(A Retraining Scheme for Artists, Politicians and Civil Servants?)

Note regarding the text:

This text was originally written in the form of course notes for the 1994 discussion sessions that formed part of  the "Research Professional Practice" study group at the AKI School of Fine Art in Enschede, The Netherlands.

The text is intended to promote further research and discussion by the reader.

If I was writing the text today I think I would change "The Age of Post-Standardization" into the less optimistic "The Age of Illusion" because digital technology does indeed permit the appearance of  non-standardization -but only within carefully pre-defined (parametrical) limits. Just as digital technology also allows the illusion of freedom to the user  while actually giving total control to those who operate the system. It is my intention to develop this (and other dystopic themes) further in PROJECT MACHIAVELLI.

"The Need for Abstraction" also raises complex issues -because  abstraction provides a useful tool for generating generalised conceptual models -but it can also lead us into mental constructions that are so far removed from the practical problems involved that we, literally, no longer know what we are talking about. In terms of problem solving, abstraction always needs to be coupled to a Practical Understanding of the subject. In my view, this leads us to a Multi-Dimensional Parametrical Systems approach, which I am trying to develop within a visual art context in PROJECT KLEE. A more generalised (problem solving) approach is being attempted in TREVOR'S THINK TANK.

1.0  Introduction: Notes Regarding the Curriculum.

1.0 The Need for the Course:

Since the almost total collapse of private patronage for the Arts
the position of art in a modern democratic society has been

Although the problem in its pure form appears essentially to be
a philosophical problem, it immediately becomes a political and
economic problem centered around the problem of funding as soon
as local or national governments try to occupy the position
vacated by private patrons.

Without government support, the Arts are in danger of degenerating
into being a supplier of purely commercial propaganda images or
visual amusement (as in a certain sense they probably were in the days
of private patronage). With government support, the Arts become
part of the professional power game of adjudicating and advising
committees with their arsenal of self justifying jargon regarding
"Quality" and "Artistic and Social Relevance".

Stuck between the two (sometimes opposed and sometimes combined)
forces of Economics and Politics artists often either declare
themselves above the mundane forces of the material world (placing
themselves in voluntary isolation without financial or intellectual
support) or else they, willingly or grudgingly, participate in the
social games that others have developed for them.

Neither of these positions would seem ideal. In an age of individual
emancipation should not the artist also be seriously involved in
trying to determine their own position in society? If art does have
some social relevance then should this not be made explicit so that
artists and others may actively work on maximizing the effect of
art and not perhaps accidentally reduce it to harmless amusement?
Should the artist not also be aware of the economic and political
forces which may support or destroy their work?

1.1 The Need for a New Curriculum:

As already stated, the problem is not new, the private patrons
appear long gone (Were they ever there? Who were they?, How did
the system function then? What caused the decline?, Are there modern

However until now the problem seems to be approached largely from
fixed positions determined by the social status of those who attempt
to supply the answers. The artist shouts for money, the politician
demands restraint, the economist can only understand the commercial
value of commercial products, and the sociologist the role of social
status and ritual. None of the social groups understands the logic
or language of the other while everybody fights for the ear and the
purse of a public which is becoming increasingly confused and

1.1.a  The Need for Abstraction:
             If the problems are not directly solvable on a practical level
then we must look for new ways of describing and analyzing
the problems.

What do we mean by the terms "Culture, Technology, Economics"?
-Is "Art" the same as "Culture"?
-Is "Technology" a (recent) phenomeno?
-Is "Economics" only concerned with Money?
How do these concepts relate to each other and are they
powerful enough to develop an analysis of the problem
which can lead to practical solutions?

Do these terms need to be redefined
 -or do we need to look for
other (more or less abstract?) concepts?

Should we be analyzing in terms of:
-"Personal Satisfaction versus Mass Survival"?
-"Mass Satisfaction versus Individual Survival"?
-"Producers and Consumer Markets"?
-"Power Structures and Communication Systems"?
-"Simulation Systems, Strategies and Goals"?
-"Strategy, Tactics, Logistics and Intelligence"?
-"Language and Logic Systems Transforming in Space and Time"?
-"Systems of Energy and (Dis)-Information"?

What are the basic problems of our time?
-How could we contribute to their solution?

