There has been a long productive discussion in a private group I belong to on what defines art.

For the SJWs it means “be socially relevant in the ‘right’ (left) direction.”  For me, no, it doesn’t.

However they are historically ah justified, since historically art was used to support the church and state that defined the society.  And this day as far as the elites are concerned, the theology is marxism, which supports them in their technocrat “we know better” position and their pretense of working for others and therefore deserving rewards.

So before we can combat them, we need to create our own theory of art criticism.

I propose three legs to support art

Intention — what effect you achieve must be intentional.  Some branches covered in frost in the morning are beautiful, but not intentional.  (Well, maybe G-d amuses himself making mini-masterpieces, but we don’t know that and a lot of it seems to be random. Also, if this is G-d’s work of art, it would be beyond our ability to perceive or critique.  Moot.)  So — without intention and creating will there is no art.

Skill – This is slippery territory because we don’t know where skill ends and genius begins.  However, SOME skill is needed.  A writer needs to know the language he is working in.  A musician needs to be able to play his instrument, be it a stick and a bucket or a piano.  A painter needs to know how to draw basic forms and how colors interact.  (Yes, I know there’s a whole theory of noble savage art, particularly in plastic arts, which I think aren’t really, just a manifestation of utter decadence.)

Emotion – the ultimate effect of any art is emotion, whether it’s good emotion, bad emotion.  It is however a controlled emotional experience leading to catharsis.

And the ultimate test of art is whether it speaks to people through the centuries.  It is possible to be immensely popular in your own time for other factors, such as social signaling or heavy supporting of the elites line, and to be despised or, worse, ignored, in the future.

However, if you’re not popular in your own time — if you’re not entertaining enough to sustain interest, then you’ll ONLY be read for social signaling and your chances of ever achieving the emotional effect in your own day, much less the future, is zero.

So — discuss it.  I’m trying to come up with a coherent theory that leads to a book, or at least a monograph.

Oh, and why should we care as writers?  Good heavens — if we’re trying to improve, we need to know in which direction.  Beyond “make mo’ money” — though mind you I’m totally behind that too.


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77 responses to “Art!

  1. Luke

    WHEN the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
    Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;
    And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
    Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

  2. Luke

    I got kicked out of Art back in High School. The teacher went into a long impassioned diatribe that art “was anything that provoked an emotional response”.

    It was a bit like hanging a red cape in front of a bull.
    I set out to provoke an emotional response with my assignments, and succeeded on the very first attempt.

  3. Eamon J. Cole

    Oh, this should be a fun one. I’ve some experience of the disc— hm, argu— no, wars (there it is) fought over visual art definitions and critiques. Engaging, they are. From a military perspective. 😐

    I like your three legs, but I think somewhere in your structure you need “define the target.” I don’t believe there’s a single plane of achievement for each category of art from which everything can be judged (music for the easy and obvious one), but this is exactly how much critique is taught.

    Further in target consideration, there is transient or ephemeral work with good emotional impact that will not survive to be tested by time let alone survive the test. I think your three legs give a good basis to judge the work on its achievements, as long as the immediate and transient target is taken into consideration.

    Just some initial ramblings.

    • To riff off of what Eamon’s saying: One of the complaints about the guitarist John Williams was/is that he’s too perfect – his playing is so flawless, and his performance style so self-contained, that it is “cold.” But if you listen to his recordings and compare them to other “warmer” players, they evoke the same feelings. Watching him is different from watching other classical guitarists, but hearing him? Little difference to my ears and heart. If all we had were live concerts, I don’t think Williams would be considered as good as, say, Hector Villa-Lobos, David D’Ambrosio, or others. But recorded? I suspect he’ll stand the test.

      • Eamon J. Cole

        If I catch your drift, it would be the difference between musician and performer?

        Artistic expression can be found in both, but not all artists work in both.

        And I think in our modern age when so many have been able to see live performances from the extravagant to the sublime there is often a critical eye cast on the music that would find better purchase on the performance. Sometimes, one ought lean back in the chair, close the eyes and feel the sounds.

