November 12, 2010

Art talk

Not having much to say,  I realized I might as well post these comments from Ray Sawhill that were buried deep in the comments:
Hey, Steve's comment about Annie Liebovitz -- "Sure, Annie Liebowitz is an airhead, but she's made more people look cool over the last 40 years than anybody else" -- highlights a little hobbyhorse theme of mine, namely that art-talent and IQ have little or nothing to do with each other! Fun.

If anyone's interested and open to the idea ... As someone who's led the arts-and-media life for more than 30 years, I suggest that you'll find it far more useful to think of art-talent as something that resembles athletic talent than it is to think of it as something having anything to do with IQ-style brainpower. The work of art-and-entertainment world people is sometimes worth paying attention to not because these are such smart people who are conferring their brainpower on us but because they're gifted people who've managed to find ways to turn their often bizarre talents into products that the rest of us can enjoy.

Creative artsworld people are often seriously unimpressive intellectually. But they're also often gifted in ways that can make your jaw drop.

And ...
Which to my mind brings up a whole other topic: How much fabulous art is out there that you've never heard of (and never will hear of), because editors, critics and profs are ignorant, or resistant, or copycats? In my experience, ANY time I poked around a little corner of art history on my own (in other words, any time I bore down on a little corner of art history hard enough to get by the usual masterpieces and landmarks and do a little investigating of my own), I found work that I thought was great, in fact often greater than what the profs, critics, historians etc had told me about.

Another question: Let's face it, historians, critics, editors and such -- the people who write and publish the articles and books, and who teach the classes -- are a peculiar bunch. They're a lot more scholarly and intellectual than most people are, for one thing. To what extent has this shared temperament shaped our view of art history? Maybe the version of it they pass along is best understood as "a history of the art that intellectuals approve of"? Should we -- we non-scholar types -- maybe be a little more challenging of (and wary of) their tastes and their lists?

I would add that a lot of the art of the past that gets left out of the standard art history textbooks wasn't obscure outsider art, it's stuff that was a really big deal in its time.  We all like to think that great artists like Van Gogh and Kafka are dropping dead unheeded all the time, only to be discovered much later. But the reality is that most of the artists who get rediscovered were stars in their own day, or would have been if they'd only lived their three score and ten. 

It's kind of depressing to think of all the talent that gets forgotten. For example, compare Borges and Burgess. Today, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is seen as one of the giants of 20th Century literature. Google comes up with 2,340,000 pages for his name. Back in the 1970s, however, Borges was probably no more famous than Anthony Burgess (1917-1993), who is little mentioned today except in conjunction with his novel A Clockwork Orange, which was made into a celebrated movie by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. ("Anthony Burgess" has only 463,000 pages on Google today). Borges, an ardent Anglophile and admirer of Burgess, wrote that he hoped that he and Burgess were relatives. 

Today, Burgess's reputation is in one of those lulls that follows the death of a writer who lived a long time, wrote a gigantic amount, and whose later novels weren't as strong as his earlier ones. It's like how a lot of basketball fans remember the fortyish Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of 1989 more than the force of nature Kareem of 1972. 

Burgess mostly pursued music composition and teaching as a young man, then started publishing books around age 39 and wouldn't stop, publishing something like 50 books over the rest of his life.

Like Burgess, Borges had a long decline phase (not surprising, because he went blind), but that was masked in the English-speaking world because it took place in a different language. With Borges, you only need to read about his best 100 pages (and there is a pretty clear consensus on his ten or twenty best short stories), so he's easy to get into. Burgess, in contrast, was so prolific, and it's hard to tell what was his best stuff, so he's kind of daunting and easy to ignore.

Was Burgess as good as everybody assumed he was in the 1970s? I don't know. In the mid-1970s I was hugely impressed by his 1974 novel The Napoleon Symphony, a historical novel about Bonaparte structured to follow Beethoven's Eroica Symphony (which had originally been dedicated to Bonaparte until he crowned himself Emperor). But, I was a callow youth, so what do I know? I read quite a few more of his books, but they became progressively less dazzling.

Likewise, was Burgess a good critic? God knows he was a prolific critic. In the 1970s, his reviews were highly prestigious, but by the 1990s, he was increasingly seen as a hack.

Was Burgess a hack who deserves to be forgotten? Perhaps. He certainly liked making money from writing. But, it's also possible that the reputation he enjoyed in the 1970s was reasonable.

Hopefully, some consensus will emerge on what was Burgess's best stuff, and his influence will come into better view.

Anyway, it's more likely that Burgess will be rediscovered by a new generation than that some dead writer who was obscure all his life will be discovered for the first time.


133 comments:

Tasman said...

Coincidentally, I had just finished reading "Little Wilson and Big God," the first part of the confessions of Anthony Burgess, when I read your post about Burgess. His confessions are wonderfully entertaining but not to be read by the strait-laced. In them he quotes Samuel Johnson on genius-" The true genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction."
It is clear from his writing that promiscuous sex and serious alcohol consumption probably diverted some of his great literary talent.

bgc said...

I read a lot of Burgess at one time, but he never wrote anything wholly satisfying - no masterpiece; and his past reputation seems more inflated with each passing year.

The problem was that he was pretentious and dishonest - but clever and fluent enough (especially in pastiche) that it took quite a while for this to become apparent.

I thought his best novel was Nothing Like The Sun - about the life of Shakespeare.

His two volume autobiography was very readable - but is highly fictional and subtly self-promoting.

His book on James Joyce - Here Comes Everybody - is very good; but I have come to feel that Joyce was - at root - merely a linguistically supremely-gifted Burgess.

Both were lifelong adolescents: prickly, self-obsessed and self-justifying.

ITriedtobeaCynic said...

Steve, you like Anthony Burgess too? That more than makes up for liking Annie L. IMO AB's best stuff apart from ACO was the 3 fairly short Enderby novels, but he was nearly always worth reading.
ACO is an example of how a mainstream novelist venturing into SF can produce something much better than all but the very best SF-only writers. Another example is Gor-saga by Maureen Duffy, also British, who seems to have suffered the same fate as AB while she's still alive.
BTW, does anyone know what happened to Alfred S Grossman? Never rated as great, but I used to like his stuff, and now Google returns zilch.
I think there's a difference between visual arts and literature (at least novels) here in that novelists whose rep fades are never totally written off, whereas art once regarded as great is sometimes reclassified as utter rubbish. Apparently a British (in spite of his name) painter named Alma-Tadema was Top British Painter c 1890, now his work is recognised as worthless kitsch. Among contemporary great artists likely to suffer the same fate, we're spoilt for choice.

Anonymous said...

I disagree strongly with Mssr. Blowhard, er Sawhill, on this point. Not to be insulting, but it sounds like he's rationalizing his own comparative lack of artistic talent by saying "At least I'm smart, unlike all those idiot savant creative types". People with outstanding artistic ability are nearly always above-average in intelligence, usually considerably so. Of course this varies somewhat among the art forms: writers will probably have higher intelligence on average than musicians or painters on average because their activity is more cerebral and less instinctual than those other art forms. However, I find there is a fairly high correlation between ability in the various arts, and a substantial correlation between this generalized artistic ability and intelligence.

David Pilavin said...

A propos: http://www.artrenewal.org/

Graham Asher said...

Last year, on holiday, sitting on a balcony overlooking the Caribbean, I had nothing to do, or perhaps didn't want to do anything because it was too hot, and re-read Earthly Powers for the first time in many years, and was amazed at how richly structured, allusive, and funny it was, and how well-told a story. I had also re-read A Clockwork Orange recently. They are two of his best. In my opinion some of his early stuff is marvellous too: The Doctor is Sick, The Right to an Answer, etc.

Anonymous said...

I really like Burgess' memoirs, Little Wilson and Big God, and also the Enderby novels.

Anonymous said...

If you're ever in Montreal pay a visit to Le Musee de Beaux Artes. What struck me in their collection was the enormous amount of 19th century French art that harkened back to the pre-Revolutionary era. I suspect that the upper-class Quebec population had no sympathy with the French Revolution and its sequelae so they were a solid market for this art work while the French got into David, the Romantics, post-Romanticism,, Impressionism, etc. The paintings in the Montreal museum show high technical proficiency. All are charming and some are stunning. But they are quite outside the mainstream of what students of art history deign to study.

Eyekyu said...

And yet, no Bushmen have ever produced anything akin to a Vermeer or a David, or a Michelangelo sculpture.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, my experience has been somewhat different. When I've taken the time to go off the beaten path, more often than not I've come to agree with the critical consensus. "Moby-Dick" really is Melville's best work (but a wide margin), "Hamlet" and the other Shakespearean warhorses really are the best of the bunch, etc.

At the same time, I've found that the a lot of the stuff from the past that has been dismissed as junk can be a lot of fun, even if it's not great art. Nineteenth-century genre paintings, for example.

- JP98

Thursday said...

1. A lot of work gets an overinflated reputation because it is easy to teach to college undergrads or because high school teachers find that they can get their students to read it. Borges is an example of the former, William Golding of the latter.

2. Harold Bloom, a man of very good taste, has suggested that Burgess' Shakespeare novel Nothing Like The Sun and his four Enderby books are his best. Others would plug for Earthly Powers. So there does seem to be somewhat of an agreement on what Burgess you should read.

3. The most dramatic rediscoveries have been in the visual arts. But that is something of a special case. Remember, that before photography you actually had to go see a painting or whatever in order to make a judgment on it. That made it the purview of a very few and made critical taste that much more erratic. Then, in order for something to be rediscovered someone had to go off and look at your stuff off in some obscure chapel.

4. Even today you really need to get away from the art history "greatest hits" survey collections and really delve in to the total work of different artists. For example, most surveys of art reduce Millais to a couple paintings: Ophelia and Christ in the House of His Parents. You would never know about all his breathtaking paintings of young girls. The latter have a whiff of Victorian sentimentality about them, but are still remarkable and deserve to be much better known.

The same goes for poetry anthologies.

