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Post No.: 0556art


Furrywisepuppy says:


What is art? Well Marcel Duchamp was arguably the first to blatantly demonstrate that it’s contextual – stick a urinal in an art gallery setting and suddenly it’s considered art(!) Some, though, will submit that his ‘readymades’ were a meta-observation of the art world itself – holding a mirror up to its credulities, and thus it truly was art in it’s own right (an ultra-high form of art even!) And what art isn’t a political or social commentary if we look hard enough?


Another perspective is that artists reinterpret and distil the world or people’s experience of it. They tap into people’s primal fears and desires – the human processes that evolved that helped the species to survive in the savannah (and humans do tend to prefer a savannah to a desert, jungle or polar region). In other words, art contestably touches deep conscious and unconscious instincts that concern seeking prey or food, avoiding predators or danger, and attracting mates or attention. The more that a piece of art does so, the more that people will find meaning in it and value it. And the best art has multiple layers of meaning.


Perhaps art (and philosophy) is a by-product effect of curiosity, exploration, experimentation and social communication – traits that have been so advantageous in the human specie’s ability to survive and thrive? It’s a by-product yet intrinsic and distinct part of being human. Art serves its purpose by resonating deeply on an emotional and/or philosophical level.


Post No.: 0130 investigated some patterns found in artworks that are generally agreed to have high aesthetic appeal – but pretty pictures may nourish the eyes but they don’t necessarily nourish the mind and soul. Technical superiority – though still important – isn’t quite as important as touching or commenting on the human condition. Photorealism doesn’t tend to beat amplification or distillation. Prettier pictures may help communicate and convey a message clearer, like proper diction compared to a mumble, but it’s ultimately about the message. It must stimulate a reaction, thought or conversation – preferably an affecting and lasting multi-layered one that urges us to ask questions and ponder on the possible answers.


Even art is a science if we approach it in this way – if the answers aren’t in the patterns, proportions and symmetries, the beats, tones and contrasts, then they’re in their effects on our cortisol and vasopressin levels, heart rates and pupil dilation, etc..


But if a piece of art or performance is about generating conversations then is homicide or terrorism an art form? These acts may capture the fuzzy zeitgeist or ‘spirit of the age’ quite well too. A howled expletive also generates a reaction. I guess art has got to be more than just ‘shocking’?


The connection felt with a piece of art can depend highly on one’s past experiences, memories, associations, what’s personally evocative, one’s personality and education, current state of life, mood or situation, and future ambitions or concerns. It can therefore be highly subjective – but certain feelings, subject matters and philosophical questions are more universal than others. This applies with all forms of art. (Popular entertainment, including popular TV quiz shows, tends to involve characters who play the mentors or villains, and involve dramas like exploring intriguing mysteries, risks and rewards, etc..)


For instance, people are probably attuned to artworks (including films, literature, music, etc.) that depict sex and/or violence because they evolved to pay attention to and care a lot about things that relate to reproduction and death. Such art also frequently explores moral issues, such as envy, temptation and punishment, and test our own moral judgements in a vicarious sense. We mostly prefer to see the good side win because we want to see morality and justice prevail. This vicarious role-playing is similar to when children role-play in the playground and learn moral lessons, but with potential adult themes and more complicated plots and characters that can possibly teach us something new; and that’s possibly why not-so-perfectly-good/bad guys are more interesting because the answers to the moral questions they pose are less obvious.


Abstract art understands the naivety in ‘naïve realism’ since all perception depends highly upon individual interpretation, perspective, motivation, prior knowledge and experience. Abstraction risks a smaller audience though because some experiences are more subjective than others, and some people are less willing to put in the effort to find meaning in what they experience than others; although for those who do, they’ll be more satisfied with the meaning and hence love it more, hence a general love-or-hate divide when it comes to abstract art.


But if most of the work regarding abstract art is done by the audience’s own minds, in their own interpretative efforts, then why should such art ever be rewarded with high valuations? The viewer does most of the work, or ‘labour’ in any other context – like baking a cake by oneself should be cheaper than buying an equivalent where someone else has done most of the work for us! And one could look at literally any object in nature or anywhere, and if one spends enough time and effort trying to interpret it in novel ways, one can get abstract art for free!


Things that become suddenly trendy tend to get associated with a certain juncture in time and thus will soon date more easily and go out of fashion as quickly as it came in. So something that’s never quite at the height of fashion for a season – as long as it isn’t so unfashionable – will likely last longer in the mid-term. But then dated things can suddenly come back in fashion one day; plus that dating might help antique collectors in the very long run because the related artefacts become associated with that definite time and place and act like a solid piece of history. However, the monetary value will also depend on how rare those artefacts are, which they might not be if they were hugely popular items at one time.


