First Principles

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First Principles & Conclusions

By Dr. Marshall Thomas, with Concluding Remarks by the Membership for the Membership (Ask for your Member's edition page)

Principles for planning, developing and managing a destination district in the 21st C.

 Arts & Design District

Meeting Date: 06. III. 08

1 Principle. Reflect the durable values cherished by the visionaries, past and present, in the community. To accomplish this feat, think straight about clearing up the confused vocabulary of criticism for educated minds. Answer this question without thinking about what ought to happen (perhaps, to boast of your sensibility) : What happens, in a perceptual sense, when one is looking at a painting, a ballet, a building; when one is listening to a musical work or a play; when one is reading literature?

1: Clue - Improve spectator response [not to be confused with improving the ability of spectators to ascertain a work’s elements]. Clue - The witnessing of art is so complex and comprehensive that ‘all’ its constituents must be brought into awareness, whenever possible, before explanations are contrived. Clue - We can eschew the following honorifics, easily: that aesthetics is the perception of pure form; that art is a gateway to a world of absolute values; that art is a mirror to eternal truths; that art transmutes sensation into structure; that art creates autonomous worlds obeying their own laws. Clue - Give clear names [absent the jargon of system-makers or method-mongers] to recognizable things [not the grammatical parts of technique], especially the unpredictable portions of the presented object(s) offered to the senses and educated minds as a piece of concrete experience [and not as an idea or abstraction]. Clue - we can bring art back to its first condition as experience…

Conclusions (from the Membership):


2 Principle. Serve ‘lasting change’ with what is called, in everyday vernacular, ‘classic’ lines, colours, shapes, volumes - with many revealed in new ways. To accomplish this service, build up a set of commonsense maxims - guidelines - by which sincere, purposeful people can avoid fashionable cant and notions about art and design.

2: Clue - Art is a special, peculiar kind of plain experience conveying knowledge, overlapping in many ways with ordinary experience: shapes; colours; sounds; movements; and, words we meet in art objects begin by resembling those same things when we walk into a room or into a street. Clue - How we account for the difference, emotional and other, in how a master artist paints and a house painter paints - when both strike upon the sensorium - helps us make sense as to what makes art valued. Clue - Compare art to everyday experience [not art to art; art is never ‘autonomous‘ - wholly detached from the real world]. Compare the notes of a modern doorbell to a sonata… Compare the words used to order lunch with those twisted into poetry. Clue - We explore heightened significance as it comes to attach itself to some perceptions apparently identical with those that make up life [not to be confused with pedestrian notions: That the subtle arrangement and obvious artificiality prompt signals that sensitive people receive as the aesthetic experience; that any account for the difference between Cezanne’s apples and real apples, the terror in Oedipus or Hamlet and the terror we read about in the papers - imitation {mimesis}, beauty, harmony, order, systems of relations, Platonic recollection of ideal forms, patterns evoking myths, archetypes, language and logic conveyed through symbols, etc… merit our attention. Clue - Every formula put forth is contradicted somewhere else by another; the whole is a spectacle of anarchy comparable to that which obtains among the judgments of merit and worth. Clue - The battles between so-called abstract artists and representationists, between the upholders and condemners of so-called program music, between poets who ‘communicate’ and those who ‘puzzle’… These we examine, expose clearly.

Conclusions (from the Membership):


3 Principle. Offer only that which is life affirming, that which shows, that which triggers memories, that which stimulates imaginations. To accomplish this act of edification, help induce a widening tolerance for arts/design pursuits through showing how the casual or formal creeds of art-lovers and design-aficionados are linked to temperaments and visions of the world.

