Creative Destruction

by Antonio Dias

We’ve heard this term spouted by those who want a gloss of legitimacy to pour over the violence of their actions, the hollow emptiness of their motivations. Everything from firing workers to starting wars has been done behind the rationalization that it is creative to wield destruction, after all, without that Asteroid killing those big, bad dinosaurs, where would we be?

Within the realms of art, usually at least a bit removed from doing actual harm, there is still the habit that we may willfully employ destruction as a creative act. Collage, for example, is based on the violent rending out of context of fragments and then the re-organization of these fragments into some new coherence.

Perhaps there is a point at which truths about creative destruction shift from an accurate reflection of the way things are into a toxic simulacra, a fetishized act of internalized violence that, while it is intended to reflect and take advantage of a truth of nature, is in fact, just another way willfulness does violence to the world.

It’s just struck me the way in which there have been traditions espousing the abandonment of our willfulness that have really been about abandoning our willfulness and following the mandates of the willfulness of our “superiors.” That we should be, “Humble before the mighty!” Especially when there is a caste ready and willing to show us what that mighty will wants of us and how we might fulfill its wishes! In this formulation, humility is just another tool for domination. It is humility towards an end. This is not humility at all!

Let’s get back to collage. Collage sprang out of the Cubist Moment. The great insight of Picasso/Braque – the two were caught up in a rare dynamic in art. Two willful and driven egotists working together like mountaineers tied to each other as they traversed rarefied heights above tremendous precipices, their work almost indistinguishable from each other. Was this an early and visual instance of Bohmian Dialogue?

What was at stake? In art, perhaps what is always at stake, if the artist is sincere, is meaninglessness. When an established form and its assumptions and habits are abandoned, and intuitions are followed that lead off in an unfamiliar direction the risk is that the result is meaningless.

The reason the old path is abandoned is that it has become increasing fraught and problematic. While it is easily deciphered, that very ease gets in the way of its ability to carry meaning. The ease itself is a statement that amounts to a lie. That meaning can be transmitted without effort.

Effort is confused with talent or facility or with a narrative of striving for its own sake. This can cover over increasing irrelevance in an old form. It can also camouflage anxiety over whether a new form can carry meaning also. Here is one way in which – at the time, not in the public relations narratives built up later and mostly by others, though Picasso was a master of self-promotion… – the modesty, even homeliness of early analytical cubism, was a sign of a risk taken – one that only later became a reflexive stylistic trapping as convenient and as empty as any earlier form of virtuosity.

Following insights into the existence of the surface as a field, instead of seeing it as a perspectival screen or window, opened up the possibility to embody meaning in forms that were holographic. – This term is difficult and fraught today with many levels of misunderstanding. I’m afraid we’ll have to stumble along a bit before it comes clear… Let’s just say that if we stay close to its original meaning: like a signature, we can’t get too far lost.

When we look at a signature we see a sign that represents an identity. When we look at any fragment of a signature – if we are knowledgeable and experienced in handwriting – we can find that identity present in each and very fragment of the whole. Even if the signature is torn into pieces, we can take each fragment and “read” the whole in it. This implies a relationship between an object and its existence as a sign that can be “read” or perceived in a certain way. It also brings up a quality that we find all around us if we care to look attentively. It’s not just signatures that are holographic. Bohm’s insight was to take this and apply it to the universe as a whole and everything within it. At least for now, we don’t need to get into the technological “hologram” and the way it works or to get caught up in any possible mechanism for how and why it works or how the universe might actually be a two dimensional hologram that we perceive in four dimensions. Let’s just stay within what we can grasp directly.

Once we begin to see a surface as a field and marks on that surface as actions within fields. Once we begin to see that our perceptions not only can, but are primed for multiple readings of multiple fields superimposed on each other and all inflecting our readings of themselves and the others, we find the experience of making and or perceiving a work of art as a practice into the interface between perception and the world. Our sense of the world begins to lose the objects-in-a-Euclidean-space of our habitual conditioning and we are opened to the multiplicity of relationships that make up our world and our perceptions of it.

