Edge Artists As Strange Attractors
Eye Oh! Productions
EDGE ARTISTS AS ‘STRANGE ATTRACTORS’
A Source of Negentropy in Society
By Iona Miller, 3-2004
www.geocities.com/iona_m and www.subcutaneous.org/Iona.html
Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos. ~ I Ching
Although science and art are social phenomena, an innovation in either field occurs only when a single mind perceives in disorder a deep new unity. ~ J. Bronowski
The level of entropy is the degree of disorder in a given system.
This is the reverse of the degree of information that is present.
Hence negentropy is the build-up of information, increase of meaning.
Artists are the chaotic attractors of the social field. While conventional artists may enjoy great favor, the ‘strange attractors,’ including leading edge and extreme artists have a special role as catalysts in contemporary life. Artists have always drawn others beyond the limits of their ordinary awareness, confronting them with another reality, initiating them into a world of profound meaning without conventional boundaries.
The beginning of the history of modern man traces back to primordial art, such as that found in the Paleolithic caves of Lascaux. From the beginning, art spoke of magic, of the supernatural, of imagination – the fantastic and disturbing. Always strong in content and aesthetic sophistication, it grew, hand in glove, with the emergence of technological skills.
The emergence of art was and continues to be an unparalleled innovation, confronting our psyches with a giant leap in human evolution whose transformative influence continues opening and exploring brave new worlds to this day. Art has been a driving force and living thread woven into the fabric of society since modern man emerged.
Originally, artists were shamans, healers, and magicians. Their art revealed the compelling dreamscape of primal man, his beliefs about himself, this world, life and death, and hope for an afterlife. We might poetically call them the first negentropic humans, Homo Negentrop. Some might argue ironically that artists are a ‘species’ of their own. Unarguably, they created order and meaning from the chaos of existential life.
Throughout history the insightful vision of artists expressing in symbolic form the ‘as-yet-unknown’ (Jung) has been at the cutting edge of social change. It preceded rational and intellectual social ordering. Artists intuitively extract the gold of their unique vision from creative chaos and manifest it for others to see. Their mediums vary from graphic and print modes, to performance art, ritual, body art, film, and even more arcane forms.
Chaos theory has its ‘strange attractors’ that never settle down into any normal rhythm. The strange attractor dances to the innovative beat of a different drummer. Artists, particularly edge artists, function much like these chaotic attractors whose boundaries are deterministic yet unpredictable. They draw from beyond the personality, from transpersonal resources, and the wellspring of the collective human unconscious.
One doesn’t have a Muse; one serves one’s Muse. She comes and goes. In a sense, the artist is ‘ridden’ by the creative daemon that possesses him or her. That daemon, according to Socrates is one’s genius, a compelling force urging us to create.
Passion (drive) and pathos are reflected in the fact that if this daemon isn’t served, the artist can even become physically ill. Images, ideas and inspirations cry out to become manifested. Order or form yearns to be born from chaos; and those very acts of creation breed destruction of old systems.
The artistic life is a chaotic arc of inspiration upon inspiration, following the Muse. Artists walk what for others is ‘the road not taken’ (chaos theory’s bifurcation or forking), sometimes going ‘where angels fear to tread.’ Their charismatic influence pulls others into their orbits, and the small effect of one personality potentially spreads its influence over the world (butterfly effect), sometimes over history. The history of art is one of the richest threads of our cultural heritage.
Artists wriggle among many possibilities before settling into a project. We might take poetic license calling artists ‘beautiful attractors’ (Wildman, 2004). The notion of a beautiful attractor draws on the dynamics of synergy. The power distribution of the artistic community is aimed at mutual aid and learning, much like the healing community. Sometimes artists even engage in deliberate public psychotherapy, impacting their immediate communities.
Artists magnetically draw the attention of others to their creations, to their vision, into the imagination, into the collective future. We might think of them as the ‘indicator species’ of the social ecology, the evolving cultural landscape. Orbiting far from the norm, they provide a negentropic counter-balance – an evolutionary burst, social innovation -- to conservative forms and institutions, which tend to ossify leading to stasis and decay.
