What is Xmas?

It’s not Christmas, perhaps it is Crossmas or Eksmas. And to be fair, I think it will serve me well to work with Eksmas for defining this end of year experience, alongside the traditional Christmas for comparison.

Eksmas

Is for me invariably one of the worst times of the year. The period leading up to it has ended, leaving most people (or just me?) sick of decorations, tunes, and festive compulsory cheer, the proceedings fail to deliver, the end of the year is coming up with its forceful pondering on the state of your life and annoying and mediocre firework displays causing noise, and then perhaps the worst part: the January-March season, with equally horrible darkness and cold weather as the previous three months, but lacking their suspense.

Having firmly set the depressing tone, I will now proceed to be a fastidious grinch and elaborate on these points.

Eksmas/Christmas

  1. The season’s madness. Starting November, especially if you live somewhere large enough to have the commercial potential, shops get decorated with glittery wonders, baubles, tinsel and who knows what else. It really only looks good if it’s been planned by an interior decorator and funded from corporate accounts. If you try buying the stuff and doing your own decoration, you are doomed to fail. Even if it looks good, it won’t look as good as in store. There is the overload factor. If you have two months to enjoy the beauty, it won’t be that amazing really by the time 25th December hits. Then there is the weather factor. Not all parts of the northern hemisphere enjoy proper cold weather and December snows. If it’s 10 degrees Celcius and raining, the magic of the sparkle is really just bloody insulting. You only need wear gloves to stop the mulled wine burning your hands. And then there’s the carols. If they weren’t supported by their festive purpose I think people would hate them as much as they hate Abba songs. They’re nice to listen to, but not more than a few times. And I quite like some Abba songs.
  2. Unsatisfactory proceedings. This is the main thing that annoys me. You want Christmas, but get Eksmas. I believe most would ascribe the value of Christmas to be spending time with loved ones (family, friends). Some also value it for its religious significance. These are both fine reasons, but unfortunately people just mess things up. This one day of the year should be a celebration, the cherry on the cake for a year spent building and enjoying meaningful human relantionships. It is not meant to be a substitute for these things. Slaving away to fulfil whatever requirements and preparations the ritual in your part of the world requires and then being forced to socialise with relatives – this flavour of the issue mostly applies to families – whom you don’t get along well with is a recipe for disaster. Going through the motions on a background of aggravated fatigue is just insult and injury in one convenient package. Eksmas is this celebration of empty ritual and maintaining appearance. Conversely, if you happen to have people you care about, but can’t spend Christmas with them, all is not lost! You might be surprised to find that people have not forgotten you. Christmas is like meeting an old friend for a half-hour chat once a year. You are still best friends, and have a lot to say.
  3. Future plans. Once Christmas or Eksmas have passed, you have the New Year to look forward to. Traditionally people celebrated the changing of season, so I guess there is nothing wrong in finding reason to celebrate in changing calendar year. If you like to party New Year’s Eve is a great opportunity to change the cosiness of the table with the glamour of the ball room (one can dream). But don’t try to sort out your life plans for the next year in one day. If you didn’t do this over the course of the past year, forcing yourself to do it in one day is probably not a productive exercise. On a different note, I don’t get what is up with the fireworks? First of all the ones for the public should be banned. If it’s got enough power to pop or fly it shouldn’t be handled by children (or adults) who don’t know any better. Pyrotechnics should be kept for professionals. And on this point, can’t someone come up with some way of making them more quiet? They scare pets and are just a pain if you’re not celebrating and can’t even see anything from your window.
  4. The worst part: the bulk of the winter season. Holidays are gone, it’s still dark, cold or miserable outside, depending on where you live, and there’s nothing to look forward to.

It seems a bit too much that I’ve managed to complain about half the calendar year under the umbrella of one holiday, but that’s the risk you run when you mark living with compulsory milestones. It’s a bit of all or nothing.

