Jump ship with me, from symmetry to dystrophy, from order to chaos, from predictability to imperfection. You will be entirely PC - politically correct, for those who are politically oblivious - because symmetry is shunned in current art practice. We are trained to look for imbalance, for the odd ball, the quirky, the out-of-sync. Create a painting that is symmetrical and you will get quizzical looks or downright disbelief. Why did you do that? Why would anyone do that?
Maybe you worship at the altar of Science. If so, you know that healthy DNA is said to reproduce perfectly. Mischievous DNA is associated with malevolent disease patterns, like cancer or brain disorders. As one scientist put it, "Cells working off garbled information probably don't function very well". On the other hand, symmetries like those found in crystals are orderly, repetitive, and reliably predictable. We are safe in their neighborhood. They reassure us that the sun will rise, that apples will fall from trees, that God is in the heavens, or in the cosmos, or at least Somewhere. Our GPS just hasn't located Her yet.
In art, however, the symmetrical is equated with the over-ordered, the obedient, follow the rules and paint- by- number. It suggests a lack of initiative, a dearth of inspiration, a suspicious relationship to machine-made. Symmetry means copy-cat, Xerox, ditto paint and duplicate. It marks you as a follower, an also-ran, an other-than.
And then came a radical discovery known as quasicrystals, chemical structures which have upset the apple cart of our certainties. For quasicrystals are both ordered AND chaotic. They are impossible, said scientists. They are forbidden.
Even more dismaying, we found that people, healthy people, contain major amounts of genomic variations: up to 40 percent of brain cells and between 30 and 90 percent of human liver cells appear to be disordered. Some genetic mayhem appears to be not only prevalent but good for you. In fact, according to an article in Quanta magazine, "the most highly functional bodies may be the ones that permit a little mutation, that encourage a certain amount of genetic wildness and disorder within." (Kat McGowen, Aug. 21, 2014). Chaos and disobedience as enviables? Our ordered world was found to have cracks - and crackpots - in its sidewalks.
We secretly idolize that wildness, don't we? Our delicious fantasies picture little Abdul and tiny Samantha as geniuses, because high IQ's are genetic selfies: I made that! Look how powerful I am. And behind that implication is the more malevolent one: dollar signs fill our mental real estate. We remember that Steve didn't bathe for three weeks; that Mark wants to crush everything in his sight and in his way. Jacob will surely make billions before his 16th birthday; Heather will feather our retirement. As an engineer at Data Xu in Boston recently said about the misogynistic culture at Uber: "It signals a winner-takes-all culture that justifies any behavior so long as everyone is getting rich." (NY Times, 11/21/14)
Our offspring has sprung into the stratosphere. TV, the media, the movies, all have told us so. We will be famous by proxy. Letterman will interview us. Our existence has been validated.
But in all likelihood the only thing our offspring has sprung is a leak. She or he is a little bit obnoxious and a lot maladjusted. And maybe, just maybe, our expectations are as well. It helps to remember that our kid is really just a kid. She doesn't need a dollar sign. He doesn't need an IQ test. Maybe what they really need is a bit of discipline, and a hug.
And we don't need Letterman. Maybe what we really need is a reality check.
Happy New Year, everyone.
c. Corinne Whitaker 2014