Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Need for Magic

Flight by Jake Baddeley, 2000
Flight by Jake Baddeley, 2000
The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer - they think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer. - Ken Kesey
Modern chaos science began in the 1960's when a handful of open-minded scientists with an eye for pattern realized that simple mathematical equations fed into a computer could model patterns every bit as irregular and "chaotic" as a waterfall. They were able to apply this to weather patterns, coastlines, all sorts of natural phenomena. Particular equations would result in pictures resembling specific types of leaves, the possibilities were incredible. Centers and institutes were founded to specialize in "non- linear dynamics" and "complex systems." Natural phenomena, like the red spot of Jupiter, could now be understood. The common catch-terms that most people have heard by now; strange attractors, fractals, etc., are related to the study of turbulence in nature. There is not room to go into these subjects in depth here, and I recommend that those who are interested in this subject read `Chaos: making a new science' by James Gleick and `Turbulent Mirror' by John Briggs & F. David Peat. 

What we are concerned with here is how all this relates to magic. Many magicians, especially Chaos Magicians, have begun using these terms, "fractal" and "strange attractor", in their everyday conversations. Most of those who do this have some understanding of the relationship between magic and this area of science. To put it very simply, a successful magical act causes an apparently acausal result. In studying turbulence, chaos scientists have realized that apparently acausal phenomena in nature are not only the norm, but are measurable by simple mathematical equations. Irregularity is the stuff life is made of. For example, in the study of heartbeat rhythms and brain-wave patterns, irregular patterns are measured from normally functioning organs, while steady, regular patterns are a direct symptom of a heart attack about to occur, or an epileptic fit. Referring back again to "virtual" photons, a properly executed magical release of energy creates a "wave form" (visible by Kirlian photography) around the magician causing turbulence in the aetheric space. This turbulence will likely cause a result, preferably as the magician has intended. Once the energy is released, control over the phenomena is out of the magician's hands, just as once the equation has been fed into the computer, the design follows the path set for it.

The scientists who are working in this area would scoff at this explanation, they have no idea that they are in the process of discovering the physics behind magic. But then, many common place sciences of today, chemistry for example, were once considered to be magic. Understanding this subject requires, besides some reading, a shift in thinking. We are trained from an early age to think in linear terms, but nature and the chaos within it are non-linear, and therefore require non-linear thinking to be understood. This sounds simple, yet it reminds me of a logic class I had in college. We were doing simple Aristotelian syllogisms. All we had to do was to put everyday language into equation form. It sounds simple, and it is. However, it requires a non-linear thought process. During that lesson over the space of a week, the class size dropped from 48 to 9 students. The computer programmers were the first to drop out. Those of us who survived that section went on to earn high grades in the class, but more importantly, found that we had achieved a permanent change in our thinking processes. Our lives were changed by that one simple shift of perspective.

Chaos science is still in the process of discovery, yet magicians have been applying its principles for at least as long as they have been writing about magic. Once the principles of this science begin to take hold on the thinking process, the magician begins to notice everything from the fractal patterns in smoke rising from a cigarette to the patterns of success and failure in magical workings, which leads to an understanding of why it has succeeded or failed.

Chaos is not in itself, a system or philosophy. It is rather an attitude that one applies to one's magic and philosophy. It is the basis for all magic, as it is the primal creative force. A Chaos Magician learns a variety of magical techniques, usually as many as s/he can gain access to, but sees beyond the systems and dogmas to the physics behind the magical force and uses whatever methods are appealing to him/herself. Chaos does not come with a specific Grimoire or even a prescribed set of ethics. For this reason, it has been dubbed "left hand path" by some who choose not to understand that which is beyond their own chosen path. There is no set of specific spells that are considered to be `Chaos Magic spells'. A Chaos Magician will use the same spells as those of other paths, or those of his/ her own making. Any and all methods and information are valid, the only requirement is that it works. Mastering the role of the sub-conscious mind in magical operations is the crux of it, and the state called "vacuity" by Austin Osman Spare is the road to that end. Anyone who has participated in a successful ritual has experienced some degree of the `high' that this state induces.

An understanding of the scientific principles behind magic does not necessarily require a college degree in physics (although it wouldn't hurt much, if the linear attitude drilled into the student could be by-passed), experience in magical results will bring the necessary understanding.

