I'm not a professor or in academics but if I may
I don't think we should be afraid of qualifying
people or tendencies - or talents - any more than we can be afraid of
qualifying objects for their utility or whatever other use we seek to gain
I would not be shy about saying that a vase I am
interested in is more better for the place and purspose I want from it
than other vase, and I hope I would be equally sallow in saying that a
certain person is less qualified for certain work than another
It seems obvious to me that nature and
nurture are just other ways of saying genotype and phenotype.
Nature is what happens when the genome codes for attributes and
behaviors. Nurture is what happens when these codes are activated
and expressed, based on circumstances. The same code will
generate different results depending on the raw materials around it, just
as much as the same blueprint will create a different building if bricks this
year are blue instead of red and as much as the same formula will generate
very large numbers if fed large numbers and small numbers if fed small numbers
- or any other juxtaposed relationship.
Therefore, there is no need to skulk around about
assigning or retracting merit. It is true enough that most people are
valueable in many subtle ways, and if someone is not a divine writer, he may
be a very good cook or an extremely kind friend. So I, for one, do not
feel guilty in saying, "Well, Larry can't sing," because Larry is actually
quite great at audio electronics, so, in my mind, as to human value and
talent, it balances out.
If we do want to talk only about art, I would
qualify it as a certain activity or a certain product of human
endeavor and would continue assigning propotionate value to those who I
see carry more or less of the elements that consist the endeavor.
Not everyone is a talented writer, an articulate
orator or a profound thinker. Of course people come with
limitations. Sometimes hardwired, sometimes through the confines of
life and situation. It IS worth drawing out the latter kind
of talent, the hidden, latent, buried kind. I think that is true
and worth an effort on the part of teachers and mentors. It is very
important to the individual happiness of the people who would be so favored,
if not directly beneficial to society at large. But the places where interest, capacity and effort only go so far
should be soberly assessed and taken to their own limit without guilt for not
working hard to extend them further.
I think most people intuitively understand good
art. It is the kind of communicative work that makes us feel, think or
experience something. It is based on human life. It works
with life's materials and shapes out of them pieces that those of us who
want to recognize them, do. A woman in a painting, on a bench with,
looking as if she is bored but not bored enough not to sit for a portrait
that would make the most of her shoulders and hair is something I would
look at. She is not real, exactly, but I know that
look. Or if I didn't know it before I saw her, I know it
now. That's art to me.
Now I may be able to see this look
in a woman at a restaurant or may observe an exchange more layered
and complicated between people at a video store, but that is the raw
material. The art is when someone or something - the artist - is able to
stay the raw material for a longer and more detailed examination. For
this purpose, a certain amount of what I will call synthesis is
necessary. The look of the woman in the painting may exist in the look
of the woman in my restaurant, but its causes are not as clearly evident as
they would be in the paining and so the story from my point of view in the
restaurant would be less complete. To give the fuller account of
the look, the entity known as an artist would have to synthesize the rest of
the elements that would flush out the look and offer that to me for what
I would then read as a complete narrative of a certain human sentiment
. So this is art's function to me. It is simple in being so close
to our lives but also powerful in its staying power and in giving us the
chance to reflect on, look into and re-experience the mysterious
moments we run into every day and that give us the label of
Complicated Conscious Species. At least, I guess that could be one
of our labels.
Thanks for prompting the opportunity of an
opinion from me.
I work in public television in Washington state
and joined this list at its onset, when I was working on a documentary (now
shelved) about the third cutlure and the bridgind of the gap. <-- I
almost can't write this latter without quotes but I resisted.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, June 12, 2008 8:00
Subject: Re: [SPAM]Re: [SPAM][biopoet]
The Death of...Everything
Mike--I'm sort of thinking through this as I go
along, too. The teacher in me wants to think that all of my students
can be very good writers and thinkers if I/we provide them the right
resources, opportunities, and direction. The artist and employer in me
sees very different capacities in my peers and employees, many of which they
seem to be unable to augment in a substantive manner--I mean, everyone can
improve, but whether they can become Tiger Woods, Kurt Vonnegut, Andrea
Bocelli, JMW Turner, Isaac Newton, etc., is the question . . . depending on
how we define "artist." If it is defined as "someone who participates
in an artistic activity" then clearly all humans and many animals
qualify. If it is defined as "someone whose work gets its own show,
hangs in a museum, gets regular air time, makes the NYT list, or gets them
into MIT" then we are at a different, and more discriminating, level.
If it gets defined as "someone whose work transcends their age, stands the
criticism of time, and sets new standards for achievement and insight" then
the filter is much finer, and fewer make the cut. Somewhere in that
hierarchy, I think, nurture alone is insufficient, and must be combined with
something unique in the creator's nature.
