October 13, 2007


I just posted something over on Metafilter and decided to copy it over here, too:

I'm an engineer. It's not a career (especially anymore) so much as a mind set. To me a thing is what a thing does. I see the world in those terms.

You'll never get any consensus as to what "art" is. For instance, Scott McCloud says that "art" is any human activity which is not directly related to survival or reproduction -- which is certainly expansive. I don't think I'd go that far.

My own definition: art is a creation intended to communicate something which cannot easily be communicated. As such, there are three dimensions to it, three scales on which any given piece of art falls.

* What is communicated can be mundane or profound. (Or somewhere in between.)
* The idea is communicated effectively or not effectively.
* What is communicate can be understood by a broad audience or only by a few.

"Great" art is profound, effective, and broad. It says something important, says it extremely well, and communicates it to many people.

But there is good art which is not at the rail on one or more of those scales. For instance, an impressionist landscape is (or can be) effective, broad, but also mundane; it tries to say "mountains are pretty." But it delivers that feeling of entrancement with the beauty of mountains to many people and inspires that feeling strongly in them. Nothing wrong with that. (A Stephen King horror novel is the same. He's a hell of a good writer; his books really move people. LOTS of people. But what he's saying isn't very important.)

The point is that the core of art, all art, is communication. The artist has some idea, image, feeling, or other mental state that he wishes the audience to feel and understand, and chooses a means of expression by which he intends to induce that feeling or mental state in his audience. When he's done, he may have succeeded or failed, but that communication was the goal.

Which means that asemic writing cannot be art, by my definition. If there is no meaning, there is nothing to communicate. Without communication there is no art.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Daily Life at 09:32 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
Post contains 371 words, total size 2 kb.

1 It is possible that some of these ARE attempts at communication, either from the subconscious or a very out of the box attempt to express things that are not expressible in English...at least by their creator.

OTOH I think that an asemic writing "artist" and asemic writing art books are dubious to say the least.

Posted by: Brickmuppet at October 13, 2007 10:56 PM (73lWn)

2 My thought exactly.  Asemic writing definitely isn't *writing*.  However, it could arguably be another type of art, more like abstract painting, except that its in spite of the 'author's' intent to remove all content.

At least IMO, the most interesting use for 'asemic' writing would be trying to create a 'writing' that triggers the impression of having *some* kind of content or pattern, without it in fact having such.  Stronger the impression, the 'better' the work.

Posted by: metaphysician at October 14, 2007 08:50 AM (KVPNK)

3 Toddler, crayon, paper. Not art.

Some guy with the right degrees, crayon, paper. Art.

Yet another way to seperate art "sophisticates" from obscene amounts of money for little effort requiring little or no training.

Posted by: atomic_fungus at October 14, 2007 10:10 AM (1v61J)

4 Unfortunately, starting in the 1960's the message of "modern art" increasingly switched to being simply, "Stop ignoring me, dammit!" Instead of trying to inspire people, artists were reduced to doing anything they could think of simply to get a rise out of others.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 14, 2007 10:28 AM (+rSRq)


I agree wholeheartedly that art is communication.  I'd go further and say that it's also conversation, with intent and interpretation forming the meaning of the work as a whole, but that's neither here nor there.

I'd read your post late last night and didn't visit any of the sites offering "asemic writing" examples til this morning.  Before, I thought it might have been something similar to Jasper Johns' work in trying to separate symbol from meaning, so that it might stand as pure design.   After, well, I guess I was giving these folks too much credit.

They look like scribbles.  They look like they might be a part of something interesting.  As a matter of fact, they look like the paper towels I use to wipe off my brushes during a session.  I had no idea I should keep those (and sell them) rather than throw them away.

Art?  If they were part of something more, possibly, but on their own?  Not to my eyes.

Posted by: BeckoningChasm at October 14, 2007 10:57 AM (kLWtB)

6 In her collection The Compass Rose, Ursula K. LeGuin had a short story, "'The Author of the Acacia Seeds' and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics" about a fictional journal devoted to art produced by animals(ants, etc.). The last article talks about art produced by plants and argues against the idea of art as communication.

Posted by: Jim Burdo at October 15, 2007 11:04 PM (7rgGV)

7 Might be interesting, but ever since I read "Those who walk from Omelas", I've been distinctly leery of LeGuin.

( truly horrifying story )

Posted by: metaphysician at October 16, 2007 06:29 AM (KVPNK)

8 Spoiler for a fairly nasty LeGuin story.

I lost interest in LeGuin when one of her novels bored me enough.

Posted by: PatBuckman at October 16, 2007 08:09 AM (DZ471)


(response to the spoiler) That's Ringo for you (or Kratman, for that matter).  Faced with a minor death toll over years, he'll pay the butchers' bill up front and be done with it.  I'd wonder what his solution to drunk driving would be, except I don't see him as dumb enough to wage war on human stupidity.  On the leftist nannies who might decide to ban driving as a solution, yes...

Oh, and Pixy, spoiler tags aren't working in the sidebar again.

Posted by: ubu at October 16, 2007 09:06 AM (dhRpo)

10 Yup, thats the one.  I wouldn't call it a leftist utopia, though, so much as derived from the mostly-leftist view on life as zero-sum.  All good things coming at the expense of suffering in others, that type of thing.

And yeah, when the story came up on a forum I frequented, the majority response ranged from "free the child" to "crucify the adults, burn the town, leave no stone upon stone, and salt the earth".

Posted by: metaphysician at October 16, 2007 12:50 PM (KVPNK)

11 LeGuin, Vonnegut, Bova...  there was a reason I preferred Heinlein, Norton, and McCaffry as an impressionable youngster.

If you're going to believe that the future sucks, why read or write about it?

Posted by: ubu at October 16, 2007 03:18 PM (u0M4H)

12 ubu: I remember someone, I don't recall whom, at what I think was Ringo's Tavern at Baen's Bar, point out that in some countries, if someone commits a vehicular manslaughter under the influence of alcohol, the Police will drag that person to the side of the road and shoot him. iirc, the list included Mexico and Saudi Arabia. I am a Major Fan of Kratman, and to a lesser degree, Ringo. Snipping the compulsive recommendation of Kratman's A Desert Called Peace, Carnifex, and Caliphate.
metaphysician: I agree about the leftist influnced zero sum issue. I remember that my reaction was that some of the proposed incentives were evil in of themselves.
ubu, again: I agree that optimism is better then pessimism in fiction. Good optimist writers I enjoy include Doc Smith, Ryk Spoor and Travis Taylor. On the other hand, I can enjoy a writer like Kratman or Drake, whose settings are horrible to about the same extent that the world is, was and will be. They work, however, because they are not handled in a depressing, futile, wallowing in angst and doing nothing manner.

Posted by: PatBuckman at October 16, 2007 04:09 PM (DZ471)

13 Thread closed due to topic drift.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 16, 2007 04:18 PM (+rSRq)

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