This series is directed toward the increasing numbers of people who have been asking, "What is Chaos Magic?" It is very basic and by no means intended to be a complete explanation of any of the elements discussed. Many of the principles of magic must be self-discovered, my only intent here is to try to define and pull together the various elements associated with Chaos Magic into an intelligible whole. For those who wish to learn more about this subject, I have prepared a suggested reading list for the last section, however, I must emphasize that there are always more sources than any one person knows about, so do not limit yourself to this list. Chaos has no limits...

By Mark Chao - From a paper "Defining Chaos"

Image source here

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

African Influences on Modern Art

Yoruba mask, Nigeria
Yoruba mask, Nigeria
Totem poles and wooden masks no longer suggest tribal villages but fashionable drawing rooms in New York and Paris. - Mason Cooley
By Denise Murrell - Department of Art History and Archaeology at the Columbia University

During the early 1900s, the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture became a powerful influence among European artists who formed an avant-garde in the development of modern art. In France, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and their School of Paris friends blended the highly stylized treatment of the human figure in African sculptures with painting styles derived from the post-Impressionist works of Cézanne and Gauguin. The resulting pictorial flatness, vivid color palette, and fragmented Cubist shapes helped to define early modernism. While these artists knew nothing of the original meaning and function of the West and Central African sculptures they encountered, they instantly recognized the spiritual aspect of the composition and adapted these qualities to their own efforts to move beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance.

German Expressionist painters such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner of Die Brücke (The Bridge) group, based in Dresden and Berlin, conflated African aesthetics with the emotional intensity of dissonant color tones and figural distortion, to depict the anxieties of modern life, while Paul Klee of the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) in Munich developed transcendent symbolic imagery. The Expressionists' interest in non-Western art intensified after a 1910 Gauguin exhibition in Dresden, while modernist movements in Italy, England, and the United States initially engaged with African art through contacts with School of Paris artists.

Dogon  mask, Mali
Dogon mask, Mali

These avant-garde artists, their dealers, and leading critics of the era were among the first Europeans to collect African sculptures for their aesthetic value. Starting in the 1870s, thousands of African sculptures arrived in Europe in the aftermath of colonial conquest and exploratory expeditions. They were placed on view in museums such as the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris, and its counterparts in cities including Berlin, Munich, and London. At the time, these objects were treated as artifacts of colonized cultures rather than as artworks, and held so little economic value that they were displayed in pawnshop windows and flea markets. While artworks from Oceania and the Americas also drew attention, especially during the 1930s Surrealist movement, the interest in non-Western art by many of the most influential early modernists and their followers centered on the sculpture of sub-Saharan Africa. For much of the twentieth century, this interest was often described as Primitivism, a term denoting a perspective on non-Western cultures that is now seen as problematic.

The Stylistic Influences of African Sculpture

Modernist artists were drawn to African sculpture because of its sophisticated approach to the abstraction of the human figure, shown, for example, by a sculpted head from a Fang reliquary ensemble and a reliquary by an Ambete artist. The provenance of the Fang work includes the collection of London-based sculptor Jacob Epstein, who had Vorticist associations and was a longtime friend of Picasso and Matisse; the Ambete reliquary was once owned by the pioneering Paris dealer Charles Ratton and then by Pierre Matisse, a son of the artist.

The Fang sculpture exemplifies the integration of form with function that had created a centuries-old tradition of abstraction in African art before the European colonial period. Affixed at the top of a bark vessel where remains of the most important individuals of an extended family were preserved, the sculptural element can be considered as the embodiment of the ancestor's spirit. The representational style is therefore abstract rather than naturalistic. The abstract form of the Ambete piece goes even further to serve its function. Because the figure is the actual receptacle for the ancestral relics, the torso is elongated, hollow, and accessible from an opening in the back. The exaggerated flatness of the face in these reliquaries, and its lack of affect, typify elements of African aesthetics that were frequently evoked in modernist painting and sculpture.

Woman with a Fan by Pablo Picasso, 19o7

Matisse, Picasso, and the School of Paris

Matisse, an inveterate museum browser, had likely encountered African sculptures at the Trocadéro museum with fellow Fauve painter Maurice de Vlaminck, before embarking on a spring 1906 trip to North Africa. Upon returning that summer, Matisse painted two versions of The Young Sailor  in which he replaced the first version's naturalistically contoured facial features with a more rigidly abstract visage reminiscent of a mask. At about the same time, Picasso completed his portrait of the American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein, finalizing her face after many repaintings in the frozen, masklike style of archaic sculptural busts from his native Iberia.

