Excerpt from ‘Concerning the Spirits of Art’

Apparently I’ve started working on a short, booklet-length treatise about the role of art in animist and polytheist lifeways. It’s partly a direct response to Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual In Art, a treatise he wrote in 1917 about useful things like composition, form and color; but it also greatly concerns itself with futurism and a kind of secular liberation theology of art. As one of the fathers of modern art, he lays the groundwork for what the next 100 years of painting looks like, and even predicts, in a way, the advent of digital (non-) media.

I’ll probably be publishing this in zine format, because it’ll be too long to put on the blog, and I want to move more towards printed media anyways (for reasons presented in this excerpt, even).

From the section called “The Problem Of Digital (Non-) Media”:

It is very unpopular anymore to assert that digital art is not “real art” in the same way that it’s unpopular to assert that advancements in technology may not be improving the human experience after all, even when backed by facts and statistics. What is digital art, though? What is “real art”? Let’s unpack this.

Proponents of digital art quite often do not know what it is, exactly, that they are defending, or what they are defending against. Digital art is, to put it simply, the media-less medium: the perfect tool for the unfettered human ego seeking to realize its grand, imaginal vision. Kandinsky actually predicted the advent of such a medium, and laid the groundwork for its use in his 1917 treatise just as the Italian Futurists laid the groundwork for industrial consumer capitalism. They both saw in their respective dreams a liberation from the vulgar implications of the natural world. Digital art has achieved this emancipation: paint that never dries, pencils that never need sharpening, pens whose tips never dull… pure color with neither texture of ground or brush stroke to mar it. It is a medium without consequence – every mistake can be unmade ad infinitum.

Kandinsky proudly writes:

Because the objective is forever exchanging the subjective expression of today for that of tomorrow, each new extension of liberty in the use of outer form is hailed as the last and supreme. At present we say that an artist can use any form he wishes, so long as he remains in touch with nature. But this limitation, like all its predecessors, is only temporary. From the point of view of the inner need, no limitation must be made, The artist may use any form which his expression demands; for his inner impulse must find suitable outward expression.

And:

That which has no material existence cannot be subjected to a material classification. That which belongs to the spirit of the future can only be realized in feeling, and to this feeling the talent of the artist is the only road.

The only conclusion I can draw, then, is that proponents of digital art are not defending the medium for its merits as a medium – it is a non-medium, after all – but rather are defending the human ego, and its demand to be unimpeded by such pesky things as drying paint or dull pencils or smashed pen tips. Uncritically they accept the program of the futurists: to hell with nature and the patience she requires. To hell with her spirits. Message without media, then, is the “real art” they are in unwavering service to. Tools and pigments and binders only serve to impede that greatest good.

Can digital non-media be utilized, then, by the polytheist artist? Possibly; but it cannot be utilized by the animist one. Digital infrastructure is too fraught with environmental destruction, the abuse of both human and non-human agencies, and requires the heavy use of fossil fuels, a substance teeming with a kind of miasmatic anti-agency. It ought to be the last on our list of options for art in the service of building right relationship. We need to be very critical of our use of it, and in the event that we must, proceed to ask ourselves if perhaps it wouldn’t be better that the work not be made at all. Yes, it is that dangerous.

If digital non-media must be used, powered as it is by the miasma of fossil fuels, then purification must be par for the course. We do not know the ghosts in our machines, and their nature prevents us from doing so. Using real media, with traceable lineages of enspirited material, produces a dialogue; digital infrastructure, on the other hand, must be yoked and chained into submission.

(I literally just realized the auspiciousness of it being the centennial anniversary of the publication of Concerning the Spiritual In Art. Good timing, I guess? Though I don’t think that this would have been possible without the Year I spent with the Twins. That really did lay the mental foundation for me to begin thinking along these lines.)

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One thought on “Excerpt from ‘Concerning the Spirits of Art’

  1. It’s interesting that some people view making digital art as being freed from constrictions. Whereas I actually have found constrictions very useful in the process of making art. Often they contribute to “happy accidents”, or create a “necessity is the mother of invention” situation where you go in directions you might not have otherwise gone had you not been restricted by the limitations of the medium. I’ve found this most recently as I explore polaroid photography (which is very much a physical artifact that cannot be adequately digitized even after the fact – while I’ve posted some of my work on my art blog here, the scanned versions never look quite right compared to the originals).

    Oh, and if you haven’t already connected with him, might I suggest checking out the work of The Dionysian Artist, who often discusses the intersections between polytheism and art.

    Like

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