Contradictory Abstractions: The Dynamic of Action / Reaction

Dynamic Simplicity by Maria L. Berg 2023

This morning I read, in Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee, “Every consequential moment in life pivots around a dynamic of action/reaction. In the physical realm, reactions are equal, opposite, and predictable in obedience to Newton’s third law of motion; in the human sphere, the unforeseen rules. Whenever we take an important step, our world reacts—but almost never in the way we expect. From within us or around us come reactions we cannot and do not see coming. For no matter how much we rehearse life’s big moments, when they finally arrive, they never seem to work out quite the way we thought, hoped, or planned. The drama of life is an endless improvisation.”

If I relate this to dialectic thought, an action (thesis) gives rise to reaction (antithesis) which does not live up to expectation (conflict) which leads to a different action (thesis) which gives rise to reaction (antithesis) which does not meet expectation (conflict), and so it goes never to find synthesis (until the end of the novel that is, but not in real life). So is McKee unknowingly proposing and antithesis to Hegelian dialectics? And how can I fit the idea that every consequential moment, the moment I’m trying to capture, pivots around action/reaction?

Let’s move on from beauty and ugliness to the third call for action, “To find the happiness in misery and the misery in happiness; dismay the happy, or delight the miserable.” The action would be finding happiness in misery and a reaction could be finding the misery in happiness, thus finding both. Or, the action could be dismaying the happy and the reaction being delighting the miserable. There is a lot of action and reaction going on in my call to action for my art. Let’s look at the many possible combinations:

  1. action: find the happiness in misery and the misery in happiness – reaction: dismay the happy, or delight the miserable
  2. action: dismay the happy, or delight the miserable – reaction: find the happiness in misery and the misery in happiness
  3. action: find the happiness in misery – reaction: find the misery in happiness
  4. action: find the misery in happiness – reaction: find the happiness in misery
  5. action: dismay the happy – reaction: delight the miserable
  6. action: delight the miserable – reaction: dismay the happy
  7. action: find the happiness in misery – reaction: dismay the happy
  8. action: dismay the happy – reaction: find the happiness in misery
  9. action: find the happiness in misery – reaction: delight the miserable
  10. action: delight the miserable – reaction: find the happiness in misery
  11. action: find the misery in happiness – reaction: dismay the happy
  12. action: dismay the happy – reaction: find the misery in happiness
  13. action: find the misery in happiness – reaction: delight the miserable
  14. action: delight the miserable – reaction: find the misery in happiness

I think that covers it. So what am I looking at? Are each of those an image I want to create? Are they all aspects of one image? Are they all different consequential moments in the life of the continuum of happiness and misery?  I like the idea that they are fourteen different ways to approach finding my photograph that captures the essence of happiness and misery at the same time.

Action / Reaction as an aspect of contradictory abstractions made me think of Dynamic simplicity, an aspect of visual design that is emphasized in Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson.

Mr. Patterson says, “Simplicity brings order and stability to compositions . . . However, if everything were as simple as possible, life would be very boring. We need to balance order with tension, which brings movement, activity, and a sense of the dynamic both to our pictures and to our lives. . . . So pictorial composition, like living, always involves balancing tension against order.”

So is this dynamic of tension (action) and order (reaction? or synthesis?) the physical dialectic of my art?

Fan Dance by Maria L. Berg 2023

Today’s images were inspired by the work of Arthur Dove and Francis Picabia. Specifically Arthur Dove’s “Nature Symbolized No. 2″  (1911) reminded me of something I did back in April with Foolish, Ambition, and Cleave. I sliced up the printed photograph and spread it out like a fan. Today, I cut the center circle from my filter and cut it in curves then spread them out and taped the shape back in the open circle. Then, inspired by Francis Picabia’s orange and white ‘Dance” paintings (1912), I added my orange string lights, expecting them to not really take the shape but add a soft blurred edge in an attempt to replicate the interesting softness Picabia brought to his cubist surfaces. However, the orange lights replicated this shape clearly to nice effect.

Today’s Surprising Connection

This morning I started reading Complete Poems by Marianne Moore and came across a poem called “The Animals Sick of the Plague.” I recognized the title instantly as the play the kids put on for the New Year’s party in The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny. I had never heard of that fable before I read Penny’s novel. Now here it is in the section of Marianne Moore’s poems called “Selections from The Fables of La Fontaine (1954).”

