Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Art as hope, art as fear, art as the sharing of perspective

Posted in book recommendations, social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on October 20, 2018

Art holds within it a capacity to open eyes and more. It can amuse, startle, upset and disquiet, please and reaffirm …. It can contain within it a part of the artist and a part of what drives them. And at its best, art can transcend culture and time, touching those who view it, those who experience it with perspectives that they might never have otherwise reached.

Not all art can or does achieve this and not all viewers are open to what it can say and share with them. But great art opens eyes and minds and in ways that can catch the viewer off guard and unprepared, and in what for them are completely unexpected ways. I find myself writing this posting after walking through a veritable lifetime retrospective of one artist: Alberto Giacometti, as he faced seemingly endless challenges to his even having an artistic voice. Its works spanned over 40 years of his artistic output as assembled together from multiple collections: public and private.

On the one hand, and from a perhaps more quick glance, superficial perspective, his human figures do show a continuity of similarity. Similar points could be made when viewing his more abstract works. And that is understandable given the fact that he traced so much of his artistic life pursuing a same small group of models for his representational works, who served as his immediate and ongoing sources of inspiration. But the way he depicted them did change, and in ways that meshed with his own life experiences. There is a gauntness, and an almost fractured incompleteness to his later works, produced when he was already ill from health problems that would eventually kill him, that do not appear in his earlier works. But even his earlier works convey a sense of the challenges he faced in Europe and certainly during World War II, and both from when he lived in Vichy France and under Nazi rule, and from when he was forced into exile in Switzerland, denied reentry into his native land.

My goal here, and my reason for offering this for-me rare addition to my Social Networking and the Arts directory, is not however to offer a review of an art exhibition of some single artist, and certainly not as that would be filtered through the eyes and the understanding of one museum’s curators and the filters of my own more limited experience. I could just as easily be writing about Pablo Picasso here instead, as my opening source of examples, with his seemingly endless and open ended reinventions into new media and materials and artistic styles, as he continuously sought to express his artistic depths in physical form. I could have written about an Asian or African artist or an artist from the Americas: North, Central or South as they seek, or have sought to bring the depths of their inner selves into overly physical form too. And I could just as easily have selected works and artists from an earlier age too. And that perhaps overly drawn out “could have” point strikes closer to the why of my writing this posting and adding it to this blog, than would any intent to share my thoughts on any single artist or any single exhibition of their work.

I find myself thinking back to an earlier entry to this small and sparse directory page, as I write this: In Defense of Art: creative expression and its challenges. And I find myself thinking back to the dichotomy of judgment that I imposed in it, separating art and its expression in terms of whether it reflects a clear vision of an artist, or the image and vision of a societal other.

We all face and we all live in the contexts that we live in. I state that as a veritable syllogism and in a fundamental sense it is and inevitably so. We live in and are at least in part shaped by the contexts that we exist in. Good art, and certainly great art brings us to step outside of our usual contexts and our usual perspectives, where we can view a world around us – and perhaps ourselves as well through new eyes. The understanding that this brings might be light and enlightening, dark and threatening, or any of the none of the aboves that can be encompassed in human experience. But great art moves, and certainly when a viewer allows themselves to be open to that possibility.

And with that noted, I come back to reconsider the art of those who I wrote of in that 2010 posting, as representing a propagandistic vision. Art need not be nice, or easy or comforting to be art. It can jolt and both from what it contains and shows us and from where it is sourced and both from within the artist themselves and from their more outside-shaping sources of inspiration. Art can be disturbing and even threatening. And it can convey messages that we might not wish to see, but that we find ourselves having to acknowledge as part of life too.

I find myself thinking of Giacometti’s later figural sculptures as I write this with their gaunter faces, their more hunched poses, and with what looked to be hunks of their flesh all but torn off of them, with a missing shoulder or other maiming so visible – even as those figures stood as his earlier works did.

And I find myself thinking to the works that I wrote so negatively of in my 2010 posting, feeling the same visceral response that I did then, against the sources of inspiration that drove an artist such as Leni Riefenstahl to create works in support of what most would call evil. Were her films works of art? And were they powerfully moving art that conveyed a measure of the artist and her own vision, and of her understanding and its message, even as they promoted and propagandized for a malignant regime? My only possible answers to those questions have to be yes.

Leni Riefenstahl produced her art in specific, explicit and intentional support of Nazism and all of the worst that it stood for. And what she did in that is worthy of censure, in a very fundamental sense, precisely because it held qualities that can only be considered greatness as far as her artistic skills were concerned; she used her skills and her artistic vision to promote evil, but she did so with artistic genius. If she had been a hack filmmaker and a poor artist who was incapable of moving others with her artistic vision as she brought it into physical, shareable form, I would not write of her. I would most probably never have even heard of her to be able to so do.

I close this posting reflecting on a passage from one of Rilke’s longer poetic works: his Duino Elegies, and more specifically to a set of lines from his first elegy of that set:

“…Beauty’s nothing
but beginning of Terror we’re still just able to bear,
and why we adore it so is because it serenely
disdains to destroy us. Each single angel is terrible.”

(You can find a full text, English language translation of the Duino Elegies here in PDF file format.)

