Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 9.4

Today’s question is a must read. It’s the feel-good question of the year.

If you answer only one question this summer, make it this one.

I laughed. I cried. It was better than Gump!

Are creative people, such as artists, writers, musicians, etc. (right brainers) more prone to magical thinking than left brain types, and if so, how might varying thought processes play a part?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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130 Comments

  1. First, is that whole “left brain/right brain” thing even real? I can’t remember (thanks to my right brain).

    Second, I think it depends. People like to make the case that creative types have out there, crazy beliefs and live in a fantasy world, which, by implication, would mean non-creative types have grounded, sane beliefs and live in the realm of reality.

    I’d compare this thought process to the idea that only Godless wackos live in L.A. and New York, while normal people with “values” live in the middle of the country.

    Truth is, it’s just as irrational to be an actor who believes in Scientology as it is to be a mathematician who believes in Jesus — meanwhile, an actor can be completely uncreative and a mathematician could be the most imaginative person ever.

    I don’t think I’m making sense. Abort!

  2. Gosh, I don’t know. I can speak about the very limited sphere of belly-dancing, and woo like astrology and magic and all that runs rampant. I’ve been lucky to find great groups that just care about music and dancing!

    On the other hand, none of my scientist friends are terribly susceptible to magical thinking. My pool of people is limited. Maybe there’s an actual big study one this?

  3. Based solely on personal experience, and with no data to back me up, I would say that there is a tendency for artists to fall into magical thinking (though I know many who do not), but not necessarilly because of anything inherent in their brains or thought processes, but because the history of the arts in the 20th century has resulted in a culture of surface-level acceptance of all manner of “far out” claims without much discernment as to the likelyhood of these claims, while simultaneously being hyper-critical of “traditional” practices/values/etc.

    Essentially, the culture functions very much like the left-wing version of fundamentalist Christianity, only with less power to enforce their will on others.

    That is not to say that all artists accept nonsense uncritically, I know a good many who are amongst the best critical thinkers. But there does seem to be a trend towards this in the culture.

  4. Not quite sure what’s meant by “varying thought processes.”

    I just mean, for the sake of this discussion: If the thought processes for a “right brainer” and a “left brainer” are different (if they vary), how might the processes for each contribute to belief?

  5. I don’t know if the more creative folks are more prone to magical thinking, but it occurs to me that there may be a filtering or selection effect at work. If a main area for you is some creative endeavor, that, at least is not hampered by magical thinking. Where if you are a scientist, technician, accountant, etc., you may find your main occupation actually harmed by magical thinking. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, accounting (along with other rational enterprises) is recalitrant to lunatic logic (or magical thinking).

    Additionally, in many creative activities confidence can be very important. A mathematician or researcher may lack confidence but do great work. This would be harder for actors and other performers or even traditional artists. If you believe that god, the spirits, or your magical underwear insures a good performance, that belief may actually help you.

    I know I am reaching here, but this may be part of the reason that Tom Cruise and John Travolta are scientologists. If you have gone through an expensive and protracted process that you believe has rid you of harmful mental processes, this may usefully aid your performances even if it is harmful in other, less direct ways.

    Anyway, this is mostly slightly informed speculation. What do others think?

  6. This sounds like a question that can be investigated experimentally. I wonder if this has been done. I would expect to find more creative people somewhat more inclined towards magical thinking, but I wouldn’t go out on a limb.

    Although, if “right brain” means touchy-feely and “left brain” means calculating and rational, you would expect it to be true almost by definition. That is, a rational person is less likely to believe irrational things.

    I am a Hedge

  7. Yeah… I’m pretty sure that whole “right brain/left brain” thing is just hokum. The name of this fallacy, folks, is Begging the Question.

    That said, I think there is a cultural tendency to push artists into at least going along with woo, whether they believe it or not. If you’re the actor who who dismisses superstition and readily wishes people good luck and says “MacBeth” out loud and such, you’ll quickly become the actor who doesn’t work. Likewise, art from “spiritual medium channel a priest from Lost Lemuria” has a marketing edge over the artist who “paints pretty pictures.” Especially if you know to insist that the proper name of Lemuria is Mu and other sundry interesting factoids to draw in you credulous target audience.

    There is no such pressure on stock brokers, biologists, mathematicians, etc.

  8. I’m not entirely convinced that the whole “Right brain”/”left brain” thing isn’t a bit of a false dichotomy. How does one objectively say which of those qualities best describes them? Or even where they are on a spectrum between the two extremes? It seems an unhelpfully vague way to classify people.

    That having been said, art, being subjective, does seem to lend itself more to, if not “magical” thinking, at least a disinclination to seeing the world in the somewhat clinical fashion popular amongst some skeptics and scientists.

    However, it should be noted that creativity is not necessarily unique to the folks we think of as “right-brainers”; I’m a musician and songwriter, but I don’t associate music with the subjective “touchy-feely” right-brain concept. I just see it as playful math. I mean, there is some subjective opinion in it, just as everyone has their own opinion as to which equation is prettier: “5+2=7” or “4+3=7” (or is that just me?), but, ultimately, both equations add up to 7 and always will (did that make ANY sense at all? lol).

  9. This is a really awesome question and I’m so glad it’s been proposed. Here are my completely anecdotal claims:

    I’m a poet and an editor at an art and literary magazine. I’m also, more recently, super involved in the “skeptical scene” in my hometown. I’ve got a lot of social networks happening online and a lot of blogs that I read both skeptical and literary. What I find interesting is the number of poets and writers who are also skeptics or atheists. I was surprised – all this time I’d been worrying about feeling a little disconnected from the literary/poet community because I didn’t believe in fairies or sky-gods or magical planetary alignments (although, I do think those things can inform my art, but I digress).

    Now, someone did make a comment to me at TAM 6 about how he teaches all kinds of physics classes, anything from “physics for poets to advanced physics classes…” Meanwhile, my brain was off in la la for half a second thinking that he meant taught this class about science can inform our creative writing and art… and then I realized he was falling into the same trap that I fell into.

    I personally think that artists and creative folk are more likely to use language that is more mythical and spiritual, but a lot of times if you strip down their beliefs they don’t really buy into it, it just sounds pretty. I am speaking from my own personal experiences here again. I used to do this, but I’m more careful about my language now.

    I’m rambly. Yay!

    I’m not sure I know enough about left or right brain stuff. To me that just seems like our way to sum up incredibly complex brain functions in dualistic terms. There are so many more options in terms of how the brain might process information.

  10. First, is that whole “left brain/right brain” thing even real? I can’t remember (thanks to my right brain).

    It’s real. No hokum here. Various portions of the brain (not just the left and the right) are responsible for different activities. People are referred to as “right-brained” if they favor activities that correspond to that part of the brain, in this case, artistic pursuits.

    As for the question, I don’t know.

    I read an article last weekend about how different types of people experience art – based on their personalities. For example, the article said that “conscientious” people prefer music/art that is technically proficient, whereas “neurotic” people respond to emotional music that validates their particular neurosis. So, are “conscientious” people just more left-brained? Or is your perception of art a function of personality?

    About the question – I don’t know.

    Intuitively it makes sense that right-brained people would be more susceptible to woo because they are accustomed to connecting with the intangible/emotional.

    At the same time, it’s hard for me to say that, as I’m creative. But I’m also technical. I like to think of myself as ambibrainous.

  11. Actors aren’t artists. They’re craftspersons.

    1) A great many actors (and others) would argue with that vehemently
    2) False dichotomy. Like a carpenter or tailor, the best are both. Acting is the same as singing or playing an instrument in that way (and many others).

  12. Rystefn:

    I think the dichotomy DMS was going for (correct me if I’m wrong) was more about “creating” vs. “performing” or “interpreting”. There’s a very different process involved in creating something from scratch than in interpreting the written material into a public performance or recording.

  13. The closer you deal with reality, the more it slaps you in the face when you try something contrary to it. So, sure, people in “creative” professions are more at risk to magical thinking than people in “engineering” professions. Has nothing to do with the sides of their brains, though.

    Left vs right brain: myth

  14. Here’s a link to the article I referenced. I was planning to possibly post on this, but I had a totally different angle in mind.

    Also, why can’t we edit our comments? I’m going to have to quit commenting at work – I get distracted and start typing the same sentence again and again…

  15. There’s a very different process involved in creating something from scratch than in interpreting the written material into a public performance or recording.