Contradictory Abstractions: The Synthesis of Beauty and Ugliness

Beaugliness by Maria L. Berg 2023

It’s the last day of the first month of the new year, and I woke up early, tore apart my mirrorworld, and started fresh. Though conceptually I feel like my ideas are coming together, the images aren’t yet what I’ve been hoping for. How about you? How did your month go?

This week I’m exploring my second call to action: “To find the ugliness in beauty and the beauty in ugliness; uglify the beautiful, or beautify the ugly.” Last week I was excited by Hegel’s dialectic thinking. This morning I found another correlation in neuroscience in Eric R. Kandel’s The Age of Insight.

Coming to Synthesis

Nobel prize winning neuroscientist, Kandel, writes, “Beauty does not occupy a different area of the brain than ugliness. Both are part of a continuum representing the values the brain attributes to them, and both are encoded by relative changes in activity in the same areas of the brain. This is consistent with the idea that positive and negative emotions lie on a continuum and call on the same neural circuitry. Thus, the amygdala, commonly associated with fear, is also a regulator of happiness.”

I love how my goal of creating images that show how contradictory abstract nouns converge works with the physiology of the brain.

While thinking about today’s photo-shoot and my call to action, I contemplated if capturing synthesis would actually make great art. Isn’t it the extremes that people find exciting? Not the negation, the accomplished stasis?

Kandel says, “Our response to art stems from an irrepressible urge to re-create in our own brains the creative process—cognitive, emotional, and empathic—through which the artist produced the work. This creative urge of the artist and the beholder presumably explains why essentially every group of human beings in every age and in every place throughout the world has created images, despite the fact that art is not a physical necessity for survival. Art is an inherently pleasurable and instructive attempt by the artist and the beholder to communicate and share with each other the creative process that characterizes every human brain—a process that leads to an Aha! moment, the sudden recognition that we have seen into another person’s mind, and that allows us to see the truth underlying both the beauty and the ugliness depicted by the artist.”

Thus, each of these images I share with you whether beautiful, or ugly, or somewhere along the continuum, is a peek into my mind. Welcome. It’s busy, and often cluttered, but there’s a lot of fun creating going on.

To make today’s images, using only white string-lights, I used printed transparencies of sections of my images that showed the shape both right-side-up and upside-down. I then created new images showing the filter both right-side-up and upside-down. Is it the synthesis? The negation? I’m not sure, but I had fun with my new terminology in my titles.

Beaugliful by Maria L. Berg 2023

Next Steps

I’m going to continue to explore beauty and ugliness for a while. Kant keeps coming up as I study abstract art, so I want to read through his works that I downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Using my new kindle skills I searched for beauty and ugly in Kant’s Critique of Judgement and beauty had 500 matches, ugly had 4. I find that fascinating. Why the crazy imbalance? Is it because people seek out beauty and not ugliness?

In the section called “Dialectic of the Aesthetical Judgement,” Kant says, “. . . the conflict between judgements of Taste, so far as each man depends merely on his own taste, forms no Dialectic of taste; because no one proposes to make his own judgement a universal rule. There remains therefore no other concept of a Dialectic which has to do with taste than that of a Dialectic of the Critique of taste (not of taste itself) in respect of its principles; for here concepts that contradict one another (as to the ground of the possibility of judgements of taste in general) naturally and unavoidably present themselves.”

As I read it, there is no conflict between beauty and ugliness when it has to do with one’s own ideas and feelings, the conflict arises when people’s aesthetics are different. Something to think about.

Dialectic Thinking and the Study of Contradictory Abstractions

Hegelian Synthesis by Maria L. Berg 2023

Last week, while thinking about the first of my new calls to action “To find the truth in deceit and the deceit in truth; either deceive the truth, or unveil the deceit” (I now think reveal works better than unveil), the idea of deceiving truth, along with the blues songs I’ve been studying, got me thinking about cheaters and love triangles. I started thinking of imagery that represents a union of two wholes which made me think of the yin yang (itself a joining of opposites), and then an invisible triangle, the secret third party: the opposite of truth and the bringer of conflict.

