bliss of ignorance

Thursday, 25. August 2005

Pořád nemám udělané na svých stránkách publikování textů, tak je občas musím dát sem na blog.
Tohle je text, který jsem loni v létě sesmolil pro akci dr. Gibody na Hluboké; on se činorodě zabývá vztahem vědy a umění, což mi imponuje – i když jsem kritik představy, že se umělci a vědci sejdou, a vědci budou dělat umění a umělci vědu… To, že existují nějaké styčné body, neznamená nic jiného, než že jiné body styčné nejsou.
A co je mi obzvlášť odporné: „zástupci vědy“ a „zástupci umění“.
(Například při rozhodování o novém ministrovi kultury Paroubka navštívili „zástupci uměleckých oborů“.) Já jsem nikoho nedelegoval.
Připomíná to Čumpelíkovo rozměrné plátno, jak ke Stalinovi přistupují dělníci, rolníci, pracující inteligence, železničář mu předává vláček, zemědělkyně snop.
„Naši studenti“ po roce 89 byli kýč taky stejného druhu.
No nic.
Už si ani nepamatuju, co jsem to psal, ani teď jsem to po sobě znovu nepřečetl.
Angličtina se mi s odstupem zdála trochu šroubovaná.
Na přednášce jsem nakonec mluvil bez papíru.
Pokud vás zajímají fotky z této dílny, klikněte na, stránky dr.

What is art? Is this art?

I propose not to have the term art in our vocabulary.1 This single act may have far reaching consequences.

We all probably had opportunity to attend discussions, which obsessively revolved around the term art.

Two regular questions are usually raised: first, what is art, second, whether particular object or action could be considered as art.

In my life, I have never learnt anything of any of the numerous conversations on the theme.

Seems both questions are deeply futile.

What can be answered to the first one? We start with: the art is… then follows enumeration of features, albeit always incomplete and unsatisfactory.

More advanced level may render a bit more sophisticated statements, like: the art is something what denies its definition, but these tend to be too general or covering the problem only partially.

Yet, even if we got an acceptable answer, the only use of it would be opening the second question: is this or that (true) art? In a closer look the second question means nothing but screening the personal dossier of the particular artifact, in order to decide whether or not the artifact can be allowed to the exclusive club called art.

It states we no longer find ourselves in the realm of innocent intellectual debate: instead, we are now to deal with the question of sheer power.

You indeed need quite a power to nominate something to the institution of art.

For the task you are better to be an administrator of art rather then its maker.

So it seems, that while painters, sculptors, performers make paintings, sculptures or performances, the curators, theoreticians and critiques can make artists of them.

They can also turn their works into art.

The nomination to the art world has many obvious advantages.

It is like a touch of magic: all of sudden you might be allowed to colonize large, well lit rooms in galleries and museums to present all you whims, obsessions, traumas, visions and thoughts.

You are somewhat granted to talk on behalf of mankind.

The products of your activity could be then fairly expensive, and you social status might become higher.

Of course, there are few drawbacks; like that you are supposed to cultivate your artistic image, as well as to develop your characteristic art talk.

But what is crucial to our discourse is the fact, that all these additional attributes, privileges and opportunities have just little in common with your actual ”art“ work.

Art in such context is something what happens with paintings etc. after they are finished and submitted to the artworld.

Something what happens after.

From the point of view of the maker, it is late.


I shall talk mainly about painting, as it is closest to me, and as it would prevent me to get too involved in subtle differences of respective genres.

Painter can see the evolution of his work from the first stroke up.

This is opposite to a viewer, who can enjoy the final layer of the finished painting, and the previous layers perceives in reverse order.

The direction of the maker's sight differs greatly from that of the viewer.

Painter, while making his picture, is confronted with whole bunch of problems.

Most of them were too familiar to his or her predecessors in the field.

Great painters are perhaps great just because they offered a special solution to some of the problems.

The body of experience collected in the great paintings around the world is rich and deep.

It is not accessible immediately, though.

People start to paint mostly because they can.

The gift to observe, to control hand, to have some feeling for material, and, most of all, to have the ”small sensation“, which is to be expressed: all these and other talents are just good starting point for one to become a painter.

But not sooner then adepts encounter variety of painterly problems, they can enter the door to the world of painting.

World of painting? I imagine it as a landscape with panoramic vistas, quiet corners, deep forests, cultivated orchards, roads and hidden paths.

Plenty of these places and spots have been occupied by the painters of the past and present, but there are still quite few undiscovered yet.

The world of painting is the place where painters actually live their true lives.

Finding the door to painting, wandering in its world, and eventually finding one's own place is not a trivial matter.

Even the initiation level is difficult.

At the beginning people believe they are painting on a flat surface.

First symptom of their commitment to painting is breaking this barrier down.

The brush then touches distant details, as well as forms in the foreground.

Physically, it still touches nothing but the canvas, but this is no longer relevant matter.

I believe a tutor can estimate the student's level of achievement.

Bliss of Ignorance

Above, I said that painters solve problems.

This is not exactly the case: they face the problems, indeed, but rather then solving them down, they just have them, enjoy them, get excited of them.

They work with them on building up the story.

