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Sunday, November 06, 2011

We took the students to see an exhibit at the National Museum of Singapore. It was hosting a special show with some of the minor pieces from the major artists exposed at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Millet, Degas, Doré, Moreau... and many more.

We split into two tour and every group was given a tour guide, a volunteer, so each of them decided to stop and talk about their favorite pieces.

I am always surprised at the fact that we take knowledge for granted, because it's part of our history or simply because we pay attention in class when the teacher explains (that's enough)... but on this side of the World what is normal, to us, is extraordinaire and hard to understand. How to explain the Franco-Prussian war? Who the Prussians were? Why it started and what it did?
How to explain the impact that the discovery of Pompei and Hercolaneum had on art and culture at the time?
How to explain that colors were first subverted by the Fauve and who the fauve are?

On the other hand, on our side of the World, do we really know anything about Asian history? (no, our teachers always skip Cina and Islam when we study history in school). Do we know what a stronghold Thailand was? Do we know what Singapore was like and what makes it so different? Do we even know what Malaysia and Indonesia were like aside from the few descriptions we read in Salgari's books (if we did bother, indeed, to read his books)?

No, we don't. So it was an interesting trip because after taking Asians thought a slice of European Art History and see how unaffected they are, as if it weren't important, as if it were just a little something while, to us, it's a monument to our culture and evolution... a European decided to roam around the rest of the museum and spent one hour in amazement in front of the teacups, the movies, the songs, the costumes for wayang and the historical pictures.

Then I realized. It's not a cultural gap it's a generational gap. Because Nopp was there too and she was happily strolling through art history and commenting the pieces with me.

Twenty years of difference and you see that curiosity exists in people who believe that life is diachronic. You place things in chronological order. You place things in space and contextualize.
That's why we can watch old movie without thinking: it's slow, it's funny, it's ridiculous. We think: that's what people said in the 30's, that's how the felt about things and that's how they acted.

For the newer generation life is synchronic. There is not past, they surely do not know about the future and are unable to determine what comes after tomorrow, because they don't have enough info from yesterday to derivate and induct.

There is only ONE linear way to see things. Then you break down the ending of Inception or Pan's Labyrinth and they freak out: I did not see that? How did you see that?

It was there, you just have to pay attention and don't let the movie absorb you.

And a symbol of how everything is only here and now is Facebook. Ever since it switched to the new version there are so many more things that are out of control (that's why I go there less and less). You see that the whole world is stuck in the limbo whereby the same image keeps on circulating and never gets out of the loop. An image you have seen hundreds of times already but it keeps going around even thought it does not represent a novelty.

Facebook is dying. It's eliminating the past and it's definitely not worrying about the future... but the fact is, all the good and useful information is now lost and the tool has lost its only useful traits: networking.

We are stuck in a constant here and now. A boring one. People copying each other without giving attribution and who get celebrated anyways simply because nobody knows or remember who came before.
And as internet generate short memory loss, inpatient users and passive aggressive behavior, it is also creating a fence that limits everybody for lack of words. The moment the web goes semantic, difficult, complicated concept will only be available to those who have a sophisticated lexicon and will be able to access it. The common knowledge will be degenerating more and more and faster and faster.

There are symptoms around already.

This one shows that somebody noticed what I have been noticing in my students' homework over and over: they all come up with the same SINGLE idea, they don't step out of their comfort zone, and that's because they have been exposed to a limited amount of imagery to take inspiration from. (they all have dead wives in their stories. That's when I forbid to put dead people and even mentioning dead. That's how you move UP out of the pictures!). When you have to deal with hundreds of this thing, on a daily basis, week after week, year after year, you are submerged by boredom.
Why? Why do you want to do this again? Why you too? Post apocalyptic world... okay, can you make it different? No! I have read and watched this before, hundreds of time, please... this is torture! There is so much more to be inspired out there.
Why don't you show me the world during the plague in the 1300, it's more post apocalyptic than a nuclear holocaust?

You can't because you don't know history.

Here's the Second Example showing the need to take an original thought, very nicely expressed, in good English by Mark Twain... "A dog think he's human, a cat knows he's divine", then gets turned into a funny joke that now goes around the web in different version and as anonymous: "A dog thinks: this person feeds me, he must be God. A Cat thinks: this person feeds me, I must be God".... and gets turned into something mediocre that ends up on the, oh so celebrated 9gag!

No matter how hard you insist, copyright does not exist. No matter how hard Creative Commons tries, there is always a way around attribution too.

Is it so hard to quote directly Mark Twain? Yes! Why? Because nobody knows him/remember him.
And because if he went out like that you would get a veeeeery long list of: I feel so stupid, I don't get it.

Of course you have the ones who come up with the most difficult explanations, almost rocambolesque, making assumptions (the world belongs to haters, assumptionists and passive aggressives) based on personal opinion - not fact - deduction but not induction.
Why the answer is very simple and linear and in front of them. But at times too simple is too clever and definitely counts to much on the ability to focus and background (that most of the times do not exists).

Hence the need to dumb down contents. The World IQ is going down, I hate to quote Wikipedia but I kind of witnessed this with my own eyes: Flynn argues that the abnormal drop in British teenage IQ could be due to youth culture having "stagnated" or even dumbed down.

Lack of exposure will kill originality, as the pond of inspiration gets smaller and smaller. A fish artist in the tank can only reproduce what he knows. You must see the Ocean. Then again... there are still many who get exposed but feel numb and go through extraordinary art pieces and monuments unable to have their mind blown.

If you cannot have your mind blown, if you don't feel the need to stare at the same object from different angles feeling a compelling need to analyze and see how it's done, if you don't feel the curiosity to figure out where it came from and how you can improve on it, or love it, or quote it, or simply observe how the light hits it... you are not an artist. Give it up. You are a draftsman.

My fear is that 10, 20 years from now... very old people will be called back to produce original work and will lead the young ones only able to work as little hamsters with computers (not pencils anymore). Revivals always bring a fresh breathe in stale art.

That's what Pompei and Hercolaneum did, didn't they? That's why it's important to have a diachronic sense of life, the universe and other things.

and here's the museum:

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