Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Desirable Misery

I'm not a researcher, so I have no hard or even compelling evidence for this, but I'm willing to bet that it is within everyone's personal or anecdotal experience to have experienced the following process:

1. We like something bad for us.
2. Things get really bad.
3. We adopt a new thing that is good for us.
4. Things get better.
5. We are comfortable again so abandon the new thing in order to return to the old thing.

Maybe it's as simple as a diet, to an unhealthy or even abusive relationship, it might be a corporate strategy, or a pattern of political election outcomes. Whether in the general or specific, people tend to take x steps forward, then y steps back. The ratio of x:y would require hard research.

You may have heard the expression 'no good deed goes unpunished' and this description of Iceland's post GFC situation by Mark Blyth, is a good example of the above outlined narrative. A party steered them heavily into the global financial crisis, they get voted out, a new party comes in, the economy recovers and the voters vote back in the party that steered them into the financial crisis.

Politics is complicated though. But it often seems that history confronts us with a mind bending lack of momentum - a clear pattern of progress running from the Middle Ages to the Modern era, where science is embraced, people of all color and creeds are not just tolerated but embraced and legally recognized, our differences are broken down as social constructs and we pursue a more egalitarian and meritocratic way of life. And yet there still seems to be viable political parties and ideologies that fly in the face of the direction of history.

Good things just can't get their momentum going. At the end of every 4 week raw vegan challenge seems to be a bacon cheesecake. 

And with a diet, and perhaps even an adult relationship, we can understand that powerful compelling emotions are driving people back to their failed strategies rather than reason. But what about voting for economic policy? How can people get so emotional about something as boring as economics?

Body language. I'm a believer in it. And once again not because I've done the hard clinical research to know what facts I can point to, but because I've done sufficient self experimentation to be confident that gaming body-language is just too cerebral a task for somebody to do at the same time as speaking out loud.

Hence, you might expect that I'd expect that by reading body language a person could tell if another person was lying. I don't. I heard tell that when you ask people, even professionals you'd expect to be more proficient at detecting liars (cops, trial-judges, trial-lawyers) are no better than a coin toss at determining who is lying and who isn't. 

However I'm also told that if you change the question from the very cognitive 'tell me who is lying?' to 'who do you trust?' people jump significantly upwards in their accuracy. Because 'trust' is an emotional, instinctive evaluation, detecting lies invites us to pay too much attention.

Hence the power of asking the right question. In all my experience of economic instruction, my instructors have been openly critical about how unemployment is measured in official statistics. It's seemingly designed to be misleading - the pollster asks members of the population 'in the past four weeks have you or are you actively seeking employment?'

Think on that. A group of people in suits are tasked with finding out what relative unemployment rates are. 'How do we find out if somebody is unemployed?' they asked, and the answer they came up with is 'ask them if they've been actively looking for a job.' whereas I'd bet good money your intuition would be 'why don't we ask people if they have a job?'

Consider polls on the popularity of the government, on preferred party, on preferred leader etc. Now imagine you are sitting in a room with a bunch of people tasked with 'find out if the government is doing a good job or not.' One answer certainly would be along the lines of 'do you like the government, who do you prefer etc.' another could be along the lines of 'how satisfied are you with your quality of life?' and 'are you optimistic about the future?' line of questioning. Yet another line would/could be to dispense with asking people for their opinions and find objective data like changes in real wages, inflation, household debt.

And you'd notice that all these approaches are taken, but polls focus specifically on people's preference for one party over another. And these get far more attention than the latter group of objectively determinable economic measures, and both of those crowd out the non-partisan qualitative self-evaluation.

What does this have to do with anything?

 Imagine that you live in a spacious comfortable home on a large expanse of lush green land overlooking the ocean. The climate is temperate all year round and you manage to pull in a lavish wage working quite modest hours at something you love while affording you the time to have catered dinner parties with your friends, spend time with family and other loved ones and cook yourself new and exciting recipes for lunch while also taking twice annual vacations to exotic destinations around the world. You have it all and one average day in your good life a pollster calls you and asks 'how satisfied are you with your life?' how do you answer?  

Now imagine that you have somehow achieved this lifestyle while you are living under the rule of your ideological antithesis. Take a second to imagine who they may be. It might be some White Supremacist version of Colonel Sanders, or Kim Jong Un, or Isis or a Transgendered Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders composite.

You might think that that might change your answer, your moral outrage at the state of the government would blind you to your immediate quality of life. But I suspect that un-primed by the pollster to think about the political leadership, you'd actually just appraise how satisfied you are with your day-to-day life.

Thus if while living your dream life the pollster instead called to ask 'how satisfied are you with the leadership of [your worst nightmare]?' we would have jumped from a very positive answer about the reality of being you, to a very negative answer about the reality of being you.

Thus we enter the realm of desirable misery. Why you can observe that some political leaders draw most of their support from the very demographics their policies hurt the most. And that cuts both ways, there were a lot of people in the occupy wall street movement condemning the top 1% who themselves were in the top 20% and are themselves massive beneficiaries of the rigged game that they are opposing.

It's a kind of anti-Machiavellianism that I suspect, but haven't researched, is actually the prevailing instinct of most people on this planet. And I don't mean anti-Machiavellianism in terms of being opposed to glib self-serving amorality, but more a reversal of 'the ends justifies the means' to 'the means justifies the ends.' Or in much plainer speech: the 'how' is far more important than the 'what'.

And it's easy to come up with good examples of anti-Machiavellianism - 'not cheating is more important than winning the competition.' Hey hey, good stuff. 'being honest is more important than avoiding being in trouble.' I'm with you. 'Abstinence only sex education is more important than teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.' No, no, no can't you see the evidence? Abstinence only education has dismal results. 'Inflicting austerity budgets is more important than paying back the debts.' that doesn't seem right? Isn't the point of austerity to pay back the debts?

Empiricism is actually in my experience, incredibly rare. Few people approach being open minded. Most are anti-Machiavellian. Let's return to our pollster scenario and introduce another concept.

The second concept is called 'going upstream' taught to me, quite informally as a TQM principle. In its literal application you might notice that your drinking water is dirty, you walk upstream a bit and you find a heap of garbage in the river. You could immediately fish it out, or keep walking up stream, discovering that there's a group of campers generating the garbage going into the river that is generating your dirty drinking water. Had you just cleared out the garbage from the stream, the fix would only have been temporary. By murdering and eating the campers you have solved the dirty drinking water problem and filled your belly with delicious people.

Suppose a pollster, in fact, a fully fledged researcher called a person and asked them about their quality of life. And that person was all like 'I'm pretty miserable.' rather than bumming out the researcher, this bleak self-reported state excites them and the researcher 'goes upstream' to find out the root cause of this citizens misery.

They find the person, the citizen, doesn't like their job much. 'So quit it?' no good, can't quit it without finding a new job. 'So find a new job?' don't have time to do the job searching or conduct the interviews, besides I'm only qualified to do a job more or less like this one. 'So retrain, go back to study?' I don't have the time to job hunt, what makes you think I have time to study? Besides studying is expensive. 'So take out a loan?' I already have a loan. 'So refinance?' I could, but then I couldn't afford to lose the income to take the time to study to repay the debts I have. 'Okay... so studying is a dead end. What don't you like about your job?' the commute. 'You don't live near where you work?' I can't afford to live near where I work....

And so on and so forth. Until I would bet, dollars to donuts, that what is upstream is their house. And I can't imagine a more universal demonstration of the principle of desirable misery. Because it's hard for people to imagine that their home, their abode, their shelter, the place they can call their own, do their unwinding, get their rest, raise a family etc. as the presiding and ultimate cause of a person's misery. I would also bet my dollars against donuts, that if you ask a generally dissatisfied person the one thing they did right, the saving grace in their life their answer will most often be 'buying a house.'

And it isn't anything magical about the house itself, it's actually all the bad voodoo in the very magical process known as 'the financialization of housing' and technically a case could be made that it isn't buying a house that made people miserable, but all the fucking other players in the market that have eroded adequate housing as a human right into housing as poker chips. But your decision making ability stops at your individual decision to participate in it.

That's the most ubiquitous form of desirable misery, but really it's every. The home ownership that makes you miserable is useful though in term's of drawing people away from thinking that there's something crazy about the American rust belt population that keeps voting for a party that takes away their incomes, reduces their welfare and hands the savings over to rich people who are actively trying and celebrating the loss of their jobs. There is nothing crazy or abnormal about it, these people, like people everywhere are simply acting on their beliefs instead of evidence.

You do it to. If you were one of those rare empiricists that based your beliefs on the facts and acted on your beliefs, you wouldn't drink, wouldn't smoke, wouldn't drive a car, be renting your housing somewhere close to where you work and saving money to mitigate against future job insecurity. You wouldn't have a credit card, would prepare your own meals, wouldn't get married and on and on and on. 

I'm a freak and I don't do half that incomplete list. One of the paradoxes of life, I'm told, by a psychiatric professional is that 'pleasure causes pain' The 'original sin' of evolution if you will when we had far less mastery over our environment and couldn't expect to find a bag of Doritos in the wild every day.

Desirable misery is a recurring theme in the works of a lot of thinkers I love and respect, whether it's Alain de Botton talking on Why you'll probably marry the wrong person, or Gabor Mate explaining that addicts substitute 'pleasure' for 'happiness'. Dan Gilbert talking about how we are terrible at forecast what decisions will make us happy.

The most frustrating manifestation though, is that scenario, the 'no-good-deed-goes-unpunished' principle. Where when our desires drive us off track, forcing us to do the hard work to get on track - it appears all in the service of getting to a place where we can once again act on our desires. 

It might cause chagrin to the individual under a diet regime, but it causes severe mental anguish to a community changing from progressive to conservative political regimes.