1.1.b The Need for Practical Understanding:
             Obviously we shall have little success if we only invent
idealistic theoretical solutions and then blame the rest of
the world if our solutions don't work.

Ideally, we should test our solutions and understand why they
they fail if they are not successful. We should also be open to
the practical objections of others.

1.1.c. The Need for an Historical Perspective:
             There have been artists, there are artists and we hope there
will be artists in the future.

Obviously, both the role of artists and the conditions under
which they must function have changed in many different ways.
We can also expect that these will continue to change.

We should try and understand these changes, to understand what
has changed and why it has changed but also to understand what
has remained constant. Perhaps then we can prepare ourselves
for the changes that are to come.

1.1.d. The Need for a Meta-Cultural Vision:
             Our history, and probably our future, cannot be understood
independently from our cultural traditions. Our culture has
developed as a result of our history and at the same time
determines how our history is interpreted and how we react
to present events and shall react to future events.

Other cultures will probably provide other (better or worse)
answers to current problems and probably even define the
problems in other ways.

We should perhaps also consider the effects of Global
Mass-Communication on individual and group cultures.

1.1.e. The Need for an Integrated Approach:
             It appears we shall need to look backwards, forwards, sideways
and probably up, down, and in the mirror all at the same time.
This may prove to be rather difficult.

We shall certainly need to look at different times in different
directions but we would be wise to remember that there are
other views in other directions.

If we are to integrate these views then we shall probably need
to look for a common set of (abstract) concepts which will
permit us to change perspective without getting disorientated.

In an attempt to understand the role of art in society we
shall certainly need to study both art and society from a
theoretical and a practical viewpoint.

2.0 Some Basic Concepts:

         -Energy, Information and Interpretation 
-Modulated Energy Modulating Energy
-Variation and Variety (Unity or Multiplicity)
-The Relationship between Models and Reality
-The conversion of Nature (Reality) to Artificiality (Culture)
-The Users Friend (The Conditioning Environment)
-The reactionary Friend
-The coercive Friend
-The honest Interface
-Logic and Non-Tinier Space (Patterns and rules)
-Space and Time (Static and Dynamic)
-Top Down or Bottom Up (Control and Anarchy)
-Continuous or Discontinuous (Logic and Chaos)
-Catastrophe: The discontinuity between Quantity and Quality
-Entropy and Anti-Entropy
-The degeneration into constancy
-The Entropic Pattern
-Multi-dimensionality (Parallel Worlds)
-Aesthetics, Ecologies and Games
-The Aesthetics of Politics and Commerce

3.0 Towards Some Possible Solutions:

3.1. A Possible Model:

               Conceptual Activity/Possibility Systems

                   (Theoretical Models of Understanding)
                          (Exploring Ends and Means)
                Physical Activity/Possibility Systems

                        (Practical Tools for Doing)
                 (Defining Means for achieving Ends)


        Conceptual Rules/Restraints                                   Physical Rules/Restraints

      (Conceptual Environment/Medium)                              (Physical Environment/Medium)
                           (Wisdom)         /____________________\                   (Existence)
                               -political      \                           /                         -material
                               -religious                                                                -energy
                               -linguistic                           /:\ 
                               -communication                  :
                               -educational                        :
                  structures and traditions                 \:/
                                       Natural                  /..........\         Artificial
                 /:\                 (Unknown)               \        /         (Known)
 Group      /______________\       Individual                       female
      -aims    \                      /            -desires                           /:\ 
      -needs                                      -needs                              :
      -possibilities                            -possibilities                \:/
      -restraints                               -restraints                     male

Main Conceptual Parameters of Model:

Physical   <->    Conceptual
Restraint <->    Possibility
Natural    <->    Artificial
Group      <->    Individual
Male        <->     Female

