Predictive Art

Do you think this is art? (Or just something your kid could do?)

“Coffee Thyme” by Sam Gilliam, 1980, crayon

Your opinion on this turns out to be highly correlated with your opinion about our current (miserable excuse for a) President.

Recently, a progressive think tank, Data for Progress, partnered with YouGov Blue in a poll involving the image above.

Subjects were shown the image with no further identifying information. (The caption I added to the image rather gives the show away.)

It turns out there is a strong correlation between those who think it is art and those who disapprove of P45 (POTUS #45; I try to avoid using the name).

Likewise, there’s a strong correlation between those who think it isn’t art and those who like the Pumpkin Goblin.

[For the record, I can’t stand the guy, and I never could, even in his earliest days. I was horrified when he ran, and I’ve been horrified and depressed ever since he won. Oddly, given those strong feelings of loathing, my first reaction to the image was: could be art, but could be some parent’s proud refrigerator art. (But definitely could be art.) I’d like to say I leaned towards yes, but I would have checked the “Not sure” option.]

According to an article in Vox yesterday, Is this art?

The Coffee Thyme Gap is actually larger than the college degree gap, which is one of the biggest and most widely discussed predictors of Trump support. And there’s reason to believe the bachelor’s degree serves as an imperfect proxy for underlying psychological attributes that are better captured by asking about art

The approval of P45 is obviously more tightly tied to party than to anything else, but even among Republicans and independent voters, the Coffee Thyme Gap is apparent.

This gap apparently correlates with a psychological trait, called “openness to experience” — the more open one is, the more liberal one tends to be.

But while the “Coffee Thyme” result might seem novel to a lay person, it wasn’t unexpected to the people who put the poll together. That’s because it’s in line with a well-known finding in political psychology that people who score high in a personality attribute known as “openness to experience” tend to have more left-wing political opinions.

Back in 2016 I wrote a post that mentioned a study correlating one’s sense of disgust with how conservative one is. Disgust and fear are traits of the less open. This recent poll seems to confirm those results.

As the Vox article goes on to say:

Another thing that correlates with openness to experience is educational attainment. High-openness people have higher IQs, so they tend to do better in school. And high-openness people are more interested in school, especially the less practical aspects of it, so they’re more motivated to earn degrees.

Which may explain the underlying psychology behind the college education gap — those with college degrees tend to dislike P45 (although there are certainly exceptions — presumably all his minions have college degrees). I suspect the correlation is much higher among those with degrees in the arts.

The article concludes that candidates might do well to focus on the personality traits rather than geographical, or even educational, traits.

[Although, I have to say I’m appalled the 2020 election could even be a close race. A moldy orange ought to win by a landslide. I can just barely wrap my head around the idea of voting for him in the first place, but after seeing him in action, I can’t understand why anyone still supports him. He’s an utter abomination!]


I think for me, this is a good reminder of just how different people can be in their worldview.

I’d like to believe that facts matter, that rational thinking matter, that character matters, but examples like this throw into pretty stark relief that not everyone sees the world that way. Some simply have different priorities.

But if you don’t mind, I’m going to go on thinking those people are blithering idiots who drag the human race down into the muck of the dark ages.

The correlation between that kind of backward thinking and hateful, harmful behavior is just too strong in my eyes.

At some point you just have to acknowledge what kind of people are responsible for most of the major social issues in the world today (I’m talking racism, sexism, tribalism, nationalism, and excessive capitalism).

I think we should start building that “B” Ark today!

Maybe we can get Elon Musk and SpaceX to build it.

Stay open to experience, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

6 responses to “Predictive Art

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Have to admit, at first glance, it looked to me like the random scribbling of a preschooler. (This despite thinking Trump is a nightmare.) After looking at it a bit, I can see a consistency and attention to detail there, but I wouldn’t have thought to look at it like that on my own.

    But then, I would tend to classify the random scribblings of a preschooler as a type of art anyway.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I had a similar reaction. My initial response was, especially due to the use of crayon, that it sort of looked like a kid’s drawing, but then, given the question being asked, I looked more closely and thought, yeah, maybe it could be something an artist did. But had I been in the actual poll, I would have clicked the “Not Sure” option.

      I agree, though, there is a depth to it — balance of color and structure — that almost reminds me of something by Jackson Pollock. Getting something “random” to look that well balanced… that’s art!

      “I would tend to classify the random scribblings of a preschooler as a type of art anyway.”

      I probably wouldn’t, unless it was a surprising preschooler. Especially if random. Nothing random or natural is art to me. Not sunsets, scenic views, ocean waves, clouds… lovely, but (to me) not art.

      I define art as a guided intentional act by the artist, so most efforts by children won’t really qualify. Doesn’t mean there can’t be a beauty to them, though. Beauty and art are completely different things! (Literally no connection.)

  • Martin Cooke

    I do not like CT, but I think that the question of what is Art is a very interesting question. I would need to be told whether CT is Art or not, and then I would want to know why it was, or was not.