It’s not all doom and gloom

I started this article a few weeks back planning to make it an indictment on people’s foolishness in complying to organised celebration. It isn’t so much an accusation anymore, but a warning. I’ve mellowed, people have remembered me, and that made me happy. Christmas day is not as bad as the run-up to it. If you don’t plan too much, if you keep expectations reasonable, there is no pressure. You might actually enjoy the day, even if you just light up some tea lights and sprinkle some biscuit munching onto your daily routine.

There is one cliché I am inclined to agree with now. It’s the small things that matter. Merry Christmas, or whatever else you might be celebrating!

Red pomegranate

Little Ellie stood on the bed’s edge, eyelids still heavy with sleep, staring dreamily out the roof windows at the sharp building edges, overlapping and blending, softened by the passing of time, and graced with a fuzzy charm by the misty morning light and a cold drizzle. The cold was making itself felt in the old town square which was now part of a bustling city filled with full-to-the-brim but deserted modern skyscrapers. Living on a budget in the coveted old neighbourhood took a toll on the home comfort Ellie’s mother could afford to provide. Their living there was a matter of history, rather than choice; still, they wouldn’t trade the early 20th century converted attic for the sterile warmth of modern apartments. It was only October but two pairs of socks, a jumper and a winter duvet were the bare minimum required to sleep through the night.

Ellie pulled the covers off, put her house shoes on, headed to the window and placed her hands on the crumbling, moist plaster of the windowsill. The piercing cold brought a smile on her face. Growing up in that place, she had developed a taste for living, for appreciating the feeling of time in her body, made possible by the thick buildup of historical layer in that old town market square, which she could analyse from above like a historian turning manuscript pages with soft white gloves.


Ellie sat listless on the gold embroidered cushion of a Chippendale chair, sipping her coffee in the extravagant comfort of the hotel room. She didn’t bother to open the curtains. Although the somptuous interiors made those unaquainted feel like they were sharing chambers with royalty, the ugly truth was the hotel was a steel and glass giant, overlooking a forest of equally belittling buildings. She had spent the best part of the previous five years living in such hotels, at one point being so caught up in work affairs that she actually did not bother to call a place home. When she did have a place rented, she often avoided staying there worried she might have to make her own coffee or toast. She didn’t like this life, but she had gotten used to the sickening comfort brought by her income, and kept telling herself that once she had enough saved she would quit. She had parted ways with her old self following her mother getting a better paid job and selling the old attic flat to fund a mortgage for a warm and lacking-mould apartment. Ellie believed herself understanding of her mother’s growing arthritic pains, but she was in response drifting more and more, literally and figuratively, into the new city centre. She was fighting fire with fire, and left completely lost by her time in university, she ended up working in public affairs for a multinational corporation. She was devilishly good at it.

Once, she left the hotel she was staying in in the middle of a cold November night, took her shoes off and walked the dark alleys hidden behind bars and clubs, cutting her feet on broken glass, and talking to herself until the sun rose. She sat on a bench next to a homeless man smoking handrolled cigarettes. He would lick them soaked before lighting them on fire, producing such a thick choking smoke it clinged onto the surface of clothes rather than penetrate them. She dipped her feet in a puddle beside the bench.


Ellie felt like she had nothing left to live for. She came to understand that she had spent her life searching for that feeling of belonging, feeling which was lost temporarily when moving out of the attic, and then permanently when the old buildings were deemed unsafe for habitation, lacking historic value and summarily demolished and replaced by a new office building. She felt betrayed by her mother, then her friends, then her coworkers. After her husband left her, she went silent for months. She didn’t cry, she didn’t hate, she just felt like it was meant to happen and she deserved it. She couldn’t remember much from the past thirty years of her life. She didn’t care. She turned off the heating, opened all the windows, crawled under the covers and waited for the sparkling December air to fill the house. She started shivering violently, curled up in a ball and grabbed the soles of her feet with her hands. She read the scars like Braille. The moist and abrasive skin drew the heat out of her hands.

On Christmas morning she jumped out of bed, stretched like a gymnast, and devoured the sight of the shabby old table covered in layers of flaking drab greens, ochres, maroons, more greens, and a feeble white overcoat. On it stood glowing, proud and innocent, a red pomegranate.

