evening and welcome to “State of
the Art.” I'm George Fluke and I've written the definition of
If that sounds provocative or pretentious, well your right. But
because of recent research and studies, sooner or later someone was
going to do it. So why not an unknown artist from a small northern
I'm talking about is taking what
we know about Art, as artists and audience, and squaring that
with the latest scientific discoveries about how the human
that I'm not judging good or
bad, or taking ownership of Art, only defining what must be
in anything that we call Art. And I certainly don't want to be seen as
some kind of
soup Nazi character saying “No Art for you, no Art for
just now that we know how and why Art works, why should we
reason I'm doing this is to defend
the purity of Art. There are people out there, calling themselves
artists, who are cheating. And I believe this cheating has helped to
fuel the anti-intellectual crassness of popular culture. These
artists work under economic
pressures which naturally lead to the lowest common denominator, so is
it any wonder that mass media expression focuses on fear?
of death, fear of our fellow humans,
most insidious fear mongering, nostalgia, the fear of future Art!
shouldn't the arts be inspiring the
greater good of society? Shouldn't an institution built on
imagination be an imaginative, and positive force, and not just a
vehicle of commerce? The implications are important, because the
breadth of the Art that can be made and enjoyed by a society, is a
reflection of the knowledge and expectations of its citizens. What
kind of artistic inspiration can overcome a culture raised on instant
get me wrong, I think it's fine
that prepubescents have their Hanna Montana's and American Idols, so
long as they can look up to their older siblings, parents, and to
society around them, and see that Art is more than a popularity
contest, beauty pageant or talent show. The future I fear, is
corporate media pushing aside what is truly Art, in pursuit of the
adolescent interests of teenagers with money to burn.
around at our society, Art is
not the only institution that's been corrupted,but it is the one I'm
most associated with, so this is the house I'm cleaning. And although
I stand by my definition it is the idea that we should stand by the
principals that define Art that is the main point. And this argument
can be used to defend all political associations, which is what Art is,
against those who seek power by trying to change how we define, thereby
changing what we value in those institutions.
we will journey back to the
evolutionary origins of Art, to shed light on what and why Art is,
and why we need to protect it. To unlock it's mystery without
undermining its allure. It's a lot to get through in one night, so
to set the pace and provide a moment of introspection between acts, is
classical guitarist Andrew
for a Definition (to top)
we agree on
anything. If you leave here understanding just one thing, it should be
that Art does exist, and so deserves its own objective and unambiguous
definition. This is America! If we can put a man on the moon, we can
define Art! And even if we can only fake a moon landing, we
do better than Webster's, which defines Art as something done artfully.
That's like saying, life is something you do while you're alive. And
that is how Webster's defines life.
definition, Art is one of the most pervasive forces in human history,
and so the absence of a clear definition is either a careless
omission, or a deliberate tiptoeing around an uncomfortable reality.
I believe the latter. Those of us who work in the fields of Art,
don't necessarily want to judge, or define, we just want to make a
buck! And so by default, the definition of Art has become whatever
sells! And in our attempt to be politically correct and
nonjudgmental, we have let go of standards and expectations that had
distinguished our Artistic expressions. We have allowed that Art is
in the eye of the beholder and anyone using media commonly associated
with the Arts, an Artist! What woosie bullshit that is! This anything
goes attitude cannot possibly add to our understanding or
appreciation of anything that is Art, but it does open the door to
the gratuitous and egotistical, the button pushing and trite
nostalgia passing as Art, to dominate and debase our popular culture.
the past, I've
considered it enough to argue on technical grounds, either something
is, or is not, as advertised, either something does, or does not, meet
criteria. But in the last few years I've come to see that there is much
more at stake than settling a debate, because how you define something
determines what you value, and what you honor. And I've also come to
see that the lack of a definition is part of a trend in society; the
privatizing of public institutions. The proponents of privatizing have
made the argument that efficiency in the delivery of services should
be the main goal of government, and that competition between private
companies can achieve this. On the other hand, Aristotle, and our
founding fathers believed that the purpose of government was to make us
better citizens, and that the best way to achieve this is to support
institutions based on purpose and need, staffed by those who best
exemplify the virtues defined by said purpose. You see, thats the
definition of decorum, which is what we honor.
