Is Art Defined by the Constraints of the Medium?

Art Defined by Tic Tac Toe

During board game night a discussion broke out about how is art defined? While we delivered in the Wasteland Express the software developer opined that his job was artistic but that of an engineer was not. This being true because the medium in which the engineer worked was more greatly constrained.

Needless to say, strong opinions were hurled. I find the question of how is Art Defined to be an interesting question but the moral of the story, and the point of this blog, is more about how to we come to a consensus on a question that, by its nature, has no easy answer.

At issue; at least for the fellow trying to define software development as art, is how to we determine if an endeavor is so constrained that it can no longer be considered art. When confronted by thorny issues of this nature I think the best strategy is to simplify the question as best as is possible. It’s always going to be difficult, if not impossible, to determine what constitutes a line in the sand as far as constraints and be able to get to the bottom of Art Defined.

I started, on the drive home after having been thoroughly thrashed in the Wasteland yet again because I have too much fun making deliveries and taking on raiders and forget about the Victory Conditions, but that’s my issue and I’ve completely lost the train of thought on this sentence, best start again. As I was driving home, I thought about how most people who play chess at a moderately high level consider a well-played combination to be artistic. Certainly, chess has more constraints than engineering. If a game of chess can be artistic then we must conclude that a particular engineering design can be as well.

That being said, I must simplify further. How about checkers, I said to myself while waiting at a red light. Darn those red lights. No, even better, Tic Tac Toe. If we are going to simplify, let’s go all the way. Can Tic Tac Toe be artistic? No, I said to myself. End of story! Wait, I argued with myself, don’t be so hasty, Tom. Really? I replied. Yep, I answered. Let me give you an example.

In Game One the O player makes three moves and wins the game because the X player doesn’t make a blocking move. In Game Two the O player makes moves so as to block player X and set up a situation where she or he has two paths to victory and cannot be blocked. Is not Game Two more artistic than Game One?

We’ll, I said aloud to myself as the couple in the car one over looked at me like I was crazy. Did I mention I was waving my arms and hands to illustrate the moves on the Tic Tac Toe board? Well, you may have a point, I said nodding to the superior knowledge of me.

No, problem, I replied in an attempt at modesty. You would have come to the same conclusion if given enough time. Thanks, I said, although I suspect I was being a little condescending to myself.

In any case, if we decide that one Tic Tac Toe game can be more artistic than another, we are admitting the game can be artistic, although perhaps less so than a chess game, but artistic nevertheless. If this is true, it seems impossible to conclude anything other than all human endeavors possess the possibility of being artistic, regardless of how constrained they might be. There is the potential for art in all things.

This being the case, which I think I’ve proved to myself beyond a reasonable doubt, I think all engineers can now rest easy knowing they are capable of artistic designs. Now that I’ve resolved Art Defined, let’s tackle a bigger problem. How can I possible win a game of Wasteland Express if I don’t pay any attention to the Victory Conditions … a mystery that may never be solved.

Tom Liberman

Bob Ross and the Value of Talent and Serenity

Bob RossI was not surprised to find that painter Bob Ross, eighteen years after his death, is finding a new audience on streaming services like YouTube and Twitch. Mr. Ross, for those of you who don’t know about a PBS television series called The Joy of Painting, was a painter who used a wet-on-wet technique to quickly create beautiful landscapes. His calm and happy demeaner mixed with his skill made his show amazingly popular for the time. I can only imagine how many viewers he’d have to today if Lymphoma hadn’t struck him down at age 52 in 1995. If he was painting live on his channel I’d guess he’d be among the top-rated content providers.

In addition to hosting a popular television show he also inspired countless artists throughout the United States and now that message is being spread worldwide. What I’d like to talk about today is the value of what Mr. Ross provided and what it tells us about humanity as a whole.

What is it about Mr. Ross that is so appealing? His genuine good nature? His skill as a painter? His happy little trees? I’m of the opinion it was a combination of his talent, serenity, and ability to communicate a complex procedure in a way almost everyone finds understandable. Mr. Ross made you feel good about yourself and about life as a whole and that’s a message of astounding popularity.

On the other hand, the internet is filled with people spewing messages of rage and hate against anyone and everyone who disagrees with them about anything. Those people get an audience as well but not as big as Mr. Ross’s. Ask yourself, is watching someone like that helping you? Does it make you happier, better, nicer? Does watching Mr. Ross achieve those ends?

It’s an important question in deciding how you go about leading your life. Do you think you’re helping yourself by calling other people stupid or making fun of their politics? Sitting around patting yourself on the back about how smart you are and how stupid and wrong everyone else is? I think you are not. I think you are harming yourself.

My advice is to head on over to the streaming service of your choice and watch Mr. Ross paint a picture. Especially if you’ve been listening to one of the angry, talking-heads on your favorite news channel or social media network.

Happy is better than angry and Mr. Ross proves it. His popularity demonstrates what people truly want in their lives, even if they don’t know it.

Tom Liberman

Charging Bull and Fearless Girl Statues at Odds in more ways than One

Girl-and-Charging-BullThe fight between the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl just left the park and headed to the courts!

I am the son of a lawyer, the brother of two lawyers, and the cousin of even more lawyers. I find law fascinating and when I read the artist who created the Charging Bull, Arturo Di Modica, plans to file a lawsuit against New York City in regards to the Fearless Girl statue placed nearby, well, I had to learn more. And learn I did!