A Christmas card for organic chemists

Being the grinch that I am, I thought I might as well jump on the celebration boat following the obvious reasoning of ‘ I want to see the world burn’.

So, here is my take on the Christmas card/wishes business.

Having ’til not long ago worked as an organic chemist, I still find a connection to this world which provides me with plenty of inspiration. That is how this card came to be.

What about its meaning? I don’t want to risk it being misunderstood; I am sure it will be mostly ignored. But I have to try.

Here it is in the painful equivalent of explaining the joke.

  • If you’ve been naughty, did not follow proper protocol, and ended up with your beloved sample getting intimate with the Rotavap bath, then Santa has a great bottle of XquisitePhos ready for you
  • If you’ve been nice, followed proper protocol, and both optimised your eluent polarity and measured the Rf value for your sample, then Santa has a nice glassware brush waiting for you

You may be thinking ‘That makes no sense’. There are a couple of possible explanations: either I’ve mixed up my boxes or I planned this all along in a clever way; something that chemists call, use, and abuse: rational design.

Let’s assume it is the latter. I planned it this way. Why would the naughty chemist get the expensive present? Well, there is the old saying ‘Fortune favours the brave’, and as I have found for myself, playing by the rules gets you nowhere. Sometimes it goes wrong, but you have to take your chances if you want to get anything done.

There is one other clever interpretation of this metaphorical Christmas ‘wish-you-well’ item. There are a couple of things any organic chemist who’s been in the business for long enough cannot avoid: going on the Phos and having to clean glassware. Some, working on very well-funded projects, might have lab dishwashers (I actually don’t know what the proper name is for those). In that case I assume they would probably throw out the compromised glassware that can’t be cleaned this way. Maybe I was wrong.

It’s less likely that you can get away from the Phos. Which brings me to the label on the beloved expensive Christmas present:

XquisitePhos
ResplendentPlus grade
Purified by triple incantation
Immobilised onto unicorn tears

I am so proud of myself for coming up with this one that I won’t explain it. If you are a chemist and don’t get it, then I guess..you must be new? Good luck!

Happy holidays and may the Phos be with you!

Solstice

It's dark, it's dark, dark all the time. 
The sun rises fat as a toad
And marches crippled carving a road
In cloud from where it cannot shine. 

Light flurries in patches of amber and grey
And catches on branches breaking its fall. 
Noon has passed, light we just missed,
The sun was gone before we knew it was day. 

It's dark, it's dark, dark all the time
And don't forget night promptly arrives. 
Please do no whine 'cause tomorrow will bring
Passing the point and turning the tides.

Hold the line

Captain Ryan Hold had a feeling nothing would happen by the end of the day. It was unusually quiet, the dull grey of the sky compressing the atmosphere, making everything move a little more slowly than usual. There was no wind to rustle the leaves and no traffic on the dusty cobblestone roads. They were all closed for the parade. The discrepancy between the din expected of a public holiday and the reality of the still barracks life made Ryan feel like he somehow did something wrong, performed his morning rituals and did his chores incorrectly. He struggled to remember what might have caused this.

The soldiers had already left before Ryan arrived this morning. He wished he hadn’t moved up the ranks so quickly. He missed his friends, he missed performing the same tasks everyday in company, laughing at the same jokes and mocking those in higher ranks, not because they were bad, most of them were quite good, but because it was part of subalterns’ duty and the professional way to show affection. He was one of the higher ranks. And he mostly spent his time on paperwork, running inspections, attending meetings, and waiting for the phone to ring.

After lunch he went for his second patrol of the day, duty he had with all the soldiers being away. He finished the round and entered the communications office. It mostly served for respite and as a log book deposit since phones had been installed all over the base.
The old telegraph machine came to life and filled the room with a sense of urgency conveyed using simple tones:

BeepBeep…BeBeep…BeepBe – and carried on.

Having had Morse code drilled into his head in military school, Ryan didn’t miss a single thing, even while trying to figure out why anyone would be telegraphing in this day and age.

’Man with a gun’, the message read.