3.2. Some Notes Regarding Model (3.1):
  1. -All human mental processes are assumed to be concerned with Information Processing.
  2. -Information Processing is assumed only possible in terms of Conceptual Models
    •  (i.e. Supposed connections determining the relevance of information and possible reactions to it).
  3. -Correct conceptual Models are very useful,
  4. -Incorrect conceptual Models can be very dangerous.
  5. -Operations with Conceptual Models generally have four modes:
    1. a. -Model Construction
    2. b. -Model Modification
    3. c. -Model Testing
    4. d. -Model Implementation
  6. -Although Implementation is a form of permanent Testing which will generate criteria for new Models, it may prove impossible to construct a correct model from an incorrect one (i.e. there is a natural tension between Theory and Practice).
  7. -Art is concerned with Model Generation
  8. -Science is concerned with Model Testing
  9. -Technology is concerned with Model Modification (modifying theory into practice)
  10. -Culture is concerned with Model Implementation (is therefore reactionary dialogue with art and science).
  11. -Culture (and Science) transforms Nature (Unknown) to Artificial (Known).
  12. -Implementations earns money, but investment in creativity is essential because without invention there is no innovation.

3.3. Some Possibly Useful Definitions:

-The available material for supporting life
-The media accessible to an individual or group
 -The difference that makes the difference
 -The material that is physically changed
  -The carrier of information
 -Determining if the difference makes a difference
 -That which our sense organs are aware of
 -That which our brains construct
 -The way something is thought to be
 -Sets of rules for constructing models
 -Exploring the Making and breaking of rules
  -The investigation of differences and similarities
  -A Symbolic system researching Energy Systems
  -A Set of rules for constructing Models
  -The Symbol as Commodity
 -A Set of rules for testing the validity of Models
 -The practical ability to cause change
 -The models and rules common to a group
 -The conceptual environment of an individual
 -A set of connected processes
 -The assumed cause of change in something
 -The location (system) in which change has occurred
 -An ordered set of locations (addresses) or state(s) of a system
 -The awareness of change
 -A symbolic system representing stored Energy
  -The Symbol as Commodity
  -The amplification and distribution of Energy
  -Practical restraints based on Conceptual Means

3.4. Some Possibly Important Factors:

A. -The Age of Post-Standardization

"Everything in the Universe is different/Everything is the Same"
is an Ancient Greek discussion about the nature of the world.

"You can't compare Apples with Pears" or "As different as Chalk
and Cheese". In order to make comparisons there always needs to
be a standard frame of reference (i.e. Taste, Size, Colour,
Function, Location or even Linguistic similarity).

Modern systems of trade and Industry (Early Industrial
Revolution +/- 1750 in England) increasingly required
standardization for accurate (scientific and practical)
measurement, Industrial Safety Procedures and Ease of
Mechanized Production.

  • -British Royal Navy Prize for Chronometer to aid navigation at Sea.
    • The need to standardize Local Time Systems to synchronize the long distance (!) operation of trains.
  • -The "Scientific" Standardization of weights and measures (i.e. the meter)
    •  Allowing universal scientific repeatability and universal commercial compatibility
      •  with monetary systems being the exception until now
    •  Allowing the exploitation of "universal trade"
      • With limited movement of people
  • -The Engineer Whitworth's standardization of the screw thread
    • Permitting universal distribution of manufacturing process because parts produced anywhere would fit each other.
    • Permitting untrained staff to perform complex tasks cheaply (automation)
  • -The standardization of Steam Boilers (and Safety Limits)
    • Forced upon manufactures by Insurance Companies in order to cut costs incurred by exploding boilers.
    • Creating distinctions between (paid) technologists and (amateur) scientists
  • -The attempt of Babbage to make "Computing Machine"
    •  Intended to perfect Logarithmic Navigation Tables but thwarted by lack of mass produced standardized parts (capital exhausted after 11 years of construction with only half the necessary parts completed -and fitting poorly together).

The Engineers (Technologists), were the heros of the
Industrial Revolution (Scientists often being rich amateurs
and part of Social/Cultural Establishment). Technology,
when properly applied could produce enormous profits but
required extremely high levels of (High Risk Capital)
Investment (as did the earlier long distance Sea Trade of
East and West India Companies). "Scientific Correctness"
of new technology was good selling point for Investors.
Because Technology was where the money was, the Scientist
applied themselves to the testing and improvement of
Technological components, thus inventing "Applied Science"
and bridging the previously large social gap between the
theoretical intellectual aristocrat and the pragmatic

("White Heat" BBC program on Technology)

The (wealthy) Cultural Elite also lost their economic position to the
(wealth generating) Entrepreneur -and so only had their social position left.
Creating a split between social (cultural) power and economic power.

