From the Latin ex-: out of, and vocare: to call out
evocare, to call out of, to call from…
I’ve been watching the conversation about art these last several weeks with interest. This is hardly the first time the art world has been set on it’s ears. I suspect that the Egyptian art community’s response to the Greek contrapposto was similarly vociferous, just to pick one ancient example of drastic changes. Photography is a more modern example of the furor that erupted discussing whether some tools should be allowed in the making of art. Not to more than lightly mention or explore the camera lucida or camera obscura that came before the modern camera. I expect this set of tools – the AI generators, I’m specifically referencing today – will have the same kind of lingering response with the nose-in-the-air sniff of ‘it’s not real art’ for some time to come. Art photography is still, after all, a century later, debated as ‘art or not?’ and digital art is definitely considered some kind of low-class alternative to ‘real’ art whatever the speaker means by that. I’m finding myself amused, not angry. For all that my gut reaction to the very first render from MidJourney was a visceral one, settling into learning how to use it has been a thrilling feeling of having a leashed energy in my hands I can use to shape my imagination into something evocative.
Art is meant to evoke. Not from the artist onto a canvas. From the viewer of the art. To call something out of the soul of man. This is, I believe, the purpose of art.
I’ve discussed before the death of beauty in art. We have fallen from the wonders of the ages captured lovingly in oils and other pigments, to a giant strip of brown felt stapled to a museum wall. Just what is that supposed to evoke? Don’t answer. I don’t think I want to know.
My response to the cries of ‘it’s not art!’ is sorry… but you’ve been telling us for years that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you’re not wrong. This is what post-post-modernist art looks like (how many posts are we up to, now?). In an era where almost anyone can create art, what are you seeing reflected in it? Because I’m seeing beauty rising from the crypt she had been imprisoned in. When you give the masses the ability to make art, they favor absolutely gorgeous art. Looking at the community feed of MidJourney is a delight. Further, this can be used to inspire a love of art in ways that threaten the modern art movement’s ugly little souls on display. If the art is the soul of the artist speaking to the soul of the viewer (listener, et al), then what Midj and others give us is a universal translator.
Art is evocative, at least, good art is. Art that resonates, that makes the onlooker feel something, that is the whole purpose of art. An artist is driven to create, but without an audience, who can know if he succeeded? As an artist, I find myself compelled at times, but without the ability to get what I’m feeling into the world in a form that isn’t inchoate. Which Midj gives me the tool for, and it’s not easy. With any tool, you have to learn how to wield it. A brush doesn’t magically lay down the paint when you pick it up. The AI can give some amazing stuff from prompts on the first try, but to be precise, it takes many iterations. It takes feeling your way along until you are called out from yourself by the evidence of your eyes. Then, it’s art. Even then, you’ll likely need more skill to tweak it to match the inner vision accurately.
Humans are driven by art. We have created it since before history was begun. We may have told stories then, in the dawn of time, but writing came much, much later. Far later than the men who penetrated the bowels of the earth to create strangely beautiful and moving images of the things that sustained them and their families, an homage to what kept body and soul together. Even when books became the keepers of the knowledge, men were driven to continue the instinct for images, even if they became marginalia in a text-driven new world. We are seeing that slow pendulum of human nature arc towards a complete circle, since pendulums are never two-dimensional with the slow rotation of the planet beneath them. We are coming back to the visual, to the spoken storytelling, in films and video games. Very strange and almost otherworldly, compared to the men and women who made the first art and told the first stories to make sense of the world around them, but the resonance of the soul is there. The artist who would not kneel to the brutality of the post-modern art aesthetic was driven into painting for the video game market, if you hadn’t noticed. There are games which are sought out and played simply to feast on the beauty of a world the soul seeks out. We all are pulled to beauty. The opposite of evoke is from invocare, the calling into.
We are called out of ourselves by art, when it evokes that chord in our soul, the call and response of two souls, the artist and the man on the other side of the art. Making wonder in an inhospitable world, with art as measure of meaning. And yes, even a machine can be used to caress the artist’s palette as they seek to find the way out of chaos into order. From insensate pixels we come to a new understanding of ourselves, and the tool we use matters not at all.
Header Image: Dante’s Map
All of the images in this post were generated with the use of MidJourney.
3 thoughts on “Evoke”
You win. I want to play. And you raised a VERY important point. If normal people can make beautiful stuff any time they want to; the snobs with their brown felt are going to be ignored to oblivion. I foresee the couch art of the future (the art that matches the couch) being the original creation of the homeowner. The catch may be, how does a commercial artist make a living in a saturated market then?
Lin Wicklund, the Kittydragon.
:genuflect, cross self:
She’d love this….
Well said, well explained. Beautiful art.
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