Thursday, February 06, 2014


 Mead Schaeffer (1898-1980) was one of the classic illustrators from the golden age of American illustration.  He illustrated such well known books as Moby Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables.  He also worked for top magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies Home Journal and Cosmopolitan.


The Count of Monte Cristo from the Kelly Collection of American Illustration

 Like other top illustrators of the period, Schaeffer was talented, resourceful and dedicated to his craft.  Here are some previously unpublished photographs of Schaeffer dressing up in costumes and posing for his paintings:

from the Schaeffer family scrapbooks

If you have seen Schaeffer's work reproduced in books, it may have looked something like this, due to the printing technology of the day:


But if you take a closer look at the original painting, you begin to see the true nature of Schaeffer's talent:

from the Kelly Collection of American Illustration


Modern reproduction capabilities make Schaeffer a very different experience.  He is well worth a closer look. 


MORAN said...

You're right this Schaeffer is different from the one I'm used to.

kev ferrara said...

Ah yes.

Richard said...

Schaeffer was a deity.

Charles Pyle said...

ahh, those lush days pre world war two, before he dried up his painting style in response to the fifties trends. Beautiful. lush strokes over masterful drawing, value, and color control. And that reference! Thanks for posting these. More please?

Donald Pittenger said...

What you've shown us here is Classical Schaeffer: Good Lord, but the man could paint!

Yet by the 1940s this style had been abandoned for a much tighter one. As best I can tell, since illustration fashion had changed, and he had a family to provide for, he adapted to the prevailing market.

अर्जुन said...

Which is it, 'c' or 'k' …Oscar …Oskar?

kev ferrara said...

I believe I've read where Schaeffer said he became sick of painting romantic subject matter, adventure, and the like. And he longed to paint real things and current life.

I think the long years of the depression led a great many people in the culture to abandon fanciful or imaginative work and concentrate on the domestic, the rural, and the real. This impetus gives rise to everything from Steven Dohanos and John Clymer to Walker Evans and John Ford.

kev ferrara said...

Shouldn't forget WWII in this cultural sea change either, of course.

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- Yes, Schaeffer went through three of four phases (as later commenters have now noted.) The close ups are from my favorite period of his work, although opinions differ.

Kev Ferrara-- Yes, Schaeffer was a serious painter. I though this might be a period you'd like.

Richard-- Because he worked in an era of Rockwell, Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth, many people have classified him as a demigod. I think part of his problem may be that his shifts were more pronounced than the work of the big 3. But when Schaeffer got the prize assignment of illustrating Moby Dick, that project had been originally scheduled for Wyeth.

David Apatoff said...

Charles Pyle-- You will perhaps be happy to hear that a book about Schaeffer is in the works, including more reference photos, studies and ephemera.

Donald Pittenger-- I think it was partly fashion-- Art Director Ken Stuart of the Saturday Evening Post was pressuring Schaeffer to paint covers in a style closer to Rockwell's. (Rockwell was a friend and neighbor of Schaeffer's in Vermont). But I also think Schaeffer viewed his famous World War II military covers as something very different from his swashbuckling romantic stories of the 20s and 30s.

अर्जुन -- I believe it's "C."

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I think one of the most interesting and distinctive things about Schaeffer was his metamorphosis at three different stages of his career. It's hard to say which style was closest to his heart. Part of the story is the influences that came to him at various stages-- Dunn, Cornwell, Brangwyn, and always his close friend Rockwell. Part of the story may be his love of fishing, and his preference to be fishing than doing almost anything else.

Of course, World War II did make a huge difference for Schaeffer and for everybody else. Schaeffer plotted his WW II service covers at the same time as, and in conjunction with, Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" paintings.

Donald Pittenger said...

Of course the change in direction for Post covers affected Schaeffer; It would have taken courage or an independent income to ignore it.

But one can see Schaeffer edging that direction years before. For example, the "White Brigand" illustrations at the top of the post, done around 1937, reveal more subdued brushwork. By that time, "painterly" oil illustrations so popular in the 1920s were clearly on the way out -- actually, pretty much gone.

Perhaps that forthcoming book (details, please?) might shed some light as to what degree Schaeffer's stylistic changes were self-motivated or market-influenced.

Matt Dicke said...

Oh another great illustrator with a book coming out. Schaeffer has some great pieces at the society and a lot of these paintings were reproduced poorly in comparison to the originals. A fan of the fat oil paintings. Hope there is a lot of those in the book! Definitely looking forward to this one.

kev ferrara said...

The wonderful thing about Schaeffer and the great Golden Age illustrators is their commitment, which comes out of the love of their art. Schaeffer was equally committed to excellence, regardless of which style he was working in. And he had the chops to pull off whatever he asked of himself.

Very much looking forward to a book on his work.

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- I recalled that you had written something about Schaeffer in the past on your blog, but I did not recall that you had included your own close up photographs of four of his paintings. Schaeffer fans might be interested to see them at

As for your question, it's always hard to tell how much any artist's "stylistic changes were self-motivated or market-influenced." Over time, we talk ourselves into thinking that whatever someone is buying is what we are selling. But I do know this: after Schaeffer retired, when he stopped selling altogether, the paintings he did for his personal amusement were very different from anything you have ever seen from him-- lots of sea scapes and close ups that were far more abstract and two dimensional, with none of the colors or treatment that you see here.

Matt Dicke-- Thanks for the tip, I will check with the Society.

Kev Ferrara-- I agree, although I suspect at least some of that "commitment" stemmed from the absence of TV, the internet and Angry Birds.

Richard said...

>David sez 'many people have classified him as a demigod'

I'm working from a hindoo system -- the big three may be Shiva, Devi and Vishnu, but that leaves room for a million Ganeshs.

>Kev sez "The wonderful thing about Schaeffer and the great Golden Age illustrators is their commitment, which comes out of the love of their art."

One had the notion then that your work would see a steady rise in quality if you simply worked harder for more hours at carefully composing and rendering your pictures.

