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Robert Irwin (December 5, 1990)01:33:56

Coy Howard introduces Robert Irwin, going off-script to describe his admiration for Irwin and as friend.

Robert Irwin outlines two different ways of determining what is real, starting Plato and Aristotle seeking a transcendental truth that is concrete. This approach set in motion a mind/body problem stemming from Plato’s general condemnation of doxa, everyday beliefs and appearances. A system of signs also arises from this way of seeing the world which consists of a hierarchy of power where the intentional will to follow logic leads to unquestioned beliefs that separate a figure from its ground. This deep space hierarchy also creates clear separations between ideas of truth and untruth, top and bottom, mind and body, and superior and inferior which together work well as a model for a body of knowledge in education, but do not work in predicting what students will think of and achieve in the future. Alternatively, Piet Mondrian’s work reduces the meaning in an object and leads to an erosion of deep space and a flattening of hierarchies.

Irwin discusses how a renaissance in art is always defined by the point of the highest measurable performance, but that the point at which doubts arise is equally important. Edmund Husserl employed phenomenological reduction to mediate truth, doubt and contradiction. Another contradiction is fact that consciousness is temporal and spatial, yet cannot be measured or detected quantitatively. For instance, the mind actively forms the world around you through consciousness, but the instantaneousness of this process makes it invisible.

Irwin demonstrates his phenomenological way of viewing the world through the example of a mark on a chalkboard. The mark is accidental with no meaning, so the blackboard does not become negative space. Attempts to repeat the mark are not reproductions because each additional mark is different qualitatively. How it is used, applied and interpreted are human issues. Piet Mondrian’s work brought things back to zero, and Irwin predicts that it will take at least another 150 years to figure out the implications. Irwin concludes by taking questions about his work and discusses why he gave up painting and working in a studio.

Irwin answers questions about his concepts and ideas. He does not seek to tell people how the world should be, rather he primarily wants people to act because he believes in the potential of human beings. He also recalls how a verbal attack by a group of social activists led him to study the writings of Karl Marx where he became fascinated with Marx’s position that life determines consciousness, and consciousness does not determine life. Irwin believes that if choice, freedom and creation exist, then consciousness must determine life to a certain degree.

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