Category Archives: The Constitution

An influence not to be dismissed

parthenon-drawing
The Parthenon © Chris Conway

I’ve always been proud of my (half) Greek heritage. As I was growing up I felt that it enabled me to think differently and see life through more than one lens, which I saw as something special.   And it didn’t stop there.

The more tenuous connection between Greeks today and their ancient forbears didn’t stop any additional thoughts I had of laying claim to a small part of all the best of their great Classical Greek heritage. What more proof did I need than the ancient Greek words I could pick up in modern day conversation? The remaining monuments themselves, testament to that great civilisation: the Parthenon, ravaged so many times by unwelcome pillagers and yet still there!  As I studied the ancient language and learnt about the civilisation I continued to make my connections from ancient to modern with a degree of satisfaction.

But that’s just my personal view. Well known to most is the legacy that the “Classical” Greek civilisation left to modern western thought and philosophy. A society that lasted at its peak for less than 200 years and yet continues to influence some of our thinking, our teachings and provided the foundation for parts of our modern western culture over two thousand years later. Whilst other cultures have certainly influenced our development what is most striking is the limited time and small scale that was “Classical Greece”.

There are other links too that are less acknowledged but equally remarkable for their sophistication so long ago. Take today’s communication through social media and the digital space it sits in?

In Classical Greece the “agora” (from the Greek “ὰγορᾱ” meaning gathering place or mil_northmarket2assembly) was the place where “citizens” including philosophers, artists, playwrights, artisans, thinkers and decision makers , met to demonstrate new skills, discuss and exchange ideas and information about the future of society. Every person in the agora was equal and “no-one subjected to another”  It was an open public forum that was democratic. All it lacked was today’s technology and digital social networks. But the concept was the same – it was a “common space” that could be accessed by all citizens on an equal footing and involved the sharing of multiple common beliefs or opinions (Πολυδόξα) both commercial, political and social. Whilst the link back to Roman times, where the written word became transportable on small parchments has been documented ,for me “social” communication started in the ancient Greek agora itself and rested on the principle of open and shared communication.

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Sculptural relief: Plato and Aristotle in heated debate!

Plato and Aristotle, two of the best known philosophers of the classical world, would have visited the agora regularly, standing in the shade of the colonnades espousing their views on different subjects. Their perspective on art and artists was well known and recorded [Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics].

Plato completely disagreed with his pupil Aristotle viewing art as merely “an imitation” or “mimesis” (μίμεσις) and “thrice removed from reality” that had no connection with those that possessed a real skill (tέχνη) – (like the medics, the builders and the mathematicians)

Both focused their attention on the theory of mimesis and the principle that all art was a form of it. But it was the “imitative function of art which promoted disdain in Plato and curiosity in Aristotle” [Stephen Conway 1996, Plato, Aristotle and mimesis]. For Aristotle imitation was good, how we learn, how we understand objects and how we can understand “an inner beauty” by viewing an object through art. All forms, thought Aristotle, should be subject to scrutiny and understanding – that’s how we learn.

For Plato the visible result of any human creation was “an indistinct expression of truth” (Republic X, 22), truth and knowledge being the ultimate objective in life. “Art as an imitation is irrelevant to what is real” and still worse Plato believed it could corrupt the mind of the viewer. He saw art as a threat to his ideal Republic because for him it widened the gap between “reality and appearances”.

Aristotle, however believed imitation was a creative and educational process, and that

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The 200 year old art room at the Royal Academy

skills required to do it well could be taught, learned and developed over time.  Some art schools today teach skills in drawing as Aristotle might have imagined.  How infants learn from the adults around them is through imitation.

But as I look at the art works around my house I often wonder what these philosophers might have thought of contemporary art forms? Imitation has become irrelevant in many ways.  Contemporary Art is more about reaction.  It can engender a feeling or a thought that may trigger a conversation. Imitation might be the seed for an abstract concept but to the viewer may offer a completely different interpretation to what the artist originally conceived. But that’s fine. We don’t seek absolute truth and knowledge like Plato.  What we seek is the reaction art

creates in ourselves as we look at a work: the emotion, the appreciation, the transcendence to something outside of the ordinary. And yet embedded in our everyday lives at home as we surround ourselves with contemporary art.

Perhaps Aristotle saw that capability in human understanding. Whilst he didn’t speak much about individual artistic expression he appreciated that skill and knowledge was required and that we could learn and understand about life by looking at art.

That’s not to be dismissed.

Building blocks and growing pains

Paul Noble, Playframe, 2000
Paul Noble, Playframe, 2000

When you start on a journey of collective buying and sharing amongst a group of people and the excitement of the idea has taken a firm grip, it is a natural consequence that you will need to pause to create a foundation of building blocks that will provide a set of principles to guide you and form a structure on that journey. And sometimes it can feel like the niggling pains of a body growing, but one that will soon blossom into something meaningful with its own character.

A “constitution” sounds a grand word for what a group of friends and family trying to share art at home needed. More reminiscent of the principles used (and abused) to govern a political state it brings to mind lofty buildings, federal governments, and elected members of state holding forth with a formality set down hundreds of years ago. It’s worth pointing out that this is not so in Britain where due to historical legacy we don’t actually have a single document – but rather an “unwritten” or “uncodified” constitution made up of a number of different statutes, treaties and laws. Confused? Don’t be.

So what do we mean here? How does sharing contemporary art at home fit in to any such notion of a “constitution”? At its most basic level I prefer to go with the Oxford dictionary’s version: A body of fundamental principles …or ..the act of forming or establishing something. After all – isn’t this what we were trying to do here?

It was very important that from the start we were all agreed on a set of fundamental principles that would form the basis (the building blocks) of the Collective and to establish its true “character”. This way it could also be used by others in the future to form their own groups with the same guiding principles of how that character looked and felt and so building a larger community of like-minded groups.

Early attempts to put a constitution together were fairly informal and often happened in the pub with at least one member from each of the seven households represented. But “fairly informal” should not be interpreted as not taking it seriously, but rather it was our open attitude and our willingness to work together to produce something of value that would last. It took a few years to have the documents actually drawn up and registered by a lawyer, and only once we had received some funding from Arts Council England to do so.

It wasn’t difficult to come up with a whole host of questions that would need addressing – and being a group of people from very varied professions, sectors and experiences it didn’t take long for the list to grow and grow: The negative soon spilled forth.

  • What happens if a member wants to leave? (circumstances change and it happened sooner than we thought)
  • What happens if there is a dispute between members? (we are humans – it does happen!)
  • What happens to our investments when we want to leave – are they protected?
  • What happens if a member(s) doesn’t like what is being purchased? (beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder)
  • What happens if a member defaults on their monthly contributions (money is the root of many disputes)
  • What about tax and insurance implication for each member and household (oh no, hadn’t thought of that)

The growing pains were starting to take a grip and there were two common denominators at work that had all the potential for causing conflict – the exchange of money and human relationships. So, whilst we needed to address all the negative it was still important to keep our focus on the positive:

  • How and where do we buy art?
  • Who buys it?
  • How regularly should we meet and share?
  • How can we find out about artists?
  • Can we do studio visits?
  • Can we share with other groups in the future?

And so it went on. But for now our questions were out and our principles were slowly taking the shape of building blocks. With time the growing pains would start to subside and the emergence of the real Collective would start coming in to view– a character that was built on a solid foundation and was inspiring, innovative, cooperative and friendly all at once. You will be reading about how many of these questions were addressed right here in this blog as we move forward.

Ultimately it would enable us to enjoy art at home, every day.

If you would like to find out more about the Collective constitution please contact the.collective.info@googlemail.com or post a question below.