        Add in that so many outside of artistic inclination realize how obsessive and detail oriented many great artists are (aided no doubt by how many people stab at art without obsession or appreciation for underlying detail…) and frequently we see critiques, professional and not, aimed at precisely the wrong element of artistic expression.

        I, though, am primed by constitution to appreciate the beauty of precision.

        • Eamon J. Cole

          I, though, am primed by constitution to appreciate the beauty of precision.

          Which reads rather more self-congratulatory than self-deprecating as was intended in the context of artistic expression.



        • Perhaps it comes from being immersed in the world of organ music, where 95% of the time you don’t see the musician, but I think you are right. Music is played but there is no dramatic performance – the organist has to do it through his skill and his knowledge of the music, the instrument, and the style of the time and place in which the music was composed. Half of being a good organist is knowing the technical background of the music. The actual ability to play is vital, but the difference between a good organist and a great organist is that willingness to learn the “minutia” of technique and style. What the audience sees counts for nothing. Granted, pipe organ music is a fairly tiny, esoteric subsection of art, but is all musician and almost no performer (OK, Virgil Fox of the rhinestone shoe heels being a notable exception, but . . . he was Virgil Fox.)

          • Eamon J. Cole

            I think a lot can be learned from the tiny, esoteric subsections because there we can start to see the commonalities of the details while letting aside the larger disparities.

            There’s something in the requirements of the organist, with regard to the musician/performer separation. I have been to concerts where I was vastly entertained, caught up in the energy of the performance and the response of the audience — but in an evaluation of the music, it may have been less precise and consistent than other presentations of the same piece. The audience, the venue, the day — they all have an impact on how some artists present their work.

            Perhaps what some are seeing as cold from Mr. Williams is in part the performance aspect and in part his pure dedication to the crafting of the music. He is not interacting with the energy of the event as people expect.

            With an organist, maybe a full orchestra, we don’t have such an expectation of close interaction with the performer (contrast the dynamics of an orchestra and the soloist {they can frequently bend the meter a hair and make it work}).

            It’s interesting to me, those expectations based on venue/type/instrument/what-have-you can shape our expectations and experience drastically.

            I’ve poked around the edges of the impact of cinematography (most especially ubiquitous video) on photography. Motion in our pictures has strongly affected how we respond to still photography and what we expect to see. It has shaped what has impact in stills and what falls flat. Likewise painting and illustration but there remains some remove.

            I’ve been jumbling around in my canted brain the same considerations as regards storytelling, between visual presentations and those written. Pacing, ques, plotting — these are profoundly impacted by our primary story consumption medium. I’ve been beating it around with a particular regard to boys/teens/men and where the current crop of male readers are hailing from. How can I beg/borrow/steal techniques from screenwriting and game scripting to shape writing? And, yet — the written form has strengths the others cannot emulate, so —

            To tug this back around toward the point (really, ring in the nose, tie it to the post, this’ll work…) a framework for art can give us something to hang our hat on as we explore the impact of various changes to the medium(s).

            It might give us that line, that mean, from which we can evaluate our efforts (and everyone else’s) and have a feel for where we should drift…

            Or it’s the end of the day and my brain is burbling happily. Like a fat baby.

            I’d probably bet on the baby.

        • Piers Anthony explored this distinction a bit in one of the books in his Apprentice Adept series. In one section, the protagonist is competing against a musical genius in the realm of music. After hearing the other play, he realizes he has no chance at all of beating his opponent on technical merit, so he focuses on presentation and flair, because the other man is an undemonstrative player with no bent for improvisation.

          After the first round, the contest was declared a tie, because his performance was deemed to be enough better than the other man’s in the presentation angle to make up for the disparity of technical skill.

          • In other words, Anthony cribbed directly from the folklore tale of the fiddle contest with the devil (Which after a quick check is NOT the Devil and Daniel Webster)

        • There is a difference, and I think you have a point. I see similar things in my Bardic performances. There are those who can take the most boring tale and bring it to exciting life and others who can kill the most exciting tale. Yet there is a middle ground as well. Those who Are technically skilled and perform beautifully from that standpoint, but never connect with the audience in front of them and might as well be living recordings.

          For me, part of the purpose of performance is to connect with the audience, to draw them into the tale as active rather than passive listeners. (my personal success is limited. I can list several bards in whose footsteps I aspire to follow.)

