Circumstantial Change

Sometime, a long time ago, our ancestors got hold of fire, so they could have heat whenever they wanted it. And at another time they “invented” the wheel, probably first as logs used to roll heavy weights around. So the question is, why did it take so long before anyone found a way to use heat to turn a wheel? The simple answer is—circumstances. And I’d be willing to bet that one day in the not too far off future, some intelligent historian with a mathematical bent will show that all technological change can be correlated with population growth. The realization that we can consciously set out to solve a technical problem is very recent, and it is only over the last few decades that intelligence has come to be equated with problem solving. Interestingly enough, the current fixation on problem solving, along with a hyperbolic rhetoric of innovation, coincides with a leveling off of the pace of change. Since the demise of Bell Labs and Xerox PARC as free wheeling blue sky research centers the “change the world” rhetoric has become extravagant, and the actual results have been minor. I’m led to wonder if technical innovation cannot be forced, if it is really all just circumstantial, a product of history and the conditions of human life, including other available technology. In other words, we have hit a plateau and won’t move off it until conditions outside of our conscious control make that possible, and inevitable. The relevance to art is in the further conclusion that real change is unpredictable. Isn’t unpredictability what artists specialize in? Or have we decided to dumb ourselves down to the measured “innovation” of Silicon Valley? After all, the autonomy of art means its relative independence from circumstances.

Stone_axe

Neolithic stone axe/hammer, 8000 years old

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