-Specialization increases Manufacturing Efficiency
-Specialization increases Detailed (specialized) Knowledge
-Specialization requires Organization (Integration/Coordination)
-Specialization can mean Fragmentation/Isolation/Alienation
-Specialization can mean Increased need for Inter-process  Communication
-Specialization forces Organizational Hierarchies
-Specialization stimulates Economic Exchange
-Specialization demands Economic Interdependence
-Specialization often Speeds up Technological Innovation
-Specialization creates a dependance on others (who specialise)
-Specialization creates dependencies that are easy to manipulate by those with a wider perspective

Obviously, trends have different starting points in different
areas of social awareness, practice and interaction. Although
increased population growth and spread of technology is
continually accelerating the speed of development, trends
generally have a long pre-history of incubation hidden away
in invisible specialized areas. It appears that gradually
the range of application of certain (proven) ideas spread
until they reach a certain "Critical Mass" and suddenly
appear to be inevitable and unavoidable. At that point they
initially become universally applied as a solution to all
problems, later they start to develop an anti-reaction in
people threatened by the new developments. A battle of vested
interests then develops, which of course is usually won by
the most (economically, socially, military?) powerful
participants. Occasionally, perhaps a more pragmatic approach
is possible (Perhaps generally when both parties are
threatened by an external threat) and both antagonists
realize that no one solution is universally valid in all cases.

It would appear that we are now in a period of
Post-Standardization. This is naturally a rather confusing
and paradoxical situation. Emotionally, the restrictive
corset of standardization has been rejected (which naturally
increases the risk of disorientation), on the other hand, it
is precisely the hard won realization of standardization
which permits us to accurately measure, compare and understand
the variation.

On the one hand the rejection of Science for its alliance
with the hated prison of standardization, on the other hand,
scientific method as the integrating principle in a confusing
web of often conflicting differences. In between, the ever
changing flow of economic forces. Let us hope that the
aesthetic principles of Art can successfully explore the
dynamic balance required in an ecology of seemingly
conflicting (vested) interests.

B. -The Fight for Control over the Social Image Making Process:

Probably all physical wars are proceeded by a period of
propaganda and indoctrination in an attempt to produce
willing participants for the sacrifices that will need to
be made.

A voluntary victim is easier to manipulate than a forced victim.

"It doesn't matter who owns the TV stations, it's the program
makers who make the programs. It was Michelangelo who created
the Sistine Chapel and not the Pope!"
-Professor of Media and Berlusconi Supporter
("The Late Show" BBC program 26 sept 1994)

What is the role of artists in a propaganda system?
-Who's side are they on?
-How can they transcend their own propaganda based environment?

How much is "education" part of the propaganda system?

C. -The Margins Between Freedom and Control:

The possible conflict between Solidarity and Emancipation.
The possible pact between the Leader and the Lead.
The possible conflict between Social Identity and Personal Freedom.
The possible cycle between Consolidation and Disintegration
of Power

D. -The (Electronic) Media
  • -The media are the technology of communication
    • -The media form the physical environment for the growth and dissemination of ideas
    • -The media form physical restraints to the materialization of conceptual models
    • -The media have a hidden form which is independent of content
  • -New media and technologies are often used to imitate old media and technologies
    • -It takes a long time to discover the true inner structure of new media and technologies
    • -The internal structures of Media and Technology are often used as physical models which form the basis for new conceptual models
      • -The Steam Engine was a model for the power of rational organisation
      • -The Printing Press was a classic victory of Standardization over Variety
  • -The Computer is a classic example of Variety based on Standardization.
    • -Is the Standard Menu satisfying or can you mix your own sauces?
    • -Global Systems of Communication demand a Global Language.
    • -How much Cultural variation is possible within a Standardized Global Language?
  • -Global Media are ideal for Global Propaganda, the more a message is repeated the more believable it becomes.
    • -Is there a Real World outside the Global Electronic Village?
      • -The Global Electronic Village is a fun place to play in.
      • -The Global Electronic Village is a great place for social control.
    • -How do the creative (art?) media differ from the (education/propaganda?) communication media?
      • -What are the Economic Opportunities in the Global Electronic Village?
      • -What are the Cultural Opportunities in the Global Electronic Village?
        •  For Everybody -or for whom?

