- continued -
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
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
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
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
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!
ONTOLOGY / PHILOSOPHY
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
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.
To next part