What is Art? Who is a Good Artist?

[I wrote this article 7 years ago, but never published it. Please excuse my rude manner of speech.]

I’m sick of this topic.

Let’s begin with four simple definitions. We cannot discern the two questions of the title without definitions.

ART: something via some medium (sound, music, dance, theater, literature, illustration, painting, photo, video, finger knots, face-splats) wherein the artist DELIBERATELY conveys a particular message or story (emotional, historical, inquisitive, fictitious, philosophical, spiritual, relational; yet not overtly educational, personal-relational or scientific in nature) to a SPECIFIC target audience (seniors, Nazis, journalists, Roman Catholics, other artists, scientists, females, alien conspirators, students of law). Note the four essential components: the artist, the intended message (which is allowed to be a vague or questioning message), the target audience, and the medium. The particular work of the artist using the particular medium may, alone, be called the “artwork”; however, it embodies and implies all of these components.

TALENT/HANDICRAFT: the ability of (the artist) to work with (the medium) successfully and with control.

AESTHETICS: whether a particular work is “pleasing” to a particular audience or not.

ARTSY: (Adjective) Characterized by a showy, pretentious, and often spurious display of artistic interest, manner, or mannerism.

If we don’t get that these are four different things, then we cannot begin to distinguish between them, much less discern who is good at what. When we confuse them, we make all kinds of silly erroneous claims:

  • We look at someone with poor talent, and see it as proof that he is a poor artist; yet the two skills are different; our argument is a non-sequitur;
  • We sub-consciously define art as the absence of talent and control– pure chaos; with this definition, our artist is no longer someone who attempts to convey a message except one single idiotic tired over-worn message: chaos, or the “non-message.” Anyone can take LSD. I love abstract art and/or simple art, but an artist who has no purpose, or makes no deliberate attempt to convey a particular concept, is a stupid druggie. These artsy fools are exhausting, because they know nothing and do random things and call it “art” by this self-proclaimed definition because they can achieve nothing else; it cannot help but be “art” by their empty definition; but this very definition turns human dignity into mashed potatoes. Human endeavors are, by implication, activities which are somehow guided, no matter how “crazy” the output looks. “Crazy” can be art. But if “crazy” comes from zero guidance, art is no longer a human endeavor, it is no longer an act of creation, and the artist is no longer human. The artist is an idiot who wants to earn money without using his brain. There is certainly an argument for “letting go” in art, to realize some sort of intuitive or sub-conscious feelings and expressions; however, this does not imply hallucinogenic engagement. After letting go and exploring her own mind by playing with various media, the artist discovers various truths, lies, myths, emotions, and stories that she may wish to deliberately express to certain people. The “letting go” gives way to assertive and self-controlled behaviors with specific motives. This “splatter only” method doesn’t appear in novels or dance (Imagine it!); but often appears with paintings and poems.
  • We look at some human work upon some medium, and make a call as to whether it is art or not. This is wrong, and impossible. By the definition, we must know if the creator was deliberately “telling a story” (happy, sad, maniacal, macabre, boring) to a specific target audience, and then discern whether he was successful in that goal.
  • We define good art as anything that is “aesthetically pleasing.” This is moronic. Art does not need to generate good feelings; sometimes, the artist has quite the opposite intentions. There are artists who create macabre works, and you might despise their art; however, you cannot conclude that it is not art merely because you despise it! The success of the artist may well be measured by her success in disgusting you!
  • We say that a piece of art conveys different messages to different people, and this is, indeed, what art is all about. Obviously to a certain extent, different people will get different messages. Furthermore, outside of the TARGET AUDIENCE, it doesn’t even matter what “message” people get. But if the artist has failed to communicate what he intended to communicate to the target audience, then he has FAILED, and it is BAD ART. If he went about the task without any story to tell, then he simply is NOT an artist. He may be an artisan; he may be a busy person; he may be a talented person; he may accidentally convey various messages; however, he has absolutely zero control over the output of his existence as a member of our species; if he failed as a scientist or accountant, he has also failed as an artist. Simply existing and spraying random output at people (which has impact, to be sure, but impact which the human himself has no motives behind, nor control over) is NOT BEING ARTISTIC. It’s “being a dork.”

So… someone can be talented, but not be an artist. Someone can be untalented, but still manage to convey the message to the target audience and therefore be a good artist. Someone can be talented AND be a good artist. Someone can generate aesthetically-pleasing works and be an artist. Someone can generate disturbing pieces and be an artist. Someone can generate aesthetically-pleasing works and NOT be a good artist. Someone can generate disturbing works and NOT be a good artist. The three things must be discerned independently, and no ONE of them depends upon the other.

Tightening the discernment of a “good artist…” she will not include things in her work in the medium that are NOT a part of telling the story, or the sub-story; i.e., nothing will be there unless PLANNED IT by design, or PERMITTED IT by arrangement.

