What is art? What makes a good artist?


A snapshot of the current environment is called state. Fundamentally, it is composed of atoms arranged in an ordered/disordered fashion at a given space-time. Each passing moment gives rise to a new state.

What are you thinking right now?

Whatever you’re thinking as of this moment corresponds to a state of your brain. So you are basically, the cumulative state of your brain since your birth. This can (almost) never be identical to another person, because we all have unique experiences in a given space-time. So, each one of us is unique. That is our identity.

Some states are extraordinary, most are not. For example, following incidents created an extraordinary state:

  • 17,000 years ago, a Neanderthal saw a bull
  • Buddha being born in Lumbini in 5th century BC
  • Napoleon leading his army to cross the Alps in 1800

Connecting the dots of past extraordinary events helps us understand history and extrapolate more state. But how do we find out about extraordinary events?


Art is the channel through which transfer of state takes place from one person to another.

How do we know about the aforementioned extraordinary events? We know them because of:

  • Cave paintings (source) - Tells us the state of relationship between Neanderthal and bulls
  • Edicts of Ashoka (source) - Tells us the state of when and where Buddha was born
  • Jacques-Louis David’s paintings (source) - Tells us the state of what Napolean looked like, and his clothes

All forms of art, be it music, dance, painting, sculpture, poem, drama, design, folklore, or even a simple conversation are a method to communicate state. This communication can happen over space and across time.

By this classification, all humans are artists (since all of us communicate).

So what makes a good artist?

A good artist is one who, for given a state, knows the most effective way to transfer it. So, he must be able to

  • precisely identify his audience,
  • determine the best channel (music, poem, sketch, etc.), and
  • put the least amount of effort to transfer that state

e.g. If I’m unable to communicate my understanding of this topic (state) to you in the least amount of words (channel), then I’m not a good artist. This applies, given that I believe I know the kind of people who will read this article (audience).

A good artist must first identify the audience. Only then will he be able to figure out the best channel. One channel cannot work for every kind of audience. So we should learn as many channels as possible. Then we would be able to make a better judgment of which channel is appropriate in a particular situation.

e.g. If you’re designing websites for old people, you should use static text with big font and high contrast. But for teens, you could do away with light colors, small font, and more funkiness.

A good artist also needs to minimize the amount of state generated during communication. e.g. If you found out the simplest way to communicate a state, but it took a long time and deliberation to figure out this simplest way, you essentially generated a lot of state in your brain. That’s not good. Minimizing the amount of state in the universe prevents you from spending unnecessarily long on the problem at hand.


You are the cumulative state of your brain since your birth. That’s your identity.

We need to be able to share a piece of our identity to help make new relationships. You may have noticed that you’re able to easily befriend someone who shares his childhood stories that match yours. Nostalgia. This is because your states are slightly in sync with each other. This helps with the initial handshake between your brains. You’ll also note that your best friend has the most in-sync state with you. Sometimes you wouldn’t even need a verbal channel to communicate with them, facial cues are sufficient.

But what if you meet someone whose state is identical to yours? Not only would they be able to read you like a book, but will know what you’re going to do next. They’re not just impersonating you, they are you! Your identity has been stolen. This will be an extremely dangerous situation to be in. You’d lose your existence in this universe.

This makes privacy an important part of individuality. You must be able to protect some of your state from others.

Thanks to Sudhir Mitharwal, Ashutosh, Sudhanshu Shekhar for reading drafts of this.