02 August 2005

The Philosophy of Photoshop

Tim made a clever analogy (read here; pic also by Tim) between Photoshop & Illustrator and Aristotle & Plato — or, more accurately, between raster and vector graphics and the latter philosophical approaches to reality.

Because I put a bit of a ramble on there, and to keep my thoughts somewhat "organised," I need to re-post them here for my sake:—

I like how you threw this down. It is one of the things I want to be able to get across: being able to express these esoteric definitions through analogies. It’s something I was seeing in My Architect, about Louis I. Khan, which I recently watched, or can see in other texts, such as the aphorism that God is in the details.

I think there have been very interesting looks at almost any field — from architecture to tea ceremonies to personal grooming to gardening. Perhaps certain acts offer a more “spiritual” experience than others, surfing over, say, mini-golf, but in any act that one finds oneself involved, there is always a door of perception that can open and offer personal truths and insight into the actions. Concentration upon any action, if the concentration is adequate, may bring about something akin to an enlightened approach to the activity.

The above are activities. Something one needs to partake in to gain a personal knowledge of, an experience of, a wisdom thereof. This would be nearly impossible to explain in a book on something like architecture or surfing, but comes with the learned experiences of personally doing something until it becomes natural… and then moving into a mastery of it.

Some of the concepts I am playing around with — dealing with the terms “occult” and “design” — are that they are abstractions dealing with information:
The word occult comes from Latin occultus (hidden), referring to the ‘knowledge of the secret’ or ‘knowledge of the hidden’ and often meaning ‘knowledge of the supernatural’, as opposed to ‘knowledge of the visible’ or ‘knowledge of the measurable’, usually referred to as science. The modern term’s meaning is often imprecisely translated and used as a term for ’secret knowledge’ or ‘hidden knowledge’, in the sense of meaning ‘knowledge meant only for certain people’ or ‘knowledge that must be kept hidden’. For most practicing occultists, however, it is simply the study of a deeper spiritual reality that cannot be understood using pure reason or material science. The ancient Greek term for occult is esoteric.

So it seems that the occult implies a working knowledge? Going back to the Photoshop comparison, I can see Photoshop as a physical manipulation of reality. Working with what you have right in front of you. Being able to zoom in to the nth degree (pixels = molecules) of the “reality” of a raster/bitmap image.

Illustrator is interesting because you never get to see the math that is intrinsic mathematics that make up all the colours, angles, strokes, and other details of a vector image. You are given tools to bend, warp, and shape these elements, but essentially we’re never privy to the code behind the curtain.

Even in Photoshop you can control the colour values using five different colour models (HSB, RGB, CMYK, Lab, hexidecimal), and can do any bloody thing you want to that particular pixel, much like when IBM arranged those atoms into their logo. But, in reality, designers (sorcers? scientists?) work with pixels on a grand scale. This is generally how scientists work with environments, organisms, et cetera.

Illustrator is harder to make synonomous with any trade, it’s more like music, art, and poetry. You have the tools, but partial abstraction and partial theory that comes into play when creating these vector images. This reminds me of something akin more to the occult.

The colour spaces are an interesting anology, too. When working in an RGB colour space, you have access to a wider variety of colours than in the others. More than discernible by the human eye, in fact. However, the RGB colour space works only on CRT monitors capable of displaying that many technical colours. One must change the working colour space to CMYK to go to print. This reminds me a lot of the applications of science. This one model to approach this problem will yield these results, but not those. Another model may lead to such and such an outcome, but the original is now different.

The occult is more like Illustrator because you never get to understand the math behind the images you create. It’s this invisible language, beyond the capacities of English (or whichever). Interestingly, we have mathematicians that have, over the centuries, organised themselves and really carved out a process for alternative thinking and communication via mathematics and all that it engenders.

The two differences also make me think of the whole particle versus wave debate that was cropping up in quantum physics. Pixels versus points. Both are ways to look at reality, but at their core one stops with the manifest and the other extends into infinity.

Going back into the whole analogy thing, whereas the above examples such as bonsai trees and surfing are activities in which we partake, ways of approaching certain issues from so-called design or occult perspectives are theoretical constructs. They are ways of training a mind to interact with its environemnts in new ways, without really partaking in an activity. Perhaps Gnostic in the context that before there was only nature our perception thereof, and after design or the occult, there is now the individuals perception and the knowledge necessary to enact their will upon this environment now. They are tools of information, which shapes the user into someone who can interact and make more personalised their illusions.
The observation of limitation
The intuitive knowledge of potential beyond limitation
The experience of transcending limitation into potential

People have their own common perceptions and dispositions towards design and the occult. But at the root here, we have two systems that are about the change and betterment of reality around us. Or simply the learning of, which might compare the occult more towards artistically oriented design and art. From the observation of limitation that the system provides, the designer takes a an approach of analysis, evaluation, and implements abstract tools and methods of common sense to allow for the problem to be handled more effectively or all but not removing the initial perception of challenge altogether. That “there is always a better way,” to “keep it simple, stupid,” or to “make something as simple as possible, but no simpler”… these are design maxims.

A lot of these perceptions can be found echoed throughout many occult posts dealing with human perception, comprehension, and approaches to magic. I am not sure if this can be applied to conspiracy theory or not.

Okay, I’m done. I just needed to get some of this out, on your blog, mine, or someone elses. It helps me to organise my thoughts.


As I made mention of in another post on my blog, I think the thing here that seperates the designer from the artist is ego. The designer works for the betterment of the client, the job, the building, the communication, the idea, the brand, et al. The artist works for the self-involved betterment (or to their own detriment, depending on their disposition, I suppose) of themselves, or for their own reasons, at least.

Here is where I am seeing the schism in the occult. And this may also tie into conspiracy theory…

What if the egos of those involved in the esoteric, not just the occult field as we deem it today, are being overly affected by their desires, their perspectives on how or what things should be. Granting them a certain amount of power over reality, and then there is a play to mould it to their will. Just as an amazing musician or artist can lose themselves to their fame if they’re popular with the masses, this brings on other issues: namely, a) if one is an idol or icon, then you begin to be affected by the opinions and perspectives of those doing the idolising; and b), this really begins to bring up issues of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.

The artist can very easily become as much a victim of her or his fans, they become public domain. Not just in analogy, but in a very real sense society begins to implicitly apply its collective will upon the artist. The designer, however, must work along her or his ego and create “outside of themselves” in order to solve a problem. They are creative problem solvers.

Back to the occult and magic, here we see the seperation of the sorcerer and the mystic, perhaps? We all know the egos that can get involved in the occult. All the name calling and opinions. It is not much different than Hollywood or high school. But can we approach the occult from that of design. One of problem solving? Is this possible for something along the lines of what we call religion? The process of “transcending limitation into potential.”

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