“The first man was an artist.” Barnett Newman
Surveying the landscape of humanity’s contemporary condition, there is little doubt that mankind’s endowment for building creations of all sorts defines our superiority over the planet. At the heart of what it means to be human is our ability to transform our environment through creative action. I would even venture that our creations are so fundamental to our being – our uniquely human capacity to give physical expression to our reverie, that it is the single feature against which our value should be measured. This is our merit — to imagine, then create those imaginings thus transforming the world into something anew. As it is a feature unique to us, it is our existential responsibility as well.
The first man was indeed an artist.
Against the fray, I believe it is possible, in fact imperative, to measure the quality of our creations. They can be measured albeit subjectively, on the basis of conceptual quality, if at least formally. On the one hand any idea must be held accountable to our fundamental existential dilemma. While on the other the proximity of any idea’s goal must be evaluated against the moral grandeur (a simple consequence of the binary nature of reality), of which we alone are capable.
In this way the production of Art as a general category of knowledge, and specifically a branch of philosophy, taken together with science is the most important epistemological activity in which one can participate. This is because it involves the conscious creation of new languages. Which alone are capable of synthesizing complex information into discreet symbols of ever more complex configurations of information “quanta”. It is this process of synthesis, holographic in nature and infinitely creative in its dynamic, which becomes our continuously evolving model of reality. Art and science are the disciplines we use to create our dialog with the universe.
But language is more than most would have it. The ability to symbolize our experiences into a conceptual matrix is consciousness. We know nothing of the objective world directly. What we do know is our own conceptual abstractions. Words are only one method we have developed for cataloging the world at large. But words tend to be far too specific to capture life’s subtle complexity. This is because “being” is by nature a composite and forms a conceptual matrix far too rich to be adequately managed by any singular language system. Especially those specific and linear.
Verbal language depends on specificity. It is ordered and definite. And it is exactly these qualities that define it. The infinite complexity of reality, i.e. “consciousness” can never be represented thoroughly by languages that are particular. It is exactly for this reason that mankind has invented alternatives. Mathematics derives its power from its ability to represent relationships — a whole dimension of our experience of the world. The language of music derives its effect through its dependence on harmonic fundamentals. The same structures which serve as the foundation for the physical universe. These are only two examples of many.
The language of visual art distills the complexity of our confrontation with the overwhelming data of our sensual experience into simple visual symbols. These in turn become metaphors for those experiences. This is because visual symbolism is abstract enough to represent the dense complexity of a world visually beheld.
It is widely excepted by the scientific community that vision is our primary sensual resource. This is because the eyes capture their surroundings non-linearly. In this way visual language is capable of managing much larger quantities of tactile information. Visual communication systems approximate greater complexity by glossing over the specifics and expanding our experience of sequential time. Vision segregates pattern – which is the core property of any structure — the fundamental something we find in all things. It is consciousness itself — a never-ending, infinitely holographic, structuring of self-referential concepts. In these post-modern times, with the challenge of integrating former modernist dialectics into a single integral worldview, the need arises for languages that can orchestrate both the verbally specific and the visually abstract. I would even hazard that this is probably the hallmark of any substantial present-day artistic effort.
The symbols that are part of the visual languages we create, as with all branches of knowledge, become a sub-structure, in our conceptual models of reality. They become our most intimate experiences of life. This alone is the ultimate purpose of all language, no less so for visual ones — self-realization. It seems clear that humanity is bound to participate in one colossal feedback system that dynamically adds infinite complexity to its own inflections through our recognition and communion with its fundamental creative intelligence.
In this process of self-identification on a grand scale, humanity is, to the best of our knowledge, the ultimate interface between the universe and its experience of itself. Only through the distillation of conceptualized sensual experience can an appropriately complex structure of consciousness be constructed. Fundamental to that process is integration — the integration of evolving conceptual hierarchies of all kinds. This network of universal consciousness structure is perfect, holographic and infinite on all dimensional levels.
As it is clear then that our existential purpose infers the metamorphosis of our contact with the world into the symbolism from which all language springs, it stands to reason that the creation of visual art as part of that project is an imperative.
In this sense the condition of language is the condition of the world.
It is for just this reason that the creations of artist’s consciously engaged in the progress of language are so important. With new technologies now available to them and the resulting changes in our perception of the world, artists are re-creating reality by developing new languages that encompass far greater quantities of information. This renders this information available to main stream culture making it possible to build a world that greater reflects our current philosophical models.