Rilke writes of angels in this piece, and of their capacity to overwhelm us. But then again angels always bear more than just one face. Lucifer was called the most beautiful of all angels and his name from then meant bearer of light. The Judeo-Christian tradition is not the only one to find both beatific and horrific visions in its angels; both such visions have their different faith counterparts. And sometimes people – us mortals can and do in fact bring such impact too, that we perhaps more comfortably see as coming from outside of ourselves and from a presumptive angelic presence.

• Art engages, and certainly great art does; it captures and holds and it forces change in perspective. It can and does carry and convey … but what it conveys is not always comforting. It is not always settling. And it can blend beauty and terror and in ways that live up to the full terms of both words. And art need not convey or promote the good, and by any criteria.

I find myself writing this brief thought piece while thinking back to an earlier such note from 2010, as cited here. And I find myself writing this while looking around myself at the coarsening and intolerance of social discourse and of societal norms that has been flowing forth from the alt-right and from the Trump presidency in the United States. And yes, I find myself thinking back to the historical context that Leni Riefenstahl grew and thrived in, that she gladly accepted as her own and at what cost to all. And I write this thinking over the issues of artistic sensibilities and artistic talent, and about the inner truths that artists hold within themselves and that they bring forth in their works.

I seek out more technically framed and definitive approaches to understanding and resolving business and technology issues in my professional life and as a matter of how I think. I would not even know where to begin to untangle and organize the issues that I raise here in anything like a comparable manner. But then again, every artist is unique, and art transcends and stands in large part apart from analytical logic. And certainly every greatly talented artist is unique, and regardless of how they frame their art and regardless of its sources of inspiration. So I find myself writing this note as a matter of acknowledgment and reflection on what for me remains an open but still compelling topic, and an uncertain one even as it is a compelling arena of experience and understanding at that. I will return to this complex of issues in future postings, just as I have here in follow-up to my above cited 2010 posting to this blog.

Sometimes the most we can hope for is good questions, with no real possibility of anything in the way of resolving answers to them. That, at times can make them the good questions that they are.

You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and the Arts.

What do potlatches, bagpipes and indigenous languages hold in common – the challenge of uniformity and loss of cultural identity

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on August 7, 2016

A potlatch is a ceremonially meaningful event of a type traditionally practiced by peoples native to the Pacific Northwest of what is now the United States, and Western Canada. And the potlatch represents a time honored tradition that is observed by a wide range of separate and distinct tribes that span that large region.

If you accept the Wikipedia definition of this term as offered in the above link, and certainly as that article is written at the time of this posting, a potlatch is primarily a gathering organized for the purpose of exchanging gifts, but that is in fact way too superficial a description of what these events actually represent, and of the purposes that they serve. It is true that gift giving and gift exchange are prominently important to the potlatch and it is true that gifts given and exchanged in them can be extravagant. But the most important of these gifts have traditionally been ones of long-term historical and cultural significance for the people giving and receiving them and for their tribes. Potlatches were carried out at times of social and even societal importance. For families this might mean marriages and the alliance of families as they join together through them, or at times of funerals to note two watershed event possibilities here. Potlatches have also been carried out at times of political alliance and to honor larger more widely involving societal events too. The potlatch of tradition was a significant part of the glue that bound tribal societies together.

The potlatch came to be seen by the national government of Canada, as representing a threat to national unity and a challenge to national authority, as specifically representing and reinforcing native tribal culture and identity. So the potlatch as such was declared illegal under the Indian Act of 1884. And this legally mandated and enforced ban persisted for generations, until Canada’s national leaders and their government relented and officially allowed them to take place again, in 1951.

There was as much a religious intolerance motive to the Indian Act and its banning of potlatches as anything, with a goal of Christianizing native populations that would no longer be allowed to practice their more traditional ceremonial and socially binding practices. Yes, Native Americans did occasionally hold small potlatches in secret during the years of the ban – but if they were caught, government response was harsh. And much of this tradition died off as the pre-ban communities and their members who had traditionally held these events grew old and died off. Much had to be rediscovered as the potlatch became legal and more public again.

Bagpipes are a traditional musical instrument that are widely associated with Scotland and the Scottish Highlands, though variations on this musical instrument form can be found in cultures throughout large parts of Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, around the Persian Gulf, Northern Africa, and even in North America. I write of bagpipes in this posting and its context, with Scotland and Scottish culture and tradition in mind, where these musical instruments have traditionally played a very significant role. Bagpipes were played at weddings and funerals and other social events. Bagpipers performed as a part of, and accompaniment to a wide range of civic events. And bagpipes were played when leading troops of soldiers into combat with their tunes and their cadences serving to help organize and coordinate their advances.

Traditional Great Highland bagpipes have played a role in Scottish culture and its expression and in all spheres, and they have at least occasionally came to be seen as a source of challenging difference by the British Empire, its rulers and its national government. They have even at least briefly been banned twice in Scotland: once in 1560 as a part of the Protestant Reformation and again in 1746 after the Battle of Culloden. Both bans were motivated by conflict over what was and was not considered acceptable as religious belief and practice, and both went much farther than simply banning a type of musical instrument. But both did ban the playing and even the ownership of bagpipes for what turned out to be significant numbers of years. And to highlight one detail of the second of these bans here, after the Battle of Culloden bagpipes were outlawed as instruments of war.

