Centre / Periphery

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Centre                               -                      Periphery
Consolidation                   -                      Exploration
Known                              -                      Unknown
Finite                                 -                      Absolute


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As long as there's conservatism and invisible consensus, there will be avant garde work to outrage it and make it visible.

[Momus]
'Documenta's over, but it just keeps getting better'


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There are many ways that we can frame symbolic patterns, but the frame that I will use most prominently is the geometric symbolism of centre and periphery. I’m going to use that structure because its easy to understand - we encounter it in our bodies, our rituals, our societies; and more abstractly in our language and concepts.

[…] identity, refugees, walls, immigration, technology: all of these things can be understood quite well using the basic frame of centre and periphery.

In general the problem of chaos is the problem of the margin, and whether we see the margin as an exciting potential by which we can further ourselves out into the world, or whether we see it as a dangerous threat to the things we care about.

[Jonathan Pageau]
Symbolism in Guardians of the Galaxy v.2


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[...] the world formed by art is recognised as a reality which is suppressed and distorted in the given reality.

[...] The truth of art lies in its power to break the monopoly of established reality (i.e. of those who established it) to define what is real [...] 

Art is committed to that perception of the world which alienates individuals from their functional existence and performance in society - it is committed to an emancipation of sensibility, imagination, and reason in all spheres of subjectivity and objectivity [...] But this achievement presupposes a degree of autonomy which withdraws art from the mystifying power of the given and frees it for the expression of its own truth.

[Herbert Marcuse]
The Aesthetic Dimension


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[Marcuse] values art, as I do, for its power of contradiction, its protest against a narrow definition of reality and the prescription of its forms.

In our time, reality is administered mostly by politics: the function of the arts is the critical interrogation of politics, the questioning of its certitudes.

André Malraux's The Voices of Silence is based on his understanding that 'great artists are not transcribers of the scheme of things; they are its rivals [...] all art is a revolt against man's fate.'

The image of the doomed artist has retained its power because of the association of the artist with transgression, genius, the role of scapegoat, the sacrificial victim. We don’t know what to make of this image.

On the whole, we try to include the artist in the forms of our knowledge, but if he rejects our embrace we know that in some profound sense he is right, he knows he is not really one of us. Art does not confirm the reality we normally think we know and possess.

In fact art is permanently antagonistic to our sense of reality because it makes a space for those images which our sense of reality excludes. 

There is in fact much to be said for bourgeois society even when we insist on degrading it by calling it bourgeois, but artists have rarely wanted to say any of it. One of the aims of modern art and literature has been to escape from the middle class and what Ezra Pound called its ‘accelerated grimace’.

So the arts have appealed to pleasure rather than duty, interrogation rather than conformity; they thrive upon suspicion rather than consensus, the creative speech of poetry rather than the stereotypes of daily life.

In avant-garde art, these gestures of dissociation have sometimes been maintained to the point at which many people can see nothing in them but spiritual terrorism, like the fractured face in a Picasso portrait.

In extreme cases, the gesture amounts to a rage for the absolute, as if nothing could satisfy so long as it remains finite.

The 19th-century artist kept his soul, as far as possible, by withholding assent to official purposes. As the price to be paid for that spiritual privilege, his art emphasised difference rather than continuity of experience; a certain purity of form, only to be achieved by transcending the ordinary world. There is always a risk of weightlessness in his images or in his voice, a suggestion of falsetto. He achieves form as a desperate choice, and we sense everything that has had to be kept out of the picture to make it become what it is.

The artistic vision is in some way ineffable, unspeakable; it deflects every attempt to pin it down by knowledge or to define it in speech. The stories say that art is not to be assimilated to the comfortable ways of a society. 

The artist is an eagle, not a dove.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 13, 15-16, 21, 27, 69


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Let us attempt to see.

[Robert Delaunay]
'Light'


Art is exploration: artists train people how to see.

The artists are the people who articulate the unknown. The role of art in a healthy culture is to bring to public awareness elements of being that have not yet entered the collective consciousness.

Here’s a way of thinking about artistic and creative people from a biological perspective: the world is basically an explored territory, inside an unexplored territory - every world is like that, everywhere you go is like that; there’s things you know, and things you don’t know.

The conservative people like to be in the middle of the things that are known. They can master that space, and are good at maintaining it.

The artists like to be right out on the edge, and that’s the edge between chaos and order. And they like to expand the domain of order out into the chaos. They do that first by transforming perception.

Artists have always been on the frontier of human understanding. The artist bears the same relationship to society that the dream bears to mental life.

The dream is the thing that mediates between order and chaos, it starts to make chaos into order. It’s half chaos, that’s why it’s not comprehensible. Artists play exactly the same role in society: they’re the visionaries that start to transform what we don’t understand into what we can [at least] start to see. They’ve always been at the vanguard, that’s their biological niche. They’re the civilising agents.

Imagine we’re all living on an island, and many of us are in the centre of the island - far enough away so that maybe we can’t see the shoreline, and the ocean. The artists are right on the edge, and they’re expanding the landscape, they’re moving the culture forward into the unknown.

They do that by translating what is as yet unimaginable, but sensed, into what is at least imaginable, and represent it in image, and drama, and literature. That’s the precursor to its full formulation in articulated philosophy and thought.

You can see them doing [it] in cities: it’s the open people, the artists, who go into parts of the cities that have degenerated to some degree back into chaos, and revitalise and recivilise them. [Then] the less artistic people, who are more conventional, move in, and that’s when you get gentrification. That usually chases the artists out, and they go somewhere else cheap and interesting and start the renewal process again.

That’s what artists do [...] They’re problem detectors and problem solvers [...] They’re transforming chaos into order, all of the time. That’s where they live, on that edge. It’s a very tough place to live, because you can fall into the chaos at any time.

[Jordan Peterson]
'July Patreon Q and A' and ‘Lectures: Exploring the Psychology of Creativity


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Structuralist readers are urged to adopt an ironic or sceptical attitude towards whatever they read; they are to know that it is poisoned.

Barthes, in his later work, showed how such readers might behave themselves. They should cultivate caprice and excess, going against the grain of the writing, distrusting its rhetorical figures, reading at their own speed.

In this way they retain some measure of freedom, and break the conspiracy between author, publisher and the economy of the market which has produced the book as a commodity for sale.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 40


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Status Quo
Storytelling
Where language ends and art begins
Dancing at the Border
Life and Death (and everything in-between)

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