Principles of Nature: towards a new visual language
© copyright 2003 Wayne Roberts. All rights reserved.

New in-principle naturalism in the future of art

The introduction below is reproduced from my book (W. Roberts, 2003, p.43–44), edited and reformatted for the web.


Just as in languages, so we find, not surprisingly, that the universe itself is also syntactically organised. The irregularities and asymmetries of the universe are reminiscent of the irregularities within language. We find that scale structures are incompletely expressed. For example, genes may be ‘silent’ or only partially expressed. But so often it strikes us that, within these irregularities of the universe, there is a certain ‘character’ that occurs across many scales. This 'style' and these irregular patterns relate to what we might call cosmic syntax. The 'cosmic song' (D. Reanney*, 1994) takes its notes or elements from various interconnected scale structures and links these together in a way which reflects the lyrical but asymmetric flow of music. Phrases may be repeated thus echoing a lineage that stretches back to the beginning of time, but with subtle changes and inflexions, and occasionally, less subtle discontinuities.

And so the orderliness of the scale structures is tempered and moderated by other less regular determinants. Imagine a wind which blows what was an ordered stack of newspapers across the street in an apparently chaotic tumble. Soon however, the papers accumulate against a wall or concentrate in a corner. The wall acts as a secondary 'syntactical' determinant, a little bit like a bar-line in music.

Nature always seems to find a balance (not necessarily 1:1) between or among extremes, be they linear polarities (or opposites), circular polarities, or more complex ‘surfaces' . If we find pattern and regularity, we can almost be certain to find somewhere its opposite, irregularity. Nature allows neither too many hard nor too many fuzzy edges.

Thus despite the fact that we are particularly concerned here with scale structures, what they are, and how they connect up, we must at all times remember that an art which would represent Nature-in-principle must also embrace within itself a strong sense of the polarities of which we speak, and reflect (albeit metaphorically)—the dynamic interplay between complementary and opposing elements.

We see that, in the Universe, there is an ongoing process of association and dissociation, of division and union, of laws and elements generating ordered, as well as, disordered states. Elements of scale structures are shuffled, separated, and recombined. Derivative scale structures are formed often in resonance with earlier, more primal, scale structures. Within the scale structures themselves are further irregularities, and within these are yet deeper levels of order. There is division, diversification and recombination. The relationships among the Many necessarily reflect the One. And within the One is the seed of the Many.

The following excerpt below is reproduced from my book (W. Roberts, 2003, p.53), slightly edited and reformatted for the web.

Could there be music-like ‘scales’ in the visual arts that would enable visual music?

Art historian, E. H. Gombrich, recognised the importance of music as some sort of key which might unlock a new future for the visual arts. He ends his book The Sense of Order a study in the psychology of decorative art (EH Gombrich, 1984), with an epilogue devoted to ‘musical analogies’. Yet he also recognised the problem that ‘the fact must be faced that there is no valid parallel in the art of design to the way the classical composer developed a theme.’ (EH Gombrich, 1984, p. 300). And reasoning from art back to music, he notes that, ‘Neither is there an exact analogy in music to the most important resort of the designer, symmetry and the resultant impression of balance.’ (EH Gombrich, 1984, p. 297). Also, whereas music has found a beautiful way to divide the audio-spectrum in the form of the twelve-semitone scale (and other scales), visual art has thus far struggled to find ways to divide and recombine its own various basic elements†. The visual artist can choose any colour, any tone, draw any line in any position. It has been quite different in music composition. The composer has used a limited (arguably ‘small’) number of notes, and combined them in a limited number of ways. Gombrich, in recognising the far-reaching scope afforded by means of the permutations and combinations of seemingly few parts within a system, observed,

‘The very restriction of the musical scale enhances the game which was refined step by step in the development of Western music.’ (EH Gombrich, 1984, p. 296).

Despite the difficulties in connecting the principles of composition espoused by music and visual art respectively, it now seems clear that much of the groundwork needed to create a new kind of visual art which I am calling covert scale structure art or in-principle naturalism (and which closely parallels the logical foundations of music and of universal principles of connection) has in fact existed (but has remained largely overlooked) for decades.


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