Human beings are busy little creatures. They move relatively quickly—building, tearing down, inventing, changing, making. But even the time of human activity is slow compared to the speed of the mind. I saw a recent statistic that there are 60 hours of video uploaded to Youtube every minute. That’s a good analogy to the number of worlds constantly forming in the human brain—there are many lives lived within the span of one life, many stories told and heard while the one story slowly unfolds, many origins supposed since the unknown origin, many conclusions imagined for a world that is unfinished yet. Bloom’s evocative use of the term “poverty,” which I will return to one day, likely refers to the wearing out and wearing down of modernist strategies, but I would like to flip the argument around and say that we simply cannot realize our fancies fast enough and that is why fantasy of all kinds has become so drearily conventional. Our desires, which art has provoked to extravagant growth, cannot be fulfilled, but we continue to dream forward. We have a superabundance of fantasy because we find the actual world inadequate. Meanwhile, the material world moves at its correct pace, far too slowly for us.
Start with cosmological time, which includes many billions of years. Then geological time, which starts at a few billion and shows changes occurring over hundreds, tens and single millions. Then biological time which gets going slowly but eventually accomplishes a lot within millions of years, and even shorter periods. Human evolution occurs from hundreds to tens of thousands, and human history, which itself is a speeded up evolution, is a handful of centuries. And then the single human mind, which can encompass everything mentioned here in the time it takes to form an image in the brain. The time of art? Usually it’s some kind of bodily time, deliberately resistant to the speedy mind. Music might be the time of a dance or of the heartbeat, poetry of the breath or of the speaking voice. Visual art, because it doesn’t move, is a definite obstacle. It stops us, and if it doesn’t stop our racing minds it should at least allow a perspective on the flow. Abstraction, freed from the historically contingent matter of appearances, fashions, political interests and so on, has a leaning toward the longer time scales. Robert Smithson was one artist who put geological and social time alongside each other. That behind the familiar time scale of historical events there lies another, longer time scale is exactly the burden of abstraction.