    There is also a very different process in creating a painting from scratch than in interpreting a real scene into a painting, and yet few will claim that painters are not artists. Like actors, the greats are both.

  16. Rystefn, just because a lot of people would disagree doesn’t make something incorrect.

    Very true – neither does your say-so make a judgment call a fact. Clearly you are working from a very different definition of artist than most people use. Maybe you could specify what you mean when you say the word “artist” and why your definition is more valid than the others to the point that you felt no need to specify…

  17. @Nicole:
    From my own experiences with belly dancing, I think the reason that there is so much woo has less than nothing to do with the fact that it is an art form. I think it attracts new age-y types who are looking for something “alternative” to regular exercise. Plus here in the west it is seen as something exotic, eastern, and “ancient”. So I think the woo attached to belly dancing has more to do with Orientalism’s continuing effects than the fact that the people who practice it at high levels are artists. I could go on, but most of you who are not former History majors with concentrations on social and middle eastern history would find it painfully boring.

  18. “There is also a very different process in creating a painting from scratch than in interpreting a real scene into a painting, and yet few will claim that painters are not artists.”

    Agreed. But I don’t think that proves anything except that terms like “Artist” or “Craftsman” are not particularly useful in giving complete, accurate descriptions of what a person does. The “creativity” vs. “craftsmanship” dichotomy is, I think, a real one. But I agree that trying to associate people exclusively with one or the other IS a false dichotomy, though not an entirely unreasonable one, since, in my experience, most people are more inclined to one or the other.

    And, to bring things sorta back on-topic, I think the “right brain”/”left brain” comparison made in the opening post is roughly parallel to the creativity/craftsmanship dichotomy: “left brain” thinking seems to lend itself more to accurately playing the notes, or performing the dialog, or reproducing the image on canvas, than to deciding what to compose, write, or paint.

  19. The “creativity” vs. “craftsmanship” dichotomy is, I think, a real one.

    I disagree. I think they are very different things with a great deal of overlap. So long as there is an option for “both,” it’s not really a dichotomy.

    While I agree that most people lean one way or the other to some degree, saying “actors are craftsmen, not artists” is just as dishonest as saying “sculptors are artists, not craftsmen.”

  20. Honestly, I don’t buy into any sort of “types.” If artists gravitate towards particular ideas, I think it’s largely a social issue and not a biological (or whatever) issue. You know, a move against the establishment, which is something else artists are usually defined by. Sure, people have different inclinations, but it’s not a strict either-or issue. I think most people are a mix – and, if they’re not actively pursuing being a mix, cultivating the “other” side would benefit them. I think “right-brainers” could use a little logic and structure, and, frankly, I think a lot of “left-brainers” could use a little creativity and flexibility.

    Sorry, Sam, I don’t know if that really answers the question. I didn’t mean to just argue, but – I’m a graphic designer with a computer science education, and I tend to get a little irritated when people can’t figure out which “box” I belong in. What box? I’m creative visual artist AND a critical thinker. I enjoy and can do both.

    It’s an interesting question though – a hundred years ago, I don’t think western culture really separated art and science like this. It was all part of an intelligent, intellectually curious person’s journey. I wonder where the change happened.

  21. I think it’s probably a case by case thing, with a lean towards creative types being slightly more likey to believe in various woo. i know of example of both.

    I myself am a skeptic and atheist, and have been for many years, yet i went to school for and graduated with a bfa in painting. For me the two interests developed more or less independently. they combine with the heavy focus on observation based painting and wanting to understand why i see the things the way i do (color and light as frequency, translating a spatial understanding of a scene into a 2d picture plain, anatomy, etc) that, plus always being curious led me to my interest in science.

    as for a lack of faith, the little bits of it that were around growing up just never made sense, and once i wanted to know more about other religions in general, the more they all seemed outright nutty

  22. “I disagree. I think they are very different things with a great deal of overlap. So long as there is an option for “both,” it’s not really a dichotomy.”

    Fair enough. As with many things art-related, the terminology and concepts here are so fuzzily defined that hard and fast rules are difficult or impossible. So maybe “dichotomy” is the wrong word; I was mainly looking to clarify the difference between two concepts that I think get lumped together more frequently than they should, but I suppose it is a spectrum of sorts.

    “While I agree that most people lean one way or the other to some degree, saying “actors are craftsmen, not artists” is just as dishonest as saying “sculptors are artists, not craftsmen.””

    Agreed.

  23. This is actually a really interesting question. It can be said that creativity and magical thinking both require plenty of imagination.

    BUT I think it could also be said that a “creative, artsy type” could also be more likely to question and be skeptical of authority and status quo.

    …Which of course could possibly lead to magical thinking.

    Or not.

    I think both statements require waaaay more generalizations than I am willing to make.

    I say: inconclusive either way.

  24. Sorry, Sam, I don’t know if that really answers the question. I didn’t mean to just argue, but – I’m a graphic designer with a computer science education, and I tend to get a little irritated when people can’t figure out which “box” I belong in. What box? I’m creative visual artist AND a critical thinker. I enjoy and can do both.

    Don’t apologize, Jen. That is a perfectly valid answer.

  25. As with many things art-related, the terminology and concepts here are so fuzzily defined that hard and fast rules are difficult or impossible.

    I could not agree with this statement more. Is pottery art? How about the design on a fork’s handle? The answer to that question rends to depend wholly on how old the object is, though few would admit readily to it… I think the fact that it’s so hard to pin down solid definitions helps magical thinking and superstition to thrive in the culture, whereas, in engineering, for example, fuzzy definitions and free interpretations cause bridges to fall down.

  26. Oddly, Sam, I agree with your post: it really is a feel-good question. I nearly emailed you earlier today to request a question that might stir up discussion without devolving into flame wars, because this week has been way too antagonistic for my taste.

    So, good job!

    That said, I have no time left to go into my actual thoughts on the subject. So screw you all.

  27. “Maybe you could specify what you mean when you say the word “artist” and why your definition is more valid than the others to the point that you felt no need to specify…”

    LOL!
    It really doesn’t matter. “Creative people” is what the discussion is about.
    I was just having fun. Lighten up, Rystefn. :-)

  28. Jen – That’s a really good point. I would agree there’s a cultural separation of art and science now that did not always exist.

    That creates a much more complex issue than just brain function. If our brain wasn’t already complicated enough….

    Actually I think the disagreements about what is “artistry” and what is “craftmenship”, may go to show that it is difficult to separate and discern the two.

    Maybe there’s something we’ve really been missing out on since art and have sort of become culturally divorced from one another.

  29. Maybe there’s something we’ve really been missing out on since art and science have sort of become culturally divorced from one another.

    I think you’ve hit on something very important here. It’s a needless divide, and we can never truly know what we lose by it.

  30. I think the purported dichotomy between art and science is a false one. I think art can study science, and science can study art. I think good science is very difficult without some wild-ass, out-of-the-blue creativity, and I think good art is difficult without rigorous, methodical study and practice and analysis.

    I think science and art are more alike than they are different, and I think it serves neither to pretend that they’re some sort of non-overlapping magisteria.

  31. Curious observation:

    The question basically calls for an opinion and nudges one to provide support for that opinion. Some have answered thoughtfully and even creatively, while others have dwelled on the definition of terms and false dichotomy.

    Hmmm . . . .

  32. “Some have answered thoughtfully and even creatively, while others have dwelled on the definition of terms and false dichotomy.”

    False Dichotomy: I like to think that some of us dwelled on the definition of terms in a thoughtful and creative way.

    Wait, I just did it again, didn’t I? Damn.

  33. I’ve read some interesting books about art and science and their intersection but I’m too lazy to look up the titles right now. :-)

    Interesting topic. I know I love stuff about magic and the supernatural and I believed in some of it in the past, but not any more.

    I do think there are some kinds of people who are drawn to religion and magical thinking and some who are not, but I’m not sure it has anything to do with whether or not they are artists.

  34. I started to write this long essay with my thoughts on art history, cultural history, aesthetics, phi, fibonacci numbers, education, the culture of iconoclasts, and the etymology of the words ‘art’ and ‘craft’ and so on in response to today’s inquisition. So I deleted it to spare you all. But this is still kinda long….

    Yes, I think creative people are more prone to woo and magical thinking. Thought processes and right brain v. left brain may play a part, but I think societal and cultural expectations influence the woo prone artist even more.

