Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

17 June 2017

Dr Great Art Episode 15: Paradigms and Fuzzy Categories


My newest podcast! Episode 15: Paradigms and Fuzzy Categories.
This Dr Great Art artecdote is about a form of definitional conceptualization, paradigms and fuzzy categories, and how that is important to understanding art. http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-15-paradigms-and-fuzzy-categories

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This is the script (not a transcript, as I change elements when recording).

Dr Great Art Podcast Fifteen                                                    
"Paradigms and Fuzzy Categories"

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 15th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

Today my Artecdote is about a form of conceptualization of categorizing, while holding that impulse in check.
Paradigms and Fuzzy Categories

Most people want to define things by making lists of characteristics, or in philosophical terms, 'qualities,' ---  essential or distinctive characteristics, properties, or attributes which distinguish a thing. Definition as listing the characteristics that each and every object in the category has. The dictionary approach, in a way.

Example --- A fruit: 1. any product of plant growth useful to humans or animals. 2. the developed ovary of a seed plant with its contents and accessory parts.
So, street version---  "a thing hanging on a tree or bush that you can eat. And it does not kill the plant." So that is a list: thing, hang, tree, eat, not kill. 

Not everything works this way. Some of the MOST important concepts indeed do not. And I think art is like this, indeed in the most complex way. Some concepts may even need to include their name in their meaning (art or games, e.g. exempli gratia via Wittgenstein), the big High School teacher no-no. You are told you can't say, "A fruit is anything kind of like an apple, but any other similar fruit." And yet, we often THINK that way --- and about important things. Most of all, the name may designate a kind of game situation, a sort of complex enterprise wherein the designatory rules are provisionally accepted, yet part of their use is adapting or expanding them. 

This has to do with paradigms and fuzzy categories! And that has a strong bearing on ART and how and why we understand it, or even why we sometimes do not!

A fuzzy concept is one in which the boundaries of the concept are vague, or varying, in some way, lacking a fixed, precise LIST-style meaning, without however being actually unclear or meaningless. It has a definite meaning, which we can intuit, but one including a closer definition of the context in which the concept is used.

The best known example of a fuzzy concept around the world is an amber traffic light. Nowadays engineers, statisticians and programmers often represent fuzzy concepts mathematically using fuzzy variables, fuzzy sets and fuzzy values. Since the 1970s, the use of fuzzy concepts has risen gigantically in all walks of life. It is one of the breakthroughs that will be needed for a machine to be really a thinking, AI, artificial intelligence
.
The intellectual origins of the idea of fuzzy concepts have been traced back to a diversity of thinkers including Plato, Cicero, Hegel, Marx, Max Black, Tarski, and more. The consciousness of the existence of fuzzy concepts, has been around a long time.

However, the Iranian born, American computer scientist Lotfi A. Zadeh is credited with inventing the specific idea of a "fuzzy concept" in his seminal 1965 paper on fuzzy sets, because he gave a formal mathematical presentation of the phenomenon. Zadeh also developed ideas of fuzzy logic, fuzzy sets and more.

Fuzzy sets have no clear boundaries, in short.

This is tied to the Family Resemblance Concept from Wittgenstein.

This is the idea that things which could be thought to be connected by a list of essential common features may in fact be connected by a series of overlapping similarities, where no one feature is common to ALL. Morris Weitz, an aesthetician, or philosopher of art, applied this idea to art, and I think it is indeed most fruitful there.

First though, let's visualize BIRDS quickly! Or rather a drawing of a big circle with fuzzy edges. In the middle is the bird most of us think of when we say "bird." Something like a Starling or a Robin. Beak, wings, feathers, sings, can fly, etc. But we are perfectly clear about penguins and ostriches. They are clearly birds. Yet closer to the edge of the category. Beaks. Feathers. Cannot fly. do weird things like swim or dig. And Bats are clearly flying mice, not birds, so just outside the category. And cows are nowhere near the circle or edge! Thank God they do not fly! This is overly simple, yet clear, I hope. Such are fuzzy categories with a paradigmatic center.

Paradigm (Paradigma for my German speaking friends) comes from Greek "pattern, example, sample." A concept is a generalization while a paradigm is an example serving as a model or pattern; a template.

