Monthly Archives: November 2010

3 things about Islam the west needs to know

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Judging good art from bad art

Previously I raised the question of whether we could judge whether something qualified as art or not. I explored the objective definition of art and how two criteria must be met before something can be considered art or not. Now I want to delve into the topic of whether we can measure good art from bad art and, if so, how we can go about determining the quality of art in an objective sense.

To recap, the criteria of art is that it must :

  1. Have a definitive message to send
  2. Portrayed this message in such a way that is is possible to be understood by the recipient

So it would follow that art can be measured on both it’s content, what it is attempting to convey, and then it’s style, how well it communicates that message.

Renaissance painters like Rembrandt often chose as the message they wished to communicate either a concept from Scripture or the beauty of nature. The former message is rather simple and easy to judge, the painting either succeeds or fails in it’s attempt to portray the Biblical concept. There is not much work for the viewer to do other than link the artwork with the foreknown content.

However judging whether art achieves it’s goal in communicating beauty is quite another matter entirely. In fact, an entire area of philosophy is dedicated to studying the nature of beauty. This area of philosophy is known as Aesthetics.

Since aesthetics is closely linked to other areas of philosophy like morality, it is easy for many people, especially those steeped in postmodern forms of thought, to dismiss the concept of beauty as if statements regarding beauty were subjective descriptions of personal preference rather than propositional statements regarding objective truth.

If we define beauty as a purely subjective notion, with no ideal to measure against, then our ability to discern good art from bad art is crippled at the outset.

If beauty has no ideal then there is no real difference between my 5 year old daughter’s artwork and Rembrandt’s artwork.

This lack of understanding beauty in any objective sense, I would contend, is the reason that trash is now considered art. Without a standard to measure by, emotional shock value, or the ability of a “piece”1 to illicit an emotional response from the viewer.

But the viewer does not confer anything to the piece. The viewer, at best, can only recognize the piece for what it is, or is not.

Good art, therefore, depends on it’s ability to communicate with the viewer. How well it does in communicating the message intended by the artist and how well it does so in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Bad art, consequently, is ugly. That is, it is not aesthetically pleasing. It does not convey beauty.

Now I realize that, at this point, many people will object on the grounds that the definition of beauty has not been settled. Fair enough. I won’t attempt here to delve into the philosophical discipline I mentioned above which deals with this issue in-depth.

What I will say, however, is that before we consider whether a piece is good or bad art, we need to first settle the question of whether it qualifies as art in the first place. After that question is answered, then we can discuss what the piece aims at communicating and whether it achieves those aims. And after all of that, we can discuss whether the subject of the piece is itself beautiful or not.

  1. I would readily agree these works are pieces alright, but we need to qualify that by answering the begged question “pieces of what?” []
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Abrogation in the Quran

[HT SuniPath]

Among the verses in the Quran containing orders or laws there are verses that abrogate verses previously revealed and acted upon. These abrogating verse are called _nasikh_ and those whose validity they terminate are called _mansukh_.

The common notion of abrogation, that is, canceling of one law or code by another, is based on the idea that a new law is needed because of a mistake or shortcoming in the previous one. It is clearly inappropriate to ascribe a mistake in law-making to God, Who is perfect, and whose creation admit of no flaws.

However, in the Quran, the abrogating verses mark the end of the validity of the abrogated verses because their heed and effect was of a temporary or limited nature. In time the new law appears and announces the end of the validity of the earlier law. Considering that Quran was revealed over a period of twenty-three years in ever-changing circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine the necessity of such laws.

It is in this light that we should regard the wisdom of abrogation within the Quran:

“And when we put a revelation in place of (another) revelation and Allah knows best what He reveals — they say: you are just inventing it. Most of them do not know. Say: The Holy Spirit (Gibril) has revealed it from your hand with truth and as a guidance and good news for those who have surrendered (to God)” [16:101-102]

It is a science on its own in Islam to know the Nasikh and Mansukh.

Disputes abound over whether Islam is a religion of peace or a religion of violence. Many often cite suras of peace while others cite suras of violence and war. However, according to the law of aborgation found in the Koran we should really ask what the last suras say.

Surah 9 is one of the last surahs written, and it is all about war, violence, and the killing of infidels.

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Judging what is and is not art

Modern art, or more specifically, postmodern art characterized by abstract expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, and Franz Kline, has been decried by art critics (of a less refined taste as we are commonly told by the self-proclaimed elite art critics) as being trash and not “true art”. However such a distinction begs the question, what is true art and how do we go about judge it in an objective fashion? The first question will determine the latter since, if we cannot find an objective definition on which to stand for what constitutes art, the second question regarding how we should go about judging it will only be an exercise in expressing our subjective opinions.

An objective definition of art
Wikipedia defines art this way:

Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects the senses, emotions, and/or intellect.

I would argue that art is creative communication. Art includes the items commonly accepted to be art, such as books, movies, paintings, buildings, photography, and music. The realm of art also includes items not yet included in the commonly accepted definition of art. Contrary to Roger Ebert, even videogames can be works of art. I would even go so far as to say that mechanical devices, mathematical formulas, programming structures, and heavy industrial machinery can all be works of art as well.

That is, they can be so long as fill two criteria.

  1. They have a definitive message to send
  2. That message is portrayed in such a way that is is possible to be understood by the recipient

Postmodernism, with its emphasis on the deconstruction of language, has had a profound impact on modern art. We can see the beginnings of this trend in Pablo Picasso’s work wherein common subjects were distorted so that the recipient had to work at discerning what the artist was attempting to convey. And we can see the culmination of this trend in Jackson Pollock’s work (among others) wherein the viewer is expected to bring their own subjective meaning to whatever work was being viewed.