    And if ever there were a field where societal and cultural expectations and perceptions were of import and influence, it’s the arts. But then I’m speaking from my own personal experience as a visual artist.

    Although, I consider many engineers, architects, and designers to be creative right brainers, but seemingly less prone to ‘magical thinking.’ So, what is it that makes visual artists, musicians, poets and the ‘bohemian’ ilk somehow classified as more creative or more right brained, and possibly more woo prone than their creative minded brethren? Math is a huge part of visual art and music, too, after all…

  35. I tend to associate magical thinking not so much with creativity but more with risk-taking and gambling. Some sort of mode of thought where the connection between cause and effect becomes fuzzy. Something that prevents filtering out the implausible from the plausible.

    “It’s so crazy, it just might work.”
    “I’m on a roll.”
    “It must be ghosts.”

    Thing is, sometimes crazy things do work and sometimes winning streaks do continue. It’s never ghosts, though.

  36. Sorry, Stacey, there are almost certainly no right-brained/left-brained “types”. [article] It’s true that there are a few localized functions (like most language-processing is very decidedly on the left), it’s still not a good way to think of things. Unless you’re a pansy woo-woo touchy-feely right-brainer*.

    And apologies to Jen, too, cause I’m just all about bashing Skepchicks today, but there are absolutely “types”, and they’re almost positively genetic (consider the myriad identical-twins-separated-at-birth studies). …Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say there are “traits”: a bunch of spectra**, somewhere along which each of us lie. But I’m more of a lumper than a splitter***!

    So, are creative-types more easily wooed**** by pseudo-science? I’d say: No. That’s a spectrum, yes, but it’s the wrong spectrum. There are plenty of types of people, lumped or not, who are creative and logical. (I think I qualify.) I think the proper spectrum to examine here is, in Myers-Briggs terms, Thinking/Feeling.

    So, third skepchickdude bashed: it’s the wrong question.

    Are people who prefer feeling to thinking more prone to magical thinking?

    I’d say, yes, absolutely. A person who prefers feeling to thinking is more apt to fall in with the “normal” people, trying to relate to them more closely, I’d wager… but I wouldn’t know, I’m so not one of them.

    So, would varying thought processes help them? …Sure: let them hang out with skeptics for a month or two, and they will likely change their minds. …Send them back to the deep south, though, and it won’t stick.

    Again: complete conjecture. But them’s my apples.

    Also: the next time I hear the phrase “false dichotomy” bandied about, I think I’m going to throw a fit. Way over-used. …Just making sure I’m bashing more than just Skepchicks, here…

    * That was, of course, an ironic joke. Please don’t ban me.
    ** Bam! Left-brained* logical pluralization, in your face!
    *** Another joke, of course. Opposite of irony. I’m a “lumping type“. Get it? Type? Ho-hooo, boy. Okay, forget it.
    **** Woo! Oh, I kill me!

  37. I think it’s hugely cultural, and it’s self-perpetuating… I mean, what do you do when a bunch of aspiring artists offer to pay you to teach them to channel the Mu spirits of Lost Lemuria? You tell them it’s a bunch of hocus-pocus you made up to fleece gullible goofballs into buying your paintings?

    Some people do. Those people get exposed and lose everything they built more often than not. Not good plan when your livelihood depends on it. whatever chance you had of selling paintings before without supernaturalism, it’s gone now. You’re committed. So you teach the students some goof-ball junk about meditative states and incense or whatever, and those that don’t get anything from it, you just say are too distanced from their Mu ancestors, and the ones that are deluded into it spread it around just a bit more.

    Sure, some of the students know it’s crap, but they may very well play along to get their foot in the door at the local gallery. It’s a competitive world, and even successful artists have to worry about where their next meal is coming from sometimes – many people will take whatever edge they can get.

    The cycle continues until the Mu fad runs out… Sadly, it’s more likely to be replaced with “I follow the Earth Mother’s hand” than “I tried to capture the essence of the fusion of hydrogen into helium.”

  38. If I had to pick a single profession that is most prone to woo and magical thinking, it would be . . . engineering. Seriously. I can count the number of atheist or skeptical engineers I’ve met on one hand. Granted, engineers tend more toward the denialism/fundamentalism end of the woo spectrum than the fuzzy spirituality end, but it’s still woo. All those cranks trying to disprove Einstein and Darwin? Engineers. AGW deniers? Holocaust deniers? Engineers. Some engineers are wonderful, thoughtful people, but they’re the exception.

    Regarding the arts, I can only speak for music (and while there are similarities among the arts, each art has its own community). Musicians tend to be very tolerant of all kinds of individual peculiarities, provided that you can play. I’m not going to turn away a good musician just because he believes in energy crystals or uses drugs or votes Republican, if he’s reliable, plays well, and makes the band sound good. By the same token, my experience is that the vast majority of musicians are down-to-earth people, because there’s just no shortcut to good musicianship. Having your own personal Cauldron of Cernunos is not going to make you a better player; you still gotta practice your scales. A tarot deck can’t tell you the right passing tones to use over Fm6 in the key of C major, or how to modulate smoothly from Eb to A. You still have to do your homework. I do enjoy the fact that my music career has introduced me to some wonderfully sweet and bizarre characters, but those people are the exception.

    In fact, I became an atheist because of my musical training. When I was just a wee baby musician, I thought there was something literally magical and transcendent about the depth of feeling that good music can evoke. But as I learned more and more how music works, I realized that great music is something that people do. Bach’s Magnificat? A human being did that. John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme? A human being did that. You name the music you love most, and human beings are responsible. Music made me a humanist.

  39. I wonder aloud the meaning “magical thinking” has to me. There are two types of magical thinking. One is a cultural symbol/action that we don’t yet understand (telepathy, slight of hand, technology, etc.), which tends to conform to other culturally-based magic. The other is imaginative (scifi, what-ifs, intellectual adaptability, etc.) and tends to be more unique.

    Although Mr. Wizard is awesome, the former is not true magical thinking. The latter is what is responsible for producing original, true magic and, thus, is magical thinking. Right-brained thinking is more magical and less conformist.

    Because the point isn’t to get an answer.

    Come on. He was so obviously being ironic.

  40. Thank you for pointing that out, slxplus – I was thinking the same thing… However, because people often type things that are not intended to be ironic, I think there should be an irony icon for blog entries, like a smiley face … Hmmm, what would it look like?

  41. @Rystefn: “Likewise, art from “spiritual medium channel a priest from Lost Lemuria” has a marketing edge over the artist who “paints pretty pictures.””

    Yeah, maybe if you’re Thomas Kincaid or Susan Seddon-whatever…big in their own world, absent from the actual art establishment (you know, Whitney/Venice biennials, reputable galleries, Art Forum, etc…).

    I just feel kinda uniquely qualified to answer this question from a lot of experience . Not only because I spent 4 years surrounded by peers studying fine art, crafts, and design (CCAC, graduated 2002, won all college honors award in 2-d category in 2000 – which makes me a better painter than anyone was either painter, drawer, printmaker, photographer, etc. -hah!), but also because pretty much everyone I know is either a visual artist or musician.

    Here’s the breakdown, according to me and my super authoritative authority: It totally depends on the artist and their background and life experiences (zoinks!). I’m talking pro people, not dilletants. I do think that the type of person who romanticizes being an artist and makes it their hobby might be a little woo-ier, but not necessarily.

    The fact of the matter is that good art does in the real realms what religion wishes it could do/be (and that’s why religion exploits art so much): makes a sublime experience.

    Jeez. I think this topic is toomuch for me to handle, I would have to write a whole goddamn paper – but I just want to make sure that you guys are not talking about the artist stereotype (dippy romantic), and are talking about actual artists. I know and know about many,many artists and musicians, and I would have to say that IMO, the quest for a certain truth via expression causes a little more critical thinking/questioning than is necessary in other fields like being a dental technician.

    Of course, you’ll always find batshit nutjobs like Jon “there’s aliens in my walls” Anderson or Anthony “the world is a big mac” Braxton”, but hey, they’re musicians. And everyone knows that musicians are mostly nuts.

  42. @Stacey:
    Stacey, PLEASE find that article!!! I am a big fan of technical proficiency (being very technically proficient myself because, you know,I spent/d a LOT of time honing my shit) and would absolutely loveto dismiss people who love the emperor’s new clothes as “neurotic”, with an article to back me up.

  43. Yeah, maybe if you’re Thomas Kincaid…

    Do you have more money than Kincaid? Remember, I specifically said “marketing edge.”