Even now, occasionally an artist arrives on the scene courageous enough to explore the fundamentals of our existential predicament. I use the word courage because I believe that, as has always been the case, a straightforward confrontation with the questions surrounding our humanity has always been lonely because they subtly contemplate our mortality. The narcotic of our playful pop culture is of course always easier to experience than facing ones existential situation. Which I believe is art’s central purpose. This is especially true when that situation is informed with the tragedy of our possible meaninglessness as Nietzsche in particular so bitterly pointed out. In light of this, it’s easy to understand the gross production of fine “art” that is masqueraded under the pretense of higher ideals when in fact so much of it’s greatest success is in the mediating of our terror through entertainment.
Who would deny in the wake of 9/11 that there are things that do very much matter to us all? Quite frankly I can see little or no difference between our current cultural predicament and that of any epoch. We are just caught (still), in that age-old struggle between those who have and those who do not, those who make the rules and those who must follow, and yet again, those who must, and will, attempt to over throw those same rules. I will not pursue here as to why this is obviously so. It is the subject of another writing. Yet, I would venture that any attack today against the onslaught of the superficial and commercial masquerading as something meaningful, represents a true re-assergence of the avant-garde.
At the core of the current avant-garde proposition is the need to develop broader vocabularies, synthesizing the complex with the simple, the superficial with the deep and so on — merging them into a universal, all- inclusive language that the whole globe can take possession of.
When surveyed at a distance, it is easy to interpret the primary achievement of modernism as the progressive delineation of philosophical models of reality since the gothic era until the late twentieth century. This succession of “Grand Narrative” schemes was finally arrested by the simple fact that there were no more “new” dialogs to be had. The first dimension of philosophical possibilities had been exhausted.
The point is that once we had succeeded in exploring the various fundamental models of reality that were part of the modernist idiom, it became necessary to “deconstruct” these varying philosophies in order to achieve some kind of ontological equilibrium. We were challenged to allow for “meaning” to once again infiltrate the interior of our worldview. We were, and are, in the midst of creating a new global value system — one that weaves all of the former modernist dialogs into a single whole.
This project would not be achievable without philosophical deconstruction because in order for integration to occur one must first be clear as to what is to be integrated — one must be familiar with the underlying elements, which make up one’s vision of the world. Once this understanding has been achieved, and only then, true integration becomes possible.
As well, the turn towards deconstruction represents an emphasis on process, which indicates a profound epistemological shift towards an ontological preference for time over space, verb over noun, quality over quantity. Could it be that inspite of what seems to be a complete dominance of commercialism over all areas of our society that in fact we are moving towards a more transient culture – one that lays preference in ones experience of life as opposed to static ownership?
There is more than enough evidence to support such a view. And if this is indeed so, does it mean that we are actually entering a period of a new cultural maturity — one that ultimately questions the role of commodities in preference of life quality? I shall be eager to see. I’m sure that we baby-boomers, our generation of sleeping revolutionists, will supply some interesting answers. Just how much can we consume until we get bored with “having” or just plain run out of space?
The ultimate goal of post modernism is nothing short of the creation of a New World order – one that is global, democratic and dynamic. At its base is philosophical integration, an integration that is sensitive to the subjectivity of any local experience and is respectful of it.
This creates a prerequisite to any serious artistic endeavor in order for that endeavor to be considered truly contemporary – it must include some element of integration as central to its production, an integration that embraces an ontological preference towards process.
The dynamics of integration, in all its expressions, is the trademark of today’s avant-garde.
PART TWO — THE ART OF JONMARC EDWARDS
At this crossroad the art of JonMarc Edwards succeeds in halting our assumptions about verbal language specifically and language conceptualization in general. These assumptions are fundamental to our process of self-identification – we create them via our inner dialogues – the same dialogs that are tarred with conceit, historical reference and cultural ambiguities. These same assumptions inhibit us from achieving the greatness of our potential because they keep us from creating ever-new languages from which to forge a culture that is more reflective of our capacities — they keep us from evolving our consciousness beyond our former presumptions. This questioning alone would be no small achievement for an artist to unleash on his or her beholder. And it is the most important factor in any artist’s work — confrontation, because it is the motor behind the communion between an artist’s work and his or her audience. This confrontation with what is ultimately ourselves, demands of us to question the assumptions we rely on. JonMarc’s work succeeds at its nucleus in this initial confrontation — it questions consciousness itself in terms of dynamic process.