Often catalytic artists are the heralds for diversity, for future society, ‘poly-‘ or ‘pantopia.’ They can be consciously aware of this function, such as when extreme artist, Genesis P-Orridge (influential innovator in body art, performance art, rave and Goth culture, and magick) calls himself a “cultural engineer.” He is considered the ‘godfather’ of megastar Marilyn Manson.
The infectious influence of radical artists such as these, though seemingly small gets pumped up to societal proportions through an effect analogous to, if not literally, what is known as ‘the butterfly effect’ in chaos theory. The flapping of a butterfly’s wings can influence global weather through minute perturbations that get pumped up in proportion.
The same pervasive influence which can be claimed for music is true of the avant garde and transgressive film genres, as well. These cult films, including the perennial favorite ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ have transformed the dreamscape of the entertainment industry over the years. What was once outrageous becomes almost banal.
A small-scale pattern takes on global proportions. Viable attractors function as building blocks for higher level structures, including social structures. They organize weaker interactions ‘enslaving’ subordinate structures. In this way the catalytic artist functions as what Jung called a ‘mana’ personality, having similar charismatic qualities to shamans.
Mana is personal power, also known as chi, prana, animal magnetism, or kundalini. Mana initiates the transformative process in individuals and society. Many artists have magnetic personalities. Exhibiting sensitivity to a certain kind of universal guidance, their influence emanates from their sphere of potentiality through synchronicity and serendipity, stimulating catharsis or breakthrough in others.
The effect is moreso when a movement or school of artistic expression is involved (complex feedback loops) as the reality morphing effect increases exponentially. Artists reflect and influence one another. Arguably, artists demonstrate where society may be heading. They haunt the psychic and perceptual frontiers, drawing the future into the now. How many cultural revolutions have begun in artists’ communities?
Art changes the way people perceive reality, how they see life and their place in it. These negentropic innovations become embedded in social structure. Realizations, insight, empathy are implicit. They show us windows of prescient emotions and impulses, their unframed works rending the veil of the human unconscious.
The Artistic Field of Influence
‘We expect artists as well as scientists to be forward-looking, to fly in the face of what is established, and to create not what is acceptable but what will become acceptable . . . a theory is the creation of unity in what is diverse by the discovery of unexpected likenesses. In all of them innovation is pictured as an act of imagination, a seeing of what others do not see . . . “creative observation.” (Bronowski, 1958).
Artists, along with the other innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs, constitute only 1% of the population. We can imagine them at the top of a pyramid of influence, which trickles down to the most solidified or familial and industrial levels of society (see Appendix; Wildman, Table 1). This is clearly less true for the representational artist whose work is without symbolic value, and rather than progressive or transgressive is merely decorative or aesthetic.
Today, science and art aren’t as polarized in their aims as we might think. They are perennial venues for the emergence of discovery, invention, and creation. The argument is that although science and art are social phenomena, an innovation in either field occurs only when a single mind perceives in disorder a deep new unity. Like art, science is an attempt to control our surroundings by entering into them and understanding them from the inside.
“Scientists search for a ‘real’ and hidden, internal visibility (invisible to the naked eye) which will confirm the limits of identity. . .This is an act of limitation which inverts its own criteria by relying on a ‘depth’ model of identity, which is invisible, but gives visibility through microscopic magnification. Yet this search for an invisible core of identity remains open to a visible transgression via artists who are constantly exposing these new certainties as constructs.” (Sargeant, 1999).
The objective and subjective mode are not divorced from one another, anymore than the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Science adapted the artist’s sense that the detail of nature is significant. Like yin and yang, they rely on one another in a dynamic meld that lies beyond the dialectic in the tension of opposites.
Thus, the metaphors of science have gained increasing relevance in the artworld. Art and science begin as imaginative speculation that guesses at a unity or gestalt. Metaphors reflect universal or holistic references and processes, connecting concepts across disciplines.
Gregory Bateson calls metaphor Nature’s language. There is aesthetic pleasure in finding likenesses between things once thought unalike. It gives a sense of richness and understanding. The creative mind looks for unexpected likenesses, through engagement of the whole person.
