More Musings on Memory

July 27, 2009

Two important events occurred in mid-nineteenth century France: Louis Daguerre’s patent application to the French Academy of Sciences for his Daguerreotype and Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran’s publication of a systematic way for the artist to develop visual memory. The former was destined to radically change the way humans communicate, while the latter would eventually become relegated to the now old fashioned practice of perceiving, conceiving and rendering external reality in terms of three dimensional forms. Additionally, the former could (after the additional technological advancements of more than a century) be used by anyone to communicate anything, while the latter took years of practice to master (by fewer and fewer artists). In Lecoq’s time, one could imagine him to be deeply aware of how the early stirrings of photography might impact both the world – and the artist. But also, the world of his time was still deeply embedded in Western Civilization’s long tradition of the representation of classical forms of beauty. If we fast forward more than one hundred and fifty years, we can see a remarkably different art world functioning now and understand why he has hardly been heard of. Still, back in the day, his methods had a strong influence on Fantin-Latour, Legros, Rodin, Lepère, Lhermitte, George Innes and James MacNeill Whistler, among others.

One additional factor – which also occurred in France around that same time period – could have been nail in Lecoq’s memorial coffin. One year after the 1862 publication of Lecoq’s revised edition of L’Education de la mémoire pittoresque was the famous 1863 Salon des Refusés. Art history books mark this as the beginnings of the Impressionistic movement. It’s readily acknowledged then that the advent of photography provided the impetus for Impressionism and the further deconstruction of the realistic picture space: Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Da-Da, Expressionism, Pop-Art, Hard-Edge, Color Field, Minimalism, Symbolism, etc… . As they all continued to move away from a form oriented, realistic rendering of external reality they moved towards an abstract vision of an inner, subjective reality. This inner subjective experience of consciousness (on whatever level) then became objectified using whatever tools might be available to the artist – or to which they were attracted. Such expressions then need not have any relation to the external “objective” world rather, if successful, these expressions somehow depicted a universality (that is not subject to the subject-object dichotomy of both science and even language itself). So I wouldn’t  argue against any of these developments, as a young artist I was exposed to them all and truly appreciated most. Yet also as an artist I do question what has been lost in the interim. For example, my own artistic education included very little formal training, that is, training in the rendering of form and the use of the traditional materials to do so. So I’ve really had to teach myself.

At this point, and as a very generalised statement of the current artistic world, I humbly submit that by losing touch with the various tools and techniques which artists have used for centuries to render personally significant reactions to the external world in and around themselves, humanity has lost an essential relationship. An essential mirror. I certainly do not argue against abstraction, and conversely, I do not argue for realism. Both languages can be exceptionally powerful or exceptionally vapid, depending upon their practitioner/spokesperson. I’m just arguing for integration. The physical absorbed into the metaphysical; the metaphysical rendered meaningful through the physical. The Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism expresses it this way: Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.

One Response to “More Musings on Memory”

  1. […] century art has moved away from imitative or realistic interpretations of the world around us, the role of personally significant memory has never been greater. It is with that in mind that I have finally located, downloaded and printed […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: