The Technium

Art / Not Art

Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 2.22.29 PM

Art is extremely hard to define. We honestly don’t know it when we see it. Whatever that thing is, its label as art/not art is very much determined by context.  One experiment suggested that your political leanings correlated with your ease to call something art. A person who is educated and more open-minded will tend to be more inclusive in what they consider art.

And even within all that is labeled art there is a huge variety.  We tend to say there is good art vs bad art; new art vs old art, and my favorite, first word art vs last word art. This distinction by Michael Naimark reckons the kind of art that is first to explore a medium, or invent the medium, vs the kind of art that optimizes the medium. For example, the earliest rock and roll song versus the best rock and roll song.

So art is definitely not just one thing, and not just one dimension. But let’s agree for just one minute that we all want to see more art in the world. Or more good art. How do we increase it? How do we improve it? How do we maximize it if we don’t know what it is and if we don’t even know it when we see it?

I don’t have any answers, which bothers me. So I am constructing a poll for myself to see if pushing on the edges of this realm might reveal what is at its center.

Here’s how I would start:   ART / NOT ART?

1) Imagine there are four black scribbled lines on a white wall. 1a) One is by Picasso; 1b) one is by a two-year old child, 1c) one is by an elephant given rewards for marking; and 1d) one is by a robot given the prompt to make art. They look very similar. Now which ones are art? And how much does the story or origins matter?

2a) A photograph of a water stain on the side of a building taken by Ansel Adams. 2b)A photograph of a water stain on the side of a building taken by blind person. 2c) A water stain on the side of a building that you notice. 2d) A water stain on the side of a building noticed by no one.

3a) A modern digital camera. 3b) The first Kodak brownie camera. 3c) A camera made out of lego. 3d) A working camera made out of lego. 3e) A working camera with a lens made out of ice. 3f) A photograph of a glacier taken with a working camera with a lens made out of ice. 3g) A lens made of glacier ice. 3h) A found piece of glacier ice in the shape of a lens.

4) One person staring into the face of another person for an hour.

5a) A banana taped to a wall. 5b) A banana taped to a wall in a museum.

6a) A two-hour action movie depicting an imaginary world on other planets. 6b) A two-hour recording of a satellite probe passing another planet in our solar system. 6c) A two-year mission to Mars, to land eight people on its surface, televised live.

7) An app on your phone that shows a graph of the tides in real time.

8) The Large Hadron Collider.

9a) Black Rock City at Burning Man. 9b) Venice canals.

10a) Pride March in major city. 10b) Disneyland night Electrical Parade. 10c) Cirque du Soleil in big tent.

11a) Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Waters house. 11b) Pyramids 11c) The White House. 11d) Your house, on a good day.

12a) Painting generated by AI from human prompts. 12b) Painting generated by AI from a hand drawn image as prompt. 12c) Painting by human made of a AI generated image. 12d) Painting generated by AI from AI prompt, selected by human. 12e) Random AI generated image.

13a) Mascot for football team. 13b) Most expensive Paris fashion evening dress 13c) Swag T-shirt from crypto startup. 13d) Shirt you are wearing today.

14) Opening ceremony for Olympics.

15) Microsoft Excel software.

16) Baby Shark video.

17a) Beeple IPO. 17b) NFT of Beeple IPO. 17c) IPO of Beeple NFT.

18) Constitution DAO.

19a) Scamming Indian call center scams. 19b) A podcast about scamming Indian call center scams.

20) New York City.


Put your answers in the comments below.


© 2022