Ladies and gentlemen,
In this lecture I want to try to describe the phenomenon of time, as this is experienced by people in a society, with the aim of making a connection between time and art. Einstein’s theory of relativity showed for the first time that two people can perceive the time which passes between two events as a different length of time and that both perceptions are based on reality. Einstein’s
theory introduced not only relativity in the perception of time, but also the concept of relative reality.
The confessional method of measuring time is to record a natural event which repeats itself. The natural event of the earth covering one orbit around the sun we call a year. And a single rotation of the earth around its axis is a day and a night. The position of the sun with regard to the earth gives the time of day, the hours.
These are concrete events which we perceive as they take place before us. Without hesitation we declare that the day begins when the sun rises. The rotation of the earth ensures that every day is followed by a night.
But how can we know that the duration of time be-tween events, such the earth’s journey around the sun, is always the same? Perhaps we think then of an objective instrument of measurement. The big problem here however, is that the instrument used would then be subject to the same laws of nature as this natural event, so that any contemplated deviation would always be identical.
Theoretically there is no reason why we should notice if one year were to Iast twice as long as another.
It is not my intention to dispute or change the existing system of time. I only want to show that we perceive time differently and our position with regard to time is different than our system of time would suggest.
I do not think that our perception and experience of time is caused merely by the rotation of the earth around its axis and even less by calendars and clocks. There are other things which are more important indicators of time. These can be found everywhere. We are constantly confronted by them in our environment.
Most of us live in an environment which for the greater part consists of things made by man. Look, for example, at the surroundings we find ourselves in at the moment, in this windowless room. Everything here has been made by man, even we ourselves are products of other people, or at least we owe our
existence in an important sense to a number of acts carried out by people. But when we leave this building we are also surrounded by things which were made by man: buildings, streets, cars, food, furniture, clothes, colours and shapes, but also the spoken and written word, music and noise. All of this against the background of nature: the earth, the sea and the sky. Strictly speaking all that we perceive outside ourselves is our environment. This environment consists partly of unspoiled nature, partly of people and partly of things which have been made by people.
In order to use the environment as an indicator of time we have to leave aside the natural landscape. Naturally, when we see snow we can guess that it is winter. But the snow looks much the same as in the winter twenty years ago. Therefore, it will not be of much help to us in finding out which time we are living in. I admit that nature leaves behind traces of time. But our life is too short to be able to experience the time between two ice ages, for example.
In order to find out the time we are in we do not look at the sky. We look to the right and to the left, at people and their actions. This environment is full of temporal elements. In these, we can see how time shows itself. It is an environment which creates possibilities and removes possibilities. It is an environment with its own will, full of references, with characteristics which remind me of man.
In the environment all things have a past. They come from somewhere. This lectern here before me was once an idea, and before that it was a desire which had not been verbalised or a feeling.
All things made by man are ideas which have been converted into material. Each thing is the evidence of an idea. All these things, and the people who think them up, give us a distinct image of the environment.
Because people have for the most part the same sort of ideas, and are all busy converting their ideas into material, or what is more common, that people through Iack of opportunities and capacities agree to the materialization of other people’s ideas, the environment is given a particular character which is almost homogeneous. The environment shows what people are concerned with, how they think and how they feel.
All objects have been invented, arise out of a sort of mentality and can therefore be seen as a monument to that mentality.
The environment is a dominant image. But the image is continuously changing. One section of society experiences this change as a rapid change, another section experiences it as just the reverse, thinks everything is going too slowly. But by far the largest section of society hardly notices the change because it is occurring parallel to their individual change.
They are in harmony with the image.
The changing of the image results from people living in society. New people come up with new ideas; a new environment is created. It is precisely those changes which function as indications of time. There is a constant shift which does not take into account the position of the sun or the rotation of the earth, but a record of mentality, feeling, thinking and action is constantly being made.
The difference between the year 1949 and the year 1969 is not due to the twenty circuits which the earth has travelled around the sun. Because from 949 to 969 the earth covered the same trajectory and in that period changes in the various societies were probably slower.
The real difference in time comes through people thinking and acting differently and finding different things beautiful or ugly. A new mentality arises and that causes time to change.
If the environment did not change physically, then it could be said that time stands still. For man, there would then be no proof that anything has happened. I am reminded of the fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty who slept for a hundred years. And because the good fairy made the entire court sleep for a hundred years too, she felt “as if she had slept for a single night.”
And not only did she feel it, it was the reality: the pan was simmering, the fire was lit, everybody was well rested. There was no demonstrable evidence that this night had lasted longer than any other night. On the contrary, there was actually proof that it had been just a single night.
The journey of the earth round the sun appears to have little to do with our journey through time and space.
As with all journeys, when we travel from one time to another we encounter an altered image, that is, the environment. For the environment provides the proof of a shift or standstill in time.
Let us look once more at the complex, constantly changing image which we call the environment.
The elements which go to make up our environment are subject to great variations in the tempo of change. Churches, streets, squares and houses change more slowly than clothes, cars, music and works of art, for example. Not all parts of the environment are sensitive to time. The difference often reminds me of the large and small hands of a clock. There are also elements which are hypersensitive to time, such as fashion in clothes, which is like a second hand.
