- continued -


Most of the present urban theory of art and architecture is very superficially rooted in European Renaissance. In fact it is based on a myth, the "post-medieval myth of the profaned creator genius". Under the influence of newly perceived Greek sources of philosophy (transmitted to Europe through Arabian traditions), medieval absolutism based on Neoplatonism had become questionable, particularly in view of the scripts of Aristotle. Artists and architects like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo had become the new creators of a profane Renaissance world. Reason and subjective creativity were the new principles. Art critiques like Pietro di Aretino became the high priests of this post-medieval pseudo-cult. In it, ingenious artists and architects functioned as God-like figures supported by the wealthy elites who financed their works.

This profaned creator myth was so powerful that it managed to continue into our present times. It survived all political contrasts. It is still the basic principle which creates modern cities all over the world (star architects) it makes the world of galleries go round (artists of world fame).

But, this is not an approach to the real understanding of art. A study of Cornelia Rothfuchs-Schultz showed the inefficiency of Western art theory for ethnology. The Western concept of art is based on nebulous Platonic aesthetics and thus does not have much to do with science. Judgements are highly subjective. Anything goes. Disastrous effect on our cities. Originality is still related to the ingenious artist who creates like the medieval God's creation ex nihilo.

However, if in contrast to this Eurocentric urban concept of art we use the anthropological approach, the theory of art and architecture will change completely.

In the anthropological framework originality is not subjective but cultural and temporal. Not the artist as an individual, but society as a whole conserves an age-old harmonious principle, a formal tradition of highest ontological values, of quasi-religious importance. This type of art is not subjectively invented, but cyclically reproduced by a community. It represents the 'origins' of this community whence its ontological value.

Everyone knows that the origins of art have something to do with what we call religion. Ancient theocracies showed their artful splendour in temples, kingly graves and palaces, all considered as divine domains. They were loaded with highest pieces of art.

Now the fact that the Egyptian temple for instance tells us, with its innermost sanctuary (reedhut) and its columns (plantbundle pillars) and with many other indicators about its origins from predynastic villages, could this mean in general, that art and architecture, including basic principles of aesthetics, originated in the pre-urban rural domain?

The term 'nuclear- demarcation' <2> might help us greatly in supporting this hypothesis in various cultures. I myself have worked with it ethno-pre-historically in Japan and found the results very plausible. It is true, Japan imported new technologies (wood construction) and the gigantic symmetries of its palaces and temples from China. But fundamental aesthetic outlooks originated in its village culture. To put it more precisely, the key to its aesthetic culture can be found in the nuclear demarcation of its rural Shinto cults (Egenter 1980, 1982, 1994). <3>

If we manage to support this hypothesis that art and architecture originated in the village culture, namely in the context of nuclear demarcation (e.g. with the hypothesis: plant ornament = metabolised survival of primary fibroconstructive industries), then our image of the significance of art would change considerably.

Pre-urban depth of art and architecture is further suggested by another point, which we will discuss later. The aesthetic principle we can reconstruct as "pre- or para-urban" or "rural" coincides with categorial polarity and this corresponds to a preurban/rural system of cognition (polarity, like Chinese YinYang, or Tao, or Euro-medieval 'coincidentia oppositorum').

The artist thus would not only dispose of a particular sense for cultural depths beyond the urban historical - if he understands and seeks art in the widest framework - he would also intensely work with a primary system of cognition, pre-analytic polarity. He is not content with the limitations of an analytical world view and its rigid definitions and classifications. He can not live without the tremendous manifold of the harmonious 'metaphorical' view and its endless all-in-one analogies <4>.

In this context the assumption is close that traditional societies live and lived in a world dominantly organised by elementary aesthetic principles. We could not only understand their seemingly irrational traditions, we could also become aware of the cognitive problems faced by those who are forced to adapt to a modern, dominantly analytical and rational urban world.

In the framework of our modern disciplinary outlooks early art would now surprisingly merge with philosophy. We would gain two things in one strike. The urban history of philosophy could be deepened by a philosophical anthropology and the history of art would find its extension into a dominantly rural (ethnological, prehistorical) anthropology of art and aesthetics.

Consequences? We would not only have to question the elitarian values of the Renaissance myth of art and architecture and its implications for art as well as for architecture and urbanism - we might have to rethink our principles of art in relation to modern democratic societies. And, particularly, we would have to widen our perceptions in regard to aesthetics. It is not only the palaces and cathedrals that make art. Art can be a tremendously rich system of cognition. An ever new and very ancient discovery of the world: the "democratisation" of art as an alternative - contra-scientific - cognitive system is called for!


