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What is art? And why should we care what it is?

An old debate with new relevance. At a time when the value of an idea is paramount, creative programs are being marginalized or eliminated in our education system. Is this a paradox or a symptom of our disassociation from independent thinking because we have reached the saturation point of knowledge?

If our base level of knowledge has out stripped our ability to assimilate it, does creative thinking decrease in the general population (like a glass that has been filled to the brim)?

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    Jan 24 2014: The problem with art is that it's being taught to us only under the image and form of masterpieces. Our educational system shows us what the greats have done such as Beethoven in music, Da vinci in painting, and Marlon brando in acting, etc...and values and assesses our artistic side compared to them... Art cannot be taught or compared, it's a constant evolution and the honest expression of the soul and the mind, unfortunately, our schools have failed to understand this, thus they killed creativity.
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      Jan 25 2014: Super point!
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      Jan 26 2014: Don't we need more than just expression for something to be called art? The intent is surely important, but the delivery of the soul makes it presentable to the audience. Can an emotional singer, but tone-death to be called a musician? (Unfortunately, I think there are many of them today in the mainstream media and being quite successful ).

      School does not teach art, it teaches the delivery of it. How to present the expression as an artiest, and how to understand it as an audience. A great story needs words to help it spread, that's why we teach grammar, vocabulary and literary devices at school.
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        Jan 26 2014: I really like what you said that schools does not teach art, they teach the delivery of it. You are absolutely right, however, don't you think that following this way of teaching might have a negative effect, resulting in having an homogenous generation of students, where the majority are doing everything the same way?

        From a personal experience: I would like to add that I'm a guitar player, I used to pick up my guitar and try to compose little pieces of music, if it sounds good to me I play it if not I drop it, whats fascinating is that I created some really nice songs! back then I didn't know any music theory, what I was composing really came from the heart, but since I decided to learn some theory, my creativity dropped, I now use defined scales to make music such as the pentatonic scale, the music still sounds good, but its music that everyone can do, unlike the personal music I first composed.
        • Feb 6 2014: I completely agree. If what schools teach in art is 'good' and the only 'good' art, does that mean that all our future artist will be oil pastels and watercolor paints?
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      Jan 26 2014: Your observation is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. You seem to be arguing that formal instruction in technique is emphasized in the schools with which you are familiar and that that stifles creativity. Others typically argue that encouraging creativity across the curriculum but not pursuing formal instruction in artistic technique stifles creativity.
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        Jan 26 2014: Yes, and that poses a problem, both theories are true in a way, yet they are contradictory. Do you think that some balance can be created between them, leading toward a better artistic education?
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          Jan 26 2014: In visual arts, I believe almost all artists who have done path breaking work have started by learning the techniques of the masters but then departed from those techniques to be in dialogue with them. There is, of course, creative "outsider" work as well, though it is difficult to know whether that work would still have arisen if these artists had been exposed to more ideas originally.

          I know many people believe that exposure to a wide array of ideas and techniques in any field is stifling, but I think that research on creativity and interviews with highly creativity people mostly dispels that assumption.

          It is fruitful in any case not to dissuade people of any age from pursuing their artistic directions just because they have no training. Why shouldn't anyone experiment as they choose with materials? In fact, kids in schools with which I am familiar typically have frequent opportunities to work experimentally with an array of materials. This was true even in my youth.

          Creative endeavors are not only about contributing to the discipline with which they are associated or doing great work but also about improving an individual's quality of life. Hobby art, hobby science, and hobby research of all kinds can improve the quality of life for those who pursue them. For this reason, an increasing number of people do pursue them.

          People should probably not use power tools or toxic materials without some guidance as to their use.
      • Jan 27 2014: If formal education in "art" stifles creativity, why isn't formal education in composition, basic grammar, or fundamentals of spelling denounced for the same reason? Is not writing "art"?
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          Jan 27 2014: One hears the same claim for creative writing. I believe it to be a dubious claim in any subject.
    • Jan 30 2014: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

      Although he says it is standardized testing, not art instruction that kills creativity. In fact, in order to inspire more creativity Sir Ken Robinson recommends more arts, not less.

    • Feb 20 2014: I think it creates a kind of psychological pressure to follow in the same footsteps or to match up to that level. i totally agree with you Joseph.
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      Feb 2 2014: The comment to which this replied has been deleted leaving this for now as it does relate to other elements n this thread especially those pertaining to the "message" within art.

