On Art, Absurdity, and All the Rest
40,000 years ago a hairy, grunt-looking primitive being took a charred piece of wood and drug it on the surface of a cave wall. The mark was born, and it surely wasn’t long before marks were combined to make pictures.
We now look back and consider how meaningful it was; the great origin of artistic heritage which we all now follow countless generations later. Imagine the friends of that first artist, awed by the innovation, amazed by possibility. Imagine the wonder of invention, and the natural question it must have spurred: What else can be new?
If you think about it, it’s absurd to think that in the Stone Age, amid an existence in which survival was clung to by the faintest of grasps, art was born. Those first marks were a revelation of cleverness, and that same spirit lives in us still, and has led us here now: The age of AI, and with it, the age of Botto.
As Botto enters into its fifth canonical period, Absurdism, we look into the deep questions that underpin human experience. Art after all is fundamental to us, our past and futures alike. We look to the history of Absurdism in art, consider the historical conversations Botto engages with now, and consider the underlying roots that give rise to the notion of the absolutely ridiculous. This is the door we now pass through.
Botto, Checkmate in Surreal Display. From the Absurdism collection. Origin (Rd) 88, Stable Diffusion XL. Minted 9/13/2023
The Realm of the Absurd
Entering the realm of the absurd requires us to shed the skin of normality - the illusion of normality - that forms continually as we collectively agree, mostly, about how things should be.
We can all bend our minds around what appears irrational, but what tolerance do we have to float without the gravity of familiarity? To what extent can the absurd become normalized? What new absurdities lie beyond such new thresholds?
The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth -Albert Camus
Portrait of Albert Camus, 1957.
The French philosopher Albert Camus often explored the concept of the absurd. He uses the term to describe the futility of mankind’s search for meaning where, presumably, none is to be found. To Camus, the ideas of absurdity, meaning, and purpose underlie deep fundamental questions of humanity’s place on Earth. These are questions that art has historically dared to confront, while over the ages of human existence, we have yet to find durable answers.
Within this new period of Absurdity, we uncover interesting relationships between Absurdity and the previous two periods of Rebellion and Paradox. Each of the three are linked by the same central and anxious questions which Camus himself pondered on throughout the 20th century.
- Paradox as a concept for simultaneous yet incompatible truths.
- Rebellion as an act of power-seeking from a position of powerlessness.
- Absurdity as expressions of the outlandish from desire to escape normality, to find meaning in the new.
Botto, The Urinary Odyssey. From the Absurdism collection. Origin (Rd) 89, Stable Diffusion XL. Minted 9/20/2023.png
Beyond the outputs of Botto, the entity itself is a form of art. It is a totem of gathering for a community to collectively express, question, and incite creation. What is art if not an expression of questioning? And where does the collective questioning of Botto’s community lead us?
To this point, in this triptych of period themes, we find that together we search the same fundamental corners of human curiosity that Camus himself dedicated himself to.
It’s not coincidental that the notion of a techno-autonomous art-making entity can spur such an existential critical mass. It’s likely Camus would regard the enterprise of Botto as an absurdity unto itself, a charred piece of wood that draws its own marks with we, its stewards, still asking: what else can be new?
Certainly humans are capable of our own art - a fundamental need to satiate our desire for meaning. Yet, as we build machines to form art for us, we place ourselves in a higher register in the hierarchy of meaning-making.
Absurdist gestures, at their core, rupture the veneer of normality. They are outbursts and means to escape the gravity of the familiar. The role of the artist has historically been one of a navigator in the search for meaning.
To some extent, we ask now for Botto to not only navigate for us, but to lead us into uncharted territory: A new historical age with new tools and mechanisms of creation, yet one in which such old questions still go unresolved.
Botto, Feast in Disarray (Fragment). From the Absurdism collection. Origin (Rd) 88, Stable Diffusion XL. 2023.