In the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1913), Stein wrote an account of Matisse's fall 1906 purchase of a small African sculpture, now identified as a Vili figure from the Democratic Republic of Congo, at a curio shop on his way to visit her home. Since Picasso was present, she recalled, Matisse showed the sculpture to him. Picasso later told curators and writers of the pivotal visits he subsequently made, beginning in June 1907, to the African collections at the Trocadéro, famously describing his revulsion at the dimly lit, musty galleries but also his inability to turn away from his study of the objects' inventive and elegant figural composition. The African sculptures, he said, had helped him to understand his purpose as a painter, which was not to entertain with decorative images, but to mediate between perceived reality and the creativity of the human mind—to be freed, or "exorcised," from fear of the unknown by giving form to it. In 1907, after hundreds of preparatory sketches, Picasso completed the seminal Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the painting to whose faceted female bodies and masklike faces some attribute the birth of Cubism and a defining role in the course of modern art throughout the twentieth century. He continued to make major paintings, sculptures, and sketches of mask-faced figures composed of fragmented geometric volumes throughout the Cubist period, including Bust of a Man from 1908, Woman's Head from 1909, and the 1909-10 Woman in an Armchair.

A younger member of the School of Paris, painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani, was a key contact between the School of Paris and the Futurist artists based in his native Italy. He was singular in his adaptation of stylistic influences primarily from the Baule of today's Ivory Coast. Modigliani made sketches of the elongated faces of Baule masks and figures, heart-shaped and narrowing to a point at the chin beneath a small mouth placed unnaturally low on the face. He later adapted this distinctive facial style in a series of sculptures including the 1912 Woman's Head and later retained it in paintings such as the 1917 Reclining Nude. Constantin Brancusi, Modigliani's friend and Montparnasse studio neighbor, embraced African art because it, like sculpture of his native Romania, was directly carved from wood. Having trained with Rodin, then perhaps one of Europe's most prominent sculptors, Brancusi at times rejected the master's bronze casting technique due to its expense and its remove from the direct hand of the artist, in favor of carvings from wood and, as in Bird in Space from marble.

Modernism in America

Matisse and Picasso were key figures in the spread of interest in African-influenced modernism among the avant-garde in the United States. In 1905, the American artist Max Weber moved to Paris and studied painting with Matisse. By 1908, Weber, a frequent guest at the Sunday evening salons hosted by Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo, had visited Picasso in his studio, where he may have viewed Picasso's extensive collection of African art. After returning to the United States, Weber wrote to photographer Alfred Stieglitz about the African influences that he had observed in the work of Picasso and other Paris-based modernists; and Weber's own paintings featured mask forms rendered in an increasingly abstract style. Stieglitz later presented the first Picasso exhibition in the United States at his small gallery, named "291" for its Fifth Avenue address, and then worked with Mexican artist Marius de Zayas on a 1914 exhibition which was among the first in the United States to present African sculpture as art. A 1923 exhibit at the Whitney Studio Club, a precursor of the Whitney Museum in New York, was among the earliest to present Picasso's paintings together with African sculptures. 

German Expressionism
Artists in Germany between the world wars worked extensively with African compositional devices as they rejected naturalism as inadequate to their project of representing the anxiety, dislocation, and utopian fantasies of interwar German society. Paul Klee developed a distinctively individual abstract style while teaching at the Bauhaus. Mystical connotations are evoked, in paintings like his 1923 Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor and the 1938 Comedians' Handbill by massed signlike forms. Some scholars have suggested affinities between these works and masks of the Bwa culture of modern Burkina Faso and geometrically patterned fabrics from the Bambara of Mali.

Ex-Dadaist George Grosz masks the melancholy figures crowding his 1931 Berlin Street in a more generalized style, which became influential for his students after he emigrated to New York, where he taught at the Art Students League. Max Beckmann overlays memory, nightmare, and dream in his allegorical 1949 triptych Beginning completed after he, too, relocated to the United States. 

The Mature Work of Matisse and Picasso

The work of Picasso and Matisse continued to reflect the influence of African aesthetics well into the mid-twentieth century, and important aspects of this later influence have been disclosed by recent scholarship. Some of Picasso's most significant early sculptural work, and his monumental 1930s busts of his young mistress Marie-Thérèse, have been linked, respectively, to Grebo and Nimba masks in his collection of African sculpture. Matisse, whose family had been
weavers for generations, owned several Kuba cloths from Central Africa, as well as opulent fabrics from North Africa and eastern Europe.

