Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part ten


It is the practice, in classification, to group like with like. In biological classification this does not always reflect an evolutionary path: the marine sea snails of the family Cypraeidae (cowries) are classified by their shell shapes and colour patterns but the latter feature's evolution is decided by which variations make for the best camouflage in any type of environment. Variations in the creatures inside of the shell is another matter and the classification would have been different if the soft tissue had been the determining factor.

Evolution in design is made more complex because the creator of the product has free will and the survival of design features in any planning stage such as preliminary drawings for a painting is not dependent on the external factors of predators or types of environment. When the product consists of multiples such as a series of coins there can be an opportunity to evolve the designs as the work progresses. Almost always, however, die engravers work in the same manner as painters by planning the design before the first die is cut and then repeating the design for all subsequent dies in the series. Variations on a coin can exist when the main features remain the same, for example, the long series of Athenian tetradrachms of the "New Style" bears sets of magistrates names and these names change over time with overlapping names providing a chronology of die manufacture. Without such clues, the order of die manufacture cannot be determined and the numismatist then uses features of die use to determine an exact chronology. This practice can involve gradual die wear and die replacements (obverse, anvil, dies wear slower than reverse, hammer, dies and are less subject to breakage because the coin blank acts as a buffer to the force of the hammer). Without such clues, such as in the case of coins where most of an issue has not survived, declines in weight or the purity of the metal might be used to estimate the chronology.

I decided to create a more detailed classification of the billon staters of the Celtic Coriosolite tribe not just because the exist in great numbers, but because their designs showed a phenomenal number of design variations and I thought that this would reveal an evolution. It did, but determining that evolution was far more complex than I had imagined at the outset. I soon came to realize why such a detailed chronology had not been accomplished: previous scholars had restricted the number of deciding factors because like could be grouped with like with only a very limited number of features. Working with the conventional methods, I was unable to refine their chronology and I almost gave up. Some months later, I decided to take another approach (inspired by a Scottish naturalist, see part seven).

By just looking at the designs over a period of time without thinking about them and by ignoring all numismatic theories and methods I knew that here would be a chance that the solutions would emerge from my unconscious mind. I consciously knew that there had to be a solution, but as no one had been able to accomplish this through the use of theory and methods, then conscious thought was obviously not workable. When the answers finally came, I realized that their complexity was so extreme that the chances of anyone discovering them through academic methods would have been virtually nil. They could, however be easily verified, after the fact. What I did not know at the time was that the physicist Wolfgag Pauli, in a discussion with Jung had already determined that objectivity must reside in the unconscious:
"As a matter of fact the physicist would expect a psychological correspondence at this point, because the epistemological situation with regard to the concepts 'conscious' and 'unconscious' seems to offer a pretty close analogy to the undermentioned 'complimentarity' situation on physics. ... It is undeniable that the development of 'microphysics' has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the newer psychology: but whereas the former, on account of the basic 'complementarity' situation. is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality." C. G. Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, p. 139n
Three of the four reverse dies of my sub-group H1 had been previously placed together in Rybot's attempted chronology, but the other he placed out of sequence:

The numbers contained within parenthesis are in subjective order,
while the parentheses, themselves, are in objective order.
Group H has the least variations of all of the series with the
maximum number (5) of any dies within an objective set.
 Rybot's order for the H1 coins in the order above was: 27, 22, 21, 20. Number 27 is completely out of order but the sequence of 21, 20. could be correct. The reason he placed them in such an order is because he gave priority to obverse features. Group H1 is arranged through reverse features, while Group H2 is arranged through obverse features. The same grouping patterns in H1 and H2 reveals that the moneyers had shifted the obverse and reverse die correlations in the striking process. My order for the obverses was based on overlapping changes in the design of the eye and the neck truncation but Rybot's prime consideration was a gradual loss of perceived realism in the faces. This was due to advice he had obtained from the British Museum about the pattern of artistic and was based on theories about Greek art popular at the time. That the Celts had any concerns, at all, about realism in faces is grossly unfounded. We can see that Rybot succumbed to the psychology of status. Had he been left to his own devices, I have no doubt that he would have been able to create a far more accurate chronology because he was an artist, as well as a soldier and had no grounding in the academic theories which had been applied to these coins. He did, however, have personal, experiential, knowledge of the minds of artists apart from their styles and methods.

A friend of mine once got an extremely low mark for a paper he wrote at university. It was about Roman coin portraiture and was based on his observations and many years of experience as a collector of these coins. the low mark came about because he had not cited references and was suspected of plagiarism. Observation and experience was not even considered a factor. This is the fatal academic flaw: that new discovery can only be derived from previous studies. Yet, in the real scientific world new discoveries can emerge from the unconscious, although such things would (and have been) dismissed by people  with extraverted, philosophically materialistic, personalities who can experience such things from only within a neurosis. We have barely scratched the surface on the topic of subjectivity.

Tomorrow, how the better scholars of early Celtic art work around the structures that have been imposed upon the subject.


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