Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sebastian Horsley

Sebastian Horsley (1962 - 2010) was one of the most shocking of the new wave of British shock artists. He was best known for a piece of art in which he filmed and later painted his own crucifixion (as detailed in the article below) and wrote extensively about his reliance on drugs and prostitutes. He had the dubious 'honor' of being denied entry to the United States for reasons of 'moral turpitude' (depravity), and died in June 2010 following an overdose of cocaine and heroin. I think he is more likely to be remembered for his eccentricities rather than his art, and appeared to me to be more of a self-publicist than an artist in the true sense of the word. However, he did stretch the boundaries of taste and pose some interesting questions about aesthetics.    

British Painter Suffers Crucifixion for His Art

Monday, January 16, 2012

Shock Art

I saw a mention of this article on Richard van Lagemaat's TOK tweet (which is well worth following), and I thought it raises a very interesting question. Is there a point at which shock art becomes too shocking? Should artists really be sensitive to the reaction of the audience and do they have some responsibility to avoid art which is simply repellent? Repellent Works of Art

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Devil

The concept of the devil as the enemy of God appears to be specifically a creation of modern Christianity. He appears in the Old Testament, but here he is more of a trickster, sent by God to test the faith of his people. His identification with the snake that tempts Eve in Genesis appears to be a product of Christian revisionism. In the Qur’an (where he is identified as Iblis, an entity created by God from fire) he is given a mission by God to deceive mankind in order to allow the faithful to be identified at Judgment Day. The role of trickster and mischief-maker is clearly identifiable with Pagan gods such Loki. In Buddhism the figure of Mara, the tempter, appears and tries to tempt the Buddha. Eastern religions such as Hinduism recognize that evil exists, but not in the form of an identifiable being.

In the Middle Ages, especially during the time of the Black Death, it was convenient for the Catholic Church to blame the misfortunes that befell Europe on a malevolent supernatural force. In some ways this was a propaganda coup for the Church, and they were able to increase their hold over the common people and decrease the influence of ancient superstitions and other religions. The devil was identified with Paganism. Witches were thought to consort with him, and therefore were punished horribly. Interestingly, Pagans themselves did not recognize Satan. They did worship horned gods (probably based on Greek deities such as Pan), and the recognizable modern image of the devil (as a horned beast) can probably be traced back to this.

As the concept of Satan developed from more of a metaphor to an embodiment of evil, some religions grew up which, by their own admission, worshipped him directly as a deity. I read recently that there are signs that Satanism is becoming socially tolerated (though perhaps not by Christians). For example,the British Armed Forces now allow it to be practiced openly.

In this BBC podcast, a group of historians discuss the origins of the devil and the folklore that surrounds him:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274) was one of the greatest thinkers in European History. He was a Dominican priest who believed that the ideas of Aristotle should be applied to Catholic teaching. Aristotle sought to develop a universal method of reasoning through which it would be possible to learn everything there is to know about reality. Thomas Aquinas tried to apply these same ideas to the understanding of religion. He felt that it was possible for a person to accept religious teachings by faith alone, but he also asserted that theology is a science in which careful application of reason can yield observable proofs of knowledge. He taught that individuals could come to know God through scientific study of the Universe - a revolutionary idea in a medieval world in which the average person was happy to leave knowledge in the hands of the clergy. He could be credited with forcing the Church to come to terms with allowing common people access to religious knowledge. In doing so, he perhaps also became one of the founding fathers of scientific thinking.

In this BBC podcast, a group of historians, philosophers and educators discuss his legacy:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Paradigm Shifts

In this excellent article for Physics Today, author Steven Sherwood looks at the reaction of experts and the public to paradigm shifts in science. He looks at what he calls three "inconvenient ideas": the Copernican Heliocentric Model, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and anthropocentric climate change. He contends that in general, the reaction of opponents to each was similar, encompassing denial, derision, rejection and some element of professional jealousy. He also discusses the readiness with which a sceptical public is primed to mistrust scientists by the sensationalism of the modern media.

I wasn't aware before reading this article that some scientists were predicting that man-made pollution would result in global warming over a hundred years ago.

Physics Today - Paradigm Shifts

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Conceptual Art

David Hockney appears to have recently been rather critical of artists who employ assistants to produce their works of art. In this regard, at least, he seems to have similar views to Karl Pilkington. He has stated that he has been quoted out of context and was talking specifically about conceptual artists with little talent who make use of the skills of others. Despite his protestations, it does seem difficult not to read some criticism of Damien Hirst (possibly the most famous living conceptual artist) into his comments. Hockney critises Hirst

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Origin of Writing

BBC Radio 4 has produced a series of podcasts on the history and development of written language, called the "Written World", presented by Melvyn Bragg. I've uploaded them here in the order they were broadcast:

episode 1  

episode 2  

episode 3  

episode 4  

episode 5