“What is Art, and What is Not?”

Question: What is the difference between design and art?

Milton Glaser: There's this stupid overlap between the two that no one understands. And the lack of distinction between art and design and art and non-art is so puzzling to people. And everybody wants to be an artist because, in terms of status, there's almost nothing better you can be in almost any culture; basically, [this is] because art is terribly important as a survival mechanism for any culture. As a result, the people in primitive cultures who can create art as such are those who are highly respected. And that basically occurs in sophisticated cultures as well. But the only purpose of art is that it is the most powerful instrument for survival—art is so persistent in all our cultures because it is a means of the culture to survive. And the reason for that, I believe, is that art, at its fullest capacity, makes us attentive.

But if you look at a work of art, you can re-engage reality once again, and you see the distinction between what you thought things were and what they actually are. Because of that, it is a mechanism for the species to survive. And because of that, it is terribly important in human consciousness. I also believe, curiously, that beauty, which is very often something we confuse with art, is merely a mechanism to move us towards attentiveness. You realize we all have a genetic capacity and need to experience beauty, but beauty is not the ultimate justification for art. It is merely the device by which we are led to attentiveness.

Anyhow, this is all very complex. And I've been thinking about it most of my life and now I finally feel that I can distinguish between what is art and what is not. And my distinction is if it moves you to attentiveness, it is art. If it doesn't, it's something else.

Question: Is fine art losing its relevance to everyday life?

Milton Glaser: Well, you know, the odd thing about is to examine the art world, so-called, and examine [how] the art world is concerned primarily with money and status. And that's linked to people's need to elevate themselves, and also [a need] to invest in objects that will have a good return. Of course, that is not the standard by which people really interested in art would judge art.

And I'm always amused by the definition of "fine art" because I never knew what the word "fine" meant until I looked it up and found out that "fine" as it applies to art is a term used in metallurgy. It means that you apply heat to metal [with] sufficient intensity so that the impurities are burnt off. Well, with that definition, you begin to understand something about the subject. And also you say, “Well, what are the impurities of art?”

My belief is that the impurities of art are everything that does not contribute to its function of producing attentiveness. And, of course, those impurities are largely status and money. And then you look at what's reported and talked about in the art world and it's always about the money. The leading issue that people care about in the world of art is what the Bonnaud sold for, forty million dollars at the time, which broke all records. And so, well, who cares about what the Bonnaud sold for in terms of art? That's one of the impurities—except that it is the focal point and the central issue in art as it is observed in our culture today.

Question: Describe a profound encounter you had with a work of art.

Milton Glaser: Well, there have been a million encounters at least, but certainly one of them was when a friend took me to the Frick, I was eighteen, to show me the first Piero [della] Francesca I had ever seen. And I almost fainted when I saw it. And that produced a lifetime of exploration of Piero, going all over the world looking for Piero paintings. And I think, finally, having seen most of them—fortunately, he did relatively few—I ended up doing a series of watercolors and drawings based on the work of Piero [that] was sponsored by the Italian government. That was actually shown a few years ago in Piero's home, in Sansepolcro, which has to be one of the great things that could happen to anyone who was as obsessed as I was.

Recorded on:  August 27, 2009

Milton Glaser has spent much of his career straddling the fine line between fine art and commercial design; he gives Big Think the insights of an artist who has found the key to distinguishing between the two.

China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

  • How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
  • Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
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There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Sex & Relationships
  • A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
  • The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
  • The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
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