5. Ray Sawhill likes to promulgate the myth that there are popular artists out there who don't get the recognition as major artists they deserve. Again, setting aside the visual arts as a special case, this is largely untrue. His favourite example of Stendhal was recognized by both William Hazlitt and Balzac. A small readership, true, but a prestigious one.

As for his other big example, Piero della Francesca, well, aside from the special case of visual art I mentioned before, it is well worth noting that he was in Vasari. So his newfound popularity didn't come completely out of nowhere.

John Craig said...

The same thing seems to be true of actors. Look at the short list of really great actors, people who can really disappear into a role: Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert de Niro (in his early days), Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn, and Don Cheadle. I've seen interviews, or at the least, Oscar acceptance speeches, from all of them and none has ever seemed halfway intelligent. None seems able to think for himself, and all espouse fashionably trendy causes. The same was true of Brando back in his day.

The only exception I can think of offhand is Matt Damon.

The opposite also holds true. Clint Eastwood has turned out to be one of our greatest directors; his intelligence is not in dispute. Yet as handsome as he was, let's face it, he really wasn't much of an actor. His looks made him right for certain roles, but even when he was directing himself in a great movie like Unforgiven, he was fairly wooden. (OK, that role called for stoicism, but he was never anything but.)

There are exceptions to both rules, but the correlation between IQ and acting ability seems, at best, random.

Anonymous said...

Would you consider Sarah Palin an artist?

Anonymous said...

Art talent may be independent of intellect but surely no one can argue that Goethe, Thomas Mann or Schoenberg were "air heads".

JGP

Thursday said...

Are great artists really that dumb or are they just so focused on art stuff that they ignore large, and important, swathes of reality outside of their art?

Artists tend to have unstable personalities too and to be easily overwhelmed by emotion. This also may make them appear dumber than they really are.

If you take narrowly focussed people who are easily overwhelmed by emotion, is it really much wonder they often look phenomenally stupid, even when they're not?

Finally, it seems to me inconceivable that you can create even minor works of literature like Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire or John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick or Richard Wilbur's poetry without considerable intelligence. Much less Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe etc.

Anonymous said...

good post, Steve.

to Ray: Annie Liebovitz is a terrible photographer. For a good contemporary portrait photographer, I'd recommend checking out Lilya Corneli and Bart Dorsa. I'm in the art world, and I couldn't disagree with you more on the relationship between IQ and talent. The easiest way to prove that is trying to name 1st-rate black artists.

As to art history--yes, many great artists have been ignored by the-powers-that-be. 1 of the greatest living sculptors, Bruno Walpoth, has a minor reputation.

Thursday said...

As a further comment on Ray Sawhill's adventures in art history, whenever I've gone poking around in art history and found stuff just as good or better than the major anthology pieces, it was still always by somebody whose name wasn't totally unfamiliar to me.

Ray Sawhill said...

Thanks for promoting those comments of mine, and great observations about Borges and Burgess. Burgess really was huge in the '70s.

Funny the way reps come and go, isn't it?

Another example: giallo films, Italian psycho-sex thrillers from the '60s and '70s. With only a few exceptions, they were considered by serious filmbuffs at the time they were released to be really cheesy and insignificant, certain to be forgotten in no time at all. Today, though, many young film buffs (and many young filmmakers) consider giallo films to be hot and stylish -- they love exploring the genre, and they enjoy ripping it off. David Gordon Green was rumored to be preparing a remake of "Suspiria." And the giallo star Edwige Fenech -- whose existence I was barely aware of at the time, though I was a devoted filmbuff -- is today a real presence on the Internet. Do a Google Image search on her; she really was a great beauty. And Tarantino and Eli Roth put her in a role in "Hostel II." For the moment anyway, giallo lives.

Related: a little blogposting I did about the way Italian painter Piero della Francesca's reputation came, went, and came again:

LINK

Another funny thing: the way amazing work is sometimes out there yet barely gets noticed at all. I followed the book-publishing and new-books world for a number of years, and found that my tastes and the tastes of the usual critics and editors overlapped barely at all.

For example, three of the lit-fict books I liked best during that stretch -- Skvorecky's "Dvorak in Love," Shadbolt's "Season of the Jew," and Lee Smith's "Fair and Tender Ladies" -- were barely acknowledged by the usual press, while the lit-fict writers the usual press made the most of (Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, etc) I didn't care for much at all.

If anyone's interested, here's a blogposting I wrote on that theme:

LINK

Wido Incognitus said...

I also admire Burgess, and he may be rediscovered.
But his autobiography makes clear that he did not think of himself as being as respected as Borges and that Burgess understood the movie A Clockwork Orange as being very important at the time, even compared to his other work on movies as opposed to juts his literature.
As you suggest, even if he does not get rediscovered by scholars and pundits, his work outside of A Clockwork Orange (and to a lesser extent Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth), may still be read, considered and enjoyed by people who find it.

Anonymous said...

It may be that Borges and Burgess equally well known in the 1970s (Burgess maybe better known from A Clockwork Orange), but as I remember it, Borges had way more prestige. Burgess was considered a high-end middlebrow or low-end highbrow writer, while Borges was a god.

ChrisB

helene edwards said...

From what I can tell at Berkeley, they're not teaching Burgess or Borges anymore. Instead, I see coeds walking around with copies of "Valley of the Dolls." I am not kidding.

Thrasymachus said...

I never read anything by Burgess except "A Clockwork Orange", but I'll tell you, that is the stuff. Strangely, I barely remember the movie.

On the subject of Kubrick, I just read "The Shining", and the movie is nothing in comparison. Maybe Kubrick isn't to blame, since it's mostly a slow character study of a dysfunctional family, not something that goes easily to film. But it's far more profound than most "serious" literature, the books about "people vaugely dissatisfied with Connecticut" as Dennis Lehane said.

dearieme said...

Burgess did Go On A Bit.

Anonymous said...

This is a confusing essay because it announces its topic yet pursues another point altogether.

If the topic is "art talent" versus "athletic talent" versus IQ then the discussion of Borges versus Burgess is off topic.

There very definitely is something called IQ but it is not closely related to athletic talent or art talent.

Athletic talent includes size, strength and reflexes. If you are seven feet tall the school basketball coach will want to talk to you. Take up weight lifting and you will indeed get stronger but some of your buddies will build much bigger and stronger muscles yet. Being able to bulk up like Schwarzenegger is a talent. Of course this particular talent is also now available in pill form.

Foot speed seems to be negatively correlated with IQ, otherwise factors that are important in sports don't have much to do with brains.

Art talent used to be closely tied to IQ. Indeed the Goodenough "Draw a Man" test is a sort of intelligence test. When pictorial art was representational your best artists were probably your smartest artists. But that hasn't been true for some time now.

The most noticeable improvement in art was probably that instituted by Brunelleschi when he introduced and promulgated perspective painting to the Florentines. Brunelleschi was of course an immortal genius on the order of Galileo or Archimedes.

Annie Liebovitz and other photographers can get a picture in perfect perspective literally with the push of a button - no eight year apprenticeship required. Technical ability is not required with cameras. Jean Luc Godard for example didn't really understand how to shoot a movie but his crude incompetence was praised as fresh and innovative by the critics.

Even in classical music you can excel because of your ineptitude not despite it. Consider Giuseppi Sinopoli a world famous opera conductor who never quite mastered the repertoire - he was lazy. But his odd performances sounded fresh to the music critics and he became a famous recording artist. This sort of thing is the rule in pop music but it's still rare in classical music.

As is well known musical ability has just about nothing to do with general intelligence.

However writing does. It's hard to imagine a successful published writer who wouldn't do well on at least the verbal part of an IQ test.

Even at its simplest - spelling and punctuation - we don't see writers praised for basic incompetence (except e.e. cummings and propagandists e.g. "Amerika"). When you read a blog response with bad spelling, punctuation and word order, we write off the author as an idiot. We do not interpret their errors as examples of creativity.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

"In my experience, ANY time I poked around a little corner of art history on my own (in other words, any time I bore down on a little corner of art history hard enough to get by the usual masterpieces and landmarks and do a little investigating of my own), I found work that I thought was great, in fact often greater than what the profs, critics, historians etc had told me about."

This has been my experience too, every single time, both in looking at high art (for example, literary fiction) and low art (pop music). If I hear someone talk about an area of art I know nothing about, and this person mentions a world-famous name as his favorite in that field, I immediately assume that the person is a fraud. The famous = best equation wasn't valid in any of the areas I've ever known well or cared deeply about, so why would it be in his?

asdfasdfasdf said...

Never read Borges. Only Burgess I read was Clockwork Orange and 99 Novels, through which I got to know of the great novelist Henry Williamson, who's been erased from history due to his fascist sympathies. Chronicles of Ancient Sunlight is awesome.

I did read some criticism here and there by Burgess, and I can understand why he fell out of favor. He was utterly courageous and politically incorrect, so out-of-place in our age of sensitivity and social engineering. Burgess was for free will, individualism, personal responsibility, and cultural hierarchy even as he was curious about everything under the sun.

Svigor said...

Art's a pretty wide range of endeavors. I'd put cash on the table that you'd find a correlation between IQ and rendering talent among artists if you looked.

I'd also guess, if you looked, you'd find IQ tends to lead people with artistic talent on to more financially rewarding fields.

asdasdasdf said...

"If anyone's interested and open to the idea ... As someone who's led the arts-and-media life for more than 30 years, I suggest that you'll find it far more useful to think of art-talent as something that resembles athletic talent than it is to think of it as something having anything to do with IQ-style brainpower. The work of art-and-entertainment world people is sometimes worth paying attention to not because these are such smart people who are conferring their brainpower on us but because they're gifted people who've managed to find ways to turn their often bizarre talents into products that the rest of us can enjoy.
Creative artsworld people are often seriously unimpressive intellectually. But they're also often gifted in ways that can make your jaw drop."

It depends on the art. One could prolly go by instinct or raw talent alone in Jazz, photography, painting.
But intelligence is prolly necessary for classical music--if only to learn musical notation which gets very complex--, writing, etc.

