Liquidity In History – How Humans Conceptualize And Romanticize Flowing Substance |

The physical power of water is well-known. The emotional power of water is perhaps just as significant. Human conceptions and perceptions both seem to respond strongly to images of flowing substances.Ancient GreeceOf the four ancient Greek elements (air, fire, water, earth), three are properly considered a fluid state, while the fourth is saturated with fluid. Thales (624-548 BC) saw water as the main element: “… the fire of the sun and stars itself, and the whole cosmos, are nourished by the exhalations of water.” By contrast, Anaximenes (585-525 BC) favored air, while Heraclitus (544-483 BC) favored fire as the primal element of nature.Other Ancient CulturesGo back even farther in history, and we find that in Egypt, Nun (a primordial ocean) gave rise to everything. In Assyro-Babylonian myth, a fusion of salt water and sweet water was the source of all things. Hebrew holy books also explain that all inhabitants of earth arose from a primitive sea. Judeo-Christian creation stories likewise center on water. Similarly, the Koran contains the words: “We have created every living thing from water.” Generally speaking, water is a primordial element underlying creation myths and stories around the world.Liquid RealityAll this seems less surprising, given that 70% of Earth’s surface consists of water. The human body also consists of 60-65% water. The elements hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O), which comprise water (H2O), are the first and third most abundant elements in the known universe. Water pervades every region of Earth’s atmosphere. Life, as we know it, is impossible without water. In short, tangible, understandable reality depends largely on water or a fluid state. There is little surprise, then, that such feelings of awe, respect and fascination might surround fluid dynamic motions. There is also little surprise that art based on such motions might be universally emotional or appealing.Origin Of Liquid ArtsMarbling is an art form that involves floating colored pigments on water and lifting off random patterns with a sheet of paper. The origin of marbling goes back to China, over 2000 years ago, where it appears in sacred practices of Shinto priests. These priests dripped ink on calm water, transferred resulting concentric-circle patterns to rice paper, inscribed this with prayers, presented it to an emperor who burned it in a ceremony, supposedly carrying the prayers throughout the universe. Here there was a strong belief in the importance of fluid motion in shaping the cosmos.Marbling spread from its origin in China to Japan, where it was practiced in the 12th century as “suminagashi” (floating ink). The Western tradition of paper marbling emerged independently in the old Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. Known as “Turkish marbling” or “ebru” (cloud art), it resembled suminagashi except in its use of oil-based pigments and chemically conditioned water [suminagashi used water-based sumi ink and plain water]. By the beginning of the 20th century, marbling became almost a lost art. Recently, though, it has experienced a revival of interest among artists and craftspeople.Future Of Liquid ArtsThis fascination for flowing colors in the arts, which spans various centuries and cultures (subsiding and reappearing in different guises) suggests that human beings have an inborn preference for liquid ideologies. All fields of knowledge, therefore, might benefit from formal, contemporary advancements of such ideologies.