    I do not like DT, what I have seen of him on the TV, but he is clearly a political force to be reckoned with. Instead of going on about how rubbish he is, the alternatives need to get their act together. Twenty years of almost everyone knowing about climate change has resulted in the worst case scenario approaching, and a reactionary reaction growing in strength. Clearly the alternatives were failing before DT arrived. I would like to see DT widely seen as a reason for a rainbow coalition. Otherwise I fear that we shall soon see worse than DT.

    I suspect that seeing CT as Art is the sort of thing that the failing alternatives to DT have been enjoying doing for decades. But I am certainly open to being corrected for good reasons…

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Hello Martin; welcome!

      “I do not like CT, but I think that the question of what is Art is a very interesting question.”

      Indeed. The question of liking something, and whether its art are completely separate questions. Lots of beautiful things I like aren’t art (sunsets, campfires, ocean waves, etc). And lots of art I don’t really care for (most sculpture, for example, leaves me cold).

      I define art as an intentional, informed creation by an artist expressing their vision. Both the intent and the informed knowledge are crucial, although there is some wiggle room on the latter.

      “I would need to be told whether CT is Art or not, and then I would want to know why it was, or was not.”

      It’s art. 😀

      The why is embodied in the informed use of color, shape, and structure. Notice how well the colors used are so balanced across the piece. Notice how the individual scribbles add up to a kind of uniform background that offsets the rectangular piece, and notice how that rectangular piece draws the eye. And amid all the chaotic background, a triangular shape especially draws the eye.

      Is it a mountain? Maybe it’s a sailboat. Are we looking out a window? Is that a fence in front of it? The more you look at the piece, the more you see and wonder about.

      That’s art!

      “I do not like DT, what I have seen of him on the TV, but he is clearly a political force to be reckoned with.”

      I’m going to guess you might live outside the USA? Those of us here have known about him for decades, and none of it is nice. He’s an obvious racist, for one thing, going back to his real estate hawking days (he got in legal trouble for it). His racism also reared its head regarding the Central Park Five and again with birtherism. These alone should discount him from being POTUS.

      So should his ignorance, lack of education and experience, and myriad other traits. Each alone should be a disqualifier.

      But he’s a symptom of an era that’s become anti-intellectual, anti-empirical, without shame, and selfish beyond moral reason. Not to mention irresponsible. He rode to power on bold lies and the anger of a disenfranchised segment of the USA that got the short end of the stick of globalism. He is, in large part, their revenge, which is a terrible way to elect a POTUS.

      “Instead of going on about how rubbish he is, the alternatives need to get their act together.”

      Maybe, rather than “instead,” also. 🙂 I do agree the left really needs to get their act together. I’m appalled at their incompetence sometimes.

      “Clearly the alternatives were failing before DT arrived.”

      It’s a complicated situation. President Obama was doing a lot of good, but faced so much opposition from the right and from racists that it became impossible for him to be successful. And the Democrats being so unified didn’t help. (Often said to be “like herding cats.”)

      “Otherwise I fear that we shall soon see worse than DT.”

      Yep. If we don’t stand together, we’ll surely fall together. It’s key to understand trump is a symptom, not a cause. The real fight is against the root cause(s).

      “I suspect that seeing CT as Art is the sort of thing that the failing alternatives to DT have been enjoying doing for decades.”

      I don’t agree with that. It is art. I agree with the assessment as expressed in the post. It has to do with the quality of openness. There is a tight correlation between the conservative outlook and being open to new experiences.

      Conservatism is all about preserving the status quo, whereas progressives are all about exploring new things. Ideally, in a robust society, both sides are intelligent and act together to establish a sane middle ground, because extreme conservatism leads to stagnation, and extreme progressiveness leads to jumping off cliffs without looking.

  • rung2diotimasladder

    One issue I find confusing in the poll is whether I’m supposed to say whether I personally think it’s worthy of calling art (as in, “Is this good art?”), or whether I think some artist or other might call it art and stick it in a gallery. That would’ve been a bit of a stumbling block for me. I wonder if the poll took into account the different ways one might read the question?

    As for my thoughts on it, if the poll is asking the former, then no, it’s not my thing. If the latter, yes. I might at first think some child made it, but the colors repeat with too much regularity and balance for this to be a very young child, and an older child would probably do something more representational. Plus, there’s that space around the rectangle…it doesn’t conjure a child scribbling with abandon. I would say it’s an adult doing something child-like. However, if you were to take just the rectangle at the center as the whole work, excluding all the hatch marks surrounding it, I’d say it was a child’s doing.

    Politically, does this make me a centrist? 🙂

    The funny thing is, I think temperamentally I might be more aligned to my conservative friends. I can’t say I love new experiences; they tend to disappoint me.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I took the poll to ask the latter question, whether the piece might be found in an art gallery (rather than on some proud parents’ refrigerator). I never saw the original poll, so I don’t know how they framed the question. As with all polls, that would matter!

      I agree. The piece has a certain something that seems intentional.

      I think it’s not so much loving new experiences (I agree with the disappointment factor), but of being open to them and recognizing their value. It is perhaps rather similar to the art question: do you recognize the value of an art piece that disappoints you personally (or which you just don’t like), or are your tastes more closely tied to your values? I think a defining characteristic of an open person is seeing taste and value as orthogonal.

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