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On symbolic evolution

Towards Day 12 of Evolving Systems course


I. welcoming Emily Artz French Kenny!

II. coursekeeping

* break! no papers for TWO WEEKS! but read those novels!

* on Monday evening when you return, please post on-line your responses to Renfrow's essay and the conversation we're about to have w/ Emily: how predictable is cultural change? what role do the physical and biological environment and individual choice play in cultural change?

III. Renfrow's Prehistory
Chapter 5, "The Sapient Paradox":
huge gap between first appearance of homo sapiens and earliest agricultural revolution:
new inherent genetic capacity w/out rapidly visible effects
human revolution took place in Africa 150,000-70,000 years ago
dispersal "out of Africa" 60,000 years ago, with language capacity;
why the delay in modern human behaviors?
genetic and cultural co-evolution during the speciation phase,
but most impressive human developments came after, during tectonic phrase:
momentum of constructing human culture came from learned, not inherited, behaviors

Chapter 6, "Towards a Prehistory of Mind":
laws of genetics don't govern cultural transmission
("memes" a misguided = simplistic concept)
cognitive archeology studies us as symbol-making animals:
what we think with, involving two radical procedures of abstraction:
formation of categories, and processes of representation
"brute facts"--> "social facts" --> "institutional facts"
X (symbol/signifier) represents Y (thing signified) in context C;
relation between X and Y is arbitrary, dependent on social relations
(evolution of belief in the supernatural)

Merlin Donald's unilineal stages in cultural development
=kinds of cognitive activity

1. episodic (reactive to stimulus)
2. mimetic (early tools, nonverbal communication, shared attention)
3. mythic (homo sapiens: complex language, narrative thought)
4. material symbolic (material good have symbolic importance)
5. theoretic ("institutionalised paradigmatic thought" and external memory storage=writing, 3500 B.C.)

defining symbols requires recognizing new material features of the world (ex: weights, arbitrary values, perceived, then conceptualized)
extended and distributed mind play active role

development of sedentism brought new processes of material engagement into play:
dependent on social contexts, roles, relationships, conventions, contracts, understandings
no one generalized story of human progress;
independent innovations include languages
(which are hard to trace)

IV. pretty good framing for the conversation we're about it have; one question Renfrew's book puts on the table (again) is about the role of individual creativity in cultural change; another is about pacing (what Steven Jay Gould called "punctuated equilibrium"--what's happening when "nothing seems to be happening"?)

Let's start talking about this
w/ reference to Emily's
series, An Evolution

the catalyst for the series was Awareness:

Creativity is about "failure" (an experiment of the unknown)
and "lack" (need forces us to become resourceful, to innovate).

"Ideas" exist in a vast, immensely intertwined network;
individuals can aggregate and organize them in a new ways:
"the way I 'evolve' the idea is just as valuable as if I had the original idea myself."

Art is the continuous effort to expose the
infinite number of perspectives in this world:

an Evolutionary process of Compassion and Understanding.

Designing is much more deliberate (subject to
societal and cultural needs), a means to an end;
is exploratory, an end in itself, a journey to be enjoyed.
These provoke different brain processes:
being scrutinized, vs. joyfully exploring.

3 elements creativity relies on:

1. Imagination: visualizing what does not yet exist
2. Resourcefulness: recognizing the tools to help us get one step closer to the vision
3. Motivation: the driving force which propels us to exert the necessary physical actions carrying out the vision

And one quality: belief --
that one is a powerful creative being and deserves to be self-expressive

4 steps in the Creative Process 
1. Preparation - benchmarking, research, becoming familiar with the subject matter, brainstorming
2. Incubation - 'hibernation,'  stop consciously thinking, let your unconscious look for the answers
3. Illumination - the 'A-ha' moment, the Breakthrough that allows you to carry out the next step
4. Implementation - actual execution to form the object.

Could you tell us the story of where it came from? 
The collection of artwork titled 'An Evolution' originated from a visualization I had during a particularly transitional period in my life --  geologically, romantically, professionally and spiritually. This visualization is most represented in the piece titled 'Awareness' - the kneeling biomorphic form with the internal repeating shape.

I remember feeling overcome simultaneously by wave of grief and moment of insight when this image came to my head. The grief was not attached to sadness or loss -- rather, it was attached to a feeling of letting go.... of moving on to the next thing... of becoming 'aware' of myself in a new way.

So... what is the relevance of 'An Evolution'?
It was the moment of recognition that we live in an infinite number of simultaneous evolutionary processes -- biological, mental, emotional, social, philosophical, creative, technological... to name a few.
And, as individuals, we have control over some of these processes and lack control over others.
And one key to becoming a Creative Being, is embracing the processes you have power over, and letting go of the ones you do not.
To be a Creative means to set forth your own Evolution in a deliberate way.

To Create is to Evolve.


Do you have a story about where it went from there? 

9 months would pass before I pursued releasing this form from my head,

The series, in it's entirety, is comprised primarily of just 2 hand-painted watercolors...Ah... well, there is a third watercolor, making a presence just once, in the piece titled 'Cocoon' (i.e. the wings). Computerized colors and vector objects were also used to a minimal extent.

The watercolors were then photographed, imported into my Mac and finally modified -- cropped, repeated, layered, using design programs -- in order to create new compositions.

The compositions truly made themselves. I really had no plans as to how I wanted to use the watercolors, beyond the kneeling image. I just remember feeling very excited to import them onto the computer to see where I was taken. Very quickly, an adaptation of biological 'Evolution' became a theme.

But I think, the Art-Making Process of this particular series speaks more about Evolution, perhaps, than the compositions themselves - moving though so many states of being to arrive at the 'final' concept. 

State 1: Concept -- an idea/visualization
State 2: Hand-painted watercolor with traditional paints and paper
State 3: Digital Photograph
State 4: Graphic Art Composition
State 5: Digital representation to be viewed view electronic device
State 6: Digital Glicee Print


And what do you have to tell about the finished product? 

The process was very much an experiment. When I was creating it, I knew the limits to the technology I was using, but wanted to see how far I could push it.

In particular, the 'finished' pieces are really no where near the size I want them to be -- the size of the current pieces are constrained by the pixelation ratio of my point-and-shoot digital camera... from Step #3 in the process.

However, having already printed one piece for Anne,  I've made contact with a large-format printer  that takes photographs and/or scans original pieces of artwork at an almost unimaginable resolution -- with a 108 megapixel camera-- which would mean the pieces could be reproduced at immense size and quality, using only the 10 x10 inch watercolors from Step One

Technological Evolution has drastically opened up possibilities for the world of ART and I intend to explore all avenues!!