This begins with simple aspects of the way marks on a field orient themselves into a spacial massing of form that holds a taught relation to their two-dimensional place on the surface itself, but also through to the way color and value: light and dark, are in no way absolute – we don’t make something brighter by making it whiter, this can only go so far. We do it by juxtaposition with darkness. The same with blueness or redness, or any visual aspect of an image. Each part of the field relies on aspects of every other part to achieve a coherence that we can perceive. This carries over into other less obvious forms of expression. We make marks and read them as reflections of aspects of reality. We perceive in them weight, direction, movement. They may rhyme – in a myriad of possible ways from the visual to the psychological – with each other and with our experiences of the word. They take up rhythms. These also reflect. There is some level of mimesis or a sense of literally reflecting the visual appearances we are accustomed to seeing.

But, these reflections are inescapably linked to all of the aspects of the image that tie it to this overall holographic sense that we can recognize the whole in its parts and vice versa. The ultimate weight of meaning we ascribe to the image of stuff arrayed on a surface that is a field is inextricably linked to the way it exudes this holographic quality. Whatever else it may “say,” it says this first, “The universe is one and we perceive it only as we are aware of this unity.

Now, let’s get back to collage. It is a rending of contexts and a tearing of the fields its elements might have originally been a part of. I say might, because with the “classic” raw materials of collage: photographs from advertisements in magazines; or scraps of newspaper text and images; or even as with Rauschenberg’s physical collages, items of industrial production taken from the trash; these were not seen as parts of fields in their original settings. They had to be torn clear of our habitual assumptions for their qualities within fields to become apparent. This is a hint at a distinction between the kernel of truth within the trope of creative destruction and its toxic simulacra. What may have appeared to be a violent tearing out of context, a violent action, was actually the rescue of these elements from the violence in which they were being held – and through that violence on things, to challenging the violence being done to the people who were trapped within the assumptions that violence supported.

Another way to look at it might be through a relationship with anger. Much is made of the angry artist tearing away at his materials – aren’t they always male? – in fits of rage at the world and its injustices. I would say this is more a violence of that world of injustice to attempt to bring the artist back into its fold. Art may express something that some people read as emotion in certain ways, though this is more problematic than it might at first appear. But, art cannot be made in anger. This is the great fallacy of those who find art’s ways alien. We tend to confuse the reaction with how the thing was made. For art, as for anything, to be affective, it cannot simply be the fossilization of a strong emotional reaction into a form that will them somehow, bring about a like reaction in a viewer. let’s leave Kirk Douglas miming an insane Vincent van Gogh out of this!

Politicians and business “leaders” making pronouncements on the necessity for creative destruction are operating at this level. Their willful misunderstanding of what it means to be creative, and the distance between that form of “destruction” and the violence they are happy to unleash on the other, confuses the reaction for the action. Their destruction is not creative. It is merely destructive. It is violence unleashed upon the world. They are driven by their elite panic, by the “unintended consequences” of their actions – which are actually the only possible result of any action that tears at the fabric of the whole in an attempt to wrest advantage for the self. In their panic they then do more of what they know. They up the ante. They escalate.

At some level this does approach, and perhaps will even exceed, the kind of violence done by natural accident, such as the arrival of an asteroid. On an evolutionary scale they will have contributed to an opening of new possibilities for other agents. But they are completely deluded if they think they will be among them. What will remain are opportunities for cockroaches and viruses.

The creative destruction within a collage, or a painting, or a written work that knocks at the limits of our sense of sense; is an opportunity to practice our sense of what wholeness means. As Bohm said of Art, reflecting on the root in the term to artifice, that it is an act of discovering what is fitting. It takes what is broken and finds how it fits. In such action there are aspects that could be called destructive, but they are not of the same character as destruction, as in a violence done to the world.

Even within art. We fail when we take creative destruction to be a willful act. When we rend a context out of impatience or out of anger, even if this is only within the realm of artistic endeavor, we are doing a violent act. This may lead to creativity but only in the accidental way that our asteroid did. It is only in letting go of that willful violence – and all willfulness is violence – that we allow a place for creativity.