Thursday, October 28, 2010

What is good art?

Artwork is to the eye what music is to the ear. It is an instantaneous like or dislike.

It can become more intellectually interesting, by degrees, after thoughtful reflection, but it is that first emotion you feel upon viewing or listening that counts. It is not an analytical moment; it isn't an intellectual moment. It is an emotional moment that is arrived at by who you are and what you've made of yourself throughout your life.

It is your subconscious mind reacting, and in your subconscious is the sum total of what you've thought and how you've acted since birth -- and more importantly, who you've become and what you think about yourself and what you know about the world around you.

All of the above brings your context into each new artwork. If you know about World War II and you see a painting of a man in a Nazi uniform giving a loving kiss to his wife, you cannot love the painting because you know that that uniform represents severe oppression and murder and anyone wearing it cannot possibly love himself, and therefore he cannot love his wife. You don't think of these things consciously in that first millisecond of viewing the painting, but your subconscious mind does make that lightning assessment and downgrades the beauty of the painting -- or even repulses you.

If you see two people hunched over in prayer with serene faces and a Christian cross in the background, your subconscious mind knows there cannot be serenity, but instead turmoil and false serenity. You move on.

If you see a man in a hard hat hard at work on a steel beam of a skyscraper with sweat dripping off his nose and a look of contented intensity on his face on a brilliant summer day, you soak it up like life-giving sustenance.

The mind can sum up true happiness in artwork so quickly and astoundingly that it may take you minutes or hours to figure out what it was that astounded or repulsed your mind. One painting that an art historian showed me and a group of enthusiasts at an Atlanta museum earlier this year didn't sit well with me, even though the man in the artwork appeared to be doing some sort of masterful drafting or something while standing up.

Around the man were his children, a messy floor, and his wife in the corner of the painting watching him. I realized that the wife had an angry look on her face, as if distanced from her husband emotionally and angry at him for something. The clutter affected me like all clutter does. The lighting suggested a bit of somber.

I realized that the man may have found his true calling in his work but that he was not handling the rest of his life well and could not be completely happy. My subconscious mind picked up on all of this instantly. When I realized this, I shook my head in astonishment of the human mind.

Art should make us happy. There is no truly great artwork that does not do so.

There are four main areas that our subconscious mind evaluates in artwork (I'll talk about them in more detail in a later post): Those areas are: content (objects, people, etc.), theme (happy or sad), quality (masterful or something less in painting skill), lighting (effervescent or less).

The art historian I refer to above, an Objectivist, has written a book recently on this subject, and he says that you must "suspend disbelief" when you approach artwork.

No, you must suspend nothing. You must simply look and be yourself. Your subconscious mind will do the rest. You need not delve into history or ruminate upon the content or learn what the artist intended.

You simply look -- and then enjoy or move on.

The gentleman's game

For more than a century, golf has been referred to rightly as the gentleman's game. It is precise, intellectual, circumspect, humane and soothing, much like classical music. It's one major reason why it's the only sport that'll I'll watch regularly on TV.

That isn't to say it isn't competitive. Just watch Ryder Cup play or the last round of an important tournament. You'll see a vast range of emotions, anxiety, thrill, intensity, conquest, capitulation.

But you will very rarely see outright meanness that you witness in other sports: the yelling at officials in tennis, the in-your-face dancing in football, the endless arguing with umpires and pitching-mound attacks in baseball, the egregious attacks in basketball, the ubiquitous brawling in hockey, etc.

Yes, these others sports are more physical and more "attack" oriented, no doubt raising the testosterone level by degrees. But these other sports seem to attract the "attack" personalities. Which is the chicken and which the egg? These other sports do have a great many men who seem to play for the sake of playing (like golfers) and play with great sportsmanship, not to show off over a downed opponent. But a large percentage of them act badly and don't seem to understand the true meaning of work: to enjoy what you do and to do it the best that you can.

A recent example of a gentleman in the gentleman's game came on Sunday on the PGA Tour at the Las Vegas Open. The 72-hole tournament ended in a 3-way tie. The three men were on the fourth hole of a playoff, when the first golfer on the fourth hole, Jonathan Byrd, struck his ball off the tee. After it landed on the green it rolled into the hole for a hole-in-one, effectively winning the tournament for him before the other two golfers even got a chance to hit their balls off the tee.

Jonathan didn't jump up and down and get in the face of his two opponents. His face brightened and a broad smile shown, and then he moved aside to let his two opponents get their chance to make an unlikely hole-in-one themselves. Here's what Jonathan said after he won the tournament when he was asked why he reacted the way that he did:

"I tried to be respectful of the two other guys (Martin Laird and Cameron Percy). I didn't want to excessively celebrate. I was trying to contain myself, be composed and let them hit. I knew I'd have plenty of time to celebrate and react after that."

That is why I watch golf. A man honors himself and others. He is circumspect spontaneously in the moment, despite feeling jubilation. He wants his competitors to give their best without distractions from him or the crowd reacting to his jubilation.

