Sunday, August 31, 2008


I have a love-hate relationship with "art." I love going to art museums, but I only really appreciate about 10% of the stuff that's in them. I'm not just talking about modern art. I'm talking about everything from ancient China to the Renaissance to Matthew Barney.

Regarding historical art: I'm not sure why, but most of it strikes me as boring. Yes, I appreciate the fact that it's difficult. Yes, I understand that these art forms were totally new forms of expression in their day. Most of it just does not strike me as being beautiful or interesting. When it comes to art, I initially judge according to my gut feeling, and my gut feeling toward oil paintings of landscapes and marble statues of Greek gods is "I'm bored of this." Maybe that makes me ignorant. Maybe I just don't have any interest in history (I always hated history class). I don't know.

Regarding modern art: Much of it is ugly. Much of it is confusing. Yes, much of it is also interesting, but some of it requires little to no skill. It is often just raw, ugly expression.

Now, I didn't want to immediately dismiss historical art for being boring, or modern art for being ugly, so I had to ask myself the question: What makes good art? Or even more abstract: what makes art?

Obviously volumes upon volumes of books have been written on art, and I am by no means qualified to write an authoritative work on the subject, but I wanted to try to define it myself — to define it in a way that made sense to me. And after pondering it for several months, here's my current hypothesis: Art is an artificial category.

To me, "art" appears to have two main components: form and function — form being the aesthetic quality or beauty of the work (this is another giant topic in itself, I know), and function being the purpose of the work. Both of these qualities definitely exist, each can be done well or done poorly, and they can coexist. (Whether they can exist completely separately is debatable, but not really important right now.) Some art emphasizes form over function: it is beautiful, but doesn't seem to serve any purpose or communicate any specific ideas. It's just pretty. Other art emphasizes function over form: it tries to serve some purpose, often communicating a big idea or world view, but it might be stunningly ugly.

Here's the problem that I see: Form and function appear in every facet of life, in every human craft or skill. You can create a category called "art," that is defined by these two qualities, but that's like creating a category called "stuff." The category has no meaning. Nothing limits what can be included in it. There are watches that are stunningly complex and beautiful. Why aren't they in art museums? Industrial and graphic design departments crank out things every single day that are more functional and beautiful than much of the art that I see in museums. God's creation is amazingly beautiful and incomprehensibly complex in the way it functions. Can't we just appreciate form and function in everyday life, and put the finest examples of them in the museums? Why do we need a separate, poorly defined category? Is it just to create an aristocracy, where famous artists can display their own and their friends' stuff? Because that's what it seems like to me.

If anyone can give me a better definition of art that can help me make sense of and better appreciate it, I would be grateful, but I think my system of form and function makes sense, even if "art" doesn't.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stay Tuned...

For some reason, over the past couple weeks, I've really been struggling to come up with interesting posts. I don't know why. I just haven't felt particularly inspired. What interesting things have happened in my life that people would like to read about?

I'm back at K-State, and loving it. I'm sort of sad and sort of excited to have only one semester left. I'm taking microeconomics, which is basically a class full of freshmen. I feel like an old man. Mostly the excitement is to be back with all of my K-State friends. [This is the most boring blog post ever. Change the subject.]

I've been trying my hand at a bit of graphic design. I like to think that I have at least a small dash of talent, and with several heaping cups of practice and learning, maybe I could be a halfway decent amateur designer. This is the part of the show where I would normally post my work and vainly hope for the laudatory comments to come pouring in. Unfortunately, my computer tried to set itself on fire last night and now it doesn't turn on, so for the moment all my beautiful design work is being held captive in the sealed confines of my hard drive, crying in the dark. [Another subject going nowhere fast.] Oh, wait, my new blog header is a tiny sliver of my design work. Check it out.

Well, apparently I still don't have anything interesting to say. For now, please just stay tuned in case I actually think of a worthwhile topic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Colorado Adventures

My girlfriend Dani planned a trip for her, her friend Shannon, and I to go camping and hiking in Colorado this weekend. This was the plan:

  • Rendezvous in Salina at about 9pm, head west.
  • Arrive in Denver around 6 or 7am.
  • Head to Georgetown, find the campsite, set up camp, do some hiking.
  • Summit Gray's and Torrey's Peaks (two 14ers)
  • Drive home.