Also, even if many creative people may lack analytical skills, they prolly have great memory since their inspiration comes from all the various books, images, music, etc they've devoured. Memory is central to intelligence.

Also, let's not confuse ignorance with stupidity. Many fine artists, obsessed with art and full of ego, paid little attention to the world of real people, and thus they come across as stupid. But that doesn't mean they are dumb.
Bob Dylan and John Lennon said and did a lot of dumb things in their lives, but they've always been very smart with razor sharp wit and brilliant ability to see and understsand musical patterns.
Maybe, creativity is a kind of intelligence that is 'intuited' than thought out. It is a kind of subconscious intelligence. You GET it even if you don't analyze it.

The only truly athletic kind of creativity I can think of is Jazz, rock music, jam music, and the virtuoso contest in classical music.

In film, the greatest directors have not only been highly gifted by very intelligent: Hitchcock, Welles, Kubrick, Eisenstein, Spielberg(don't underestimate his intelligence), Bergman, Leone, etc.
I think the younger artist goes more by instinct, intensity, and passion, and this is why rock is best for young people.
But older artists, with lower hormones, go more by understanding and broadness of knowledge, which is why many great works of classical music were created by older men. Older Mailer couldn't have written Naked and the Dead, but the younger Mailer couldn't have written Ancient Evenings.

Other than intelligence and athleticism, creativity prolly has something to do with dreams or the ability to dream. Intelligence analyzes and understands, athletic intensity makes an artist run and hunt, but dreaming makes him go to a special STRANGE place barred to most people. Most people can learn analytical skills and practice to be athletic to some degree, but very few have the key to the sublime zone where everything is both happening and still. After all, we dream most intensely when we are most asleep. If most of us have access to dreams only while asleep, it could be artists have access to this dream zone while awake. If lucid dreaming is being conscious while dreaming, artists could be something like dream wakers. They are dreaming even when awake.
Some have gained access to this zone through drugs from what I hear, but most such people never created great art cuz even though they've seen the vision, they never had natural skills or commitment to express them.
And no matter how great the vision in one's mind, it has to be given form, and this requires skills, diligence, and intelligence. Kubrick didn't just see 2001 in his head but had the intelligence to put it together through the medium of film.

Svigor said...

Not that filmmaking and art aren't both art, but Cameron's an example, isn't he? If his renderings in Titanic are any guide, he's got real talent. Why isn't he sketching portraits down by the pier?

fwood1 said...

I'd like to hear some of Burgess' music, but except for one cd, I believe, there are no recordings available.

Steve Sailer said...

By the way, I assume that Heinlein's use of Russian slang in 1966's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress was inspired by Burgess's use of Russian slang in 1962's A Clockwork Orange, but I could be wrong.

Half Sigma said...

While it takes more than just high IQ to be successful in the art world (such as luck and skill at self-marketing), I see no evidence that Annie Liebovitz is stupid. I'd bet her IQ is around 130.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, film critics have chosen not to acknowledge Kubriks hacking of Star Trek's "The Changeling," filmed years before.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjMEFK8FM0E&feature=related

Baloo said...

Interesting thought about Heinlein. Compared to ACO, the language in Moon is awkward and feels inauthentic. I think it's kind of true in general of Heinlein that he wasn't as his best when creating linguistic usage of the future. Niven is much better, for example.

Anonymous said...

In literature, sometimes a genre gets promoted beyond its ability to deliver the goods for the ages. In the early 80s, there was a lot of literary-critical talk that the novels from 1965 to 1985 that were going to last Forever were the great espionage novels. Not the Ian Fleming hackery, but the Le Carre/Deighton kind of "high" fiction.

Didn't work out that way. Deighton and others got steadily more hack-y as they went on, and Le Carre's star has fallen once people realized that his "moral equivalence between cold warriors" wasn't a literary device--he actually believed it.

In like manner, in the mid-to-late 90s some people thought the Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian would stand out in history like Austen while the navel-gazing alienated dreck the New York Times reviews Sunday after dreary Sunday would be forgotten in no time. Right on the second count, but sadly off the mark on the first.

Kylie said...

"The problem was that he[Burgess] was pretentious and dishonest - but clever and fluent enough (especially in pastiche) that it took quite a while for this to become apparent."

On paper, perhaps. It was instantly apparent if you ever heard him speak in person.

Anonymous said...

Would be nice if you could get Ray up above the fold more often.

2Blowhards redux, indeed!

Steve Sailer said...

Something to keep in mind was that Borges's flaws were pointed out early, too. In Nabokov's 1970 novel, there's a character called Osberg who's the Antipodean double of Van Veen, Nabokov's surrogate. But, after making an initial strong impression on Van, Osberg's repetitiousness leads to disappointment. Updike said much the same thing, although in nicer terms, about Borges in the New Yorker a few years later.

But, the world today tends to view the Borges glass as half full and the Burgess glass as half empty.

adfadfasdf said...

Art is a kind of controlled madness. You gotta be mad but also control the madness. The best example of this is The Wild Bunch, where Bloody Sam both had the mad vison and supreme self-discipline. Later he just had the madness and made something as ridiculous as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: great material, poor execution.

asdfasdfasdf said...

There's probably a kind of law of compensation here. If an artist has high intelligence but lacks great passion, he will make a series of consistently interesting works, but none or few of them may be mindblowing. This may apply to Haydn and the French filmmaker Chabrol. Chabrol made many fine movies but none that could be an all-time masterpiece. Same could be said of Rohmer. So, lacking the passion, the artist will need high intelligence, and it seems like Chabrol and Rohmer had it.

Lacking high intelligence, an artist, in order to create something superior, will need extra passion.
It's like if a boxer is lacking in skills, he better at least lots of mad courage. On occasion, such a boxer might get lucky and deliver a KO; simliarly, an artist of limited intelligence but great passion may deliver something astounding. Maybe this explains why some rockers came up with some great great songs but never could replicate the success. Maybe they generally lacked musical intelligence but were under some great passion when they got lucky with a song or two. Harrison wasn't much but While My Guitar Gently Weeps is a great song.

But then, when high intelligence meets mad passion, you get Blonde on Blonde by Dylan, an all-time masterpiece. Or Vertigo by Hitchcock.

Passion, unlike intelligence, is unstable and comes and goes. Passion-artists, unlike
smart-artists, are far more dependent their muse. If the smart-artist Chabrol could turn any mystery novel into an intelligent film throughout his career, a passion-artist may need to feel POSSESSED to create something worthy. Maybe such a person needs to be bipolar, biochemically unique, or suffer some great tragedy in life.

I had a painter friend whom I thought was okay. But after his wife died, he went into a depressive funk, became suicidal, went half-crazy, and created what I found to be his most interesting works, which lasted about 2 yrs. Later he regained his balance, and his paintings became just okay again. He obviously didn't want to lose what he lost but only by losing by what he lost could he gain what he gained. Creativity can be tragic.
Sometimes, artists have to lose their minds to find their muse.

Ray Sawhill said...

Some scattered responses, in bit-by-bit form ...

Anonymous: Hard to believe, I guess, but I'm an old guy who's been around the NYC arts world for many decades, and my ideas about that world come from observation, not from projection or compensation. I went into the media-arts life with one set of ideas about how the arts work -- the ideas that are promoted by colleges, profs, editors, often by the artsworld itself -- and found they didn't suit reality very closely at all. So I wrestled with what I saw and came up with a set of ideas and observations that seemed to suit reality (my reality, granted) a whole lot better. You'll take 'em or leave 'em, of course, but I can guarantee you that there are a whole lot of people with experiences like mine who'll agree more or less with what I'm saying here. (Hey, I developed my ideas partly by comparing notes and ideas with other people in the arts.)

Ray Sawhill said...

ITriedtobeaCynic‬ -- In mentioning Alma-Tadema, you've inadvertently come up with another example that bolsters my argument.

Alma-Tadema was immensely successful while alive, but his reputation declined immediately upon his death. By the time I was in college taking art-history classes, the 19th century academic painters generally were laughed at, if and when their existence was mentioned at all.

But all has changed. In the last couple of decades the 19th century academic painters have been rediscovered, and their prices and reputations have soared. It's now OK again, if still slightly out of the mainstream, to think highly of 19th century academic art and to make a straight-faced case for it.

Question for y'all: Is this an example of 1) justice finally being done? or 2) how reputations and the canon generally can be a lot more spongey than the critics and historians would often like us to think of them as being?

Wikipedia's entry on Alma-Tadema has a good account of the ups and downs of his rep.

LINK

Alticor said...

One of the most famous photographers of the 1920s and 1930s was William Mortensen. He was literally written out of the canon in the 1950s by the (New York, and mostly Jewish) photography authorities who decided he was too white-bread, too artificial. He became in effect a nonperson.

Similar fates befell representational painters in the world of painting.

The key to understanding the significance of this is not that old famous work becomes unfamous. Et antiquam documentum, novo cedat ritui, after all. It is that these things are consciously decided and decided usually by a tiny and definite, identifable faction. It behooves us to understand who and why.

Annie Liebovitz is a mediocre and pretentious photographer. Her work is overrated because her subjects are as prominent as they are-most of her images, if of Joe and Jane Schmoe, would be considered gimmicky and hackneyed. She is, however, a competent technician.

By contrast, Sammy Davis Jr. was a talented photographer in terms of his eye for an image. And his subjects were of similar quality to those of Liebovitz in celebrity, though mostly of an earlier generation. (The only overlap I saw was Cher, in the Davis oeuvre, with Sonny).
Sadly, his images are technically flawed because, despite having the finest equipment, he was functionally illiterate, and he never mastered focus or exposure control. Photoshop has made many of his images now more usable, but they still look like 20's pictures at best. Whereas with (technically competent) photographers like William Claxton, Eve Arnold, Bunny Yeager, we see that photography was actually at a technical zenith by 1955-1965. Modern digital cameras, at least those usable as handheld small cameras, can not equal film performance, and even modern films are often lesser than the old ones. Modern lenses are usually technically better, but old ones have subtle, pleasing effects (like vacuum tube audio equipment) as well.

