Unreal Nature

January 7, 2017

Scale

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… The part has become the whole or the whole a part.

Final post from The New Landscape in Art and Science by Gyorgy Kepes (1956; 1967):

… it is a basic tenet of our understanding that geometrical properties are not independent, but are determined by matter. Proportion includes matter, energy, organization — pattern in its broadest sense.

Every pattern has its own extension and its wider context as well: it contains or is contained by another pattern; it follows or is followed by another pattern. We know that, in personal, biological and cultural life, violent passion and chiseled perfection , growth and equilibrium, revolution and convention follow each other as well as exist side by side. In either case there is a discontinuity — in time: a rhythmic beat of opening and closing, in space: a demarcation between part and whole. In either case, there is a continuity in the invariants of the transformations.

In the previous chapter it was noted that everything we perceive pulsates in an ebb and flow of opening and closing. To sense proportion is to sense a continuous measure in the magnitude or span of one direction and of the other. But the rhythm of opening and closure that brings into common focus continuity and discontinuity, the basic poles of morphogenesis, has further implications.

… The change from one pattern to another — and there could be no sequence if there were no change — involves a rearticulation of space through a change in magnitude, which itself is a change in the part-whole relation. Magnitude and direction are interrelated; together, they set the stage for the emergence of something new. A sufficient increase or decrease in magnitude brings a pattern to its limit, to the line of demarcation which closes it and opens up another pattern. A new pattern is then born. The part has become the whole or the whole a part. The scale has changed. Roles and meanings need revaluation.

[ … ]

… [Today] Painters no longer turn to nature for inspiration but look to other painters; poets’ sources are other poets’ poems. But they and we all need a reunion with the common basis of all, nature, albeit a nature different from that which our fathers knew.

Successful reunion, it was suggested in the beginning of this book, depends upon our recognizing the close relation between thought and image-making. Images, as it was pointed out, are not raw material external to thought, but necessary prior forms of understanding. If we are to apprehend the new landscape, its new scope of harmony and new range of relatedness, we need to touch it with our senses and build from it the images that will remake our vision.

We have some indication — a Pisgah view, perhaps — of what this vision may be. The basic undertaking of vision, we may remind ourselves, is to grasp a “whole.” The “whole” of nature’s vast new scale is beyond the grasp of our inherited static idioms of vision. What the new landscape suggests is not static harmony but dynamic continuity; it eludes our comprehension except as a chain of organizational levels. In this chain, melodic lines and their contrapuntal organization — for want of truly apposite terms those of music are used — emerge as the basic modes of order.

Tying us in knots and enveloping us in a blighted urban environment, the wild dynamic of industrial civilization signals our agonizing need to realize these modes of order in our contemporary horizon. On the other hand, it has produced essential tools to help us to understand them and to guide us in redirecting this runaway growth toward balanced, healthy development. The terms of contrapuntal order are the seeds of a future planned on an undreamed-of scale.

My most recent previous post from Kepes’s book is here.

-Julie

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