Again, the teacher in me
would like to think that wrong, that anyone can do anything, but with so
many empirical arguments against it . . . Of course that sentiment is
at least partly elitist, but without some sort of qualitative
discrimination, all critique and assessment falls by the wayside.
There is no reason to qualitatively critique a work of art if there isn't
some sense of good and bad artistic qualities, and if one person
consistently produces good art and another bad, we can label it elitist, or
we can just call it life. Biology from amoeba to human being
demonstrates conclusively that there are functional differences in our
natures that manifest in our behavior. If there weren't we wouldn't
have much to talk about.
And, again, we aren't
talking about everyone aspiring to be a good mower of lawns. "Artist"
has a social cachet that handyman doesn't (despite the fact that there
is a tremendous amount of creativity and artistry involved in most hands-on
work). We (some of us) aspire to be "artists" in part because of that
cachet. We don't aspire to become the guy that pumps out my septic
My wife is a grade-school
teacher, and comes home complaining every week about the parents who lobby
for their student to be a Gifted and Talented Student, despite poor academic
performance by the student. But when everyone is gifted and talented
(a nice, if utopic, idea) G&T won't mean anything. We can call
this human nature, but I suspect it is much, much deeper than that, for a
variety of reasons that you are probably more familiar with than I am.
But if we were all millionaires that label would be meaningless, and only
those who were multi-millionaires would be envied.
On the other hand, Michael
Casimir has done some interesting work on human territoriality that
indicates that what he calls capitalist behavior emerges in some resource
contexts, while what he calls communality emerges in other resource
contexts, predictably, as part of our phenotypic flexibility. His
work may imply that "elitist" impulses arise in certain contexts while
"egalitarian" impulses arise in others. This suggests very strongly
that both impulses are resident in our genes and inheritable behaviors, but
that environment/ nature dictates which impulse comes to the fore.
Of course, he says nothing about the effect or efficiency of the impulse,
but rather just that it manifests, and attempts to exert influence on the
social and natural environment. If I can make a rather long leap, I am
now talking about the desire by everyone to be an "artist", vs. the effect
of that desire on a culture. The egalitarian impulse could be
environmentally provoked in all of us . . . but would the effect be the
conversation. More thoughts welcome. JT
Jeff P. Turpin,
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, June 12, 2008 7:23
Subject: [SPAM]Re: [SPAM][biopoet]
The Death of...Everything
Jeff:But I suspect egalitarian and universal
artistry is a compound contradiction in terms. If art is a
(multi-function) tool, we will always want to select the "best" tool, and
so, at least on a cultural or consumer level, selection and rejection
should be part of the process. Also, there has always been a certain
amount of elitism associated with the label "artist," and if everyone is
one, elitism goes out the window, washing out at least this attractive
aspect of the label. It becomes sort of like being a jogger--less. This is
not to say that everyone shouldn't be artistic. In music, of course, the
tenor has been "everyone can and should now be a musician," for at least
the last decade, and while the result has been deplorable in some cases,
popularly-accessibl e music has benefitted from a very high level of
consumption. A visit to most local art galleries will confirm that a lot
of people have decided to express their artistic talents, but that few
qualify as an "Artist" in the traditional sense of the term. So I guess it
It's interesting that you associate "everyone
an artist" with the end of elitism/quality.
If I may appear to ramble for a minute -
& connect it up later -
I've been thinking recently about however
many thousand years of rational culture are coming to an end - since the
Greeks and the beginning of alphabetic culture.
This has been an era marked by the
oppositions of rational vs emotional vs embodied vs imagination vs arts.
("Rational" = rational systems of thought - logic/maths
&language-based - which the Greeks started). Science is discovering
how pure rationality is an impossibility - Damasio, Lakoff & Johnson,
Gallese/Rizzolatti etc. The rest of the body - and soon, I believe, the
arts - are coming into their own.
This is all happening now that we are
entering a multimedia as opposed to literate/alphabetic culture, in which
images, once v. expensive to produce, have suddenly become plentiful,
cheap & easy to produce.
Now somehow - I haven't thought about this in
any depth at all - rational culture is also bound up with 'natural'
social hierarchies and aristocracies.
The Internet is of course also a medium of
everyone-is- an-author- blogger-artist- self-publisher- part-of-the- network..
Actually, there is no reason why an arts
academy in which the main business was (will be!) the production of art
rather than criticism, should involve any loss of quality. (Quite the
reverse in fact - it should lead to higher standards). The science academy
in which the main business is science rather than criticism,
doesn't.involve any loss of quality. Obviously, some people
will achieve more than others, as in the rest of society. But
that's not a "problem."
I guess, thinking about it, the association
of rationality and aristocracy - the notion that only some people can be
good at things, esp. rationality, or any aspect of literacy - stems
almost entirely from scarcity of resources. There just weren't that many
manuscripts or books to go around. But the internet as it meshes with
phone and tv is becoming the first universal medium of communication and