But if you can understand your own ability to sit in your dream house, on a perfect summers evening and pay out some government that hasn't been able to take away your dream, then you can understand why people whose lives have been crushed by the economic policies of a party can turn out in force to their rally. 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Sugar Cookie Cutter

Where to begin? Anywhere I guess. So there's an inversion when you start drawing of at the very least, appreciation of lines. A craggy weathered face, where all the collagen has broken down, the skin folded is a drawing dream. The extremely old are some of the best studies. And sure, craggy old faces enjoy their time in black and white giclee print photographs, but for the most part, once you put a pen or brush down and assess what's easy on the eye - we as human beings tend to prefer the smooth contours of youth.

And this inversion applies doubly to women. In fact, when starting out there was nothing worse to draw than 'cute girls' because every mark you make blemishes their skin. It is an exercise in restraint. The nose particularly is problematic, putting in a bridge can instantly hag-ify the face, and some schools simply mark the nose with little more than a dash.

And of course, the less lines you have to work with, the less marks you make the harder it gets to differentiate. Furthermore, there's a developmental difference for any comic inspired artist in particular when drawing the big 2 genders. It's not just that you can draw in the bridge of a nose more readily and in most styles with male characters, but their boxy anatomy is kind of straight forward as well. Moving from the red and green men that inform pedestrians when to cross an intersection to drawing a superhero is not that big a stretch, most of the developmental challenge of learning to draw male characters is in learning the musculature - which for ripped superhero type characters provides vast options for articulation - and therefore variation.

Drawing an appealing female figure is a skill. A fine balancing act, and as soon as I started working on a project requiring me to draw a whole cast of females, I noticed I was stamping them out as a cookie cutter. I've been drawing for years, but it seems I just figured out once how to draw a sexy lady image, and then left it at that - my go to construction. What is more interesting than my own stalling though, is how common that is.

For example:
These are the two female cast members of Japan's number one serialized comic 'One Piece' Nami and Robin. This series has been running for over 20 years putting out about 40 issues a year averaging around 16 pages. Eichiro Oda, the writer and artist has created around about 1,000 named characters for the series and in my opinion is one of the best character designers in comics... except Nami and Robin could have been cut with the same mold from dough and simply decorated differently. In Oda's defense there are characters like Big Mom, Brulee, Miss Christmas etc. that have different body shapes, one of the first prominent female characters was Alvida, an obese pirate captain that later had a dramatic transformation into the standard Oda bikini body. the number of women that share Nami and Robin's proportions is at least 2-1.

Oda isn't the prime offender, and despite the cookie cutter effect he creates characters with distinct personalities, if not distinct busts. My impression is that many in the western art world look at Japanese comic aesthetics as 'prescriptive' there are right and wrong answers. There are generally accepted definitions of what a 'cute girl' looks like. However turning west there are artists whom are quite successful even though their cookie cutters are quite inflexible. Perhaps the most prominent in my mind is J Scott Campbell's work. Where proportions are almost entirely constant and even facial features are quite close to identical. Do a study of his works (as I briefly did) and you notice immediately that there's just one way of doing things. Campbell's the artist I would absolutely go-to for this cookie cutter effect, but many of his contemporaries like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Greg Capullo etc. do so to a greater rather then lesser extent.

Prominent female artists are a much more recent phenomena particularly in the west, but if you look at the works of Loish perhaps the best known and most internet famous new gen artist, you can see a go to facial construction in there although she has much more diverse body types and ethnic feature exploration.

blah blah blah blah blah. Just about everyone does the cookie cutter, particularly when it comes to women. While phrenology has been thoroughly debunked as a science, it still kind of applies in art, albeit not with measurements of the skull, but what features indicate which personality traits.

I suspect, for historical reasons, what is happening is that a male character is nuetral - thus you articulate your character out from a male mule - male protagonists are pretty generic if you look through comic book history and that's because they are the eyes and ears of the reader - presumed to be male. Then you thicken a male's neck and frame and they become a pin-headed thug, you make them lithe and elongated and they become the serpentine string-puller. You shorten them and emphasize the forehead they are a brainiac.

If you widen their hips, give them breasts and round their jaw off they become the character archetype of 'a woman'. And I would suggest that it is non-controversial to say that much of the roles women are given to play in most of narrative history - is a woman. A love interest, or the love interest's competition. They are little more than a macguffin, interchangeable for another precious and desirable object - including I guess, each other.

I'm sure there are more exceptions to the rule, but in terms of facial features, the one artist I found that stands out as having distinguishable female characters is Jeremy Treece and sure, ultimately it's a matter of preference in the absence of me bothering to construct the computer models that measure non-similarity across stylized artwork...but if you scroll through his feed and find two female characters side by side, you'll be able to distinguish them by their facial features alone. To the same extent that if two women you know got identical haircuts, you'd still be able to tell them not just apart but who they were - something you can't do with J Scott Campbell.

I could speculate in a psuedo-scholarly fashion as to what historic cultural trends lead to this state of affairs, but it would be just that. I can speak from experience and say that it is simply much harder to draw an appealing beautiful woman character than it is to design an appealing old woman character.

The saying after all goes 'if at first you don't succeed, try try again.' and I suspect the moment you do succeed, that's it. You rest on your laurels. Once you've gone to all the effort to pin down a design of Veronica that 'pops' that you intuitively say 'yes' to, then are you going to start from scratch and avoid the same solutions to design Veronica?

There's two interesting things at play here - the first requires you to recall that throughout human history, the technology to draw or paint a female form developed centuries before the technology to photograph one. Sculpture preceded painted portraits as well and at the very least survived better. Hence we have venus dolls from 35-45 thousand years ago. That means that long before the fashion industry began in Louis' court of Versailles, abstracted stylized images defined the unrealistic body types of women, and possibly influenced fashion and photography, not the other way around. It's the arts since classical antiquity after all, that were based around narratives and literally defined the roles and value of female characters - fashion photography is a relative narrative vacuum by comparison.

The second interesting aspect is that if you consider the printing technology available for comic artists in the 1950's, you had a very limited color palette often applied 'paint by numbers' style by some employee at the printers, this lead to cookie cut characters all over the shop. Also a prevalence of dark haired male protagonists, like Bruce Wayne & Clark Kent, but curiously, given that you couldn't differentiate characters based on color scheme, like Ryu & Ken - why did nobody think 'Eureka! I could draw their facial features differently so they look distinct and different!' The obvious answers that come to mind are - comics in the 1950's was not where ambitious artists sought employment, deadlines meant most of the artwork was a rush job, nobody took them very seriously then starting a long term trend of people taking comics too seriously.

Now, all of this may seem to be leading into a feminist critique of how women's bodies are portrayed in popular art media. Alas no, I could concede all the criticisms in terms of the adverse affects it has on the development of women and women's esteem. I'm just not of the camp that believe ideals of feminine beauty to be arbitrary - a manufactured cultural conditioning that came about through an oppressive conspiracy.

I may as well lay out my prejudices, and keep in mind that being male I'm insulated from the ramifications of holding one belief over another, I'm also horribly horribly superficial. It's not so much that I feel ideals of beauty aren't arbitrary, but that gender roles aren't arbitrary either - even though they may be almost entirely constructed. There must be some irreducible bedrock that accounts for the fact that there are at least 2 distinct sexes and they are different.

Without actually knowing that bedrock, the most plausible explanation I defer to is an evolutionary psychology that defines male and female sex by their sex cell. (Why not chromosome combinations? I don't know, perhaps the sex cell size is consistent across species...?) Large sex cell = female, small sex cell = male. From this arises the concept of 'sexual investment' and there's a clear disparity between the sexes on this point. I forget the exact numbers but it's something like in the time it takes one female to produce one offspring, a male can sire 50-100.

Obviously, it doesn't pan out that way, but without going into too much detail - if you are interested, or interested in thoroughly debunking evolutionary psychology, you can go digging - but multiple iterations of game theory establish that if you have high sexual investment due to possessing (in humans at least) the large sex cell, your best strategy is to be discerning. If you are in possession of small sex cells your best strategy is to be resourceful and specifically command a lot of resources.

Both have to be desirable. And in an attempt to triage this post into something manageable, I'm not going to compare across sexes.

Without a doubt culture has an impact on the ideals of beauty, the past 30 years has seen a continental shift from t - a in the t'n'a equation. It's hard to find a picture of Elle Macpherson, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista that emphasizes their posterior, inconceivable for any current modelling shoot.

However, certain themes seem constant throughout history, not even recent history. The big one being hip to waist ratio, full breasts are always popular, and symmetrical or 'average' faces and long lustrous hair. There's other interesting tidbits, like this one about gender and contrast, walking motions, helpfulness, exoticness etc.

I have time for this camp because evolutionary theory produces coherent explanations - they all center around fertility and health. Furthermore, the kinds of people that advocate these explanations of beauty ideals tend to not be the kind of spokespeople I'd be inclined to distrust. You know, if it was former Whitehouse Communications Director Anthony 'The Mooch' Scaramucci saying that the reason men only dig broads with a hip to waist ratio of 0.7 because that means you wanna bang them and any other chicks are disgusting.

Instead you tend to get a bunch of middle aged academics calmly outlining their research and generally don't have much of a horse in the race.

While I don't believe that 'ideals of beauty' are arbitrary, there's two things that are clear to me - narratives are important and context is important.

Last first, context. I remember being a young uppity upstart employee at a typical corporate environment and having a chat with a middle manager. At some point in the chat, even though it was a positive exchange I realized I was being evaluated - as was he - but I inparticular was being evaluated through the context of the managers own ambitions. Namely, if he had the education I had the things he would do with it. However having had the education I had, his ambitions were ambitions that didn't even occur to me. Just as if I was meeting a 6'8" person and I got stuck on how good they could be at basketball, when they just want to be an artisan breadmaker. Or if you are a woman and men treat you nice because you are attractive or poorly because you aren't.

