9a/14 True art or painting-by-numbers

Water's edge - Teignmouth 2006

Having completed the fourteen posts I had set out to write and not yet being satisfied, I am going to insert this as an extra post to see if it helps.

I awoke in the middle of the night not thinking about the practice. So there has been progress of sorts.

What I was thinking about was how to describe in non-digital terms the face-to-face relationship I have been highlighting when I am actually using a digital medium. If I fail to do that then my argument fails and, in my small world, digital technology will have taken over at the expense of a core relationship.


In the previous two posts I have produced two linear images to demonstrate the continuum of a relationship where ‘Trust’ is at the top and ‘Vindictiveness’ at the bottom. The images consist of straight lines with the various stages marked at more or less equal intervals along the line. In computer-speak, this is a simple algorithm. Algorithms are extremely useful tools from which we can derive policies, protocols and procedures. They have become an essential part of almost every language I have previously mentioned.

However, this way of looking at life has no place in the human relationship I am talking about. There is are complex patterns and rhythms in human relationships. It could be likened to the difference between painting-by-numbers and true art.

In painting-by-numbers an outline drawing is created for the “artist” and a number is assigned to each separate area of the drawing. Each number represents a particular colour and the “artist” is invited to fill the areas in the drawing with that colour. He/she can follow the rules exactly or, if they are feeling a little freer, he/she can change the colours and even meld different areas if they so wish but nevertheless the work is confined to the prescribed drawing. This is how basic software works. However sophisticated software has become (and it has become very sophisticated), the actions of the “artist” are defined by the software. In producing this series, I have used Scrivener, WordPress, Freemind and ACDSee imaging software. I like them all because I can use the framework they provide to put on screen what I am trying to say. The problem is that the very thing I am talking about is even more sophisticated than the software I am using. Hence the painting-by-numbers/true art analogy.

A true artist is faced with a blank canvas. Which colours and where, when and how he/she applies them is entirely a matter between brain and brush. The result is instantly available only to the artist and those immediately present. The purpose of the exercise is to produce a work of art. The quality of that work is confined to the artist and a few others. Dissemination has to wait and in most cases may never happen. So with face-to-face relationships. The quality of the relationship is between the participants and it is for them to value it or not.

To take this further, I have likened a relationship to a painting. However a painting has borders. If we think of it in terms of music then the borders fade away. There is an infinite variety of choices from single notes to complex chords, from quiet to loud, from short notes to long notes and every combination between. The potential is more or less infinite. The extent of the composition is confined by the composer/s.

Mendelssohn wrote that ‘music cannot be expressed in words, not because it is vague but because it is too precise for words’. Man has spent eons trying to put words to relationships – defining and redefining them. The problem is the human condition. When one physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual being with all their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual strengths and weaknesses meets another physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual being with all their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual strengths and weaknesses, a work of art ensues – it’s value is between the participants. Do you always need to break the resultant interaction into some defined chemical reaction or do you let it germinate and grow? There is a reason for both.

The problem is that the scientific intervention to break it down in the form of digital technology has the means to take the art out of the relationship and my comment is (and please feel free to prove me wrong) that digital technology has so impinged on the language of all sections of society as to be a detriment to the face-to-face relationship that is the core relationship of humanity.


Although it can be read as a single post, the above is part of a series that illustrates one of the author’s current interests, taken from a locker full of interests, at a major waypoint in his life. The series sets out as a comment on retirement before focusing around language. He wonders whether he himself has the language to cope as he steps out into the wider world popularly known as ‘retirement’ – an irreversible step into a world that he has previously only glimpsed out of the corner of his eye, a world in which he thinks the word ‘retirement’ to be a misnomer. He has used the medium of the blog to paint the picture. The irony is that, whereas writing about it does allow him to reflect, sitting alone at a computer actually distances him from the face-to-face interaction he is describing.

Wave - Bude