      This is very interesting and onto something. My friend Jane McCloskey ( daughter of Robert McCloskey..make way for ducklings etc.) started out exploring what informed her fathers private work, never seen by any of us,(still )t lead her into an exploration of sacred geometry in art that she has had an enduring attraction to. I hope her book on this will be published, its been fascinating to see that in finding the sacred geometry in the art she also finds keys to the meaning , the message in it that has engaged her with the work over time She seems to find the keys that unlock messages that speak to all of us for all time.

      Sacred geometry of course is the heart of all mathematics and all of creation. So there is, Jane has discovered, a connection between art and nature and the very structure of the universe through scared geometry.

      Also recently I found a quoe that said a longing for beauty is a longing for connection with the universe.
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        Feb 3 2014: Yes, Lindsay, I agree. Maths are the soul of creation, of Universe. And I agree with your friend's concept about art. I have a friend who is a dentist, and he, when designs a prosthesis,- tooth-, he ends his work adding, to the measures of the gap to be covered in patient's jaw, the Art of the mathematical rule of the 'golden ratio' to finish this tooth's design. Besides, in his clinic you always listen to Beethoven or Mozart. Nice, isn't?
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    Jan 26 2014: Art is the human expression based entirely on feelings. It is also a communication defying logical cogency.
    Of course we should care what is art or else we will start to mistake logic for thought itself.
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      Jan 25 2014: Endless subject..
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          Jan 25 2014: You're a sweet soul, Lili. And your wisdom is appreciated in my heart.
    • Jan 30 2014: It is not as if our choice at this moment is comment on art or feed the hungry... the two are not mutually exclusive. If any subject could be free of the politicized accusation of frivolity in the face of human need I would think it is this one.
      In my opinion the best answer to poverty is not the devaluation of art, it is the emancipation of women, but that is another topic.

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        • Feb 5 2014: lilly lily:
          Art is food for soul.
          If all we care about is just to exist then we are no good than other animals.
          Talking about poverty it is artificial ,we created boundaries, divided the world so that half of the world would be left to suffer while privileged one's enjoy.
          And the role of art is to express this contradictions in life which we fail to see.
          Have a good day..
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        • Feb 7 2014: lilly lily:
          Isn't it a hypothetical world you are talking about ,if survival of the fittest is the rule of the game then weak have to suffer.
          Looking back at the history of art, the best pieces of art was produced in utter despair and agony .May be art is an alchemy of turning this pain into something beautiful.
          So you don't necessarily have to separate poverty and art.The art may be best described as a process of crystallizing your pain .
          The art chooses the artist, artist is choice less.
          Take care...
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        • Feb 15 2014: Lilly x 2. Art isn't a privileged activity of the well fed aristocracy. I think that's a distorted view propagated in the affluent West and sustained by a disconnection with the root of expression.

          Art is accessible and practiced by anyone who imagines the possibilities beyond the limitations of their circumstances. It resonates with the poor, the exploited, and the marginalized.

          It is the one activity that allows a human being to feel alive… regardless of their influence or physical hardship. It embodies the nature of our being and trumpets the tenacity of our existence.

          Look past bourgeoisie objects of status and appreciate the value of an oppressed individuals display of the quality of their being. There is endless examples of oppressed and ravished groups that have taken refuge in the simple act of expression,

          Artistic expression is an integral part of cultural life.
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        • Feb 15 2014: lilly lilly:

          I didn't miss your point. I just don't agree with it.

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    Jan 24 2014: Earlier this month they had a TED talk on how a guy learn to love useless art, it made me laugh because just like a typical art snob what made it useless was that is also had function. So we will all never agree what is art and that it is truly in the eye of the beholder.
    Some think blending mediums or if more than one person work on it then it is no longer art, I think video games are art. The blending of graphics, storytelling, and making it interactive only enhances the viewer’s experience.

    Back in my school days I was into creating art, and feared taking art history for it would influence me and take my originality. But instead it added to my creativity, hmm that painting was done on brass interesting, maybe I could try painting on glass, stone, ceramics or or or ? To me knowledge increases creativity.
  • Feb 19 2014: Art is emotion made solid. If you can turn your joy into beauty; your love into an outpouring of your soul; your mortality into something that will live forever; your fear into something comforting; your anger into a stand against outrage - Then, you are an artist regardless of what materials you use and regardless of what technical skill you may or may not possess.
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    Feb 4 2014: Art brings attention to functionality be it aesthetic or figurative. It brings to view how much science exist around us. Art like beauty is in the eye of the beholder making it a great subject for debate. What are the standards, what is the criteria for what art should be or shouldn't?