Now that so much of what makes an illustrator a recognizable personality worth paying is their "style", and their ability to capture happy accidents, the payoff doesn't seem to be there for those who put in the craftsman's hours.

And the audience has pushed this change. I for one would take Quentin Blake or Jean Giraud over the golden age guys any day, for what its worth.

Anonymous said...

You sure Roger Moore isn't your favorite Bond ?

Richard said...

my favourite bond

kev ferrara said...

Richard, you are misinterpreting. Commitment is just as much about belief as craftsmanship: Belief in Art with a capital A, belief in quality or excellence, belief in the taste of the audience, belief in the value of refining a creative expression, the belief that saying something through aesthetic form is a worthwhile endeavor, and the belief in the unique reality of the picture you are creating.

Your contention that "the audience has pushed the change" in illustration demonstrates that blithe cartooning really is your metier.

One of the great fallacies of our cultural age is the idea that if we like it, it must be good. This is the result of the feel-good philosophical bubble gum broadcast by most of our cultural thought leaders over the last 100 years. It is pleasant and easy to teach and accept this programming, especially insofar as it allows ignorance of the vast philosophical complexities attending the older viewpoint.

And the resulting cultural degradation surrounds us.

Richard said...

Given the way I was raised, I most certainly feel an aversion to the idea "if we like it [and it doesn't directly hurt anyone else], it must be good", but try as I might, I cannot find a sufficiently convincing argument otherwise.

I welcome a philosophy in opposition, an Apollinian philosophy (to borrow from Paglia), as a life spent seeking a 'mere' happiness seems shallow and fundamentally absurd, but again, I cannot find any such philosophy. In its absence, I am left a sort of Dionysian.

And left alone with that coarsest of philosophies, I'm not in any place to agree or disagree with you, I must remain agnostic, because in my ignorance, I see nothing more axiomatically crucial than simple human joy.

kev ferrara said...

I most certainly feel an aversion to the idea "if we like it [and it doesn't directly hurt anyone else], it must be good", but try as I might, I cannot find a sufficiently convincing argument otherwise.

The issue is about human fallibility. We mistake pleasure for happiness constantly. And we mistake things we like for things that are good for us. Not surprisingly happiness is much harder to come by than pleasure. And things that are good for us require work or discipline, whereas things we like come a dime a dozen.

The result of both of these fallacies is a life misspent indulging. And a culture dominated by the cheap thrill or the quick fix, populated by those who keep trying to be fulfilled by the same.

Richard said...

First, let's unpack happiness and pleasure--
As far as I can tell, the difference between happiness and pleasure is that happiness is a pleasure that is sustainable.

Some would argue that, further, happiness is pleasure with "depth", but that definition, in this context, would be inherently tautological until we posit a system of valuation that does not depend on pleasure.

Now let's look at an extreme example of the relative ease of creating a piece of art, and its comparative value--
We are all familiar with those large atrocious graphite renderings that are directly pulled from photographs, where a young dullard spends months perfectly replicating a single mundane grayscale photograph. These clearly took a great deal of work and discipline, but can't compete with a work of even moderate talent from a competent youth.

This is solely to show that it is not true in all cases that Arbeit Macht Gut.

So, while appreciate of your response, I don't find myself in any different of a position than I started.

Granted, one must be careful with pleasure; there is, no doubt, some room for moderation, but it is solely valuable insofar as it allows us more pleasure in the long term.
So, sure, moderation is great, but is there not also room for ecstasy, even with the hangover? A moderation of moderation? And if that's true for a man, can't it also be true of a people? Call it the growing pains of civilization.

Man becomes wise not because he shys away from pleasure, but because he has synthesized those experiences into his larger personhood. I think the same will be true of mankind, and I worry you're jumping the gun to suggest that a mere 72 years after the holocaust, 149 since slavery ended, it's time to end the parade of joy, and get down to seriousness. I don't think it is. I think after a morning like that, humanity deserves to empty the wineskin this evening.

At some point, we will have to deal with all of this pleasure we're capable of feeling, and I'd rather deal with it now than have humanity be the sheltered catholic girl, just getting to the intergalactic college of species, fucking the whole intergalactic football team because in our earliest stages as a species we got ourselves all wrapped up in guilt, and tried to act the old maid, when we were still the giddy teen.

To quote the fittingly named XTC;

"Don't you know 'bout a zillion years ago
Some star sneezed, now they're paging you in reception
Don't you know Jack a gillion years ago
Some dinosaur dropped the pail when it saw our reflection
Don't you know at your fingertips arrayed
there's a universe of atoms that thinks you're really something
We may hear the angels recite
Don't you know in this new Dark Age
We're all light"

kev ferrara said...

I'll probably pop back in to handle your post in greater depth. But first, it should be noted that to say, as I did, "things that are good for us require work or discipline" is not the same thing as saying "work or discipline is automatically good."

I believe this formal fallacy is called "affirming the consequent."

Sean Farrell said...

Wow, Kev and Richard were getting into something really interesting.

kev ferrara said...

Popping back in to correct more of your interpretation of what I wrote...

I don't agree with your definition of happiness as deeper pleasure. Pleasure, it seems to me, is defined by the stimulation or gratification of the senses, whereas happiness is more a long term state of mind.

I did not say that pleasure was bad, per se. The issue I was pointing out was mistaking pleasure for happiness.

Point being, the belief that one can stimulate or gratify the senses to the point that happiness results is a kind of madness that seems quite widespread nowadays in this surfing-n-stimulation culture of ours. The saddest thing is that the same experiment performed in the lab which showed that Rats will overstimulate themselves to the point of death was just re-demonstrated by one of our finest actors in his hotel room.

Most of the time in most of the people the drug of choice may be shopping, porn, news hysteria, or political rhetoric rather than heroin, but the fallacy at work is the same.

CF Payne said...

I love seeing the process of artists. Mead Schaeffer is at the top. I especially love to see the reference, or shall I say the extent they went to get the good stuff.

Richard said...

>Pleasure, it seems to me, is defined by the stimulation or gratification of the senses, whereas happiness is more a long term state of mind.