Like good art, Jonathan Byrd and his golf brethren remind me of the best in me, day in and day out.

He is a gentleman.

Does your octa-nose slobber?

Kids crack me up.

They have a knack for not only creating entirely different words but also combining different meanings in the same sentence -- just for kicks -- and then collapsing into giggles. A language's vocabulary is the playground of their imagination.

While taking my 7-year-old daughter, Livy, and her nearly 6-year-old friend Ethan and his 3.5-year-old sister, Tori, to TCBY for some yogurt ice cream, the kids in the backseat began interrogating me (with smirks on their faces).

"If your brain freezes when you eat ice cream, dad, can you think?" Livy asks. Before I can answer with some witticism, she quickly answers for me: "You can't think anyway! Ha Ha Ha!" Of course, all of the kids collapsed into laughter as I gave them a menacing look with raised eyebrow in the rear-view mirror, which I train upon the kids to watch them in amusement whenever we go anywhere.

Ethan then asked, "Uncle Dave, does your octa-nose slobber?" At this, I collapsed into laughter right along with the kids. The image was too ridiculous and a great non-sequitur. After things quieted somewhat I shouted, "Are you saying that I have eight noses and that those noses SLOBBER, Ethan? Noses can't SLOBBER!"

"YES THEY CAN!" he and Livy shouted quickly, before again squirming in loud giggles.

Livy and Ethan have created their own monster language, too, often saying something to me (or about me) and pretending to understand each other. They also translate road signs into monster language, so I will not remain an ignorant adult for the rest of my life. If I ask why the monster word for "Stop" has changed overnight, they simply inform me that IT CHANGED OVERNIGHT. Well, of course it did, silly me.

I regularly trade "insults" with Livy and Ethan. The "insults" are their way of practicing generalities, testing the mettle of others, being goofy, playing with the language, connecting with another person. Too many adults, unfortunately, take these playful digs by kids too seriously and don't give back as good as they get.

Among the many insults Livy has for me is her pronouncement that I am fat (I'm thin and muscular). She knows that I know that I'm not fat, so it's a playful jibe. I pronounce quickly that she, instead, is the fat one (she's built exactly like me), and she quickly states, "I'm not fat, you're fat!"

The point to this fatness is not fat, of course; it's a kid's way of saying, "Let's have fun." Since Livy knows that I'm not fat and that I love my body, she knows she might get a round of silliness going by stating the untrue, like when they say that the wind isn't blowing the leaves; the leaves are blowing the wind. They find great folly and joy in the opposite, and it helps solidify the real by toying with it.

It's also a kid's way of testing our mettle. Kids, as you know, do this all the time. How will mommy or daddy or Uncle Bill or Aunt Sally or their friends react? These kinds of regular teasings build up their judgment muscles as they watch how a parent (or any other person) regularly responds to "interrogation." They don't mean it meanly. It's almost instinctive in young kids to constantly test the confidence and will power of those who are close to them.

And you don't have to be witty to get their sympathy. Some of the biggest laughs I've seen in kids is when I simply am stymied by their goofiness and can't think of a thing to say. They love rendering us adults speechless. It's a conquest. As long as you take it well, they love you the more for it. Livy loves it when I get that "I don't know WHAT to say to THAT" look on my face or when I shake my head and say, "That's too goofy for MY universe."

Some parents rebel against this "assault." I find it fascinating and amusing. After all, the ball's in my court, isn't it? I can answer however I feel, and I can have as little or as much fun with it as I want.

I respond according to my mood, usually. Sometimes I'll say that I'll respond to that horrible lie (the "fat" one) after I finish a business email (I have raised eyebrow aimed in her direction, and she knows this means I want to have fun but can't right now). Sometimes I'll say, "Poor Livy girl, I guess it's time we take you to the eye doctor to get some REALLY THICK glasses made for you." "No way, I don't need glasses -- YOU do!" she proclaims, giggling at the thought of big thick glasses.

Sometimes I'll answer the "fat" accusation by stating, "Livy, everyone knows I'm built like Mr. Incredible." She laughs heartily and says, "Mr. Incredible was FAT!" She thinks for a minute that she's "won." Then I say with a wry look, "I'm talking about AFTER he was fat and had all those huge muscles. Look at my muscles. Aren't I as big as Mr. Incredible?!" (flexing pose)

"No!!!!!" she says, and we both collapse into giggles.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How does a clean sink get filled with SO MANY DISHES?

Mathematics is the common denominator of physics; it is the infinite in concept formation; it is the friend of any detective worth his salt.

But the real mathematics is in parenting. One child in the household becomes 5 or 7 children suddenly with simply one phone call or a shout -- and it happens so swiftly that you think you must've heard your child say, "Beam 'em over, Scotty."

At noon, the number of dirty dishes in the sink are zero sum. By 12:30, dirty dishes are multiplying over the edge of the sink, threatening you if you come close, like some malevolent Chilean mudslide.