This is how it actually went down:

  • Rendezvous in Salina about midnight, head west.
  • Actually head north, because we miss the I-70 exit, and drive north on 81 for about an hour and a half.
  • Almost hit a deer.
  • Arrive in Denver at about 11am, it's pouring down rain, snowing and in the 30's above 10,000 feet. So much for camping and hiking.
  • Wander around Denver, desperately searching for things to do for free in pouring rain, and for places to stay that night.
  • Rain lets up, we explore downtown Denver, particularly the Golden Triangle and the 16th Street Mall (that thing is HUGE).
  • Find out that Dani's cousin lives in Denver, stay with him and his friend for the night, watch Olympics, play Wii and Guitar Hero.
  • Get up, drive up Guanella Pass, planning to summit Mount Evans via Mt. Bierstadt trail.
  • Reach the trailhead, everything is covered in snow and slush. We lack waterproof boots. No go.
  • Head back to Mt. Evans ranger station to inquire about dry trails in the area, but...
  • Car breaks down. Mind you, it's Sunday. No shops are open. Call AAA. They are awesome and find a place to fix our car on Sunday.
  • Cram the three of us into the tow truck cab, get the car fixed in Bergen Park. Slackline while we wait for the car to get fixed.
  • Drive back to Mount Evans, find a campsite at Echo Lake, set up camp.
  • Start a fire, but it never really gets going. We fan it for about two hours, burn completely through the logs, but it never gets hot. Luckily all the fanning kept us warm.

  • Sleep in, pack up, take the Mt. Evans road to Summit Lake, plan to hike 2 miles to the summit via Mt. Spalding. Everything is still covered in snow and slush, but we are fed up and decide to just go for it.
  • Make it about 1/4 the way to the top of Mt. Spalding, but the snow makes it extremely slippery and treacherous. We turn back.
  • Pack up, put on dry clothes, head home.

Despite the fact that absolutely nothing went according to plan, I think it's safe to say that we all had a blast. I know a lot of people who, if their vacation plans had gone as badly awry as ours, would have been absolutely miserable. But while we had some moments of despair, most of the time we just went with the flow and tried to make the most of the situation. We had two days in Colorado, and there's no way we were going to let it go to waste.

Some of my favorite moments of the trip:
  • Eating breakfast at a truck stop diner on I-70.
  • Shannon practicing violin outside the ranger station while we waited for the tow truck.
  • Riding in the tow truck, talking with the driver. She was one of the kindest, most down-to-earth people I've met.
  • Admiring the intense beauty of Echo Lake (and many other places in the mountains).
  • Fanning the campfire with a level of ferocity that has rarely been seen.
  • Waking up at 10,000 feet in the rocky mountains with the sun projecting tree branch shadows onto the tent.
  • Feeling hardcore after climbing only 250 feet up from Summit Lake, because we were the only people crazy enough to try it that day.
  • Dani laughing uncontrollably at Shannon on the car ride home.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Power of Dreams

Why can't Honda air these commercials here in the U.S.?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Podcast Pilots

I want to start a podcast eventually. I have no idea what format it's going to take, or what it will be about, but I decided to record some of my blog entries, just to see what they sound like. If you want to hear them and maybe offer some constructive criticism, leave a comment on this post (or contact me however you want) and I'll send them to you. As of right now, I have recorded "How-To: Do Everything" and "Naked Insecurity." They're very raw, no production, just me reading the blog posts, but give them a listen and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I liked them before...

Whenever a group of people is talking about a band, Nirvana for example, and someone says something like “I liked them way before ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’” most people in the room secretly despise that person for a moment. Often they’re lying in the first place, but even if they are telling the truth, it comes off as arrogant. Why? Because they seem to be saying that they have better taste than you do; that they spotted the talent before anyone else did. But it’s not quite that simple. I’ve had the impulse to make quite a few statements like that, and while pride is often a motive, it’s rarely the only one. I’m sure there are many, but I want to examine three (skip to the last one if you want, it’s the most important):

Motive 1: Disarm the Popularity Haters.
Popularity and quality often appear to be mutually exclusive. (I do claim that there isn’t a lot of overlap, but that’s not important right now.) The “I liked them before” problem often arises when something truly good attains popularity. People who have never heard of this thing before assume it’s popular because somebody decided to make it popular, say, the media, a large corporation, or other celebrities. They assume that because it’s popular, it must be mass-produced, crowd-pleasing trash, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s just good art getting the attention it deserves. If you "liked them before," then they don’t exist purely for the sake of being popular.