We can draw from the organic metaphors of quantum physics, field theory, and chaos theory to illuminate the state of the arts. Physics describes the interrelationship of chaos and order as field relationships, while chaos theory describes nature’s own methods of creation and self-assembly. Entropy is the tendency for any closed part of the universe to expand at the expense of order. It is a measure of randomness and disorder -- chaos.
Negentropy is the generative force of the universe. Negentropy (emergent order from chaos) is a nonlinear higher order system, a dynamically creative ordering information. Thinking, science, and art are therefore negentropic.
Negentropy, like art, is ‘in-form-ative.’ It is related to mutual information exchange. Information is embodied in the fractal nature of imagery and symbols, which compress the informational content of the whole. Creativity is an emergent phenomenon patterned by strange attractors, which govern the complexity of information in dynamic flow.
Negentropy is implicated in the successful development of science, economics, technology, infoscience, and art. Negentropy is the degree of order, or function of a state. It relates to the organization of societies, including subcultures such as the artworld, determining the quantity and quality of creative work
That which was formerly unmanifest comes into being. Negentropy governs the spontaneous transmission and direction of flow of information among systems. The qualities of that information are timeless. It is synergistic in that what was formerly unconnected becomes so, creating something wholly optimal and new – futuristic. In the 1920s, Hungarian scientist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi coined the term syntropy for ‘negative entropy.’
In cybernetics, a meaningful interpretation of negentropy is a measurement of the complexity of a physical structure in which quantities of energy are invested, e.g., buildings, works, technical devices, and organisms which become more complex by feeding not on energy but on negentropy. Art facilitates negentropy by expanding our general field of experience. Negentropy facilitates artistic realization by creating something from nothing.
The creative act is one of uniting the unmanifest with the manifest world in a meaningful, often symbolic, way. Such conception is relevant to consciousness, organization, structure, faith, subconsciousness, emotion, even spirituality. Above all, creativity means trusting the process. Investigation of the negentropic criterion helps us move toward a truly transdisciplinary doctrine for the artistic field of influence.
The two worlds of science and art have married in the digital revolution. Art has from the beginning required a certain amount of technical expertise, the ability to create and use technology in its execution. Only the means and their complexity have changed, evolving over the years, culminating now in a revolution based on ‘ars electronica’ – the electronic arts.
Psychotronics: the Electronic Revolution
Rather than merely the atavistic/entropic art of the unconscious, the cutting edge artist also reveals a glimpse of the future, in both mediums and content, such as the hypermedia of the electronic revolution: hypertext, net art, digital ‘faux-tos’, digital films, multimedia, interactive media and other electronic and visual narrative forms, including those still to be defined since they haven’t emerged.
The electronic artist still explores the relation of awareness, sensitivity, and expression. All are linked to the telos of manifestation, either in artwork or in society. The future pulls them forward perhaps more strongly than most. In this way, creativity is linked to the evolutionary dynamics of self-organization. We have discovered a new way of being – a hyperrealism. In some instances the body itself becomes indistinguishable from art.
Today’s digital artist, no matter what his or her electronic media, spends a good portion of time in the ‘chip body’ (coined by media guru, Bob Dobbs) – a virtual field -- as opposed to the physical body. This chip body is a vortex of quantum bits of information swirling chaotically in the hyperspaces of digital media, including the worldwide web. It has made a virtual reality of what was once called the astral body, an alternate vehicle for conscious exploration of alternate states and realms.
Similar to the whirling polarized energies of yin and yang, all probabilities and potentials are contained within this vortex or imaginal field body. The nature of this Tao can be seen as a void or a plenum, either a ground state from which all images emerge, or a ripe fullness from which they are plucked out of the aether. Each quantum is a conscious entity aware of all others. This creative source is inexhaustible.
The void of the vortex sets up a resonance carrying the potential for manifesting the force and form of consciousness. Today’s artist must willingly enter this Abyss as it smiles back at him. Images condense as memories, or knots of energy, in the physical or perceptual world.
At certain wavelengths, this imagery resonates back up the vortex or condensing field. Before condensation, perception is multifaceted because all potential is observed. After condensation, the strength of the wave or memory resonates as a single image or flow of imagery.
