Art of the 21st Century: Creativity and new Forms of Expression

Art of 21st Century : Raquel Caerols Mateo

My intention was to use as a title for this article Art of the 20th century: creativity and new technologies, but this meant taking as established that the creative space in the arts and new technologies, was the central form and expression of the 21st century, its defining feature.

And I think to a certain extent this is true, but this focus, limited the paths for reflection and investigation of the definitions of art and its creative processes, as paradigms of the century which is only a decade old.

Every model of creation, is equivalent to a model of knowledge

To look at art as paradigms, is to understand it as a path or way to knowledge, as knowledge in itself, in its definition of itself.  Notwithstanding, some art critics affirm that paradigms belong to science and not to art, but in this point I believe that science and art do not differ.  If there is something which joins both fields of knowledge it is exactly that, this constant search, this looking beyond appearances, this unrest defined by Gombrich:  “This constant search, this blessed discontent, it is what constitutes the leavening of the occidental mind since the Renaissance, and penetrates our art no less than our science” (Gombrich, 2002, p. 148), an intellectual sketch, “a concipio mind” as Gallileo says (Cassirer, p. 208), ever since the birth of modern thinking, experiment has been the basis of knowledge.  Or to put it another way, what will place art and science on the same footing is that, art represents epistemological transformations, at the same level as science.

As professor of new technologies in fine arts; I always begin the explanation of the subject from this perspective, basing it on the why behind technology in art, with the intention of offering meaning to the inquiry, investigation and creation, in students work in the field of technology.  The construction of modern occidental thinking has based itself essentially on positivist and rational variables, that is to say on the convergence of art, science and technology and this has shaped a paradigm of knowledge.

If we take a simulated journey through the forms of creation in the arts, we discover that said forms, respond to different models of understanding reality and the world.  The first, which opened the birth of modern thinking, the lineal perspective, created by Brunelleschi, is the clearest example of a model, not only of representing reality, but also of converging towards it, sketching it, studying it and knowing it.  A model whose reference of study was the object, study of the object, of architecture in the case of Brunelleschi, which led to the invention and discovery of the lineal perspective.

Nonetheless, this model was not acceptable or has not been acceptable to other cultures.  Gombrich from an illustration, with which he opened his text Art and illusion, offers the following reflection:


Fig. 1 The New Yorker Magazine

“…if the methods used today produce imitations of nature which are more faithful than those conventionally adopted by the Egyptians, Why did the Egyptians not follow them?  Is it possible, as our cartoonist implies, that they saw nature in a different way?  Such a variability of artistic vision would surely also help us to explain the disconcerting images created by contemporary artists?”  (translation from Gombrich, 2002, p.3).

In fact, the forms of creation respond to “Transplants to an acquired medium, to a medium developed through tradition and skill, both that of the artist and that of the viewer” (translation from Spanish Gombrich, 2002, p. 314), which is no less than a model of knowledge, a paradigm, inscribed in historical, cultural and epistemological references.  David Hockney states, in his book Secret Knowledge Rediscovering the Lost techniques of the Old Masters, in relation to the invention of the lineal perspective:

“The Chinese did not have a system like this.  It is said that they rejected the idea of a vanishing point in the eleventh century because it meant that the viewer was not there; in effect, it was without movement; and as such was not alive, their own system though was extremely sophisticated in the fifteenth century.  The rolls were made working across a landscape.  If a vanishing point was produced this would have meant that the viewer had stopped moving” (Hockney, 2002, p. 286 – translation from the Spanish).

Every model of creation, is equivalent to a model of knowledge.