          I would say that part of a performance art is making that connection. And this may be the difference between good art and great art I don’t know for sure.

          I do know that ‘not art’ is easier to identify than define.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Secret police liquidating socialist artists and communists book sellers as performance art.

  4. I think of great artists who were not popular in their own time but got discovered later, so I’m not sure about that point. And I’m not sure that pure emotion is required. I agree on the issues of intention and skill. Even if you are a genius, these two are required. I refer you to David Foster Wallace as an example. I’m not sure that mixed emotions qualify for your requirement for emotion. And Wallace certainly could raise mixed emotions.

    • If that was his intent, then yes, mixed emotions qualify. They just need to provoke a cathartic response.
      Interestingly the normal response to my short stories seems to be “I thought it was meh, then I thought about it for weeks.” Um…

    • Synova

      Maybe “emotion” isn’t the best word for it. I’m not sure what a better word would be, though. I think that popularity is sometimes seen as proof that something *isn’t* art, which I think is just silly. But popularity touches on what I think of as emotional engagement with the art… but it’s not really *emotion*. Maybe “engagement” is actually the right word. It might be engagement that leads to “sad” or “happy” or “angry” or otherwise “moved”… but it’s engagement. In any case, seems to me, that vastly popular art, rather than being not-art, is able to relate and engage with some basic and very broad experience of humanity… even if it’s an admiration of unrealistically lethal commandos or perfect breasts.

  5. There are times when I look at the state of poetry today that I wonder if any of it will continue into the next fifty years. Or what form. I shudder to think it will be hip hop… lol

    • masgramondou

      I’m sure limericks will remain popular

    • Laura M

      When they gave up on the rhymes, “poetry” lost me.

      I think you’re on to something with the hip hop, however. Music is where poets can get paid. Although I’m not a Springsteen fan (and don’t let my husband hear me say that), he’s very good with the language, and well remunerated.

      • To rhyme or not to rhyme, that is the question – Actually there are several groups of poets who only write rhymed poetry. It started about two years ago. You might be able to find some poetry to your taste now.

      • Rhyme is not essential to poetry. Of the hundreds of poems in the Hebrew Bible, none I can think of has a rhyming scheme. (Some have refrains, though.) There’s also the Old English technique of alliterative verse, which Tolkien uses occasionally.

        • Doesn’t that have to do with Hebrew Poetry rhyming ideas, rather than sounds?
          Sort of like how haiku fits syllables instead of sounds.

          I’m sure you know of the “poems” he’s talking about– they got rid of the rhyme, and didn’t replace it with anything else; Proverbs is still incredibly popular because the format translates well and has something to say, and the…structure, I guess, helps give it form.
          No structure, no support, no form.

        • Laura M

          This is subjective on my part.

        • I cannot read Hebrew so I don’t know how it works. However I was very unhappy when I read revised versions of the Bible. The KJV used a lot of alliteration, chiasmus, allusion, and tons of other poetic devices, which is why I enjoy reading it. I cannot get into the newer translations. They read flat–

          • I don’t know which version you use, but if you use the Catholic books you can look around sites like or Jimmy Akin’s blog for review sites that will rate Bibles based on what kind of translation it is– the two measures are, roughly, strictly accurate translation and meaning-accurate translation. I’m sure there’s a Protestant version, somewhere, I just wouldn’t know who’s to trust.
            I can’t remember what the actual words for it is; I like the ones that are extremely accurate/literal with lots of footnotes to explain odd turns of phrase. (It’s like the difference between official anime translations and fan translations– the fan subs usually have a LOT better grasp on the pop culture of both, and will explain mythological points.)

            • I use the KJV… and with my Shakespeare background… studied it in English Lit… I have a better grasp of the language than most. I just like the sounds and rhythms. I know– sacrilege… but the Bible as poetry fits me better than literal translations. 😉

            • The versions I have not enjoyed are the New Revised KJV and American Standard Version.

        • My mother-in-law is Greek, and according to her, the Greek version of the Lord’s Prayer is supposed to be one of the first examples of rhyming poetry in the world.