Ray Sawhill said...

Thursday: A lot of what explains the art that teachers teach is the fact that it's teachable. And what "teachable" mainly means is "convenient for the teacher's needs" -- not necessarily good or even significant otherwise.

Hey, I remember gabbing with a book critic (whose views about all this are pretty close to mine, btw -- not that his bosses let him express these views …) about the weird preference profs often have for teaching non-narrative prose. Some narrative prose that doesn't foreground storytelling is of course good and worth taking note of. But it's really striking how little most profs make of fiction that foregrounds storytelling. Since storytelling is and has always been central to fiction, what kind of sense does it make not to give more respect (and space and time) to story-centric narratives? ...

Ray Sawhill said...

Thursday (cont.)

... My critic-friend made a great point. In essence, it was that complicated theme-and-language-driven prose is much easier for the profs to analyze than story-driven prose is.

Theme-and-language-driven fiction? Intellectually-inclined people can do something with it, and fill up classroom time with their analyses of it.

By contrast, what are profs going to have to say about story-driven narratives? How will they fill up the class time? In the first place, profs know very little about story. In the second, they don't respect it much. In the third, story is a craft-and-instinct thing, not an intellectual thing.

In other words: profs are going to tend to make more of the kind of work that suits their teaching purposes than they are of the kind of work that doesn't. In other words, "teachable" (and thus what will tend to be taught) has very little to do with whether these works that wind up getting taught merit the attention, let alone with whether the students are going to be learning anything of worth from the ensuing discussions.

Ray Sawhill said...

Eyekyu -- You've hit on one of the key questions where the IQ-style intelligence vs art-talent question goes. It's hard to dispute that one of the most important art-stories of the 20th century was the near-worldwide triumph of African-and-African-American-influenced music. It's right up there with the near-worldwide triumph of the movies. It's a really stunning story when you think of it: in 1900, the number of people who knew about, dug, and / or created black-influenced music was really tiny. These days, black music and black-influenced music is near-inescapable and can be found almost everywhere.

The "IQ is everything" crowd generally feels blacks are a little deficient where IQ goes. Yet here's a huge example of cultural triumph by black people. And I mean huge -- art-developments really don't get any bigger than this. How does the "IQ is behind the arts" crowd deal with this development?

Anonymous said...

"In mentioning Alma-Tadema, you've inadvertently come up with another example that bolsters my argument."

It seems to me to tend to weaken your argument (or I don't understand your argument). The renewed respect for academic painters tends to show that the system works -- over time, quality gets its due.

- JP98

Ray Sawhill said...

Thursday writes: "Ray Sawhill likes to promulgate the myth that there are popular artists out there who don't get the recognition as major artists they deserve. Again, setting aside the visual arts as a special case, this is largely untrue. His favourite example of Stendhal was recognized by both William Hazlitt and Balzac. A small readership, true, but a prestigious one."

I'm not sure how to respond to this. You're starting off talking about popular artists but you're ending up talking about Stendhal, who has never been a popular artist, though he's now got his place on the shelf of greats. Incidentally, the fact that you can point to two people who got Stendhal's greatness early on doesn't mean that he isn't a good example of someone we now consider great whose work was almost entirely overlooked (and/or looked-down-on) in his lifetime.

And when you write "setting aside the visual arts as a special case" ... Well, that's a pretty breezy dismissal of a fairly prominent artform.

Anonymous said...

Should we speak of an Art-Q?

Anonymous said...

I not sure it's original or even controversial to think that critics tend to love stuff that 90 percent of the world hates -- and that their bizarre enthusiasms worsen the world by suppressing the creation of good stuff and encouraging the creation of junk that most folks despise.

Tom Wolfe explained it all quite brilliantly in "The Painted Word" and "From Bauhaus to Our House."

The only remaining question -- or remaining in my mind, because I've never seen a plausible explanation -- is how such weirdos cling to critical power and continue polluting our culture. The game is up. Anyone who reads about this realizes that people who claim to agree with critics are either also deranged or (more likely) lying to signal cultural sophistication. So why does the lie still work as a signal of sophistication? Why does every publication employ an architecture critique whose aesthetic ideal springs from dystopian sci-fi when the popular aesthetic ideal clings to Grand Central and other Beaux Art structures?

Ray Sawhill said...

Anonymous -- Thanks for recommending Lilya Corneli and Bart Dorsa, I'm always eager to check out talented photogs. As for IQ and visual-arts talent ... Are you aware that there's a French saying that goes "Bete come un peintre" ("as dumb as a painter")? I've got all the respect in the world for visual talent, but I can't say I've been consistently knocked out by the braininess of the visual artists I've met. Some have been quite bright, sure. But others have had -- despite their obvious visual gifts -- seriously unimpressive, even downright silly, brains. YMMV, of course.

Ray Sawhill said...

JP98 -- You're certainly free to interpret the rediscovery of Alma-Tadema as an indication of "justice finally being done" and "the system works." But it seems to me to be just as valid to interpret it as "reputations often come and go, or go and come" -- in other words, to take it as one example of how the ranking-and-greatness thing isn't quite as set-in-stone as many critics and historians would like us to believe.

Ray Sawhill said...

Some Blowhardish musings on artistic greatness:

LINK

Ray Sawhill said...

Another example of an artist whose rep has changed dramatically in just the last few decades: William Faulkner. When I was in college in the '70s it was a given that he was up there with Melville and Twain. I wrote three papers on him myself, puzzling my way through "Sound and the Fury," "Light in August" and many of his other books. And young creative writers nearly all had their Faulkner periods, when they gave his techniques and approaches a try. You had to take him into account in one way or another, you just had to.

These days, though ... There are obviously people around who still revere him, but he isn't nearly as widely known, let alone respected, let alone influential as he once was. Not by a long, long shot. Go to a downtown fiction-reading evening in NYC -- in other words, hang out with people who are making some of today's higher-brow fiction -- and I'd be surprised if more than a tenth of the people in attendance have read him. A couple of friends who teach writing in college have told me that many of their students have never even heard of Faulkner.

Ray Sawhill said...

i think I've come up with a way to make my argument a little more vivid.

OK, imagine your high school class -- maybe 400 kids were in it. Let's focus for a sec on the kids in the class who were the top ten math-and-science kids. They were obviously bright, right? Maybe not world-class geniuses, but they were certainly kids with good brains and high SATs. They're the top ten out of 400, after all.

Now let's focus for a sec on that same high school class's top ten arty-creative kids: the whimsical-dreamy-passionate singer who's a homegrown version of Tori Amos, the sexy babbling idiot who gets all the leads in the high school's theater productions, the gay goth kid with a knack for interesting haircuts, the nose-picking back-of-the-room loser who turns out to be an amazing funk bassist, the compulsive doodler who has a knack for caricaturing the teachers ....

(And these *are* the kinds of kids who go on to have careers in the arts as creative people, by the way.)

Where these arty kids go, does the word "smart" come to mind quite as quickly as it does when you think of the math-and-science top 10? Yet in their own terms they're just as exceptional -- 10 in 400 -- as the math-and-science kids are.

Anonymous said...

> but I have come to feel that Joyce was - at root - merely a linguistically supremely-gifted Burgess. Both were lifelong adolescents: prickly, self-obsessed and self-justifying.

I haven't read Burgess, but I agree. The Daedalus part of Ulysses is a riot, so is the idea that Joyce is top-flight. The Bloom chapters appear to be a total bore. The Daedalus chapters are quite great and really a thrill, and maybe some of the earlier stuff is worth reading, but he's definitely not in the running for novelist of the century. That title is pretty clearly Celine's - for Journey, but more especially for Death on the Installment Plan. I read Manheim's translations but I haven't read any others very extensively. Even in translation I would award him the palm; I can't even imagine how awesome he must be in French.

Ray Sawhill said...

A few random notes:

* I think it may very well be true that there are some arts fields where the successful creative people also usually have pretty good IQ-style brainpower. It's hard to imagine meeting a successful architect who isn't a reasonably bright person, for instance. But that doesn't mean that there's a connection between that person's talent and his brainpower, it just means that it takes both talent and brainpower to succeed in the architecture field.

* I think some of y'all may be a wee bit over-fixated on the greats and the high arts. The world of arts-and-culture includes low, folk, and popular art as well as high art, and if we're trying to make useful generalizations about the arts (and about arts-style creative people) they better hold generally true for all the arts, not just for (for example) ambitious Western-style oil painting and classical music.

* I also think some of you may be a little misguided about writing and brainpower. Fiction-writing (and fiction writing talent and skill) is a VERY different deal than nonfiction writing. I think it's true that writing good expository or analytical prose takes some decent brainpower. You gotta be pretty good at organizing thoughts, information and arguments, and that does take some smarts. But writing a compelling and engaging story? You're using words and doing some typing and all, but it's a knack and a talent, not a function of intelligence. I've met well-known novelists who amazed me by how not-smart they were, and even good playwrights can sometimes be dimwits in an intellectual sense (playwrights are often temperamentally similar to actors).

I think there are two main reasons why so many people are convinced that all writers must by definition be smart:

1) most people learn how to read and write in school, so school and writing go hand-in-hand in their heads. If you're good at writing, you're ipso facto a good-at-school (ie., smart) kind of person.

2) As I hinted in the passage Steve was good enough to quote, we tend too often to see fiction through the eyes of profs, critics, and historians. And profs, critics, and historians, being smart people, tend to project a lot of their own smartness into work that's been created by people who, however talented, often weren't all that smart.

Ray Sawhill said...

A few random notes:

* I think it may very well be true that there are some arts fields where the successful creative people also usually have pretty good IQ-style brainpower. It's hard to imagine a successful architect who isn't a reasonably bright person, for instance. But that doesn't mean that there's a connection between that person's talent and his brainpower, it just means that it takes both talent and brainpower to succeed in the architecture field.

Ray Sawhill said...

* I think some of y'all may be a wee bit over-fixated on the greats and the high arts. The world of arts-and-culture includes low, folk, and popular art as well as high art, and if we're trying to make useful generalizations about the arts (and about arts-style creative people) they better hold true (or true enough) for all the arts, not just for (for example) ambitious Western-style oil painting and classical music.