This approach is wholly consistent with a postmodern framework. However since it lacks an intended message from the author to the audience, it cannot rightly be considered art. Even if the objective of the author is to combat the notion of objective truth itself, the lack of clarity in communicating that message to the audience prevents it from being considered art. In order to remain true to the tenants of postmodernism it would need to be open to being deconstructed itself and reconstructed in whatever the subject wished, destroying it’s ability to communicate anything at all.

So there is art that cannot rightly be categorized as art and it has nothing to do with our subjective feelings on the matter. We can honestly say that men like Pollock did not produce art by their new style of  “action paintings”. How could they? They admittedly had nothing they wished to communicate and thus the viewer is left with nothing to learn from their paintings. At best these postmodern pieces are like glorified Rorschach tests designed to act as a cognitive mirror for the viewer’s mind.

look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for –Jackson Pollock

Reynolds News had it right when they wrote that “this is not art–it’s a joke in bad taste”.

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What does a simple church look like?

When You Come Together from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

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Tidal Wave – Finishing what the reformation started

Tidal Wave from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

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The Rabbit and the Elephant

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Al Mohler on the history of the SBC

[HT SBTS]

Mohler makes several points worth noting here, including:

  • The SBC has a unique legal and organizational structure
  • Membership in the SBC is voluntary and centered around the Cooperative Program to maximize evangelistic efforts
  • The SBC is a huge cooperation (Al didn’t say this, but it is clear from the SBC’s history and current practice)

The SBC has a lot of promise, but only insofar as it remembers it’s roots in a decentralized cooperative among equal churches. If the SBC continues down it’s road towards towards centralized leadership that gives directives to local churches.

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James Cameron and Eric Schmit think you’re a criminal if you don’t agree with the global warming hysteria

What about those people who live like global warming is not real?

The lesson here is that its ok to live like a hypocrite so long as you tow the party line and bully dissenters with rhetoric like what we see above.

So much for open and honest scientific discourse or debate.

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Never let the sun catch you sleeping

Like most people in my profession, I used to love to sleep in. I made a habit of staying up late and subsequently getting up late.

However, once I decided to made deliberate changes in my life, to be more productive and responsible for example, somehow I knew that one of the things I needed to change along with everything else was my sleep schedule.

A post from the Art of Manliness blog eloquently captures the reasons for rising early as well as a clear strategy to accomplish that goal.

Here are the highlights:

Great men were early risers.

If you read the biographies of history’s greatest men, you’ll find that most were early risers. They used each morning to write, read, ponder, and plan for their day.

  • Statesman Daniel Webster would use his extra time in the morning to answer twenty to thirty of the letters he received from constituents and other politicians.
  • Benjamin Franklin would wake every day at 5AM and would use the time to wash, dress, and plan his day’s work.
  • Theodore Roosevelt would rise before dawn so he could get an early start on living his day strenuously.
  • Ernest Hemingway felt he did his best writing in the morning. “There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” He’d get started at 6AM and write non-stop until noon.
  • Philosopher Immanuel Kant would wake up at 5AM and have a cup of tea. After his tea, he’d smoke his pipe and meditate.
  • Thomas Jefferson felt “it [was] of great importance to use every moment of every day to its fullest,” so he was up before the sun each day. He’d use the time to record the weather, a habit which he kept up his entire life. After recording the temperature and air pressure, Jefferson would start a fire in his study. He’d sit by it with his feet in cold water and mediate about the day’s activities or any scientific hypothesis or political theories he was working on.
  • Benito Juarez, Mexico’s first full-blooded indigenous national to serve as president, woke up before dawn to study. His strict habit of daily thinking and studying gave him the insight and wisdom he needed to restore democracy to Mexico.

I would also add:
Jesus,

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. -Mark 1:35

Benefits of waking up early

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased creativity
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased fitness

I would also add:
Provides a time for silence and quiet reflection.1

How to become an early riser

  • Go to bed earlier
  • Start off small
  • Keep your alarm clock away from your bed
  • Have a routine established
  • Invigorate with cold shower
  • Make a good breakfast
  • Discipline, discipline, discipline2

Getting an alarm clock that monitors sleep cycles and attempts to wake you up during the lightest sleep cycle also helps a lot. There are great apps available for both Android and iPhone that accomplish this with stellar results.

What If I’m a Night Owl?

“Put no trust in the benefits to accrue from early rising, as set forth by the infatuated Franklin …” – Mark Twain

I would first of all urge everyone to make a good faith effort at getting up early in the morning. Before I tried, I never thought I would enjoy the regular routine of getting up early in the morning. However, now that I am in the habit of getting up earlier, I believe there are real tangible benefits to doing so.

That said, however, I recognize that some people just aren’t geared for that. My office is filled with many guys who do their best work in the evenings or at night. It certainly isn’t a character flaw. In fact, some studies show that night owls make more than early birds. Additionally, many great men like Winston Churchill accomplished great things even with an understandably chaotic sleep schedule.

Conclusion

Time is a precious commodity.

In the movie “The Matrix: Reloaded”, Zion city council member Hamann encounters the main character, Neo, deep in the bowels of the city late at night. In their exchange Hamann makes the statement that he spend the first half of his life sleeping, so he wants to be awake as much as possible now.

Because I believe this world is transitory. Our lives but a vapor against the backdrop of eternity. I believe it is worth while to live as many moment as possible consciously as well as intentionally.

  1. This meshes well with JP Moreland’s view of biological biorhythms mentioned in his Kingdom Triangle work. []
  2. Paul said he would beat his body to submit to his will. So we should be able to manage shocking ours to get into a good sleep schedule. []
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