Lost Among Europeans

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Art vs. the rest

In the last few years, I have come to think of myself as an artisan, and pretty close to an artist. I don’t mean in the sense that I sculpt or draw or compose. I think of the arts as wider than that: not an occupation, but a frame of mind.

The usual art vs. science divide doesn’t interest me. Scientists and engineers have to deal with places where their current tools and methods break, and they need to devise new ones. Here comes invention, design, speculation, exploration. Here comes a process where one takes steps back, not just forward.

This is what interests me: how people find solutions to problems; where taste comes in; what guides designs and lines of inquiry; where they tend to get stuck. I see this kind of thing discussed in “the arts” more often than in “the sciences”, although the scientists and engineers I admire most will readily open up.

The internet is a treasure trove here; a natural home for informal material, a melting pot for the inchoate. I spend a portion of my internet attention span on people talking about why they’ve done things the way they have.

For example, I find Sophia Coppola interviews interesting, like this one on The Beguiled. None of her movies are on my desert island bunch, but I like how she makes her characters opaque, in contrast with so many movies constantly trying to make their characters “relatable”.

I also enjoy listening to comedians talk about their craft and careers. Jerry Seinfeld’s show Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee is great, and I like it better than his own comedy. Particularly when his guest is not trying to be funny — good episodes have featured Judd Apatow and Kristen Wiig.

I’ve been reading movie critic Richard Brody, who has a taste I often like, and who has a “movies for life” perspective. In a recent article about Joe Swanberg, Brody writes:

“Win It All,” like most good movies, is closer to music than to literature or theatre. But if most movies resemble compositions in which musicians interpret the written parts under the conductor’s command, Swanberg’s resemble jazz […]

I find this kind of thought, as speculative and vague as it is, much more interesting than the “pure scientific/rational brain” expected (and peddled) by many. Relatedly, I have read a few books on productivity, and a few on time management for creative folk, and I find the latter so much more honest.