Category Archives: The Arts

Fun Facts about Chopin

Chopin has long been one of my favorite composers. From Alan Walker’s Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times, I learned that Chopin’s father Nicolas was a fan of Voltaire, a personal favorite of mine. One of Nicolas’ students, who later became Chopin’s godfather, was Fryderyk Skarbek, an economics professor at Warsaw University.

Later in life, Chopin would live in Paris’ Hotel Lambert, where Voltaire once lived. Designed by the same architect who remodeled Versailles under Louis XIV, the building was partially destroyed by fire in 2013.

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Aristotle – The Poetics

Aristotle – The Poetics

A shorter work with useful insights for appreciating storytelling in general, and Greek drama and poetry in particular. Aristotle offers a key insight for making a character believable: a character’s every action and every word should be based on either necessity or probability.

The plot necessitates some actions on the character’s part. What the audience knows about the character’s personality dictates the probability that his reactions are believable. To use a lowbrow example, the reason it’s so funny when Homer says something intelligent on The Simpsons is that is so out of character.

Some of Aristotle’s other ideas about what makes good drama or good poetry seems to be his personal taste. This being subjective, it need not be taken as gospel.

Human Achievement of the Day: Guitars

When Human Achievement Hour rolls around each year, I make sure to do two things. One is to play an electric guitar. The other is to play an acoustic guitar.

Guitars are simple things. Stretch some thin metal wires over a plank of wood, and you’re most of the way there. Electric guitars add a few magnets wrapped in copper wire mounted underneath the strings, called pickups. This deceptively simple invention is one of the pinnacles of human achievement. Music made on guitars has brought unfettered joy to billions of people, most of whom have idea how to play one. Whether you like jazz, punk rock, flamenco, blues, death metal, or classic rock, guitars have enhanced your life. In a way, the guitar is one of the defining objects of modern Western culture.

Regular readers will likely be familiar with CEI’s “I, Pencil” video from a few years ago, inspired by Leonard Read’s famous pamphlet. Nobody can make a pencil on their own. It takes a network of literally millions of people cooperating to make something you can buy in a store for less than a dollar. The network of human cooperation surrounding guitars is arguably even greater.

For example, guitars made by Gibson, such as the Les Paul and the SG, are often made of mahogany wood, which grows mostly in Central and South America. Tennessee-based Gibson has to arrange with people more than a thousand miles away to harvest the lumber and ship it to Nashville, most of whom speak different languages and use different currencies. The fingerboards placed on top of the guitar’s neck are usually made of rosewood, native to Africa and Asia, presenting another coordination problem.

Fret wire, usually made of either nickel or stainless steel, relies on mining and smelting technologies, and requires precise math, skill, and specialized tools to install. Other hardware, such as a guitar’s bridge and nut, pickguard, and tuning pegs, present their own challenges.

Acoustic guitars use a soundboard, chambers, and soundholes in such a way that makes the instruments both loud and tuneful. Electric guitars instead use pickups, potentiometers, wires, soldering, and standardized connections leading to an amplifier powered by electricity. If a pencil is a miracle of cooperation, guitars are even moreso.

Part of the point of Human Achievement Hour is to celebrate modernity. So on March 28, sometime between 8:30 and 9:30, instead of merely leaving on the lights, I will pick up my electric guitar, plug it into my amplifier, and take in the pure, simple joy that comes with banging out distorted power chords. After that, I will pick up my acoustic and admire all the skill, elegance, and mastery of geometry and sound that went into making it. Nobody within earshot may much enjoy my point, but they will likely be thankful for two other human achievements: walls and doors.

Mariachi Band Covers Slayer

There is a mariachi band that performs covers of metal songs. They’re called Metalachi. They recently covered Slayer’s “Raining Blood,” and Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo joined them on stage. It’s a bizarre combination, but they sure do look like they were having fun up there. Click here if the embedded video doesn’t work.

Modern Art

‘Hamburglar’ Artist Throws Gnawed Cheeseburgers at People From Bike

Or if you prefer, here’s a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online Titian exhibit.

The Arts: Voltaire vs. Rousseau

Voltaire 1, Rousseau 0:

As the history of ancient China, Greece and Rome testifies, by bringing people together in the shared enjoyment of the ‘pure pleasures of the mind’ public theatre renders human beings more sociable in their dealings, more moderate in their behaviour, and keener in their judgement. Those nations that are without it cannot be ‘included in the ranks of civilized countries’. Well, at least the pastors of Geneva now knew where they stood. And Rousseau too. ‘Reading your book,’ Voltaire told him, ‘fills one with the desire to walk on all fours.’

Roger Pearson, Voltaire Almighty: A Life in Pursuit of Freedom, p. 248.

The Geneva slur refers to Calvinism, an art-hostile religious doctrine that dominated Geneva during Voltaire and Rousseau’s lifetimes.

Worth noting: Both men were artists at heart. Voltaire first gained fame as a playwright and a poet, and later as a historian and a satirist. Rousseau was a talented musician and composer who later made his name in philosophy.

Strangely, Rousseau was openly hostile to the arts. They are evidence of civilization, a project he largely opposed without any sense of irony.

Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies

This is a beautiful piece of music. I post it for no other reason. Do enjoy, and click here if the embedded video doesn’t work.