Painters should know a lot about the painting, of course, but this would not be enough.

First of all, they have to not-know.

They even have to raise the level of not knowing, or not understanding, to great intensity.

If you would like to try yourself, you soon may find, it does not go too smoothly.

Basically, we know ”everything“.

We cannot simply forget it.

Yet it is only the not-knowledge, which brings about primordial astonishment.

The very moment of not recognizing awakens the potential, which can connect us to forgotten horrors and beauties.

Not to know is dangerous.

You quickly become an animist because all things are all of sudden vividly alive.

Rather too alive.

Aboriginals have no leisure time, as they are bound to deter all the evil eyes of the things.

The world inhabited by living things looks like a pleasant, almost fashionable, image.

In reality, however, such a world is a nightmare.

It took long development of rationalism and science to cover all the disturbing wilderness that had been gaping of every corner.

Since, we ceased to face things in their absolute being—like an encounter of ”me“ and ”the other“.

Instead we tend to compare them, to relate their amounts, or ratios.

This simple trick makes the things innocuous.

So we have two ways of ignorance.

First, as an artist, you should ignore whatever you know about a thing, in order to connect to its dark background.

Second, as a civilized person, you have to ignore the manifestations of the dangerous life in a thing, in order to make room for your own thinking, and, consequently, to remain sane.


Can we ever see more then just a single thing? A silly question.

Yet, how do we know that this is a thing? Because we had to tear it out of the background.

And, as a result, we can see its borders against the background.

The borders, though, are not of the same nature like the thing itself.

I want to distiguish two modes: when we can see the borders (between things), and when we do not.

When we do not, the things, or what the hell it is, are still there; just the edges have lost importance.

This happens when our sight either embraces whole field of vision, or when the sight is absorbed by a single thing.

What we can see is somewhat absolute, in the sense that at the moment we have hardly any tool to relate it to anything else.

We are left amazed and speechless.

But when we perceive the borders, we do not see things as such, we can see just the definitions.

The original powers of the thing are, for the time being, gone, but we traded it for another amazing power.

Things torn out of the life-giving background could be taken one by one, measured one by one, manipulated one by one.

The discret, ”digitalized“ bits of the dismembered world can do what our ideas do.

In other words, they can be programmed for thought-out, ideal world.

Two modes

The two modes are, I believe, distinguished also in the first chapter of the Dao De Jing.

After the notorious first two lines:

Dao which can be explained is not the lasting dao,

Name which can be named is not the lasting name,

it states:

Nameless is the origin of the heaven and earth,

Named is the mother of ten thousand things.

This is further elaborated:

So lastingly detached you shall see the astonishment

Lastingly attached you shall see the limits

Strangely, with the exception of a couple of translations, dozens of the English renderings of these two lines are inclined to favour the detached mode before the attached one.

I could not find any basis for such a preference, though.

(I am not a sinologist, you know, take it with reserve, will you.)

These two approaches are equal, which seems to be supported by the following lines:

In spite of diferent names these two things have the common origin

Both are described as dark

We do not know the origin of our knowledge/ignorance.

We only know we are equipped with these two opposite yet complementary approaches.

But their source is:

Dark, and even darker

The gate to deep astonishment

(I used Ellen M. Chen translation)

It looks like this in the pinyin transcription:

dao ke dao, fei chang dao;

ming ke ming, fei chang ming.

wu, ming tian di zhi shi;

you, ming wan wu zhi mu.

gu chang wu, yu yi guan qi miao,

chang you, yu yi guan qi jiao.

ci liang zhe, tong chu er yi ming.

tong wei zhi xuan,

xuan zhi you xuan,

zhong miao zhi men.


The two modes cannot live one without another.

The first may look ”artistic“ while the other ”scientific“ but they complement each other in every moment of our perception.

Still, each of the two reprezent a door to a separate world: the world of art and the world of science, respectively.

It seems it takes long journey to become an artist2 (or just a painter).

And it takes as long, although different, journey to become a scientist.

While it is always beneficial if these two detached worlds try hard to find common points, today I want to emphasize the fact that such effort has its harsh limitations.

I am rather skeptical about the proposed theme of this workshop, however great it sounds: dialogue between science and art.

With all the enthusiasm, we should keep in our minds that both science and art are extremely difficult and elevated disciplines.

A scientist can certainly produce pretty pictures on his microscope.

An artist is welcomed to show his or her interest in the magnificent results of science.

But this is, I am afraid to say, all.

It will not be any better if a scientist uses imagination, or even if he or she likes to paint.

Perhaps most people does.

It will not be any better if an artist can use clear logic or likes to make controled experiments.

It is just nice.

They certainly should keep on doing.

It is fairly normal.

However, both sides should be aware of the fact that entering the other field is but a beautiful hobby.

Hopefully, we can forget scientistic ambitions of artists, as well as the artistic ambitions of scientists.

We can here simply enjoy making drawings, objects, installations, and, on the other side, let the words of lecturers resonate in our minds.

The game on artists and scientists is silly.

Diminishing ambition is reasonable.


1 It is different in Czech, though.

In English, the word ”art“ sounds perhaps less elitist and less pompous.

2 Obviously the word art is back to my vocabulary…

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