Being evaluated on your appearance - your reproductive value - in the wrong context ie. school or employment, is problematic for numerous entangled reasons. Such a predisposition if common, and it is common, results in both false positives and false negatives. There's the halo effect, where your attractiveness creates a bias in how intelligent, trustworthy, honest etc. you are percieved to be, and also the likelihood that you received more attention and better grades from teachers in your schooling further skewing your actual merits. On the inverse there's the glass ceiling, the threshold at which stereotypes about beautiful people obstruct your ability to be taken seriously. I haven't done enough research to see how these play out, but I suspect they certainly don't cancel each other out.

As for narrative, well you only have to look at the history of Disney films, particularly pre Tangled-Frozen. The Disney Princesses are ostensibly main or titular characters, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White etc. but often their role is just to stand around looking pretty, pass out and then be rescued by a prince. They also all fit in the same mold, slightly different accessories.

Before giving too many props to Disney's recent change of pace, self-consciousness. It's worth noting that they are making live action adaptations of all their old films and reviving them as such. The characters from Frozen although being partially explained by being sisters share the exact same build and proportions just one is blond and the other a red head. And they both have close to identical proportions to Rapunzel in Tangled. Google 'Moana Frozen Tangled' and you get composite images like this one that kind of demonstrate that the cookie cutter is still in effect design wise. Moana has a slightly broader nose but otherwise identical head to her fellow princesses such that the design team at Disney has very little work ahead of them as essentially needing to adjust skin tones and render a different hair style.

I'm not sure I have a beef, I simply noticed in myself an inability to draw a diverse female cast, and that in turn limits my ability to tell a story with a female cast. Since of the turn of the century, the standard tale of male hero rescues 'the girl' has generally put in some token scene where the woman in need of rescuing aids and abets the hero through her own initiative. She isn't completely helpless, she deceives a gaurd, stamps on his instep pushes him down a staircase and has her cuffs off ready to escape with the hero by the time he's cleared a path to her.

This is a hangover from years of design contentedness. We don't quite yet have a John McClane and Hans Gruber dynamic for women. It's usually sassy fox vs a cruel bitch. There are more diversity of womens roles generally speaking in a tarot deck than in most fiction.

And maybe, just maybe it starts with figuring out how to draw a feminine nose bridge.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rethinking Conservatism

I don't spend much time shitting on the right, to the extent that I wondered whether my friends fervor was turning me conservative. There's little chance of that though, given the sheer weight of empiricism that does shit on just about every foundational cornerstone of modern right wing policy.

Virtually everything right wing politics promote has a disastrous track record. Small government, low taxes, free markets, tough on crime, war on drugs, foreign policy, economic management, sexual education, the war on terrorism, trickle down economics, climate skepticism...

Like the dress  it seems the world is currently divided roughly evenly into people who look at reality and say 'all the evidence shows that right/left policy is a failure.'

And although I'm one of those people who sees the dress as white and gold, though it turns out to be blue and black in reality, a fact I can only just accept, but will.

So, and I defer to the relevant statistical bodies, I look at the picture of right wing policy and see that they just fucking don't work, and tempting as it is to walk through right wing government's stand on minimum wages through to the war on terror, you won't trust me, but they are all crap.

So what in the 21st century, the opening 5th at least, does it mean to be on the right?

I've attempted this before in a very unviewed post called 'Them and them' so I won't try and rehash, but I basically ascribe a belief in right wing politics as to being particularly prone to the self-soothing psychological belief known as the just-world hypothesis. Since writing that unpopular post I've watched a bunch of Alan De Botton's talks and BBC programs on youtube, and there's one in America where he explores the prevalent belief in 'meritocracy' often expressed as 'equal opportunity' and his exploration of meritocracy is a very thorough exploration of how the just-world hypothesis in particular crops up in right wing politics.

His (Alan) stance is that meritocracy is a very cruel belief system, because it makes people believe that success is just a matter of grit, and also it puts in sight goals and ambitions that are simply unobtainable to a lot of people. Such that if you hold a belief in 'equal opportunity' and you wind up in a not nice house with a low paying miserable job and all alone, you have no recourse to blame the world, even though it might be the world that is much more to blame than your effort to do better.

But yes, a conservative, or right winger I believe, believes that life is a meritocracy. That people who enjoy the sweetest fruits our society and economy have to offer have earned it, and those who haven't have simply been slack, unmotivated, unambitious etc.

Such an underpinning belief makes it hard to acknowledge or indeed legislate against phenomena such as Nepotism, Chronism, Bribary, Private Schooling, Scholarships, Donations, Tax Evasion, Price Fixing etc. when your emotional identity is fixed on a belief that your success is pinned to your honest effort.

I also suspect to be conservative, on the questions of achievement 'how' is much more important than 'what'. What a conservative is trying to achieve is an afterthought, thus if there aren't many jobs it can't be that wages are too stingy to attract people into the workforce who would rather spend their time in leisurely poverty or selling drugs or something, but because wages are too high and employers simply can't afford to employ all the people they would.

Thus if a conservative government wins a mandate to lower the minimum wage, and unemployment rises, they are more likely to double down and campaign for a mandate to lower the wages even further than to question that they may have got the 'how' wrong.

There would, in fairness be a left wing analogy, simply because you would expect one. It's a human trait. Although no left-wing party as far as I'm aware, mainstream viable at least, promotes polyamory (it's hard enough to get the left to even endorse same-sex marriage in Australia) but many of my left leaning friends might be open to the idea of open relationships. When this results in even faster relationship decline than exclusive relationships though, again there will be a lot of left-leaners that would sooner double down than admit that monogomy is just much less hassle for only slightly less novelty.

Thus if you think that government should be small and regulation should be deregulated and markets should be set free and religion part of a formal education and borders controlled and condom usage should not be taught to teenagers and marriage is between a man and a woman, you probably lack the awareness to be ashamed of how anti-Machiavellian these policies are. The ends would well and truly disqualify the means. 

Now can I rinse a concept like 'conservatism' and wring it out and shake it loose of all that it has come to mean and devise some respectable concept of conservatism that possibly could provide value to the world? Of course I can, because I am fairly conservative myself. Just not 'a conservative' as you would imagine it to mean, basically since the French king first had his supporters sit to the right of him.

A conservative stance would be heavily empirical, an insistence on the tried and true. The conservatists should basically be the breaks, the custodians of the efficiency and utility in extant systems. Conservatives should hold in their heart a belief that the onus is on a new technology to prove itself.

Conservatives should be advocates not just for the Lindy effect, but for understanding and proving the Lindy effect. It's kind of crazy that Conservative governments tend to be much more enthusiastic for small government (in lipservice only) and deregulation and free markets, these are radical ideas, albeit they do somewhat hark back to an older tradition of economics that assumes that everything adjusts just fine and nothing can possibli go wrong.

But conservative leadership should also reflect a conservative gambling attitude, a risk averse stance. Conservative should stand logically, for nature conservation - on the simple presence that you don't risk something important (the habitability of planet earth) to gain something unimportant (a slight increase in GDP growth).

The principle of diversity - that diversity builds robust systems more capable of surviving and thriving shockwaves might be an example of a principle you would conservatively try to implement across policy - in terms of immigration, investment, education, environmental protection, competition regulation etc. Diversity as risk management should be at the core of conservative politics, even though 'diversity' and 'conservation' seem a contradiction in terms.

The only practical democratic corporation in the world - Semco, of Brazil although it has a constitutional Monarch in terms of its majority shareholder - Ricardo Semler, faced a particular problem in its legendary restructuring process. They were really successful, and so they faced the temptation to expand and grow, but they also realised a driver of their success was the culture they had designed and incubated, and to bring in too many outsiders too quickly risked killing the culture and threatening the companies success. This would be the scope of a conservative approach to immigration - not nationalism, but a kind of control where migrating families were not left in alienated ghettos. It would be a matter of trying to conserve the benefits of diversity and community, while minimising the adverse impacts of transplanting alienated and traumatised people en masse into a community and then under-supporting them.

The details might be tricky, but you'd replace off-shore processing and detention centers for refugees for example, with billeting homestay like orientation periods. Not forcing people to learn the boring beauracratic and collonial origins of a country like Australia (given that knowing our boring/tragic history is not part of Australian culture anyway) but having an immersive environment to kick start learning 'survival english' and learn the other practical aspects of the existing culture like which side of the street traffic comes from, personal space and inside voice volumes etc. Build relationships with local police that are non-adversarial and reprogram an assumption of corruption and abuse that is often what law enforcement represents in countries of origin.

Do that for 3 months and then allow them to relocate into a city or area with high-density social housing and form communities of their own. Alienation gone, diversity up, new cuisines on the menu.

Take the 'conservative' intuition that a bankrupt Greek state has to pay back it's debts by reducing Government spending (austerity). An actual conservative would notice that if the government sector reduces it's spending the most likely thing will be a collapse in investment, meaning a reduction in income meaning not only worse humanitarian outcomes, but also a shrinking ability to repay the loans.

To truly be conservative you would have to do what history and empiricism have shown - which is namely not to impose austerity budgets, but to increase government spending to stimulate an economy and restructure the debts to maximise the eventual returns to the creditors.

You want a left wing, rocking the boat with radical ideas and testing all the long held beliefs and assumptions, but I see a definite role to be played by an actual respectable conservative political movement that is essentially making not necessarily safe bets but smart ones and learning constantly, incrementally.

If this was how the 'right' was calibrated, in such a world I'd want it to be long odds that the left would ever get in, they would have to be really left, and found a really compelling and innovative proposal for reform to do so. 

Currently, sadly the left looks a little bit too much like the right, and the right looks irrationally like the left, just garnished with xenophobic nationalism and debt deflationary economic policy.

They could earn a reason to continue existing though.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

On Aps

Although operating systems haven't changed so much in the past decade or two, there was a time when their rapid innovation was making a computer users life easier, easier and more idiot proof.

