I am still trying to find my artistic voice. And I think I have made a step in the process last week. It all has to do with expressing fictional and factual realities into one artwork eg. in bright and cheerful colors versus grey scales from black to white.
In an earlier story almost three years ago I said this about finding my artistic voice and my art:
My work evolves around the idea of ‘mind models’, the realities that we create to shape ourselves. It’s all about the interplay between experience, imagination, and reality – whatever reality is, exactly. My work, typically, explores the relations between reality and our interpretations of it: Perception makes sense!
Mind models are what in this story I call ‘fictional realities‘ and reality then is ‘factual reality‘ (or maybe even just ‘ universal reality‘). The key message, I guess, is that we use fictional realities to create a self-image that we can live with, based on our perception of the world around us through a soothing filter. And sometimes the two realities (fictional and factual) are at odds with each other, creating an interesting tension, artistically.
But first, let me explain what I mean with factual and fictional realities.
Let me start with factual realities. These are the realities that probably actually exist. That sounds weird, I know. What I mean is that probably there is ‘a world’ around us that we may or may not observe with our senses (eyes, ears, etc.). Think of your body, think of your house, etc. Those we can easily observe. But also think of eg. the radiation of the wifi signal in your house, which we know is there. We do not observe the radiation itself, but we can measure it with technical equipment. A bit weirder, still, is something like dark matter in the universe. Probably, about 85% of all matter in the universe is dark matter, but we cannot observe it even with the smartest technical equipment. Yet, we have good scientific reasons to assume it actually exists, such as the phenomenon of gravitational lenses.
Another form of factual realities are causalities and correlations that actually exist, and that we may or may not know or be aware of. A good example is the debate about the effects of exhaust gases from combustion engines versus sun flares on the climate on Earth. Both are very likey related to climate, but we do not know exactly how or to what degree.
In fact, I differentiate between two types of factual reality:
- Scientific realities – These are phenomena that are objectively scientifically proven to exist, such as the wifi radiation and maybe dark matter.
- Universal reality – This for me is the entire world, universe, whatever, that we live in, but that we may or may not have a clue about, because we may or may not be able to observe it with our senses or even have discovered scientifically. Universal reality to me is ‘real’ reality, independent of our observation.
Factual realities exist objectively, even if we would not exist
To summarise, you may say that factual realities exist, even if we, humans, would not exist. They are objective realities.
I guess, factual realities basically are the domain of the sciences. They are the domain of objective truth finding. They are the domain of the world without humans, without human beings. Completely correct, but to us also quite meaningless, probably. Maybe the evolutionary successor of Homo Sapiens will be better equipped to deal with that. We keep struggling.
[By the way. One may ask how objective scientific reality really is. Ultimately, initial ideas are all based on human intuition. The institutionalised litmus test is the experiment. Only those theories are considered true that can be confirmed experimentally. Eg. the aether theories were abandoned as they could not be proven experimentally (and were replaced by relativity theory). Einstein doubted quantum theory based on intuitive considerations: “God doesn’t play dice.” And beyond that, theories are only considered true until proven untrue (Karl Popper’s falsifiability). Let’s say, the sciences are the most objective truth that we as humans can produce. The only really objective reality is what I call universal reality, which we probably cannot observe (completely). For quasi-sciences like medical science it is even worse. They are somewhere inbetween sciences and humanities. Eg. women run a higher risk to die in heart surgery, because all theory is mainly built upon experiences with mostly male patients. And even more confusing, if quantum theory is correct, universal reality is much more different from our direct observation of the world than we even thought. The so-called observer effect can be interpreted as if our ‘reality’ only manifests while we observe it. And so-called entangled elementary particles may be two manifestations of really one particle (although many scientists believe it isn’t Einstein Podolsky Rosen-like spookiness). To make things ‘worse’, the whole nature of universal reality is totally unclear. Does it even exist? Well, I do believe so, obviously. But I’m not sure, of course. In philosophy this is an old debate from naive realism (“what I observe is universal reality”; this is what most people unconsciously believe) to indirect realism (“what I observe is my perception of an existing universal reality through the lens of my senses – eyes, ears, etc – and processed/filtered by my brain, ie. my mind model”; this is what most scientists believe) to conscious realism or even idealism (“reality is entirely a mental construct, there is no universal reality”; from Plato to some interpretations of quantum theory, esp. the observer effect, idealism had and still has its supporters). Clearly, I myself believe in indirect realism: ‘perception makes sense’. And don’t get me wrong, I still believe science is the best – or the least bad – way we have to get an idea of universal reality (and consipracy theories and other fake news are the worst). One last word about realism vs. idealism. It is Donald D. Hoffman, a conscious realist, who said that “veridical perception minimizes expected fitness payoffs“. In my words, he says: forget about truth finding (ic. about the nature of reality), all it does is, it minimizes your chances of evolutionary survival; it distracts you from the only ‘truth’, hence intelligence, that matters, ie. the information and action that help you survive evolutionarily. On the other hand, the evolution of Homo Sapiens may take a very different turn than ‘natural evolution’ has so far, as our environment changes extremely much faster than it ever has and we ourselves are intervening in the process of evolution itself. But that is a whole separate (but very interesting) topic.]