E. -The Unrestricted Global (Conceptual) Economy
  • -Implementation in economy of cultural revolution of 1960's
    • -Liberalization of economy
    • -Continuous Change
  • -The Paradox of the individual:
    • -individual becomes autonomous
    • -individual autonomy appears insignificant in global system
    • -individual autonomy isolated from potential social support
  • -Orientation and Disorientation
    • -Identity and Freedom
    • -Anarchy and Law
  • -Globalization of economy
    • -Maximalization of energy exploitation for those that can Globalize
    • -Action in any part of system causes reaction in total system
    • -Apparent loss of control for local systems
    • -Apparent loss of differentiation in local systems
    • -Homogenous global system destroys generative ecology?
  • -Conceptualization of economy
    • -Automatisation destroy labour as commercial object
    • -Symbolic money systems becoming important economic factor
    • -Information (about money) becoming important commercial object
    • -Service industry (entertainment) becoming important commercial object
    • -Research and Development (Science, Art, Technology, Sport) becoming important commercial objects
    • -Entertainment and Communication become a principal initiator of Technological innovation (for commercial exploitation) as well as military systems (Military-Industrial-Edutainment Complex).
  • -Making or Taking?
    • -The Generation of wealth or the Distribution of wealth?
    • -Parasitism, Competition or Symbiosis
    • -Nomads and Farmers
    • -Consumers and Producers
    • -Inlaws and Outlaws
  • -Possible Mental and Physical Limits of Free Global Conceptual Economy
    •  Open or Closed Economic systems?
      • -Economic effects of possible damage to Physical Environment
      • -Economic effects of possible damage to Conceptual Environment
      • -Economic effects of possible damage to Social Environment
    • -What happens to losers?
      • -Survival support systems for potential losers?
        • -Who is to supply support systems if local autonomy is lost?

F. -Change, Liberation or Trauma?
  • -Change will generally benefit some and damage others
    • -Old products, procedures and knowledge become useless
  • -Universal Standards required for global mass production
    • -Mass innovation cannot be globally instantaneous
      • -Confusion for consumers and producers as to which co-existing system should be implemented or developed
      • -Standardization can prevent innovation
      • -New Standards mean loss of capital investment in old system
    • -The beneficiaries will support change and the losers oppose it
      • -Change forces adaption, those not adapted will be victims
        • -Adaption takes time:
          • -to understand what has changed
          • -to understand the effects of the change
          • -to develop new strategies of defense or acceptance
        • -Change benefits the young (who don't know the old systems)
        • -Change alienates the generations from each other
          • The young and alienated can be exploited easily

F. -Aesthetics (The Name of the Game?):
(see also: Manifesto on Aesthetics)
  • -The Aesthetic Balance/Experience
    • -Feeling good or feeling bad
    • -Nothing is good in excess
  • -The paradox of Balance in the Western Logic of excluded middle
    • How can one balance unreconcilable opposites?
  • -The Aesthetic Balance implies an Ecology of Differences
    • (Stones, Earth, Flowers, Bees, Rabbits and Wolves)
  • -The Aesthetic Balance is the basis for human behaviour
    • -Individual (Artistic) or Group (Cultural) Aesthetics
      • The choice within an Aesthetic
      • The choice between Aesthetics
    • -Politics is applied social Aesthetics
    • -Economics is essentially the Ecology of Energy
      • -The Theory of Games is the Theory of Dynamic Aesthetics

Batten 1994.


For other (related) texts on  <> see:


Pedagogical Report OBP Discussion Group "The Role of Art In Society" 1994

During presentation and discussion of the prepared working notes,
students spontaneously expressed a wish to present their own
contributions for discussion. In fact, the working notes were
not completely covered but were copied and distributed as reference
material for the students.

The first paper presented was a statement regarding the fact that
for many people a visit to a museum was more of a social ritual than
a cultural experience. This lead to a discussion about:

�The individual and their relation to the group.
�The need to conform and the need to differentiate.
�The need for leaders and the responsibility of leaders.
�Balancing the advantages and disadvantages of situations
and accepting the consequences of the choice.
�The role of free museums in encouraging "accidental contact"
with art (i.e. sheltering from the rain) as opposed to
conscious participation in the ritual of "cultural experience".

