Friday, May 16, 2008

History: The color-blind art critic.

History is one of the oldest of social sciences. At its best, it is a record of events and their outcome, reflecting the sense of the parties involved and how they fared. History may also be applied to specific individuals and as such becomes a record of that person's affiliations, sensibilities, and memories.

History may not be accurate but it is invariably attitudinal.

As the flame is raised under the crucible of political debate by candidates of both major American parties and the media, avid of some news bite press issues, not only is the truth spun beyond recognition, entire hunks of history either vanish or become completely misrepresented.

In the past week it has become apparent that some politicians and commentators do not know the definition of the word appeasement, variously using it to suggest that a particular politician who does know the definition has openly advocated a foreign policy wherein America appeases perceived enemies. Yet another politician, who should know, but apparently doesn't remember, has a past history of advocating the very behavior he today refers to as appeasement.

Yet other politicians and commentators refer to their opponent's as extravagant taxers, spenders, and attachers of designated pay vouchers to legislation while they in fact, tax, spend, and attach exponentially more.

And there are politicians and commentators who refer to certain judges improperly as judicial activists when these justices are merely interpreting legislation already on the books.

All of which leads me to the observation of a phenomenon that goes well beyond politicians and political matters, focusing on nearly all human activity. I even have a name for it which I feel does a lovely job of describing the symptom. Historical pointillism.

Historical pointillism is a situation in which the observer looks as personal or historical events without seeing the entire picture, unmindful of the spaces in between. It is the subjective filling in the blanks with inferences, events, colors, sensations, and attitudes that may be completely missing.

I, who am afflicted with this historical pointillism syndrome, attribute my symptoms to impatience, a tendency to rush to judgment, a laziness that allows false inferences and assumptions to creep into the calculus of perception and understanding. 

These may seem to be quirks wired in to much human behavior but I will not take the easy way out by allowing this assumption to trump my sense that historical pointillism is right up there with high crimes for any individual who wishes to get things down on paper in a way that will cause the things captured to resonate, vibrate, radiate--convey.

I have borrowed the term from a group of artists who believed that the human eye could, among other things, assimilate dots of primary colors and blend them to the extent of rendering secondary and intermediary colors. The term pointillism was first used disparagingly of the technique but then, as the technique became popular, widely used, validated, if you will, the disparagement vanished.

When history is added to the calculus, mischievous elements may be omitted which can and often do lead to improper conclusions. And we all know what an improper conclusion is, a history that differs from our impression of an event.

Humans and history have the ability to surprise but they should both be able to do so with the goal of producing a dramatic narrative with honesty and sincerity rather than going for the cheaply made effect

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