Wednesday, 27 July 2016

What is progress?

What is progress? Making things better. So, progress as understood as a qualitative category. But what is 'better'? This can only be established in comparison: we are dissatisfied with something, and want to improve it. Here, invention and experiment come into play and - as a spontaneous byproduct - originality, which is always a result of a way of looking at things, which again is the result of how the person who is looking at things, has developed, including all the individual streaks that this process may include.

The improvement of something implies the existence of something that was already there, and the dissatisfaction connected with it. This implies the past: we live surrounded by a world stemming from 'the past'. It is on this point, that the last century's utopian thinking went off the rails: by denying the past, in whatever context, or treating it with contempt (as postwar modernism did), the attempt to improve things is undermined, since the evidence of dissatisfaction is no longer there, or is no longer considered seriously. This denial inevitably leads to re-inventing the wheel over and over again, without any hope it will be 'improved'.

In art, such considerations have serious consequences. 'Improvement' in art can only happen on the level of material means, not in terms of artistic vision, as will be clear when considering masterpieces of ages bygone. On my website there is an article on the myth of progress which goes a bit deeper into the subject:  

In art, the urge to transcend existing boundaries and limitations in search of 'something new', whatever that may mean, will always bump into existing limitations of given possibilities. Where existing art, i.e. products of 'the past', is denied, rejected, 'made invisible' by will or ignorance, it is impossible to transcend existing boundaries because they don't seem to be there, and in the happy cloud of nothingness, any step seems 'progress' and 'invention' to the juvenile mind - because of the lack of comparison and thus, value judgement.

I found an interesting review of a new publication which seems to confirm some of the outcomes of these meditations. 


“Any culture that thinks the past is irrelevant is one in which future invention threatens to stall.”


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