I don't know shit about how the old punch-card computers worked back in the days of WW2, but I can recall having to type 'dir/p' into MSDOS to find the exact name of the executable file of the game I'd just installed off 13 floppy disks or 16 megabytes of information.

Having a graphical interface like Windows didn't mean that much given that most kids just wanted to play one game at one time. It just meant that with nice friendly pictures to click on, now a moron could do what a kid had to figure out before.

But Windows presented all our '.exe' files in folders or on a desktop with a nice little logo so you could visualize how many games you had in your 'games' directory.

Then the internet came, and with it, computers were increasing the size of their 'hard disks' and CD's, and bandwith increases and processing speeds and you know - the 90's - until the internet started being able to do what previously you'd needed individual programs to do. 

Instead of buying the CD's and installing the latest edition of digital encyclopedia 'encarta' with it's media files and soundwaves - you could just look whatever up on the internet. Soon you could buy shit, listen to music or watch videos. You know everything the internet could do.

Then Alton Brown, as far as I know, started talking about his dislike of 'unitaskers'. Alton Brown is a cable TV cook, and he doesn't tolerate kitchen utensils that have one very specific purpose. A knife is a multitasker, you can use it to cut things, even to smash things and crush things. An avocado slicer-remover is a unitasker, it is a less useful version of a knife that takes up space and increases ones costs.

So the internet, when it got really good, was starting to become our wordprocessor, our directory assistance, our bank, our social diary, our university textbooks, our library, our phones, our television. Not quite our games, because we tend to want to load as much data as humanly possible onto our hardrives and have an immersive experience in surround sound, but who knows maybe some day. One glorious program, all these glorious tasks. It was shitting on the kitchen knife, the rolling pin, the muffin tray, the skillet. The internet could do everything except prepare meals for us.

Then came smart phones, and one of their chief selling points for the touch screen LCD display, bulky size compared to the Motorolla Razer and low battery life was aps, glorious aps. Why you could even have an 'ap' for the internet.

But close your eyes and imagine if you will, an alternative history, you know that popular genre of fiction where the American Civil war was interrupted by space lizards and now the present day looks crazy. Imagine an alternative history of sales and advertising for aps.

Here goes...

You wake up and pick up your phone. It says you have a notification. It's a friend request from Skuzzy McFuckface. 'I love that guy!' you remark wondering what shenanigans he's been up to since you last shared a desk in year 10 legal studies class. You accept the request and download the social ap that connects you to Skuzzy McFuckface. You don't bother reading all the permissions a pop-up informs you the ap needs, just par for course really, and let it install. Logging you in automatically as soon as the instalation process is complete.

There you can see Skuzzy's feature photos, recent posts, and the ap will notify you whenever Skuzzy wants to directly communicate with you. It also provides you a channel with which you can send to him a request that he join your ap, an ap that will in turn connect him to your exclusive social network ap.

Yes... is it really a social network when you need to download an individual ap for every single social contact you have and give them permission to read all the data on your phone?

Oh well, it's just the world we live in, and it does allow for slightly slicker user interfaces.

You remember back to 2003 or fucking whenever, when aps first came out 'imagine an internet with only one site on it - your email site!' and 'imagine an internet where you can't browse, just go directly to your banking!' and 'imagine an internet where your homepage is just our homepage, and all it costs you is your contacts and calendar data!'

Yeah, that crazy year where you downloaded 40 different versions of the internet that only did one thing, giving a whole bunch of companies access to your data so they could, at the very least do a dismal job of targeting marketing at you.

Why doesn't anyone point out that with few exceptions, aps are a step backwards, rather than forwards. Overwhelmingly aps are unitaskers. 

Sure, there's things like Uber that need a portable device to work, access to GPS, billing information but I would contend that it could have been done marginally less efficiently through a web browser. That excellent multitasker ap.

Facebook give perhaps the best example of regress masquerading as progress. Facebook was first and foremost a website, an improvement on myspace and friendstar, that made our phone directories as simple as remembering someone's name, or if you mixed in the queer community, their pseudonym. 

It built in an email feature, so that instead of the laborious old way of sending emails - saving someone's real name and email address into your contact list and then composing an email and typing in a pre-existing contact. You just wrote to any of the hundreds of people you were friends with by name and put in your message.

Then around the time that the masses flocked to gmail, and gmail gave people a chat feature, Microsoft bought into facebook and started turning facebook's excellently low cost email feature into an instant chat feature. 

That was fine, but then they started subtracting features, culminating in launching 'facebook messenger' - messenger... messenger... where had I heard that name before? Oh yeah, MSN Messenger, that other microsoft acquisition people used predominantly to communicate before facebook. That program that was frankly, pretty annoying, as it increasingly filled up with weird ASCII art handles and emoji stickers. 

Facebook the very innovation that had cleaned out Messenger, was now being used to launch messenger back at us. And facebook touted it as a mandatory improvement.

Now it's true that facebook users hate every change facebook introduce, and then grudgingly accept it, until the viciously defend it against the next change they make to the interface. But in the case of forcing an additional ap just to check direct messages on their user group, that was a true valid complaint. 

You gave us not just one unitasker - an ap or internet just for facebook, but then said the facebook ap couldn't do everything that facebook does - and notified it's users of messages that directed them to the ap store to download the ap necessary to check their messages.

It's literally the opposite of progress. Messenger ap may be one of the worst offenders of recent history, but at the very least, it is useful. Most aps yeild such sparing utility they should deep in their source code feel an embedded perpetual shame cycle.

Part 2

I was reading in the Mx the now defunct free newspaper handed out to Melbourne's commuters to occupy their minds on trains and trams after 3pm weekdays, an article where some financial planner source was 'horrified' to discover over 15 per cent of Australian citizens plan on winning the lottery in order to achieve their retirement goals.

I can't be sure, I'm reaching way back, but I'm pretty sure it was 15 per cent. And the simple reason that financial planner was horrified by the statistic, was because winning the lottery is not a plan.

To win division one in Ozlotto requires that you pick all 7 numbers of the draw correctly. So what are the chances of you buying a game and picking 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 winning? The odds are actually known but if you were told that if you paid $2, and you had to have the first 7 integers come up out of a rolling barrel filled with balls labelled 1-45. Those balls are all loose, and bouncing around everywhere, all mixed up and you want me to pay you $2 on the chance that that process will produce something so ordered as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. And the carney says 'oh no, they don't have to be in order. They just have to be those numbers.'

When the numbers appear so specific and orderly as 1-7, you probably have a more accurate understanding of what a long shot it is that the draw would produce that outcome. If the 7 numbers are more jumbled up, say 4, 26, 17, 41, 9, 12, 30 it might seem as jumbly as the jumble of balls, and more likely to be scooped off the top than something orderly. This is an illusion though. Any combination of 7 numbers is just as unlikely as the first 7 numbers.

The illusion is called the illusion of control. And while forcing the first 7 numbers on a participant would result in people saving their $2, allowing people to pick any 7 numbers they like and also play multiple games will have them surrender their money more easily.

A carney understands he has a good racket if he can play this game 45 million times at $2 a pop provided he has $2 million dollars to pay out should a punter beat the odds in the early days. Otherwise he can reasonably expect to grasp a coll 90 million in his small hands from 45 million x 7 rolls of the drum.

And this is why lotteries exist, in a small country like Australia, with 15 per cent of the population banking on winning a lotto, they can pay $15 a week every week for a dozen years and still not expect to win (numerically speaking) for another thousand years. Under the illusion that by picking their numbers they will finally connect with the god of fortune and be blessed with financial security. Hence economists call lotteries a 'tax on stupidity'.

So that's a chunk of the Australian population, but I imagine the psychology that drives lotteries to work in Australia, and people to sink $15 a week into a highly low-risk retirement strategy that ensures close to 0 returns applies the world over.

Now I don't mix with many young folk who don't even contemplate their retirement given that they haven't even begun their working lives yet, but I've met at least one teenager who dreams of designing an ap that will make them rich.

And designing aps that will make you rich seems to be the premise of the TV series Silicon Valley. It was also George Michael's major story arc in the Netflix series of Arrested Development (FakeBlock). I've heard several speakers, public intellectuals comment on the youths dreams being centered around developing an Ap that blows up and makes them millionaires. It seems this stereotype has been part of popular culture for a few years at least, and at least regarding the aspirations of young white males and model minority Asian males.

Aware that I'm an artist, this is hypocritical to suggest that young people banking on programming an ap to secure their future is the equivalent non-plan as baby boomers counting on the lottery to make them rich.

And again, I am not sure where I'd even begin to calculate the odds of a young coder writing a killer ap and successfully monetizing it to live off that popularity. In the current market, their probably is more capital in the game than there are players to absorb it, the possible 'ap bubble' and maybe it's a repeat of the 90's where as a high school student, stories kept getting told about IT graduates getting offered hundreds of thousands of dollars straight out of University and company cars and what not. 

Fortunately by the time I would graduate from secondary school and pick a university degree the tech bubble as it came to be known had burst, and really those stories of undeserving people being handed wheelbarrows of cash should always be interpreted as warning sirens.

So because I'm feeling defensive, I want to draw a line between my own pursuit of being an artist, being 'in it to win it' with the state lottery and being a silicon valley entrepreneur ap startup.

Although their might be examples of artists that have gone viral and made it big, like Damien Hirst and what not, there is a long standing romantic notion of being a struggling artist, given that most of the most famous artists of art history made no money in their own lifetimes, and in cases like Fra Angelico, or Botticelli, were only discovered in storage some where and announced as masters hundreds of years after the fact.

Must artists have a self-defeating almost pathological aversion to the idea of financial success, security and stability. One I don't particularly share, but I've certainly turned down substantial income and human dignity to be an artist. I feel a lot of aspiring artists do the same.