Would you care to elaborate in what sense you believe "art" stimulates the sense of sight in an acceptable way, and pop cartooning does not?

It would seem to me that both are solely dependent on a release of serotonin and dopamine (the same goes for classical music and heroin), albeit in different amounts.

I think in a very physical sense we have evidence that both are a "stimulation of the senses" with the end result being a specific "state of mind", so I, again, don't find the same contrast you do at play here.

kev ferrara said...

Again, I am not against pleasure per se. But against the belief that pleasure and happiness are the same thing, or that the former leads naturally to the latter. (Hopefully I won't need to repeat this again.)

The issue, in the main, is that you aren't distinguishing between stimulus that encodes content and the stimulus that is stimulus for its own sake. Both can bring pleasure. But one is empty calories, which tend to get abused.

If you want, you can manage to avoid all judgement on the issue of what you intake on a daily basis entirely. And, anyway, there is no authority who will prevent you from eating drake's cakes and OJ all day long, or essentially entertaining yourself to death at your computer. So "acceptability" has nothing to do with the matter. (That's you trying to slip an easy-to-hand authoritarian-vs-libertarian framework over the discussion.)

Beyond distinguishing between content and mere stimulus, there is the point that not all encoding is equally competent, artful or well-organized, not all content actually comprehends the question in its complexity, breadth, or depth (a distinction is easily drawn between meals and trifles, masterpieces and noodling), and not all content is equal on instructional, philosophical, or moral grounds.

Richard said...

Okay, so we're back to the same place we started. You posit a superior foundation beyond pleasure, but have not given a satisfactory philosophical basis for it. Read my first message again.

> But one is empty calories, which tend to get abused.

But empty of what? I said quite clearly, I would need something else for me to be able to distinguish between those two.

>not all content is equal on [...] philosophical grounds

You're just repeating the very thing I said I had a problem comprehending to begin with. I like the idea there is something philosophically more important than pleasure, I just can't seem to find it.

kev ferrara said...

I am fairly certain you are not a hedonist. So you obviously value aspects of life beyond mere pleasure. Just why that is so in your life you can explain far better than I.

From my philosophical perspective there is a hierarchy of value at play when we compare communications. I think, inherently, profound insight is of greater value in a communication than flippant superficiality or non-content. And the simple explanation for this is that we can carry the insight away with us when we leave behind our experience of the deep communication, and it may inform and enrich our lives until we die (or we may build on the insight gained, and gain deeper and deeper footholds of insight).

Whereas superficial flippancies or content-free spectacles can fill a moment with diversion/entertainment, which is fun or not depending... but such events, in and of itself, have no lasting worth, and don't really enrich the soul, as it were, for the long term.

Olivia Kiernan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R said...

I am not a hedonist morally, but I must admit that morality is encoded by effecting... our pleasure centers of the brain. Any investigations into human incentives must fundamental deal with, as far as I can see, human neurology which is at base just a system that provides pleasure or discomfort to "I", and we respond accordingly.

So sure, I am not a hedonist in action, but when I investigate man, it would seem in a deeper sense we are all fundamental hedonist machines that convince themselves otherwise.

This is why, again, I must say that I cannot really find a philosophy of "deeper" meaning that cannot be undermined by reductionist science.

kev ferrara said...

I think you are distorting the term hedonist when you equate it with seeking happiness or fulfillment in life.

Your view of the brain is reductionist. At the very least throw in the idea of the avoidance of pain to round out your diagram of the mechanism.

It should be pointed out that while we get a hit of dopamine for having an epiphany, the actual value of the epiphany is not the hit of dopamine. In the same way that the deliciousness of a meal is not its actual value, the nutritional content is.

kev ferrara said...

It is very much to my overall point that because dopamine and deliciousness are associated with insight and nutrition, we are easily fooled into simply going after rushes of dopamine and deliciousness that are hollow of content or nutrition.

kev ferrara said...

I see you did mention "discomfort", so ignore my suggestion to "throw in avoidance of pain." However, your view of the brain is still wildly reductionist in the current vogue.

Richard said...

Nutritional content is valuable for the ways it causes us long-term pleasure (good health in this case).

So again, I am left seeing pleasure as paramount.

I don't think that we are actually disagreeing about that, or if we are, it's out of general disagreeableness, not the foundations of that thought. It seems to me that in the long run you could only argue that a pleasure of greater duration is of more significant value, no? Unless I am missing something very significant in your over-arching philosophy, this seems to be the case.

If that is the case after-all, I would respond that people find joy where they can to the best of their ability.

If you think people should spend more time delving into 'deeper' works of art, with more difficult learning curves, but also greater long term reward, I think you're suggesting something that is at base actually selfishly motivated. Of course, artists would love if more people consumed art, but they've decided that food, movies, friends and clothes make them happier.

I think it's disingenuous and incredibly pompous then for us to try to provide mankind at large a map to happiness, when all of these people are clearly also living for their own best interest, and I would argue have a much better position to figure out how best to maximize their happiness than we do.

kev ferrara said...

So you dump everyday good health into the domain of hedonistic pleasure-seeking?

Aside from the definition-creep you are pulling on the word "hedonism", this assertion still doesn't make sense. Most people in the world just eat to survive and have little understanding or interest in the relation of nutrition to health and have little opportunity to eat for the pure sensual pleasure of it. Avoiding starvation is hardly pleasure-seeking. And the nutrition is simply catch-as-catch-can.

You also seem to be dumping contentment, happiness, satisfaction, health of mind, clear thought, communion, love, caring, consideration, analysis, reflection, solace, and any other mental process or state into your definitional black hole of hedonism. I don't see this as reasonable or helpful to understanding the issues.

Your last two paragraphs are arguments from petulance and assumption, respectively.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, your post 2-13-14 10:54 AM could well be the epitaph of western civilization. Its loss of discernment. Beautifully stated.

Richard you mentioned the happy accident and Kev mentioned commitment and belief. There's an interesting conversation there as well and I hope it has its time and place to develop sometime.

