Curvism: Art and Philosophy
Introduction: A View of Modern Life
We live in buildings; we work in buildings. We travel between our work and living environments inside a vehicle. What we see out our windows is a man-made world, where nature has been replaced or altered for the purposes of people. We live in boxes, work in cubicles; we are caged in, rarely getting out to touch the earth and be surrounded by the sky. When we walk, it’s across a paved parking lot. Big city life, suburbia, small-town living. Modern life. How did this happen?
Historical Context for the Art and Philosophy of Curvism
Humans started as hunters and gatherers living in nature. Hunting and gathering was replaced by an agrarian culture. The landscape was changed and people’s relationship to nature changed. The human population grew. Cities were formed. The industrial revolution developed. Science, technology, and commerce expanded. City life, factories, and the machine age replaced the farming way of life. People began to live separated from nature, no longer participating and interacting with nature. The world we have made for ourselves is unnatural and inhuman, disconnected from nature.
We now have a further expansion of science, technology, machines, and commerce. We are now living in the information age. Now we sit in our living rooms looking into our TV window, receiving information, watching social interactions, being entertained, distracted from directly living for ourselves. Information is relayed so constantly and quickly that we have no time to think about the information. We are hypnotized by commercials.
The information age is powered by the computer. Computers are everywhere. The human race is traveling down the information highway at the speed of light. Everywhere, people are sitting at their personal computer screen, staring into cyberspace, looking through infinite windows for more information. Nature recedes further and further into the past, replaced by a world made by man.
Man has made rapid progress in his conquest of and separation from nature, particularly in the last 200 years. What has happened to our belief systems in this process of separating from and dominating nature?
Hunting and gathering people created myths to help them explain the world of nature and their place in nature. Myths were the beginnings of an abstraction process.
Agriculture replaced hunting and gathering. With this control of nature, the population grew. Religion replaced myth in providing explanations about the nature of the universe and man’s place in it. Religion became the dominant force in providing social control.
With the industrial revolution came an expansion of reason, logic, and the scientific method, which fueled technology, commerce, and consumerism. Science provided new and improved explanations to the workings of nature, challenging and replacing religion. Man’s power over nature increased.
The information age is upon us, uniting mankind into one world economy and network. This is made possible by the power of the television and computer. Information technology not only increases man’s power over nature but also over social interactions and systems.
Man has made a world of his own. Man is preoccupied with his own abstractions and is now almost totally separated from direct experience with nature. Man now believes in the products of scientific knowledge.
Some people are becoming aware of the limitations of scientific knowledge, explanations, and products. Some people are becoming aware that something is missing, that things are out of balance. Some people are afraid of the implications of the course we are on, afraid of man’s power over nature and human interactions.
Some people firmly believe that science and technology will provide information, explanations, answers, and new products for problems encountered today and in the future.
For most people, changing from agriculture, through the industrial revolution, to the information age, happened too quickly to fully comprehend or adapt to.
There is conflict between those who still believe in religion and those who believe in modern science. Both religion and science began by direct observation of the universe with each developing different abstract explanations. Religion has its gods and God; science has its facts, theories, methods, and products. Both have developed systems of abstractions far removed from direct experience of nature. Both religion and science have developed their systems for social control. Both religion and science have converted and conditioned humans into social animals. In the process, we have lost most of our animal nature. We have lost contact with nature. We no longer see nature. We no longer touch nature. We no longer hear nature. We no longer really taste nature. We can no longer smell nature. We no longer move through a natural world and consequently, are losing nature, landscapes, and the wilderness.
Most of us have no opportunities to experience nature directly. Our survival no longer seems connected to nature. Our survival now is directly connected to social, economic, and information systems. We are in the process of changing further, from social animals to social machines who serve the systems we have created for ourselves.
Curvism believes this must change. Curvism believes we must get out of and away from our cubicles and boxes in order to experience nature directly for ourselves. Curvism believes that we need to reunite with the spirit of nature.
Art Historical Context for Curvism
Prior to formalized religion, primitive people made pictures on the surfaces of rock, representations and abstractions of a natural world they directly experienced. As time went on, myths were developed which evolved into religions. Originally, art was made to illustrate myth and religions. Nature, for the most part, was depicted as a background to the social interactions of gods and humans. Art subject and style was built upon previous art subject and style. Western art followed this course of progression until about the 1800’s.
The Romantics returned to direct observation and experience of the natural world. The Barbizon painters escaped the smog-filled air of industrial Paris to the “open air” of rural France to paint landscape pictures.
Romanticism led to Realism and Impressionism. Whereas the Romantics tended toward a mythological or religious view of landscape and nature, Realism and Impressionism portrayed a more scientific view of nature. During the 1800’s, painters struggled with the conflicts between the religious and the scientific, the industrial and the rural, the individualist and society. There was, however, a direct involvement with nature during this period by many artists.
Impressionism evolved into Post-Impressionism. Cezanne and Seurat used a scientific, intellectually based approach to nature, while Van Gogh and Gauguin took a more religious, emotional approach. Each approach to nature led to an increased awareness that the ingredients of a painting (color, form, shape, line, structure, composition) were realities in themselves worth exploring. It was at this point that the twentieth century arrived and modern art developed.
Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon (1906-07), a painting of five female nudes in an indoor environment, suggested the possibilities of Cubism and abstract art. Picasso and Braque’s landscape paintings of 1908-09, with their focus on the cubed, man-made structures in nature, opened the door to Cubism. Artists became aware that the two-dimensional surface of the picture’s plane was an independent world of its own. Pictures no longer needed to portray reality. Once this was realized, artists moved away from nature and further into the process of making abstract pictures. Modern art has since been characterized by this abstract exploration as well as the exploration of man’s inner reality, or man’s relationship to social issues. With few exceptions, modern artists have not used nature as their source for subject.