Please forgive me here for saying something very bold: I think that most of what Euro-Western philosophy produced during its 2600 years of existence is highly problematic, because it rests on historistically prejudiced axiomatic conditions.

This statement can be supported with two arguments. First the comparison of Western and Eastern history of thought shows clearly that Chinese thought remained essentially related to 'polarity' (YinYang, coincidence of opposites) throughout Chinese history, whereas European thought, in its roots similarly polar (Ancient Egypt/ Mesopotamia, Heraclitus), but later split up twice into the analytical organisation of categories: first with Attic philosophy (Plato, Aristotle) and second, in medieval scholasticism (Neoplatonism) and the following empirical reaction of the sciences (essentially based on the writings of Aristotle).

The second supporting argument is based on the results of an anthropological view of the origins of Euro-Western thought. In Europe as well as in China, philosophy is based on written sources. Urban history tells us that European scientific thought had its origins in Attic philosophy with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle as the founders of European philosophy (Snell). The preparative phase is seen in so called pre-socratic thought. But this is a very one-sided, Eurocentric view and definitely structured by the historical method. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were not the creator gods of the European tradition. From its beginnings, European philosophy stands in a much wider context. Here the wider anthropological view, which includes all what we know about Mesopotamian and Egyptian high cultures and their preconditions tells us something very different.

Presocratic thought was a transitional field in which ancient Near Eastern/Egyptian constitutional principles (so called 'myths' or 'cosmologies') were speculatively discussed. These constitutional principles were based on a primary pre-analytic system of cognition (categorial polarity). Heraclitus was the last 'oriental' philosopher who still thought in polar harmonies ("upper and lower sounds form a melody"; "struggle" [or tension] is the essence of all things"). Parmenides is the turning point with his substantivation of the verb 'to be' into a static concept of being. Parmenides' concept was later attacked by the atomists.

The synthesis of this transition can be seen in Plato and Aristotle. Plato uses the extensions of spatial perception developed over roughly 2000 years at that time (compare Echnaton in Ancient Egypt), to formulate his idealistic realism which prepared the grounds for later scholastic medieval absolutism. And Aristotle contrasted this analytical speculation with his "Organon", a rationalistic approach to empirism.

In the framework of anthropology, the works of both philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, gain an entirely new aspect: they were not creations of the Western mind ex nihilo, they simply were developments of an older cognitive system which was restructured in new ways. The analytical system interpreted the former system of polarity antithetically. I have described this transition from conceiving the world in harmonious analogies by means of categorial polarities in an article originally written for the German weekly "die Zeit" (the text can be found in English in our website under the title "Disaster Scenario"). It basically maintains that the transition from a harmonious system of cognition, which was relational, to an analytical one, was a tremendously important change. The former perceived the environment with harmonious intentions, the latter splits the world into isolated pieces (analyse = to isolate, to separate). We feel this today. The world is becoming the garbage pit of our industrialised methods to objectively produce results of analytical thought processes.

In addition to this critical viewpoint we gain new insights into the philosophies of the world. China, throughout its most ancient history and into modern times conserved the concept of harmonious analogy. The same thought principle was valid in the Ancient Near East.

In China we can fairly accurately show that this harmonious worldview developed from prehistorical villages (Yin/Yang, Daoism). And the same is valid for the rest of Asia. In Japan we can show this ethno-historically. Japanese urban ontology, including aesthetics and religion, in its early phases is clearly a development influenced by China and its larger spatial dimensions, but, in the Middle Ages, Japan returned to its own sources rooted in its own pre-/proto- and para-historical agrarian substrate.

The analytical method developed in Europe, basically in Greece. However, it became really effective only later, in medieval scholasticism, first with Neoplatonism, later with Aristotelism which was integrated into religion mainly by Albertus Magnus. Aristotelism on the other hand also provoked the scientific reactions against the theological absolutisms, a perennial process which we call science today.

But, and this is important, the harmonious system never disappeared. It continues in art, religion and in social relations. Thus, what the sciences call irrational, pre-scientific or even primitive thought, corresponds, in fact, to a more ancient system of cognition, which developed in prehistorical village culture.

Evidently, we are again with our main topic, the urban rural dichotomy, but can now estimate the dramatic processes related to the two cognitive systems.

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