Anyway, thanks for the nice exchange.

Richard said...

I'm going to have to clock out on this one as I think we're just going in circles, but thanks for the conversation kev, I enjoyed it.

Richard said...

>Richard you mentioned the happy accident and Kev mentioned commitment and belief. There's an interesting conversation there as well and I hope it has its time and place to develop sometime.

An interesting dichotomy, but I think ultimately a false one. Even the greatest artist, with all the training and commitment in the world, will make use of the happy accident. Perhaps more so than the novice.

The better I got at drawing (not that I'm any good now mind you), the more that happy accidents, muscle memory, and shorthand blended to the point that they become almost indistinguishable from one another, so that drawing became more and more of a discovery of an image that existed outside of me, such that my imagination was merely a clouded-mirror that shine back upon the page.

I suspect that process only continues the longer one has been drawing, although I cannot say I know this to be true for certain.

Sean Farrell said...

Yes Richard that's true, but the knock on the Academics or Salon painters was that they had tortured the learning process and the Impressionists wanted to take it outside and relearn it. In their new approach, some old notions got lost including possibly belief which was part of what was being referred to regarding commitment.

Or is it part of traveling to and through a new interest, that old ideas get put aside for a while, maybe to be unfairly forgotten altogether? Even the idea of imagining a picture is foreign to many
artists who were trained to work from life, photos or to fulfill certain illustration needs.

Its an area that might have opened up a few thoughts.

kev ferrara said...

Its amazing how George Gershwin always seemed to "accidentally" come up with great melodic ideas when he sat down to improvise at the piano, and 99 percent of everybody else did not.

It should be noted that improvisation is not the same thing as accident at all. Great improvisation happens when instinct and talent are trained to an extraordinary degree. Until the free play of symbolized ideas become unified to the psychology of the artist, and his art becomes a direct translation of his soul.

Harvey Dunn in his teaching admonished his students not to go for "lucky brushstrokes." But instead to have conviction and decisiveness and to do everything for an aesthetic reason, based on the initial vision.

With modern computer-generated objects and settings, any kid with some tech savvy can generate a believable scene with tanks and buildings and airplanes in it. Plus, fly in some explosion photos, a few sparks, and throw in some directional blur to make objects look like they are moving. And voila... generic concept art piece that passes for good art work to millions.

This, to me, stems from the same view that allows people who capture light rays bouncing off objects into the lens of a machine to claim themselves as artists.

The mechanical democratization of any discipline is a race to the bottom, in quality and cultural/market value. And worst of all, such proliferation of easy, valueless products clogs the market place creating a bottleneck situation where nothing gets down the spout except what is already down the spout. This, to me, defines the end of culture.

One can only shout so loud and still be singing.

Sean Farrell said...

Together with extensive traditional training one accumulates personal observations which may also involve or be called accidents and in combination they become part of a personal style. But without the traditional training, or with the emphasis on the accident, or accidental look, a result similar to the technical race to the bottom takes place as copy cats pile onto a popular look.

As per the democratization of technologically driven art, clients often demand a 3-D or techno-look as commercials and graphics rely more heavily on technology than an ideas. Such creates a pressure to mimic amateurism in order to stay current. Adding to the pressure to go fully down the drain, many clients are repulsed by the sight of hand drawn lines as they represent “old technology”.

As much as I agree with the apocalyptic tone, things do wear themselves out and upon seeing something genuine and honest, some will understand their own hunger and something good may come of it. Crazier things have happened and in a flash, everything corporate, global and techno could become repulsive too.

Sean Farrell said...

For decades, artists and people in general have been guided to search for some answer in and of themselves, yet people are moved by the honest simplicity of intimacy in things not only of themselves, or of their usual daily demands and such they may discover and aspire to and in practice become something else, something rewarding beyond what they were.

By saying suddenly people may find everything corporate, global and tehno repulsive, I mean in comparison to some genuine and inspiring intimacy, perhaps rediscovered, which may yet arise as corporate globalism and technologies devour all remaining privacy and intimacies.

Richard said...

>By saying suddenly people may find everything corporate, global and techno repulsive, I mean in comparison to some genuine and inspiring intimacy[...]

I agree that they will (and would argue that they already are), but I think the result (at least in what we've already seen in the last 20 years) looks very much like the amateurism and journalism that is so often derided by posters on this blog, so it won't be exactly what you all seem to be looking for, at least not in the near future. Down the line, sure, novelty can push us in all sorts of directions -- in an age exclusively of pop anthems, even somber classical music becomes a novelty.

In terms of the intimacy you mentioned, I think David Foster Wallace had it right, when he said;
"The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows."

Richard said...

kev sez >> "Until the free play of symbolized ideas become unified to the psychology of the artist, and his art becomes a direct translation of his soul. "

Can you describe what you mean by soul in this case? It seems that you are mentioning it as a different object that the "psychology of the artist", so what exactly are you talking about? Or did you just mean soul as a synonym for the psychology of the artist?

The word gets thrown around on this blog/comment section a lot, and in art circles in general, but I can't imagine that people actually mean "the soul", this object of magical thinking, and as a result often find myself feeling like I am missing the greater point of an argument.

kev ferrara said...

I deliberately use the word "soul" now because I think it has been unfairly maligned and sneered at by the overbearing materialists who have manned the controls of the death spiral of high culture. Soul is sneered at in the same way that truth is sneered at, or objectivity, spirit, or ideals. I see no reason to abandon useful words, just because science has. Science is, after all, still in its adolescence and quite prone to petulance and arrogation. Particularly in the area of the mind-brain problem, how art functions, the nature of concepts, and a lot more.

Soul, as far as I understand it, means that unitary core of personhood in which unites all feelings of the body and mind without reference to their verbalizations, intellectualizations, or any other symbolic presentations of them. It is sort of a synthesis of psychology, mood, feeling, the subconscious, the intuition, internalized experience, the imagination, awareness, and whatever other subliminal processes you can think of. It is where we are whole in the act of experiencing, in opposition to the intellect which cannot help but break things apart in order scrutinize them in isolation (the definition of analysis.)