    Now apply it to the guy had to choose between paint and dinner last night. Which explanation is more likely to put food on the table for a week? I’ve worked in sales, and while I wish it were otherwise, bullshit sells far more than quality.

    Realize that I am, of course, speaking in very broad strokes here, and there are thousands upon uncounted thousands of artists out there with minds as varied as any other group – perhaps moreso.

  44. Sorry JRice, I stand by what I said. Not to get anecdotal or rely on an authority, but my Dad is a psychologist and has spent his entire career studying the brain. I’ve had quite a bit of exposure to his studies from a young age. Different areas of the brain are responsible for different functions, and generally, when a person refers to someone as “right” or “left” brained, they are saying that the person excels in a function that is controlled by that area.

    The brain isn’t perfectly divided into the “right” and “left” side, each responsible for different activities. And people use both sides of their brains. If that is what you’re refuting, you’d be right, but I’m a little more than totally sure no one was suggesting such ridicuous ideas.

    If I didn’t have to put up my hurricane shutters tonight, I’d find my diagram of the brain that shows the areas and the functions for which those areas are responsible. I will try to do it tomorrow.

    For now, I am now going to pull my shutters out of the closet and admonish myself for getting bogged down in petty definitions instead of answering the actual question, which IMO, was interesting and clear.

  45. @Rystefn:

    what are you talking about? you didn’t go to art school, huh. At my particular school, the abstract expressionists were venerated to the point of being cast as a paraih if you so much as mentioned Dali outside of art history class.

  46. Stacey, PLEASE find that article!!! I am a big fan of technical proficiency (being very technically proficient myself because, you know,I spent/d a LOT of time honing my shit) and would absolutely loveto dismiss people who love the emperor’s new clothes as “neurotic”, with an article to back me up.

    Here’s the article, Whitebird. :)

    But I don’t think the article says that only neurotics are drawn to the emotion of music. There are several “types” given, and I only listed two. I think the key point with neurotics was the search for validation.

    And, as a side note (totally OT), just about any of us could flip through the DSM IV and recognize symptoms of mental disorders in ourselves. It’s not a disorder until the symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from functioning effectively.

    So, even if you do look for emotional validation in music, it doesn’t matter unless it’s become a fixation that has prevented you from functioning in life.

  47. jesus christ – I totally can’t write. (sorry, so right brained!)

    what I meant to say is that at art school (and I have looked into the curriculum/staff of most – I didn’t mean to say that mine was the only one I was giving an example of), it’s not a big woo-fest, and I guess I don’t kn0w what you’re talking about. I’ve heard of far out teachers, but never of any who have woo-cult -like teachings at the core of their lessons…

  48. what are you talking about?

    I’m talking about trying to sell something to someone. You can mark up the price on pretty much anything by $100 if you tell the buyer something about “spiritual energy.” A $5 aluminum bar goes for $150 if it contains the soul of an ancient warrior. No, that won’t fool the discerning customer – that’s guy you get to pay $17,000 for a $50 steel bar because it was created using the lost secrets of ancient Indian manufacture, then you babble something about crystalline structures and you’re golden.

    The true masters of this con aren’t artists, though… No one does it better than the homeopathy guys.

    Yeah, you won’t find an organized school about Lemuria anymore, that’s a fad long gone and unlikely to reemerge in any kind of real numbers… Nor will you find anything resembling a respectable school doing it, either. I was specifically talking about more of an apprenticeship kind of relationship.

    Also, I was using an extreme example to illustrate a point more than trying to say that specific thing is terribly common. Sorry if I didn’t make that completely clear.

  49. This discussion makes me think about the differences among creative people (or so-called creative people) that I encountered while I was studying for my creative writing degree. I took several writing workshops which mostly consisted of writing my own stories, getting feedback from professors and students, reading stories from other students, and giving my feedback to them in return.

    From my own, personal, subjective and biased experience, I can divide the student writers I encountered into two groups. I admit up front this is overly generalized and just one person’s opinion, so please take it with a grain of salt:

    First, there were the writers who took criticism well. They would learn from what other people told them, and this would show in the way their writing would evolve, they’d try new things, figure things out by trial and error, and try to write outside of their own comfort zone. These writers usually produced new material consistently and if they turned in something more than once there were obvious changes to the original material that showed either an attempt to explore or signs of growth. These writers understood it was important to get their point/meaning across and that if it wasn’t working, they’d have to try to develop their story to make it work the way they wanted it to. These writers also often gave the best feedback — well reasoned, specific to the story at hand, constructive.

    The second group was basically the opposite — although all writers have an emotional attachment to their work and view their work as personal in one way or another, this second group actually took criticism as a personal attack that inhibited the creative process. If they didn’t get their point across, it was the reader’s fault for not understanding, not being deep enough, not paying enough attention — it wasn’t up to the writer to make sure the story worked.

    This second group seemed to approach their writing as something sacred — since it came out of their brain and onto the paper, it was born perfect and should not be changed. For anyone to suggest giving it another try from a different angle, changing something, or to challenge the piece of work was a personal insult.

    This attitude tended to work to this second group’s detriment — their work never changed, they turned in the same stories with the same problems over and over again, and even if they eventually passed courses and graduated, their writing was the same on the day they got their diploma as it was the day they first set foot on campus.

    This second group also seemed to talk a lot about major dream projects they were working on but never seemed to actually produce any results — everything was always “just one part” of a masterwork that readers could only “really” understand if they read the whole thing, which the reader was never able to do.

    This second group tended to give anecdotal or emotionally related feedback, talking more about themselves than the story in front of them, judging the characters and situations based on some set of moral and ethical standards outside of the story itself, rather than approaching the story on its own terms.

    So, presumably, both of these groups are “right-brained” or “creative” or whatever you want to call it. Or, at least, they think they are — there is some creative drive there, whether or not these people are “objectively” creative. But, they approach the art (and craft) of writing differently — one group wants to work on the craft, viewing changes and different approaches as chances to grow and learn and make their art better; the other thinks the art is born perfectly by virtue of the fact that it was born at all, and any attempt to change it is the same as compromising the artistic vision.

    My guess would be the first group is comprised of people who are more prone to critical thinking, and the second group is comprised of people who are more prone to magical thinking. Ironically, I’d argue the critical thinkers are actually the more creative group since they eventually end up creating something worth while that a real process went into creating. The magical thinking group is actually less creative because, while they might “create” stuff, it never amounts to anything and most of it just exists in their heads.

    So, I guess, long story short (too late) — critical thinking leads to results. These results can be creative. Magical thinking does not lead to results.

  50. Howard @51:

    You name the music you love most, and human beings are responsible

    You mean, except Pink Floyd right? Because … um, they’re clearly channeling some angelic being on Shine on You Crazy Diamond. Right?

    I am a Hedge

  51. “Actors aren’t artists. They’re craftspersons”
    Not true, actors and musicians are performers.

    As a professional artist, this is something I know a little bit about. My uncle, my older brother and myself are all artists both professional and amature. All three of us have always been very critical, skeptical types although the term skepticism as such was not something known to us back in the early days. The attitude was there however.

    I have known some people who were into the arts that were wooified but mostly, they have been a really small minority. I do think that most really creative artistic persons march to their own drummer and are starkly individualistic. They also tend to be very intelligent people who aren’t taken in by bullshit.
    That’s my informed and personally experienced opinion and I’m stickin to it! :)

  52. By the way, my previous post was not meant to demean actors or musicians. I consistantly find myself enraptured by a great band or an incredibly captivating performance by an actor. I stand in awe of those people and am jealous of their skill and power.

  53. Tossing in some more anecdotal evidence, but mine’s a little different. I fail right/left brain tests. I always come out in the middle. My SAT scores on the math and verbal were so close as to make the difference meaningless. I am also blessed (or cursed) with such abundant creativity that I get physically ill if I don’t express it in some way — my sister’s the same way, and I’ve met other people who are like this.

    I quilt, sew clothes, draw cartoons, write essays, crochet (well), knit (badly), do year-long cross-stitch projects, scrapbook, and of course I’m a professional musician, which is my primary outlet. So I’ve definitely got the right-brain random zapping creativity going on.

    But I gravitate toward detail-oriented projects, with the cross-stitch and quilts being the best examples. I love the mathematical precision of Bach, and the putting-a-puzzle-together aspect of playing in a band, getting the drums and the bass and the keyboard to all make each other better instead of clashing. So I’ve got the rational left-brain thing too.