    Art is context based, never always means what it presents, sometimes direct other times abstract, it could be worth a million words or interpretations. Art is living , our every day activities make up myriad of artistic expressions which in itself is art ( walking , talking, cooking, culinary gestures, dancing etc ).

    The world as we see it and experience is a work of art. Art makes science beautiful , art gives science form , art makes tomorrow exciting .
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    Feb 4 2014: Art is natural, art is in nature. Art is form and beauty, art could seem formless, art is a mystery.
    Art is about imagination, it is deeper than human thought could express; but it has to be expressed in order to fufill its purpose.

    Purpose? To make money? To reveal talent? To communicate a feeling? Even purpose could be a vast field.

    As long as humanity is on God's earth, art is in the heart; and it would always speak.
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    Feb 3 2014: Art causes the brain to step away from conventional thought and develop areas of the brain not regularly tapped into during day to day scenarios. Developing different areas of the brain allows the artist to think from different angles about the same topic/issue.

    When others observe art they are using empathetic skills to interpret the meaning and the thoughts processes involved to make the art. Feelings can be pulled off canvas and felt by the viewer in a way completely intended by the artist or in a way the artist never even imagined possible.

    Art is meant to be felt and people need a way to expand their emotional intelligence especially since we are losing it. Emotional intelligence is a huge and far too often overlooked part of development.

    Art is feeling and artists care about feeling and making others feel.
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    Feb 2 2014: New knowledge owes its existence to art and creativity. What can be imagined is the precursor of what will eventually be enshrined in knowledge.

    I don't think there will ever be a saturation point of knowledge. It would only ever seem that way because of the apparent devaluing of the imagination that feeds it, from education upwards. I think that's happening right now, and will only lead to a stagnation of knowledge, rooted in the past.

    I say this because of my observations of what seems to be of value, and what gets rewarded. We reward The Enlightenment values of logic, knowledge, memory and mechanism. All else gets dubbed as "romanticism", "superstition", "pseudoscience", "fairy stories", "mythology", "metaphysics"... These cheap, conversation-stopping terms only serve to disable a vital thought process that could substantially hasten our quest for knowledge, if only given free-rein. Such thought processes begin in art.
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      Feb 2 2014: Do you truly believe that creativity and imagination, discovery and innovation are not widely valued, sought, often regarded with awe, and rewarded?
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        Feb 3 2014: The end results - the point at which knowledge is established - are rewarded, though I truly believe that the creative processes leading up to that end result, are very much devalued. And the further away from science it gets, the lesser the value.

        Reductive research programmes are regarded in our secular culture as sacrosanct, on the grounds that anything else would not be science. Reductionist science gets rewarded, even though it deals primarily with the parts rather than the whole.

        My view is that the whole needs to be understood first before analysing the parts. The arts are good at revealing 'the whole' to us by stimulating imagination, yet appears to be marginalised and unrewarded - increasingly so in our education systems.
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          Feb 3 2014: That's interesting, as my observation has been that creative thinkers across fields and those who break through normal ways of doing things are both sought after in the professional workplace and quite often held in awe by the general public.

          I am not well informed about the atmosphere in schools in the UK where you are. Arts specifically are a big, visible part of education in the States, with drama productions and music ensembles being very central in the life of the school, whether public or private. But also outside of the arts per se, creative work is highly valued, encouraged, and acknowledged both at school and as a factor in college admissions.
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        Feb 3 2014: I think that must be where the US and the UK differ Fritzie.

        The arts seem to be the poor relation to the sciences in terms of vocational eligibility and as acceptable ways of thinking generally. The mantra from successive UK government education agendas is "Reading, Writing and Arithmetic" (no mention of art), all wrapped up in a "top down" style of governance where teachers are very much undervalued and even demonised - especially by our current Education Secretary.

        I guess if the education system was run "bottom up" with teachers having a lot more say in what is taught, and to whom, the arts might then have remained safe within the curricula. I'd value your thoughts on that.

        Education sounds a lot more enlightened in the States from how you describe it.
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          Feb 4 2014: The quality of education varies across the country, as curriculum and funding are both decentralized. Literacy is, of course, an objective everywhere, but problem-solving is as well.

          In terms of career, only certain artistic avenues tend to connect to "jobs" in the United States as elsewhere. But creativity, flexibility, and the skills to draw ones own conclusions rather than believing what one happens to be told are understood to be dispositions that need to be cultivated to prepare young people for a future full of change.
  • Jan 31 2014: Art is the dream state made real.