Ray Sawhill said...

* I also think some of you may be a little misguided about writing and brainpower. Fiction-writing (and fiction-writing talent and skill) is a VERY different deal than nonfiction writing.

I think it's true that writing good expository or analytical prose takes some decent brainpower. You gotta be good at organizing thoughts, information and arguments, and that does take some smarts. But writing a compelling and engaging story? You're using words and you're doing some typing and all. But being able to create characters and tell a story in a compelling way comes from knack and talent (and, eventually, training, craft and experience), not from intelligence.

I've met well-known novelists who amazed me by how not-smart they were, and even famous playwrights can sometimes prove to be dimwits in an intellectual sense (playwrights are often temperamentally similar to actors).

Ray Sawhill said...

I think there are two main reasons why so many people are convinced that all writers must by definition be smart:

1) Most people learn how to read and write in school, so we learn to associate school (ie, intelligence) with writing. And the kids who were good at English in school do sometimes go on to have careers in writing and publishing -- but usually as nonfiction writers, journalists, editors, columnists, etc. The people who write and sell fiction as grownups often weren't the kids who were star term-paper-writers in school.

2) As I hinted in the passage Steve was good enough to quote, we tend maybe too often to see fiction through the eyes of profs, critics, and historians. And profs, critics, and historians, being smart people, tend to project a lot of their own smartness into work that's been created by people who, however talented, often weren't all that smart. Because of this, we're often left with the impression that intellectual horsepower was what generated the fiction.

But that's often not the case. There are indeed some fiction writers who are intellectual dazzlers and who cram a lot of puzzles and complications into their work. But others, no. The part of the artist that generates the characters and the stories (and that has a feeling and a knack for how to put them over) is something quite different than the "smarts" part of the brain.

Artists generally have a lot more in common with chefs and athletes than they do with intellectuals. Most of them work by instinct, talent, and training, and not by brainpower. A lot of the highflown critical-and-intellectual stuff that we're prone to see in the arts is stuff that we put there ourselves.

Which isn't to diss the arts, by the way. I love the arts and I revere art-talent.

Ray Sawhill said...

Many tks to Steve for letting me gas on like this, by the way. I'm a huge fan of Steve's for many reasons, one of which is his writing on culture, which I find consistently enlightening, daring and original.

Anonymous said...

> By contrast, what are profs going to have to say about story-driven narratives? How will they fill up the class time? In the first place, profs know very little about story. In the second, they don't respect it much. In the third, story is a craft-and-instinct thing, not an intellectual thing.

This is the kind of point for which I love reading Sawhill. But overall I entirely agree with Thursday on this thread where he is in dispute with Sawhill.

Steve Hsu's favorite study shows that usually (not always), scientists who make big, historic leaps have an IQ something like 150-60 (or, in physics, a good deal higher). When it comes to minor important finds in bio, you might be looking at people at more like 135-60, and with more exceptional cases with more modest IQs.

And then, when you get down to art, the correlation with IQ is yet more loose than it is among middling-historic biologists. But surely, it still exists. The IQ of an epochal genius like Nietzsche is clearly over 160. Celine's must also be quite high, but it could be as low as 145. And indeed there are probably plenty of decent writers at 130-5, who still have, however, extraordinary creativity and taste.

In terms of standard devs, my guess is that most authors and composers and stuff are probably farther from the mean in taste and creativity than they are in intelligence. But not by all that much.

Anonymous said...

On paper, perhaps. It was instantly apparent if you ever heard him speak in person. - Kylie

Kylie, could you elaborate? You met Burgess and he seemed like a dufus? I bet there is an interesting story there and I'm feeling nosy.

Anonymous said...

Ray Sawhill:

"Question for y'all: Is this [renewed prestige of 19c academic art] an example of 1) justice finally being done? or 2) how reputations and the canon generally can be a lot more spongey than the critics and historians would often like us to think of them as being?"

Let me suggest 3a) wealthy collectors needed to buy art 3b) the by-consensus "good" historical art was unavailable or astronomically expensive, 3c) loads of by-consensus "bad" could be marketed if transmuted into "good" art, 3d) the critics/curators obliged.

None of this has any necessary connection with the truth args. 1) and 2).

ChrisB

Severn said...

I suggest that you'll find it far more useful to think of art-talent as something that resembles athletic talent than it is to think of it as something having anything to do with IQ-style brainpower.



That's true. Learning to play the guitar is much more akin to learning to play baseball than it is to learning to compose music.

Yet the guitar player is much more likely to be described as "artistic" than the ball player.

Severn said...

While it takes more than just high IQ to be successful in the art world (such as luck and skill at self-marketing), I see no evidence that Annie Liebovitz is stupid. I'd bet her IQ is around 130



Ah, but you think that all Jews have an IQ around 130.

Severn said...

Compared to ACO, the language in Moon is awkward and feels inauthentic.


The artistry in sci-fi, when it's there, lies in the ideas being presented and not in the beautiful language those ideas are presented with. Most sci-fi, even some of the very best, makes for pretty pathetic "literature".

tommy said...

Let's face it, historians, critics, editors and such -- the people who write and publish the articles and books, and who teach the classes -- are a peculiar bunch.

I would like to see someone write a definitive history of the professionally opinionated. How exactly did the art critics rise to prominence and how have they impacted art?

Anonymous said...

One reason that profs may avoid story-driven narratives is that they would have to read the book to know what happened in it.

Don't think that it is only students who don't do the reading.

Thematic, open-ended literature can be talked about endlessly without letting on that you skimmed the book five years ago.

Anonymous said...

Thursday,
I've known many emotionally unstable artists, and some are smart and some are dumb. The unstable personality seems to be an independent variable from the talent. I have noticed that smarter, unstable artists tend to keep their lives together better during their moody periods where as the less intelligent melt down more frequently and harder.

Anonymous said...

Ray Sawhill about the explosion in popularity of black music in the 20th century:

"How does the "IQ is behind the arts" crowd deal with this development?"

I think that was mostly politically-driven. Record company owners, radio and TV network owners wanted to promote black music for political purposes. The young, being the sheep that they are, followed their lead.

I think that the 20th century saw a great decline in the complexity and subtlety of all popular music. In view of that, isn't being prominent in 20th century music kind of like being prominent in Dark Age sculpture? If a thousand years from now there are intelligent people studying the music of the 1000 AD - 2000 AD period, will they care at all about who was prominent in it after roughly 1914? Or will they regard the 20th century as a barbaric wasteland unworthy of careful study?

Blacks seem to have a better feel for rhythm than Whites or Asians, but there is a lot more to music than rhythm. Blacks also seem to enjoy rhythm more than other races. I guess we're all programmed to eat our own dog food.

I've read of studies that show that Blacks do worse than Whites on tests of pitch differentiation. Also, Whites seem to have a greater ability to create black-sounding music than vice versa.

Udolpho.com said...

it's pretty clear that artistic ability coincides in many artists with schizotypal tendencies...this muddies the issue somewhat because schizotypal people (most of whom are totally untalented) tend to believe extremely stupid things for emotional, not intellectual, reasons...and as such it is a very dicey matter to estimate their intelligence based on the absurdity of their public statements

Udolpho.com said...

also anyone who rate's King's Shining over Kubrick's is more than a little off...King wrote a fairly tedious novel with very obvious subtext about being a failed father (autobiographical, of course)...Kubrick made it iconic, and enveloped America itself in the madness

Anonymous said...

"How does the "IQ is behind the arts" crowd deal with this development?"

No one is saying "IQ is behind the arts", just that there is a correlation between IQ and Art-Q. We can argue about how high it is: you say close to 0; I say considerably higher.

And I would wager that successful black artists tend to have IQs significantly higher than the average black person. Miles Davis' father was a dentist. John Coltrane was given to exploring all sorts of musical arcana. Herbie Hancock studied electrical engineering. If you switch from jazz, which is harmonically complex, to rap and hip-hop, the IQ average will obviously sink a bit, although some rappers demonstrate impressive verbal abilities.

As far as the high school analogy goes: In my high school there was an overlap between kids who did well academically and kids who excelled at the arts. Not a tremendous one, I'll grant you, but not inconsiderable either. Larger with regard to music and literature than theater and the visual arts. If you focus on the math and science geeks, as opposed to all-around smart kids, the overlap becomes smaller.

I am currently also an artsworld person of sorts, mostly involved in comedy and music. Most of the people I come in contact with in this world I would classify as reasonably intelligent; few are brilliant, but nearly all are above average. And the ones who are more successful generally strike me as more intelligent (most comedy requires verbal IQ, after all).

adsfadfsf said...

"I think that was mostly politically-driven. Record company owners, radio and TV network owners wanted to promote black music for political purposes. The young, being the sheep that they are, followed their lead."

This is just dumb. For most of
20th century, whites and Jews either tried to suppress black music or appropriate--'steal' from--it for their own purposes. Black and black influenced music grew in popularity because much of it was fabulous, intense, fun, and sensual. Record companies stay in business by giving people what they want. Suppose one Jewish record company had an agenda of only promoting polka and another had an agenda of promoting only jazz. Which would have been more popular?

adsfasdfasf said...

Burgess's lowest point was inventing the language for crap movie Quest for Fire. All I could make out was ugh, oog, wug, gug.

dsfasdfasdf said...

You know, Ray, you hang around so many smart people that the people you might consider 'dumb' may actually be smart to the an average person.
To Einstein, Carl Sagan would have been a dummy, and to Beavis, Butthead is a smart guy.

aadfasdfasf said...

"Now let's focus for a sec on that same high school class's top ten arty-creative kids: the whimsical-dreamy-passionate singer who's a homegrown version of Tori Amos, the sexy babbling idiot who gets all the leads in the high school's theater productions, the gay goth kid with a knack for interesting haircuts, the nose-picking back-of-the-room loser who turns out to be an amazing funk bassist, the compulsive doodler who has a knack for caricaturing the teachers ....
(And these *are* the kinds of kids who go on to have careers in the arts as creative people, by the way.)"