    I’m equally divided on woo, if I’m honest. I can still recite at least half of the Apostle’s Creed in good conscience (sorry, guys), but I don’t believe in ghosts, ESP, magic, aliens, past lives, or pretty much anything else that tends to get bashed around here. Even my religious faith has gotten seriously pared down as I have applied more rational constructs to it.

    So I guess if we’re making a parallel between left/right brainedness and woo tolerance, I support it by being right in the middle on both. How’s THAT for not being helpful? ;)

  54. And here’s a whole nother post for my comments. (Can somebody tell me how you’re linking to posts? That’s cool.)

    @nedb (#9) – Exactly right about the magical underwear, and I’ve seen many variations on this in my piano accompanying career. One navy sock and one black sock under the tux and only orange juice for breakfast looked pretty bizarre, but when it won the kid a national championship, it was hard to argue with the merits of the placebo effect.

    @Rystefn (#10) – “If you’re the actor who … says “MacBeth” out loud and such, you’ll quickly become the actor who doesn’t work.” Yup. Ya gotta play the game sometimes.

    @jynnan_tonyx (#11) – 5+2=7 is more orange, 4+3=7 is more blue, but I’m hard pressed to say which is prettier.

    same, #19 – I agree that the process is different for creating from scratch and interpreting that which already exists, but I disagree that one qualifies a person to be an artist and another doesn’t. I have written plenty of original material (hours’ worth when doing improv), and have spent thousands of hours at the piano refining my performance of others’ work. I insist that both are art – otherwise, you could just plug Brahms into a computer, hit Play, and call it good.

    (Besides, all new art is derivative on some level, and thus not really new. And wouldn’t THAT be a fun discussion …)

    @Jen (#29) – Yeah, the Renaissance Man! Where it all blended together and made you a well-rounded person, not a bizarro freak for being able to paint AND balance your checkbook.

    @Rystefn (#39) – Hang on, where did this topic go? This had potential …

    @Alicia (#47) – “Math is a huge part of visual art and music, too, after all…” Yes, exactly. I can’t practice Beethoven without being at least slightly aware of the mathematical concepts that underlie the music.

    @Howard – Excellent summary of the whole “as long as you can PLAY” ethic of musicians.

  55. I realize it is no longer the afternoon, but my reaction:

    Yes. At least in classical music, which is my field, yes. Because when all you do is practice, and success is so uncertain, and everyone is looking for anything that might give them an edge – well, if you happen to wear pink underwear and then sing amazingly well, you might cling to that. The rest is confirmation bias.

    Plus artists tend to be both imaginative and practical – imaginative to enter into the spirit of an artificial world, like a story, painting, or song, and practical to go through the gruelling discipline of years practice and training to become proficient – which I think leaves you pretty woo-prone.

    As to whether the whole right/left brain thing exists, if artists were right-brained, wouldn’t they all be left-handed? Or is that a Popular Misconception, like the taste-map of the tongue?

  56. Ed Wood, I think you have some interesting points; some valid, some less so.

    You might be interested to know that many, perhaps even most of the really good and successful (and only rarely do those go together) writers from the past 50 years or so tended to take criticism very, very badly. One of the few people that really good writers will willingly take criticism from is a talented editor.

    I’m a professional singer/songwriter, and have published poetry and short stories. Over the last 50 years I have known, and been friends with, or simply had vague passing acquaintance with many writers including such Canadian stalwarts as Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Patrick Watson, Peter Gzowski, and many others.

    Almost to a totality those writers would only gracefully and willingly accept criticism when it came from somone who met a fairly absolute set of crtiteria, such as being a friend, being writers themselves, or in one way or another showing valid professional expertise in the form, and so on. And that criticism absolutely must be informed and knowledgeable.

    Most writers who accept crticism well, and who go to any great length to change their work based on that criticism tend to be either beginning writers, as in your post, or writers who will never really find their voice.

    One of the biggest challenges any writer faces is to find their voice. And when a writer does finally find their voice, and knows they’ve found it, woebetide anyone who is critical in anything but the most informed and valid fashion.

    I’m sorry, I could and should have posted a much more specific note but I’m getting tired.

  57. @Rystefn: “that’s guy you get to pay $17,000 for a $50 steel bar because it was created using the lost secrets of ancient Indian manufacture, then you babble something about crystalline structures and you’re golden.”

    heh heh, aaactually, you get a guy (or gal – they’re called art collectors) to spend $17,000 on a $50 steel bar by being part of the Minimalist movement. The art world really isn’t about woo as much as it’s about, uh, “ideas”. (Not that a lot of them aren’t good, even excellent, it’s just that once one guy does a white canvas, well, you can only do it one more time, call it “postmodernism”, and after that it’s just stupid….)

  58. P.S. – (last post in a row, swear)I don’t have anything against minimalism – it’s just that, much like Noise music, it’s very easy to ape, not so easy to do well. Same goes for Abstract Expressionism, Punk Rock, Free Jazz, etc…

  59. This question – and many of the comments – are rather amusing to me. Try asking a question like this in an art forum and see what kind of response you get…

    I’m a jeweler. I design and make jewelry, or I used to, anyway, and I’ve had experience with a variety of other media as well (including non-visual-art including writing and music). I’m a skeptic, an atheist, what-have-you, and many people consider me an artist. I consider myself an artisan, personally, but the divisions between craftsperson, artisan, artist, hobbyist, etc, are by no means clear and are the subject of heated debate in many jewelry (and presumably other art-related) discussion groups. And classrooms.

    I don’t actually think that a significantly higher percentage of artists believe in magical thinking or other whooey any more than any other group of people (I also don’t believe the ‘right-brained’ and ‘left-brained’ stuff; to design and make a piece of jewelry or a painting or a piece of music surely takes more than one part of the brain) but I do think that lots of people (with money…) expect them to and that the ones who do believe it are louder than the ones that don’t. As is so often the case…

  60. heh heh, aaactually, you get a guy (or gal – they’re called art collectors) to spend $17,000 on a $50 steel bar by being part of the Minimalist movement.

    That’s a crap-shoot. Tell you what: I’ll hammer out the bar, you find a buyer, I’ll cut you in for 50% of the profits. No mysticism or woo of any variety allowed. See how long it takes.

    I know a guy – that’s all he does. He’s been at it for twenty-five years. Steel bar after steel bar. Last I checked, there was a bloody five-year waiting list to get him to make you one. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying it’s not a quality steel bar or anything… OK, that’s a lie. It’s junk. His process creates millions of microfractures in the metal. I wouldn’t be surprised if they would shatter like glass if dropped from a couple of meters too high.

    Interestingly enough, I sold more than a couple of steel bars myself by flexing the Hell out of them and then telling them to go ask if they can do that to his.

    Sorry about withholding names, but he’s a sue-happy douche with a lot more money than I’ve got, and I don’t feel like having to choose between giving it all to him or to my lawyer.

  61. SicPreFix, I suppose what I’m getting at doesn’t have as much to do with criticism as it does with discipline and dedication. I guess I used a bad example when I talked about learning from criticism by trying new things, and rejecting criticism out of hand and never changing — I was talking about a specific example where it was a group of writers who were all each others’ peers all with the same goal of attempting to learn, all with the same credentials, all familiar with each others’ work, revisions, non-revisions, etc.

    I guess what I meant to say was, good art takes work. Lots of aspiring artists think their work is done as soon as they finish their rough draft — by virtue of the fact that they came up with it, it is automatically untouchable genius. You have to wonder if this is because it actually is genius, or if they’re just lazy and not willing to work on their art/craft. I’d equate this with “magical thinking.”

    I can guarantee the artists you’ve known/worked with did not simply write things off the top of their head and call them good. They probably wrote, rewrote, edited, etc. I’d equate this with “critical thinking.”

    I suppose I made the mistake of using the example of external criticism/feedback in my post — the most important thing is being brutally critical of your own work, and not automatically accepting your own work as perfect without any thought. The easy way out is not always the best one, or the most creative.

    There’s a saying I’m about to butcher — inspiration doesn’t come when you’re sitting around waiting for it, it comes when you’re knee deep in writing/painting/whatever.

    I guess the original point of my post was to compare two different styles of “creating” among two sets of “creative” people — rather than comparing a set of creative people with a set of non-creative people. In my opinion, the free wheeling “writing will come to me when it comes to me” approach created dead ends, while the “I’m going to write something every day and work on it constantly” approach created great literature.

