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Keeping Score in the Arts #6: A Better Mousetrap
2004-03-10 16:30
by Score Bard

This is the sixth in a series of six articles.
Preview. 1. A New Science. 2. A Brain Lesson. 3. Hypothesis. 4. Some Explaining to Do. 5. A Lifetime of Art.

Beyond just explaining observed art phenomena, I imagine that this hypothesis could be used to make the creation and criticism of art more efficient.

The creation of art is a feedback loop between Android Brain and Animal Brain. Android Brain works through the steps of creating a work of art. The steps involve speaking in the language that Animal Brain understands: novelty, patterns, emotions, satisfactions and alarms. Animal Brain gives the artist feedback about the quality of the artwork, about whether new nondeclarative memories are being formed by it. Based on that feedback, the artist, in Android Brain mode, then alters the work.

Many artists just trust their own Animal Brain feedback and follow that. For those who are successful doing that, good for them. Don't change a thing. But I think many artists would probably see the quality of their work improve if they had some good guidelines for Android Brain to follow.

Good rules can help artists be more aware of the choices they have and tradeoffs they make. Android Brain is built for step-by-step instructions. It's methodical. There are already many good instruction books for artists to follow, but I think we can use the language of memory formation to make our explanations more precise.

Such explanations would not only be useful for pure artists, but also for advertisers and producers of goods whose measures of success are not counting new memories, but counting sales. As Virginia Postrel points out in her book The Substance of Style, aesthetic quality is becoming an important part of our economy.

A similar feedback loop pertains to art critics, too. Animal Brain is the source of our reactions. Android Brain has facts and rules about how art should work. It's the source of our explanations. A good critic will move back and forth between Animal Brain and Android Brain, testing what their rules tell them against what their actual reactions are. If their reactions differ from their rules, they'll adjust their rules. The goal of art criticism is to explain to Android Brain what's going on in Animal Brain.

Some bad critics favor one system or the other. A bad Animal Brain critic will have a reaction and try to explain it without using any logic at all: I opine, therefore I'm right. That's not helping Android Brain, which wants logic. A bad Android Brain critic will have rules about what art "should" be, and analyze according to those rules. But if you're not testing the rules for accuracy against Animal Brain, you're likely to have ineffective rules.

I can imagine people reacting negatively to thinking of art as a form of engineering. Even to me, it feels like the magic of it might be diminished. But because of that inaccessible data inside of our Animal Brain, I think art will always retain a certain mystery. The conversation between Animal Brain and Android Brain need never end.

To work with things is not hubris
when building the association beyond words;
denser and denser the pattern becomes--
being carried along is not enough.

Take your well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
opposing poles. Because inside human beings
is where God learns.

  --Rainer Maria Rilke

   from Just as the Winged Energy of Delight
   translated by Robert Bly
   in The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

And finally: A summary in haiku form

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