What indigenous languages are, is relatively self-evident; in this context they are often minority languages, but more importantly they are the languages of peoples who have come to find themselves living under systems of to-them foreign government and culture, where other languages of outside origin have come to dominate. And the legal systems that these governments and cultures mandate that I write of here, have at times been accepting of diversity and of indigenous peoples maintaining their languages and their cultural identities. But all too often, dominant societies have sought to suppress this diversity by banning use of alternative, native languages. Australians of primarily British origin did this as a systematic practice in dealing with aboriginal peoples there, and Americans did this in the United States, and certainly in Western states there, taking native children and relocating them into schools away from their homes where they could be “civilized” and weaned away from their indigenous languages and customs as a central part of that effort. This is not a part of history that anyone can or should feel proud about but it happened.

What do potlatches, bagpipes and indigenous languages hold in common? They are all parts of indigenous cultures and they are all parts of how those cultures are expressed by the people who have traditionally lived them. And they have all been outlawed, and at least for periods of time as a means of suppressing the cultures and the identities of the peoples who hold them and value them. And they have all faced this censure through conscious and even strategically planned, concerted action. Think of this as the enactment of “hard bans”.

And that brings me to this posting and to this blog with its business and technology focus, and to the potential that technology in general and information technology in particular can create for instituting what might be called “soft bans.” That risk can be expected to become a realized outcome when this technology is widely developed and implemented in ways that turn out to have been ill-considered from efforts to create simplest, leanest possible implementations with only majority-used and majority-needed options included and available, and to all. Information technology and its globally reaching development, hold real potential for supporting diversity and for preserving cultural and linguistic differences as living opportunities. But that possible outcome should never be taken for granted.

• This technology can bring together widely spread communities in ways that help them to preserve their differences and their unique identities as living day-to-day realities.
• And these same technological capabilities also, and just as readily create and hold real potential to pressure minority peoples and societies to homogeneously conform to a more uniformly simplistic global norm.

The global internet offers at least potential support for both paths and often at the same time.

Organizations such as the Native American Languages Net and the more globally reaching Endangered Languages Project make use of the internet and of its capacity to bring perhaps widely scattered peoples together to preserve their languages, and the cultures and histories that they express. But at the same time, this same internet has accelerated an already occurring process of global homogenization and for everything from what is currently active as a fad, to what languages people use in their overall day-to-day lives. And this brings me to two crucial questions that I would raise in this posting, and that in fact constitute the reason why I am offering it here:

• What can and should we do, as members of our own communities and as members of the larger global human community to both capture the value of inclusiveness and connectivity that the internet brings, and still retain our meaningful cultural differences and identities?
• How can we best come together and communicate and work and live together in spite of our diversity and our differences, yet still remain distinctly who we are, and for all of the very real and important positives of both sides to this dual challenge?

I see the challenge of our collectively coming to just and meaningful answers to these questions as constituting one of the key challenges that we face in this 21st century, and globally. And much of the conflict that we see raging around us now and globally, comes from friction between the pressures to maintain separate identities, and the pressures of open connectedness – where that can become pressure towards more individualized cultural identity-denying homogenization.

I offer this as an installment to Social Networking and the Arts as its Posting 8. And see that directory for at least some related material. I also offer this in my Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, directory (see its Page 1 and Page 2 for related material too.)

Digital art and the challenge of technological change 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on August 12, 2013

Six days ago I posted the start of a short two part series on technological change, and on how new technology emergence and old technology obsolescence impact on information content availability. I focus in this series on the impact of this flow of change on digital art, as that is a content arena that is particularly vulnerable. See Digital Art and the Challenge of Technological Change 1

Digital art represents creative content that is framed by and defined by its medium – and very often by the specific technology generation of the digital medium that it is created in. By comparison, and citing a more traditional format example, translating an oil painting into lithographic format might produce a compelling and equally significant work of art, but this transfer of media can only be considered the creation and of a new and fundamentally separate work of art – even if one developed from a rich source of inspiration and influence as provided by a different-medium work that it is based upon.

Change the medium, and the levels and types of detail supported change accordingly, and so do the frameworks of expectation that viewers bring with them. We come to see different media as conveying different types of message, and we tend to view what we see in them through these preconceived filters. In this, certainly, Marshall McLuhan was right and The Medium is the Message.

I began this series in its Part 1 by noting that the basic phenomenon that I write of here have historical roots that go back much further than just the dawn of the computer and electronic information technology age. I said in that posting that I would begin at least its discussion from that still very recent benchmark point and I did. But even as I wrote Part 1, I found myself thinking of a still relatively recent but still older historical example, of how a change in information technology can both open and close doors. So I set aside the fine arts and digital arts for the moment at least, and consider the larger creative potential and endeavor here. And I begin the discussion for this series installment in 1922 and 1923 with the formation of the modern Republic of Turkey out of the fall of the old Ottoman Empire.

My goal here is not, of course, to discuss this complex historical story in detail, as that would be the stuff of at least one full book’s length discussion. My goal here is to focus on and discuss one small aspect of that larger story, as it relates to information formatting and availability and to change in that as an information technology. (Here, I acknowledge that writing per se is a technology.)