Ray, don't be gay. Let's not confuse creative talent with creative pursuit. Yes, a lot of people who go to art schools are weirdummies AND THEY LACK ARTISTIC TALENT. So, if your point is that your average person who pursues the creative profession isn't too bright, I would agree. But then most math teachers are not Harvard professors but elementary and grammar school teachers and aint no Einstein either.

But, if we talking of creative people with real talent and genius, they tend to have high IQs.

Btw, Tori Amos sucks, and the problem with too many artschools is they've become the dumping grounds of spoiled brats with attitudes and conceits than with a real vision or passion. They would never starve for art(not least because they got munchies all the time from too much pot.)

Anonymous said...

What are the most interesting works of art about the creative process itself. In cinema, I can think of 8 1/2 and All That Jazz.

Anonymous said...

"Black and black influenced music grew in popularity because much of it was fabulous, intense, fun, and sensual."

adsfasdfasf, for more than a decade now I've had to listen to Black radio at work. For a part of that period I was actually pretty left-wing (youthful idiocy), so early on I didn't want to hate it at all. The more polite words that come to my mind as a description of that stuff are: coarse, artless, primitive, vulgar, simple. Musically as much as lyrically.

I think that the reason why record company owners and executives tended to present this sort of music to White youth in the form of covers by White bands was that it was too unlistenable in its original form. You know that story about the frog in the pan and the gradual increase in temperature? The frog would have jumped out.

I think it very unlikely that any white or Asian person could find the bulk of this music pleasing on its merits. I've certainly never met such a person. I'm interpreting your gushing about it as a part of some political stance. Do you really listen to Black radio? Lil' Wayne, Ludacris, Usher?

James Kabala said...

No one can (or at least no one should) say that rock and roll or even jazz requires the same level of talent as Classical music. At the same time, asetc. is certainly correct - as fun as it can be to believe that everything is a Frankfurt School conspiracy, the actual evidence shows that major record companies were usually very reluctant to market black musicians to white audiences until they were forced to by public demand. Remember Pat Boone? An even better example would be the blues records sold in 1960s England that the likes of Jagger, Richards, and Clapton fell in love with even though they were hardly being marketed aggressively.

Ray Sawhill said...

ChrisB -- Agree completely. Politics, fashion, fads, economics, personalities, etc -- they play big roles in deciding what art it is that rises to prominence. One of my hobbyhorse arguments when it comes to the teaching of literature, for instance, is that English majors should be taught as part of their education the history of publishing. Reading and writing occur within the context of publishing -- why aren't the lit kids taught about this?

Tommy: "I would like to see someone write a definitive history of the professionally opinionated."

I'd buy that book too.

Ray Sawhill said...

Anonymous (the one commenting on black music of the 20th century):

I think you're nutty, and on two points. One is factual, the other a matter of opinion. Factually, there's no indication that the popularity of black music is due to politics, let alone some kind of conspiracy to put the form over, and there's every indication that tons of people from many different cultures have found the music irresistible. It's a genuine popular phenomenon.

As for opinion … Are you really suggesting that the music of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Bud Powell, Aretha Franklin, Louis Jordan, Ruth Brown, and Smokey Robinson represents "a great decline in the complexity and subtlety of all popular music"? Opinions are opinions, we've all got 'em, we're all entitled to 'em, but even so: Wow, that strikes me as a near-demented judgment. Me, I'm inclined to see Dixieland, Swing and Motown as three of Western Civ's great peaks.

Ray Sawhill said...

Anonymous re IQ writes: "No one is saying 'IQ is behind the arts', just that there is a correlation between IQ and Art-Q. We can argue about how high it is: you say close to 0; I say considerably higher."

You do realize that In citing Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock to support your argument, you're choosing examples from a complex part of the artsworld, right? (Joke: Bop is what became of jazz once intellectuals got hold of it.) That's like citing the three people from your high school class who got PhD's to make the case that your entire high school class is smart.

If you want to argue that there's a considerable correlation between art-talent and IQ, then you have to take into account not just the complicated, head-y stuff but also the simpler, more direct and basic stuff as well. Just to stick to black music: Cedell Davis, T-Model Ford, Son House, Joseph Spence, Wilson Pickett.

Come to think of it, you have to take into account not just Wilson Pickett but the guys in the band behind him in this smokin' perf of "Mustang Sally":
LINK

Ray Sawhill said...

(cont.)

Exciting stuff, no? And what a drummer. Not entirely sure, but I think that's Roger Hawkins, who certainly qualifies in my book as a major artist.

All of these people have made much-loved and even influential music. FWIW, though I think they're all magnificent artists who have created amazing music, I see no reason to think of any of them as smarties.
Do you?

As a consequence, I think it's much more helpful to acknowledge that some people with significant art-talent also have respectable amounts of brainpower, while some people with significant art-talent don't. Which is one of my general points here: there seems to be no correspondence between IQ-style brainpower and art-talent. Practically speaking it seems to me far more useful to think of art-talent as one module and IQ-style brainpower as another.

Ray Sawhill said...

dsfasdfasdf writes: "You know, Ray, you hang around so many smart people that the people you might consider 'dumb' may actually be smart to the an average person."

I normally split my time between NYC media people and creative people. It's quite a contrast. The media people are generally smart and facile in a liberal-arts, Ivy-degree sort of way. The creative people? Well, for all their talent, they come in all different degrees of intelligence. Some are pretty darned on the ball, but a good number of them are talented dimwits.

Ray Sawhill said...

aadfasdfasf writes: "Let's not confuse creative talent with creative pursuit."

No idea what that means.

aadfasdfasf writes: "Yes, a lot of people who go to art schools are weirdummies AND THEY LACK ARTISTIC TALENT."

I'm happy to share some giggles about the silliness and pretentions of the art-school crowd. But the simple fact is that loads of these silly, vain kids go on to have careers in fashion, production design, advertising, layout, photography and comics. Why do you say that these people lack talent?

aadfasdfasf writes: "So, if your point is that your average person who pursues the creative profession isn't too bright, I would agree. But then most math teachers are not Harvard professors but elementary and grammar school teachers and aint no Einstein either."

The average engineer or doctor is a very bright person in an IQ sense. The average artsworld person, not so much. That's because the thing that counts in the artsworld -- the thing that's being measured there -- isn't IQ, it's arts talent, which is something different.

Ray Sawhill said...

Anonymous, re movies about the creative process:

Offhand, a few movies I can think of are Julian Schnabel's "Basquiat" (best movie I've ever seen about the NYC visual-arts world of the past few decades); "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould," which does an amazing job of telling the bio of the genius Canadian pianist in a way that parallels Gould's own approach to life and art; and "Pollock," Ed Harris' movie about Jackson Pollock. I didn't find "Pollock" exciting, but it did strike me as very informative, pretty true to the facts, very good at conveying the sketchiness and mixed motives of artsworld people, and successful at portraying Pollock as what he appears to have been: a very talented, bullheaded-obnoxious, not terribly bright guy who willingly became putty in the hands of critics and collectors.

Ray Sawhill said...

BTW, I'm completely wrong about the drummer on that Wilson Pickett performance. Here's a page about Roger Hawkins, who doesn't look a thing like the guy in the video:

LINK

Anyone know who the drummer in the video is? I've spotted him in a number of sizzling bands.

Ray Sawhill said...

Maybe it's Al Jackson Jr.? ...

Anonymous said...

asdasdasdf -

If you think jazz doesn't require memory and intellect, if you think it's just an athletic exercise, then you've clearly never tried to play it, much less listen to it or appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I wrote in passing that music had little or nothing to do with intelligence. I assumed that readers of this blog knew enough of the relevant research that I wouldn't have to elaborate.

The anatomy is pretty simple. Intelligence seems to be a function of the prefrontal lobes. This is the area that expanded so explosively in human evolution. It allows prediction and analysis.

Music ability is contrast seems to be concentrated in the supra-posterior gyrus - a distant brain structure.

This explains why eminent musicians are often quite dull and why brilliant men or women often can't carry a tune.

If you are smart you can fake musical ability to a certain extent, but pitch discrimination, rhythmic perception and melody memory just don't come from your frontal brain.

Spearman's "g" stands for general. Musical ability is best example of a "special" ability that has little to do with IQ.

On the other hand there are at least a few famous musicians who are no good at music at all. Placido Domingo for example must have a really great supra posterior gyrus. He can pick up a score and sing it on first sight. Pavarotti in contrast never could read music and needed a repetiteur to bang the notes into his ear. Yet Pavarotti did OK.

A performer of music may be able to get away with performing from rote but I very much doubt if a composer could.

I don't know if this is also true of the visual arts - I think I'll read up on it. The only artist I've known personally very well, was a hopeless drug addict. There seem to have been a lot of artists who didn't lead very smart lives. This suggests that like music the pictorial arts are also based on "special" and anatomically separate abilities.

Albertosaurus

Thursday said...

I suggest that you'll find it far more useful to think of art-talent as something that resembles athletic talent than it is to think of it as something having anything to do with IQ-style brainpower.

As Steve has noted, IQ makes you a better NFL player.
http://isteve.blogspot.com/2008/05/does-wonderlic-iq-test-predict-success.html
IQ makes you better at everything, including athletics. Hell, IQ makes you better at scrubbing toilets. It is extremely implausible that it doesn't make you a better artist.

Furthermore, we should retire the strawman that IQ is sufficient for creating great art. Nobody argues that. Obviously, one has to have other talents parallel to intelligence to make good artist. Again, nobody denies this.

Anyway, I would guess that most really great NFL quarterbacks have had an IQ of about 120 or so. With just athletic talent and low IQ, you get someone like Michael Vick, often very exciting to watch, but someone who didn't actually accomplish all that much.

Thursday said...