But apart from a small number of buildings which are protected by the state, and some older art treasures which have been preserved, by far the greater part of the environment is a dynamically changing whole.
The environment does not move of its own accord. Behind each change there is a person with energy and desires. Each object can be traced back to the idea of making such a thing. We can go further and say there is also something behind the idea. Before an idea can be carried out, it is tested on the pulses and the person with the idea tries to achieve a harmony between the idea and his feeling. I am aware, however, that many do not succeed in achieving this much- desired harmony.
An idea does not appear out of nowhere, but always from a desire which has the same origin as the feeling which has to give its approval to the execution of the idea. Everything we do is connected to our intuitive approval, even if our intuition is not always so developed. When this fundamental feeling appears, I call it mentality. We can read this mentality in the environment, it is given form there, made recognizable. In fact, mentality is nothing more than the employment of the concepts of right and wrong, or reflections of these concepts like beautiful and ugly, pleasant or unpleasant, delightful or tedious.
Our feeling for right and wrong ultimately determines our mentality. Our mentality is responsible for what we do, and do not do. And what we do, or do not do, is visible in the environment. The part of the environment which is created in this way, that is, the greater part, is the one which radiates most powerfully the concept of time. And because we can trace the origin of this time-emanating product back to a feeling for right and wrong, I venture the following proposition:
idea material bearer of time
Felt truth > > >
thought behaviour materialized truth
See how a truth is converted into time, or into an object which is at the same time a bearer of time and a materialized form of truth.
A truth which is felt from the beginning becomes a mentality. A monument made with this mentality indicates the time.
From the foregoing I would like to draw the conclusion that truth is the cause of time. And that our attitude towards truth determines where we find ourselves in time and space.
Equally, the general attitude of society with regard to truth is responsible for the image of time, for what happens or not. The paper with the largest circulation in the country is written for this society. Both politics and religion are designed by and for the majority. This is society’s largest calendar, the general stance with regard to truth.
But for many, society’s clock does not tell the right time. Included among those, I believe, are the artists. I cannot imagine any other cause of the artistic vocation except a need to have a specific attitude with regard to truth and to give form to this. Perhaps the impulse to create is born in every artist when he is not satisfied with the general attitude to truth. I myself, for example, refuse to call myself a contemporary of the people who feel at home in the year 1969. I will try to explain this in more detail.
Imagine that someone here is full of feelings (feelings with regard to truth and beauty of course) which were prevalent in the year 1949. We are supposed to declare such a person 20 years behind the time. His behaviour is characteristic of the general behaviour of 1949. We can easily verify that because we still have various remnants of the truth-time monuments of 1949 in our current (1969) environment. The person in question is under the impression that he lives in the present of 1969, but we know that it is otherwise. His work fits like a jigsaw piece into the remains of the environment of 1949. His stance with regard to good and evil or beautiful and ugly is the same as the one people had then. We cannot travel side by side through time with such a person. That person is behind the times.
We perceive our environment through the senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. With the aid of the senses we can perceive the environment, that is, everything which is outside us. But in perception we are also limited by our senses. We can perceive colours from red to ultra-violet. The colours between are perceptible reality for us. But as we know, there are more colours. They are present but we cannot see them. The same limitations apply to the sense of smell, and so on.
Through our senses we come in contact with the feelings of others. The feeling for a new truth is perceived with the help of the senses.
Imagine that there is someone who perceives colours and sounds outside our perceptive capacity. He would then be an exception, an outsider. But in the case of someone being the only one to experience
the beauty of a particular form, we are also dealing with an outsider. If he is the only one, he stays an outsider. However, if after some time there comes another who also hears the sounds and sees the beauty in
the forms, then we have two outsiders. The more of them arise, the more ordinary they become. If more and more people hear those sounds and see those colours then it will eventually reach the point where those who do not see them will become the outsiders.
Looked at from that perspective, it turns out that these people were not outsiders at all. They were merely one step ahead in time, a step which would later be taken by many.
In our environment we perceive a particular mentality which is a consequence of a particular
feeling for truth. We consume that feeling and through it acquire affinity with things which are bearers of that feeling. For us they are proof that there is a tangible reality.
There is a group of people who are behind the times in society, the old-fashioned. Like all the others, these people can be recognised by their work, their attitude with regard to good and evil, and to truth. The major reason for this phenomenon is that people and their ideas get older. It is not only the years which are the cause of ‘being old-fashioned’, but rather a calcified attitude with regard to truth. The above-mentioned group, therefore, does not consist merely of the elderly.
Most people live in the present of society, because the majority is the norm, the characteristic of the present. Whoever does not go along with his time lives in the past of society. Nevertheless, he will think he is in the present of society because he only sees his own reality and that is only a small part of the environment. His future is the present of society or can become that. Whoever is in advance of his time has his present where society has its future.
Society (the majority of people) can understand ‘the old-fashioned’ without much trouble. Because if that old-fashioned aspect is not too distant, society has just been there and can remember something of that world. However, it will be more difficult for the old-fashioned to understand socie