The next presentation was concerned with the problem of personal
expression through the medium of the computer when one considers
that in principle all possible pictures are potentially defined
by the number of points on the screen and the number of colours
available. This lead to a discussion of:

�The possible similarity to human language systems where a
large but still limited range of words seemingly allow
infinite expressions of meaning.
�The possible similarity with painting (where one is also
limited by canvas size, palette, art history etc..)
�The role of time in transcending the limitations
(i.e. the images may be limited but their behaviour
may be complex and varied)
�The difference between physical and conceptual actions
(i.e. the absence of a perceived physical action changing the
image forces one into more abstract modes of thought)
�The different (but equally valid) aesthetics of sterile,
accurate and controllable digital systems compared to messy,
inaccurate and relatively uncontrollable analogue systems.

The problem was considered interesting enough to be continued,
in the form of practical experiments, during my forthcoming
Media Art workshop.

The next session was devoted to an attempt to define different
types of information. The discussion did not come much further
than noting that there was a difference between information
received through "direct" experience and information which was
derived from some kind of (logical?) "processing". One interesting
remark was that human beings apparently find it easier to control
their external environment than their internal body functions. This
lead to the idea that perhaps art was a way of manipulating the
environment in order to modify internal (mental) states. Some
students remarked that the criticisms of the group were sometimes
a painful confrontation for their egos, but that generally the
results were worth this.

The morning and afternoon sessions are getting dissolved into
each other. In the afternoon the "computer box" which originated
in the morning session was re-introduced. I was initially forbidden
to speak, so I left the students to play with their new toy. On
returning they had isolated a few wooden staffs as a basic
principle and were trying to build a machine from them
(i.e. computer = machine).
Also the students were wanting to define a machine,
-so we tried:

�machine = Tool
�machine = Simulation
�machine = Invention by/for lazy people
�machine = Collection of mechanical parts
�machine = Autonomous processing
�machine = Physical manifestation of system

This lead to a discussion about the possibility of considering a
pair of spectacles as being a machine or not. This lead to problems,
the lenses did act like a machine on the light, but there were no
moving parts although it was a seemingly autonomous process. Also
was discussed the possibility of a forest (ecology) being a machine
or not. We were reminded of an important characteristic, forgotten
until then, was the transformation of energy. A simple conclusion
was obviously impossible.

A session in which it was attempted to discuss an article about
the economic role of information, retrieved via the Internet was
not very successful. There was insufficient time for students to read
and study the article, and everybody seemed rather tired.

In the last session, the afternoon again developed out of the morning
session. Due to the morning portraits, discussion developed regarding
the differences male/female. A distinction was made between
(biological) sex and (emotional/behavioural) gender. These did
not need to be identical or rigid divisions, neither physically or
psychologically. Biologically, (parthegenic) females were the basic
type and (hermaphrodite or specialized) males were a luxury to
increase diversity in genetic material. One could even make a
distinction between reproduction (which is essentially division)
and sexuality (which is essentially a striving for reunification).
Socially, there appears to be an inversion of roles. Men are often
considered to be practical and women more social -in fact it is more
often the opposite -women are often (forced to be) concerned with
practical solutions while men are often more concerned with their
social status. Due to the asymmetry in association of social status
for the male, women could be considered more liberated than men in
that they have achieved a position of choice to play either male or
female social roles, while for men to adopt female roles is socially
less accepted or practiced. The semi-transvestite clothes (mostly
some kind of trousers or leggings) worn by most of the female
students present demonstrated this asymmetry -no male present was
wearing a kilt or toga type of cloths. Although generally in the
(West?) Netherlands women generally appear (to me) to be more
suspicious than friendly towards men, the students (without denying
an awareness of dangers of the supposed advantage of the physical
strength of men) tended to deny differences between men and women.
Most students also tended to talk about emotional or social aspects,
interestingly, one woman mentioned different ways of thinking.
Unfortunately there was not enough time to pursue this further.


Trevor Batten
Amsterdam, June 1995

Baclayon (PH)
February 2012

<trevor at tebatt dot net>
home person visual textual