Artists with lower IQs tend not to be able to put together larger works. They can only put together little miniatures. And that is exactly what one sees with African-American artists. Jazz, for example, is mostly made up of African-Americans improvising around compositions by white composers and not even Duke Ellington could produce longer form jazz pieces like Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris. Blues performers are often electrifying, but they're all singing pretty much the same damn song over and over and over again. Large numbers of the great Soul tunes were written by whites like Dan Penn or Lieber and Stoller.

Lower IQ artists are often incredibly inconsistent too. Billie Holiday was an electrifying talent, but try listening to her collected recordings. They're all over the place. Same goes for Elvis Presley.

Lower IQ artists need to work within someone else's structure. That is what often makes them such good actors, singers, dancers, set designers, cinematographers etc. They're often very good at creating electrifying little moments, but they don't really know how to create any sort of coherent whole.

Ray Sawhill said...

Let's take as an example this vid of James Brown performing "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" on Hollywood a Go Go.

LINK

Now, imagine you spend the day hanging out on the set. James himself, the ultra-cute chick dancers (known as the Gazzarri Dancers, they were my favorite '60s go-go troupe), the choreographers, the stylists and designers, the lighting and cameraguys ... These are/were all professional creative culture-world people operating at a pretty high level. But realistically, would you be expecting your day on the set to be one that was swarming with high IQ people?

Reminder: if you spent a day at a correspondingly high-end law firm, or among doctors or engineers, or even at a glossy NY magazine, you'd be among people you were certain are pretty darned smart. But on the set of Hollywood a Go Go? C'mon.

Again: not that there aren't some smart people in the "creative" world. It's just that, if you're going to be making generalizations about what characterizes creativity and creative people, they have to encompass and account for Hollywood a Go Go too.

Oh, and here's an interview with Bo Diddley.

LINK

FWIW, I happen to think that his main contribution, the "Bo Diddley beat," was one of the great culture-things of the 20th century. It's catchy and joyous, it's been influential, it's with us still. Whatever you think of Bo, he's an artist who made a mark. Does he strike you as a brilliant guy in an IQ sense?

Svigor said...

I didn't read The Shining but I read that comment and thought it must be one of the towering works of literature to make the movie look like "nothing" in comparison. That's one hell of a movie. Can we call it "horror"? It's scary as hell but "horror" movies aren't.

Kylie said...

"Kylie, could you elaborate? You met Burgess and he seemed like a dufus? I bet there is an interesting story there and I'm feeling nosy"

Sorry I wasn't clearer. When I said, "speak in person", I meant "speak" as in "give a speech".

Burgess was quite clever and amusing in a facile way. Of course, it helped that the prof who introduced him was nauseatingly fulsome and the university audience was full of starstruck Eng Lit majors. This was in 1974, only 2 years after the film, A Clockwork Orange was released here in the States. At that time and place, he and Kubrick were considered minor gods, at least.

Engaging though I initially found him, his egotism was so rampant that within, say, 15 minutes I simply couldn't take any more so I left. (It didn't help that he also seemed rather seedy.) Mind you, I'd adored the movie, snuck in with false ID to see it and was thrilled at the opportunity to see him in person.

The fault could well be mine. I was never at home in academia. I despised the way over at Washington University, everyone tiptoed around Stanley Elkin because they all thought he was such a bloody genius. For the record, though, unlike Burgess, Elkin, who was held in high regard at that time, was a modest and unassuming man, rather adorable in a garden gnome sort of way. Luckily, the whole Artist as Egotist isn't a given, by any means.

Steve Sailer said...

Somewhere, the U.S. military has on file the AFQT scores of Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix. We know that they they didn't score in the bottom ten percent since the military wasn't allowed to take the bottom tenth, by law. But, I bet they didn't score in the top tenth either.

Anonymous said...

"These are/were all professional creative culture-world people operating at a pretty high level. But realistically, would you be expecting your day on the set to be one that was swarming with high IQ people?"

But that's what I've been trying to say all along: with very few exceptions, 20th century pop culture is trash culture. It's not representative of any peaks of human creativity. If any of us were able to have hung out in Beethoven's circle, we would have seen high IQ all around us.

Anonymous said...

"Me, I'm inclined to see Dixieland, Swing and Motown as three of Western Civ's great peaks."

What a horribly ignorant statement. I think you've previously alluded to your involvement in the "art world". It makes me so mad when folks like you hi-jack the word "art". It's like seeing the sort of people who do "avant-garde" squiggles call themselves artists. They have done nothing to enhance the prestige of the word art. They just steal that word, which minds higher than their own have elevated through centuries of hard work, in order to fraudulently increase their own prestige.

James Kabala said...

Anonymous, you are aware that there was black music created before 1990, right?

Kylie said...

"What are the most interesting works of art about the creative process itself. In cinema, I can think of 8 1/2 and All That Jazz."

Other interesting films about the creative process:

Crumb
Girl with a Pearl Earring
The Golem

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous, you are aware that there was black music created before 1990, right?"

Yes. On average it wasn't as vulgar lyrically as the modern kind. Musically though, and again, on average - just as course, just as simple, just as predictable. You know who really COULDN'T care less about any Black music created before 1990? Yes, the current generation of Black folks. Liking (or pretending to like - who am I to know?) the sort of Black music that Black people don't care about anymore is so SWPL that it has its own page on the original SWPL site.

Ray Sawhill said...

Thursday -- You seem devoted to the idea that IQ makes an artist a better artist. I agree that IQ enables an otherwise-already-talented creative person to kick the complexity and organization up a notch or two. How could it be otherwise?

Still, two problems with your position:

1) Who says work that's more complex is better? Is a bad movie (a movie of any kind requires loads of organizational work) automatically better than a great blues performance?

2) More IQ-horsepower also introduces the possibility of screwing up in new ways. There are loads of artists who have gotten bogged down in projects they've overcomplicated, or who have screwed up projects that otherwise might have been fun because they piled too much intellectual trickery into them.

One of the reasons a few additional IQ points can make a football player a better football player is that football today is a pretty complex game. If you're operating in a complex field, of course it helps to have some extra brainpower. It's the same in the arts. Having some extra brainpower is going to be helpful to someone who, say, is trying to make it as an architect (given, of course, that this person also has some talent ...). But extra IQ is probably of no help whatsoever to an actor, a sculptor, or an r&b musician. If it were, why would so many actors, visual artists, and musicians be so devoted to knocking out brain cells with drink and drugs?

The Cunning Linguist said...

Jazz, played well, requires as much technique and intellect as classical music.

I know that won't go over too well around here because jazz is considered primarily a black thing, and acknowledgement of this simple truth about jazz doesn't support HBD.

One who thinks jazz can be picked by instinct alone demonstrates that has no knowledge of the music's underlying technical and mathematical requirements.

Transcribing and analyzing a solo by someone like Charlie Parker or John Coltrane (horrors - Black men both!) demands a level of intellect that cannot be denied.

In other words, don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

dfadsfasdf said...

"No one can (or at least no one should) say that rock and roll or even jazz requires the same level of talent as Classical music."

I would jazz is the most difficult music to play really well. One needs more than practice, talent, and skill. One needs that creative-improvisatory spark.
I heard Alan Greenspan was technically very good at play jazz clarinet, but he could not improvise. He could imitate other jazz musicians but could not produce his own style.

Great jazz musicians also make great classical musicians, but most great classical musicians would not make great jazz musicians.
Playing classical music is like gymnastic. Playing Jazz is like acrobatic breakdance.

Too bad he had no problem improvising economic policy as Fed chairman.

asdasdfdsf said...

"adsfasdfasf, for more than a decade now I've had to listen to Black radio at work. For a part of that period I was actually pretty left-wing (youthful idiocy), so early on I didn't want to hate it at all. The more polite words that come to my mind as a description of that stuff are: coarse, artless, primitive, vulgar, simple. Musically as much as lyrically."

Black music since the late 80s has been utter crap for the most part. Afro-porn, I call it.

afasdfasdf said...

"asdasdasdf -
If you think jazz doesn't require memory and intellect, if you think it's just an athletic exercise, then you've clearly never tried to play it, much less listen to it or appreciate it."

I never said anything of the kind. I said Jazz requires something EXTRA other than memory and skill. It needs creative spark. I was praising jazz musicians.

Knucklehead.

asdfdasff said...

"Artists with lower IQs tend not to be able to put together larger works. They can only put together little miniatures. And that is exactly what one sees with African-American artists. Jazz, for example, is mostly made up of African-Americans improvising around compositions by white composers and not even Duke Ellington could produce longer form jazz pieces like Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris."

This is just getting dumber and dumber.

Thripshaw said...

I beg to differ about Jimi's IQ score, Steve. Elvis was almost certainly a moron, but Hendrix has way too many recordings of unbelievable originality and brilliance to be considered anything less than exceptionally intelligent.
I would love to see what his IQ scores were, though.

Thursday said...

Who says work that's more complex is better? Is a bad movie (a movie of any kind requires loads of organizational work) automatically better than a great blues performance?

Beethoven's symphonies and piano sonatas, Bach's choral works, Mozart's operas, all works which require organization and complexity to achieve their effects, are indeed vastly superior to blues performances. Full stop.

(This isn't to say that blues performances aren't good.)

More IQ-horsepower also introduces the possibility of screwing up in new ways. There are loads of artists who have gotten bogged down in projects they've overcomplicated, or who have screwed up projects that otherwise might have been fun because they piled too much intellectual trickery into them.

More risks, but more rewards.

James Kabala said...

I think a problem with a lot of the above posts (on both sides) is that they are blurring the line between compositional talent and performance talent. It wouldn't surprise if me James Brown was a fairly smart guy - not on the same level as Beethoven, of course, but in between his thuggish youth and his thuggish old age he was known as a savvy businessman and a perfectionist. His entourage of hangers-on, go-go-dancers, and even band members would obviously be a different story.

ben tillman said...

Speaking of Hendrix, where do you put Randy California's IQ?

Anonymous said...

Udolpho,
I read somewhere that when Kubrick was adapting 'The Shining' he was dismayed to find a section in the novel where the maze came to life and ran amok.

He did not include this scene in the film because he could not handle the idea of 'homcidal shrubbery'.

dsafasdfasf said...