Now think of visual art. First the fuzzy-edged circle. In the middle is some highlight of traditional art. A marble statue. A painting on a wall or other carrier. Then as you get farther out, there is installation, still relatively clear, farther performance art. Hmmm, that seems more theatrical than visual art-ish. And yet most of these artists, at least in the beginning, were clearly from the tradition and concerns of visual art --- most of the first even being made by painters! Somewhere also on the edge. Somewhere also on the edge is comics --- sequential art --- that mongrel mix of writing and drawing. Just outside the circle, even just beyond the fuzziness, is much Conceptual Art. It came out of the circle, yet shuns visuality, thus is not visual art, yet sooooo close, and indeed an art. And we are so open in this field we enjoy the near-yet-farness. Way outside is poetry. It can be highly, yet indirectly visual, even painterly. It is AN art, but not art itself, as we conceive of it in relationship to the paradigm. That is why some would insist something is NOT art, and others would insist it IS art. Both are right! and wrong! For they are trying to force a list-form category back into operation --- one expanded, but with clear edges. It ain't so. And indeed let us remember NOT to mix definitional reasoning with QUALITY judgments, the sense of judging superiority or excellence, and taste judgments, whether YOU like it. The three are separate, yet most of us sloppily want to mix them (believing, especially in such Noun-dominated languages as German, that "Art" ("Kunst") means "good art" --- there is also bad art. That whole distinction I will certainly address soon here in a future podcast. It is, by the way, an important logical insight derived from Kant and Goodman.
MANY other things work this way as well. In particular art, and its subcategories such as comics or painting. --- It is a paradigmatic conceptual category with fuzzy edges, and indeed even involves constantly redefining itself as part of its definition, --- more about that redefinition in a future Dr Great Art podcast as well. We will have occasion to refer to paradigmatic, fuzzy categories frequently in the future on Dr Great Art.

Art is a paradigmatic, fuzzy category.

That was "Paradigms and Fuzzy Categories."

Thanks for listening. That was podcast number 15. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations. Some recent ones were on the image of Social work in Art History, "Kunstgeschichte in Schnelldurchlauf, Sozialarbeit in der Kunst," the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today, and Metaphor(m) in Art History.

You can find or contact me at
www.drgreatart.com/
or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.
 

14 June 2017

Dr Great Art, Episode 14: "Th. Emil Homerin"



The newest Dr Great Art podcast. Episode 14: Introducing Th. Emil Homerin. An artecdote about a person: Dr Professor Th. Emil Homerin, an important, inspiring scholar of religion, especially mysticism, especially the Sufis, with significant thoughts concerning art.
http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-14-th-emil-homerin


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Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements while recording).

Dr Great Art Podcast Fourteen 
"Presenting Th. Emil Homerin!"

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 14th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
Today my Artecdote is about a PERSON. In addition to artists and artworld denizens, I would like to present to my Dr Great Art audience people in other fields who I think are inspiring.

I am starting this with Dr Professor Th. Emil Homerin. That is his full name, he goes by "Emil," and is a close personal friend of mine, but as is usual for such things, I will call him "Homerin" here. I am beginning with Homerin as I feel he is significant, but also because this podcast will be first presented a bit after May 19th, both Homerin's and my birthday. 62 years old this time!

Thomas Emil Homerin is an American scholar of religion, especially mysticism, especially the Sufis: the wonderful Islamic mystical poets. Homerin is one of the most notable scholars of religion alive, I feel, although that will embarrass him. He publishes extensively, including books, essays, articles and entries in major encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia of Islam. Currently, he is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion & Classics at the University of Rochester, where he teaches courses on Islam, classical Arabic literature, mysticism, and Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester. More about that last fun class later. And other of his exciting projects that bear on culture and art.

Thomas Emil Homerin, generally abbreviates his first name to "Th." for publication, something I suggested to him when we were kids, when I discovered it in an old book, so blame me. Th. Is also sometimes used as the abbreviation for the Gospel of Thomas, that doubting apostle, Emil’s namesake. And 'Homerin' is the diminutive for Homer, which can mean a follower of that great poet, just as 'Brandl' is the diminutive for 'conflagration.' I like that Little Big Homer and Little Big Fire.

He is the son of two wonderful humans: Floyd and Miriam Homerin, and brother of John A. Homerin. While growing up in Pekin, Illinois, Homerin attended Douglas Elementary School, Washington Junior High School, and Pekin Community High School. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (B.A. '77, M.A. '78), and completed his Ph.D. with honors at the University of Chicago ('87). Homerin married Nora Walter in 1977, and they have two sons, Luke (born 1987), and Elias (born 1991). Nora has been a paediatric oncology nurse, which I think is one of the most difficult yet admirable jobs on Earth.

