Darel Rex Finley in 888

Real Painters

2010.01.19   prev     next

YOU can’t prove by analogy, of course. But you can explain where you’re coming from, so that other people, even if they disagree, may at least understand. So here goes:

Suppose that generations of people had been teaching their children that the Mona Lisa was created by a virtually superhuman artist named Da Vinci:

  • He had never painted before.

  • He started with a single canvas, a single brush, and a small set of paints.

  • He mixed some paint colors, and dabbed the paint onto the canvas as efficiently as possible, creating the Mona Lisa exactly as we see it today, in about a few hours.

  • When he was finished, the brush was just wearing out to the point that it couldn’t be used to paint with, and the paint was almost exactly used up — just the smallest traces of paint remained in each tiny jar.

  • He produced all the great paintings we have today. Only he could have done so.

  • His paintings represent a deep vision he had into the souls of each and every one of us alive today. He probably knew everything there is to know.

But then, one generation, advancing forensic and historic sciences begin to show some disturbing facts:

  • The Mona Lisa could not have been Da Vinci’s first painting, and many of the previous ones were not as good.

  • The Mona Lisa we know was not the first attempt at that particular image. Other attempts were discarded.

  • Even the Mona Lisa we now have today took many days or even weeks, to paint.

  • The Mona Lisa was painted in much brighter, smoother colors than we see today — but those colors have faded over time to give us the brown-and-green, crack-laced image we now know.

  • Many other great paintings were not painted by Da Vinci, but by other artists.

  • Da Vinci almost certainly could not have known the exact amount of paint, brushes, and canvas he would need to produce any particular image. Much of it must have been wasted.

  • X-rays of the painting show hidden features underneath; false starts that were painted over.

  • These paintings may not represent any deep vision into the souls of future peoples, but rather are just pretty pictures intended by the artist to please those who view them.

Quickly, the population splits into two camps.

  1. The Traditionalists — These are the people who insist that all the traditionally taught beliefs are true. They maintain that the new scientific evidence must be mistaken or misleading. They come up with tortured, ad hoc theories of how this evidence could appear to be valid while not actually refuting the traditional teachings. At the root of these excuses is a strong, personal revulsion at the idea that our greatest paintings were created by a motley handful of skilled — but less than superhuman — painters.

  2. The Naturalists — These are the people who embrace the new evidence and say that it proves that the Mona Lisa and other great paintings were not created by any skilled painters at all. They say that each painting must have arisen slowly, stroke-by-stroke, over many centuries, by totally unskilled painters creating copies of the original, then copies of those copies, etc. The poorer-looking copies were discarded, and the better-looking copies were kept and re-copied. Over time, this turned an original, crude, child’s drawing of a smiley face into the Mona Lisa.

    When the Naturalists are challenged with various evidentiary and mathematical reasons to think that their copying process is not a scientifically plausible explanation of how a simple smiley face could become the Mona Lisa, they — in similar fashion to the Traditionalists — resort to tortured, ad hoc explanations of how their theory could be true despite all the problems with it. And at the root of these excuses is a strong, personal revulsion at the idea that our greatest paintings were created by a motley handful of skilled — but less than superhuman — painters.

Science = No Excuses

Then there’s me. I believe the great paintings were made by a motley handful of skilled — but less than superhuman — painters. It may be revolting, but:

  • I don’t have to make twisted excuses for anything.

  • I get to follow the evidence where it most directly leads, in the real spirit of science.

In other words, I get to know what’s really true. What’s really going on in this world. And that can be a good feeling.

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Hear, hear

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