Modernist Dialectic Thought

As I’ve mentioned I’m taking a course I found on coursera.org through Wesleyan University taught by Michael Roth called “The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 1)”. Last week, in the section called “From Enlightenment to Revolution,” we were assigned a bunch of Karl Marx to read, but for me the most interesting part of the week was the lectures on Karl Marx’s teacher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Though Wikipedia disagrees with itself whether Hegel actually used the terminology of Hegelian dialectic thought, I’m going to go ahead and talk about what excited me and how it inspired me this week.

Here’s how I understand Hegelian dialectics: every thought or idea (thesis) gives rise to its opposite (antithesis) and through conflict comes to synthesis. The whole process he called negation.

[Wikipedia says “For Hegel, the concrete, the synthesis, the absolute, must always pass through the phase of the negative, in the journey to completion, that is, mediation.” Seems similar enough to me.]

For Hegel this concept of an idea and its opposite coming to synthesis isn’t a fun thought experiment or art project (like me), it is his explanation of how the world works, and how the present reality interacts with history.

How does Hegelian philosophy change anything I’m doing? It brought up the idea that the image I’m searching for is the Synthesis, the end result of Negation. And when I find that, do I get to make up a new term: a word that means both truth and deceit for instance, and what would my process be for finding that term, making up that word, making a new term that means both and neither? That should be fun, and make for good image titles.

Does it really change how I think about my study of contradictory abstract nouns? A little. As I take my photographs, I may be seeing how the world works, actually documenting a more real reality than if I were taking photos of the mountain, lake, birds, and kitty. I’m getting close to photographing truth and reason, or at least seeing a path to documenting images of truth and reason.

How might this affect my process? If I am finding the truth in deceit and the deceit in truth, I come up with a shape or symbol that I think can embody both somehow. I can create it and it’s opposite (not exactly opposite, but the form upside down and backwards) at the same time. I can even make those two shapes or symbols interact, but is that an image of synthesis? Has my image gone through negation? How would I study that?

There is no simple symbol of truth and deceit, however, I was playing with the idea of two joined shapes=the yin yang and the secret triangle for the deceit. So if I take that symbol and its opposite (upside-down and backwards) will it make a synthesis of truth and deceit?

In the pictures I put in this post, I think the one with the shape upside down and backwards (the antithesis) creates the conflict Hegel talks about, and I think the one without the antithesis (top of post) creates a new form through synthesis. What do you think?

Talk About Synthesis:

The craziest thing happened last night. After free-writing about what I wanted to say about dialectic thinking. I went to bed and opened up Abstract Art: A Global History by Pepe Karmel, and right there in the introduction, right after saying “Critics argued that the abstract art made between 1915 and 1970 mattered deeply because its development unfolded according to laws of historical necessity. In contrast, even if individual painters and sculptors chose to go on making abstract art after 1970, their work did not—could not—belong to a meaningful historical narrative.” he says:

“The modernist theory of abstraction, with its reductive narrative explaining both the birth of abstraction and its ineluctable death, derived from Hegel, who tried to uncover an inner logic to history, replacing a chronicle of random events with a coherent narrative of significant actions. . . . modernists thought that, since abstraction had arrived at its essence, there was nothing meaningful left for modern artists to do. Painters might not have hung up their brushes, but ‘post-historical abstract painting’ was condemned to insignificance.”

So is Pepe saying that the process of Negation: thesis-antithesis-synthesis leads to the end of abstract painting? Or that “modernists” thought that? I don’t think that’s a reasonable conclusion. As I see it, the synthesis, that residual after the conflict lives on, or as the circles within circles of history, the process repeats and repeats.

What I’m finding inspirational for creating abstract art, Pepe Karmel sees as the end of abstract art. Though we obviously are in thesis and antithesis with no synthesis in sight, it’s still fun to see the connection.

Negation by Maria L. Berg 2023

Next Steps

I’m going to continue to dive into the philosophy of dialectic thought while I move to my second call to action “To find the ugliness in beauty and the beauty in ugliness; uglify the beautiful, or beautify the ugly.”

Another statement that came up in The Modern and the Postmodern class, “beauty hides the truth” is in stark contrast to Keat’s statement in Ode on a Grecian Urn “Beauty is truth, truth beauty . . .” so there’s a lot to explore there.