Ghost of Monet

Water Lilies Agapanthus, 1914-1917 by Claude Monet

Monet’s water lilies are an interesting subject when it comes to understanding art in its essential form or prime ingredient.  What is the art?  What captivated Monet’s attention and energies?

It can be said that Monet’s water lilies introduced abstraction into the art world because he slowly transformed the essence of “water lily” into an abstraction.  Also, his work slowly evolves into something unrecognizable but still interesting.  But is this abstraction? or did he merely paint more realistically?  It’s a habit of painters to look closely at things and to meditate on the visual appearance and impression of things.  Just as with the theories of physics and chemistry, what is in fact the results of mere observation is often seen by outsiders as abstraction or “the ideal”.  If theory is in fact, reality to the observant, then perhaps abstraction is nothing more than visual theory, the essence of realism and not something categorically unique.  Science labs are generally intended to make science classes more realistic and to help you understand the theoretical “concepts” but without a clear understanding of the theories and principles you will never understand the reality you see in laboratory demonstrations.

Made in Kandid AffineIFS Gray feature

If you’re familiar with Monet’s water lily series you’ll undoubtedly see some sort of resemblance in this computer generated image above.  Iterated function systems actually work a lot like a pond with water lilies; one or two shapes repeated all over at smaller scales to build a big picture.  The reason computerized, algorithmic art is so creative is that it not only imitates natural processes, it is a natural process, just in a computerized medium.

Here’s another interesting point:

Water Lilies – Japanese Bridge, 1923 by Claude Monet

I’m a big fan of Monet’s water lilies, but not this one.  It’s intriguing to me that a human artist would “output” or “render” such a semi-senseless sludgefest like this.  Algorithmic computer methods do it all the time.  Again: what is the art?  What drove Monet to produce this?  The subjectivity to art, or, the wide, overlapping but not-in-common aspect to it is what I find intriguing because it’s probably the most common fault of computerized, algorithmic methods.  That is, algorithmic art often looks great to the person who made it and a few others but like junk to most others.  But Monet’s work was guilty of that too.  We just don’t say that when a human being makes junk.  Especially a great artist like Monet.

Mutational variants in breeding screen from Kandid

The image above is the “population” during one generation of breeding of the images of which the big one up above came from.  Kandid is a true genetic art program, reducing all aspects of an image to alterable characteristics which then, by mutation, random mutation, new variations are made.  Did Monet think like this?  while looking at his pond and browsing the variations of color, shape and pattern?  Did he dream like this?  after a long day of painting and studying water lilies?

Collage as an artistic device

The rug shown above is a collage of somewhat unrelated ornamental subjects.    It’s a bit like a musical chord, a multi-note sound, another collage of sorts, of musical notes.  What springs to mind when one hears a complex chord is sort of what springs into my mind when I see a multi-image thing like this rug: a new singular sound, a sum of the parts.  Unlike a musical chord, however, a large collage like this is viewed in parts and connected, like dots, one by one.  I’m guessing how the mind works but I think it’s a reasonable guess.

Consider the “disembodied” pillars that nicely form a border on either side of the central palace images.  And then there is the purely ornamental, Klimt-like patches of shapes flanking the central palace image which combines ornamental abstraction with ornamental realism.  Top and bottom middle borders have scenes with people doing things and interacting while all four corners are nature scenes of silence and passivity.  The people patches are historic events?  Moments in time beside scenes without time.

The beauty of the carpet seems to increase the more I look at it instead of decreasing as I become more familiar with its simple pictures.  I think this comes from the combinations and recombinations that the assorted images can form in one’s mind, assuming that one’s mind is in a state inclined to form such things.  The carpet is older than the Rene Magritte painting below but contains the essential ingredients of that surrealist masterpiece below.  The ingredients of the carpet I am guessing were not intended to evoke a surrealist impression but my main point is that a collage is like a set of visual dice which the viewer’s mind rolls, and plays with like an artistic board game.  The collage artist creates an environment rather than a static work of art, a form of visual creativity similar to the richness and variety of a kaleidoscope . This complex interaction and variety of interpretation is the automatic quality to the carpet and works like one of those startling Magritte paintings that feature normal things in odd contexts just like, in music, the discovery of a new, mysterious chord.

The Annunciation, 1930 Rene Magritte

Realism, symbolism and pattern; who would have thought they’d go together like this with such powerful effect?  But doesn’t the Persian carpet have all those elements, in the form of a do-it-yourself surrealism kit?  One other element: dis-proportion.  The pattern in Magritte’s is bigger than the trees, and the pillars are even larger; this of course is a standard surrealist style but the carpet (and really any similar type of collage) at least suggests this sort of abnormal contrast although keeping each element in its own little container instead of allowing them all to jump into the same image together as Magritte has done.  Perhaps Magritte spent some time staring at similar Persian carpets?

In a collage, like the Persian carpet above, the artistic effect, or what goes on in the mind of the viewer, is hard to predict because a collage is really a medium itself from which the viewer creates meaning and adds their interpretation.  The viewer becomes the artist in this Alice in Wonderland realm of mechanical creativity.

I’m sure this creative collage experience is familiar to some readers when one considers that such items, like Persian carpets, are common, decorative household things forming the background and everyday environment many of us live in.  One often ends up staring at such things while sitting in a living room or sitting at a kitchen table or waiting in a waiting room.  We don’t decide to play a creative game of making a story from the assorted pictures, our minds start to play automatically.