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a leader of the movement that led to the formation of this new Republic, and he became its first duly elected president. A pivotal point to the formation of this new government and country and to his leadership of it, was that Turkey be built as a Western oriented secular state, and not simply as a continuation of a Middle Eastern oriented religious state as held sway under the Ottoman Sultanate. Atatürk turned his country from holding a Middle Eastern identity to bring it into the European sphere. As a part of this, he formally mandated as a matter of law that Turkey would be a secular nation state and not a religiously grounded one. And as a step in that process, passed laws that required that Turkish as a language would be taught and that books and other publications in Turkish be published using the Roman alphabet and not Arabic script. Arabic script was essentially outlawed as a form of communication and records keeping in modern Turkish society.

• This change began a process of making all books, magazines, journals and archived newspapers from before the founding of this secular Turkey, as unreadable as if they were written in a foreign language and for everyone educated in this new way.
• Technological innovation in information storage and access can have as great an impact and more, virtually overnight, to what Atatürk sought to achieve over the years.
• Atatürk’s initiative was designed to take time and only really develop impact as entire new generations grew up who had only seen the Roman alphabet in schools and in current publications.
• A technology format and accessibility change can start having significant impact in a matter of months and be essentially complete in a few short years, and certainly where required hardware is suddenly no longer available in new copies and as old devices break down or are replaced with newer and better.
• Change per se is the great ongoing constant. Measure that against our all too tacitly held assumptions of information and knowledge and text and recorded image immortality, and certainly when held in readily transferable media that supports same-technology to same-technology copy replication.
• Digital technology comes and goes and when it goes, that breaks all possible same-technology to same-technology copy replication links and information in all of its stored content forms that it contains goes with it.

And this brings me to consider an emerging curatorial specialty: the digital art curator, and I add practitioners of digital curation in general.

Text-only content is fairly easily moved from one format and technology platform to another and without loss or change of identity as a specific work. I have been reading books stored and offered through online resources such as Project Gutenberg for as long as books, and I add journals and newspapers have been available online. And for text and I add for images such as newspaper or magazine or book illustrations digital can be a close approximation and certainly as an avenue for accessing information and perspective. But as an extreme alternative situation, digital art does not and in a fundamental sense cannot simply be moved from one medium to another without fundamental change – and whether that is change for the good or bad, or whether it seems unimportant as both new and old carry a perceived similar level of meaning and impact.

I write here of textbooks and text novels and of digital art, and of the spectrum of impact, however small incrementally, that a change in medium that they are presented in creates. In a fundamental sense, this is a much larger story.

• We have collectively been creating a vast body of shared and sharable information and of all sorts, that collectively informs us and shapes our cultures and civilizations.
• We are increasingly coming to store this online and through digital technology means.
• And as we transport this knowledge base from technology base to technology base, as new supplants old and as old disappears, the basic nature of much of that content changes too, and as a direct and ongoing result.

I write this in the early years of the 21st century, and note that the changes we have already seen in this have just started. If we only hold onto and preserve our progressively newer technology iterations of how our information record and history are preserved and presented, we will maintain a great deal – but we will lose something of our past and of our identities too. Digital art can be seen as a presenting rapidly visible harbinger of more comprehensive and ongoing changes to come.

I will finish this posting and at least for now this series too, by noting a perhaps special example that I have seen to be significant from my own experience. Mt wife and I enjoy classical music and we listen to and attend performances of chamber music. Many of the fundamental designs of the instruments used in these works and in their performance have evolved and changed since the days of Bach and Mozart, and even more so for still earlier works. These works are often played on more modern instruments and the results can be and frequently are wonderful. But there is a reason why they are also played on instruments that are made according to the older designs of those composers’ own experience that they in fact composed them for. Once again, technology change per se has this same fundamental change effect on content and on information. We see the impact of this around us when we look for it. Now and in a digital technology age and context this is just happening that much faster and with that much more profound an impact on our overall accumulation of information and knowledge stored.

You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and the Arts, and also at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and its first directory page.

Digital art and the challenge of technological change 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on August 6, 2013

Civilization can be parsed and defined in a wide variety of ways, and what constitutes civilization. One such vision and understanding would hold that:

• Civilization is an ongoing process of seeking to collect, store and preserve information, and raw information as processed into knowledge, and of progressively more and more types and in progressively greater detail and fidelity.

Technology creates new ways to gather and record, store, organize and present information and knowledge, and at the same time that same technology limits capacity to see and connect to information and knowledge past, as new information technologies arise, mature and are supplanted by next and still newer.

• I could easily start this discussion at a point much earlier than our current and still rapidly evolving digital information age. How many, for example can still read cuneiform tablets? But we are currently engaged in a period of incredibly and even unprecedentedly rapid change. So I begin this and couch it in terms of our here and now and rapidly emerging.
• This can be thought of as specifically a phenomenon of the electronic and computer age, where stored data and information are not directly human accessible and usable, and where access has to be made through the specific types and even the same versions of technology implementation that processed and stored it in the first place.

I write here of digital art, and of how information technology has made it possible, and for how technology and the pace of technology development and of technology obsolescence have made the old, and even the all but recent old – unavailable, inaccessible and unmaintainable.

