Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Old Wine in New Bottles

Dr. Carleton Palmer has responded eloquently on behalf of the International Society for the Advancement of Living Traditions in Art.
Many thanks for the insightful observations about ISALTA. Technology has made practical what was unreachable twenty-five years ago because of logistics and cost. The ideas of an encyclopedia of living traditions in art, research journal and artist/researcher magazine might now be realized as interactive, co-operative projects along with enhanced communication tools at a single website. The existing site,, is merely a sketch, and definitely a work-in-progress that can be continuously reshaped by the artist/researchers themselves.
An excellent vision now requires a renewed commitment and a new membership. The achievements of the past are impressive and serve as a road map for new generations of artist researchers from all disciplines and should now extend beyond text. But attracting this constituency may require more than a website, as was suggested in Navigating Global Connections.

While I agree with Dr. Palmer's claim that artistic problem solving is inclusive rather than exclusive, transcending media and materials, I also believe that many may still regard ISALTA as the domain of visual artist/philosophers. Yes, this is not accurate, and no one is more persuasive than David Ecker in using music, dance, theatre, or even food to make some of his finest manifestations of phenomenological description. Even so, many in the academic world have made a clear distinction differentiating art and arts in an oversimplification of categories. This schism is evident at nearly all colleges and universities. Traditional names of colleges or schools as Arts and Sciences reinforces this perception and perpetuates this artificial distinction. Even at New York University the separation and isolation is underscored with a Department of Art and Art Professions that deals only with visual art, while other arts disciplines reside in a Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions. The conditions at NYU mirror a common perception among professionals and non-professionals.
The underlying concept of art as qualitative problem solving transcends medium and material; it is inclusive rather than exclusive, and challenges preconceptions about art and empty definitions that drain art of meaning. The dissertations whose abstracts are available through the site encyclopedia, and the varied art they discuss give some idea of the breadth and utility of this idea, although they do collectively reveal a visual bias, that is the product of historical circumstances not philosophy. Discussion of "a performance-based conference aimed at attracting thinkers and practitioner's from all media, intermedia, mixed media, and multimedia" excites the imagination and would be a highly desirable development.
As attractive as Dr. Palmer's rationale for inclusion may be, it is not convincing in the context of the common perceptions I have described. Living Traditions in the Arts could open the terrain dramatically. I am suggesting that ISALTA might take an aggressive stance that could prove irresistible for 21st century artists. There are many obstacles, including lack of funding and insufficient personnel. Yet, the very emergence of ISALTA is like a beacon flashing in the wilderness.
...the philosophical groundwork for those particular dissertations lies to a greater or lesser degree in Dr. Ecker's work (some of whose papers are being digitized and made available on site as quickly as possible), but he would agree that they represent only a small part of a story yet to be written. Serious contributions and documentation are requested for inclusion in the Encyclopedia and publications. It is hoped that ISALTA will be a place where that story can be written, seen and heard, and every interested artist/researcher is invited to the space.
I would suggest a more open architecture, a Wikipedia conception rather than encyclopedic. A moderated Wiki might have a greater chance of attracting younger generations more attuned to structures where the readers are the authorship, where knowledge is created in a new platform of users who generate knowledge through creative inquiry. This argument was the main point of the commentary at Web Arts Collaborative ( Still a Web 1.0 Website?) ISALTA may be putting old wine into new bottles, and today, it may be even more true that "appearance is everything." The old wine of past decades is now decanted in the rarefied atmosphere of cyberspace, in the splendor of a new technology, but maybe it is time for new labels, new vineyards.

Great news that more of David Ecker's brilliant work will be made available on the ISALTA website. His is among the supreme gospels of phenomenological practice. Serving as his colleague at New York University, my real education began when I collaborated with him and his students on incredible projects that continue to resonate today.

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