    Art is spiritual desire unchained from the tedium of cold reality.

    Art is joy and happiness and sorrow and longing.

    Art is all those things your mother warned you about.

    Art is life.
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    Jan 31 2014: What is art?
    Awakening reflections of a transient encounter in which everything interacting with our senses and mind is as unique to the common chamber of life as it is to the meaning. The mind like a sponge is absorbing content between its first and last breath, hence, to me the memory chamber of the human condition is the real art in art, since, storage capacity is a lifespan.

    Is the intrinsic value of art produced, in the beholder of a product (ion) or, in the creator of a product (ion)?
    I would say art produced is a form of amplified communication between an originator and the sentient capacity to resonate with a medium of art, given all communication is free, the intrinsic value of art is an important part of freedom.
  • Jan 31 2014: Wow do we really need to debate this? ART is in everything, everywhere in our lives. You can see art in your children, are they not beautifully and wonderfully made? ART is everywhere you look, the trees the sunset. The world around us is made up of people who are different colors, and I think that is beauty to see our differences and how we are alike. The places we live have ART everywhere in buildings and landscapes. Life is ART , we can draw and paint a portrait of our lives everyday we live.
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    Jan 28 2014: Allow me to quote a poet:


    1. It is not what she did at 10 o'clock last evening that accounts for the smile,
    It is that she plans to do it again ...tonight.

    2. Only the mouth all those years ...ever letting on.

    3. It's not the mouth exactly, it's not the eyes exactly either, it's not even exactly a smile
    But, whatever, I second the motion.

    So many writers ... artists ... art critics ... and lay people have tried to explain the Mona Lisa. Mr. Stone's short poem captures it best, in my opinion.

    That's ART! And we should care about art. It's the language of the soul.
    • Jan 30 2014: What I find funny is that the Mona Lisa of today is so dissimilar to the original painting. It seems new studies reveal the incredible differences in it's appearance as it has aged. So does that mean it is not a work of genius at all? Was the original anywhere near as good, and how could we know?Do we just cal it a masterpiece because all of the preceding generations have?

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        Jan 30 2014: Hello Ian,

        Thank you for your response and question. Do we just call an art work, like the Mona Lisa, a masterpiece because all of the prededing generations have called it so? Not necessarily.

        As we experience life ... and art, we change, we evolve. We change at how we look at or interpret things, including art. As we mature, as we experience life, and as we get more education, we become more confident in our own judgement.

        At a certain point, we will have your own list of favorite poems, novels, songs, movies, plays, paintings, and so on. We will build a library and gallery of our mind. Our favorite art works are our own unique collections. They inspire us, they move us, and in many ways, define us.

        When I was in my early twenties, a wise person recommended that I spend as much time and effort as possible in visiting museums and galleries, attending concerts and plays, reading literary works, and having a hobbly that involves creativity. I'm glad I followed his advice.

        The Arts enrich our lives and, in many ways, make us unique from the rest of the living creatures on Earth.
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    . . 100+

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    Jan 26 2014: Art is anything I think, say or do that serves the wellbeing and eases the betterment of lives.
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    Jan 26 2014: For me... art is my life. It was always an intergral part of my childhood and then lost as I became a stockbroker. But after becoming disabled, ART is what saved me...
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    Jan 25 2014: One of my favorite articles/discussions on art is from a couple years ago: I'm Sick Of Pretending: I Don't "Get" Art

    link: http://hubski.com/pub?id=48247

    From that discussion: "One of the things I discovered as a screenwriter is that it's far more useful to watch a bad movie and figure out how you would make it good than to watch a good movie and figure out what was bad about it. More importantly, if there's a movie or genre or director that everybody else loves that you hate, don't sit there going "I'm so original" figure out what the audience is getting out of it that you aren't."

    I love this. This is what art is all about. Enjoyment. Taking something away from it. Seeing the world a little differently, from a slightly different perspective. Learning and enjoying and interacting and thinking.
  • Jan 24 2014: Unfortunately, our current society in the west is consumed (no pun intended) by capitalism as the be all and end all of modern civilisation. Even the well known socialist countries of Europe are gradually succumbing to this disease. Why is it happening? Why is there such a great disparity between the rich and poor which continues to grow thereby giving rise to the appearance of a modern day feudal system. This is a by product of the ability of corporations to avoid major tax contributions in their country of origin and continue to make enormous profits and give nothing back to the society which allowed them to thrive. This means something like 45% of the tax income of western countries is missing, this means billions of Euros, end result: medical care no longer free, education no longer free etc. The major governments cannot do much about and in fact are reluctant to. And so a concentration of effort in technology and thus no money for much else including art. Art and the humanities are degraded, their value diminished.
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      Jan 26 2014: You confuse capitalism with crony capitalism. All you need to do is read the Declaration Of Independence. This will clarify what capitalism was supposed to be. Todays sense of it is a complete abomination due to the ability to legislate prosperity to the few who can pay for it.
    • Jan 30 2014: This however, does not seem to be the forum for that debate. Remember... Art?