Famous physicist Richard Feynman once said “I rather live with uncertainty and doubt than with false answers.” Well, I’m afraid our brain needs certainty, even if that certainty is false. Yet, I am convinced somehow in the future there will be, or maybe today already somewhere in the universe there is a better equipped species that won’t need fictional realities as a shortcut to get a grip on universal reality. An improved version of scientific reality. That will be a much better grip than we have today.
And then there are fictional realities. These are the realities that exist in our head. A nice litmus test is: do animals know this reality? Yuval Harari has given many examples, such as ‘countries’, ‘laws’ and ‘money’. Fictional realities often come in the shape of stories. These may be stories about the past (history) or the future (eg. science fiction). But most fictional realities that we deal with play in the present. We deal with them every day, every hour. In fact, fictional realities shape our view of the world. Fictional realities are our convictions, our ideas about the world, fantasies often. They originate from how our brain works. Simply said, factual reality is too complex for our simple brain. But in order to survive, our brain invented a trick. The brain creates a simplified version of reality based on clear and predictable patterns (genetically inherited or from our own experiences, nature or nurture), correct or not. And in that fictional reality we live 90% of our time (probably more).
Wishful thinking, desires, dreams are a frequent part of fictional realities. We like to see the world through pink glasses. And that has an evolutionary purpose: hopeful, optimistic people tend to experiment more, sometimes leading to important advancements, hence better chances of survival. But also, sometimes or often it misleads to wrong decisions and actions. Our brain tends to lead us to things that feel good, but may not necessarily be good for us.
Here too, the Earth’s climate is a nice example. For some people it is “absolutely clear” that exhaust gases play no or only a minor role, whereas in their mind sun flares are the main cause for global warming, without scientific proof. They “just know”, it is true. An interesting example of fictional reality are “alternative facts“, a phrase used by Ms. Kellyanne Conway defending a false statement about the attendance numbers of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. Sometimes seemingly factual realities turn out to be fictional realities, such as in the 15th/16th Century the geocentric model of the Catholic Church was proven wrong by Copernicus and replaced by the heliocentric model, altough it took a long time and quite a battle. The Flat Earth theory is scientifically proven wrong long time ago, but today still has many believers. Sometimes the line between fictional and factual realities blurs, eg. in science fiction: the personal communicator in Star Trek later became the reality as the smartphone, and HAL 9000 from the 2001 A Space Odyssey movie may one of these years come to life from artificial intelligence. And sometimes it goes terribly wrong, such as described in 1932 by Aldous Huxley in his novel Brave New World.
I differentiate between two types of fictional reality:
- Personal realities – These are the thoughts, ideas, fantasies, convictions that we personally have in our head about the world we live in. These may be a result of our descent, education, personal experiences. But also these may be mental diseases such as bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia or psychosis.
- Social realities – These are the thoughts, ideas, fantasies, convictions that we have in common with a group of people, eg. your family, your friends, colleagues, country men, whatever group. Stories about the greatness of a nation typically are social realities. (Remember John Lennon’s Imagine there’s no country … ?) Myths and religious stories largely also are social realities. Fictional literature can form social realities. (Inter)national rules and laws form social realities, often created by one group (and sometimes ultimately maintained by force) subtly benefitting themselves over other groups, such as the post-war Western world order, trading rules governed by large countries, female submission rules in some countries, even remuneration policies as developed by the higher educated class. Excesses have been described by books like 1984 and Animal Farm. Social realities can have positive and negative effects.
Fictional realities are the subjective realities that exist in our head
To summarise, fictional realities are our ideas about the world, the subjective realities in our head. Fictional reality is our world!
I guess, fictional realities basically are the domain of the humanities. (And this is why – despite efforts and claims – the humanities and their theories – esp. history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, culture studies, language studies, psychology, psychiatry, art history, art – will never be purely objective: they are always based on the mind models of the people who create the theories.) But I mean ‘domain’ even more literally. Without humans, without human beings, there would be no fictional realities (and the humanities would not exist). Fictional realities are what we create. (Good … and bad, that is. Shrewd people have discovered that they can easily serve their personal or group interest by creating and spreading consipracy theories and other fake news, which clearly are the worst form of social reality. Social media have increased the possibilities to do so up to a difficult-to-differentiate-from-real level and global scale that it really has become a problem now.) In a way, fictional realities are what we are, in all of our universal limitations, the limitations of the simple brain of Homo Sapiens. Plato’s cave, yes.
