Monday, December 24, 2018

when those blue snowflakes start falling

Merry Christmas from Never Get Out Of The Boat.

Extra special thanks to everyone who bought my book this year.

Watch out for the new one coming in early 2019.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

is it art?

A couple of New York-based Russian artists, Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid conducted a ‘conceptual' art experiment back in the mid-1990s.

To begin, they appointed market researchers Martila & Kiley Inc to conduct surveys on aesthetic preferences and tastes in painting in over a dozen countries.

The goal was to find out what a ‘people's art' might look like. When the results of these surveys came in the dynamic duo would make the paintings to reflect the results. The resulting artworks were billed as ‘Most Wanted'. In contrast, they also produced paintings to reflect the ‘least wanted'.

Melamid described their concept for the project in this way:

In a way it was a traditional idea, because faith in numbers is fundamental to people, starting with Plato's view of a world which is based on numbers. 
In ancient Greece, when sculptors wanted to create an ideal human body, they measured the most beautiful men and women and then made an average measurement, and that's how they described the ideal of beauty and how the most beautiful sculpture was created. In a way, this is the same thing; in principle, it's nothing new.
It's interesting: we believe in numbers, and numbers never lie. Numbers are innocent. It's absolutely true data. It doesn't say anything about personalities, but it says something more about ideals, and about how this world functions. That's really the truth, as much as we can get to the truth. Truth is a number.

In just about every country, the favourite – the most wanted - was some kind of landscape featuring a few human figures going about their business, some animals in the foreground, with a big blue sky and some coastline or a path extending into the distance, and some water - a river, the sea or a lake.

(Just about every country wanted this - only the Italians deviated slightly, although the ideal was still heavily figurative.)

And almost universally rejected – the least wanted - were abstract compositions, featuring geometric or angular shapes. That's not to say non-figurative or non-narrative painting although can't still be appealing. Humans have a permanent innate taste for virtuoso displays. Spectacular giant Pollock's or the Rothko room at the Tate, for example. Rothko was influenced by Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence.

But science still has no agreed explanation for why anyone should claim to enjoy 'conceptual' art, 'installations' or participating in art-speak. Some kind of pretentious trait counter-signaling is likely.

The disappointed artists remarked ‘in looking for freedom, we found slavery.’


Of course, one of the great mysteries of art is why it even exists in the first place.

Although every culture draws and paints, dances, sings, makes music and tells stories the origins of human aesthetics are still mostly a puzzle.

But the origins of visual art might be a wee bit clearer.

As our Russian friends found out, across all cultures humans tend to prefer representations - visual experiences - depicting environments where they have; a vista - an advantage in height, there is an open terrain, diverse vegetation and a nearby body of water. Because a landscape such as this was ideal survive-and-thrive habitat for our ancestors who lived on the African Savannah.

This doesn’t sound much like modern cities, of course.

Although it does explain the price of an apartment in a block overlooking Central Park in New York or Hyde Park in London – there’s a nice one on Bayswater Road on the market today for 18.5 million.

Some problems in the modern workplace may also result from this kind of mismatch.

An evolutionary mismatch occurs when evolved traits or mechanisms that were once advantageous become maladaptive due to changes in the environment, particularly when environmental change happens fast.
Most of human evolution took place in hunter-gatherer groups of 50-150 individuals that worked together to find food and protect the village.

There was no middle-management, HR departments, unconscious bias training, or strategy away-days. There was not even any real distinction between work and life.

If you look around the typical modern office if there's virtually no greenery and it's challenging to get sunlight (windows don't count, you need to actually get outside in the sun for at least half an hour a day).

Vitamin D deficiency is a huge problem, even in countries like Australia, where I live.

Goodness knows what the situation is like in places inside the Arctic circle, like parts of Sweden and Finland where it’s basically dark for 6 months of the year.

Our psychology - and our physiology - are still primarily aligned for the Pleistocene era, but we're in an environment that's very different.

Lush green landscape and blue skies are an innate, evolved preference, present in human nature since that time, the two million or so years during which modern human beings evolved.

Apparently, Arthur Danto, a Columbia University phil­osopher and postmodern art theorist, suggested that the results of the ‘Most Wanted’ experiment were a product of the hideous worldwide 'calendar' in­dustry (reproductions, poster shops etc) – toeing the cultural relativism party line, he means our tastes (as uneducated plebs) in art are purely a product of social construction or ‘culturisation’.

But the calendar industry [sic] has not conspired to influence taste, but rather any success it has experienced is because it caters to universal, deep-rooted, prehistoric, innate human preferences. Aesthetic taste is an evolutionary trait, and is shaped by natural selection.

Something we’d do well to remember in the advertising business, from time to time.