As at least a crude first step in parsing this out as a phenomenon I would divide digital art as falling into three loosely defined spheres:

• Art that as the product of software such as Photoshop or computer drawing programs that could be considered primarily if not entirely software in nature,
• Art that is developed explicitly as the hardware level, and
• Mixed software plus hardware art where both are essential for any given work to be meaningfully complete.

I would argue that essentially all digital art would fit within that third group even if the balance and proportion of defining and enabling hardware and software might shift a lot from one work to another, with some primarily hardware-oriented and some primarily software as extremes.

• Whether more software-oriented digital art exists as standard file format documents produced by a commercial or other more general programs, or
• Whether that work of art is itself an executable program and one developed for that purpose,
• Any given piece of software is designed and built to work on specific hardware and in the presence of specific operating systems code.
• I will address the possible exception to this of online and related software digital art later in this posting. But with that as a possible area of exception, even ostensibly pure software digital art requires the type of hardware context that it was built for if it is to be opened, run and viewed or listened to or otherwise perceived and connected to. Absent that it ceases to experientially exist as an ongoing presence.
• Hardware becomes obsolete, and ceases to be made and replacement parts cease to be available to the extent that this particular device was ever repairable at all, and not simply a product of intentional technology obsolescence.
• As hardware fails in obsolescence it takes the software developed to run on it with it.

Art conservationists and restorers can virtually work miracles in recovering a piece of more conventional art: a painting or drawing, or a piece of sculpture for example, to closer to its original form. I have even read of restoration of Renaissance and other, older period oil paintings where the canvas they were painted on was rotting, and that old canvas backing was literally removed fiber by fiber to be replaced with new canvases. Given that level of commitment to restore and preserve, it is essentially always possible to set up in software, a virtual machine replica of an obsolete and unavailable original hardware platform, and in effect “replace the old canvas with new” for a work of digital art, and certainly for more software-oriented works. It is also possible to replace older hardware with newer analogous components and with newer underlying technology, once again, replacing the “canvas.” But does this in fact restore the older work of art, maintaining it as such or does it replace it with a new work of art that might be based closely on an older original, but that is still a distinctly separate piece?

When I was a graduate student I had a friend who was translating a lengthy work of Medieval Italian poetry and writing a commentary on it, as her doctoral dissertation. From her reading of the literature on poetry translation and from her own hands-on experience she was convinced that ultimately, a translation into a different language cannot simply reformat a poem from one language to another. Different languages parse concepts and meanings and even underlying thought differently. So a translation of a poem and certainly of a complex and nuanced one can at best only serve to create a new poem that hews with fidelity to the older, but that is still ultimately a separate and distinct work. When you translate a work of digital art into a new platform and a new technology context and even into one radically divergent from that of the original, can you say that you are only restoring that same original work of art and maintaining its identity as such, but with restored capability to perceive and connect with it? Or are you making a new work that happens to be closely based on an older work that is now effectively gone? How much technology drift and how many such iterative updates would qualify as forcing recognition that the work visible now, is not and cannot still be the original as it was initially conceived and created?

I have been writing this in terms of the fine arts. But the basic issues that I address here would, with time apply to information and to knowledge developed out of it in a much wider range of content types and contexts. And if that flow of change is not developing from the way and the pace that technology per se changes, it changes in the way that we change and the way our understanding of technology and its uses change. Our technology changes; we do too, and new and novel becomes standard and simply assumed, becomes quaint and archaic, becomes foreign from its obsolescence-based disconnects with our here and now lives. We change too.

And with that, I turn to consider the online and cloud-based digital art platform, as cited towards the start of this posting. More specifically I cite open source and open communications standards such as we have as our backbone software technology for the internet and for the tools we use to access it. The internet is still very young. Many people remember its birth and remember to well before the internet or its primordial ARPANET precursor existed. If you stroll through essentially any large and well-endowed museum, you will see works of art and artifacts that go back centuries and even millennia. Moore’s law sets a generation at some 18 months at least in the here and now and for recent decades – a few recent decades. The pace of change and of technology obsolescence is as fast now as it ever has been throughout human history and human existence and in many respects it is still speeding up – at least for now. Open standards and open connectivity languages and protocols, and the need to maintain their relevance for overall internet and online continuity and connectivity can only slow the gradual, cumulative impact of change and certainly as apps, for example, that are popular now disappear from effective existence with time.

I am going to continue this discussion in a part 2 follow-up posting. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and the Arts, and also at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and its first directory page.

Social networking, tolerance and empowering the larger community

Posted in social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on June 6, 2010

My wife and I went to celebrate the sixtieth birthday today of a very dear friend. We found ourselves attending services with our friend and her husband at their synagogue and I found this experience deeply moving, and for a reason I wish to attempt to share here.

The word community can be and often is used in two diametrically opposed ways. One conception of community focuses on an Us versus Them mentality with a cutting off of Others not of our own group, and the other view is an opening out to include into a larger group with a larger range of values – think of this as community writ small and community writ large. The congregation of this synagogue and our friends, active members there, actively seek to bridge the gaps that divide and that distinction and this was an underlying message throughout the room and for all who were there in it.

My wife and I were strangers yet we were welcomed in and accepted – and for who we are and as we are. I look around at the world we live in and at the news and I seen way too many barriers and too much divisiveness and over too many issues and distinctions for the good of any of us.