Motive 2: Separate Yourself from the Bandwagon Jumpers.
Bandwagon jumping is another phenomenon created by popularity. Some people only like things because all their friends like them, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Shared interests help strengthen community. But being labeled as a bandwagon jumper when you truly love something is an insult. Obviously if you “liked them before,” you can’t have been a bandwagon-jumper.

Motive 3: Mourn the Loss of Exclusivity.
This is a tough one to analyze, but it might be the most important. I don’t know how other people feel about this, so I’m going to talk from personal experience. For some reason, there’s a real joy for me when I like something that not a lot of people know about. The strange part is that I can’t put my finger on where this joy comes from. Here’s what I know: I know I get more joy out of telling my friends about it, and I know that the joy peaks when we all love this same thing intensely. Maybe it’s the fact that we have a secret, a prize that no one else can share. Maybe it’s that I identify with the thing so strongly that I feel I am somehow part of it. Maybe it’s the anticipation of future popularity and pride in saying “I knew them before…” (Here I go getting circular again.) I can’t tell what it is, but once the secret is out, once that part of my identity is stolen by others, the joy fades. Even if I still love the band, the movie, the book, whatever it is, it’s just not the same anymore. At first I want to tell everyone, but then when everyone knows, I’m sad. Is it just another form of pride? I don't think so. I don't know what it is.

So the next time someone says, “I knew them before…,” try to resist the urge to roll your eyes, label them as an arrogant hipster, or punch them in the face. Maybe they just wish that you could have shared their secret.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Naked Insecurity

I didn’t want to use this blog to be emotional and pointless, but I can’t help it at the moment. If you don’t want to read emotional vomit and a shameless plea for encouragement, please just skip this post.

I’m having a slight nervous breakdown. I feel like I’ve only been about 50% productive at work this summer. I accomplished some things, but could have done twice as much if I’d have put my mind to it and worked hard. I have two weeks left, then I go back to school for a semester, then I’m done with college. That’s cool, but I’ve sort of been operating under the assumption that Garmin will offer me a job. Today, for some reason, I can imagine the possibility that they might not, and it makes me sick, on several levels:

First, the idea of having to look for a job is terrifying. I hate that process. Second, I really like working here. I honestly don’t think I could get a job with a better work environment. Third, I can’t stand seeing anyone disappointed about anything. When it’s my fault, it’s ten times worse. I’m afraid I’ll go into the exit interview with my boss, and he’ll ask me what I did this summer. Then I’ll tell him, and he’ll say, “That’s it?” I might cry, vomit, or die right on the spot. More likely, I’ll stumble around with words and make pathetic excuses. What makes it so scary is that I don’t have a clue what my boss or coworkers think of my work. I don’t know if they think it’s great, or if they think I’m just slow because I’m an intern and I’ll improve, or if they think I’m just wasting their time.

I’m really good at following directions. If someone tells me exactly what to do, I can do it. If they leave everything up to me, I can’t ever decide to do anything. Whenever I try to make a decision, I can think of about three con’s for every pro. I can’t ever find the perfect solution. Probably because there usually isn’t one, but I’m so petrified of making a mistake, I never do anything. Every once in a while, I go out on a limb and make a decision that I know might be stupid. I hoped this might cure me of my indecisiveness, but no. The results have been just about 50/50. Half the time it’s a fantastic experience. Half the time I wish I could erase it from my life completely.

I don’t think writing that accomplished anything, except to expose my naked insecurity, which I don’t do very often. That is one of my goals for this blog though; to say things I wouldn’t ordinarily say. Also, posting this is one of those possibly stupid decisions I referred to earlier. Wow. That's circular. I have to stop typing now, or my head is going to explode.