It snowed

Oh, what a shame!
There barely is reason to hope 
For a thick white coat.

If I were young, 
I'd pray there be 
Music without party, 
Drinking and regretting,
Pretending and forgetting. 

If I were young, 
I'd learn to wait 
For nothing that won't come, 
Learning but not winning, 
Caring but not crying.

Now it snowed while I wait
For the damned season to pass.
I no longer think the next better, 
I still find the longing bitter. 

It snowed. Oh, what a shame! 

Whistlejacket – Part of the Little Blue Marbles Series

Rupert got in to work at 6.30 am, just like he always did. He was the first one of the day, before even the security staff had a chance to unlock all the doors and gates. His unusual habit of arriving so early was tolerated only because of how long he had been working for the recycling centre. Three years working there were an eternity by the average worker’s standard of six months or less. Those years felt like an eternity for Rupert. Nonetheless, he was always hardworking and serious, never having fun with the others, skipping tea breaks (all four of them everyday), all of which added up to him just not being liked by anyone. Just respected.

One person made for an exception. Dylan. He had been working there for six months, and during that time he became Rupert’s one and only friend, at work and outside. He didn’t raise an eyebrow when he heard about weird Rupert and his commitment, and that earned him the chance for Rupert to talk to him. Rupert was acutely aware of his surroundings, even though he never interacted.

There was only so much statistics could be cheated however, and now it was Dylan’s time to leave. He hadn’t told anyone besides management, not even Rupert, who while getting changed this morning, noticed that Dylan had cleared out his locker and turned in the overalls. Sadness flowed over Rupert’s face, and after the flash flood passed, bitterness remained in the gullies carved by the rapid waters, reminding him that, contrary to his strongest held beliefs, he did need people in his life, he wasn’t numb, but also feeding his ego with the thought that he had been right: people don’t care about him. He hoped for a fleeting moment that Dylan would at least say goodbye.

He ate lunch by himself, sat at the corner table, hoping someone would want to sit next to him, but not anyone who was there, not even Dylan if he turned up, and fearing that one of these people deemed inappropriate would actually want to sit at his table and ruin his comfort of finding solitude in a busy room. He checked his phone. Dylan had messaged him four hours before: ‘Should we get a pint after you finish work today?’ All his despair at having been abandoned by his only friend was for nothing. If only he learnt to trust his reasonable curiosity to check his phone every now and then, rather than submit to his phobia telling him to do the opposite of what he wanted out of fear of ‘giving in’. That was Rupert, a stoic without a purpose.

‘Whistlejacket’

read the sign hanging over the entrance to the pub, below the lettering a rather well-made reproduction of George Stubbs’ masterpiece. Drawn by the warm glow flowing out the windows, Rupert overcame his hesitation and turned left, walking into the narrow courtyard separated from the street by a mostly dried out boxwood hedge, and then gathering his strength once more, into the loud but surprisingly welcoming pub. He stood frozen scanning the premises for any sign of Dylan, and having found none, decided to venture to buy himself a drink from the bar.

Sat down at the table he was surprised to find the famed painting reproduced on the cork coasters, frayed and slightly falling apart from the chronic booze soaking. He swore he would one day go to see the real thing. He didn’t however feel out of place in the pub, which, beside the name and elevated choice of signage, was as regular as they got. He noticed for the first time how people don’t call the name of the place they are in. ‘Yeah mate, I’m here.. at the pub.. The pub, you know.. the one with the horse..’ Probably no one in the establishment had ever seen the painting. Or would be inclined to do so, if told where to find it. He fell into thought, squinting to study the colours of the hair, the eyes, the subtle gradation in the background, things he could see on the coaster reproduction mostly due to the creativity-inducing properties of alcohol. He finished his first pint of IPA in less than 5 minutes. He was in line for the second one when Dylan arrived.