Sean Farrell said...

Thanks Richard for your thoughts. I was unaware of the new sincerity cultural movement nor that it was an actual Post Soviet notion, but I was thinking along the lines of the kind of profound contempt the former Soviets eventually had for the word comrade. I don't think a similar contempt for selfism has yet to surface.

If the concepts of selfism which people have been brainwashed to believe in for decades were replaced with a discovery that joy is experienced in an external, that joy is a completion of self in something else, there might be a move away from the adulation of media as collective culture and the monopoly it holds while pretending to satiate human emptiness.

Richard said...

Big post here, sorry.

kev, I am sentimental to a non-reductionist understanding of mind, I certainly live my life as if I am greater than my parts, but again, we were talking prior about a foundational philosophy (to get back to this argument, hahaha), and it seems rather clear to me that the only working response to physicalist reductionist science is a perpetual goal-post-moving, not unlike the God of the gaps, which will reserve for a metaphysical mind all of the things we hold dear, until those things are inevitably proven to be reducable to their constitutant parts without any actual non-physical emergence, then the goal post is moved again.

I don't think materialists are unfairly maligning the concept of soul, as long as you mean a soul in a religious sense. In that sense, the idea is absolutely bonkers. Perhaps in a very loose sense, if one by "soul" merely means the various neurological functions which make up an individual, but even in that case, the idea of the soul usually comes at the cost of not contemplating the brain as an amalgamation of discrete parts.

For example, the fact that mu-opioid receptors are found in large density along the ventral visual pathways, suggesting that certain visual reactions dose us with heroin when we enjoy looking at something. This fact is valuable in a discussion, on, say, Art, but if we're left arguing with a completely nonfalsifiable notion of human mentality, like the soul, that fact can rarely enter into the debate.

This is unfortunately a new line of thought for me, so I cannot give as indepth an explanation as I would like in neurological regards, but theres a lot of science out there to sift through if one is actually interested.

Richard said...

I was, for a long time, a non-reductionist in the mind-body debate. It was only in recently studying electronics and logic gates up through low-abstraction assembly programming, up to higher level languages, that my opinion changed. Computers can also have seeming emergence from those simple electrons to advanced graphics rendering. It was in delving deeper there that I found myself constantly relating this new knowledge to the human mind, and realizing how difficult the idea of emergence is to break in a computer, a relatively simple machine, let alone inside my own head.

In that sense, the neurologists' discomfort with the term soul, is comparable to the computer scientists' discomfort with the term Artificial Intelligence even though a program that learns to play chess better than a human is in some sense "artificially intelligence".

Which leads well into...

>>>"Great improvisation happens when instinct and talent are trained to an extraordinary degree. Until the free play of symbolized ideas become unified to the psychology of the artist, and his art becomes a direct translation of his soul."

As far as music is concerned, I think that is demonstrably wrong.

In music, the systems are so clear, that one with very specific rules can produce seemingly concious improvisations, without being in any way aware of what's going to happen. Knowing only the mode of the current chord, identifying the most likely next tonic location, the rhythms that will work in concert with the current rhythm of the other parts of the piece, and useful local arpeggio shapes, one can improvise cohesive sounding music without actually having to know ahead of time what's going to happen at all. To make that arguement in an extreme way, see the music of Emily Howell, a computer program that produces classical pieces. The program is still in her infancy, but you get the picture. This is the first step, the algorithms for doing this are new, the hardware is less than half a century old, yet we're seeing actual music result.

Richard said...

I would argue that the real excitement of music isn't in expressing musical ideas already in the players mind, but in discovering musical content by applying novel musical rules. You hit the right keys, you get a dose of mu-opiods, not unlike your rat. (And how similar then is the starving musicians to the button-pressing rat?)

Being a competent piano player, one can even push the tuning of the piano into an entirely novel breakdown of an octave, one no human being has ever heard before, tell that musician the notes that fall fractionally justified in the key, and they'll be able to produce music without having any idea what it will sound like ahead of time. This is made clear by Professor William Sethares's improvisations in invented novel scales -- for example his Imaginary Horses with its "octave" that is broken down to the justly intoned fractions 1/1 6/5 4/3 3/2 8/5 9/5 2/1, as opposed to Western music's 1/1 9/8 5/4 4/3 3/2 5/3 15/8 2/1, and that's just the beginning of the possibilities there. The system provides the majority of the contents.
This is just a taste of the way in which what we see as emergent "spiritual" human mentation, can be broken into algorithmic processes by dumb physical machines. These sorts of results will only become more convincing as time progresses in our project to produce the digital mind.

Physicalism then becomes valuable insofar as it allows us to see the possibility of computer or brain architectures, and thus to better know ourselves. To the computer in HER, if such a computer was programmed in a declarative, procedural, object-oriented or symbolic programming paradigm will affect how the computer understands "rationality", and "objectivity". A Symbolics LISP machine, designed to do symbolic processing at the level of hardware, will vary intrinsically from a procedural processor like the ones we generally use. DARPA's SyNAPSE, to take that idea further, will vary even more significantly, and that project it seems may very well be able to build something approaching the mammalian brain.

Were Bluebrain's cat-brain or rat-brain concious? It's unknowable, but the same is true of any human being we know.

Richard said...

So, while I understand that a subjectivism about human issues still feels unconvincing, or unsatisfying, I cannot find a rational basis for believing the opposite, anymore than if a computer told me that a parallel-computing architecture is objectively supreme (and to that computer, operating under that architecture, it would surely seem so), I would have to ask said computer in what problem domain are they making that conjecture, and have they actually experienced other computing architectures.

Given these extreme positions, I'm forced to posit that if we were to uncover a new-heroin for which there was no tolerance, it would be in the best interest of man to plug himself into a new-heroin drip for life. Not pretty, to be sure, but also not unlike the way our brain already works, except that dopamine and mu-opioids do produce some tolerance. Hopefully, that last position will be understood solely as an aside, as it, and the rest of this argument, I believe, pivots on this disagreement about physicalism and mental reductionism, not on artificially produced happiness.

kev ferrara said...