I also feel that artists, as distinct from the two other groups, enter the world of art with if anything a depreciated sense of their odds of success, like 9,000,000,000:1 or whatever the population of the world is. Possibly carrying around a chip on their shoulder, and rationalizing their decision to pursue art as a kind of masochistic passion, rather than a fear of not having what it takes to be a trial lawyer or something.

But yeah, being in a tech startup is definitely a scalable profession just like art. Where a few winners take all and most programmers eat shit. Probably not as extreme as the arts, unless you allow big film studios like Disney-Pixar and big publishing institutions like Marvel, DC and Shonen Jump into the art world - in which case you create a middle of lucratively salaried artists, just like all the coders and programmers and engineers that never make a groundbreaking ap but instead work on debugging new Google and Microsoft products.

Trouble is, like Dan Gilbert's TED talk on expected value theory, and how the general public greatly overestimate their odds of winning the lottery, the Ap world is much more rife with highly visible stories of Joe Nobodies becoming billionaires and a complete dearth of all the Joe Nobodies who stay nobodies as the news likes to cover people winning the lottery all the time and dedicates no time to people who lose the lottery.

I think in the talk Dan says that just to dedicate the proportionate 30 seconds of coverage of every winner to every corresponding loser, one nights draw would take 11 years to screen all the interviews of people who don't win the lottery with one person saying 'woohoo I won' in the last 30 seconds at the end.

The appeal of designing some disruptive technology that revolutionizes the way we do ? is quite obvious. You get income, prestige, autonomy, independence without having to kiss ass and suck up to slowly climb the ladder. It seems to circumvent every bad story about the working world and you also get to enjoy your riches while you are young.

The payoff is kind of identical to the lottery, and thus I suspect the ability not just to figure out the '?' in the above paragraph but to actually create a working ap that does it so well that no second moving improver can steal the market away from you is probably - while not a random process, just as likely as picking the 7 winning numbers for Ozlotto, or the 6 winning numbers + the powerball for powerball.

Innovative technologies will be developed. Including game changing aps. It's possible that the greater proportion of future generations dedicated to this will produce more innovation too. But that's just the same as more people playing the lottery tends to produce more shared division one winners. 

And none of this here in part 2 changes the fact that aps are a shitty step backwards on the whole. Not the progress they were marketed as.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

On Creativity

In my practice as an artist... drawing and shit... creativity doesn't come up much. Any drawing I've done is first and foremost an exercise in muscle memory, then visual memory and failing those two a form of... I guess spacial memory - remembering where in my many reference folders, reference books or pinterest account is a solution to whatever composition problem I am trying to solve at the time.

When I'm putting pencil or pen to paper, it is very rare for me to have the conscious string of thoughts 'I need a creative solution' largely because, that doesn't mean anything to me.

And yet, 'creativity' keeps coming up. Visual artists, Film makers, Musicians, Photographers, Designers, Architects etc can get lumped together under the term 'creatives', (I have problems with this term) and due to everyone being the best artist somebody knows - we've probably all at some point been complimented either directly or indirectly as 'x is very creative' spoken by a relative lay person.

Creativity is a celebrated but vague concept. It's a concept that concerns me because the emphasis placed on being 'creative' I believe stresses fledgling artists, possibly even accomplished and established artists. Which makes me feel I can't keep writing about creativity without parading out the etymology, let's find out what the Roman's were talking about when they brought up 'creativity' it derives from 'creo' to create, or make - However Chaucer gave the first example of 'create' used in English in a divine context. So before Chaucer, creation was anchored to a production of labor (maybe, I wasn't there.)

God 'making up' the heavens above and Earth below is the kind of creation that is quantum. And yes it's very slippery to try and describe divine creation, given the testimony of the physical universe all suggests that never happened. To my understanding there's very little physical evidence that a concept like nothing exists, or nowhere. But Chaucer may have been the first to push creativity in the direction of 'originality' which is a bit more convuluted but seems to ultimately derive from Latin's 'origo' - 'to rise up.' but generally means what you'd expect it to mean, the source, first, beginning etc.

It is this equivocation that to be creative = to be original that is interesting to observe, or at least test in the wilds of the art world. To simply produce something is necessary but not in itself sufficient to be creative, you must produce something never seen before. I'm asserting that creativity does not require originality, and my experience makes me confident, but not entirely convinced that what we call originality, doesn't really exist.

I'm going to break the post up into a selection of pieces because I can't figure out a way to tie them into one continuous narrative.

'Creatives' is an offensive term

If I may circle back, take for example the term 'creatives' used by people of all walks of life to describe certain walks of life. Visual Artists - painters, photographers, illustrators, sculptors, graphic designers, fashion designers etc. Audio - singers, songwriters, musicians, programmers, dancers...

And so on, I don't like this term when you switch from positive screening (adding professions to the category) to negative screening (excluding professions from the category). It doesn't really work any more - is an accountant non-creative? You may say 'yes' thinking stereotypically, but I say no. You get some very creative accountants when you have someone earning $10 million a year paying zero income tax. Is a lawyer not creative? No again, perhaps lawyers, in their requirement to 1) pick a specialization 2) research and memorize a tonne of precedents etc in order to build an argument for court or write new legislature, perhaps best illustrates what a creative process really is, once the mystique of originality is removed.

In all but the highest-compliance professions, there's scope to be creative in any human endeavor. Even someone fitting the bungee cord to you and doing the safety checks, while not having any scope to improvise on the job, is not excluded from dreaming up ways to innovate bungee jumping.

I can accept that words have meaning, and people 'know' what we mean when saying 'creatives' that we aren't referring to economists or auctioneers, telemarketers or fry-cooks. We are referring to 'those kind of people'. Just as I can accept that to describe an individual as creative, might suggest that individual is highly original in their output and I do not have sufficient lever to make this definition wider.

But creative as an adjective is best applied to individuals, and not professions. I even find the advertising world kind of strange in terms of their penchant for splitting up their workforce into 'creatives' and 'execs' or something, I've never worked in the world but my understanding is that you basically have an ideas-man who comes up with concepts and perhaps creates copy or imagery, and then another person that sells the idea to the client. The fact that it's treated as a fait accompli that the person who comes up with the idea cannot possibly sell the idea could possibly explain why so much advertising is bad and so much advertising dollars is wasted. I would also never suggest that sales people aren't creative. They may perform a script, but the repertoire they build up is essentially no different to a musician performing their catalog of original songs and covers.

You probably aren't creative.

In Zack Galifianakis' 2nd interview on Marc Maron's WTF podcast, he talks about his early days contemplating doing stand up and approaching Al Franken for advice. The advice is 'To be honest with you, you're probably not funny.' Zack reflects that what he was saying was 'a lot of people think they're funny, and they're not, and you should probably know that.'

And in a surprising sense of flow, this is the polar opposite but no less compelling reason to dislike a term like 'creatives' which is to say that most musicians, artists, designers etc are not very 'creative'. insofar as the common currency of the term 'creativity' = 'originality'.

Many artists are highly conservative, not as a political ideology but in what they do. I've met musicians who are dogmatically Jazz musicians, and musicians that are dogmatically classical musicians, and both generally have the air of conservatism, just Jazzholes are less conscious of it.

A great example of this un-original creation was the ABC's 'Redesign My Brain' episode dedicated to creativity. A series that explored neuroplasticity the recent buzzword for 'practice', sure felt like it was clutching at straws when it came to an episode on creativity. It did contain one gem though, the host was set a challenge by some guy, to design a vehicle that could travel 3 or 4 meters or something using only the energy of a mousetrap.

The host's solution was to attach a lever to the jaw of the trap and then tie that lever to the rear axle of the car so when you released the trap it drove the wheel and propelled the car forwards. In year 7 (first year junior high) I was set the same challenge, and devised the same solution.

When the host was getting evaluated, he was marked very low on originality. This I feel is a source of insight for all. The guy that set him the challenge remarked that his solution was rather obvious. Consider that in conjunction with every riddle or puzzle you've heard over your life. Eg. Betty lives on the 14th floor of an apartment building. Most days she rides the elevator to the 9th floor and then walks up the last 5 flights of stairs, but if it is raining she takes the elevator all the way to the 14th. Why?

The answer may not be immediately obvious, however there's only one answer that fits. In Betty's case it's because she is actually a small child, and she can't reach the buttons in the elevator above the 9th one. But when it rains she is carrying an umbrella so she can use it to press the 14 button in the elevator. And so forth with every riddle, the answer isn't immediately obvious, but you will feel satisfied at having deduced the answer, or you will possibly admire the person who eventually explains the answer to you, even though they may not have deduced it themselves.

Are you creative if you solve a riddle? Yes and no, your mind generated a solution to a problem, but by definition the solution can't be original. Few riddles are just open ended problems. But in art, you can get open ended problems and yet, while the answers aren't necessarily immediately obvious - most artists will flock to quite obvious answers.

There was a period of two years where virtually every art exhibition opening I went to had an artist statement that contained some slight deviation of '... the artist invites the viewer to re-imagine their relationship with space.' this was at the height of a frenzy of installation art, conceptual art, video art and performance art. The kind of art people hate, the kind of art that gets paraded to incense the broader community as to the decadent and deviant lifestyle of bohemians - that this is a profession.

Now consider that well worn artist statement as a job description - 'your primary task is to make people rethink their relationship with space.' If this was the job of an artist, that job gets very, very easy. You simply need to disrupt people so they become conscious of the space they are in. So... remove the chairs in a restaurant, or the tables, or even just the forks leaving diners with nothing but knives to use. If you can't get a restaurant to cooperate, or don't wish to go to the expense of setting up 99% of a restaurant in a gallery, there's very simple, very unimaginative ways to disrupt a person's relationship with space in ways that make the conscious of how they move through a room.

