Demon-Haunted World is a timelessly fantastic read in its entirety, timelier than ever in a great many ways amidst our present media landscape of propaganda, pseudoscience, and various commercial motives.
Complement it with Sagan on science and “God”.