Chaos, Complexity

and the Visual Arts

This HON 385 seminar will use the lens of Complexity Theory to explore a wide-range of visual art, including artworks by da Vinci, Bosch, Vermeer, Turner, Goya, Duchamp, Pollock, Rothko, Martin, Marshall, Walker, Puryear, Abramović, and Ai Weiwei. From chaotic turbulent and stochastic disruptions, life on our amazing planet evolved with great diversity, including the improbable recent emergence of creatures like us who make elaborate works of art. The course regards these material objects as "events" that contain knowledge, as they invite us to experience our world in novel ways. Complex processes are not deterministic, the parts do not predict the whole. Human knowledge, and especially the arts and sciences have produced insights that engaged the same creative, self-organizing processes that formed the universe billions of years ago and are still going on today. Complex processes are active in our lives, as evidenced by weather systems, rainforests, our heartbeat, and our capacity to interact with our world in unpredictable, imaginative, and deeply meaningful ways. Complex processes have produced communication networks, global economies, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. As an umbrella theory complexity encompasses embodiment, metaphor, autopoiesis, evolutionary theories, and productive definitions of chaos that range from an empty void (that is never empty) to a disorganized mess (where unexpected forms of order always lurk). Students will learn to apply the Hermeneutic Method, an approach to interpretation that acknowledges that our imaginative insights are always on-going and never complete.

This seminar is designed for both HAS majors and honors students in other colleges. All students can count it as an academic elective by HAS students, as well as a HON 300 course.

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