Competition can be good, and it can bring out the best of us, but cooperation has to be there too, and a positive coming together as community – as larger community and in celebration of our differences as well as of our similarities.

I live in a democracy, a society founded on the dreams of democratic principles and yet I see the values that brought my country together with religious and social tolerance as an ideal, coming under fire. Compromise is, or at least should be about finding a shared basis in values and priorities that our differences can be approached and resolved from. It is about finding answers that may not be ideal for any one of us but that are fair and acceptable for all of us. Compromise is not capitulation or a failure to support or honor community, but rather an opening up to possibilities that would address the needs and priorities of all. I look around and I see too much of the closing off and denying of Other that comes when we limit our vision to that of community writ small. We can and we need to do better than that.

One of the threads running through this service my wife and I attended was that of being grateful. I hold this in stark contrast to the cynicism that all too often divides us and state that when we strike out at or seek to isolate Other, we only harm ourselves. For ultimately We are Other and the Other we would deny is Us.

Social networking is all about building bridges and creating and sharing value. Good social networking is inclusive and it helps us to find value and opportunity – mutual value and opportunity that goes beyond our immediate social circles in connecting us to this larger community.

So we face pressures to divide and to declare anyone outside of our limited circle Other. And yet at the same time we see opportunities and pressures to open out and include as Us. And the pressures to divide and to cut off and to restrict ourselves to community small come from a sense of unmet need in the face of competition for limited resources. In times and places of stress and limitation, we build walls. The pressures to open out into community large are our opportunities to do better and actually live up to our professed ideals.

Social networking is one of the core themes and topics running through all of my blog, and for all of its various series. There is real synergy in good networking and in the sharing of created value it enables and causes. This expands the pie we have to divide and it holds the potential for opening the way to larger community. But this cannot start with someone else. It must begin with us as individuals and with as many of us as possible. That is what my wife and I were invited to share in earlier today. There are many groups that also seek to do this, just as there are voices and groups that would seek to divide and deny and to decry Other.

Reach out to a stranger and offer value. Participate in a social network as a paying-it-forward, and show your appreciation where others share this way with you. And Happy Birthday, my good and special friend, and thank you for being you.

In defense of art: creative expression and its challenges

Posted in social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on May 31, 2010

I was initially planning on posting a third installment today to my Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation series within my ongoing Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development (see postings 73 and 74 for installments to date for that). I decided I had to change my plans however, when I received a set of questions sent to me from an organization that had asked if I would agree to being interviewed. I will give this organization and the individual who sent this to me the benefit of the doubt and assume here that their intent was simply to be provocative. I still found myself sitting back in amazement at the tone and approach of the seven questions that were sent to me and I decided to pick up on one of them here with this posting.

The question, or rather the statement that I was expected to comment as if replying to a question began by quoting me from one of my published works: “The arts are a fundamentally creative voice and come from the expression of openness to new possibilities and perspectives.” It went on to baldly state, and I quote precisely “But art is propaganda!” The comment/question went on to briefly elaborate on this but the basis for that continuation was effectively included in this four word excerpt. And this prompted me to make two decisions – not to be interviewed by this organization and to respond to this challenge here. And this is a challenge, and to the arts and to all who care about them in the face of propaganda and the forces that drive it.

Plato is often thought of as promoting the benefits of philosopher kings in his Republic and there is an element of truth to that but it is also stated in this work that in an ideal state all poets would be killed. There is a marked and sometimes very open potential for conflict between the individual creative spirit and the state and this becomes more pressing and open as that state becomes more rigidly authoritarian. This applies to the written word and to the fine arts in their various forms and to all forms and outlets of creative expression.

The arts open eyes and minds to new approaches, visions and possibilities and that stands in stark contrast to the regimented and controlled of authoritarianism. And propaganda is in may respects an attempted taming and regimenting of this spirit and its expression to fit officially approved norms and in support of that authoritarian state.

I initially found myself thinking of the “art” of the Great Leap Forward in China and of the Stalin era in Russia and the Soviet Union, and of other spirit crushing regimes. It is not an accident that where Plato’s philosopher kings would silence and even kill poets, their counterparts and the supporters of those counterparts in the Great Leap Forward and in Stalin’s Russia took similar measures. Those they could not suborn, they marginalized, imprisoned, “reeducated” or killed. And the only creative expression permitted was expression in complete and rigid lock step with the received wisdom of the state. And that is propaganda, and that is an overly simplistic cartoon stereotype and it is at the points where reality diverges from this simple picture that this becomes most disturbing.

I raise the specter of Nazi Germany here – one of the most malignant and totalitarian states ever imagined let alone realized in all of history. And it had its sterile approved-format artistic propaganda in large measure even as its leadership looted the homes and museums of Europe of their art and of all ages and cultures. And it had its grand scale architecture with Albert Speer and his colleagues leading the way. But it also had artists like Leni Riefenstahl and her Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens). Nazi Germany also had artists with real talent and vision, but who had a malignant vision, or at least a willingness to whole heartedly suborn themselves into the Nazi vision.