Take a used mattress, pierce it with toothbrushes until it looks like a porcupine flattened by a vehicle and put it in the center of a gallery, and you have something that 'invites the viewer to re-imagine their relationship with space' or go more minimal and just take the nearest chair on hand, lay it on its side and put it in a gallery, and you've made the same profound statement for less effort. Empty a wheelbarrow of sand, and observe that in the context of a gallery space observers are trained to find meaning and may start muttering about it's 'zen like qualities' or that it represents 'time unbound of the hour glass.' or the 'imminent threat of automation to the working classes.' and so on.

Let's get mathematical. And by saying that I mean I can't. Let's talk Jazz though, and a specific kind of Jazz, the kind of Jazz where you detach the mouthpiece from your saxophone and blow through it, or grab a pair of forks and gently scratch at the skin of a drum head, or take your sticks and tap out rhythms on the stands holding up the cymbals. This happens, I've seen it first hand. Performers seeking to play their instruments in any way but the conventional. Thus it seems unconventional, however there's an objectively knowable truth out there that I suspect a mathematician, statistician or actuary could determine - that there's far less ways to arrange the sounds produced through unconventional playing, than there is playing an instrument conventionally.

In absolute terms, of course if you incorporate the unconventional into the conventional you've expanded your options, if you focus and fixate on being unconventional though, your music very quickly starts to sound very very samey. There is of course, the very real possibility that our ears are not trained to identify unconventional sounds, and thus not appreciate unconventional music aka noise. But I suspect there is at least some truth, that there's less ways to be unconventional than there is - counter-intuitively - to be conventional.

Take your standard 52 card deck of playing cards. If you shuffle them fairly, the odds are that the same sequence of cards has never ever been produced before and never will again. I was told a perhaps apocryphal tale of a person that taught some Indian monarch the game of chess and the king was so pleased he told the person to name his reward, and the person asked for a bushel of rice doubled for every square of the chess board, the king thought it very modest, but discovered the power laws meant that the request would empty the national granaries. In mathematical speak 52! (52 factorial = 52 x 51 x 50 x 49 ... x 2 x 1) results in a number so large it renders it possible that no two people could shuffle two decks of cards and have ever produced the same 52 cards in the same order.

Thus when it comes to a sequence of playing cards, it's very very easy to do something very original that has never before been seen in the universe. Except it isn't very interesting. It's kind of amazing that in the Western Tradition of 8 distinct notes in an octave can be arranged into melodies that though similar seem endlessly interesting to us, especially if they tend to arrange into the progression of 3 chords that are most familiar to pop songs and most popular as a result.

It's strange. You can use just two shapes in Penrose tiling to produce a pattern that never recurs, which seems original but just because it never repeats doesn't mean that any picture of Penrose tiling doesn't look superficially the same. Give people an open ended abstract art concept to realise and they tend to produce very similar works. Very similar works to...

Marcel Duchamp was not that original

Duchamp took a men's ceramic urinal, laid it on it's side, signed it 'R Mutt' and put it in a gallery. The art world allegedly reeled in shock at such a challenge to the establishment, though I have no real understanding as to how insular the art world was, or how accessible it was to society at large. I don't know if in 1917 Mechanics listening to the radio in a workshop were debating whether 'Fountain' was art or not. I wasn't there.

But a century on, I've heard people credit it as the establishment of the genre of 'found art' and that it was one of the most profound statements in art history etc. When I first heard about 'Fountain' I was also pretty impressed and that Duchamp must have been quite a smartarse, which to an adolescent private school boy, is pretty much the pinnacle of human achievement.

But what if on Debut of 'Fountain' a single observer had said 'Reminds me of the flower sermon.' Now did Duchamp invent found art? Performance art? Perceptual art? or did the Buddha, along with Zen Buddhism 4 centuries before the birth of Jesus? at the very least did some Chan Buddhist monk invent the flower sermon and subsequently found art 9 centuries before Duchamp.

Or was it the ancient Greeks? According to Nassim Nicolas Taleb, the ancient Greeks distinguished between know-how and know-what. They had, two words for two types of knowledge that I can't be bothered digging out of a book I possibly lent to a friend 3 years ago and never had it returned. (google suggests it's episteme and techne which sounds about right to me) He suggests that know-how leads to expert domains, so baking involves know-how, you can be an expert baker. But art probably gets into the domain of know-what, and you can't really have any true expertise, just establishments that are ultimately, defenseless against anti-establishment attacks.

Which is what happened with 'Fountain' and whatever artist canned their own shit and sold it (almost 50 years later), and to an extent Minimalism, Concept Art, Video Art, the works of Damien Hirst and the Banksy fueled street art. They are all at core pointing out 'you can't tell me what art is('nt)'

This revelation, that art is undefinable, seems profound. To me, and I can only testify to my own emotions, to say that art is boundless, undefinable etc. is trivially true. Because my own experience of art across mediums demonstrate that I don't need infinite options, but options within a fairly narrow spectrum. That narrow spectrum is vastly more interesting to me, than the vast spectrum of possible art.

If there comes a widespread established notion that art is purely carved out of marble or oily pigment smeared onto a stretched canvas, virtually any object can make that same statement as fountain, Duchamp's bold statement may seem like a turning point in art history, but if you wanted to reproduce his piece it's very very easy. Just take an object you didn't make yourself, sign someone else's name to it (Duchamp's if you like) and display it in a Gallery.

Most of us intuitively recognize though that signing a butt plug Duchamp and putting it in our local gallery is more or less the exact same thing as 'Fountain' even though it is completely different - different materials, different utility of the found object, different signature, meta-references... yet our mind knows it makes the exact same statement, a statement everyone's heard and that the real pressure to be creative was to recognize that Duchamp recognized a singular moment in history where there was a prevailing assumption, that art consisted of paintings and sculpture produced and signed by an artist. Then he simply didn't do that.

Now, the issue of creativity truncates, so let's start with

Art History

Just as between the start of high school (or junior high for Americans) your Maths will walk you through linear equations, quadratic equations, trigonometry, probability in nice neat partitions. An education in art though seemingly mostly about making stuff, will actually consist of a walk through Classical Period, the Renaissance, Impressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Pop Art and then you're more or less into post-modernism. I was educated in a day and age where 'digital art' was the new thing, and nobody was predicting street art.

The thing is teacher wants you to go and paint or draw something in that class and to teach you a little art history and give you some ideas to go draw you get a string of names corresponding to the movements - Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Dali, Picasso, Warhol... it's not an exhaustive list, but there are defining artists from each period of art that eclipse their counterparts, even though names like Botticelli, Monet, Magritte and Kahlo get mentioned.

Because of the practical component of an art class, the teacher focuses attention on a few individuals to give concrete ideas of what to have a crack at. So you get Dali's melting clocks and told to draw on dream imagery, Picasso's overlaid perspectives of faces in profile and front on, Andy Warhol's flat color pallet and borrowed commercial imagery. So you can put on your smocks and go have a go.

Even in adulthood, art history is presented to the lay person in the kind of special exhibitions state and national galleries put on. Here the issue is marketing, how many more people turn up to a 3 month long exhibition of 'Van Gogh' or 'Monet' than one simply labelled 'The Impressionists'? Even though the third option may contain the best available pieces for loan of Van Gogh and Monet - presenting the best value, I suspect that the undiluted names of the superstars get the most feet through the door.

What effect does focusing on the heroes of movements, the most prominent figures in a scene have on an aspiring artists mind? It gives the impression that once a generation a singular individual, a creative genius, walks straight out of a vacuum and turns the art-world on its head, with a flash of insight and the shock of the new.

Just as with music genres, there tends to be a defining act, typically the pioneer, but this way of teaching the history creates a sense of magical originality that doesn't reflect reality. Even the genius is a product of their environment creating the new from the raw material of the familiar, but this gets lost in showing the works of Picasso in isolation, out of context or perhaps in the artificial context of a Picasso retrospective, Picasso Artbook or Picasso Gallery.

I could try and tear down the originality of Van Gogh, who was not an Impressionist, but post-impressionist as my rudimentary research shows, making him not a pioneer of Impressionism but one of it's best known examples and one of many artists in the Paris scene that jumped on the Japan-band-wagon as Japanese prints started flooding the Parisian markets and changing the preferences of colour palettes .

Or even Picasso, who didn't just advocate borrowing from other artists but stealing from them, who applied his principles of cubism to classical compositions by other well known artists and appropriating african art particularly mask art.

Both Picasso and Dali emerged from Dadaism, Dali more directly than Picasso who went off on his tangent of Cubism. Dali not only borrowed compositions from Renaissance masters, and did an entire series dedicated to the lost drawing skills of the renaissance, but was heavily influenced by the writing of Sigmund Freud, particularly 'On the Interpretation of Dreams' hence his amorphous blobs of self portrature that both resemble his face and a limp phallus propped up an a stick. He tied Freudian theories of sexual repression into the Catholic iconography of his Renaissance idols.

If you are willing to get really close, read all the sleep inducing info cards at the exhibition, or periodically look up and review the great artists history and development, strain their work through chronology, geography, history. You find their 'great quantum leaps' are often simply small but significant ones. That ability to really get up close and understand their processes and context though is lost when an art teacher has 10 minutes to flip through a book in front of a class, 30 minutes to let the students play at being an impressionist, surrealist, pop-artist etc. and 5  minutes for brush washing and 5 minutes for show and tell and then it's done for another week.

Pattern Recognition

For the record, I don't believe the correlation between intelligence and creativity is a particularly strong one. I suspect for example, a lot of people who create stuff, do so because they are really bad at estimating the probability of their success. Furthermore, it's generally accepted that there are multiple intelligences, of which most people I suspect can name two. Emotional Intelligence, and the intelligence people are talking about when they describe someone as intelligent.

I confess, I don't know what that kind of intelligence is, I project though, that it's pattern recognition. And pattern recognition is the thinking artists' means to appear original.

