Tuesday, August 24, 2004

What is Art?

What is art?
It is a thing created by a person using a rare, innate, creative talent.
That's all there is to it. If nearly anyone can do it, it is NOT art. If nearly anyone can learn to do it, it is NOT art. If it can be done by following formulas or scientific method, it is NOT art. If only a person born with the rare, innate, creative talent can do it, it is art.

Almost everyone knows this definition intuitively. You can see it in the way people use the word art in sentences like these:
  • blah..blah..blah is more art than science.
  • blah..blah..blah is an art form.
In the movie "Man on Fire" with Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken's character says,
"A man can be an artist in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece."
All of these uses of the word art imply the same definition given in the one-line definition above.

Art is very much like genius. In fact, art is genius in a creative field. Some people say that it's impossible to define art. That's nonsense. If it couldn't be defined then it would have no value in our language but we use it all the time so it must have some intuitive meaning. Some people say art can be anything and everything but that's also nonsense because that's a non-definition. People use the word art often and we usually know pretty accurately what they mean so clearly the word has some intuitive definition. To say that art can't be defined or that it can be anything and everything is like saying there's no such thing as a genius or everyone is a genius.

Art is the opposite of science. Art is all about creativity and inspiration and talent whereas science is all about formulas and reasoning and logic. Of course, a scientist can use inspiration to invent a formula but he will then write down all the steps and logic and every other scientist will reproduce those steps and achieve the same result. But there is NO formula guaranteed to produce a great painting or photograph or novel or movie or song or acting performance in a movie. To be an artist producing works of art requires a rare, innate creative talent. Period.

Art is NOT the same thing as skill. A skill is something that can be learned by pretty much anyone. Laying bricks is a skill. Welding is a skill. Anyone can learn to do those things. Some learn faster than others but, by and large, anyone can learn to do them. It does NOT require an innate talent to do those things.

Is skill involved in art? It usually is. A painter usually has to develop his skill at painting before we can know that he has talent.

Creating something by way of technical proficiency is NOT necessarily creating art. Technical proficiency means highly skilled and skill is not art. Only something produced by a rare, innate talent is art.

Why does the talent have to be rare? If everyone had the talent to produce sculpture like Micheangelo, then sculpture would not be considered art. That is simply not the meaning of the word art as people use the word.

Does art have to have value? It is not a question of value. Nearly anyone could learn to be a good auto mechanic so fixing cars is not an art form. It is definitely valuable though.

If something is art, does that mean it has to be liked? Absolutely not. Art can be revolting. I've always hated "The Scream" (which was stolen recently) but I recognize that it is art because the artist had a rare talent to capture on canvas the emotion of terror and broadcast it to the viewer with chilling resonance. Few painters could achieve this and it is that rarity of talent that is the essence of the definition of the word art.

How do you define rare? The more rare the talent, the more valuable the art. In general, rare means that not typically everyone has the talent or the ability to learn the talent.

Can something be both a skill and an art? Of course. A writer with rare, innate talent is an artist who produces works of art in the literary field. The rest of us who don't possess a special innate talent for writing are not artists and we do not create works of art. We non-artists try to gain as much skill as possible to do the best job we can but we will never be able to create true works of art because we were not born with the innate talent.

Does the creative talent have to be innate? Not necessarily. If in the future we can inject our brains with talent like in "The Matrix", then we wouldn't have to be born with the talent. But currently, artistic talent is like genius - we are either born with it or not.

Why is being the fastest runner in the world not considered art? Being the fastest runner does require innate talent but it has nothing to do with creativity, therefore it is not art.

Was Einstein an artist? Nope. To begin with, he didn't create anything, he discovered some laws of physics just as Newton didn't create gravity but rather discovered its rules. But to take the point deeper, the scientist applies logic to a problem in a step-by-step formula which can be learned and duplicated. But artistic creativity is about creating something using talent that can NOT be duplicated by following formulas. This is why the best algebra student in the world is not considered an artist - algebra is following formulas and logic, it is not pure unlearnable creative talent.

Is a teacher with a rare talent to inspire students an artist? Our intuition tells us the teacher is not an artist and our intuition is correct. Firstly, the methods and techniques used by the inspirational teacher can be taught to other teachers. Secondly, the inspirational teacher may possess attributes that can not be taught to others that increase her effectiveness such as a soothing voice, great beauty, or even just a great personality. Possessing a quality does not make an artist. For example, a woman so beautiful that she drives men to tears just from looking at her is not an artist. It is the actual use of talent and creativity that makes an artist. Our intuition as to what is art and who is an artist is usually correct (at least among rational people) and that's what this definition of art attempts to capture and crystallize.

Is this definition of art complete? No. It doesn't touch on some of the secondary meanings of the word. For example, a child doing his "art homework" is not necessarily an artist but rather, is a student attempting to exercise his creativity even though he may not have the capacity to create a true work of art. This definition seeks to provide an accurate definition of a "true work of art" and a "true artist".