        • dougirvin

          Hebrew poetry deals with paired couplets and so forth. Psalm 119 is unique in that it deals with divisions of eight lines, each line beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, until the final letter is completed. Someone had lots of time on His hands. (joke)

  6. Draven

    I did a term paper in high school on ‘literature’ and defending the value of comic books as storytelling. It included excerpts from a telephone interview I did with Stan Lee.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I was just thinking that Shonen Jump is a good example of something under a conventional definition of art that I can also appreciate.

  7. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Normally, I’m fond of defining art and craft in contrast with science, using the ‘any discipline where the idiot of this generation can surpass the genius of the last is a science’ definition.

    I’m just grumpy and misanthropic enough for the following: Art is what remains when you take the fine arts community, and kill every one who is a waste of oxygen. Anyone who has ever used certain categories of drugs recreationally is always a waste of oxygen.

    I guess I’m still under the weather. Art as easily defined as a blood test? Ha!

    Seriously, as far as contemporary art is concerned, I think far more is created in an industrial context than in what are formally understood to be the arts.

  8. Christopher M. Chupik

    Art? I just want to entertain my readers and get paid decently for it. Let someone else decide if it was artistically done or not.

    In short, I want to become the sort of author a certain Disgraceful Guardian Writer makes snide remarks about. 🙂

  9. Oh, I dunno about leftist “art” not provoking emotion. Fury, horrified recoil, desire to puke . . .

  10. Some branches covered in frost in the morning are beautiful, but not intentional. (Well, maybe G-d amuses himself making mini-masterpieces, but we don’t know that and a lot of it seems to be random. …)

    Living with a computer geek, the word “random” makes me twitch; in this case, the frost isn’t random, it’s predictable based on established rules, although you need a lot more information than we can usually get to know what’s gonna happen… which made me think: Hey, that’s a lot like when you write a program. Probably one of those awesome Fractal images would be closest…..

    And a cousin thought: It’s not mini-masterpieces, it’s a detail in an incredibly huge masterpiece.

    So yeah, agree that branches-covered-in-frost-in-the-morning isn’t art in nature, but it’s rather pleasant to consider that Himself is an artist, even if His kids rather messed things up so it’s not all that pretty.
    That sense of… awe? Contemplation? That can be one of the things that art invokes.
    I don’t think catharsis is always it– but it needs to convey something. Kinkade rather famously managed to make a lot of money off of conveying a sense of home in his images. (Note: those of you who start foaming at the mouth at the mention of his name, at best I’ll ignore you as fanatics. You don’t like his stuff. Big whoop. You’re not going to make people start agreeing with you by internet yelling, and part of why he made so much money is that so little of modern art manages this.)

    a deliberately made thing;
    crafted with sufficient skill to do the job;
    conveys a meaning or emotion.

  11. How does Photography fit into this scheme?

    For that matter, how about 3D modelling?

    Those are two big battlefields in a lot of “What is art?” debates. Any hack can get a copy of Daz Studio, buy a bunch of pre-made props and settings and poses and render a “Masterpiece” (Although truth be told, the first thing they do is render the figures naked from every conceivable angle after posing them in anatomically impossible ways and pushing the Breast Size slider to 11.).

    (Hmmm, actually sounds like a good idea for making covers…. The 3D modelling, not the giant boobs thing.)

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I’m wondering if Blender can work as a poor man’s substitute for SolidWorks, Pro/E, or Inventor.

      Think of the design for a part. Make the part/assembly model. Make the drawings and/or CNC code. Fabricate the part.

      Use it to solve a problem that at least one person cares about.

      • Eamon J. Cole

        I’d think SketchUp better suited for such. But my experience with Blender is non-existent.

        The hurdle in non-engineering graphics programs comes with output. Dimensioning/G-Code generation/documentation is a handy subset to have around.

        But, they can all be tackled/worked around in SketchUp, generally.

      • Draven

        Or you could just use Inventor as a poor man’s substitute for Inventor, under the student license…

        But no, Blender (and most animation software) really can’t be used as CAD software. It doesn’t have the tools to make CAD-accurate, dimensioned drawings. If your target is 3d printing, sure. But CNC? Not likely.