So an IQ test might ask a question like 'Guess which number comes next in the sequence: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, ?' the answer to which is most likely '20'. The clue is a string of 9 numbers in the sequence. Let's say they gave you just two numbers in a sequence: 1, 1, ?

To which a pattern recognizer might say 'the next number is 2, if it's a Fibonacci sequence, or 1, if the sequence is all ones.'

Those are the two smart guesses, given such little info. I would suggest for impressing a smart crowd, you guess '1' and then pontificate on how there isn't enough data to be confident it's a Fibonacci set, and in front of a less smart crowd guess '2' so you can wow them with the information that the Fibonacci set exists at all.

But if you want to look creative, and wholly original. Just guess anything but '1' or '2' like '3' for example.

This to me is the simplest way of being creative. To be non-conformist. By recognizing a pattern, you then simply don't do what the pattern predicts. Being creative is as easy as 1-2-2, as easy as A, B, F.

I've written about this before in a post about a year ago but only insofar as it relates to people logging onto fb, looking at the trending topics, and then writing a status update on those very topics. If you want to be an original voice in your social network, just exclude yourself on commenting on the topics that are trending.

Duchamp recognized a pattern that art going crowds were heavily subscribed to, and then he simply didn't follow that pattern when he produced Fountain. The limits of such originality is this:


Which is to say, you can be original once. It doesn't make for the kind of career a one-trick pony can bank on.

With 4 million+ views on facebook, that kid is not going to be able to make a career of casually strolling and then breaking into a run in the NFL. Specifically not him, because his reputation will proceed him. He'll probably have to fall back on excelling at completing passes to make it.

Sadly this doesn't happen in the domain of art. Infact the opposite seems to happen. Duchamp strolls past the gallery defenses with a urinal, and a century later, the artist kids are putting down the brushes and applying for a grant for their butt plug signed Duchamp.

All breaking the pattern really does though, is point out to people that the pattern existed in the first place.

Before moving on though consider short and long patterns.

If you have to do something original with a short sequence like 1,2,... it's much harder than a long sequence, because of the lack of information. Other people's minds are open to more possibilities at this stage. 1,2,4 is not that shocking. It's an easy adjustment to go from counting upwards in steps of one to doubling each step.

But if I gave you the sequence 'ABCDEFGHIJKLM...' being creative is easier, because the amount of information has got the audience closed in on strong expectations. Hence 'ABCDEFGHIJKLMLKJIHGFEDCBA' is trippy, although it produces 109 results in a google search prior to publication of this blog post, albeit only the second result appears in a book of poetry from 1998 as a line in what is essentially ASCII art presented as a poem, the rest are all ASCII art about creating a 'pyramid' 'ABCDEFGHIJKLM14151617181920212223242526' by contrast produces two results and neither featuring the actual sequence in totality. It is possibly wholly original.

But pattern recognition is the place to talk about the great literary deconstructionists. Alan Moore in the western comics canon, George RR Martin in Fantasy, and even recently in Japan - whoever directed One Punch Man.

There's a pattern to recognize among deconstructionists like these three, they take a trope laden long running genre and redefine it by injecting a kind of emotional realism into things that are traditionally escapist.

Even these guys are not as original as you may assume. In Fantasy it was Michael Moorcock who wrote the essay Epic Pooh in which he railed against Tolkein's precept that fantasy must be pure escapism and started writing fantasy centered on an anti-hero that in contrast to Conan the Barbarion, was weak and sickly sustained only by his magic sword. It was different enough.

George RR, bases many of his ideas in a Song of Ice and Fire, or as most know it 'A Game of Thrones' on History, and has the character of Sansa stark initially representing the escapist fantasy perspective living in a world that is tragically real for her. Compared to much of the fantasy that preceded it, George RR's work simply takes the notion of Knights and Dragons and removes all the romance from it, so the relationships are more politically expedient economic transactions, the Knights are professional sociopaths and we are given characters to empathise with and root for in the horrible reality of feudalism.

Alan Moore, worked with an even more ridiculous world, but his ability to generate a compelling comic book series in the 80s was simpler and in many ways more spectacular. His work on Miracle Man simply takes Superman, and then gives Superman human emotions. He asks reasonable questions that generated more interesting stories than DC ever has for Superman - not least of which, why would Superman bother with the alter-ego, the civilian life?

One Punch Man debuted last year to much acclaim, and while it is a truly great show in and of itself, a classic for the ages, it was a fine example of how an unoriginal idea can seem wholly original in a certain context. One Punch Man is the first work I'm aware of in the history of Japanese comics and cartoons to really get into deconstruction. It's essentially the same existential crisis of Moore's 'Miracle Man' run, but in a Japanese cartoon, and much more humorous and whimsical in tone. I'm not suggesting plagiarism, but just that it does stand out because the Japanese are really late to the deconstruction party in their popular culture. In a culture so laden with tropes that you do from time to time see self conscious references to them, they really haven't done a narrative based on deconstructing those tropes until One Punch Man - even so, it could be more spoof or parody than deconstruction like Moore and Martin are doing.

It's possible that another Quarterback will pull off the same trick as that middle school kid one day. Because when you are drilling a team to recognize and react in a split second to a play, it's hard for a manager to really have them invest the energy of the players into watching out for the Quarterback's body language. It won't be original, but in the NFL it may be more amazing as a play. But unlike deconstruction which is taking a long sequence - an entire genre, an entire history of a body of works, and changing it up, to ask the question 'how does a Quarterback behave?' is tackling a short sequence, by casually strolling, nobody could recognize that they in that moment were even playing football, that team pointed out that the pattern was there.

If I were to write though 'ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWBYZ' (9 results) that would be a good story with an unexpected twist at the end. These are the Christopher Nolans, and the somewhat less popular M.Night Shamalans of the world. There's still 25 other points of articulation to continue playing with. Unlike 1,2, Stroll... instead of 1,2,HUT!

By contrast, let's go all the way back to shuffling a standard deck of playing cards. Each draw is historically unique, and yet, it does not amaze us or leave us riveted just to watch cards get drawn from a deck. It facilitates excitement in Gambling, because almost any pattern we perceive to be recognizing is almost certainly false. To try and bet an how a romantic comedy will unfold would not work, the house would always lose when people know to hold their bets off until the third act where she realizes she should be with the protagonist.

But shuffling a deck of cards is not entertainment intrinsically, because too much is changing

Enter Scott McCloud's creative archetypes

While I'm confused by Carl Jung's concept of archetypes due to ignorance, I have some understanding that it was his observation that human's don't behave randomly that lead to more formal takes on personality. Myers-Briggs have one methodology that results in 16 personality types, then there's the 'Big Five' personality types, and shy away from because I don't view neurotocism as a personality trait so much as a character flaw - but that's my prejudice.

Most popular today are the 4 broad personality types, particularly in business settings, where you divide personalities up by introversion and extroversion, and then whether people tend to value concrete or abstract things.

Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, and Making Comics among other titles, was as far as I know the first to divide up these personalities in the creative arts. His four categories are:

1) Animists
2) Classicists
3) Formalists
4) Iconoclasts

Let me try and reword his classifications and extrapolate - Animists are primarily concerned with story, narrative how a piece makes us feel. They are all about connecting with an audience. Classicists are all about aesthetics and form, mastering the art, the technique and rendering things beautifully. Iconoclasts are all about the shock of the new, smashing forms and defying that which has come before it. Formalists are all about the science of the art, but rather than an aesthetic appreciation of form, they want to define the rules - the kind of people who make video-essays on Youtube to explain the method behind the magic of some film you like etc. and are kind of the chameleon creative camp as they determine formal rules for what the other three camps are doing intuitively, so they can reproduce it methodically.

The previous section about pattern recognition, could be regarded as a bunch of formalist bullshit I made up, to describe a mechanical way to be an Iconoclast. Just as an example.

The value though of putting these concepts into your head, is to broaden your definition of 'creativity'.

As a slight but relevant diversion, even if you don't regard yourself as creative, you might want to do a quick and dirty personality test. Draw a largish '+' on a piece of paper. like compass points. But instead of north and south write 'Tell' up top and 'Ask' down the bottom. Then in the west and east positions write 'Task' for west and 'People' for east. Now draw a small 'x' to mark the spot on the horizontal and verticle lines (so two 'x's) that roughly approximate your preference, or the ratio with which you tend to ask vs tell, and the extent to which in a project you tend to focus on the task or the people in a project.

After this you draw lines straight up and straight across from those x's and where they intercept, that's your personality style. Having done that, you can just have a look at this and hopefully the quarter you landed in describes how you behave in an organisational context, it should describe you, because I basically just asked you to describe yourself. Don't get too into it (or yourself) though, because these Jungian personality models just describe preferences, and people generally have enough flexibility to become 3/4 quite easily depending on the context. They can be all 4 just the non-adjacent quadrants take the most energy out of you.

This should however predict what creative campfire (to use McCloud's analogy) you tend to sit around, or would sit around if you started being creative. This isn't something formal though so the match ups are my opinion or conjecture.

Animist = Steadiness, Classicist = Influence, Formalist = Conscientiousness, Iconoclast = Dominance.

The DiSC model is primarily used in business contexts, primarily to describe management styles - and I made the analogy because there's an interesting phenomena that is relevant to attitudes about creativity: Different management styles are in vogue at different points in history.

In the early part of the 20th century, the star managers where Conscientious, because they had to poor over books and analyse data, humble modest men (historically speaking) that had to answer to bankers face to face and substantiate every transaction. By the 60's it had shifted to Influencers, the Madmen era, Madison avenue, marketing was just beginning, branding was taking off, real wages and consumption was growing and people needed to be sold stuff.

By the 80's Dominance came into style, because wage growth stopped in the 70s (and never resumed) and what was in vogue was growth through acquisition. Companies buying smaller companies and sending in some domineering dick bag to fire as many people as possible and cut every cost conceivable, report higher profits for a single quarter and then sell the hollowed out company at an improved evaluation.