Twentieth-century abstract art has been particularly dominated by the symbolism of the cube, the square, and the rectangle, beginning with Cubism and moving through Malevich, Constructivism, the Bauhaus, Mondrian, De Styl, even the compositions of the Action Painters and Abstract Expressionists, Pop Art, and Minimalism. Certainly, twentieth-century architecture has been dominated by square thinking and the cube.
The rectangle has almost exclusively dominated the history of western pictorial art. The rectangle has determined the compositional structure of western art. The rectangle is what frames the picture and frames our worldview. It is the window we have been looking through.
In the last 500 years, artists and society have perfected their communication skills using a visual language based on the rectangular format. Television and computers now dominate the communication of information by using this visual abstract approach as seen through a rectangular window. This is where the twentieth century ended. This is where Curvism begins.
What is Curvism?
The philosophy of Curvism is based on an understanding of social history. The art of Curvism is grounded in a natural progression of art history. Curvism is an art movement with a message and a vision. The following is a summary of the key concepts of the art and philosophy of Curvism.
Curvism believes we need to escape from our boxes, cubes, and cages. We need to escape the domination of the square world we have made for ourselves. Curvism has sought to do this through philosophic and experiential awareness.
Curvism advocates for the direct experience of nature. Once we get out of our boxes, we need to find ourselves in nature, in landscapes—earth below, sky above. We need to use our senses. We need to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and move through nature. We can then develop an emotional response and connection to nature. We will discover a full range of emotions from serenity to fear. We will rediscover our animal nature. This will make us more human than what we have now become. Once we have experienced nature directly with our senses and responded with emotions, then we will be ready to think more holistically. Thinking and feeling will not be separated from each other or from the experiences of the senses.
Nature is curved, composed of curved lines, symbolized by the circle and the ellipse. The straight line or square is the exception in nature. The curved line, ellipse, and circle have been suppressed and are the exception in the man-made world. By consciously experiencing the curved world of nature, we will find the inspiration, wisdom, and courage to change the man-made world and protect and preserve the natural world. We will become a part of, rather than apart from, nature.
Western culture is man-made, built from what are associated with traditional male qualities, values, and beliefs. It is the view of science and technology, reason and logic, power and aggression, conformity and competition, materialism and commercialism, quantity and packaging, fragmentation and separation, arrogance and self-importance. The straight line, the rectangle, the square, and the cube symbolize this worldview. This is a masculine worldview. This masculine worldview has dominated western culture for the past 10,000 years, destroying nature and suppressing the female qualities of humans. The uncontrolled power of this masculine worldview has placed humans and the planet in danger.
Curvism views the world from a perspective identified traditionally with female attributes. Curvism values the senses and the sensual, the intuitive and empathetic. It is caring, compassionate, and cooperative. Curvism is about wholeness and diversity and concerns itself with quality. It is oriented to cycles and the nonlinear, to recreation and reflection. Curvism is of the arts and humanities and is concerned with relationships. Curvism speaks for nature and the earth, the environmental and the ecological. This worldview is symbolized by the curved line, the circle, and the ellipse.
Curvism believes in the inherent spirituality found in direct experience of nature. We have lost this spirituality. In the development of western civilization, man developed myths to explain nature and the meaning of life. Myths turned into organized religions concerned mainly with social interactions. Science came, disproving and overwhelming much religious doctrine. It became the dominant force in explaining and conquering nature. Science produced technology, information, consumerism, and materialism. Western religion set the stage for science by believing man was given dominion over nature by God. Western religions believe that people will be rewarded in heaven or suffer in hell, depending on how they behave socially. Religion has said little regarding the mistreatment of nature. Religion has not been able to stop or contain the force and domination of the square world because it is often part of that square world.
Curvism believes there is much to learn in the wilderness that will help us solve our man-made problems. Curvism believes that through a conscious relationship with nature, we will find a spiritual way of life to limit and direct the products of science and technology. This spirituality, founded on a personal relationship with nature, will value nature. Science and technology will be used and directed by the spiritual, avoiding the exploitation of nature. Curvism recognizes there is much useful knowledge symbolized and produced by the square world that will help the planet move into the future. Curvism believes we need to move toward the female qualities of the curved world to restore balance and harmony, to make us more human.
Curvism believes the reign of the rectangular picture plane as the format for art is over. Curvism believes the ellipse and circle are the next windows for artists to explore and travel through. There has been some preliminary experimentation. Curvism believes there is a new world of artistic discoveries to be made by exploring the natural formats of the ellipse and circle. For example, the relationship between the inside and the outside of elliptical and circular pictures is much different than the rectangular. With the rectangle, the inside and outside exclude each other; they are separate. With ellipses and circles, there is a relationship between inside and outside—they seem to include each other—they are not separated. Curvism has prepared the way for the exploration of the ellipse and circle. Curvism has a vision of the pictorial possibilities provided by the ellipse and the circle in the future, and for the future.
Conclusion: A View of the Future
Curvism believes in nature. Curvism believes in the ultimate power and wisdom of nature and knows that nature will survive the human race. Curvism is concerned about man’s uncontrolled materialistic exploitation of nature and spiritual separation from nature. For too long the spiritual world of nature and the female qualities of humans have been dominated, suppressed, repressed, and destroyed by the forces of the man-made square worldview. Curvism sees danger in continuing in this direction. The voice of the curved world, that female voice, is beginning to be heard around the world. There is a growing awareness that the culture of science and commerce cannot feed the deeper longings of the soul or satisfy the higher aspirations of spirituality. The world is beginning to change. The love of the spiritual is growing. Curvism represents this new direction.
Steve Firkins - Written 1997