Kuba cloths had been shown in early African art shows in Paris that Matisse may have attended, and several remained in his collection at his death. These handcrafted nineteenth-century fabrics from the Democratic Republic of Congo were woven from raffia palm fibers and used in dowries; the larger ones served as festive attire at funerals. Matisse's correspondence indicates their inspiration for the paper cutouts, such as the 1951 Snow Flowers that were his final major works. These collages blend Matisse's vivid color palette with the allover patterning of the textiles to produce abstract floral forms free-floating in space, creating perspectival shifts between foreground and background. After hanging panels of the Kuba textiles across his studio walls, Matisse wrote in letters to his sister that he often looked at them for long periods, waiting for something to come to him. 

Legacy for Postwar and Contemporary Art
By the early twentieth century, African American modernists had joined other American artists in exploring the formal qualities of African art. In 1925, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, black philosopher Alain Locke argued that African American artists should look to African art as a source of inspiration. A variety of influences informs the work of artists such as Elizabeth Catlett and Romare Bearden, who came of age in the aftermath of this important period in black cultural history. Bearden studied under George Grosz in New York; in The Woodshed from 1969, he composed Dadaist-inflected collages from materials including fragmented photographs of African sculpture. This method was elaborated in The Block, an epic-scale celebration of everyday life in a Harlem neighborhood.

The Afro-Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, who was closely involved with the Surrealists in Paris, and whose dealer was Pierre Matisse, painted hybrid figures, such as in the 1942 Goddess with Foliage, blending an uncanny Surrealist sensibility with African figural styles and references to spirituality. Several members of the postwar Abstract Expressionists, including the sculptor David Smith and the painter Adolph Gottlieb, were known to have viewed and collected African sculpture as their abstract styles evolved.

In the contemporary postcolonial era, the influence of traditional African aesthetics and processes is so profoundly embedded in artistic practice that it is only rarely evoked as such. The increasing globalization of the art world, which now includes contemporary African artists such as Malian photographer Seydou Keita and Ghana-born sculptor El Anatsui, renders increasingly moot any term that assumes a distinct divide between Western and non-Western art. The Primitivist worldview is being relegated to the past. It is in efforts to understand the full spectrum of the aesthetic foundations for early modernism that an investigation of African influences in modern art remains relevant today.


Article source here
Images source here

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nothing More to Be Said...

Beauty is an ecstasy; 
it is as simple as hunger. 
There is really nothing to be said about it. 
It is like the perfume of a rose: 
you can smell it and that is all. - 

W. Somerset Maugham

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why Evolution Is True

Among the wonders that science has uncovered about the universe, no subject has sparked more fascination and fury than evolution. Yet in all the ongoing debates about creationism and its descendant, "intelligent design," one element of the controversy is rarely mentioned: the evidence, the empirical truth of evolution by natural selection. And that evidence is vast, varied, and magnificent, drawn from a huge spectrum of scientific inquiry ranging from genetics, anatomy, and molecular biology to paleontology and geology.

Why Evolution Is True is a succinct and accessible summary of the facts supporting Darwinian evolution. Scientists today are finding species splitting in two, observing natural selection changing animals and plants before our eyes, and discovering more and more fossils capturing change in the past - dinosaurs that have sprouted feathers, fish that have grown limbs. Jerry Coyne eloquently shows that evolution does not destroy the beauty of life but enhances it.

Reading this book will explain why so many scientists have dedicated their careers to resolving this debate, and why education administrators fervently fight legislation demanding that science curricula include equal time for anti-Darwinian theories. By demonstrating the "indelible stamp" of the processes first proposed by Darwin, Jerry Coyne clearly confirms that evolution is more than just a theory: it is a fact - a fact that cannot be doubted by anyone with an open mind. 

Sam Harris about the book:

Jerry Coyne has long been one of the world's most skillful defenders of evolutionary science in the face of religious obscurantism. In Why Evolution is True, he has produced an indispensable book: the single, accessible volume that makes the case for evolution. But Coyne has delivered much more than the latest volley in our "culture war"; he has given us an utterly fascinating, lucid, and beautifully written account of our place in the natural world. If you want to better understand your kinship with the rest of life, this book is the place to start.

About the author:

Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and a member of both the Committee on Genetics and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology. He has written over 110 refereed scientific papers and 80 other articles, book reviews, and columns, as well as a scholarly book about his field - Speciation - co-authored with H. Allen Orr. He is a frequent contributor to The New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement, and other popular periodicals.