The construction of the paradigm which permits and supports the Historical Avant-garde, started taking shape a few decades before the development of the same.  Artists, scientists and philosophers started to study the subject as a medium through which to know and understand the world, the experiences of the subject, that which they had lived through in real life where a source of knowledge and truth.  Goethe in his Theory of Colours began to speak of physiological colours and the emotional-moral effect of colours; Schopenhauer’s theories were framed within what is called subjective idealism – taking into account the reference text The World as Will and Representation -; Kant and his studies of aesthetic experience in the “Observations on the Feelings of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1974) or in Critique of Judgement (1790); and in the studies of scientists such as Fresnel, Müller, Helmholtz or Chevreul and their investigations on colour – central to the experiments of painters like Signac and Seurat – this marks a new path, and established the foundations of a new paradigm.  It is this process which describes the leap from the object to the subject in the process and means of understanding, it describes the step from one paradigm to another.  That is to say, the construction of perspective as the medium and window through which we see and understand the world, it was based in a paradigm of objectivity, the paradigm of Objective Vision, the object as reference point; now, now a new one commenced in which the experience of the subject was a synonym for truth, the paradigm of Subjective Vision.  Thanks to the fact that these individual experiences began to have value as knowledge in their own right, the birth of the movements and artistic experiences which make up the Artistic Avant-garde was possible.

Picasso said, “I don’t search: I find”, a statement which placed the stress on the procedural reality, in the actual process itself as a source of creation, the art, the creation, as an experience undergone, experience as a motor for creation.  Gombrich states that Picasso succumbed “to the enchantment of doing” (Gombrich 2002 p301 translation from the Spanish) in relation to his famous film The mystery of Picasso (1956).  With this statement he defined new ways, new modes and methodologies of creation, a new model of the creative processes absolutely transcendental for the new forms of creating in the twentieth century.  In his sketches, which went to construct the bases of cubism, he was probing new definitions of space and time at the same level as Einstein in his Theory of Relativity.  Both were in this search, this unrest of mentes concipio (reasoning minds), as Arthur I. Miller signals in his text Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty that Causes Havoc.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the powerful presence of new technologies in our society and, in art in particular, mark a rise in the convergence between art and science which has, on the other hand, as we signal, always defined modern occidental thinking.  To understand the role that new technology can play in art today, as a creative space which can open the definition of new paradigms in creation in the arts and, therefore in the bases of knowledge, we signal the following reflection by Arthur I. Miller:

“Instead of eluding to an <<interaction>> between art and science, we should begin to speak of ideas developed jointly by artists and scientists.  Since ancient times, art and science have tried to encounter new representations to try to show phenomenon beyond mere outward appearances.  This effort is concentrated in the fledgling moment of creation, when the limits between the disciplines dissolve and aesthetic concepts are converted in something primordial.  If you wish to tackle this phenomenon, it is necessary to immerse oneself in the nature of creative thought.” (Miller, 2007, p.20 translation from the Spanish).

And there, as I see it, is the key, in understanding the nature of creative thought.  We already know that, that the processes which both art and science follow in their models, are the same path in terms of mental processes, for this is the nature of creative thought, mental process.  Here we find the reason behind the title of the article, Creativity and new forms of artistic expression: art of the 21st century.  In this convergence between art, science and creativity, new technologies in artistic creation, are located like the point of a lance to construct new forms and methods of creation, new paradigms which define a new art of the 21th century.

To define and translate reality into binary code (fundamental to the definition of digital) signals the definition and construction of a new paradigm, as it also entails a new definition of time and space.  Let us not forget that digital editing is denominated as non-lineal editing, in so much as time changes its references and we have a greater capacity to manipulate it.  Nonetheless said paradigm is still to be established.  And I say it is to be established, because, I believe, that now we are more blinded by the quantity of possibilities of new technology and the speed at which they are developed,- which is leading to an overproduction in the medium of new technologies without asking ourselves why- than with the production of meaning which should be the purpose of artistic creation.

For this reason, I always say to my students, when they move from the classical creative arts workshop to the computer room, that they should question the established idea, which states that technology is transforming society and the ways to create.  Technology has been and is a tool, the ability to transform our way of thinking and processes of creation is ours, mans, and technology is the fruit of our process of change, we created it, it does not come from somewhere out there.  It is, more truthfully, a process of feedback.

Dr. Raquel Caerols Mateo
Madrid, 19 January 2013

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