Art is a part of a wide
range of political associations that have honorific aspects. Medals
on soldiers, judicial appointments for lawyers, Nobel prizes for
scientists, and Pulitzers for journalists. And although there are
public awards for entertainment categories of Art, the fine Arts are
honored by being given gallery space. It could be said that gallery
walls only exist to honor those who excel in the virtues of Art, and
so we need a definition in order to know what those virtues are. We
honor those who show self sacrifice, not self enrichment, because thats
how a society builds solidarity, the sense that we are all in this
together. Mercenary soldiers don't deserve medals, they do it for the
money, and Rupert Murdock certainly doesn't deserve a Pulitzer. Privatizing
public institutions destroys solidarity by making it all about you and
your needs instead of us and our needs. And those who seek private,
personal definitions steal from all of us by removing honor from public
know about The Constitution and Bill of Rights. But what about a bill
of responsibilities? Well you can't have one because you could never
codify every rule you need to live your life. We learn our
responsibilities and proper behavior by practice. The right that
protects my line of work is the first amendment. Under
protection of free speech, don't we expect people to be saying
something? So why should we accept less of someone calling themselves
an Artist? And though we cannot expect every work of Art to be
personally relevant to everyone, we can demand that anyone seeking
the shelter of Artistic expression, to be producing Art. We need a
need to say
it? Art is an unusual business, so unlike any other. There is no clear
progression leading to a stable career. As if an Artist could even
follow a linear path. The first obstacle we have to overcome is
everyone telling us you'll never be successful, until you're dead! So
we all jump in blindly and sacrifice disproportional to other
occupations. Consider this: how many CPA wannabes do you think would
wait tables for 20 years hoping for a chance to add numbers? I say
none. But for an Artist it would be a small price to pay considering
the rewards of the personal satisfaction and public honors for being
able to control this most mysterious phenomenon.
we get to
the definition, we need to understand the origins of Art, and why it
has been so mysterious.
that Art is communication, and I wouldn't deny that. But true as it
is, it means less as a measure of Art when you consider the amazing
fact that all life forms communicate! And
though man is
the only animal that produces Art naturally, what the Artist and the
amoeba share in common is the expression of their state of being.
This is the perspective of our original instincts. I'll explain later
in the show. Fortunately we've evolved beyond single cells through
the phylum know as chordates, which gave us lateralization body
forms, that is, bodies and brains of mirror image. It is this
particular evolution giving us redundant brain structures, that
enables us to communicate from two very different standpoints.
particular behavior to each; male type for the left and female on the
right. And even though the physical difference between each are
minor, they manifest as behavior differences because of the way they
communicate. The way each takes in information and expresses itself.
The left sees the world as linear, 2 + 2 = 4 Always! The right is
holistic based, it takes into account what this 2 consists of and
what that 2 consists of before determining a value.
language being invented, a rudimentary form of Art was the only means
that either hemisphere had with which to communicate. Our ancestors had
grunts and pantomime, which eventually
became symbols. But when these symbols were strung together, the left
hemisphere with its linear based reasoning, became the natural
evolutionary choice in which to build the language. And with language
and writing fulfilling the need for precise communication, the
corresponding areas of the right brain were free to specialize in
metaphorical, non-verbal and non-linear communication.
coincidence that the strongest traits of the right brain are the
basis for the six criteria of my definition. Among these are
aesthetics, holistic based reasoning, empathy, openness to novelty
and the ease of sensory expression. I know it sounds stereotypical,
but get over it! Men and Women are different, and these are feminine
traits. Though anyone with a complete brain can partake in them.
as we try to
express in words, concepts based on these traits, we run up against a
mental wall. The right brain has poor language skills. And though we
feel sure of what we wish to express, it never really rings as true
or accurate when translated through the left brain into words. This
is frustrating. It leaves us with a sense that there must be
some things that can't be captured or constrained by humans. Something
elusive, ethereal, something spiritual. This is what drives Artists to
construct the best possible imagery with which to convey these
so with the
mental machinery in place, public acceptance of Art and feminine
traits, and without the government or religious interference of the
past, we now have the means and opportunity to express any concept or
value, and prove that a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Definition (to top)
definition have always circulated, but they have relied on expressing
feelings one gets, or the worth of Art, and so are subjective. Years
ago I had my own subjective definition, the type that Artists feel
compelled to spout, which tend to say more about our own personality
and public image, than about the actual work. But then I saw clues
that there could be an objective definition, one that could be
universally applied to all forms of Art. To put it together, I've
used scientific evidence of what actually happens in our mind when
observing Art, and my definition is simply a description of that
learned more about Art from reading science journals, than from any
bumbling docent leading a sleepwalking tour through a museum. Not
that its a complete waste of time, after all, how can you understand
anything about Art if you don't know about the Artist, and his
extramarital affairs, the New Age religious beliefs or that
disfiguring injury that forced the Artist to hold his paintbrush at
such a contorted angle!