"I beg to differ about Jimi's IQ score, Steve. Elvis was almost certainly a moron."

Elvis was no moron. Crazy, yes, but no dummy. Albert Goldman's bio shows him to have been a serious reader of many tomes.

But like so many creative people, Presley and Hendrix were emotionally immature.

Anonymous said...

I think Ray Sawhill has to do a little research on the concept of "correlation". Art-IQ and general IQ are correlated in a similar way to verbal and mathematical ability. Of course you have verbal smarties who are math dummies and vice versa, but overall you fill find someone who excels in one area will tend to be at least above average in the other area.

David said...

>[one] really need[s] to get away from the art history "greatest hits" survey collections and really delve in to the total work of different artists<

Good advice. I like picking an estimable figure and spending a long period drilling deeply into his oeuvre (and returning to it regularly afterward). To KNOW, for example, a composer's music, you should - if possible - at least listen to and think about everything he composed.

Is that obsessive-compulsive? Call it comprehensive. The alternative is to run the risk of enacting the story of the blind men and the elephant.

Ray Sawhill said...

Anonymous re correlation -- I'm familiar with the concept of correlation, thanks. Part of what I'm maintaining here is that there is no (or very, very little) correlation between IQ-IQ and what you're calling art-IQ.

Picture it this way. If you go to a party attended by doctors, lawyers, and engineers, you'll feel certain, as you move from person to person through the party, that you'll be meeting pretty-darned-smart-person after pretty-darned-smart-person, one after another. You might run into an exception or two, but generally speaking you'll be experiencing a high correlation between whatever-it-is-that-makes-doctors-lawyers-and-engineers and intelligence.

Now imagine going to a party attended by art/creative types: opera singers, painters, designers, novelists, poets, actors, dancers ... As you move from person to person thru this party, you will have no way of knowing how smart the next person will be. You'll meet a smart and on-the-ball person, then a dull one, then someone with disordered thought processes, then a flat-out dingaling. In other words, you'll be experiencing almost no correlation whatsoever between whatever-it-is-that-makes-artists (hey, let's call it art-talent) and intelligence.

I have no theory (beyond "art talent and IQ-style intelligence are two different gifts/functions"), and no studies to cite either. I can, however, point out that I've been to dozens of art parties and that I'm simply reporting what I've found to be the case.

adsfasdfasfd said...

aadfasdfasf writes: "Let's not confuse creative talent with creative pursuit."

Ray Sawmill: "No idea what that means."

Most people who pursue artistic career lack artistic talent. Even the successful ones are often clever hacks. I would not say they are TRUE artists.

If we look at true artist--the great ones--, I'll bet most of them are really smart, especially in filmmaking and literature(and classical music).
Of course, there is the idiot savant autistic sort of genius--mostly in music and plastic arts--,but they are exceptions.

Robert said...

Nobody has mentioned P. G. Wodehouse, surely a prime example of great wit and extreme verbal facility ("Across his face there crept the anguished expression of an Englishman about to speak French"), not to mention admirable plotting up till the age of about 70, with more or less complete lack of intellectual interests or - as far as one can tell - even much in the way of non-verbal skill for anything.

Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed Wodehouse on the radio when the latter was about 80, and no doubt he expected Wodehouse to be a reasonably scintillating interviewee. Big mistake. It proved impossible to persuade Wodehouse to utter more than the occasional monosyllable or, at most, a few short sentences of stupefying banality. Perhaps the execration he had attracted as a result of his naive wartime broadcasts from Germany was making him hyper-cautious when confronted with a microphone, but I suspect not.

ITriedtobeaCynic said...

"Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed Wodehouse on the radio when the latter was about 80, and no doubt he expected Wodehouse to be a reasonably scintillating interviewee. Big mistake. "
Perhaps PGW thought it was enough to write as well as he possibly could and he didn't have to be a performer as well. That used to be the predominant attitude among writers, apart from show-offs like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Or perhaps W just took a dislike to Muggeridge and decided not to cooperate.

Ray Sawhill said...

adsfasdfasfd writes: "Most people who pursue artistic career lack artistic talent. Even the successful ones are often clever hacks. I would not say they are TRUE artists."

Why do you maintain that successful people in the arts "lack artistic talent" and aren't true artists? Of course they have talent. 1) They wouldn't be in the arts if their gifts didn't incline them in that direction, 2) they're successful in the field, which means that their talents are more than adequate.

Incidentally, where the arts go we shouldn't over-obsess about professional success. Amateur artists (weekend painters, trust-fund dliettantes, front-porch blues singers, insane people who doodle, etc) are artists too, and an important part of the arts scene.

"If we look at true artist--the great ones ..."

Oh, you're one of those people who think that the only creative arty people who qualify as "true artists" are the ones who have attained greatness. I confess I don't understand this. Would you maintain that the only "true scientists" are the likes of Galileo, Newton, and Feynman? By your lights, does someone who (for example) works as a marine biologist for NOAA NOT qualify as a scientist? Because, after all, he hasn't attained greatness? Would you argue that the only "true lawyers" are the couple of dozen or so who run big firms, have become Supreme Court justices, etc? And that all the other thousands who make livings as lawyers don't qualify as "true lawyers"? Why single out the arts as the one field where you don't get to qualify unless you've attained Greatness?

I suppose I have no standards, but for me, artists are people who are productively involved in making art. If you want to make distinctions between such categories as "bad artists," "good artists" and "great artists," fine, sure, but those are just subsets of the larger category of "artists."

lesley said...

"Why single out the arts as the one field where you don't get to qualify unless you've attained Greatness?"

Ray, I hear your frustration with asefoetida, who occasionally makes insightful points, gets complimented and then thinks he can judge the vegetables every year in every state fair. You get some of these cases.

Of course there's a distinction between Leonardo Da Vinci and Andy Warhole, but there's a whole lot between. In any case "great" whatevers don't rise out of nowhere or exist in isolated greatness. All owe their specialness to talent, work, achievement, discoveries, that preceded them.

Ray Sawhill said...

Lesley writes: "Ray, I hear your frustration with asefoetida, who occasionally makes insightful points, gets complimented and then thinks he can judge the vegetables every year in every state fair."

Oh, adsfasdfasfd is really bright and interesting, as well as fun to gab with, don't you find? And his/her "It isn't art unless it's Great Art" attitude towards the arts isn't an unusual one either.

"In any case 'great' whatevers don't rise out of nowhere or exist in isolated greatness. All owe their specialness to talent, work, achievement, discoveries, that preceded them."

Word to that.

Thursday said...

Ray is being a bit slippery on this one. On the one hand he talks about arts people who do "jawdropping" work, yet aren't that smart. Jawdropping to my mind kind of implies greatness. Then he of switches arguments and starts saying that he wasn't talking about great artists, just artists in general.

So, maybe we can agree on this. To do great work in the arts requires a fairly high IQ. It is not sufficient, but is necessary.

Performing arts require much less intelligence than do creative arts like writing, directing, composing etc. Actors, singers, dancers, musicians can do amazing things even with a very limited amount of intelligence.

elvisd said...

Wow. Bo Diddley, Randy California, Jimi, Al Jackson, Elvis. How did everyone start riffing on these guys? I love 'em all. Bo was the first performer I saw, and the first performer my daddy saw when he was young.

I was listening to the 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus album last week.

Ray Sawhill said...

Thursday -- There's no slipperiness at all. For one thing: In whose book is "jawdropping" synonymous with "great" in the canon sense? Professional athletes do jawdropping things every day; so do accomplished artists. Very little of that winds up in the record books. But that doesn't make it any less jawdropping.

For another: When you write, "Actors, singers, dancers, musicians can do amazing things even with a very limited amount of intelligence" you've just agreed with a good part of my point.

Thursday said...

When you write, "Actors, singers, dancers, musicians can do amazing things even with a very limited amount of intelligence" you've just agreed with a good part of my point.

But not composers, directors, novelists, poets, playwrites, choreographers, painters, or sculptors.

Ray Sawhill said...

I suspect that composing an oratorio or designing and supervising the building of a parking structure both require better-than-adequate organizational gifts -- ie., a decent number of IQ points. That's just in the nature of the job.

But for the others ... Practically speaking, I've met dimbulb poets, painters, songwriters, sculptors, novelists, choreographers, and playwrights, including some famous and successful ones. As far as I'm concerned, any theory of the arts that I'm going to get on board with has to take these practical facts into account.

Claverhouse said...

ITriedtobeaCynic said:


Or perhaps W just took a dislike to Muggeridge and decided not to cooperate.


I doubt it: it was Muggeridge who, as a member of SIS defended Plum in Paris from the weak-minds screaming at the [ extremely funny and non-nazi ] broadcasts were proposing that he should be tried for godknowswhat ( patriots' minds are hysterical at the best of times ).

The broadcasts are here...
http://www.drones.com/pgw-at-war.html

asdasfasfsf said...

"Why do you maintain that successful people in the arts 'lack artistic talent' and aren't true artists? Of course they have talent."

Have you been to the museum of contemporary art lately? Have you seen most movies lately? Have you heard most bands lately? Have you seen most fashions in magazines?
99% of them suck!!!!!
They have connections, not talent.

Lady Gaga, talent? Most commercial bands are awful but then so are most indie bands.
Most Hollywood movies suck but then so are most movies at Sundance. Most people who go into arts & culture and even 'succeed' have little talent. They have talent for self-promotion maybe.
Nowadays with post-post-post-modernism where anything goes and whatever is whatever, it's not matter of what you do but how you hype what you do which usually aint much. Also, you score big if you do PC shit. A contemporary artist who does 'installation art' can pile a bunch of tampons and tomatoes atop a box and say some crap about.... patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and host of other evil, and there will be media and institutional people to give him or her an opportunity.

I mean how did this become a famous artwork:

http://www.maryboonegallery.com/artist_info/gfx/kruger/04057-(BK).jpg

And how many western critics hype this worthless Chinese guy:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51xuIjVnyHL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

asdfasdfadsf said...

Burgess on youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%22anthony+burgess%22&aq=f