Roughly, artistic production falls into three historically chronological stages, which are the pre-egocentric, the egocentric, and the post-egocentric. These three stages correspond to our changing environments from country and town to city, and the effect of those changes upon the psyche or brain. As is well known, the brain is broadly divisible into two halves, viz. an old brain and a new brain, roughly corresponding to cerebellum and cerebrum. The old, or lower, brain is said to conform to emotional predilections and may be identified, in psychological terms, with the subconscious. The new, or higher, brain is held to conform, by contrast, to intellectual and spiritual predilections, and may likewise be identified with the superconscious. Between the one and the other resides the ego, or conscious mind, which is the consequence, so I contend, of a fusion between these two parts of the psyche - the sensual subconscious and the spiritual superconscious. Now this fusion-point of the psyche, which is called the ego, will reflect a greater or lesser bias on the side of one or other of its psychological components, I shall contend, depending on the stage of evolution at which a given society finds itself, as also on the relative sophistication of the individual himself. Thus for an individual whose society exists under the dominion of nature in close proximity to the natural world, we needn't be surprised if the ego should reflect more subconscious than superconscious influence, in accordance with the sensuous essence of nature, and so transpire to being relatively dark or evil. This would be the pre-egocentric stage, the artistic productions thereof corresponding to a predominantly dark and evil context, such as one finds in most pagan art and even in some early-Christian art. It is the body and the senses, rather than the mind and the spirit, which are being extolled at this stage of evolution, and consequently its art reflects a strong naturalistic bias.
However, with the development of civilization away from the natural world to a point where men live in towns or small cities, the egocentric stage-proper gets under way in which, being approximately balanced between natural and artificial environments, men come to reflect a dualistic mentality compounded of roughly equal degrees of subconscious and superconscious influence. This is the egocentric balance of Christian man, which results in the creation of a dualistic art, half related to the body and half to the mind. One might say that at this stage of evolution anthropomorphism prevails over animism, and consequently the figure of Christ is extolled. We have a good compromise here between senses and spirit.
Yet this compromise can only last while man is himself balanced between nature and civilization in the town, which is to say, until such time as the further development of civilization, and hence the artificial, leads to his living in a lopsided position on the side of civilization in the big city. For once this lopsidedness comes about, one is in the post-egocentric stage of evolution and one's psyche accordingly reflects a bias in which the superconscious mind predominates over the subconscious mind by increasing ratios the further evolution progresses. Initially, by perhaps two-thirds to one third; subsequently by three-quarters to one quarter, and so on, until the climax of evolution, when the total triumph of the superconscious is attained to and man ceases to be human but, instead, becomes divine. At present, however, we have quite a long way to evolve before that happens; for we are in transition from dualism to transcendentalism, from egocentricity to the post-egocentric, and are accordingly victims of our humanity, recipients of varying degrees of subconscious influence - some people(s) having a greater egocentric bias than others, other people(s) already living in a post-egocentric phase and reflecting this in their thought and art. Thus post-egocentric art, as practised in the West predominantly, testifies to a spiritual bias rather than to a dualistic compromise between senses and spirit, and is divisible, so I contend, into three basic types, upon each of which I shall now briefly expatiate.
The lowest type of post-egocentric art, often dubbed decadent or degenerate by so-called revolutionary political leaders, corresponds to a kind of slapdash attitude, a naive simplicity, a determination to avoid good taste and traditional technical facility, an abhorrence of 'great art'. On the Continent the Dada Movement was essentially post-egocentric in this fundamental way, as to a lesser extent were the Expressionists. Montage was also a useful medium in this regard, especially as employed by Kurt Switters, who specialized in constructing art or, rather, anti-art out of garbage, thus emphasizing his post-egocentric indifference to traditional egocentric criteria. More recently the American artist Robert Rauschenberg, an artistic descendant of the Dada/Switters tradition, has specialized in montage and collage, producing 'paintings' of an even more radically post-egocentric nature than his famous, or infamous, predecessors. Few contemporary works would appear, on the face of it, more slapdash and anti-art than his, and it is therefore difficult to conceive of much real progress being made in this highly popular sphere of modern art in the future, notwithstanding the well-documented contributions of pop artists like Andy Warhol and Jim Dine, who shamelessly parade their indifference to traditional criteria of artistic sophistication and aesthetic excellence. More recently again it has developed into punk art, upon which subject I do not feel qualified to enlarge. But it continues to be a significant part of contemporary art and has no shortage of practitioners. It is a legitimate mode of creation in the post-egocentric context, even if, as the lowest type of modern art, it cannot reasonably be expected to win everyone's respect.