I don't have time to read your whole message now, Richard, but I'll return later or tomorrow to do so.

"it seems rather clear to me that the only working response to physicalist reductionist science is a perpetual goal-post-moving, not unlike the God of the gaps, which will reserve for a metaphysical mind all of the things we hold dear, until those things are inevitably proven to be reducable to their constitutant parts without any actual non-physical emergence, then the goal post is moved again."

There are two realities, Richard. One is the reality of the physical world and the other is the reality of our experience.

While the physical world contains us, our experience of the physical world is contained within us. So, what we know of what contains us is what we are able to experience. I think this problem can't be dissolved, we will ever be minds, and this affects the reach of empirical investigation.

Even when we develop incredibly advanced machinery to investigate the world, we still are filtering it through what we are able to understand or perceive.

Our whole body is a filtration system for experience. A small example is the way we perceive color. Compared to the red and green receptors, we have very little blue receptors. What does this mean? Do we live in an incredibly blue world that we simply can't experience because evolution has filtered the heck out of our color senses? How much else is filtered out of our experience? How much of the EM spectrum are we missing out on due to the limitations of our five senses?

I feel most comfortable with C.S. Peirce's pragmatic view of this, that our thoughts are real but do not exist. That is, they have no extension in physicality, yet they are undeniable. Thus, I can appreciate metaphysics as real without thinking that it exists. And this is good, because clearly metaphysics is the software our brains are running, no matter how it was coded in meat and chemicals.

Richard said...

Okay, well, I'm paused in case you want to come back to read it later.

kev ferrara said...

Whew. After reading a lot more of what you are writing, I’m not really sure I want to pursue the matter full out with you. It would take all day. But there is a theme to what you are writing which I can address.

I’ll try to be brief.

Analysis always does what it does best, and that is disintegrate everything into constituent parts in order that each respective fragment be isolated for easy (often facile) scrutiny. You are in an analytical frame of mind currently. You are reading analytical material, submitting phenomena that interests you to your own analytical abilities, and using analysis as the benchmark of understanding. In short, you have taught yourself to think in the language of analysis, and have ignored other ways of thinking in doing so.

In your mind, this is sensible, because you believe that analysis is the only road to fact, the only method of sufficient rigor to be defensible to scientific testing. And maybe it is. Except one thing is missing. And that is that fact is not understanding. Because no fact comprehends anything. It is synthesis and relation that comprehends; and such unifying comprehension is what has been called our sense of truth. So, therefore, the byproduct of your analytical frame of mind is that you don’t integrate any of the facts you have gathered. And this results, in general, in the disintegration of comprehension.

kev ferrara said...

The exception seems to be this pet analogy of yours where an analytical view of the brain is compared to a computer system. (Analogy is, by the way, considered a non-rigorous method of thinking by the very thinkers you are currently swayed by. Whereas the pragmatic metaphysicians see it as a rather essential tool in the human mental toolkit.)

Not surprisingly, there will be similitude between an analytical view of the brain and computer logic; given that computer processing architecture derives from the math-logic work of highly analytical intellectuals/philosophers and most work on human thought has been based on a computer math-logic analogy. (So your analogy is actually just an accidental tautology in disguise, which is due to the limited frame of reference brought to bear on the question by science, as yet.)

And, fyi, the analytic philosophers around 1900 burst on the scene and demanded that such notions as truth be cast aside in the name of progress and science. They thought metaphysics needed to be dispensed with, and that all problems could be solved deductively. About 70 years later, it was found that metaphysics simply could not be dispensed with without rendering all communication senseless and deduction couldn’t explain any creative act whatsoever. A mea culpa was never dispatched about this titanic error and terrible arrogation of intellectual purview…. they just let the matter drop. So very few people got the memo. And we are all the less educated for this.

That you are privileging analysis to such a degree that you can only appreciate or defend phenomena in terms of its disintegration, puts you outside of the pragmatic correction to over analysis. And is limiting the ways in which you are allowing yourself to understanding the world.

kev ferrara said...

On another point, I’ve been a musician since I was about 5, having begun piano lessons then. I began playing trombone at 12. I began learning guitar at 15. By 18 I was giving lessons and writing songs. I’ve played in just about every type of band you can think of, from Jazz and Classical to Prog Rock to Bongos around a campfire, and have my own digital recording studio. And I am versed in theory, both as a piano player and as a guitarist, and have improvised live and composed at home for as long as I can remember. And I have done sound design for a number of firms in the city for online apps and animations and ads and such. I can’t claim to be world-class at any of this. I am merely passable as a musician, and barely tolerable as a singer. But I have been most dedicated to songwriting and song production and have really put the hours in with those endeavors. And I think I have earned a pretty good sense of what it means to be inspired, and the ways in which melody can be mechanically constructed (see Schoenberg, Howell) and the ways in which it can be improvised from the heart. And, more crucially, ways in which chord changes can be mathematically arranged and ways in which they can be utterly expressive and devoid of anything resembling math-based resolutions.

etc, etc said...


How is that you can pooh-pooh analysis (a recurring theme with you) on the one hand and be such a fervent exponent of semiotics on the other?

kev ferrara said...

I keep harping against analysis because I constantly see it being abused; overused, used in isolation, adopted as a default way of experiencing the world, or in some way privileged as a superior form of mental tool or framework.

I believe analysis and synthesis must go hand and hand, (fact with truth, moment with event, members with relations, notes with key, content with context, specifics with generalities, detail with gesture, etc), and either without the other inevitably leads the mind astray and into confusion. (Or as Novalis put it, "Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.")

I have come to feel that the reason I keep seeing analysis privileged is because of the terrible fiat by the analytic philosophical tradition, which convinced the learned world to dump metaphysics (and poetry in the process) in anticipation of their refutation of it, which never came about. The result being a society filling up with confused nerds who believe in nothing except the technical, the factual, and the chemical. And whatever the latest pop science press release tells them to think about the same. This does not result in culture, only gadgetry.