  • Feb 20 2014: To me, Art is a form of self expression and not be be bounded by any restriction. One could scribble, write and draw with anything that could be used for such purpose.
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    Feb 18 2014: Art is a way to communicate in which we don't have to have an education to understand its point of view. Its a tool to create new ways towards free speech. Its the fragile minds network in the often cold and cruel world we live in.
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    Feb 18 2014: Art is more than one thing, art is freedom, art is beauty, art is the past and the future and everything in between. Art could be found in anything as long as you look at it right.
    Art has shaped the world to be how it is today, and without it we surly would not be as civilized as we currently are. Yes there is the pretty art but that's not the only kind of art. Did you know that language started as an art. Without are there would be no letters, and communication has been proven to be an essential part of life. without art we wouldn't be as free as we are. The Renaissance was a period of time when a lot of artists put their thoughts onto their canvas, and shared it with the world. Art is something that relieves stress, Without it the world would be depressed, and boring. Also without art there would not be architecture so we would be sleeping in the weather and in fear of being captured by a predator every night. Another thing that art helps is engineering so it has shaped technology as well.
    Without art there would be no culture, no language, no technology, and no freedom. aren't you glad we live in a world with art?
  • Feb 15 2014: Art to me is absolutely anything a person can come up with that may contribute to society or ones character. I am a big fan of tattoos, I think that this is art at its best. Drawing pictures and symbols and certain characters that express ones personality or journey is really liberating to me. Art can be anything from painting a canvas to an assimilation of rocks. Art is all around us, and each and every form should be taken seriously because it is an expression of time or ones self.
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    Feb 15 2014: I'm impressed with the diversity of thought.

    I debated using the word "art" because there's a multitude of ingrained biases that stretch back beyond recorded history. Art means many things to many people… from an elaborate fourteenth century fresco to a quick scribble posted on a Twitter account…. or a complex concerto to a simple heartfelt ditty.

    I think core expression is creativity. The act of creating. The drive to find better solutions. The undeniable need to find a better way to live in the world.

    I feel we search the nature of human response to connect with something beyond ourselves and then reflect it back in hopes that we are not alone. It's an odd paradox.

    Creative yearning is the essence of our being. The unrelenting sense that we can master our environment… our emotional well being… our destiny.

    I suppose what I was asking is…

    How can we deny the one inclination that has fostered a world of innovation. Creative thought needs to be nurtured with the same serious intend as rationalism.
  • Feb 5 2014: Art is a word.
  • Feb 3 2014: A definition of art, like art itself, is in the eye of the beholder. As for myself, art is the tangible evidence of imagination, a processing of experience originating in a place where something can come from nothing giving a fleeting glimpse to the potential of the infinite. At its inspirational best, art is the light that gives me hope of a renaissance following the dark ages of world wars. At its violent worse, art leads me down the dark tunnel of death seeking the light at the end.
  • Feb 3 2014: it's simply, to learn and and to express one's feeling !!

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    Feb 3 2014: Yes, Lindsay, I agree. Maths are the soul of creation, of Universe. And I agree with your friend's concept about art. I have a friend who is a dentist, and he, when designs a prosthesis,- tooth-, he ends his work adding, to the measures of the gap to be covered in patient's jaw, the Art of the mathematical rule of the 'golden ratio' to finish this tooth's design. Besides, in his clinic you always listen to Beethoven or Mozart. Nice, isn't?
    • Feb 12 2014: Math is a language, nothing more, nothing less. It is not some kind of mumbo-jumbo hocus-pocus thing. It is a language. It describes things, some of which are physical.
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        Feb 12 2014: Yes, Bryan, you're right. But don't you think that right or beautiful or even simply adequate use of a language may be an art? I think yes. One can use a language as a tool, or use it as a wonderful instrument to create beautiful and harmony. That's my humble opinion.
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    Feb 2 2014: Art is a thought or feeling made real in order to communicate something.