His art works achieve this through a specific iconography that requisitions the viewer to overcome their assumptions regarding language and time. JonMarc has constructed a unique symbolism that allows verbal language to transcend its basic subordination to time by creating an alphabet and vocabulary built on depth rather than linearity. JonMarc’s grammar objects to our experience of “alphabet” as it relates to subjective and objective space by equalizing his symbols through a compositional technique of time compression. In this artist’s symbolic world, negative space moves towards the viewer causing the subject of his dialog to recede. This creates an equalizing interaction of the two, which JonMarc elegantly synthesizes into a new highbred symbolism that requires of us, the loss of our linear equilibrium.
It is exactly this loss which is the springboard for the artwork’s power. It is nothing short of the invention of a whole new dimension of language — a great achievement – one that has cost him more than twenty years of methodical experimentation.
In his best work, Jon Marc’s efforts teeter on the edge between pure abstraction and formal symbolism. The works can be “read” both intellectually as word plays complete with deep meaning, poetry, as well as poignant irony. Or, they can be simply experienced as verbal derivatives of space/time events. One thing is clear though. All the work is integrated. Its success relies on the fundamentals of integration on a grand scale. The art questions what might language become in a post-modern age, our age — an age that begs for more efficient ways of communicating, storing and yes, structuring the overwhelming profusion of complex information that we are drowning in. It may even offer a clue as to how one might segregate wisdom from this proliferation of mostly nonsense.
The work establishes an often-missed, yet critical relationship between language and time. Rarely explored, time, being the substrate of all models of reality, invests symbols of all sorts with a specific extension in space, which inevitably serves to mark our mortality. Like four-dimensional snapshots of abstracted meaning, the artwork codifies language into minimalist events. This is possibly the most important development inherent in JonMarc’s work because it signals a way to a future beyond Newman, Judd and more recently, the comic-book abstractions of many of JonMarc’s contemporaries.
Time obviously not only permeates all of reality but also could very well be not continuous as previously thought but made up of discreet units of something*. It appears that the nature of time itself may be in question — time it appears is discreet, not unlike the pixels that make up a computer screen. If this is indeed so, then JonMarc and other artists of his generation that our now emerging into the contemporary art world are achieving the creation of a language that rides the edge of the most advanced theories in science.
By synthesizing the verbal with visual symbolism and processing them through the prism of these newly created visions of time, JonMarc has caused a language of sublimity. One is confronted with language as pure object — it is an immediate experience, yet that very same object becomes a microcosm of consciousness – drafted of infinite layers of pre-established dialog. Composed of cells, interchangeable, multi-dimensional and ultimately governed by rules that permeate every dimension of experience, the artwork includes ideas on the edge of now — ideas that are changing every aspect of the world we have known.
JonMarc has achieved all this with utter simplicity by elegantly transforming his verbal symbols into a matrix of abstract forms – which is exactly how we think. JonMarc’s artistic language is compact. A dozen symbols or less effectively convey not only a multitude of specific verbal meanings but through visual metaphor, composition, color, and content are able as well to convey a multifaceted structure of emotional and spiritual experience through interaction with the eye. Not unlike the human condition universally, in his work the powers that underlie the intellect peer through metaphorical juxtaposition of artistic means.
Of course having opened this can of worms, Jonmarc’s future work must address how to achieve even greater austerity in synthesis of symbol and time. He exhibits an obvious interest in doing so as his best work explores exactly how to better achieve this.
Pieces like “The New York School”, a tour de force of contemporary calligraphy, examines this needed austerity through a build up of formal complexity using composition and a host of well-crafted painterly techniques. This again seems very much to be the way that reality actually unfolds: complexity evolves until a critical mass is reached, finally tipping the scale, causing a dimensional transformation. We are left with the work in its entirety — a field of complexity to be perceived infinitely – at a glance.
On the other hand, Jonmarc’s sculptural pieces are certainly amongst his best work because they succeed as events even more easily because they demolish the illusion of perspective that so threatens a viewer’s immediate experience of many two dimensional artworks. This serves to isolate the viewer from his or her cultural environment — the space of their life, in preference to an experienced event.
The application of these things to language specifically represents an important attempt to grapple with some of the most meaningful issues surrounding what language is or better, what we should become as a reflection of it.
JonMarc’s struggle infers that he suspects that out of the ashes of post-modern deconstruction there must come new meaning. Meaning informed with the very best of our humanity, meaning imbedded in languages that reflect our experience of what is real.
This evolution of language is our heritage. It is not only must be the primary concern of today’s avant-garde, but it is the bedrock of what it means to human.
* see Stephan Wolfram — A New Kind of Science