Homerin and I have a long history of friendship. We met when we were both 10 years old. A fast friendship ensued especially when we learned we were born on the same day, about 10 hours and ten miles apart. May 19, 1955. Over the past 42 years we have collaborated repeatedly on reviews, articles, comics, artworks and other areas that interest us.

A specialist in Arabic literature and Islam, Homerin has lived and worked in Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey. Among his many publications are The Wine of Love & Life: Ibn al-Fârid's al-Khamrîyah and al-Qaysarî’s Quest for Meaning, From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint and his anthology of translations, Ibn al-Fârid: Sufi Verse & Saintly Life published as part of the esteemed Paulist Press series Classics in Western Spirituality. The last of these books features a cover painting by me! Homerin also authored several chapters on Islam in The Religious Foundations of Western Civilization. Further books include the new and very exciting book translating an important female Sufi, ‘Ā’ishah al-Bā’ūnīyah’s Principles of Sufism.

AND MANY MANY more. Forgive me for my probable mispronunciations of the names.

One of the greatest things about his work is that even when he is "just" (in scare quotes) translating, he is NOT just translating. Homerin has worked very hard to become a very very fine poet in his own right, thus the translations of poetry are themselves poetry, not just simply literal redoes. One of the hardest things to do.

Death and the afterlife have been another major focus of Homerin’s work, and he has carried out field work in Cairo's cemetery. This initiated his interest in American funerary customs and practice which evolved into his course Speaking Stones on Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. He examines and teaches about western funeral ritual and practice, with a particular focus on cemeteries in the United States, and how the iconography and epigraphy of graves and funerary monuments forge symbolic connections among the living and the dead.

Homerin has been the recipient of NUMEROUS grants and awards, which you can google, as I do not have that much time here, but they include the Fulbright Foundation, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. and prizes as a great teacher! To which I can attest.

Some of Homerin's recent exciting projects are versions of operas presented live, with a small cast for the group Table Top opera but centered on the projected drawings illustrating the operas in comic/sequential art form by the talented, and famous, P. Craig Russell. Furthermore, he has several projects in production and planning for the future, including artworks and comics with me.

Homerin has published on and off widely about art. Once again google him. He did a wonderful feature article on the series of mail-art and performances he and Nora did in collaboration with me in Egypt, published in High Performance magazine in Fall of 1981, titled "Dusk Rituals for Egypt." It was followed up by two exhibitions of paintings and relics of the performances, in Cairo and Alexandria.

I use one quotation from one of his earliest publications a lot. Including in my PhD dissertation. It shows how so much of his thought, although seemingly from a far-off field, has great bearing on contemporary artists' endeavors --- and is inspiring! Which is what I try to do with Dr Great Art.

What Th. Emil Homerin has written of metaphor and naive belief in the context of religion holds for the arts even more so. Let me read it again here:

"When a myth or belief is no longer accepted as a literal account, whether due to a period of crisis or cultural transition, it may be recast in a new form, humanizing and assimilating more primitive dimensions by the symbolic and evocative nature of metaphor. The primary symbols of a culture are then perceived and colored by the individual consciousness receiving a specific complexion over long periods of time, and their multiple, often subtle, meanings lend themselves to those religious and poetic usages whose function is to establish man's meaningful existence in a seemingly indifferent world."

I claim that certain assumptions may, following Homerin's assertion, become more useful, not less. Artworks which were previously viewed as "inspired oracles of an ecstatic saint" may now be interpreted as "profound descriptions of humanity's existential state." This is not a loss, except perhaps of naïveté, but rather a gain in understanding. I assert this transformation of literal belief into more evocative cultural metaphor is one of the chief functions of artists today.

And just wait to see what Emil and I have coming up together! And separately.

There will occasionally be other people of interest presented her on the Dr Great Art podcast.

That was "Presenting Th. Emil Homerin."

Thanks for listening. That was podcast number 14. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations. most recent ones were on the image of Social work in Art History, "Kunstgeschichte in Schnelldurchlauf, Sozialarbeit in der Kunst," the image of the dog in Art History, and the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today.

You can find or contact me at
www.drgreatart.com/

book me at www.mirjamhadorn.com

or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.