I suspect Di Modica doesn’t have a case seeing as he installed the Charging Bull as an act of Guerilla Art back in 1989. The police seized it but then replaced it a few blocks away because of its popularity. It has remained there on a temporary permit ever since. The worst-case scenario for the city is likely that Di Modica moves it to a new location, at his expense.

Di Modica is a rather litigious fellow so we will see.

Meanwhile, the statue of a young girl facing down the bull was commissioned, created, and placed by State Street Global Advisors as part of an advertising campaign coinciding with International Women’s Day. This statue is referenced as the Fearless Girl. It was placed legally with a permit for one week. It also proved popular and the temporary permit has been extended in the same way as the Charging Bull’s was.

Another incredibly interesting thing is why Di Modica is planning to involve the courts. It is something called Artistic Integrity. Di Modica believes Fearless Girl changes the integrity of his art. The Charging Bull is meant to symbolize aggressive financial optimism. Fearless Girl staring down the bull seems to change this meaning. Now, at least in the minds of some people, Charging Bull is a symbol of aggressive bullying.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think Di Modica has a chance in court, but I still wanted to examine this idea. I’m an artist. I write books. Is it really up to me challenge the meaning one, or many, of my readers choose to assign to events in those books? When Jon Gray tangles with High Priest Amalagaz I certainly intend the scene to have particularly meaning, specific artistic integrity. There is a point to it.

If a reader came to me with a completely difference conclusion, I’d certainly explain what I meant by the scene. That being said, I’d have no legal basis to challenge the right of someone else to believe what they want. Likewise, if Barnes & Noble chose to put my ostensibly Sword and Sorcery Fantasy books on the shelf with Mystery Novels I would have little recourse other than telling them not to sell my books.

I strongly suspect Di Modica is simply drumming up publicity and his threatened lawsuit will eventually go away.

Still, I’m glad he filed it because I learned a lot of things today. I hope you did also.

Tom Liberman

Forgery Equivalent to Original

Mark-Landis-ForgerA friend posted an interesting story on Facebook about how a forger convinced dozens of museums to display his work over the years. One of the first comments on the story suggested that it made no difference to the viewer. If the piece of art was indistinguishable from the original, even to an expert, then the regular museum goer would have the same experience as if it was the original and should be satisfied.

It’s an interesting argument. One of the first analogies that someone offered was the idea that if you went to a concert and saw a band that looked exactly like the authentic members of the band, who played the music the same way; your experience would be no different than if you had seen the actual artists. It’s an appealing idea. That our perception of events equates to reality when, to our senses, the two are identical.

Before I launch into my interpretation of events I’d just like to mention that everyone should read the story itself. The forger in question is a man named Mark Landis who has relatively severe mental problems. He forged the paintings not for financial gain but for a sense of doing something perfectly. He has what is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder and his ability to copy things, both painstakingly and exactingly, is remarkable. He committed no crime and is now available to paint portraits from pictures provided by customers. Anyway, it’s a fascinating story but it doesn’t really have much to do with the point I’m examining today.

So the question becomes if my senses cannot tell the difference between two things are they then the same? Is my experience untainted even though I was given something different than what I expected. I remember being blindfolded and having my nose held while being fed various foods and the ability to distinguish the difference between an onion and an apple was noticeably effected. Naturally in such a case my biological processes would have instantly detected the difference and reacted accordingly. Let’s say we made a brick taste exactly like a steak and tree bark like potatoes. Eating nothing but bricks and tree bark would soon kill me despite my own satisfaction. Clearly our perception of reality is not going to save us there.

Let’s say that we created an illusion of a bridge across a chasm when there was no bridge. Again death ensues. Both of these examples are not truly fair though. When I go to the museum and see a beautiful painting and it touches my emotions is there a difference if the picture was a forgery? In this example my body is not physically effected by the deception. My emotions upon seeing the art are not hurt in the way my body might be from a physical deceit.

What happens if someone you love tells you they reciprocate that feeling when they don’t. Are you undamaged by the deception? When you find out the truth do you have no right to be angry? The love you felt at that moment is not changed in retrospect. You still felt it then. As long as my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are once again in the playoffs let’s take an example from that realm. When Mark McGuire was hitting home runs many people believed he wasn’t using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDS). Were not their feeling of elation and inspiration at his feats of power betrayed by his later admission? Certainly they way they felt at the time was genuine. That emotion cannot be changed any more than anything in the past can be changed. Once I make a left turn it can never be anything but a left turn. No matter what happens, that’s what happened.

Does this mean that the people shouldn’t feel upset by the fact that McGuire was using PEDs?

Should those people who saw fake art, even though it was indistinguishable from the real artist’s work, have no complaint? Should they not feel they were deceived? Should the memory of the event not be diminished? Certainly the elation of the original moment will always be there but our lives are little more than memories. When something happens, it happens, and then it only lives on in our memories. Subsequent events can and do change that perception.

I can well imagine you’ve figured out my opinion on this subject.

If you were elated and inspired by art that turns out to be a forgery, then you have every right to be upset. Your memory has been tarnished. But also remember the original joy. Remember that you were inspired by that art. That really happened and nothing can change it.

If you pay to see a particular band and someone else plays, providing the exact same experience, you have been deceived but it doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy the show. You should demand a refund. Someone lied to you. However, don’t let that stop you from remembering how much you loved the concert at the time. Wonderful moments are out there. Seek them out, find them, and relish them. If subsequent events tarnish what you imagined, you have every right to be angry but also try to remember the joy of the original moment. That can never be stolen from you.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
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