Paper presented to the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at the Conference held in Brussels, Belgium, 21 to 23 September 2000, under the title "Science, Technology and Art at the dawn of the third Millenium towards a Culture of Peace".
This paper can be considered to be my Credo as an Artist.
My name is Guy Levrier. I am a painter, or, at least, I try to be, as the climate of uncertainty which surrounds the activity is peculiar to our era, as we shall see. Academic tradition demands that we publish the fruits of our labours free of charge, submitting them to the judgement of our peers, and freely sharing our discoveries. This is why my project is purely philanthropic, which is to say that I am a painter who gives his work away. If you look for Levrier Guy or Guy Levrier on the Internet, you can access my websites, where you will be at liberty to choose from over 250 images of my paintings, and to do whatever you wish with them. You can even rework them and interpret them in your own fashion if you want to, but you cannot sell them.
The first painting you see here is my last figurative work, which I completed in 1983. Following this, suddenly one Sunday, I switched to abstract painting, without really knowing why, and found myself caught up in a most powerful adventure, in which one is sure of nothing. Looking at what was being done by other artists at the time, I observed some highly authentic creation of great aesthetic value, coupled with a sort of collective frenzy, a real sense of society being out of control, which made me yearn for a profound renaissance, and became the subject of this paper, which I have entitled:
Towards a new renaissance for a culture of peace
Bell's theorem demonstrates that quantum physics cannot be interpreted as a local deterministic theory: it has been considered as "the most profound discovery in the whole of science". It provides the proof that reality can only be non-local, which is to say that we live in a holistic universe, in which the whole acts on the part and vice-versa: this interconnection is my source of inspiration. The fact is that in the heat of the battle of artistic creation, one feels in touch with the whole universe, with an immense omnipresent force, with strange suggestions and totally inexplicable attractive forces, as is shown by the work of innumerable psychologists who have concluded that the whole process is a complete mystery.
So, in so far as I am personally concerned, I am not trying to illustrate certain scientific discoveries by abstract paintings, but I am attracted by quantum physics for two reasons. Firstly, I find there all the metaphors I need to "explain" my personal, ontological adventure in art, through painting. I have been particularly fascinated by the fact that, since, at the microscopic level, our observation of matter interferes with the phenomenon observed, we have no means of really knowing the totality of what is real. Now, my abstract painting, because of the absence of subject, poses the question: what then is real?
It seems as if nature, faced with the steady progress of our knowledge, still retains its share of mystery. What is more, what is most remarkable for us in our universe, which is composed of this same matter, is its beauty. Accordingly, as a painter, I feel that beauty, the universal law of nature, has more meaning for us than that which is real, and that we can be more certain about that which is beautiful than about that which is real. As artists, we don't know what is real, but as we participate in its creation, let us make it beautiful!
Secondly, quantum physics is equally for me the one scientific achievement which has broken with the exclusively materialistic approach to science, in accordance with the old adage " Science without conscience is the ruin of the soul", which is expressed by contemporary scientists like Amit Goswami in the following way "The central element in this new paradigm is the recognition that valid science is an old idea, according to which conscience, and not matter, is the basis of all being."
This is the spiritualist facet of matter: Einstein considered that science was a passion which required "the state of mind of a monk…in search of a universe of contemplation and comprehension." So, as an artist, ulcerated by the decadence of contemporary art, on the one hand, and an admirer of science on the other, I thought about the parallel we could make between the approaches taken by artists and those taken by scientists over the last eighty years, so as to try and reach some conclusions as to how to get out of this crisis.
I was struck by the position taken by Malevitch with respect to his art form, painting, when he exhibited his "White square on white background" in 1918, when paralleled with that of Heisenberg, the inventor of the uncertainty principle in 1925, with respect to science.
As a first approximation, and speaking as a man in the street, I expect the artist to give me art, the criterion for which, for me, is that which is beautiful, and the scientist to give me science, the criterion for which, for me, is certainty demonstrated in knowledge.
Now, what I see here is the validity of the concept of "Zeitgeist", as the Germans call it, or "l'air du temps", in French, or again in English, "the mood of the moment". What we could call our collective consciousness, by the fact that in 1918, Malevitch proposes uncertainty in art, and Heisenberg uncertainty in science, or let's say uncertainty within the limits to which science can be said to know, in 1925. I am conscious, in the present case, of the force of the idea of uncertainty, at the metaphorical level. The artist is, anyway, always ahead of the scientist, as he has a total freedom which the scientist does not. However, this total freedom has a price, which is the considerable risk which he takes, which can result in an equally total failure, in nothing, in a sterile void. In 1915, at the time of the Suprematism exhibition, Malevitch even wrote "Painting is finished, the painter is no more than an antiquated idea from the past". On the other hand, the scientist, absorbed as he is in knowledge and concrete achievements, is protected by the necessity of having his theories validated by his colleagues on the one hand, and by experimentation on the other.