Why is it important to have a definition for "art"? Because otherwise, a lot of crap is passed off as art. Many years ago in Phoenix, there was a controversial art exhibit. The so-called artist was a photographer who had taken pictures of the deposits in a toilet bowl. Each photo listed what the donor had eaten for the previous days before the picture was snapped. The photos were taken with great technical skill. The exhibit was controversial because many complained that these photos were crap, not art (no pun intended). I saw the "artist" interviewed by the news channel saying that he wanted to get a reaction whether positive or negative and if he could get an emotional reaction with his pictures, then he considered it good art.

How do you argue with this if you can't define art?

Clearly, these photos were not art. Anyone could learn to take technically proficient photos and snap pictures like these. Since anyone could do it, it is NOT art. To say that something is art if it produces an emotional reaction is ridiculous. Anybody could find a cat run over by a car and frame it and hang it on the wall and pretty much guarantee that it would get a strong emotional reaction but few people would be silly enough to call it art.

There is a lot of crap getting passed off these days as art and this is a good example of how incorrect or non existent definitions in language can have an actual effect on society.

[There is another word that has been incorrectly defined and the misunderstanding of this word has resulted in enormous human suffering! That word is "selfish" and you can read more about it here.]

There is another even more important reason to define art - to learn that human reasoning is the proper way to understand anything! Some artists low on the talent totem pole try to say that art can't be defined because a clear definition will deflate the value of their work. These are wannabe artists, not true artists. But the more sinister reason some people try to say art can't be defined (or the equivalent statement that art can be anything and everything) is actually an attack on human reasoning itself. To say that a word we all use in everyday language and of which we all have an intuitive understanding can't be defined is to attack our subconscious understanding that human reasoning is the tool we use to gain knowledge and understanding. Of course, few people wake up in the morning with the conscious goal to attack human reasoning but, by and large, those people who prefer to live in the world of superstition and mysticism and religion are the same people who would tell you that art can't be defined. They have a vested interest in attacking the definition and therefore, convincing you that your ability to reason is not the most powerful tool in your intellectual tool bag. Human reasoning and clear thinking is their nemesis.

Some people tell me that my definition is good but it doesn't provide a formula to determine objectively and absolutely if any particular thing is art or not. They are quite right. This definition is a principle, not an exhaustive formula. A Supreme Court decision is also not an exhaustive formula solving all future issues. But it does lay down the principles upon which future issues will be decided. The definition of art is like the definition of genius - it doesn't tell you exactly how to measure it or at exactly what level it transitions from ordinary to special but it does give you a foundation for understanding it. Without a guiding principle, you can't even begin to talk rationally about whether or not something is art.

So, the next time you hear someone referring to something as more art than science, keep this definition in mind and you'll have a crystal clear understanding of the meaning of that phrase.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

George W. Bush Thinks the Earth is Only 10,000 Years Old!

The lunatic fringe christians these days actually believe the earth is only 10,000 years old!

It's hard to imagine that anybody could be nutty enough to believe something so ridiculous but the hard-core christians in America believe exactly that.

When John Kerry and George Bush debate on television, I wish the moderators would ask this question: Do you believe the earth is on the order of 10,000 years old or on the order of millions of years old?

If George W. Bush answers 10,000 years, then people will be faced with the reality that he is on the lunatic fringe. If he answers millions of years, then his only true base will be faced with the reality that he is a liar when politically expedient. Either way, he will be exposed.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Religious Beliefs Have Consequences

Here is a quote from Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith, Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason"

It is time we recognize that religious beliefs have consequences. As a man believes, so he will act. Believe that you are a member of a chosen people, awash in the salacious exports of an evil culture that is turning your children away from God, believe that you will be rewarded with an eternity of unimaginable delights by dealing death to these infidels — and flying a plane into a building is only a matter of being asked to do it. Believe that "life starts at the moment of conception" and you will happily stand in the way of medical research that could alleviate the suffering of millions of your fellow human beings. Believe that there is a God who sees and knows all things, and yet remains so provincial a creature as to be scandalized by certain sexual acts between consenting adults, and you will think it ethical to punish people for engaging in private behavior that harms no one.


Saturday, August 07, 2004

Nobody Trusts God When Their Health is at Stake

Why is it these religious leaders who chant "god is great" never trust god when their health is at stake?
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, 73, an influential moderate cleric, was reported to have left Iraq on Friday to seek medical treatment in London for a heart condition.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Flat Tax or National Sales Tax?

Dennis Hastert, speaker of the house, appears to support a national sales tax to fix our unfair and complicated income tax.

I say "appears to support" because I think it's a ruse. The concept of a national sales tax is a political fragmentation grenade lobbed into the flat-tax camp to make sure we keep our unfair, extremely complicated and expensive income tax system.

I never heard of the idea of a national sales tax until people started talking about a flat income tax. After the idea of a flat tax was introduced and gained popularity, suddenly the idea of a national sales tax surfaced dividing the people wanting to fix our income tax mess into two camps. Divide and conquer. It was a brilliant strategy. If only the politicians could use their cleverness to actually do something for the good of America rather than just protecting their turf.