Advanced technology in the arts should never be used for it’s own sake but to further and enhance the immersion of the emotional experience. But will artificial intelligences, digital or otherwise, ever be able to create art (whether images, music or whatever) that’s as affective as what humans can create?


‘Generative adversarial networks’ (GANs) can be used to create images that are new yet look superficially authentic to human observers. However, it’s in a traditional human artist’s interests to argue that creating wonderful art is a rare gift that only living organisms can possess and you need that certain je ne sais quoi! The fine art market overall also generally wishes to denounce such pieces because if creating great art appears so easy, it’ll make fine art a commodity and worth less per unit – and there’s a preposterous amount of money at stake in the fine art world! (Yet that’s how markets should naturally progress if there’s perfect competition – towards commoditisation.) Preserving the perception of rarity and exclusivity isn’t a sound justification for claiming that artificial machines can never produce magnificent masterpieces though.


Now we do need to acknowledge that what we mean by ‘art’ or ‘good art’ is in the opinion of humans – and humans are making that judgement hence there’s a bias for humans to believe that only humans can truly understand the nature of humans and what’s meaningful to humans. But perhaps future AIs will be able to create art that’s so meaningful in the scheme of the universe that mere human minds won’t be able to comprehend or therefore appreciate it?! Humans will be like maybe chimpanzees thinking ‘so what?’ to a Cézanne, whilst preferring the lure of a bunch of ripe figs instead(!)


Well according to empirical science, humans and all other life forms are essentially physical machines too – not the same kind of machines like current designs of artificial robots or computers but machines that work on biological, chemical and ultimately physical mechanisms on every level nonetheless. If humans have what people call ‘souls’ then so can potentially other machines?


So it’s not against the laws of nature for AIs to be able to create great art for human appreciation – for if humans think that AIs could never think or feel in a certain way then arguably neither can or are humans. If AIs cannot be creative in ways that humans are believed to be, then maybe humans aren’t being creative in the ways humans believe they are either – maybe humans are essentially ‘zombies’ in the Chinese room argument too?


I therefore personally believe that people can legitimately be deeply moved by works created by AIs, but will probably undervalue them relative to human works due to bias. Their sophistication is advancing as we speak, and they’ll co-evolve with humans and shape each other. Humans may continue to be biased in thinking that no artificial machine can ever touch the soul as well as another human can – yet when they assess works that they didn’t know were created by AIs, they’ll occasionally believe that only humans could’ve created them!


Humans cannot really clearly articulate what humans really want in art, will not always unanimously agree on what’s good art or even ‘art’, and not every human can create good art that appeals to other humans anyway.


There’s so much subjectivity even within human creations. Lots of creations didn’t receive glowing reviews when they initially came out but then later became acclaimed for one reason or another (e.g. the Mona Lisa, Bohemian Rhapsody. The former only really became regarded as a ‘masterpiece’ centuries after it was painted, and only world famous after it got stolen! The painting remained the same but the admiration for it changed.) And there are countless examples of artists who were rejected or dropped by experts in their fields who had spotted previous hot properties but couldn’t anticipate these (e.g. Jay Z, Beyoncé).


This also shows us that things are hard to predict in artistic fields because many external or peripheral variables are at play too (e.g. we cannot just listen to a singer’s voice to tell if he/she will be a success), and it can be so chaotic and down to luck rather than just pure talent that even somebody who’s made correct predictions about uncovering great art or artists (at least according to their financial success) in the past won’t find it easy to make correct predictions in the future. If it were just, or mainly, about someone’s artistic talents and hard work then it’d be far easier to predict who’ll be the success stories.


Good food is good whether it’s cheap or expensive (even Michelin-starred chefs appreciate the simple and humble when they choose what to eat at home) – so good art should be good whether it’s cheap or expensive too. But at the ridiculously expensive end, it’s about knowing the price of things but not necessarily the value of things (e.g. a hospital ventilator has more value than anything on a canvas that hangs on a wall, or worse gets stuffed in free port storage!) So like studying religion or the paranormal, where we don’t study the theology or supernatural as much as study the people who believe in them – with high-priced art at the exclusive end of the market in particular, where prices become quite disconnected from their opportunity costs – we study what’s going on in people’s minds more than just the artworks themselves. It’s also about the economic context – the money, investment gambles, market forces and prices driven by supply and demand where rare yet desired things are priced highly by virtue of just being considered rare and desired. So it’s art if someone says it is and if enough others jump on the bandwagon! It’s about pricing something highly just because enough other people price it highly, and trying to predict what other people will price highly.


At this level – it’s about their little, exclusive club.




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