I can't help but think that if he had really wanted to be sincere in the appreciation of his own work, and if he had listened to the comments of his own public, who in the final analysis were the ultimate recipients of it, Malevitch would certainly not have chosen to continue down the road of nihilism, because this self-checking mechanism "through others" is an integral part of the process of inspiration and the creative work of the artist.
Metaphorically speaking, it is as if there were some sort of higher sphere, like Plato's sphere of mathematics or Teilhard de Chardin's no-osphere, containing concepts which any seeker could explore in order to succeed with his project. Depending on his mental structure, his particular gifts and his personal commitment, his efforts would then produce a work of art or a work of science, but with a similarity of inspiration around the same general concept. In this case,—uncertainty in art as in science. Uncertainty is, once again, an avowal of mystery.
If we are sensitive to the major currents in today's Zeitgeist, there are two others, both highly contemporary, which we would do well to express: namely, repentance, and the spirit of sharing, as the latter is embodied, in particular on the Internet.
Judging by the way in which the general public expresses its rejection of modern art, and in particular what we could best call "non-art", it would seem that the hour of repentance has come for certain art forms which have been practised for more than eighty years now. It must now be admitted that a great deal of what we call art has been a flop, and what is worse, it has caused suffering, and deliberately so. Does this mean that we must once again define what art is? Certainly not if we believe the comments people make in the visitors books at exhibitions, which reveal a sort of physical, emotional, instinctive recognition, without prior knowledge, of what art is and what it is not.
Do we then, need a consensus on the definition of art? In our relation to art, as in the whole of human experience, there is a cognitive intelligence, which is that of knowledge, and an emotional intelligence, which is that of the feelings. They are, moreover, often set against each other. No doubt the mathematician, the surveyor, the architect and the intellectual will find real pleasure in understanding the laws underpinning the creation of a given piece of work, but we can no longer say today "let no-one enter here who is not a surveyor". Just as we accept that the intellectual should find delight in such cases in the fruits of his knowledge, it is unacceptable that he should try to convince his audience that they are incapable of finding aesthetic pleasure unless they have a complete understanding of it. How often do we hear people these days saying something like "this contemporary music is almost made more to be read from the score than listened to." Is this acceptable?
When faced with any innovative piece of art, the general public will inevitably turn to a historian or a critic for an explanation, because they will be afraid of not understanding, believing that only an understanding of what is before them will allow them access to it. By so doing, they lose confidence in their ability to feel. Again, how many times do we see people in exhibitions walking sideways past works of art in an effort to read what has been written about them, giving the work itself only a furtive glance.
The understanding which follows initiation undoubtedly adds to the aesthetic pleasure experienced by any individual, but it should not usurp its exclusivity, otherwise, if he has not understood, it will rob its possessor of the benefit of the pure emotion which he could have experienced spontaneously. Now, it is precisely the kind of intellectual terrorism which tries to convince the public that this type of understanding is reserved for an elite from which they are excluded, which is at the root of an art of paradox, of non-sense, of negativism, of provocation and vain polemics, the kind of art which has been rejected to such an extent that our governments have become sufficiently concerned to commission sociological research on it. It seems to me that, rather than creating a climate of opposition between cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence, as is the case at the moment, we should be better advised to attempt to persuade ourselves of the interest we all have in encouraging the emergence of complementarity between the two.
Because how can we really hope that mankind will ever benefit from the immense gift of art if we create a climate of mutual exclusion of these two forms of intelligence or if we generate a feeling of love-hate towards art? In our dehumanised society which has lost control of itself and which is in such great need of the serenity which only spirituality can bring, we have created both these things by dint of pseudo-intellectual snobbery and the lure of worldly gains. We would be better advised to make public repentance, so as to recognise our mistakes and look for another way.
Money. Let's talk about money. It has been very striking to see to what extent the birth of the Internet as we know it today has been achieved in a climate of free giving and goodwill, on a worldwide scale, both from the software engineers who have created the web and from the artists like myself, who have placed all their work on the net, without any lucrative end. This activity is exploding with the enthusiasm of all those involved, whether they belong to specialist circles or to the general public, and it is doing so in the extremely promising spirit of a real renaissance, in a desire for disinterested authenticity and a new form of undoubtedly more human society. Let us then draw the lessons which flow indirectly from the magnificent success of our technology which holds the promise of a culture of peaceful minds.