For example, a photograph intended to express a frightening mood to the target audience of people who suffer from arachnophobia may have lots of elements and aspects in the photo. But if it has a photo of an orb-weaving black widow, it will NOT include a stupid incidental water-spout in the photo, UNLESS the artist is deliberately using the water spout as part of the message being conveyed. Similarly, the photographer will not have thoughtlessly applied the “neon-glow” filter using Photoshop, just ’cause it looks neat. The neon-glow might be fine, if there is a specific, deliberate impact intended by the artifact.

If you study creative-writing (one of the fine arts), you will learn to not put things in your story that are not directly a PART of the story. When someone is reading the story (or watching the movie or play), they may witness something that seems unrelated; however, it will eventually become evident how it fits/relates to the plot/subplot, the theme, the idea, the concern, or the inquiry.

[Each image links through to where I found it. If one of these images belongs to you, please let me know if you would like additional credit information to be added, or if you would like the image and link removed from this post.]

white canvasesAESTHETICS? neutral
ABSTRACT? i’m not sure
ART? unknown, unless you talk to the artist
GOOD ARTIST? need to know target audience and intended message of the artist; if he succeeded, then he’s a good artist no matter how pathetic the message

a paintingAESTHETICS? a little bit disturbing
ART? unknown, unless you talk to the artist
GOOD ARTIST? need to know target audience and intended message of the artist; if he succeeded, then he’s a good artist; if he failed, then he’s a poor artist, no matter how excellent his talent

chinese somethingAESTHETICS? great
HANDIWORK TALENT? the porcelain work is incredible; the photo is great too (either could be the work being considered right now)
ART? unknown, unless you talk to the artist
GOOD ARTIST? need to know target audience and intended message of the artist; if he succeeded, then he’s a good artist


AESTHETICS? a mixture of pleasing lines and tones with some unsettling aspects such as the suggestion of lightning, the diagonal lines, and some fiery tones
HANDIWORK TALENT? fascinating digital handicraft modeling aspects of quantum physics; much time and patience was required, and the talent is abundantly evident
ART? unknown, unless you talk to the artist
GOOD ARTIST? need to know target audience and intended message of the artist; if he succeeded, then he’s a good artist no matter the message

leonid_afremovAESTHETICS? a mixture of a pleasing theme, subject, and composition, with some unsettling aspects, such as the diagonal lines, and intense contrasty unsettling background
ABSTRACT? partly
ART? unknown, unless you talk to the artist
GOOD ARTIST? need to know target audience and intended message of the artist; if he succeeded, then he’s a good artist no matter the message

a boy's drawingAESTHETICS? despite depicting a tsunami, this drawing elicits good feelings
HANDIWORK TALENT? none at all, from an adult perspective
ABSTRACT? likely not intended
ART? unknown, unless you talk to the artist
GOOD ARTIST? need to know target audience and intended message of the artist; if he succeeded, then he’s a good artist no matter the message; from what i can guess from the website, we have a good artist, and a piece of good artwork here

Case study: a photographer sets his camera in Auto mode with Continuous shooting. He also occasionally experiments with changes to aperture, ISO, and exposure time. He spends his days taking hundreds of photos. At night, he reviews them and adds the ones he “likes” to his portfolio. The ones he likes happen to be widely appreciated and embraced by the community and the nation; he is revered as a master artist of photography.
Analysis: Whether his photos are enjoyable, beneficial, or contribute positively to society in any way, this is a TERRIBLE artist. He has zero motives. He does not set about to express a particular message, nor does he even look for a story. He does not deliberately place himself in situations and carefully plan where to be, and how to make the shot. He does not wait for the right moment; indeed, he has no concept of the “right moment.” Random things happen, such as optical artifacts relating to the lenses; he has no clue why, nor does he have any control over these things, but sometimes he simply likes them, and so do other people. I will confess that there is some argument that he is a good artist via a technique of purposefully selecting and arranging from a set of random images. However, he is perpetually in “explore himself” mode, and is never grounded in being a man with principles, with purpose, and with specific deliberate themes and messages to contribute to society based on things he has learned and things that he believes are important.

Next up, (but I likely won’t get to it): the DIFFERENCE between math and science!!!



Scammer / Fraud Alert

If you sell online, do not trust anyone with the email address banistyle_lembur94@yahoo.com or the mailing address:

8002 Cornwall Lane #100617
Tampa, Florida, 33615

Their IP address came from California, their phone number was from Texas, their address was from Florida, and they sent a modified Driver License from Oregon (“Oregon” changed to “Florida,” License number missing, name and address added, image data says “PhotoShop CS”.)


Make Ubuntu 12.04 run Faster by Getting Rid of Compiz

On the Ubuntu login screen, there is a little icon beside your name.

Click it, and select Ubuntu 2D instead of Ubuntu. This way, the “compiz” window manager (with shadows, etc.) will not load.