But neither, for that matter, can the second type of post-egocentric art, which might broadly be classified under the heading Surrealism, and which primarily focuses on the subconscious. Indeed, this type of modern art can be divided into two categories, depending whether the artist's approach to life is introvert or extrovert, whether he focuses his attention upon the contents of the subconscious mind or upon the external equivalent of this in nature and the organic generally. For, as already noted, there exists a sensual link between the subconscious and nature - the former internal, the latter external. Thus for the Surrealists-proper, that is to say the explorers and delineators of the subconscious, it is the internal world of dreams that provides the basic material for their art, a material, however, which is transformed, in the process of painting, into personal interpretations of or variations on the original dream, according to the artist's psychological bias and technical facility. Most Surrealism, however, isn't as dream-orientated as it is generally claimed to be or might at first appear, but is blended with a seemingly arbitrary juxtaposition and distortion of familiar objects in the external world, in order to create an impression of novelty and strangeness - the artist's waking-life imagination taking over from his dream-life one and supplementing it with artfully-contrived images. This is more the case, for example, with Salvador Dali, who draws heavily on subconscious memory to furnish and shape his surreal world, than with, say, Paul Delvaux, who is an orthodox dream surrealist and generally succeeds in conveying a strong dream-like impression in his paintings. But no matter what the personal bias of any particular artist may happen to be, the typical surrealist painting will reflect an attention to subconscious influence of one kind or another and, like Abstract Expressionism, be more orientated towards the internal world than towards the external one. It is an art, par excellence, of the introvert. It looks back and down on the subconscious from the vantage-point of a consciousness lopsided on the side of the superconscious - that psychological function of the new brain.
Yet because no man is entirely introverted but also, even in extreme cases, partly given to extroversion, so does Surrealism often reflect an extroverted approach to reality which blends-in with and points towards the other category of this second type of post-egocentric art, a category which focuses more on the external world of nature than on the internal world of subconscious activity. Whether in the guise of Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, or Minimalism, this mode of post-egocentric creativity is largely dedicated to discrediting and distorting external reality either under the influence of feelings, as in Expressionism, or of reason, as in Cubism. If it is to be described as a degenerate art, it is only such in relation to traditional landscape painting and the near-literal depiction of external reality, not in relation to urban civilization, from which it directly stems. For in looking back and down on nature from a post-egocentric vantage-point, it distorts and discredits natural reality in the name of urban civilization. Where man was formerly a slave of nature, he now becomes its master and thus frees himself from its influence over him. The process of doing this is necessarily gradual; for one can't leap straight from nature to urban civilization in a single bound, but must gradually weaken the former's hold over one as one grows more acclimatized to the latter. And a good way of doing this is to paint natural phenomena in colours not literally associated with them, thereby reflecting a transitional phase, as it were, from natural enslavement to liberation from nature, and so paving the way for a complete break with the natural world in due course, a break that will manifest itself in the third and highest type of post-egocentric art - namely in what may be called abstract transcendentalism. For whereas nature signifies temporal reality and is accordingly finite, it is towards the ultimate reality of infinite Holy Spirit that such transcendental art points, thereby testifying to a superior stage of civilization. But the second, or extrovert, type of post-egocentric art, whilst it may not be the highest form of modern art, is nevertheless a significant aspect of cultural progress and has the beneficial effect of breaking down our traditional respect for and dependence on temporal reality, as especially manifested in nature. In looking back and down on such reality, modern man paints from the vantage-point of civilization, rather than as a slave of nature in more natural surroundings.
But I haven't quite completed my outline of post-egocentric art, so will now properly proceed to the third and highest type of avant-garde art which, instead of focusing on the subconscious or its external equivalent in nature, tends towards the superconscious in a transcendental one-sidedness. There is nothing degenerate about this ultimate type of post-egocentric art, which is largely if not exclusively abstract. Its leading painterly exponent in the twentieth century was undoubtedly Piet Mondrian, who must rank as one of the world's all-time great artists. He more than any other man of his generation dedicated himself to the furtherance of abstraction, though to a form of abstraction much superior in essence to that practised by the Abstract Expressionists, with their emphasis on strong emotions and the effects of the external world upon the self - meaning principally the soul. The Abstract Expressionists, by contrast, appertained to the second type of post-egocentric art, being the introverted equivalent of the Expressionists. Now where the Expressionists distorted and discredited external reality under influence of the feelings, the Abstract Expressionists allowed the influence of external reality to distort and discredit the feelings, thereby doing approximately the same thing on an internal level, and so encouraging a break with the subconscious - just as the Expressionists, Fauvists, etc., facilitated a break with nature. To view a Jackson Pollock is to step into a hell of subjective emotional writhings; to view a Mondrian is to acquire, by contrast, an intimation of Heaven. The Pollock discredits down, the Mondrian aspires up. The Pollock attests to the second type of post-egocentric approach, the Mondrian to the third. As a type of art, the former can only be inferior to the latter. But it is no-less valid from an historical point-of-view. It serves a purpose, and that purpose is to discredit the subconscious and thereupon indirectly encourage a greater respect for the superconscious. As already noted, it is aligned with Surrealism, though its treatment of the subconscious is more radical and indicates a later stage of evolution. It deals in emotions, not in the dream or memory contents of the subconscious. But the greatness of Mondrian's mature work is that it deals in something higher, namely the superconscious, and absolutely refuses to be distracted by anything else. Order, clarity, simplicity, proportion, beauty ... are of the essence here, and it is from Mondrian's pioneering example that later artists, including those in Op and Kinetics, have derived so much encouragement. Together with Ben Nicholson and Wassily Kandinsky, he paved the way for the subsequent development of transcendental art, the most recent flowering of which has been in the domain of light art, with its slender fluorescent tubing, laser beams, and holographic projections. How far this third type of post-egocentric art can develop, in the future, remains to be seen; but we can at least rest assured that artistic production has attained to an all-time high with the best examples of these transcendental works, and should remain relevant to humanity for some considerable time to-come.