3: Clue - Give the cultivated person (our cultural tourist and others) who goes through the tumultuous experience of taking in a work of art a patch or two of firm ground. Clue - No experience is ‘pure;’ it is part of the tangle of workaday experience wrapped around memories - all charged with feelings - common emotions of varying kinds and intensities. Clue - Every masterwork can stir and reshape our viscera, for every work ‘moves’ the mind to find meanings in virtually everything it perceives, if for no other reason than remaining sane. Clue - Art and design are extensions of ordinary experience, an extension built of the same materials as life itself, and special because they are distilled and intense ‘expressive creations’ of the nameless, the ineffable, the unbound. Clue - Creations show something new or recast something old by exploiting our knowledge of a particular type of life [hence, our explanations of ‘Dutch’ art, ‘Japanese’ art, past art, ancient art…]. Clue - By habit, we ignore the weight of sheer information we bring to bare when we witness any work of art; to wit - we must help determine what and how much various forms and which works of art/design require of us to furnish for their understanding. Clue - Spectators often bring religious or ideological feelings to the experience, which can distort the meaning of a work; therefore, we must try to help beholders ascertain the full measure of the emotional and mental associations [whatever fraction is possible to discern] in order to help the sensitive spectator know how far these ingredients of perception and response are consonant with the words or other substance of the work being viewed. We point to self-examination above all, and therefore, we must be as aware as good critics of the current formulas and cliches that can be easily, seductively applied. Clue - What ‘throws light’ (the cant tools of myths, symbolic interpretation, theme analysis, biographical facts, depth psychology) is always limited - their authentic purport must be shown, never assumed - for these spectator aids can easily be more plausible than philosophical.

Object: To help liberate many good people from the oppression of having to admire what they do not like and having to repudiate what they secretly love. The outcomes sought: Offer a net increase in the freedom and happiness of mankind that comes with knowing what we can trust about art and design. To help educated spectators to calmly postpone the desired fever of excited pleasurable response to the next time they view the object(s) - to build their desire to return to that which involves each spectator to a climactic thoughtful passion; to help the fanatic revel and ejaculate without fear that such frenzied excitement will spill over into informing the meaning of art and design pursuits for others; to say that inasmuch as so much of the common property of art and design is difficult, often obscure, and sometimes deceptive that we need to help people direct upon it all the calm attention possible so they can accumulate their scattered insights into a treasury of philosophical knowledge, couched in clear language. Ultimately, to help the cultivated spectator (or cultural tourist) to feel artistic pleasure by feeling some correspondence between the secret, speechless, yet vivid experience embodied in a work and its counterpart in the beholder. To help them know that the portion held in common, less than the whole, is what helps enable the work gradually to extend the beholder’s grasp to the remainder, to stretch the mind and feelings so the beholder can come to believe that he or she has been in a new realm and has seen the ineffable. [If an unfortunate poetic hyperbole is then uttered, so learning can begin; if a fortunate scan of memory prompts the thought that art and design are not a homogeneous substance or quality, then the realization is formed for good - art is experience extended, a realm worth exploring, a congenial mystery to which we owe clear thinking, a way of sensing art and design pursuits so we can genuinely treasure what moves us.

How: Help spectators ask - What am I perceiving? What are its possible meanings? What meanings are excluded by other perceptions given earlier or later in the work? What associations are legitimate - not forced, not egotistical, not imported by coterie or convention? What fitting simple words can frame my ordered conclusions for others to compare and verify? What are the expected exceptions, variations and paradoxes? What periods and cultures present bodies of artistic and design substance that cannot be reduced to common terms? Are such differences instructive? What are the irreducible differences in temperament - in sensorium - among the individuals we serve? What are the limits to reason when one feels indifference, ‘unacceptance’ or when one is aroused to violent distaste? Can we be rescued from our limitations when we cannot accept the reasoned appreciation of others?

Conclusions (from the Membership):


Meeting between Joep , Julie [iMAGIQWorks] and Marshall Thomas at ADCP, Inc., HQ


  • Jacques Barzun, Lecture notes, Notre Dame College, Baltimore, MD, 1980
  • Marshall Thomas, Planning documents, Twin Cities Arts & Design District, Texarkana, TX, 2000

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ADCP, TADD, First Principles.wps


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