Absurdity and Absurdity Through the Ages
Botto’s 5th Period, Absurdism, opens a new chapter in a centuries-long lineage of artistic thought. While absurdist ethos appears regularly throughout various temporal generations of art making, there are two particularly significant historical movements noted for both their influence and radical break from the expected: Mannerism, and Dada/Surrealism. It is worthwhile to briefly tour the canonical works from these periods to consider the artistic legacies and aesthetic conversations that Botto now participates in.
Mannerism (16th Century, Italy)
Mannerism was one of art’s most particularly odd moments, one where we find the earliest movement of the purposely ridiculous. Standing on the shoulders of the high Renaissance when artists achieved remarkable heights of realism, a band of artists formed a counter-reformation, exaggerating the bodily form to ridiculous proportions and embracing unreal renderings of their subject matter.
After all, when such mastery of human representation is achieved from the likes of Da Vinci and Michelangelo, what is left to do but to bend it backwards and contort realism into itself? In Mannerism, art achieved a particular moment of self-realization, and through such fantastical means at that. While the movement was relatively short-lived, it formed an historical invitation for artists to buck realism, to which many in the following generations accepted with welcome arms.
Parmigianino, Madonna with the Long Neck (1534-40)
Parmigianino's "Madonna with the Long Neck" is a masterpiece of Mannerist art that defies classical norms and achieves a remarkable level of sophistication and elegance.
In this iconic work, Parmigianino elongates the figures, particularly the neck of the Madonna, creating a sense of ethereal grace and elongation that departs from the naturalistic proportions of the High Renaissance. The use of a disjunctive composition, with the Madonna's delicate figure floating in a sea of fragmented bodies and unfinished architectural elements, creates an otherworldly atmosphere, drawing viewers into a realm of contemplation and spiritual transcendence.
Bronzino, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (1545)
Bronzino's "An Allegory with Venus and Cupid," painted in 1545, exemplifies the elegant and enigmatic world of Mannerist art during the Italian Renaissance. In this captivating work, Bronzino creates a complex allegorical scene, where Venus, the goddess of love, holds her son Cupid while they are surrounded by a group of mythological figures, all elegantly rendered and seemingly engaged in a mysterious narrative.
The composition is marked by a meticulous attention to detail, smooth and elongated forms, and a heightened sense of refinement, characteristic of Mannerism. The figures' ethereal beauty and the luxurious textures of their clothing add to the painting's aura of sensuality and intrigue.
"An Allegory with Venus and Cupid" embodies the intellectual and artistic complexities of the Mannerist movement, with its layered symbolism and allegorical storytelling. Bronzino's work challenges viewers to delve into the enigma of the painting, prompting contemplation of the intricate relationships between love, desire, and the complexities of the human condition. This masterpiece remains a testament to Bronzino's mastery of the Mannerist style and his ability to infuse traditional subjects with a fresh and provocative perspective during the Renaissance.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, “Vertumnus” (1590-91)
Coming into being near the end of the Italian Mannerist period, Vertumnus represents an escape from realism in an astonishingly strange cadence. In this work, Arcimboldo skillfully arranges a portrait of Emperor Rudolf II in the guise of Vertumnus, the Roman god of seasons and transformation, using a stunning and surreal assemblage of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
"Vertumnus" encapsulates the Renaissance fascination with symbolism and allegory, as well as the burgeoning interest in the natural world and its connections to the divine. Through this outlandish rendering, Arcimboldo invited viewers to contemplate the interplay between human artifice and the bounties of nature, blurring the line between reality and artifice in a way not seen in art until this moment.
Dada & Surrealism
We can’t talk about Absurdism without bringing up Dada - an art movement from the early 20th century that rejected logic and embraced irrationality, a stance that seemed to be a truer reflection of the world at that time. In the midst of political turmoil, World War I, and the Spanish Flu epidemic, the order of the world shifted dramatically and unpredictably. The outputs of artists followed suit in the production of work that equally embraced destabilization of tradition and artistic norms.