There's no real evidence, but it seems the Conscientious people, weren't sitting idle for 60 years but instead were discovering that the Steady style of management produces the best results, because successful businesses are built on relationships. What there's no evidence of though is that introverted people who care about others have ever managed to be in vogue as managers. It seems they just produce really great results on the rare occasion they get to manage, when not shut out by a dominant or influential personality.

Now consider that art has a lot more history than the recent phenomena of corporations. So in the Renaissance - Classicist artists were in vogue, people who could render beautiful propaganda for the Church and Nobility. Da Vinci though, could be described as a stand-out formalist, attempting to capture the realism of nature and developing methods for accurate anatomy, rendering, perspective etc.

There have been various movements attempting more Realism, and perhaps the Dutch Golden Era of painting was a time for Formalists where a lot of what we now know about composition, lighting, focus etc was really perfected by the old Dutch Masters.

Tracking somewhat with the trends in business, the Iconoclasts rode high in the 80s with punk-rock. Even though its anti-establishment ostensibly, it's very much self-expression as priority, but with a disregard to aesthetics... a real 'Fuck you, you have to deal with me' aesthetic. But Iconoclasts have probably been vogueing for most of the modern era.

Alain De Botton in Art as Therapy, or at least when talking about it, advocates for art to be a return to propaganda, because much of art history was art as propaganda. It just propagated good values and ideals. He notes that intellectual movements that moved us into the modern era - namely that art should exist for arts sake, have left us with a glut of art that really says nothing of the human condition.

Thus, emerging probably with Dadaism, and resulting in things like performance art, conceptual art, installation art, video art, pop art etc. are all heavily biased towards an Iconoclast notion of creativity.

The pinnacle of the creative ideal is not to craft something so beautiful it takes our breath away, or write something so touching it makes us weep, or even to understand something so deeply that we cannot discern art from nature, but to make something so original it destroys our assumption of what art is.

Take a gander at a group of art students, and you'll notice the dominant aesthetic is still very 80's punk. DIY asymmetrical haircuts, dyed hair, piercings things that tend to say 'fuck you for judging me' so loudly as to invite judgement.

So I kind of like my pet theory that the Iconoclast quarter of art philosophy is overvalued. Except when you look at reality a little deeper.

The big money makers in the creative arts are... Pixar, Disney (Including Starwars), Harry Potter... Superhero movies are bit muddy, but Pixar, Disney and Harry Potter certainly are driven from an Animist foundation. They speak to the heart, of the human condition. People like them because of the emotions they illicit, and not because they challenge our pre-existing conceptions of what art should be.

Another important point is that the best stuff isn't produced by strict adherence to one particular camp. In my opinion this is the most important point. Writing an animist narrative about the human condition will be better if it is also finely crafted to Classicist ideals, it can be improved again by having a Formalist's insight into both the structure of narrative and the application of techniques and how to moderate them. It can be improved even more by adding iconoclastic elements of surprise.

So if you look at a big earner like 'Frozen' you'll find these elements. I suspect strongly that the main contributor to the success was that it spoke to the heart, it was a movie about sisterhood, betrayal, isolation, alienation, loyalty, love and acceptance. It's a Disney film, so the classicist standards of design and rendering almost go without saying. It was formalist in the sense of having higher degrees of self-consciousness than we are used to seeing from Disney, and there seems to be a great extent to which Frozen really consciously addressed a lot of the academic criticism of Disney animated features that have built up since the Little Mermaid-Lion King era. And subsequently it had iconoclastic aspects as well. The princess was saved by the princess, prince charming was now the villain, and the hero was more or less incidental. But at no point does it appear that the movie stopped caring about the characters in it.

In all my experience of people and personality tests though, (including horoscopes) the most common response is to gain a sense of validation that your way of doing things, your preferences have value and are legitimate. However, this tends to result in people being more obnoxiously themselves, and yes, it's possibly for introverts to be really obnoxious about it.

It's rare that the takeaway is to recognize that other preferences are equally legitimate and valuable. It seems in the domain of the arts at least, the market is just too large in this post modern era for anyone to be rail-roaded by their own creative personality not to be in vogue. There are markets for iconoclasts that might seem more prevelant, but there's still plenty of room to be a formalist, a classicist or animist and even make a decent living.

Can I wrap this up?

If reading this accomplished anything, I would hope it might give you enough food for thought to relax about being 'original', I do feel that originality is overvalued. Which is not to say it has no place, but is at most, one quarter of the creative picture.

I would advocate a definition of creativity, that simply entails if you create something, that is a creative act, whether it is 'truly' 'original' or a pastiche, a homage, or downright plagiarism.

Though outside my own subjective experience, I don't want to completely deny that quantum insights can happen. I'd be skeptical if they actually happened with the regularity that most lay people perceive. A really good articulation of this illusion of originality is in this video:


However the video itself uses the term creativity as an equivocation of originality. An equivocation that is false in my opinion, and I hope to have substantiated.

If there's any group of creative people I feel a need to defend, it's the classicists, and defending them in the face of an arts education that is increasingly abandoning any interest in teaching technical know-how.

Imagine if you will going into a gallery and looking at a bunch of canvasses that to your naked eye, appeared blank. Confused and possibly indignant, you read the plaque next to the piece and it says 'all the pieces on display are painted using pigments that reflect non-visible wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, the artist invites you to reconsider your relationship to the nature of reality.'

It's an interesting point best made, and has been made, by scientists, but it makes for boring art. The canvas may depict a zebra where the 'dark' stripes reflect X-rays, and the 'light' stripes reflect UV, but to you it just looks like a blank canvas. All the paintings do.

Even though very little of the electro-magnetic spectrum is detectable by human retinas, the tiny slice that makes up our rainbow is infinitely interesting. And so to repeat myself, I find the vast horizons of iconoclastic notions of what art can be far less interesting than the relatively narrow subject matter of what art traditionally has been.

I like depictions of faces more interesting to draw and look at, than any other subject matter on earth. I generally prefer pieces that feature humans or anthropomorphic creatures than animals and landscapes, and I can follow my heirarchy of subject matter interest right down to the pits of art I'm adverse to seeing like found art, the lowest of the low.

But I like the flower sermon, and I like Duchamp's Fountain. I like cans of shit, and I like much of Hirst's stuff too. I liked the exhibition of nothing that toured the world a wile back and I like many of Yoko Ono's pieces, I rate her as a very talented artist.

But what drives much iconoclastic work is the excitement of novelty. Novelty is like magnesium though, it burns brightly and then it's gone. Part of history, formalists will come and tear it apart and explain why it worked and how and then it really becomes part of the classical cannon.

So many young artists aspiring to novelty, the new, the original, actually bring a classicist approach to it, they study and immitate the masters of historic iconoclastic movements. They create pieces that make the exact same point as Fountain, and reveal that once the point has been made and you've accepted it, Fountain is just not that interesting to look at. It conveys no emotion, it has functional value but otherwise little sculptural interest.

Many art pieces convey nothing more than 'I, the artist, get the point that some prior piece was making, because it made it's point well, but for some reason I needed to create a piece of art to broadcast the fact that I, like most people, get the point.'

Attempting to be original is too cerebral, I feel a good question to ask is 'what's going on emotionally?' Ask this of contemporary art and you'll see two clustered emotional responses to much art (excluding of course, boredom, because we tend to ignore bored people) - a kind of smug pride for the audience members that 'get it' and a kind of irritation/indignation for those that don't 'get it'.

The emotional landscape of contemporary art audiences is a divided one. In-Group vs Out-group, and if you are sensitive to it, you'll notice that much of a contemporary art exhibition, particularly graduate shows are just exercises in posturing, and very intellectual posturing. You could test it by keeping a tally of how often people at the exhibit say 'I think...' vs 'I feel...' and yet, despite all the aspirations to be original, I observe little evidence that anyone chasing that unicorn is really putting any thought into the pursuit.

So aware that this is supposed to be a conclusion, what is going on emotionally with me? Why write this post? What motivated me?

To be an artist myself has involved a lot of decisions that are unpleasant in order to afford the time I need to hone my craft- 6 years in still very much a work in progress. But I've been through that phase in life where people have asked me what I do, and I had no answer for them. That's a bad time of life. Remembering how bad that is, not fitting in, I have a visceral reaction whenever I learn of a young person enrolled in an Art school spending their time learning how to posture intellectually instead of doing the work that is really time intensive - honing your actual craft.

A concept is good, but it will always be an advantage to be able to express your concept more beautifully than somebody else. To get articulate in any art medium, means you have to spend a lot of time not being original but studying tried and true techniques. Thus I'm horrified to learn of how little art, art students create when they have 3 or so years sheltered from that question of 'what do you do?'

Few seem to emerge with any appreciation of simple, timeless concepts like 'beauty' and 'truth' etc. but are trying to articulate convoluted concepts like non-euclidean geometry through crochet.

To me, emotionally, it's a travesty that any institution would be trying to teach originality to people conformist enough to enroll in that institution in the first place. Steve Jobs would never work for Steve Jobs. I don't know if originality is what is lauded and what is taught, I just notice that my local reputable arts institution produces far more jazz musicians than society is demanding, far more installation artists than society is demanding, and far more avant garde theater directors than society is demanding.

There's an alternative explanation to the curriculum though, and that is that art schools attract risk-averse conformists. Who naturally gravitate to genres and mediums that have rarefied audiences and buyers to protect them from being truly exposed to popular opinion, and create works that require no real investment of time to build up the skills to execute at a generally accepted standard.

That world is opaque to me, I don't see the process just the output. So I don't know what is going on.

I just feel for the person who wants to create beautiful things, or to understand how things are created, who truly, honestly want to experiment, even if it's recreating. Or people that just want to express their sadness to see if anyone else also feels their sadness.

These are all good reasons to create.