        • Eamon J. Cole

          Autodesk has monthly licensing…

          I mean, if somebody’s just trying to solve one particular piece and they have familiarity with the program but no full license.

          • Draven

            the ‘edu’ license is basically free for anyone.

          • I used to hang around when I was interested in building a cnc router table (Still am, but no time, and no good projects to build in it) and there are a lot of good, free and cheap cnc programs out there, some designed specifically to produce GCode and compute tool paths and everything.

            • Eamon J. Cole

              Oh, yeah, I’ve played with some. G-Code is not horrible to learn, and there’s some good editor programs.

              I’m fond of a paid version, though: G-Wizard G-Code Editor and Simulator. The toolpath simulation alone is worth some money, and tie in the ability to do optimizing? Plus there’s several more functional layers to the system.

              I’ve only been able to play around the edges, but it was pretty impressive.

              • The big problem with CAM these days is the death of the Parallel port on PC’s. A lot of hardware depends on it, and the hobby market is still struggling to come up with a decent replacement.

                • Is there any reason that a USB-to-parallel adapter won’t work?

                  • Usually it’s timing issues, as they are typically bit-banging the Parallel port to time stepper motors, and the time resolution and serial data format of USB can’t quite hack the necessary waveforms.

                    There are apparently PCI cards with parallel ports on them, but they don’t always work well either.

                  • Draven

                    Yes, a lot of them don’t. They work fine for printers, not so much for other stuff. I have the same problem with buying a new computer- I have parallel port hardware keys.

      • Sketchup is probably a better start (Formerly Google, now owned by Trimble). It’s a LOT more intuitive for the kinds of shaping you’d do. It’s free, and there’s a lot of pre-made library material.

        Blender is hideously complex, doesn’t follow what little guidance there is for Windows user interface, has most of its commands deeply hidden, and doesn’t even seem to have basic tools like rulers and guides.

        I’ve used both, a little. I’ve had much more success with Sketchup.

        Daz is Poser with virtually no content creation tools, but they have built up an insane amount of third party content that you buy through their store. It’s the free Razor of cheap 3D art.

        On the fourth hand, there is some pretty amazing stuff being done in Second Life, amid square parsecs of junk. But if I could find a decent Apollo Spacesuit model anywhere, I’d have a huge jump on my Human Wave logo design.

        Or if someone could find a stock image of an astronaut in a surfing pose….

        • Draven

          Blender takes many operations that are one or two clicks in one place in most 3D software and makes it six plus clicks , toggling between different ‘modes’ just to do it.

        • Eamon J. Cole

          Yep, this is still my suggestion for the casual design project. If things get more serious, Pro is available with a much smaller kick in the teeth than the standard CAD programs.

          • It’s great for Woodworking projects, although expect to name a lot of parts if you don’t want them permanently joined together as you work with it.

            • Eamon

              My understanding, from the last time I looked, is Pro solves that. It will treat shapes as solids, and you can do interference checks in assemblies.

              For serious woodworking, the $600 is probably worth it.

              • And most of the time, you don’t even need that. The Free version really does an amazing amount.

                I’ve used it for several projects, even for just visualizing a safety platform project for work (which finally appeared two years later in a very different way, but to the same dimensions after I left the group) and most recently a special shelf for my laundry baskets. Modelling the baskets, roughly, made dimensioning it much easier.

  12. Pat Patterson

    You can’t describe the universe without art.
    We don’t really KNOW what the prehistoric cave paintings meant to the painter; were they pleas for the great herds to return, or were they just descriptions of what happened in the hunt last Thursday before we got so drunk with fermented droobleberry juice? Is Leslie Fish going to be remembered longer for ‘Banned From Argo,’ or ‘Black Powder and Alcohol,’ or for the rare and endangered species garden she is creating out in Arizona at the moment? (By the way,
    What do you do if the universe turns out to be hostile or random? That gets you the Andulasian Dog in the first case, or any of Jackson Pollock’s work in the second case.
    Which doesn’t mean we have to LIKE a particular work, even if it is brilliantly executed, such as ‘Birth of a Nation,’ ‘Triumph des Willens,’ and works by that sick f##k I’m not even going to mention.
    Is it art to kill an artist and destroy their works?