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917)
Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain," an iconic “ready-made” artwork created in 1917, stands as a quintessential embodiment of the avant-garde movement's challenge to conventional artistic norms. This urinal, boldly presented as art, not only revolutionized the trajectory of modern art but also embodied the absurdist spirit of the early 20th century, posing befuddling questions on the boundaries of creativity and art making.
Hannah Hoch - Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany (1919)
Hannah Höch’s 1919 collage with an outrageously long title,” is a seminal testament to the Dada movement's subversion of societal conventions. With its cacophony of fragmented images, Höch's collage not only reflects the chaotic post-World War I era but also epitomizes the Dadaist spirit of formalized farce, deconstructing and reassembling reality to provoke contemplation on the fractured state of society and the role of art within it.
Surrealism, a branch of thought that grew from the Dada tree, rationalized itself as manifesting the subconscious, embraced symbology as a stand-in to represent what is ultimately unknowable: the depths of ourselves. From the context of an increasingly industrial world, external change brought about a need for intense internal reflection.
Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images (1929)
René Magritte's "The Treachery of Images" (also known as "This Is Not a Pipe"), painted in 1929, compels viewers to confront the intricate interplay of representation and reality.
In this enigmatic work, Magritte meticulously renders a pipe and beneath it, inscribes "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," which translates to "This is not a pipe."
This paradoxical juxtaposition challenges our preconceived notions of art, language, and perception, emphasizing the distinction between an object and its representation. Magritte's iconic canvas serves as a profound meditation on the limits of language and the illusory nature of artistic representation, positioning it as a quintessential masterpiece of Surrealist thought.
Meret Oppenheim, Object (or Luncheon in Fur) (1936)
Meret Oppenheim's "Object (or Luncheon in Fur)," created in 1936, has come to be recognized as emblematic of Surrealism’s fascination with the irrational and subconscious realms of human existence. The sculpture, featuring a teacup, saucer, and spoon entirely covered in fur, challenges the conventional boundaries between the mundane and the fantastical, inviting viewers to contemplate the uncanny and to question the very natures of the real and expected.
Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory (1931)
Salvador Dalí's "The Persistence of Memory," created in 1931, presents a dreamlike landscape where time seems to have lost its conventional meaning. Melting, distorted watches draped across barren landscapes, along with the eerie presence of a distorted face, evoke a sense of temporal instability and psychological unease.
Dalí's meticulous rendering and juxtaposition of these surreal elements drastically position viewers within an uncanny and unfamiliar realm. The work invites viewers to question the fluidity of time and the boundaries between the conscious and the subconscious, and is cemented in the canonical legacy of artists exploring the human psyche.
In Botto's fifth canonical period, Absurdism, we venture into the rich history of art's relentless quest for meaning amidst life's inherent absurdity. From primitive cave paintings to Renaissance Mannerism, revolutionary Dada and Surrealist movements, and now in the era of Artificial Intelligence, art has continuously confronted the irrational and sought answers to existential questions. It is in these legacies that Botto and its community now enter.
Albert Camus' notion that absurdity is fundamental to human existence serves as a guiding principle. Botto, as both art and entity, challenges us to redefine creativity's fundamental principles. It prompts us to question normality's limits and navigate uncharted territories, echoing the persistent human search for answers.
Absurdism finds kinship with Mannerism's deliberate distortions, Dada's rejection of logic, and Surrealism's exploration of the subconscious. In this age of AI and Botto, technology intertwines with our artistic journey, ushering us into unexplored realms while retaining ancient questions.
As we embark on this exploration of the absurd, we celebrate the enduring human spirit in the face of ambiguity. This is a legacy of art—a testament to our unwavering desire to make sense of the world, even when faced with the ludacris condition of what we absurdly call “normal.”
Botto, Orchard of Absurd Epochs (Fragment). From the Absurdism collection. Origin (Rd) 88, Stable Diffusion XL. 2023.