  62. …so it occurred to me that I just wrote several posts using slang terms limited to the maybe dozen or so people who work in the same shop I did, and that it could easily lead to confusion. Bars are swords.

    Yes, I’m aware that forging a sword straddles the line between art and craft in about a jillion different ways, and you could have a whole argument on that alone, but that would be completely tangential and if we’re going to run off-topic, Rebecca’s orgy from post #35 would be far more interesting.

  63. I don’t think it’s as much a question of art vs. science as the amount of experience a person has being critical of their field. Skeptical thinking takes training, and if you’ve taken higher level English courses at college or known anyone into lit crit, you know that critical thinking is just as well-applied in those fields as science.

    I think the disparity here lies in the fact that a good college education encourages critical thought. Most high-visibility left-brainers tend to be scientists or at least college grads whereas an artist can much more easily succeed without a formal education.

  64. A theory of aesthetics follows:

    Art is the process of intuitive problem solving. It’s a verb, not a noun. Paintings, swords, jewelry, scientific theories and experimental designs are the evidence that art took place. Craft is the physical skill or intellectual knowledge that allows the evidence of art to be created.

    Are good intuitive problem solvers, that is, people who think in ways that most people don’t, more likely to subscribe to woo?

    I don’t see why they would be.

  65. Jeez Louise! you’re talking about swords? Rys, next time you’re in L.A. I’ll take you to some art openings and stuff and show you what I’m talking about.

    Art means never having to hone a skill (unlike craft) if you have enough talk to back up an idea. For reals. I really, truly thought that you were talking literally about a steel bar. And naturally, I didn’t bat an eye, because steel bars have totally been done.

    And Seth, I don’t know if your definition of Art really holds up. Maybe if “intuitive problem solving” (what’s the problem in question, though – being a human individual who experiences life in a unique way and feels the need to express something?)means “relating personal/universal perception (s)/experience(s) via perceivable media(ums)” then, maybe. (?)

    In Art History I, the first question on the test that we had on day one was “what is art?”. I answered that (short version) the sunrise isn’t art, but announcing it, making invitations to it, and gathering to witness it as a group, or not, or whatever, is. That’s the really short answer.

    Some people are just artistically bent. They can still be critical thinkers (hello!), but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t convinced that F is very purple and shopping carts astray and overturned make them cry.

    Hey, I know, instead of asking whether or not artists are more prone to woo, let’s delve alittle deeper and discuss “sensitivity”. For example – I am personally fully aware that shopping carts overturned and astray are just pieces of assembled metal that have no feelings, but *they still make me incredibly sad!*.

    And I am able to live with that reality. And that reality might compel me to make a painting of a sad shopping cart overturned and astray….and I don’t even care if anyone else feels that way, but if it’s good Art, you (the viewer) might realize that not only are people capable of feeling sad because of shopping carts overturned and astray, but that painting of a S.C.O.&A. might remind you of your wayward brother and you’ll burst into tears..

    Art!

  66. We will assume that the left/right brain concept is true, I guess…. I tend to think so, myself.

    I think that, and have experienced, the “left brained” are easier to indoctrinate, and less likely to think outside the box. If they are TAUGHT to believe the woo, or convinced, they are more likely to rationalize it as true than fight it – because they will not attempt to imagine something different.

    In my aquaintences, I have tended to see the more studious, organized, and academic types be more woo-prone than the “artists.”
    My anecdotal evidence is not worth much, though.

  67. You know, this morning I was thinking just how icky I felt after participating in the 8/31 afternoon inquisition [shudder], and realized that three of these afternoon questions have been “can X be a skeptic”?

    Perhaps this is a line of questioning that should end. Does anyone have the right to say who can be a skeptic? Does it matter who’s more likely to be?

    [shrug] Just thought I’d mention it. Some suggestions:

    * Which energy technologies do you predict will replace fossil fuels, and how soon?

    * When did you first realize you were a skeptic?

    * Have you ever convinced anyone else to become a skeptic? How?

    * What’s your favorite celestial object, and why? Link to articles/pics, please.

    * What are the most important experiments of the century?

    * Which current scientific theories do you think will eventually be disproven? What do you think makes you skeptical of them?

    * Seriously: cavemen versus astronauts. Who wins? No, the astronauts don’t have weapons.

  68. @JRice:

    Perhaps this is a line of questioning that should end.

    These questions can still be useful. One problem, though, is there seems to be the implication that “X cannot be a skeptic”. This implication should be backed up by the questioner with more than hit-and-run comments.

    As to your suggested topics, I like them all. I am especially intrigued by caveman vs astronaut. Do you mean in general ancient, but anatomically modern, human vs modern-day human?

    I am a Hedge

  69. Ed Wood said:

    “I guess what I meant to say was, good art takes work. Lots of aspiring artists think their work is done as soon as they finish their rough draft — by virtue of the fact that they came up with it, it is automatically untouchable genius.

    “I can guarantee the artists you’ve known/worked with did not simply write things off the top of their head and call them good. They probably wrote, rewrote, edited, etc. I’d equate this with “critical thinking.”

    Oh, yes. I see what you’re saying now. Quite right. I agree wholeheartedly. We’re on the same page (as it were).

    JRice said:

    “Perhaps this is a line of questioning that should end. Does anyone have the right to say who can be a skeptic? Does it matter who’s more likely to be?”

    I should think all questions are good questions. All questions lead to answers. All answer have the potential for wisdom.

    Everyone should have the right to state an opinion on anything (who has the capacity or ability, the potential, or tendency to be a skeptic?). There’s nothing wrong with that. The potential for real danger arises only when such opinions become doctrinal and policy.

    No one should be disallowed from stating an opinion, especially when it’s an informed opinion. I get the feeling that when anyone here states an uninformed opinion here, there are always a few better informed souls who will point that out.

    All questions are good; we’re a curious bunch.

    Curiosity is excellent. Curiosity is teh win!

  70. You know, this morning I was thinking just how icky I felt after participating in the 8/31 afternoon inquisition [shudder], and realized that three of these afternoon questions have been “can X be a skeptic”?

    Umm . . . Not really.

    One problem, though, is there seems to be the implication that “X cannot be a skeptic”. This implication should be backed up by the questioner with more than hit-and-run comments.

    Well, . . . no.

    @JRice & @Hedge

    I think you guys might have gone off the trail just a little bit.

    Certainly my very first Inquisition was in the form of “can X be a skeptic”. And that was by design. The A.I. was a new feature, and I thought a simple question that would elicit many responses would set the tone for just what the A.I. should be as we progressed with it. And it did.

    I can’t speak for Donna and why she chose to ask about Libertarians on 8.31.

    But this Inquisition is only a “can X be a skeptic” question if you apply some creative interpretation. It’s meant more to deal with the psychology of belief and the possible influences of varying brain circuitries on that belief (or non-belief).

    I mean, even if no one implicated within the question (right or left brainers) is prone to magical thinking, that does not necessarily imply they are a skeptic. And I did not ask that. It is not relevent to the discussion.

    And in regard to the questioner backing up the implication that “X cannot be a skeptic”, again I don’t think the question implies that either.

    However, I would certainly drop in more detailed comments about the question if I thought it was necessary to further the discussion. After all, the purpose of the A.I. is to get you guys involved, and I’d do whatever is necessary to keep a thread from stagnating. But my input in this thread has been minimal, and here we are at nearly 100 comments. I think — and I’m confident the Chicks would agree with me — 100 comments is very good for an Afternoon Inquisition.

    Now, having said that, I really appreciate all the suggestions you guys make, and especially the suggested questions, JRice. I bet the Chicks do, too. It’s surprisingly difficult to come up with a provocative question everyday.

  71. annan said:
    “…I do think that lots of people (with money…) expect them to and that the ones who do believe it are louder than the ones that don’t. As is so often the case…”

    You summed up what I was thinking far better than I. I think that the arts are far more rational, mathematical, scientific, and a product of thought and reason than the general populace thinks, and that the majority of artists are creative AND critical minded (every creative industry person I know can make that ballerina right brain/left brain test flip at will…if that means anything).

    But social and cultural expectations lead some artists to adapting magical thinking or practicing woo (consciously or not) because it’s what people want. And I would say these people in the minority in the art world. They are just louder.

    p.s. – I agree with JRice , that’s enough ‘can so-in-so-be a skeptic’ questions for now. : )

  72. @Sam Ogden: But this Inquisition is only a “can X be a skeptic” question if you apply some creative interpretation.