don't we obsess way to much on personalities? In the last 30 years,
we've gone from 15 minutes of fame based on Artistic Merit, to 24
hour news based on the foibles of those who are famous, simply for
being famous. And the further down this road we go, the more Art
seems to be about who can shock or debase themselves enough to gain
sure most of
you have felt assaulted at sometime or another by this lack of
decorum and simply been dismissive of these wannabes and
but my life is all about Art, and so when it happens in my world, I
feel morally compelled to point my finger and say: "That is not Art!"
And to back me up, I've compiled the work of many behavioral and
cognitive scientists, and so it is on their shoulders that I stand when
present the definition of Art.
composition, with enough cultural familiarity to elicit empathy, until
the novelty of the theme draws you into conscious focus, in an
attempt to reconcile the senses.
printed in your program, so I hope you'll take it home and think
about it. I've identified six criteria which represent the order and
the steps that Art takes us. I've paired their headings in order to
shade their meaning, so that we wouldn't get hung up on an absolute
understanding of any particular word because that is sooo left
The criteria are: Aesthetic/Composition,
Cultural/Familiar, Empathy/Curiosity, Novelty/Surprise, Theme/Concept,
I know a lot of these ideas are might be new to
most of you, and it might be a little confusing, so think how humans
communicate new ideas. We use analogies, a form of art, because they
are metaphorical. Now here is some food for thought; I know artists can
be flaky, and I been burned by some half-baked ideas that haven't
risen to a palatable level. Now that I have brought us into the
kitchen, here is a unique way to look at definitions.
Open any cookbook and you will see the prime
dichotomy of left brain / right brain. Recipes are described in two
ways. The list of ingredients, which corresponds to the linear left
brain, and the directions, which describe the process of creating the
dish, the holistic right brain point of view. If you are a fan of the
food network and follow Alton Brown, you might be able to just take the
list of ingredients and cook a meal. But for most of us that would be
impossible! Thats the trap that Art critics have put us in.
description or a theory of a process, we are left with a list of
criteria which can only grow to include everything ever associated with
art. Its a misguided egalitarian attempt to level the outcome, to make
everyone an artist. The more absurd critics have claimed art is
anything with a frame around it, or anything on a pedestal, or anything
that someone who has previously claimed something to be art, proclaims
it to be! Reductio ad absurdum! Its a circular argument that makes art
about anything and everything, and therefore about nothing in particular.
Aesthetic/Composition (to top)
first impression you get of any thing, any scene, any object, is it's
aesthetic composition. It's nice when life is full of pleasant sights
and sounds, but can everything be Art? Of course not, and it doesn't
matter . We need decoration, illustration, craft. But an Artist goes
beyond, by using the tools of Art to take an image at its face value,
twist it, and serve it back in an unexpected form. These
are Irony, Simile, Metaphor, Satire and the juxtaposition of the
senses. I'm calling the impressions one gets of an
image after it's been worked on by the tools, the forms of Art.
critiqued Freddy earlier for not being
What I mean is he is just
I'll go to the tool box and change that... by adding the "Draw Me"
sign, I've added the satiric message, "You too can be an artist by
copying this cartoon!"
ghosts of our unspoken cognition. Superimposed on the face value
Cultural/Familiar (to top)
may not even
happen if the viewer isn't grounded in the same culture as the
Artist. Of course there are images and rhythms that all peoples can
relate to, but then there are jokes that only Quincy residents would
laugh at . And yes, jokes are a form of Art, and when we get the joke
we know it. That's how instinctive all Art should be. And because no
one wants to hear old jokes, they need to be closely coupled to the
cultural events that spawned them. This same need to be relevant is
what powers the feedback loop that we know as trends or fads or
extreme examples of Art and culture marching hand in hand toward an
repressive society with no Art. Those silk screens are simply iconic
illustrations. And architecture and clothing styles didn't change for
over a thousand years! Then
there is modern day Italy, the most dynamic and chaotic democracy on
planet. And a fashion industry out of control. I'm sure this must
have changed, but as of 2007, the average Italian woman spent over
$16000 a year on clothing. And that average probably doubles when you
subtract the nuns and widows who will wear the same black dress the
rest of their lives!
those examples is a balance that a culture can sustain. A balance
between when to abandon old ideas, and when to accept new.
