The 20th Century has been a volatile and vastly variable epoch. It's myriad social, political and cultural
currents and countercurrents - it's ever increasing expansion of the 19th Century dialectic into manifold
polylectics - seem almost to cancel out one and another, leaving entropy as the net result.
Nevertheless, if one seeks not to summarize such an array of concepts and manifestations, the real
nature of the century comes forward. The aggregate character of the last 80-odd years is not just
unhomogenizable, it is anti-homogeneous.
The 20th Century is marked above all by variety, dissonance and the coexistence of what are in fact
mutually insupportable factors. Embodying this as an overriding aesthetic for our century is the method
of composition and communication variously called collage, montage, and nonsequitur. No matter the
form or medium of communication, this mode relies on disjuncture, rhythmic displacement, and the
confounding of expectation. Rules of verbal structure and narrative context are undermined and broken
outright in modern literature; the sequencing of events in drama and dance are reconsidered &
reconstituted; tonal harmonic relationships in music are destabilized and realigned; images in visual
art are formulated discontinuously & assume coherency in no previously logical way.
Basic perceptions and societal presumptions have thus been challenged constantly since the century
began. This collage aesthetic predominated in the most remarkable and influential art of the early 20th
Century expressly to challenge (and even pre-empt) the linear, progressive certainties on which earlier
social concepts were predicated.
Since the last world war the collage aesthetic has come to shape not just art, but most aspects of
communication, as montage-intensive media like cinema and radio have established themselves and
as montage-intensive formats like television have emerged to supersede even those.
Given this virtual redefinition of our society (most especially if "society" can be defined as a civilization's
common, or even communal self-perceptions) according to a grammar of fracture and disjuncture, the
importance of a collage aesthetic is self evident.
Indeed, it would not be unfair to regard the work of any modern, particularly postwar, artist as either
confirming or denying, celebrating or contradicting, the collage aesthetic. It would be wrong to fault
those artist whose homogeneity of image and method argues against the prevailing collage mode; in
emphasizing internal contradiction the collage aesthetic even incorporates the supposedly
contradictory idea of purity - overriding, however, any universal implication to which that idea might
pretend proposing instead a kind of "purity for awhile," as if the function of the purity concept were to
propose a (periodic cleansing). As such those artists who preach or practice coherence, uniformity,
and singularity of form, subject, or concept, play an important role - almost a religious one - in the
function of today's collage aesthetic.
Even so, those artists who consciously practice embodiments of the collage aesthetic are the ones
who speak directly to the current condition of Western civilization. Whether they reify, criticize or parody
this condition they concern themselves with actualities and probabilities drawn from there given
It is ironic to describe someone's thinking as "in tune" with an essentially dissonance-ridden world view,
but dissonance can be a form of consonance when its inherent patterns are grasped. Charles Mingus III
has grasped some of these patterns; having perceived what is inherent to the collage aesthetic, he has
developed modes of expression coherent to it. I emphasize the plural, modes of address; Mingus works
in at least two manners, manners which are related but are still quite distinct. This in itself indicates
Mingus' responsivity to the collage world view: his oeuvre displays a considered and controlled
inconsistency. On the one hand Mingus proposes a delicate world of beautiful abstract images,
satisfyingly geometric figures set in harmony with renditions of natural spaces (e.g. sea, sky,
inscapes). More frequently, however, Mingus sets aside this implosive formalism - which harks back
coherent depiction. This coherency, is the coherency of the collage aesthetic; it may suggest the
veristic rendition of earlier aesthetics, but in fact subverts that rendition with its jumps in context and
superposition of contexts. The jocular "Junior bird man" gesture which Pope John Pall II flashes at
photographers not long after his ascendance makes no "sense" ironic or otherwise, juxtaposed with a picture of a chimpanzee, playing "ring toss" and feeding a porpoise against a noon time desert
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But Mingus places these disparate images in a relatively traditional, almost schematic foreground-
midground-background arrangement of fictive space. He thus forces these images to relate according
to traditional pictorial practices - or, conversely, he implies the obsolescence of such practices by
having them support a kind of visual free-association gibberish.
Interestingly, Mingus does not present these embodiments of the collage aesthetic as actual collages;
he paints and draws - freehand - from collages he constructs temporarily, destroying or filing them away
afterward with no thought to them as artworks in and of themselves.
This process of re-rendering does create a homogeneous texture which serves through contrast to
enhance the dissonance that exists between the images themselves.
Mingus' method recapitulates the homogenized texture provided (ironically) by television, cinema, and
the other inherently collaging montaging media - and, as in those media, Mingus' method exercises a
multivarent perception of reality that supplements the one point perspective traditional to Western