In quantum physics, wave packets collapses under observation to create manifest reality. They represent the sum of the polarity charges, we can call yin and yang. Collapse is a change in the substance of consciousness, or a change in the state of the vortex created by the introduction of resonance.
If Von Neumann is correct that consciousness plays a part in state vector collapse, then consciousness/reality is a closed loop control system, each feeding the other. Our mind is a reality filter within our brain's reality processor.
In the artistic process, collapse is consistent with focus; focus is consistent with selection; selection is consistent with the resonance or stimulus. The stimulus is consistent with the physical reality and reality is consistent with collapse. In quantum chaos, this collapse is a cascade leading to an entirely new organization – to emergent creativity.
The whole process is a flow or condensation of potential of consciousness. The gauge is the perspective of consciousness or imagination. We are free to choose our perspective, and with electronic media have a way of manifesting a mind-boggling variety of variations at lightning speeds.
The essence of our time-bound experience is receptivity to experience, to flow within the vortex. When we experience our timeless nature – our unbound self -- there is no flow, only resonance. We have the freedom to choose our point of focus or resonance. We can be stimulated by probability or chance, by the chaotic creative process underlying all reality itself.
We cannot predict what will come of it, what will emerge from entering that creative vortex, nor should we even try. All we can do is let go and open ourselves to the morphing power of the transcendent imagination, to bring our awareness into resonance with it. As we transcend the vortex we narrow our freedom to select our perceptual view of the physical world.
Art and the Unconscious
Art and psychotherapy are two ways of understanding the human experience, of demonstrating what we resonate with, and where we are going next, personally and culturally. Art lets our unconscious decipher the narrative contained within, while psychotherapy lets the unconscious create the non-linear narrative.
Art reflects our own emotional issues and provides a glimpse into our unconscious. The films, poems and plays that we find most gripping or poignant tell us something about our own unconscious world and help us reach a greater degree of self-understanding. In creating our own poetry or performing in theater, we are revealing part of ourselves to others that is important for us to share. Our reasons for creating art and our personal reactions to art tell us about who we are and what is most important to us. The decision to create is revealing in itself, but what we decide to create can be equally informative. Writing poetry and performing on stage are very different forms of expression that reflect the personality of the artist, (Pflanz, 2003).
Echoing the shamanic roots of healing and artistic inspiration, these new artforms help us sift through human emotions and confront life's problems. Through art, artists seek to inspire, to create beauty and to grapple with difficult issues through various mediums. In both instances, the challenges facing the human condition are central.
By examining the works we find most moving, we can better understand ourselves. Equally important, the discussion of art, film and literature can provide an invaluable glimpse into the unconscious world. Art helps us understand the organizational landscape:
The relationship between art, aesthetic experience and the unconscious has long fuelled both the creative endeavors of artists, and the analytical and critical musings of theorists and connoisseurs. From the demonic images of ancient painting, to the modernist predilection for the surreal in image and performance, art has provided a means by which humanity has been able to explore and represent that which is usually hidden from us, yet which plays such a central role in who and what we are. Fantastical and often deeply disturbing imagery, sounds and structures have all provided an alternative and often critical means of understanding the world and the relationship we hold to it, while our culture is littered with artistic artifacts that appear to play out the primary psychodynamic processes which underpin the emergence of human subjectivity, (Carr and Hancock, 2004).
Today’s leading edge artist is a technoshaman, using new media to transform the face of art and society. Digital art, in particular, is for the technically gifted, or at least proficient. Of course there are many other very challenging technical processes for creating art besides digital media, as well.
Just as musicians have had to adapt to increasingly complex gear, so have artists in these mediums, whose use may be direct or indirect. Even though some protocols have become more complex, others such as digital film and nonlinear editing have become somewhat easier and more available overall.
In order for today’s electronic artist to be successful in the real world, he or she must not only master the medium to the extent such is possible in a rapidly evolving modality, but also master ‘the media’ -- factors of human perception, subjectivity, and culture. The average viewer of a work of art only gives it 30 seconds of attention, if that, before moving on.