images, concepts or objects become so familiar that they attain
symbolic importance, we call them icons or cliché; and so no
serve as Art, But when they are fresh and new they exude a power of
common recognition that propels the work, and reassures the viewer
that understanding is within their grasp.
ability to let your senses take you beyond your own identity. To care
about someone else's story as if it
were your own. The Aesthetic/Composition and Cultural/Familiar can
push your emotional buttons, but being pandered to with shock, fear
or cliché in general, only reinforce your own pre-existing
Kincade has made a fortune doing just that! If you are sold
on an image at its face value, that is, without having been worked on
by the tools, you response can only be based on how you feel about
learned behavior, a matter of practice, and when you build enough
neural pathways, you are more able to change your point of view. This
is what makes liberals so apt to flip-flop, and appear wishy-washy. But
it is essential, because it is a curiosity to see from a different
perspective that allows you
to interpret a work of Art.
we now know of
the trigger which sets off the empathy circuit. I believe it works like
this; what Irony, Simile, Metaphor, Satire and the juxtaposition of
the the senses have in common, is that they make unlikely comparisons.
They force you to see relationships beyond what you might equate as
rational. And if you have the curiosity to buy into it, if you suspend
belief that the comparison
is not equal, the circuit gets set off. And in the instant your brain
is tripping over itself trying to incorporate the dissonance, your
sense of self, the brain area known as the precuneus,
resetting its paradigm. And the feeling of empathy,
altruism or out of body, is the result of your sense of self letting
go long enough to give you the illusion of being a detached observer.
Art, as in
life, there is always more than meets the eye, and in an empathetic
state, the true nature of an Artistic vision becomes easier to see.
new under the heavens! All the good ideas have been taken! If you
the popular mass media of TV sitcoms, the endless string of boy
bands, Hollywood movie re-makes, you might be justified in believing
it true. But although it may sound counterintuitive, the more ideas
we have circulating, the greater the opportunity for Art! Art needs
the aesthetics, the themes, all of our cultural history, to use as a
springboard to build future Art. Empathy/Curiosity only works when
we build neural pathways between subjects which have never before been
compared. But more, it is the unique and
clever new ways of experiencing these concepts, the twist, that lifts
Art above what is now passé.
that unsettles the current understanding of what the cliché
represent. Something that hits that switch in your mind and says:
wake up! Pay attention! This is new!
Theme/Concept (to top)
Novelty/Surprise brings us to a state of conscious focus, we search
for threads of continuity. Our brain is hard-wired to look
the who, what, where, and why, and the Art must at least appear to have
a story on concept being communicated.
the flip side of aesthetic composition. It is the message presented
by the forms of Art. That is, the impression you get after the tools
of Art have worked on the face value of the Aesthetic/Composition.
confused! So here's my visual example: Suppose your Theme/Concept
were “these shoes are comfortable.” You might
present an Aesthetic/Composition of a young smiling woman wearing
shoes. But a smile doesn't necessarily mean comfort. Besides sitting
on the moon, there is no focus. Though if she looked as if she were
wearing clouds on her feet, you would instantly know what the
subject was, and because she were smiling, your metaphorical mind
would start associating any pleasant values you had of clouds, with
shoes. Light and airy, soft and fluffy, and you know how they make you
feel, “like I'm walking on air.”
now as an aura
of comfortable shoes hovers over this piece, the theme becomes clear.
the point being communicated but if it didn't stimulate, you may as
well be reading an instruction manual for assembling Ikea furniture.
our last criteria...
Sensory/Stimulus (to top)
read an article
years ago about how certain culinary Artists, otherwise known as
cooks, were wanting to be classified with the fine Arts. After I
stopped laughing, I realized that including the culinary Arts in my
definition, was key to understanding how Art actually works. You see,
they deal mainly with the two senses, smell and taste, that the fine
Arts have ignored. And because of their function, they are already
linked and somewhat confused. And thats it! Thats what Art does. It
links the senses to each other and though metaphor, to create this
swirling confusion of imagery. And like a puzzle we are challenged to
find meaning in that imagery. Metaphors enable us to compare apples
and oranges, attributing a specific value of any one thing, onto
another. And with the juxtaposition of the senses, they carry more
information that any single sense could on its own.
can see what
someone is saying if we turn words into mental images, but we can
also be more abstract. We can see the love in someones eyes, or get a
taste of a song. Then there are those with a condition called synesthesia,
they continually associate particular numbers with
particular colors, or colors with sounds, as if it were completely
is it Art?