This might speed things up for you, because compiz sometimes takes quite a bit of memory and CPU compared to the 2D window manager… 🙂

Chroma Key Green (or Blue Screen) Setup

Updated: 23 January 2013

Here are some studio settings that work great for an indoor portrait of a subject against a green screen or a blue screen:

  • A: two slave flashes or monolights set to 12 W·s (or no more than 15 W·s) for lighting up the green screen
    • make sure these are diffused light (here, i bounced them off umbrellas)
    • set them at 45° to the green screen for even lighting
    • the screen should be less bright than the subject
    • make sure these light sources are not falling on the subject
  • B: white reflector to fill shadows in subject
  • C: camera on tripod, in Manual mode
    • “shutter speed” set to 1/250 s, or slower if your monolights require it
    • aperture set to f/4.5 (the fabric/muslin of the green screen should be blurred)
    • ISO set to 50
  • D: master flash or monolight attached to camera via sync/PC cable; light energy set to 50 W·s
    • this light simulates the primary light source (e.g., the sun) of the photo you’re going to use for the background
    • you need to move this light source up/down and left/right to get the right location (for proper shadows and reflections on subject)
    • you also need to match the hardness/softness of this light by moving it closer/father from the subject and/or modifying the umbrella or other diffuser — in this case i shot through a translucent white umbrella

Other Points:

  • Green light will bounce off B into subject’s face; if you have 4 lights, then use a fill light instead of reflector at B to solve this problem; I don’t have 4 lights, so my solution is in post-processing: in FxHome PhotoKey, I set “Spill Suppression” to Extended
  • Take a shot of a gray card so you can adjust white balance later (i recommend shooting in RAW mode)
  • If your subject’s feet are going to be in the final photo, be sure the green screen fabric/muslin is draped forward underneath his/her feet
  • Check your photo after you take it; zoom in using the LCD panel and make sure:
    • subject is in clear focus
    • green screen is out of focus
    • histogram looks good (no lost highlights or shadows)
    • green is less bright than the subject
    • shadows/reflections on subject match the background photo you’re going to use
    • lighting is even (and diffuse) across the green screen
  • For post-production, I recommend the PhotoKey software, which you can find at fxhome.com; you may decide to use PhotoKey first and then PhotoShop later; Here are some things I’ve learned about PhotoKey:
    • Matte view is very useful—turn it on and remember that your goal is to get rid of grey areas;
    • If there is green reflecting onto subject’s skin (see note above), then change the Spill Suppression settings
    • If the edge is weird, play with the Edge Color slider;
    • If green in the subject’s clothing is being removed:
      1. If easy, just use a Mask to ignore the area with green;
      2. Otherwise, slide Hue Balance to minimize the problem.

Arminian Insane Asylum

Click thru to original

Kids Needle-Felting and…

Carnal Christianity

click thru to original

Isaiah 30

Reading through the book of Isaiah is painful. There’s much more about God’s judgment and justice than anything else, at least in the first half. Yet, in keeping with His merciful character, the text is sprinkled with passages of hope, passages of the Gospel in Christ.

I see that God is eager to be merciful to those who wait for Him. These passages give me strength and hope to keep going:

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.


For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”

Isaiah 30:18-22 (ESV)

click thru to original

Father Seeks Stiffer Penalties For Dogs After Daughter Bitten

Father Seeks Stiffer Penalties For Dogs After Daughter Bitten: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2012/04/20/father-seeks-stiffer-penalties-for-dogs-after-daughter-bitten/

Poems about Adoption

I’m finally getting around to these. I wrote both of them in the late 90s.

This is the biggest theme in my life, probably because I’m overwhelmed by God’s affection in adopting those who have no inherent right to call Him “Father.” See, for example, Hosea 2:23.

Part 1: A cry from an orphan boy
(A little boy’s prayer)

   I have the beautiful sun
   The warmth of your light
   I have quiet sleep
   The peace of the night

   I have fields of green
   And harvests of gold
   I understand the parables
   That Christ once told

   I have a beating heart
   Inside my little chest
   It struggles every day
   It never stops to rest

   But my dear God
   Upon this earth
   I do not have a father
   He left me at my birth

   Tell me what I'm missing
   Tell me why I cry
   I want to know what "father" means
   I really want to try

   What is trust?
   What is love?
   What is correction,
   Dear God above?

   Thank you for your mercy
   In bowing down to me
   I want the greatest father
   I want more of Thee

Part 2: God’s reply to him
(Dear orphan boy)

   Sweet child cold and hungry and betrayed,
   Curled in a gutter your small body laid.
   Cradling you gently, speaking of my rest,
   I felt your teardrops fall upon my breast.

   Dear orphan boy, I shod your trembling feet:
   Sit at my table -- drink the water sweet.
   Heav'n cannot tell, nor earth could ever speak,
   Of my great love for you, dear soul so weak.

   Trust in my arms, hold up the battle sign,
   Now you're a soldier, little boy of mine.
   You will not falter, you are born of me,
   Your little seed will grow into a tree.

   Love my rebuke and wear my armour fast,
   Cherish the treasures that will ever last.
   Hope of the crown pressed tight against your skin,
   Will surely help you all your battles win.

This second one I wrote music for it, here: