A couple of exhibition catalogues have been waiting on my desk to get read since last year. Their time finally came over lunch and one of them called for getting quoted here. Here's why:
"Investigating a wide range of modern and historical objects that were miniature, I was intrigued to learn that contemporary psychological studies have shown that something very odd happens to the human mind when one handles or plays with miniature objects. Most simply put, when we focus our attention on miniature objects, we enter another world, one in which our perception of time is altered and in which our abilities of concentration are affected. In a well-known set of experiments, the psychologist Alton Delong showed that when human subjects were asked to imagine themselves in a world where everything was on a much smaller scale than everyday reality, or when they engaged in activities in smaller than normal environments, they thought that time had passed more quickly than in fact it had and they performed better in tasks requiring mental agility. Importantly, the subjects of these studies were not conscious of their altered experience of time or concentration.
By following this line of argument—in other words, that things made miniature affect the ways in which people experience the world—I began to see [that] [w]hen [those people by their unknown practice of contemplation] were entering other worlds. It is entirely possible that these other worlds were spiritual, though I am not convinced [of which kind]. It is much more probable that the people who held these objects in their hands, who touched and saw them in their daily activities, were affected in other ways, most likely at a deeper, subconscious level.
The man writing this - one of seriously persuasive learning
and unique charm
;) - is looking for common ground between our experience of miniaturized objects and the 'small worlds' they conjure, and that of fellow humans living a few millennia ago not far from where I am standing [*]. The way of doing this: look for some very basic, fundamental inclinations of the human species, the sort of likes and dislikes most likely to remain constant, unaffected by historic circumstances as distinct as NYC yesterday and an Eastern European settlement around seven thousand years ago of which a bit more then nothing is known. A distance - measured in everything but miles - far greater in every way then any two points of the culture of you know what where. [***]
The idea must be as old as the practice of bonsai, give or take. It sure trails all the way through classic anthropology into Delong's widely [and randomly!] cited coup. Might go some way towards explaining why every kind of tree on the planet has a good chance of getting to grow into a pot these days.
Before any of this might sound serious, I should spell outright that ... I am not taking this any more seriously then it sounds. Although there are pleasant implications, come to think of it: for once, on such premises it makes allot less sense to sweat over concepts and boundaries of Art and arts. Rather satisfyingly, those get to need a good excuse for their fickle comings and goings, for once [**], etc.
So, with all due skepticism, I am leaving the story and the possible way of looking at small worlds for your consideration...
* Douglass W. Bailey, The Figurines of Old Europe
, in The Lost World of Old Europe. The Danube Valley 500-3500 b.c., Exhibition catalogue page 122, ISAW-Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University. Text available online HERE
** The discussion started earlier by Walter Pall's article 'How Bonsai Taste Evolves'
' connects here.
*** Clearly [i.e. clearly an opinion and nothing more], it is easier to find common ground between philosophies and concepts of art related to the practice of bonsai here and there, simply because there is what to look into... and no particular reason to reach any conclusion to such abstract matters, after all. But the temptation to dwell on the reality or possibility or wish for commonalities beyond the objective treats of the medium, may be as futile as filling gaps in ancient history for which there is no hope of retrieving any satisfying evidence. This adds up to saying: to each his fiction, if needs be
. I simply happen to prefer the camp of 'it needs be' - it must be rather obvious already. This, for no particularly clear reason, although I have tried to spell one out on occasion [W. Pall blog].