This is my last and finest point. Art is not arbitrary, random or
literal. The love in someones eyes is not a foreign object. The taste
of a song is not the flavor of a plastic disk. And it also is not a
test to be individual interpreted. We absolutely must rely on
comparing the common understanding of disparate
objects, colors, or
shapes etc. to build logical metaphors.
inteligible? Do we use our understanding of a well turned metaphor to
arouse our senses? Or do we use that metaphor to arouse our senses in
order to understand an inteligible Theme/Concept.
where we separate humans from amoebas and all other life
believe Art is both intelligible and moral. Intelligible because it
takes aquired knowledge to comprehend, and moral because communication
is a two way street. And when you place yourself in front of art, of
your own free will, you take on an implied obligation. You see, if we
our original instincts, if we follow the urges of the primitive parts
of our brain, the reptilian and limbic systems, we're not truly free.
Because, when we let our senses guide us, its all about cause and
effect, and not reason. It may be entertainment, but its not Art. Art
carries moral weight because it
involves free will in the uniquely human areas of our brain; the frontal
cortex for storytelling, the right
corresponding to Wernicke's
area for Concept/Theme, the Broca's
context. And when you discern the particular message the Artist
presents, you've made the proper judgment, and fulfilled the
responsibility of the viewer to complete the communication. In other
words, when you pick up a book or go to a theater, but especially when
you visit a fine Art gallery, you assume an obligation to fulfill a
social contract that the Artist has presented.
again, I can
see the light at the end of the tunnel.
©George Fluke 2011
Thank you for sticking
it out tonight. I
hope you've learned some things, been inspired, or at least
As for myself, the definition and explanation served up in the show,
have given me hope that the only thing we need in order to solve the
problems of the world is Art! Hyperbole from an artist, yes.. but hear
me out one more time.
observe or create
art, you are forced to use the means by
which the right hemisphere operates. Again these are: Aesthetics,
holistic based reasoning, empathy, openness to novelty, and ease of
sensory expression. These traits also represent values that are highly
regarded in a well rounded citizenry. These are traits that can
moderate and balance public discourse and political debate. But they
really can't be taught, they need to be practiced by experience, and
that is the job of an Artist.
Art stretches you imagination, challenges your preconceived
forces you to develop an interconnected web of concepts to help
interpret, metaphorically, what the artist is trying to say.
is how you build your capacity to introspect, thereby developing your
ability to empathize. I may be wrong but, isn't the inability to see
another's point of view the biggest stumbling block to attaining world
I see danger and a direct
link between a society understanding only
self-centered literal black and white views, and it's leaders phrasing
everything as Good/Bad, Us/Them, Safe/Dangerous. Where is that full
range of nuanced expression? Where is the sensual world? And
correct, why hasn't Art been more effective? I believe its
don't actually get the Art we are seeking. We live in a zero-sum world,
and are awash in a sea of eye-candy. Bombarded by images with no sense
of Art. They don't elicit introspection, and so none is given.
So how do we choose? Well, you've chosen to be here
though you might have stayed home and watched TV. There is good TV.
You've just got to make choices that favor Art, and so you need to know
what Art is. And you can't just grouse about the immaturity in common
culture, we built it. Those are your kids snickering over pee-pee ca-ca
jokes while wrapped up in a security blanket of electronic toys. But
don't get me wrong, I don't say kill your television, I say fix it! The
only way to stem the tide of sophmoric, low brow, fear mongering,
button pushing, egotistical, gratuitous, trite nostalgic, sexually
exploitive, guilty pleasure driven entertainment, is to reject it and
demand Art! Steven Segal and Chuck Norris will probably kick my ass
after the show, but I believe any Artistic value TV, Movies, video
games have, is negated, when violence is the overriding theme. It is
the entertainment that isn't Art, that is greasing the slippery slope
to the bottom of the barrel.
But it's really no mystery
what raises up an image to become Art, what
triggers that process in you mind, because its something we've always
known, but perhaps havn't held Artists accountable for recently. Art is
about building images though the metaphoric tools, and as long as the
world is in the shape its in, all that eye-candy is simply a
distraction! I can't say it any clearer than; Art is the only
power that the values of the liberal, feminine right brain have over
conservative, masculine, left brain dominated world. And we
need all citizens to be fluent in the values of each hemisphere in
order to make balanced choices. And I don't think I'm being too
melodramatic when I warn; the future of our society, and increasingly,
the stability of the planet rests on who wins the debates, and who wins
is dependant on whether or not the right brain gets to speak!
State of the Art!