Fat City: Siting Bologna in the Region of Complexity and the Beginning of Baroque

Reference number: OPUSeJ 201210211802BBC

Editor’s note: OPUSeJ is pleased to welcome this particular manuscript as the first to appear as a Discussion Paper for open-review. The paper is innovative and should be of interest to scholars from a variety of disciplines who are invited to leave constructive criticism in the comments section. The work on the protagonists involved with the rise of Baroque Art in Bologna would be of value by its own merit. However, the use of Complexity Science to analyse this phenomenon is unique and pioneering. It is reminiscent of the use of Psychoanalysis in Literary Criticism.

Methods used in Complexity Science to study systems is well established in Mathematics and Science and is making inroads in Sociology but is largely absent in the Humanities. Western Art, from the late Gothic, through the Renaissance to the present time along with the historical context is well documented. In particular the structure of the schools of art, with their generations of master and student, along with the evolution of the art they produced, provides us with a wealth of data to study.

The approach is qualitative but the findings in this paper are also an interesting point of departure for anyone who would wish to make a quantitative study of the complexity theory framework behind the findings.

Fat City: Siting Bologna in the Region of Complexity and the Beginning of Baroque

Abstract: This paper considers the question: why was Bologna the place where a ‘reform’ of art occurred that resulted in the shift from Mannerist to Baroque style in the sixteenth century? The method of analysis of Bolognese culture and society is derived from the emerging field of Complexity Science which seeks to explain change in the physical world by examining movements within complex systems. Applying this theory to social structures, three different states are distinguished—chaos, complexity, and order. Using this method it is possible to see how unexpected occurrences fostered shifts in the political and social culture that in turn opened up a static, closed system to influences from beyond the borders of the city-state. Focusing on the influence of key figures of the period, significant movements are analyzed: in politics with the Papal Legate Cardinal Paleotti; in science with a new emphasis on observation of the natural world with Ulisse Aldrovandi; in popular culture with the poet of the street, Giulio Cesare Croce; and in the reactions against the well-established style of the Mannerists with the Carracci family of artists. Considering the far-reaching effects of these shifts, we expose the intellectual, social, and institutional connections that fueled new directions for art and culture. For what seems like a moment in history, Bologna provided a situation of complexity that was needed for these new directions to take hold. All too quickly the success of the Bolognese production became highly ordered and at the turn of the 17th century, the excitement of the new shifted to Rome.

Full article: http://www.opusej.org/library/fat-city-siting-bologna-in-the-region-of-complexity-and-the-beginning-of-baroque/                   View as PDF:Fat City PDF 

Reviewer’s Ratings: 

Reviewer 1 – B2. Suitable for review but needs some revision before recommending publication.

Reviewer 2 – B2. Suitable for review but needs some revision before recommending publication.

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2 Responses to Fat City: Siting Bologna in the Region of Complexity and the Beginning of Baroque

  1. editor says:

    The article breaks new ground using a novel and powerful method drawn from the concepts of complexity theory. It argues that the beginnings of the Baroque can be sited in mid-16th-century Bologna, and that its later presence in Rome depends upon it first having begun in Bologna. The argument is potentially persuasive and valuable, however various problems of organization and of rigour must be overcome before it can be made actually so. A special burden this author must overcome is that of writing in a way comprehensible to non-experts, since this work’s highly multidisciplinary nature will attract an audience including readers that are ignorant of at least one of its major fields, art history and complexity theory.
    The terms from complexity theory must be more completely defined such as to be understood by a non-expert. They must be deployed with more rigour and more explanation, since in reading the article the author seems to contradict earlier definitions of these terms; these instances are liable to be confusing. For example, the particular changes to the ‘differentiation-to-centrality ratio’ that govern the progression through the ‘stages’ of ‘chaos, complexity and order’ are not given clearly enough with their corresponding historical events. It is also unclear, among other things, whether differentiation and centrality are in principle independent of each other, or if they are in some kind of zero-sum “conflict”. Lastly, the author must refrain from the fallacy of equivocating the technical definition of these terms with their more conversational meanings; this leads to confusion and also invalidates much of the author’s argument in the eyes of a skeptical reader.
    The author ought also to be more persuasive in demonstrating that the complexity theory is yielding valuable insights not available, or not demonstrable, otherwise. One possible way to do this is to compare the holistic state of 16th-century Bologna to the state the theory attributes to other times and places where it is accepted that no new artistic movement originated, to argue that the result of the complexity theory is unique and important.
    Further improvements to the intelligibility of the article could include: a more conscientious attribution of statements to sources by citation; a more explicit transition from topic to topic in an article that by necessity organizes a great deal of information in interrelated themes that cannot be covered in chronological order; more section subtitles and more recapitulative paragraphs to make more explicit the aforementioned transitions; the inclusion of a figure or appendix that would provide an easy reference on people and events to the non-expert reader, such as a timeline; the inclusion of a figure or appendix to which can be moved the definitions of technical terms such as ‘centrality’, ‘differentiation’ and ‘complexity’, allowing a more complete, rigorous and easy-to-understand set of definitions than is possible in the main text.
    These difficulties overcome, the remaining elements of the article would be allowed to show their worth. The article manages the co-ordination of a great deal of disparate information into a holistic dataset, and a demonstration that this set can be used to infer the site of the origin of the Italian Baroque style. The siting of this style in Bologna could be very convincing once the writing is clearer, and the demonstration of the complexity theory method as applied to art history is a valuable demonstration of the capabilities of a novel idea.

    Antonio Pezzutto BMSc
    Western University
    London Ontario Canada

  2. editor says:

    I think the article is very good. I really enjoyed reading its view on the material (political, cultural, economic) conditions surrounding Bologna, during the 16th century, that allowed it to shift into a place where the Baroque style could suddenly manifest itself. Very fascinating! The theoretical frame of the paper, however, needs to be developed, primarily by connecting to more recent complexity science research that is more directly relevant to its empirical concerns. I think the best links are four. The first link is to the literature on tipping points, as found in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point. This literature does a better job on how complex social systems move from one form to another, than does talking about systems moving from chaos to complexity to order—which, by the way, sounds a lot like the dialectic wrapped in new terminology. Furthermore, the current frame of ‘chaos to complexity to order’ is really a misuse of terminology, as these three concepts are generally not used this way in complexity science. The current paper also falls back on a homeostatic (outdated) model of complex systems, as if order is free of chaos. The second link is to the literature on the intersection of Michel Foucault and complexity theory. Given that the focus of the current paper is about how societies shift from one dispositif to another, Foucault combined with complexity science, which leans more in the historical method direction, may prove very useful. See, for example, Baskin’s article on Foucault and complexity in Cilliers and Richardson’s book, Explorations in Complexity Thinking. The third link is to the literature on cities as complex systems. This literature gets more into formal mathematical modeling, but many of its ideas can be used metaphorically for the purposes of historical inquiry. The final link is to the literature on emergence and self-organization.

    Brian Castellani, Ph.D.
    Professor of Sociology
    Director, Center for Complexity in Health
    Robert S. Morris Health and Science Building
    Kent State University, USA

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