To convey one’s unique vision, means not only producing art, but like a political spin doctor also producing and orchestrating the perception of what that art means in the cultural landscape. Thus, the artist must have a strong entrepreneurial quality, a flair for promotion, and the ability to contextualize the work that is emerging. One must be able to work with and mold the minds of others, to get inside their heads, comprehending what moves them subjectively and how that process works.
The artist defines the social space in which the work will be seen, giving it a historical context by defining its roots and boldly declaring a new point of view. This is far different from simple mastery of the media, as a graphic designer or factory-style animator. Most anyone can learn by rote, by repetition. But the results while pleasing are “safe” or uniformly mediocre, considered “hack” work.
The true medium of the leading edge artist as ‘strange attractor’ is, therefore, the culture itself. Marshall McLuhan said ‘the medium is the massage,’ and ‘massaging’ the mass media is part of today’s artistic repertoire. In the post Postmodern world, sponsors are the new art patrons.
We know from the lessons of politics and media that most people come to embrace that which they are conditioned to accept. Mass media doesn’t document or report reality; it creates it, or a version of it with specific cultural or economic ends in mind.
Tastes for certain processes, products, and media are imposed, cultivated, and acquired. Their relevance must be explicitly defined. In this context, edge or extreme art isn’t high or low-brow, but ‘hyper-brow.’ In this process, one must move the audience from the known to the Unknown, since it is the nature of human beings to be both nostalgic and novelty-seeking.
The context is the entire history of art -- a thrust that carries us forward into the future on an ever-renewing wave of creative spirit. Learning to surf the gravity waves emanating from the zeitgeist of one’s era is as important as how to apply the traditional rules of artistic production to one’s medium.
Shameless self-promotion and a transcendence of the barriers separating the artist from the art are key notions in this process. Many a gifted artist has sunk into oblivion for lack of the former.
Even in the fine arts world, ‘form follows function.’ And the function of the contributing artist is ‘pathfinding,’ not just creating another pretty or more shocking picture, nor contributing to the glut of recycled commercial imagery that plagues our senses. Creating tangibles from the depths, which truly move us, which speak to us collectively, is another gift altogether. It is work that ‘says something’.
Art is a vocation, not a trade. It’s a cliché that it is a process, not a product. One is ‘called’ to create – to manifest -- by one’s inner being, and one ignores the call at one’s own peril.
Born at the cutting edge, the creative edge of chaos, this type of emergent art and artist has the capacity to carry the artistic dialogue into the future. It’s one thing to have vision that resonates, and quite another to articulate it and get it out into the world.
Art has a certain healing or negentropic capacity, the capacity to counter the entropic energies of social breakdown, decay, and meaninglessness. In this sense, great art – authentic art -- feeds us, as it has fed mankind from the earliest times.
Table 1: Locating a social space for Neg-Entropy to manifest (Wildman, 2004)
Bronowski, J. (1958). ‘The Creative Process.’ Scientific American, Sept. 1958. Volume 199; No. 3.
Carr, Andrian and Hancock, Philip (2004). ‘The Art and Aesthetics of the Unconscious.’ The Second Art of Management and Organisation Conference, Paris, France. Sept. 710, 2004. www.essex.ac.uk/AFM/emc/ar..._stream.htm
Pflanz, Steven (2003). ‘The art of the unconscious.’ Psychiatric Times, June 2003, Vol. XX, Issue 6.
Sargeant, Jack (1999). Deathtripping: the Cinema of Transgression. San Francisco: Creation Books.
Wildman, Paul (2004). Socio-Economic Guidance from an Infinite Universe, in Human Science Technology. 2004: Prosperity Press, Brisbane. p. 35. Prepared for the second Northern Rivers Science-Art Festival and Conference 1-2-04 Science-Art Research Centre (SARC) Uki Northern NSW. Reuniting Art and Science. Murwillumbah Civic Centre. www.science-art.com.au/centre.htm.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Transdisciplinarian, Iona Miller is a writer, hypnotherapist and multimedia artist, living in Southern Oregon, USA. She has developed extensive groundbreaking work on the relationship of chaos theory and negentropy to emergent paradigm shift or worldviews in philosophy, cosmology, biophysics, medicine, experiential psychotherapy, creativity, art, and society. Many of these articles are collected in her annual journal Chaosophy, available on her homepage.
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