Deeper into the rabbit hole this week trying to build a connection between Personality (of the artist) and Character (of the artwork). I’ve already discussed some of the points that have to be explained (while acknowledging the explanation is not yet there.) The last question was – by what means is a personality encoded in the work? How do I store my personality in an object?
The ancient Greeks had concepts that still work here. There is a real thing, and then there is the mimema, the thing that represents that real thing. The comparison is given of pressing a seal into hot wax, the wax holds the shape of the seal but none of the matter. The process is called mimesis, from which we have mimetic, mimic and mime. The pressure makes a copy which is a form, of no use unless it calls up a logical association in the recipient. The encoding only works because the sender and the receiver share the same decoding pad. So for example, I paint a picture of a house, you see this and the concept of a house is recalled. If you had only seen igloos, the communication breaks down. At this level the process seems convenient – but no particular art is involved, any picture of a house will do. So why go beyond pictograms?
A comparison with dreams can be made. Natural things can be aisthetic, that is provide material for the senses (in comparison to logic for the intellect). But mimemata are made, they require techne, which is a word that means both art and skill and of course provides technology. Mimemata are dreams that are made by people who are skilled.
This concept fits into Plato’s universal view. The artwork is simply a reminder of a thing that is itself an imperfect copy of the ideal – he talks of an ideal bed, the bed made by a carpenter and a painting of a bed, and sees each as less useful in turn. However, we can try represent the ideal directly – I can paint an image of a dog that is not a reproduction of an existing dog, I can perhaps create a work that portrays the ideal of ‘a dog’.
The Neo-Platonists put it like this: The One (the perfect origin of everything) creates a product which is necessarily inferior. This aspires to be rejoined with The One and so difference is created (less perfect things are multiple). This Ideal produces its own product that is again inferior, The Soul. Art is useful and good in that it seeks to transcend the imperfections of matter. The idea in the artist’s mind is always superior to the form of the work, and making art is an expression of the desire to be elevated above the material world.
In the Christian ages The One became God and the artist sought to elevate themselves by revealing the order and discipline that underlays all of His creation. You can see why a fight broke out over Icons – to the west they were mnemonics of the hidden structure of reality, to the east they were insults to something that describes but cannot be described. Both are true if you think this way. I don’t really want to, but it might help to try it for a moment.
So let’s. Rather than use ‘transcription’, which is an unskilled mechanical process, the character of the artwork could be described as a mimema of personality. I’m then able to build upon the discussion that has surrounded aisthesis for several thousand years – whether that’s a good thing I don’t yet know. Instinctually I think it will be helpful in building a concept that’s sufficient for the work at hand…
Sketch it out: there exists shared data which exists ‘above’ the artist and the viewer. For Plato this is an ideal world in which the default templates of everything is stored, perhaps for me it’s the complexes of the mental apparatus in both persons. The data is not stored in the object, it is referenced by the object. So (big jump here) is the quality of the artwork no more important than the font in which a library call number is written? No… The ‘font’ is part of the means by which we retrieve the data – an artwork is more ‘beautiful’ when more accurate to the shared mental complex.
Very wobbly … but I think I can move Personality out of the object, place it in a ‘shared space’ between the people (a culture?) – idealise it with my chosen metric – and describe Character as a kind of index, the accuracy of which can be tested by how well it retrieves the personality metric – while at the same time relating this to terminology of aesthetics so far as I understand them.
That’ll do for today!