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Re: [SPAM][biopoet] Re: Re: The Death of...Everything

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  • Jeff P. Turpin
    Maya--Thanks. I certainly couldn t have said it better. JT Jeff P. Turpin ... From: Maya Lessov To: biopoet@yahoogroups.com Sent: Friday, June 13, 2008 2:06
    Message 1 of 12 , Jun 13, 2008
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      Maya--Thanks.  I certainly couldn't have said it better. JT

      Jeff P. Turpin
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Friday, June 13, 2008 2:06 AM
      Subject: [SPAM][biopoet] Re: Re: The Death of...Everything

      Hi, all.
      I'm not a professor or in academics but if I may say something:
      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 from them.
      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 person. 
      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.  
      Maya Lessov
      Pullman, Wa
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Thursday, June 12, 2008 8:00 AM
      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 tank.
          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 same?
          Anyway, interesting conversation.  More thoughts welcome. JT

      Jeff P. Turpin,
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Thursday, June 12, 2008 7:23 AM
      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 is complex.
      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 education.

    • Stephen Berer
      ... Please unpack this a bit for me. You were talking about the astounding economic expansion taking place right now, and suddenly jumped to the above.
      Message 2 of 12 , Jun 15, 2008
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        Mike, you ended your last post with:

        By 2020, the fiction of "talent" will be dead, and a v. dirty word.  Like the notion of a canon, it's so-last-two-thousand-years. Start thinking big.

        Please unpack this a bit for me. You were talking about the astounding economic expansion taking place right now, and suddenly  jumped to the above. Expanding middle class slides into death of talent. Lost me. So, what are you saying about "talent?" How is talent a fiction?  I don't know what you're implying here. Are you saying "all art is equivalent, and qualifying it on a good-bad scale is an illusion; no one is more talented than anyone else?"  Or, "talent is genotypic, or as Maya nicely reconnected it to common language, nature, and not nurture/phenotypic?" Or, the contrary, "with the expansion of education, "talent" will become so universal (phenotypic/nurtured) that everyone will be talented in the arts." Or something else entirely. Please illuminate.
                 Steve Berer

                 ...Night by night I go hunting for this key. I know the hour of waking is approaching and my dreams turn troubled. Am I awake or am I sleeping? I test myself. In the world of dreams impossible things happen. Reason has no hold. I say to myself, "if this is a dream, then let this river run backwards!" It begins to run backwards and I know I am dreaming, so I wake myself. "Do not wake yourself the next time," I think....
                         from Skechez for a Therd Tempel (work in progress)
      • Mike Tintner
        Stephen/mt ; By 2020, the fiction of talent will be dead, and a v. dirty word. Like ... Please unpack this a bit for me The printed book helped break the
        Message 3 of 12 , Jun 16, 2008
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          Stephen/mt ; By 2020, the fiction of "talent" will be dead, and a v. dirty word. Like
          >the notion of a canon, it's
          so-last-two- thousand- years. Start thinking big.

          Please unpack this a bit for me
          The printed book helped break the relatively rigid feudal hierarchy of society - and gave birth, putting it crudely, to an upwardly mobile middle class.
          The multimedia net is breaking the last remaining hierarchy in modern society - the hierarchy of "talented" individuals, (and the hierarchy of "creative" vs "uncreative" individuals). There are various forces at work - and it's a complex argument. But the broad impetus of the net - the end of authority (intellectual), everyone an author, the open source movement, massive extension of information, including professional information, to everyone - should be clear.  (What probably won't be clear is that the equivalent of the printed book is the personal image file, which means that for the first time people can see what they're talking about, rather than getting lost in words).
          People were v. aware of the equalising forces of the printed book at the time. We should be and will be increasingly aware of the massive equalising forces of the net.
          So I'm arguing to Jeff: think ambitiously re both your students and the nature of future arts courses. Personally, I think the last 20 years since the Berlin Wall, have been a time of intellectual and idealistic deadness alongside extraordinary economic expansion. The next decade should be a time of extraordinary idealism when we come alive with what's happened and happening.
        • Stephen Berer
          Dear Mike, ... Thanks. Very helpful clarification. I am assuming that you are NOT declaring an end to the social hierarchy, including the clear and extreme
          Message 4 of 12 , Jun 16, 2008
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            Dear Mike,

            The multimedia net is breaking the last remaining hierarchy in modern society - the hierarchy of "talented" individuals, (and the hierarchy of "creative" vs "uncreative" individuals). ...

            Thanks. Very helpful clarification. I am assuming that you are NOT declaring an end to the social hierarchy,  including the clear and extreme differences of talent that exist in human endeavors (altho your words imply that you are declaring such an end). I am interpreting your words as implying that the limitations on expression, the peer reviews and committees and editors that declare what is good and worthy of support/publication, will be more limited in their control and censorship. They will still determine, largely, elite status, but progressively the public will have a better shot at being final arbiters, even in the short run.  (IMO, in the long run, the public has always tended to prevail. For example, look at Nobel Prize winners in literature from 1920-40, and see how many are still being read; not many.) But now the flood gates are opening on publishing/blogging personal knowledge/opinion.

            Please correct me if I've interpreted you incorrectly.
            Steve Berer
          • Mike Tintner
            Stephen:I am assuming that you are NOT declaring an end to the social hierarchy, including the clear and extreme differences of talent that exist in human
            Message 5 of 12 , Jun 17, 2008
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              Stephen:I am assuming that you are NOT
              declaring an end to the social hierarchy, including the clear and extreme
              differences of talent that exist in human endeavors (altho your words imply
              that you are declaring such an end).
              Yes, I am declaring that - i.e. just as feudal beliefs that everyone should know and stick to their station, collapsed with the printed book, so - but much faster - will contemporary beliefs that there is a natural hierarchy of talents, collapse with the multimedia internet.
              There will still be actual hierarchies of ability, but we won't have any illusions anymore that they have anything to do with fictional "talents" -  rather than quantity and quality of work/practice. See the work of scientists like K. Anders Ericsson for a pointer to the future.
              The arts are particularly important because they are traditionally seen (wrongly) as the preserve of creativity and imagination, which are also still seen as exclusive to some. No, everyone can be an artist, or scientist, or technologist - creative or hack.
            • Stephen Berer
              ... Well, Mike, I think you re flat-out wrong. Everyone can t be, and everyone won t be. Same as it always was. -- Steve
              Message 6 of 12 , Jun 17, 2008
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                Mike wrote:

                No, everyone can be an artist, or scientist, or technologist - creative or hack.

                Well, Mike, I think you're flat-out wrong. Everyone can't be, and everyone won't be. Same as it always was.

                -- Steve
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