I'm reading a book on computing by Charles Petzold. The book begins with a presentation of Morse code, how it works, how it was conceived (not historically, but functionally). Code is based on the idea that a limitation of two possibilities is enough to yield usefully represenative numbers of combinations for the formation of meaningful communicative structures. At the end of the first chapter, Petzold notes that binary systems, called combinatorial analysis in mathematics, are used primarily in probabilty and statistics to determine the number of ways in which things like coins and dice can be combined, though they work well for code because they provide a finite number of options on which information used in communication can be based.
Painting seems non-binary in the way it represents, at least from this early perspective. It might change the more I think about it. To simplify the thought, I'll stick to an idea of painting from sight using ony black and white paint. Each mark in this conext corresponds to a shape perceived, meaning that there are infinte potential marks--infinite because each potential mark may be broken down into smaller and smaller marks. There is no language, because every mark is a thing of its own, unintelligible without every other mark around it, and with no point of reference outside the dialog created between painting, painter, and subject, unless you consider that the mark means the mark itself (self reference that produces no connection or relation between material elements), or that the mark means that a person made a mark (index). There is no limited structure on which marks are based other than the structure of the vision of the world, which is also infinite when you attempt to break it down into shapes, even with a knife, physically, because the slivers of material could theoretically be divided forever. the material world is not infinite if you consider it, not as visual material to be divided visually, or as material to be divided with cutting tools, but as phenomenon manifest as the result of code-like other phenomena, like genes and dna. tons of codes come together to produce the human phenomenon that resembles little the structure of the code that made it or the micro-biological machinery that produced it. maybe its tons of other kinds of code that produce expressionistic or sight-based painting and combinations of both It is true, however, that within a painting, individual marks become part of the system of the painting. These marks may be meaningless if exported to another painting or to the outside world, or they may fit, but I guess that marks from any two random paintings could not be interchanged while maintaining the meaning of either painting OR changing the meaning of either painting to something intelligible, legible, seemingly functional, good, beautiful, systematic, successful, worth looking at, worth hanging in your home, worth hanging in a museum, etc. There are some that are good and some that are not. we could deny this, but that seems like a waste of time. These observations suggest that certain paintings contain their own sort of functionality, which has been called language, but which does not really correspond to language because the rote idea of a mark as a symbol is limitless and has no widely communicable standard within an expressive, representational painting, and which has also been called logic, though logic suggests a relationship to traditonal ideas of reason, which this thought does not necessarily support. Rosenberg Greenberg there has been a longstanding assumption that the emotionally driven products of the human mind that do not have an external point of reference beyond memory and mark are immaterial, nebulous, untethered to reality, religious, paranoid, or dumb. I think that contemprary neuroscience based squarely in materialism frees the expressive mind from its association with the absurd and non-existent. the mind is material, and everything seems made of some code or communicated signal. Why not our emotions? And why not our emotions filtered through the mind and the through paint onto a surface?No two marks are the same. Even within a single painting, two types of marks may not be interchanged without disrupting the meaning of the work. An exchange may seem binary, but an exchange is not the only way to disrupt a painting or drawing by moving its marks. one mark may be moved, or many marks exchanged at once. The system that generates painting is not a binary system, unless you consider that one may either make a mark or not make a mark. Of course marks can be made using a binary system, though works made by this process fail to explain paintings and drawing that rely on systems other than codified systems. Maybe a better word for it would be conscious systems, In a conscious system, we are aware of all of the systems mechanisms. We have to be, because we rely on our conscious mind alone in order to carry out the function of the system with our physical bodies and whatever tools and materials we need to do so, which was probably also specified somehow by the conscious system. An example of a conscious system would be the drawings of Sol Le Wit. Could it be that an expressionist painting is evidence of what would have to be a network of systems of which we are unconscious, but which function with the same particularity as a simple system of representation and communication like Morse Code? We know that many complex neurological networks contribute to the making of a painting. Those of the eyes, those of the coordination of the body which allow hands, arms, fingers, torso, etc, to move in such a way that marks corresponding to perceived forms may be approximated. What is interesting is that these neural networks may join somehow to create a coordinated action of marking that produces something only meaningful within the limits of the picture plane. A bad painting is not just a bad painting. It may be literally non-functional, becaise it does not adhere to the network of systems that the painting demands. Where then does the finalized network of systems come from? How does it know itslef before it exists? marks that correspond to the real world are not the real world itself, so they cannot be judged based on their correspondence to the real world. They can only be judged based on their relationship with surrounding marks within the painitng. This is why painting philosophies that make primary the capture of life or mimesis--anything that says the model of reality must be served totally--seem to disappoint. They negate the network of systems that springs up, previously non-existent, when a painting is begun. Van Gogh said that he loved to follow nature, and that paitnig practices untethered from such observation were suspect. I don't think Van Gogh was an adherent to these flattening philosophies of painting in which deviation from the utterly rendered, accutely articulated visible world are the governing rule. I think he meant that painting that ignores the emergence of the network of systems based on incomprehensibly complex lines of neuro-biological code is not really painting, or is lessr than what really affects us, and that this is obvious. These networks of sytems should and would be constantly changing based on infinte information, so the paintings of now would not appear like the paitnings of the past. Outside of the painting, they lose their particular meaning, and within the painting, they either correspond or they do not. The painting then becomes a self-contained universe with its own, totally unique manifestation based on a temporarily extant system of networks: a phenomenon that ranges in the amount of time it takes up from 1 second to 20 years, and which is always, truthfully, an infnte series of phenomana, no matter how long the painting takes to make. Each mark means something particular and indispenable within the painting, but means nothing outside of the painting. The painting remains intelligible to the world outside of the painting not because it attempts so approximate the outside world, but because its marks settle onto the forms of the ouside world, which are not so much their subject as their natural resting place, something on which they settle.