It is comforting to think that good and skillful art and art of vision must stand in denial of propaganda and of all that it would support and sustain in sterile conformity. The real world, unfortunately, does not always conform to or sustain that though. So if rigid propaganda in support of extremism and authoritarianism is a stultifying challenge to art and to artistic vision and expression, this represents a more damaging challenge to it, and to society and culture as a whole.

Art does not in general support the restricting and limiting and it is in general a voice in conflict with that and in denial of authoritarian legitimacy. But it is not art per se as an abstraction, but rather the determination and vision of the individual artist who offers this challenge – usually. And when is art subordinated to evil and willingly so, it offers the greatest challenge to art as it can be in its highest, most liberating expression. The simple, comforting cartoon image of art versus propaganda does not always hold true even if it usually does.

As a final thought here, this is not about marketing and the way that artistic expression, or at least artistic forms can be and are used to represent any and all sorts of products – good, bad and indifferent. This is also not about art in a competitive and pluralistic society where its specific focus and message may be popular or odious and to many. And this is not about stereotypes and simple answers even when the context is dogmatically defined and limited. I write this to raise an issue and to provoke thought. The arts hold such importance and such potential, as do all forms of individual creative expression. But the picture is not always simple or pretty in detail. Art is not propaganda but some real art can be. And that is the real challenge.

Tomorrow I am going to shift back to my planned posting schedule and add my third installment to my series on career development and building a strong foundation as you go through the new job probationary period. The day after, I will add my next posting on building a successful online store startup.

The arts and similar avenues towards shared understanding of value

Posted in social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on March 25, 2010

This is my third installment in a series I have not gotten back to recently in the blog, but that I have found myself thinking about a great deal – Social Networking and the Arts.

I am drawn back to this for several reasons. First of all, I see tremendous sustaining value in the arts as a form of individual expression. I also and just as strongly see the arts as a medium of shared value and one that opens eyes to the value of the other. The arts express some of our highest cultural values and help us to see their counterparts in the cultural values of others.

I also wanted to come back to this series and now with this posting because of some of the feedback I have received from my first posting in it in particular: The Arts as a Celebration of Diversity, the Arts as a Celebration of Our Underlying Communality. Some of this feedback has been in general agreement with what I wrote and I appreciate that but some has been in disagreement and I in a way find myself valuing that even more. It is not that these readers do not see value in the arts but rather that they do not see the arts as a unifying opportunity for seeing shared value in our differences.

I would argue that this perspective would be justified, at least as far as countering my writing on the matter if I assumed that the arts hold a unique role and value in doing this. So I write about the arts in this series but I want to shift to an alternative example here and as context if nothing else – the Ancient Olympics.

Greece of the Ancient Olympics was in large part divided into separate nation-like city states, several of which carried names that are still commonly known to this day such as Athens and Sparta. These were busy, thriving communities and they competed on many levels, and all too often through military conflict as well as in areas like trade and commerce.

The Olympics were one venue where people could and would come together from all across Greece and its many city states to compete and to celebrate, and to worship and yes to trade and in goods as well as ideas. And this competition included events like the javelin throw that came directly from military skills but it also included events like poetry and I will add that sculptors came to the Olympics from all over as well. So the Ancient Olympics were not just athletic events as they are in their modern reincarnation. They included a much wider range of shared cultural expression and values.

And a point that is crucially important here in this discussion is that the site of the Ancient Olympics was one place that all outside conflict was banned from and certainly during the games. People could and would come together in peaceful competition in these Olympics even when they and their city states were in fierce and even bitter competition.

It is not that athletic events in and of themselves or poetry and sculpture in and of themselves, or all of them together in and of themselves can and will force the issue of creating opportunity for peaceful competition and cooperation. The arts in general cannot do this either. But the willingness to come together to share vision and value, and both with members of one’s own community and with others who are different needs content and context and the arts can provide that. The Ancient Olympics did this and it can be argued that the Modern Olympics have too from the way East and West came together to compete in peace and even during the heights of the cold war. The arts can provide content and context and a deeply felt imperative to share and cooperate.

I think of museums and the popularity of museum exhibitions and particularly where they offer to shed light and understanding of what to us are the other. And in this, “us” can mean any of us as museums seem to strike a deep resonance in any culture that can develop and maintain them. And arts festivals bring people together to share and to appreciate and to see wonders from other too, as well as offering opportunity to more fully see and understand self.

So I freely admit that the arts are not unique in offering the sort of value I wrote about in my first posting in this series. I am also quite aware that the arts can at times be subverted to very different more cutting off and even xenophobic ends. Though I add that a malignant expression of the arts and attempts to do this, thwart the spirit of artistic expression and of the artists themselves and tend to ring hollow – consider the impact of politically motivated mandates and restraints on artistic expression and how hackneyed and eviscerated of culture the results become. Look to the “stylized” artistry of any of the historic totalitarian states in this and how blighted their art became.

So the arts may not be sufficient to create the open sharing and appreciation of both self and other, but this openness is at least long term, a requirement for active, vibrant survival of the artistic spirit. And at least a spark of that spirit lives in most all of us as individuals and even if we never seek to create works of art. We still in our teeming numbers go to see it.

And I come back to the basic premise of my initial posting and of the second posting in this series as well as I write this. I will have more postings to add to this series, including updates on the World Olympus festival.

