Saturday, September 12, 2009

Art and life and what statistical probabilities have to do with it all

These are the kinds of random things J. and I debate at 6:30 in the morning at Starbucks on Saturdays.

Here's how this one started...I mentioned off-hand to J. that the book I was reading, "Age of Wonder: how the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science," was surprisingly engrossing. He asked what exactly it was about, and when I mentioned that the Romantic Generation referred to the age in which Wordsworth and Coleridge, Byron and Shelley lived, he wondered whether Coleridge should get the credit for that strange poem of his, "Kubla Khan," which was written while he was under the influence of opium.

So J. and I started debating whether artists should get credit for the work they've done if they were under the influence (drugs, alcohol, whatever). J. said no, because the artist had no say in the making of art, it was just the drugs. In other words, they did not have the inborn talent to produce their art; it was just the byproduct of flights of fancy they undertook while under the influence. I said yes, because even if the artist was under the influence, s/he still had the talent necessary to produce art (this is not true of all people that claim to be artists). I used a Chesterton quote to back me up: "Jane Austen was not inflamed or inspired or even moved to be a genius; she simply was a genius."

I didn't come close to convincing J. until I pointed out the statistical improbability of an artist continually churning out masterpieces while high, if there was no inherent "genius" or spark of true talent to make such consistently high quality works.

J. and I have a long-standing good-natured antagonism over art.

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