If I think of painting as binary in terms of closed and open circuits either a different literal circumstance or a different metaphor emerges. I either mark or I dont. The circuit is closed when im painitng, and something that definitely involves a current of electricity but also other types of energy is passing from what I observe to me to the painting and...and then does it go back through me and back to the painting? This doesnt really make sense but it might somehow.
Morse of Morse code, the original communicator by code combined with electricity, was a painter. Morse
Now its been a couple days that I've been thinking these initial thughts through, while practicing html, anticipating going further and further back in the origin of language and communication as it appears on devices, on the internet--in all of the most common places. I've considered building a computer, and I hope I do. I want to build a computer that is like a painting. There are too many examples of paintings that try to be like computers, and theyre interesting, but I don't want to do that.
I think one of the simplest and most interesting thoughts Ive had about all this came to me yesterday while I was finishing a 7 hour drawing of my apartment and listening to the final chapters of Stephen King's The Stand. The notion that a contemporary capitalist society might become over-dependent on technology that does all of its life business for it is pretty well understood and commonly hashed out in poular, post-apocolyptic narratives like King's. But we never discuss representation as a technology. In this sense, painting and drawing are the equivalent of learning to hunt, cultivate edible plants, live off the land and without electricity. I think learning to use painting and drawing is as essential as maintaining some autonomy in connection to the world outside of what is predetermined for most of us every day by thousands of businesses and the communications technologies they use to make these predeterminations.
Thoreau and Heidegger and others (many of whom have been mentally ill, disturbed, crazy, volent Ted Kasinsky for example) have followed this line of reasoning. Most don't learn the function of the powerful, advanced tools they warn against. At least I dont think they did. To me, it makes more sense to attempt an understanding of all the mechanisms at work on our minds if we can.
Bits are numbers All the needs to be done when bits represent other information is count the number of possibilties. Then you know the number of bits and each bit or piece of information may be assigned a number. This is the problem with painitng and drawing in an analogy with code. You cant count the number of possibilities necessary to create a painting, partially because the information is too camplex and partially because the underlying system or algorithm or base code or whatever of a painting makes itself as it goes, and is constantly changing.
in this way, not only is painting not a code, but it is essentially anti-code, in that it destroys patterns everytime they appear, asserting over and over again that there is too much information present to generate a conclusion that is not extremely simplified.
Parts of the world can be codified. That is, described by systems of code, but these parts are just what they are: incomplete elements Of the whole. We could think of the whole universe, or of the whole apple, or of the whole vision of my apartment before me right now. No code could complete describe these, though many parts could be describe. Themost fundamental reason for this failing of patterns to describe the world is that everyting is in a constant state of change. The wooden coffee table that my uncle built in the 80s that is now in my apartment and which I am staring at is eroding at an imperceptible rate. It is not possible to perfectly desribe the coffee table using any kind of code or any kind of painting, but even if it were, it wouldnt matter because by the time I finihsed that description the coffe table will have lost and gained all kinds of particles, not to metion it will have moved at least a little and maybe more than a little, depending on whether or not a person intervenes and lifts it to accomodate some other part of living, some other object.
Paintign and drawing have always done a very good job of approximating the constant shift in the patterns of the universe. The best ones know they could never accurately describe anything, and so they follow change rather than attempting to wrest data from an infintely shifting landscape of information. Painting and drawing are a process of following the constant obliteration of patterns to which codes and systems adhere themselves. The universe seems to function more in terms of this constant obliteration of patterns than on anything static and permanent.
yet painting and code both simplify information, and both do so over a period of time. I have an idea that paintig and drawing are the origin of computing technology, so they beare an important relation to one another. You paint or you code. 0 or 1. is this the open or closed relation of two ways of divergent thinking, each of which originate with the need to represent, the need to assign meaning and give voice to the level of feeling and thinking of which humans are capable? One provides a description, the other checks that description by reminding its creators the description is wrong and must be changed again. Code is less adequate but more functional. Painting is impractical and unintelligible, but is really more accurate. Code is compforting and painting is terrifying. Both are necessary.