World Olympus – a new international arts festival celebrating regional arts with a global reach

Posted in social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on February 15, 2010

In my first posting in this series, The Arts as a Celebration of Diversity, the Arts as a Celebration of Our Underlying Communality I wrote of my own perspective on the arts as a voice of sharing of our creative diversity. I wrote that posting with this one firmly in mind, as I briefly mentioned an upcoming festival in the planning – World Olympus.

At the time, I simply stated that World Olympus will be a movable, ship-born festival that celebrates the world’s artistic traditions and cultures, and that it is intended to have a global audience reach. I said that this will launch on the West Coast of the United States and that our intent is to follow a global itinerary for the ports of call this celebration of the arts visits. I waited on sharing more details then but can share some of that now as many of our early-stage planning starts to come together. Following is a press release drafted by one of my colleagues in developing this soon to be ongoing event.

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Come celebrate the
2010 WORLD ARTS OLYMPUS
On board the famous Queen Mary Ship as she takes center stage hosting the world press launch of the most important traveling cultural arts institution in the world.
As we get ready to launch an inspirational ship of global goodwill that will soon be launched carrying artists from all cultures that will open hearts and embrace audiences on stages in cities worldwide. This traveling worlds fair of the arts, representing all countries, will create an international display of world culture free for the public in local theaters, parks, senior homes, universities, elementary schools and all venues were ever an audience can assemble as the ship goes from city to city. This historical event will not only be a milestone in global understanding, but a milestone in the minds of all who believe that world peace starts form the heart. This unique press launch will take place on the famous Queen Mary ship, permanently docked in Long Beach, California, June 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th. The Arts Olympus, a none-profit organization, will replicate, on the Queen Mary what will be on the touring ship with live dance performances, concerts, art displays, children’s amusements, global film festival, a record breaking international food buffet and a grand star studded Olympus World Peace Awards gala.
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To me, World Olympus is first and foremost an opportunity for open sharing of our collective and individual creative spirits and a denial and a breaking down of the barriers that so often come to divide us. I write of our desperate need for this coming together in my first posting here, and I was drawn to work in support of this venture as I see this as a vehicle of hope. World Olympus and bringing the world of art to you – I will be adding updates to my blog on this and on the issues and events in setting this up and bringing it to fruition. I will simply add here that I feel a tremendous sense of excitement of the potential of this and that I will be sharing word of this upcoming and developing festival through a number of online groups as well.

The arts as a celebration of diversity, the arts as a celebration of our underlying communality

Posted in social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on February 10, 2010

The world news has carried stories of our division and our divisiveness as an ongoing drum beat for a number of years now. This did not by any means begin with the 9/11 attacks in the United States, though they did bring this into sharper focus for many, and not just in New York City and Washington DC, and in that field in Pennsylvania where yet one more plane was brought down.

This posting is about the arts, and about our developing multi-direction capability to network, communicate, create and share. I begin it with my thoughts divided between this positive and the equally compelling negative that would drive people to organize towards terrorism and others to follow their lead in carrying out terrorist attacks.

I find myself thinking of this stark contrast and in what it says about our capacity both to accept and embrace difference, and to deny it and push it away with violence.

The arts are a fundamentally creative voice and come from the expression of openness to new possibilities and perspectives. A work of art can be beautiful but this is not a prerequisite for it to be effective in reaching out and connecting artist and viewer. A work of art may be enduring but this is not an essential prerequisite either. I could add choice of media and format to this list of what can be more detail than essential. When I pare this back to the true essentials I am left with the sharing, however imperfect of a vision, and the vision is of pattern and flow and of the creative process in its essence. Art to truly be art is a sharing of creative vision and a drive to such sharing through unique and perhaps even idiosyncratic expression. Art is a celebration of our differences and of our underlying sameness, in value and in our individual and collective worth.

Terrorism is a denial of the other, and a seeking to damage or destroy it for being different. The roots of terrorism are negative and destructive, and deny the potential or validity of this creative sharing.

There are reasons why terrorists target places where people come together to create, and to share and to build common value. There are reasons why the earliest prehistoric and Paleolithic expressions of human creativity include objects that hold artistic form and value, even as many of them just as obviously served utilitarian function.

Lenin is known, among other things for having observed that the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, and I will add to divide. The purpose of art is to bring together and to share where that can span the entire range of emotions and feelings – both as a sharing of vision and feelings and as a bringing together.

I have been asked to participate in setting up a moving global art festival that is intended to bring together the creativity of many places and peoples to share with all peoples and everywhere. I see a profound intrinsic value in this in and of itself. I also see this as a defiant repudiation of that drive to division and denial that we face in the news so way too often.

I have been attending organizational and planning meetings for building the launch to this event, and in preparation for moving it forward. I will write in more detail of this ongoing act of artistic sharing – World Olympus in future postings but I wanted to start this new category in my blog by putting the arts per se in a very particular perspective, as to their role in our increasingly global society. There are those who would build walls of distrust and denial of others. The arts deny those walls, seeking to find the good and the commonality in all of us while celebrating our uniqueness and our differences. Great art rips us out of the inertia of our standard paths and ways of viewing the world to see everything from a new perspective. The world is filled with a richness in diversity of such perspectives, and that is what an ongoing event like World Olympus is intended to both present and celebrate.

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