There used to be Olympic art

Here's something we should bring back:

The Olympics used to have art.  Well, they still do.  Apparently, the Olympics have an art exhibition every year, which is all that remains of what was once the Olympic art categories of Architecture, Literature, Music, Painting and Sculpture.

These events were ended because the artists were considered 'too professional' to compete, because apparently the Olympics is for amateurs.  You know, those amateurs who go to college on scholarships for their amateur sport, the ones who spend their whole lives training to be the best in the world at that one thing they're amateurs at.

There are several reasons why Olympic art events would be great:

  • It would broaden our understanding and appreciation of other cultures worldwide, promoting unity around the world.
  • It would help raise the public assumption of legitimacy of art, the way Olympic sport events raise the public assumption of the legitimacy of sports.
  • Can you imagine some of the awesome new events we could have?
    • The 24-hour comics event
    • The photoshop event
    • Literature categories for poetry, flash fiction, short story, and novellas
    • The architecture section could involve designing parts of the stadium

According to Wikipedia's article, attempts to reinstate the Art categories have been unsuccessful.  The Olympics (while distinctly European in a lot of ways) is one of the few attempts we have going for a world culture, and its rejection of art says unpleasant things about that world culture.

Drinking and Art

Did you know? is one of  my favorite tumblr blogs, and they had a particularly good weekend.  I've had several of their tabs open for a few days now, because I wanted to blog about them.  Ultimately, the one I settled on was this:

I've suspected this for a while -- I don't think there's anyone who can reasonably defend the claim that getting blackout drunk can help smooth the work of a creative endeavor, but the effects of light drinking can only help.  In one of my favorite New Yorker articles, Drinking Games, Malcolm Gladwell explains:

Steele and his colleague Robert Josephs's explanation is that we've misread the effects of alcohol on the brain. Its principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental field of vision. It causes, they write, "a state of shortsightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion."

Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the thing in the background disappear. That's why drinking makes you think you are attractive when the world thinks otherwise: the alcohol removes the little constraining voice from the outside world that normally keeps our self-assessments in check. Drinking relaxes the man watching football because the game is front and center, and alcohol makes every secondary consideration fade away. But in a quiet bar his problems are front and center—and every potentially comforting or mitigating thought recedes. Drunkenness is not disinhibition. Drunkenness is myopia.

So, that's a reasonably respected reporter discussing the work of an established scientist.  The thoroughly unscientific provisional conclusion I've drawn from this is that having a drink or two while I work will probably help block out the otherwise disabling awareness that Tumblr is just a few clicks away.

TIME Magazine's article in their health section, the one to which the above Did You Know refers, goes further than that:

 Increasingly, science is confirming that altered states of consciousness — whether induced by drugs, alcohol, sleepiness, travel or anything else that removes us from our usual way of seeing the world — do indeed improve creative thought. The inhibition of what researchers call executive functioning, which includes focus and planning — abilities that decline when we’re under the influence — may be what lets us generate new ideas and innovative solutions, instead of remaining fixed on the task at hand.

The study, which, thankfully, TIME actually links to, is published in Consciousness and Cognition, a peer-reviewed journal with a self-explanatory name.

The article also dips into the risks of this kind of finding -- whether attention-focusing drugs like Ritalin diminish creative thinking, and whether this contributes to the rate of addiction in artists:

Having less executive control before you even take drugs means you’ll have less ability to stop once you start.

That would increase addiction risk two ways — by increasing desire to use, and by increasing the risk from use that occurs. And of course, the more high-profile creative types who become addicted, the more it seems that drugs and alcohol must be crucial to creativity. And that itself would attract even more artists to initiate drug use, escalating the cycle.

Personally, I know I'm prone to addiction, so I weigh my decisions to drink very carefully against the various risks, especially dependence. In a world governed entirely by my own preferences, I'd have access to professionals that can help me regulate my use of chemicals to adjust my state of mind to my preference.  By which I mean, I'd be able to get prescriptions for gin and LSD from my psychiatrist.

Grit: a measurable personality trait

I watched a Google Author Talk earlier today by Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, a book I have not read. There were a lot of very interesting things in the talk.  Like, apparently brainstorming doesn't work -- it turns out the central premise that you shouldn't criticize people while coming up with ideas actually results in fewer good ideas than people would produce without any collaboration.  The best method, it turns out, is intelligent, constructive criticism. But the most interesting thing I saw in the talk was that, apparently, there's a recognized personality trait called Grit.  Grit describes the quality of sticking through the hard, drudge-like work involved in achieving long-term goals, and it seems to be one of those rare common features among successful people.

Of course, grit isn't a guarantee of success.  Lehrer points out that no matter how dedicated he might be, no amount of grit could get him a place on a professional basketball team.

He also mentions a quiz, by Angela Lee Duckworth, which approximates an individual's level of grit. He says it should be easy to find, but it took me a bit more Googling than I expect most people would put up with. So, here's the direct link.[1. I got a 3.4166666666667, which might be good.  I'm not sure.  It's better than 50%, anyway.  My answers were: 1. mostly, 2. somewhat, 3. somewhat, 4. somewhat, 5. mostly, 6. somewhat, 7. not at all, 8. not at all, 9. somewhat, 10. not much, 11. not much, 12. mostly.]

Adam Savage at Maker Faire 2012

I love Adam Savage.  I love his public speaking -- he's a great speaker, a great storyteller, and his topics are always brilliant and inspiring.  He's exactly the kind of artist I want to listen to.  He talks about pop culture and mechanisms and technology fondly, without judgement or condescension. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from this talk:

We have to keep getting kids interested in making things, and getting their hands dirty, and putting them -- getting them into their world.

[...]

The teaching myself how to make things in order to have those things is the engine of everything that I have achieved in my whole life up to now.

It's a fantastic talk.  Watch it.