In this sense, art also is a fictional reality. And that is what makes my art special, I guess. With my art I try to somehow connect fictional and factual realities, which in itself is a fictional reality. Trying to touch the mystery of universal reality … through art.
Mind models are the realities that we create to shape ourselves
[I want to make an important point here. Please do not think that I feel fictional reality is a problem, undesirable (well, it is, of course, when people knowingly and deliberately create untrue narratives to influence convictions and actions of other people to their own – group’s – advantage). In a universal sense it may be a problem, but in the context of who we are, Homo Sapiens, they are vital, crucial, essential. I have always said that “mind models are the realities that we create to shape ourselves“. And that, exactly that, is the value of fictional realities. Without fictional realities – our pink glasses – we would probably be very disappointed or even depressed about ourselves, or lack the power to proceed in life: day dreams, desires, hope, expectations, aspirations, inspiration are largely built upon fictional realities. Our self-image is largely built upon fictional realities. It is the stories about ourselves and the groups we feel we belong to that create our (desired) self-image, and in our heads, us. Mr. Jeff Bezos (of Amazon) once expressed it very clearly: “(…) talking about truth telling. We humans are not really truth seeking animals. We are social animals. Let me take you back in time 10,000 years. Assume you’re in a small village. If you go along to get along, you can survive, you can procreate. If you’re the village truth teller, you might get clubbed to death in the middle of the night.” That last sentence sounds a lot like the prisoner of Plato’s cave who comes out of the cave to discover the real world – and when he comes back to the cave to tell the other prisoners, they don’t believe him.]
True or not, it is our world
So, can you say that factual realities are true and fictional realities are not? Well, yes, in a way. But it is not a relevant question. For me my personal realities are reality. And for us our social realities are reality. They are my truth, they are our truth. Until someone or something (probably an occurrence or event first confuses us and then) convinces us otherwise. But even then we may try to cling to our old truth for long time, so-called cognitive dissonance.
In fact, fictional realities represent the majority of realities that we live in. Together with habits, fictional realities largely determine our behavior. It all comes down to emotion versus ratio, I guess. Roughly speaking you may say that fictional realities and emotions largely overlap. Maybe emotions are the foundation that confirm our fictional realities and keep them stand firmly, against better judgement. Rational considerations (factual realities) that go against emotions typically loose that battle. This really is what Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 are all about, I guess. I find it exetremely interesting to see that our brain with its strange blob called neocortex turned out to be evolutionarily more succesful than creatures without neocortex. At the same time, these two parts of the brain (new brain, neocortex and old brain, limbic system and brainstem, roughly) are in constant conflict. That is the battle between factual and fictional realities.
The duality of our brain structure is one-to-one reflected in our behavior, the eternal battle between ratio and emotion.
Anyhow, we tend to firmly stick to our truth (fictional reality, emotion, old brain), even if it is objectively untrue (factual reality, ratio, new brain). Ultimately, emotions always win. That is our fundamental limitation, that is the evolutionary end station for Homo Sapiens. But also, it is our cosy little rabbit hole, where we can be ourselves.
My artistic voice
So, a long introduction, I know. What does it have to do with my artistic voice? Well, everything! For the last three years I have been struggling to find my own artistic voice. I now may have found a breakthrough in this quest.
A recurring theme in my art should really be the tension between fictional and factual realities. It should be about visions, dreams, wishes, fantasies, that might turn into reality … or not (illusions, misconceptions, not yet succeeded plans). The grey area between fiction and fact. Like in the Blank Slate project where I confront the illusion of artists to be perfectly creative and original (fictional realities) with the work of the great artistic giants that preceded and inspired us (factual reality).
But how? Well, there are many ways.
For starters, I was thinking about expressing fictional realities in color, often bright and cheerful colors surrounded by or somehow combined or contrasted with factual realities in grey scales from black through grey to white. This then is the most obvious demonstration of the notion that we live in our fictional realities, consciously or unconsciously surrounded by factual realities. But also, I am convinced it may give a beautiful artistic effect – if executed correctly, of course.
And it is exacly this correct execution, that I will have to practice the coming time!
By the way, do you remeber my Artificial Poppies art project and related artworks? Like the one here:
Unconsciously, I was already experimenting with grey and black here. It was in my brain all the time. It just had to come out. The mysterious grey and black poppy that just appeared out of nothing one day.
That may be a good starting point for further experimentation. Also, experimenting with saturation of photos and other images may be a nice start, from no saturation (pure grey scales from black to white) to oversaturation (exaggerated, unrealistically hard colors, like below).
Yet another way may be to play with grey scale or black and white lines and bright and cheerfully colored planes representing factual and fictional realities. There are many ways to express the contrast between the types of reality. Maybe something like this:
The real challenge will probably be to create a harmonious whole with all of these diverging color types and other expressive modularities.
To be continued, for sure …