The national sales tax is a ridiculous concept and has no chance of ever passing. That was exactly what people like Dennis Hastert wanted - suggest an idea that is impossible but which might sound good to some and therefore, divide the group wanting change into smaller groups so they will have less power.

For a very brief explanation of why a national sales tax is absurd, please visit here.

Monday, August 02, 2004

More on the Flat Tax

Tonight on television I listened to Steve Forbes talking about his flat tax idea and learned a fact: Income tax in America is a 200 billion dollar a year business! That 200 billion does not produce anything of value. It's merely money wasted hiring tax accountants and tax lawyers and filling out forms to send in to the IRS.

To put 200 billion dollars in perspective, that is twice the budget for the state of California! The annual budget for California is only 105 billion dollars.

Some argue that moving to a flat tax would eliminate a lot of jobs because the flat tax would be so much simpler that we wouldn't need so many tax accountants and tax lawyers not to mention the hugely expensive IRS bureaucracy. Arguing against moving to a flat tax because of lost jobs is like arguing against curing polio because the wheel chair industry would have to layoff workers.

Imagine a primitive little isolated village with 100 inhabitants and 1 king. The king could order that 100 people farm the land and grow food to feed themselves and him. Or, the king could order that 80 people farm the land and 20 people stand around singing songs to the king and filling out paper work. In the latter case, 80 people have to work hard to produce food for themselves as well as for the 20 that aren't doing anything useful simply because the king said so. That's what we have with our current income tax system. The people that do productive work have to work harder to make up for the people that simply feed off the government mandated income tax bureaucracy. Is it a good investment for America to dedicate 200 billion dollars per year to an infrastructure that exists only because the government says it must exist and which produces absolutely nothing of value?

There are two problems with our income tax system:

  1. It is not equally fair to everyone.
  2. It is extremely complicated and expensive and a drag on the economy.

I've suggested my flat tax idea in this blog which will fix both of these problems. It's different from what Steve Forbes promotes in that my idea is a new concept, namely taxing gross income rather than net income and taxing only individuals, not businesses.

Steve Forbes wants a flat tax that still has deductions (a tax on net income) and still taxes businesses. Steve Forbes flat tax is mainly just tax simplification but is not a new conceptual approach to the problem. Make no mistake, it is deductions and exemptions and special calculations that make our income tax system both unfair and complicated, not the progressive rates. Graduated or progressive rates by themselves are not excessively unfair and don't add much complexity. It is the deductions and excemptions and special little calculations that congress implements that are the heart of the problem with our income tax system.

Our income taxes have lots of deductions and special calculations because congress thinks it is their job to influence how people handle their money. For example, congress wants to encourage people to buy houses since home construction is good for the economy, therefore, home mortgage interest is deductible. Besides adding complexity to the tax code, it also adds unfairness. If home owners get a big tax break while apartment dwellers do not, is it fair? Absolutely not! Apartment dwellers are subsidizing home owners. Apartment dwellers are paying MORE than their fair share while home owners are paying LESS than their fair share! Likewise, people with children get a huge tax break while people without children do not. Why should childless couples subsidize those with children? Sure, children are expensive but so are exotic cars yet we don't give a tax break to anyone because they choose to buy an expensive car. Having children is a choice and those that choose to have children should pay their own way. A good flat tax system is all about being fair to everyone, not just fair to those behaving the way the government wants them to behave.

And why should we tax only individuals and not businesses? Because a business is just a concept. Take away the people and there is no business. People are the fundamental element. Tax people when they get income and tax all people the same way and then everything will be fair and simple. Tax only people, not businesses and the economy will thrive because businesses will invest more energy actually producing something of value instead of wasting a lot of energy managing their taxes. What about people who own their own business? Sooner or later, the business owner has to get some money or value (such as a loaner car) from the business and that's when it should be taxed.

As long as congress thinks they have the right to influence what you and I do with our money they will continue to add one unfair and complicated wrinkle after another to the tax code. It is not the job of our government to tell us what to do with our money. It is the job of our government to protect our rights and they should try to do it in the most fiscally responsible way possible and wasting 200 billion dollars every year on paperwork is NOT fiscally responsible.

For more details, please click here

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Take Back Our Money From the Religion Virus!

Today I noticed on the back of my $20 bill, where it says "in god we trust", someone crossed out god and wrote in reality.

I started thinking, what a great idea! That's one way to communicate that we believe in separation of church and state.

In nazi controlled regions during World War 2, Churchhill (or someone) came up with the idea of writing "Victory" on public walls and public buses and every other public surface. It was only symbolic, of course, but it let freedom-loving people know they were not alone and it gave the nazis notice that the people would not give up without a fight. It helped to energize the resistance against Hitler.

Since the religious republicans feel free to pass laws regulating our sexuality, our freedom of speech and everything else that makes America free, perhaps this is a good way to fight back.