Sean Farrell said...

In his posts above, Kev has brilliantly slain many modern demons with rare clarity.
I very much appreciate that, thanks.

We live in an experiential world of sense, including common sense. It's an inherently insecure reality which humanity pretends it has overcome with knowledge and such is now a widely held belief. Conventions and manners have always afforded insecurity a certain safety, but never has insecurity been solved, nor can it or should it if it could, being a larger part of our humanity than anyone cares to admit.

The experiential realm is fraught with limits, the mysteriousness of unknowing which compels people to venture out from themselves. Does she ever think of me, or am I just paying her bills? Will he never buy me flowers again or say anything kind? Wondering is not enough. One must ask to get an answer and it is often the most insecure who do, while others await necessity to prompt action, hoping necessity will never come.

In a world searching for the certainty of calculated affirmations and nullifications, the entire human endeavor (including art) gives way to pretending to be, pretending to have courage, while self doubt suffocates in presumptuousness. In such a state, doubts are dismissed as too small to matter and the weird task of self justification begins, that is, we begin dismissing our own humanity bit by bit rather than inconvenience or suffer ourselves.

It's hard to admit a metamorphosis towards such cowardliness in oneself, no less the larger culture, which is well under way towards worshipping something very dangerous, a monstrous mechanical leviathan.

etc, etc said...

Well, I do like seeing you or anyone else go through that door, and if that helps to pry it open for you, who am I to argue? I'll just echo the sentiments of Sean's first paragraph above.

kev ferrara said...

It's an inherently insecure reality which humanity pretends it has overcome with knowledge and such is now a widely held belief.

I agree, but I also think we can dig down to an even more basic pretension than that.

I think the intellect's core function is distinguishing things by labeling or naming them. And this instinctual act often gives rise to the most foundational error of thinking; that to distinguish something by name, to recognize it and identify it, is in any way to understand it. In my experience, people constantly mistake the recollection of the name of a thing, which is mere trivia after all, with somehow having a handle on it. Generally, labeling seems to me to be a naturally-human method of quelling anxiety about the extent of our ignorance.

Once the labeling is done, then we move on to taxonomy, the second biggest self-delusion the mind uses to quell anxiety about its ignorance.

In a world searching for the certainty of calculated affirmations and nullifications, the entire human endeavor (including art) gives way to pretending to (...) have courage (...) doubts are dismissed as too small to matter and (...) we begin dismissing our own humanity bit by bit rather than (...) suffer (...) the larger culture (...) is well under way towards worshipping (...) a monstrous mechanical leviathan.

If I understand your point right -- that millions seem to be welcoming technical dehumanization because it insulates them from the pain of living in an authentic, emotion-filled way - then I agree.

Sean Farrell said...

Yes, that is exactly the point I was tying to make.

I used the term worship, because it is not enough to surrender. One has to develop a sense of omnipotence about that for or to which one surrenders their humanity, even if in the end it is to convenience.

Kev, your thoughts on labeling are true in the limitations of what your are addressing. Your thinking goes further than my own in reminding me of how little we may know of anything and how insecure the human race is. Thanks.

David Apatoff said...

I was hoping that this fascinating conversation wouldn't peter out before the weekend.

It seemed to me that Richard and Kev had the same goal, that both were predisposed to believe in a higher form of happiness based upon commitment, belief, effort, complexity, content, etc. (as opposed to a reductionist, biochemical pleasurable stimulus) but that Richard was having a hard time justifying that belief intellectually. Nothing Kev was offering could get Richard across that finish line. (I recall that somewhere in Plato's Republic that the great skeptic Socrates steps out of character and tells a young man he is noble for wanting to believe in virtue, even though he can't find a compelling rational basis for his conclusion).

I share Richard and Kev's inclination but I also share Richard's skepticism that this inclination can be compelled by reasoned argument. The mere division of the subject into two different words-- pleasure vs. happiness-- strikes me as the beginning of a process by which we put our thumb on the scale. How sturdy is that dividing line between pleasure and happiness? After all, it's not as if there is some point where pleasure becomes more worthy and transforms into happiness, the way water changes into steam once it reaches a certain temperature. There are many richer pleasures in life, pleasures of refined taste and connoisseurship, pleasures of culture and family, etc. that you would say are indistinguishable from "happiness." Furthermore, the thumb on the scale begins to press more heavily as we begin to string adjectives such as "mere" or "superficial" in front of pleasure, adjectives that don't necessarily belong there.

I think we also tend to stack the deck with words such as "stimulus" which are currently in disrepute but which, taken literally, don't necessarily have such pejorative implications. Would you claim that art which "stimulates" your mind (as opposed to your genitals or your taste buds) does not place near the top of Kev's "hierarchy of values"?

Perhaps we might step back and ask why art "feels good." Why do we enjoy looking at images that are well designed, with balance and harmony and proportion? Isn't it possible that, as a matter of pure biological stimulus, we have an aversion to entropy, and art gives us pleasure by ordering the world along paradigms that make it meaningful and compatible (and beautiful)? After all, Edmond Hill wrote sensibly that drawing is an act of meditation, an "exorcism of disorder." Science tells us that entropy is the measure of a system's disorder, and from the beginning of the universe (the ultimate low-entropy state) entropy has increased (as predicted by the second law of thermodynamics). One day entropy will be too great to sustain complex life forms (such as us) and then it will be all over, so perhaps art "feels good" in our eyes and our belly because we relate to artistic objects that stave off entropy a little longer. Kev, does that feeling count as pleasure or happiness?

I would start by suggesting that we should not be so quite so harsh on raw titillation, for there is no telling how deep its roots go. Sure, we are all appalled by what Kev describes as "superficial flippancies or content-free spectacles," such as Miley Cyrus or Jeff Koons, but on balance titillation has achieved many impressive things, not the least of which is the perpetuation of the species.

(Ack! out of space!)

David Apatoff said...