When you last turned the corner, the once-empty laundry basket is now Mount Kilimanjaro, with clothing detritus scattered nearby as if Kilimanjaro sneezed and scattered some of its top across the lowlands.

Over the years, you thought that maybe you'd just bought a toy here and a toy there. Then you enter your child's room and discover not only that you must've had Alzheimer's but that the local Toys R Us has relocated to your darling daughter's room.

Your DVD bookshelves and two tall DVD cases used to have such notables as Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, Shawshank Redemption and Spartacus. Now, when you lean over to take a gander at what you'd like to watch during a quiet evening, you find five editions of SpongeBob Squarepants, seven editions of Scooby Do, 9 editions of Princesses, 4 editions of Little Einsteins, and a hundred or so titles of the various and sundry from the kids section of Best Buy.

Before becoming a parent, the slightest noises in the house could get one's attention. Now Hurricane Katrina could pass through and I'd just smile at her and say, "Ha, you think YOU can make noise! Have you ever heard of CHILDREN?"

My friends who are parents know what I'm talking about. And they probably also know what I mean when I say, "It's crazy, but I love every bit of it."

It's life.

Gang Green thinks murdering "skeptics" is funny

Ayn Rand correctly called environmentalists "anti-man" because they put nature above humans and human happiness.

This latest video from Gang Green vindicates her -- as if she needed vindicating. A nearly famous guy named David Elmore once said that subjectivists are subhuman and that they are insane because they detach themselves from reality and factual empiricism that makes us truly human with the breadth of human understanding and introspection that ennobles us.

Check out the latest Gang Green atrocity:

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Nobel Prize winner and the terrorist

One man dedicates his life to scientific research. The other man dedicates his life to religion and retribution.

Every year at this time, the Nobel committee picks its winners in the sciences. And every year at this time, we have our terrorist-du-jour splashed across the pages of the newspaper.

It is a study in contrasts: in free will, in rationality, in happiness, in pride, in accomplishment, in ramifications for the rest of society.

One man magnificently creates with the contentment of the creator.

The other man stews in his irrationality, looking for innocent people to murder and destroy.

One man's mind is riveted upon the facts of reality, getting a constant rush from his daily achievements and learning much from minor setbacks in his experiments.

The other man demands respect for his utter irrationality, demands that others drop to their knees and elbows five times a day to worship the unreal, demands that others join him in negligence and deference to the unseen, demands that others join him in surrender to domination, demands that those who are different be exterminated.

One man goes by the name Konstantin Novoselov. He and the co-winner of the Nobel prize in physics, Andre Geim, did revolutionary work with graphene, forming super-thin sheets of carbon in the form of graphene just one atom in thickness. Graphene is 100 times stronger than steel. The prospects for you and I and business are virtually endless: much faster computer circuitry, much stronger and lighter airplanes, see-through touch screens, far greater flat-screen TVs, more powerful cell phones and solar cells, and much more.

The other man goes by the name Faisal Shahzad. He was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for trying to bomb innocent people in Times Square in NYC. He calls himself a "Muslim soldier," and he laughed at his sentencing, threatening Americans with more from his mystical "brothers" in arms. He demands all of the things I mentioned above for his superstitious brethren.

The two men are a study in the contrast of facts and faith.

And the conclusion of propriety is a clear as the technology and secular revolutions.

One-hour conversation with my 7-year-old about religion

My Livy girl just can't seem to wrap her mind around the fact that adults (and children) could believe in make-believe. In this case, religion.

One of her little buddies likes to go to church with his mama, and each time, Livy looks at me and raises her eyebrows, as if to say, "Well, OK, but that's just silly."

On Sunday, it happened again, and Livy again asked me, "Why does he get so excited about going to church?" I explained that at church, they have fun stuff for young kids to do, so it's not really as much about the god thing and make-believe mysticism yet.

This led to a long talk with many questions about religion. We discussed morality, personal responsibility, facts, more facts, rationality, free will, independent thinking (even with parents and other adults), handling irrational people, the history of mysticism (going back 30,000 years), the abdication of thought by mystics (religious people), whether religious people think their alleged god would have a penis or vagina or whatever (we laughed at this part very much), and much more.

We ended like we usually do with such conversations, discussing the ramifications of irrationality on rational people, especially politically, with mystics voting for political domination of themselves and the rest of us. Livy now quite comfortably says things like, "People who go to church want the government to steal from us and give that money to other people because church people like for somebody to be in charge of themselves."

How refreshing it is to have a talk with an objective, clear conscience! How fascinating it is to be engaged with a young mind traveling down complex intellectual paths willfully and freely, integrating concepts, forming conclusions easily once facts are digested thoroughly, asking poignant and direct questions and dissecting the answers to ensure that the answers are themselves rational.

If this coming generation is filled with hundreds of thousands of such children as my Livy, as I think it will be, then I have a warning for the mystics and the government:

Your superstition and dominance will be laughed at and eventually exterminated.

And my Livy will have more money in her bank account to maybe buy me a new car. Ha!