    I agree with you on this. I was mostly responding to JRice’s reference back to the 8.31 A.I, which did follow the form of “Can X be a skeptic”, with the clear implication the “X cannot be a skeptic”, without providing any logical support. The present question could be interpreted as “can creative people be skeptical”, but I agree that this requires a lot of interpretation and is not clearly implied by your question.

    I realize that I have been a bad Hedge in referring back to a closed thread (may peace be upon it).

    But the caveman vs astronaut question is good. Ya’ll should try that one out sometime.

    I am a Hedge

  73. But the caveman vs astronaut question is good. Ya’ll should try that one out sometime.

    No doubt. And I bet some of the women around here have been hit on by some cavemen, which means we could do an actual experiment/test.

  74. And Seth, I don’t know if your definition of Art really holds up.

    —————

    I think it does. For example, a dadist problem might be: how do I comment on industrial design? A Da Vinci problem might be: how do I represent a mood? And of course, there are thousands of little decisions in a painting.

    The problem isn’t always explicit (hence the intuitive part) but there is always a problem being solved, or the subject is not engaged in art.

    I disagree about craft, though. You always have to hone your craft. For example, the problem might be: “How do I convince people that my lack of craft A doesn’t matter?” and the solution is presented as finely honed rhetoric (craft B)!

  75. Confessions:

    1) the astronaut/cavemen question was simply a vague reference to an episode of the final season of the TV series Angel.)

    2) Yes, calling this thread “can creative folk be skeptics” is a stretch.

    3) I love questions in general. You’ll notice that I might have made three comments prior to A.I., but I believe I’ve commented on every single A.I. post. Questions are a huge part of how I identify myself. I don’t believe the statement that “all questions are good”, but only in an ad absurdum kind of way: generally, they are good. However, the questions you ask determine your focus. And, so:

    4) I didn’t really mean to say these were bad questions, just that there are more positive things we could be focusing on. …That said, I think Sam “got” that point. (Thanks.)

    5) I don’t want to get into an argument with Stacey about the weight of hemispheres in brain activity, but I would like to ask one favor of her: get an actual comment from her father (assuming this is possible). …Appeal to authority that may be, but I’m genuinely interested in hearing what a professional psychologist actually has to say about it (assuming he’s still current in the field). As I’ve said in other threads: I am somewhat elitist, and think problem domains are best commented on by experts within them.

    My impression is that the significance of hemispheres in psychology was very much believed for quite some time (I believed it. I rather enjoyed Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, back in the day… not that it was what convinced me, I’m just sayin’), but–again, my impression is–that it’s a line of questioning that has more recently been abandoned. Again: I’d like to hear what he has to say. Not to put too much emphasis on Wikipedia, but: “Popular psychology tends to make broad and sometimes pseudoscientific generalizations about certain functions (e.g. logic, creativity) being lateral, that is, located in either the right or the left side of the brain. Researchers often criticize popular psychology for this, because the popular lateralizations often are distributed across both hemispheres, [1] although mental processing is divided between them.” …And I have read several layman articles about it over the past two or three years.

    Again, Stacey, please please believe that I don’t want to get into a fight about it. : ) But it took some convincing to get me to believe hemispheres weren’t so dichotomous, so it would take some convincing to come back to the faith, as it were.

  76. Allow me to answer “Can X be a skeptic?” for all values of X.

    Yes.

    Provided you allow for compartmentalization, someone can believe any totally irrational thing and still be skeptical in other areas. You will see this quite often when an adherent of one religion describes the failing of another religion. They generally fail to realize that their arguments against the other are just as valid against their own.

    (note: since I’ve made an absolute statement, you can demolish me with one value of X that is incompatible with being a skeptic in other areas.)

    I am a Hedge.

  77. @alicia_policia: ”
    (every creative industry person I know can make that ballerina right brain/left brain test flip at will…if that means anything).”

    Me, too, after looking at it for a minute – when I first saw that thing,I automatically thought it was bullshit, what with it being a “test X on teh internetz!”. I think it’s supposed to be “what do you see immediately”, though.

    I personally thought that at first there wasno way that it could look counter-clockwise, and that it was some fake thing to make people feel more creative. When I called over the IT guy in the next room to look at it (without any explanation), he saw it counter-clockwise. After staring at it, I saw it change…

    Seth, you can call acts of artistic expression “problem solving”and define “problem solving” in that way, but then every single thing that a person does could also be called “problem solving”.

    -I have a sexual urge and want to drink beer. I will attempt to solve that problem by going to a bar.

    -I am in love with someone and want to show them. I will solve that problem by telling them and making them dinner.

    -I find my niece super cute. I will solve that problem by giving her a raspberry on her tummy.

    The only way that making art can be “problem solving”, I think, is if the “problem” is that there is something that one wishes to express, and the “solving” is the execution of expressing it.

    I agree with you about craft (kind of…)! And, yes, there is a difference between Art and Craft (I can imagine Rystefn disagreeing for some reason!). The difference is intent and function.

    For example, a shoe. Even the most extraordinarily made, outlandish, expressive shoe in the world is Craft if it can be worn on the foot (notice I said “can” and not “is”. And, even the most ordinary, mass-produced shoe in the world is Art if you hang it on a wall and give it a title/statement.

    Ugh! I’ve been thinking about this since I awoke and felt compelled to come back and “contribute” even more. I’m sorry if I sound like a windbag, everyone.

  78. Seth, you can call acts of artistic expression “problem solving”and define “problem solving” in that way, but then every single thing that a person does could also be called “problem solving”.

    ————–

    Well, obviously. Most things that people do are problem solving. There’s a difference between algorithmic and intuitive problem solving (that is, between writing and running algorithms). One is art, the other isn’t. Both can involve craft.

    When I make Risotto, it isn’t art. When a decent chef creates a Risotto dish, it is. The difference in our end products is partially one of craft, but mostly one of understanding the problem space well enough to make good decisions and solve the risotto problem.

    Your shoe example shows precisely the problem with putting the art in the object. You appear to be claiming that somehow, the status of an object as art/not art is entirely dependent on context. This makes no sense if the art is the object. However, if a shoe is EVIDENCE that the designer of that shoe engaged in art, than it makes sense that it is seen as evidence of art if placed in the correct context.

    Also, you contradict yourself. The most ordinary, mass-produced shoe in the world “can” be worn on the foot, and would therefore not be art. I mean, I could take it off the wall and put it on my foot, for example. Where did the art go?

    Finally, you don’t agree with me about craft at all! I’m defining craft as the physical skills, the mental skills, needed to produce evidence of art. Your chops in other words, are your craft. You are defining craft as being the “intent” of the person who… owns the object? Made it? It isn’t clear here.

    These sorts of arbitrary distinctions and mystic transformations plague traditional definitions of art. They don’t plague mine.

  79. -I am in love with someone and want to show them. I will solve that problem by telling them and making them dinner.

    -I find my niece super cute. I will solve that problem by giving her a raspberry on her tummy.

    ————-

    Sorry. Only the first of these is a problem by any definition. If your problem is one of communication, then yes, if you wish to communicate your feelings to your niece, you have a problem to be solved. I think a rasberry to the tummy is an algorithmic solution to the problem, that is, one that you have learned by rote.

    I don’t get your objection here, truly. I mean, obviously, if I want beer, and I have no beer, I have a problem that I have to solve. Its a trivial problem, and I won’t need to flex my artistic brain to do it (probably) but it is still a problem.

  80. @Howard:

    If I had to pick a single profession that is most prone to woo and magical thinking, it would be . . . engineering.

    Actually, all the examples you’re using are instances where people are *overly* skeptical…and helps make the case that engineering professions are negatively correlated with magical thinking.

  81. Thanks for the clarification, Zambiglione. It’s true, it does attract the new age-y types for those reasons, but then they go on to start their own classes and then perpetuate that idea. The whole area of belly dance is a mixed bag. A wonderful, shiny, colorful mixed bag!

    I, for one, would not be bored by a longer discussion with a “former History majors with concentrations on social and middle eastern history.” There is so much myth and superstition surrounding the origins of belly dance, that I would love to know more about its real history!

  82. I really, truly thought that you were talking literally about a steel bar.

    A sword is a literal steel bar, just a specific type is all. It is potentially confusing, though, and that’s why I clarified.