(Continued from previous comment):

Anyway: cutting to the chase, I don't see why we seem intent on placing so much weight on a dichotomy between foolish pleasure and mature, enriched happiness. Many of the most highly educated intellectuals are trying desperately to scramble from the "happiness" to the "pleasure" side of the boat (witness Ezra Pound's "Salutation" or Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries").

Myself, I'd guess it's not an either/or kind of distinction, and probably not even an simultaneous-but-opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum kind of distinction. I suspect it's more of a cycle, where when art starts to become too precious and mannered and refined and perfumed, when the burden of knowledge and all of that weighty culture and history begin to oppress innovation (and genuine "pleasure"), something coarse and shallow takes priority and frees us from our straightjacket.

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean Farrell said...

Kev, I was deeply sympathetic with your last post, but at 2:00 AM thought better to sleep on it than try to make sense from a tired state.

One of the wonderful things about young people is their lack of conclusion. Watching a group of teenage girls pop up and down as they talk, eagerly sharing affirmations, jokes, etc., is to view a certain pleasure unburdened by knowledge. Certainly one could explain away their insecurities and teenage solutions of thought in action in a certain knowing way, but such would miss the enthusiasm flowing through the scene.

A man yells to his dog across a field and it turns and scampers back to him enthusiastically. There is identity and response and no one cares to have a handle on a thing, a conclusion. It is a bond.
It is identity, but also experiential. The label is apart of, but within a larger experiential reality.

Where I part is in the conclusion, confinement or limitation of what thought or the intellect's core function is. I don't disagree with what you are saying at all, but I also don't believe the book is closed on the nature of thought, its relationship with life, or even its limitations in space and time.

There was a website where scientists told stories of inexplicable things they experienced. Some of the stories were quite odd, but others had a simple curiosity to them. One was of this man who was taken by the look of a woman. He went home and heard an actual voice, not his own say, She's at the library now. He hopped in his car and in the library he saw her, with her husband. Just a curious little story of no great importance.

The other night I awoke from a dream where a man with an English accent was calling me for some work to be done from a foreign country. I was in a second story office overlooking a street in a foreign country I had never been to in the dream. It woke me from my sleep and about an hour later went down to find an e-mail from an agency in a foreign country, yet the website of the agency was in English. A coincidence or curiosity of no great importance. Unfortunately, I had to pass on the job.

How many angels can fit on the head of a pin was contemplation about the limits of space and time. Has anyone yet put a cap on space and time? I wouldn't know.

Sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev,
You may have read the recent articles on Lee Smolin's Time Reborn which was interesting. If you or any readers may have missed them I copied a link from one article from the NY Times below.

kev ferrara said...

Instead of answering all the specific ripostes, let me just try to articulate my position with greater precision, and see if that does the trick...

Happiness is a state of mind brought about through a satisfying and secure communion with some preferred person, set or setting. There is restful contentment, a sound and appreciable order involved, and there is security without a too-harsh sacrifice of freedom or variety.

Pleasure best enters into this happiness when it is emblematic of it, or resonant with it. Thus, the pleasure one feels in a state of happiness isn’t really the point. But it is through the pleasure that the happiness is reaffirmed or made more evident. In a sense, the pleasure is a celebration of the satisfying communion that justifies it.

The appetites are under control in such a happy state because they are not depended upon to produce the state.

But if the underlying satisfaction is not there, no amount of pleasure can bring it about. Where pleasure lacks the foundation of happiness, I think it is hollow, fleeting, and merely a quick hit of sensual gratification. Which means to sustain such sensual gratification, to exist in a constant state of such pleasure, would necessitate addiction, causing over-stimulation, and will always fail to bring about satisfaction.

Sean Farrell said...

Another post filled with nuggets.

Happiness is a state of mind brought about through a satisfying and secure communion with some preferred person, set or setting.

The above statement, dependent upon leisure in ancient Greece was also central throughout Christian thought from its very beginnings.

It is very rare today to find the idea outside of thoughtful religious discussions were it is a regular topic with many facets.

The beauty of not pretending to be God is the freedom to be oneself with all one's human imperfections intact. Such is freedom in being.
It is also a freedom from the burden of judging others. That is, with or without faith, the freedom from the pretensions of being God are beneficial.

The statement more fully illuminates the criticism of excess analysis earlier where such analysis often misses the whole reality of the experiential, or being.

The appetites are under control in such a happy state because they are not depended upon to produce the state.

Again, a beautiful understanding rarely discussed outside the religious context. Thank you again.

kev ferrara said...

Thanks Sean.

Your point about the similarity of all this to early Christian thought is quite interesting. I don't have the education in that area to add anything, but I have been thinking lately that a lot of what religion is about is bringing ideality into life in a profound way. That is, to perceive life more like art; to experience everything aesthetically and as only the cresting aspect of a deeper order. (And, of course, any idealized, deeply-ordered aesthetic experience will be beautiful.)

This resonance with the religious impulse may also explain why Art has been such a political battleground.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, The two statements of yours which I commented upon might have been written by any number of saints across western history. The emphasis on being and the replacement of it with ever more persistent appetites is a much misunderstood notion. Yes, very much an ordered aesthetic and experiential beauty as you've described. Quite a happy reality at that.

Peace be with you, My peace I give you, is also a very personal affirmation.

Your last line is extraordinary. Yes, I agree.

Sean Farrell said...

PS: What I meant by the biblical salutation is that wasn't an intellectual acknowledgement, but a deeply personal acknowledgment of being, something of deep simplicity people thirst for in their lives.

Also, some of the things introduced on this site have broadened my own appreciation of related subjects. The subject of semiotics and a long discourse we shared back a bit were very helpful.

अर्जुन said...

"I believe it's "C."" ~ Thats what I'm saying, "If you nor the Goodfellows know then who would?"

"…he did for his personal amusement were very different from anything you have ever seen from him-- lots of sea scapes" ~ Cool story bro!

"his love of fishing" ~ Was he on the trip that killed John Atherton?

One last thing, when/where did he study with Dunn? Some illustration "expert" claims at Pratt, but Dunn never taught there…did he‽ …& did he‽