Article source here

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Be Patient

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. - Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mystery of Aleph

By Gregory McNamee

The search for infinity, that sublime and barely comprehensible mystery, has exercised both mathematicians and theologians over many generations. Jewish mystics, in particular, labored with elaborate numerological schema to imagine the pure nothingness of infinity, while scientists such as Galileo, the great astronomer, and George Cantor, the inventor of modern set theory (as well as a gifted Shakespearean scholar), brought their training to bear on the unimaginable infinitude of numbers and of space, seeking the key to the universe.

In this sometimes technical but always accessible narrative, Amir Aczel, author of the spirited study Fermat's Last Theorem, contemplates such matters as the Greek philosopher Zeno's several paradoxes; the curious careers of defrocked priests, (literal) mad scientists, and sober scholars whose work helped untangle some of those paradoxes; and the conundrums that modern mathematics has substituted for the puzzles of yore.

To negotiate some of those enigmas requires a belief not unlike faith, Aczel hints, noting, "We may find it hard to believe that an elegant and seemingly very simple system of numbers and operations such as addition and multiplication - elements so intuitive that children learn them at school - should be fraught with holes and logical hurdles." Hard to believe, indeed.

Aczel's book makes for a fine and fun exercise in brain-stretching, while providing a learned survey of the regions where science and religion meet.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Procrastination Cure

Procrastination is a learned behavior and is best addressed one day at a time like any addiction. You must change the way you feel about yourself and how you view the events and tasks you avoid. Breathe, release and let go of your anxieties today that keep you disappointed. -  Jeffery Combs

People smile when I tell them "Do today what you can do tomorrow," but this is how I motivate myself to do things ahead if I have a little extra time on my hands. Let's say I have scheduled a particular task - laundry or ironing, for Wednesday, but realized that I have time to do it on Tuesday, what is stopping me from doing it earlier than previously planned? Nothing. And believe it or not, I really do it right away, before my mind even gets to invent ten reasons why I shouldn't do it a day ahead. Nothing "bad" would happen if I kept my schedule, but I know that I would not have to "postpone" anything if something unexpected came up on Wednesday. 

Everybody procrastinates, but not all of us are notorious procrastinators. However, some people procrastinate out of habit. They have mastered the delaying tactics. They would invent countless "important" reasons to delay, postpone or even not to do what they, sometimes urgently, must do at particular time, and they would persuade themselves that these "inventions" are not only true, but also pivotal.  

Procrastination is a self-defeating behavior. When we procrastinate we do not "cheat" others of their success, we sabotage our own. 

So what if not even a terrifying vision of failure would stop us from procrastination? What if we have faced embarrassment before and the world did not end? Maybe a vision of failure is not enough to prevent us from postponing important tasks. Maybe we have to fail completely to change our ways. 

Some people believe that they function better under stress and this my be true for them, but most of us fail to produce high quality results when we do things in the last minute before the deadline.  

Unfortunately there is not pill or potion that can be taken to cure procrastination. But since procrastination is a learned behavior it can be unlearned, although it may take a little more than introspection to find out why you procrastinate. Notorious procrastinators may need professional help of a success coach, but most of us can easily master the habit of now.

First steps: 
  • Make a to do list and set realistic deadlines 
  • Update your list daily Set up priorities - do the most urgent things first 
  • Do not multitask - finish one thing before you start another 
  • Block all distraction and concentrate on your task 
  • Stop in your tracks when you hear yourself saying "I will do it later" 
  • Stay motivated 
  • Question your reasons to postpone or delay as soon as they appear 
  • Do it now, do it now, do it now 
  • Reward yourself when you reach you goals 
  • Enjoy your success 
  • Motivate others to do the same 

It is said that it takes twenty eight days to develop a habit - good or bad. To unlearn a bad habit one simply must consciously and rigorously reinforce the new behavior. This should not be too difficult when you consider that doing things on time will make your life less stressful.

With all the fear of failure gone, your life will be much more enjoyable and you will have more time and energy to do so many other things.

By Dominique Allmon ©2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Taking Risks

Many of us are afraid 
to follow our passions, 
to pursue 
what we want most 
because it means taking risks 
even facing failure. 

But to pursue your passion 
with all your heart 
soul is success in itself. 

The greatest failure is 
to have never really tried. 

Robyn Allen