    And, yes, there is a difference between Art and Craft (I can imagine Rystefn disagreeing for some reason!)

    I can imagine me disagreeing as well. I’m pretty contrary by nature. However, I happen to agree completely on this, and have said it myself already in this thread. However, while there is also a pretty profound difference between red and paint, there is nothing preventing one thing from being both.

    By the way, there’s only one definition of art I’ve ever come across that makes any kind of sense whatsoever: Art is whatever you think is art.

  83. Lot of folk who call them selves “artists” have no formal training and not much craftsmanship in my estimation. Someone who can write a symphony, or render a life like bust in marble, as opposed to someone who bends up small pieces of wire and hangs fabric and feathers from them and says “presto ~ art” are in a vastly different camps with regard to their respective products and likely their capacities.

    So to give my opinion I need to get out my broad paint brush and make some generalizations based on my personal experience.

    I’d like to identify a group of folk who I’ll label “The artsy fartsy feel good, tree-neighbor-stranger hugging, granola eating, massage-crystal-aroma healing woo loving wackos” These folk seem to stand in somewhat start contrast to those who are hard working, trained or seriously self taught folk, who practice, learn refine and take their craft seriously. The second group seem, IMO no more likely to tend toward woo then the next person; and perhaps even less because of the critical thinking they apply to their art/craft/profession.

    That this may reflect a R/L brain function then there ya go, it’s biology again folks !!

  84. @JRice:

    JRice – As it turns out, I did talk to my Dad about this last night. And he is current in the field – he’s a licensed, practicing school psychologist – he measures IQ for a living.

    He basically said that the terms “left” and “right” brained are rarely, if ever, used by professionals because they’re not technically correct.

    So, of course, I asked him why I grew up hearing him use the terms, and he said he does use the terms as a generalization.

    He validated my assertion that different areas of the brain are responsible for different functions, and that the terms “left” and “right” brained are generally used to describe people that excel in a function in that general area.

    He also said that a lot of times it’s not that simple. For example, language uses the entire brain, but that’s because language is a complex task. I didn’t get a rundown on the specifics, but I took that to mean that the intuitive part of language might be controlled by the right side and the syntax might be controlled by the left.

    He also talked about hemispherectomies – where someone literally has half his brain removed. He said that the fact that people with hemispherectomies often have good functioning in all areas suggests that the right/left brain dichotomy is false. But he also said that this usually happens when the hemispherectomy is performed at an early age – when the brain is still developing. Adults who get the procedure lose major function, which suggests that the right/left brain dichotomy is true.

    As usual, nothing is simple.

  85. @writerdd: thanks for answering my post!

    Regarding the discussion of art, I am of the strong opinion that art is the execution of BOTH craft AND creativity. Although I often receive disagreement on this, to me, randomly throwing paint onto a canvas is not art (i.e., naked expressions of creativity).

  86. Completely agree. Art is defined by the observer. And the observer can change his opinion over time.

    —————-

    In which case, Art is only a meaningful term if it refers to a mental process that the observer is going through, that is similar from observer to observer. In other words, Art is the creative process itself. Which is what I’m saying.

  87. In other words, Art is the creative process itself.

    No, that doesn’t follow at all. Unless you’re talking about the creative process of the person looking at it, as opposed to the creative process only of the person actually creating it.

  88. Right, I got that, just pointing out that the sentence I quoted (when combined with previous comments on the subject) kind of seemed to imply it was the creative process of the creator, which didn’t quite follow from the statement immediately before it (the one you quoted).

    It seems at this point that you are merely taking a very roundabout way of saying “Art 100% in the mind of the observer.”

    Is that accurate?

  89. Art is the process of intuitive problem solving. It’s a verb, not a noun. It refers to a mental process that the observer is going through, that is similar from observer to observer.

    In other words, Art is the creative process itself.

  90. D’oh, I really didn’t want to comment again, but I guess that I’m just doing an art performance called “comment”.

    Seth, I think that maybe there’s just a communication problem on my part? I don’t understand what you’re saying. If art is “The creative process itself”, well, what does that mean? How can anyone witness “the creative process” other than by witnessing a performance or result of a creative process?

    And for the record – the show thing? Obviously I didn’t mean that every/any mass produced shoe is inherently Art. That’s why I specifically said that for it to be art it would have to be commented on, contextualized by an artist. Even a photograph of a normal person wearing said shoe could be art. But the act of wearing shoes is not, in and of itself art (unless you have a performance piece called “I am wearing these shoes”)

    That was my original assertion – it IS all about context and framing. Like I said about the sunrise, or pretty much anything you can think of, the most mundane thing can be called Art if someone …you know what? Sure. Fine. Art is the creative process. you’re right. I think I’ll go argue what “logic” means with someone who has a Bachelor’s in Philosophy.

  91. How can anyone witness “the creative process” other than by witnessing a performance or result of a creative process?

    ————-

    As I said back in post 92: “Paintings, swords, jewelry, scientific theories and experimental designs are the evidence that art took place.”

    Objects are not art. They are the evidence of art.

    This solves a surprisingly large number of problems in aesthetics, actually. And its a testable hypothesis. I’m not just wankin’ here.

  92. I suspect that artistic potential and creative abillty are very different things from religious feeling, or religious belief systems.

    If the research into the potential for religiosity residing in the frontal lobes, and quite possibly being associated with certain types of minor brain damage, combined with Dawkins’ and others theories about the evolutionary purpose, function, and importance of religiosity pan out, I suspect we will find that while superficially similar, the combined intellectual/emotional drive to artistic creation, and the emotional drive to religiosity are very different phenomenon residing in very different parts of the brain.

    If artistic potential or ability resides in a left/right thingy, but faith resides in a frontal lobe thingy, then is it not a bit like comparing apples and oranges?

    I think, therefore, that artists may be as skeptical as James Randi, or as faith-based as Deepak Chopra — not both at the same time or course.

    The same thing cannot be said for faith-based persons. A theist may have some degree of skepticism that will guide them to question certain specifics of their ideology, but when a theist becomes deeply and functionally skeptical, as in Michael Shermer’s case, they will almost invariably lose their faith and renounce woo.

    So, a faith-based person may easily be deeply, deeply artistic, as in the case of J. S. Bach, or not artistic or creative at all, at all, as in the case of G. W. Bush

    Have I gone off topic? Probably. Sorry.

    Sammy said:

    “Are creative people, such as artists, writers, musicians, etc. (right brainers) more prone to magical thinking than left brain types, and if so, how might varying thought processes play a part?”

    Creative, artistic people can be more open to magical thinking but it is most certainly not necessary or ipso facto, or is that defacto?.

    As to varying thought processes? I don’t know. Let me think variabley on that for a while.

    jtradke said:

    “…good science is very difficult without some wild-ass, out-of-the-blue creativity, and I think good art is difficult without rigorous, methodical study and practice and analysis.”

    I think the first part of your theory, science without creativity, is potentially, but not perhaps always true.

    The second part is not completely true at all. There are in history many, many great artists who have not practiced what you call “rigorous, methodical study and practice and analysis.” In particular, rigorous study, practice, and analysis.

    One certain example is the trumpet player Chet Baker. He neither practiced, nor studied, nor analyzed his music at all.

    The very first day he picked up a trumpet was onstage with, um, I can’t remember who, someone like Count Basie, or some other jazz great from the 40’s and 50’s — anyway, the very first day he picked up a trumpet was quite literally the day he became a trumpet superstar. That’s not romantic fable, that’s recorded history.

    And when Chet wasn’t performing, he was nodding out on heroin. And he’s certainly not the only example of such gifted genius. Yes, he’s an exception, but I think exceptions tend to weaken the absolute of rules, as it were.

    sethmanio said:

    “Art is the process of intuitive problem solving…. For example, a dadist problem might be: how do I comment on industrial design? A Da Vinci problem might be: how do I represent a mood? And of course, there are thousands of little decisions in a painting.

    The problem isn’t always explicit (hence the intuitive part) but there is always a problem being solved, or the subject is not engaged in art.”

    As a lifelong professional musician, songwriter, prose writer, I think you are absolutely correct. I know from my experience, and the experience of many writers of music and prose that problem solving is in some form or other at the root of most creative actions.

    Leibniz said something like “Music is a secret arithmetical exercise and the person who indulges in it does not realize that he is manipulating numbers”. I like that.

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