An hour later, many, many pints of increasingly cheaper drinks, and a belated awkward conversation, Rupert and Dylan knew everything there was to know about each other. Rupert had been averse to the custon and process of formal education his entire life, and after breaking his right arm shortly after starting his A-levels, he decided to quit. He felt as the injury, which he never ascribed a cause to, entitled him to take the decision. He hated sports, both taking part in and watching them. His dislike of people severely reduced his job options, and after his arm healed and he got sick of being rejected from supermarket staff jobs, he applied for the recycling centre. His attention to detail got him the coveted job of sorting supervisor. In the past three years he had become quite fond of environment protection, and took with great pride to call the place ‘recycling factory’, because they were part of making new things just like other industries. Dylan had been much more academically successful, having made it all the way to first year in uni. At this point he got sent down after peddling marijuana, an enjoyable and profitable activity he had been engaging in since he was 15. Because the university didn’t want negative publicity he was not reported to the police. He saw the ad for sorting positions at the recycling centre and he ended up under Rupert’s supervision. Rupert’s dedicated nature earned him not only Dylan’s respect, but also occasional lessons in chemistry, subject Dylan had been quite fond of.

‘So how did you end up selling pot?’

Sandstone hills – Part of the Little Blue Marbles Series

Dylan woke up at the break of dawn hungry, but not willing to eat any of the crackers, nuts or cheese he had brought along for the trip. The thought of crossing the sandstone hills had kept him up for most of the night, and now, exhausted and with worry causing him a sick stomach, he had to find the strength to get out of the sleeping bag, out of the tent, and face the damned hills, which looked even more inhospitable grazed by the first rays of the sun than they did during the night like a darkness denser that the surrounding. There was in fact no good reason his drinking friends, and only friends around these parts, could present to justify their loathing for these hills: no one had gone missing travelling them, there were no venomous snakes, wolves or bears roaming there, and the trail crossing them only required some hiking boots to walk, was hard to get lost on since taking the wrong turn would take you to a precipice sooner rather than later, and only difficult because of the steep inclines.

Dylan was a strange nature, an intrepid explorer afraid of missing the direct train and having to change in stations along the route he hadn’t visited before. He embarked on this voyage to prove himself to his friends and also because in spite of liking the carefree lifestyle that living in a forgotten town offered, he would get quite bored and craved doing something out of the ordinary. So, instead of taking the train to the summer fair held in the village ten miles away, he had decided to pack his glass goods in his backpack along with essential supplies and walk the two-day journey there. His friends pointing out glass goods and backpacking don’t mix well only spurred him on, and having walked seven easy miles the day before, only had to cross the hills to get to the village on the other side.

Grinding his teeth, Dylan left the last patches of dusty green weeds and entered the hills. The first monolith soared to the sky, blocking the view of the sun and marking the entrance like the frame of a door. The abruptness of entering a cave, rather than climbing a hill, was making its way into Dylan’s heart like an expanding foam, pushing other feelings aside and then disappearing leaving behind only an empty space which constituted the dread Dylan, as others before him, was feeling intensely. The path was getting steeper and the effort of climbing increased the blood pressure causing Dylan’s ears to start ringing. The ripples of the earthquake shaking his eardrums reached his eyes, which were now protesting violently to the lack of light, the sudden severing of its flow brought about by one step crossing past another monolith soaring on the opposite side to the first.

An urge took over Dylan, who at this point was sweating and cursing his foolish decision to venture here, and he stopped, took off the backpack and from the main compartment took out a carefully wrapped glass vase, the layer of old newspaper so thick it barely allowed one to discern the shape of what’s inside, unwrapped it and having put the wrapping back into his bag, he lunged forward onto his left foot and with a massive swing of his right arm powered by the momentum of his jump, propelled the vase forward like an olympic thrower and smashed it less than a meter in front of him. The explosion sent glass shrapnel cutting his face. He didn’t move for what seemed like an eternity. His mind, his hearing, and vision regained clarity and he called himself lucky for somehow not having any glass in his eyes, as far as he could tell. He kept on walking. Eventually, his curiosity got the best of him and he run his hand over his face, feeling the stinging pain for the first time. He knew those tiny shards of yellow glass would accompany him beyond the end of his crossing, the summer fair or the year.

For the next five hours, whenever the pulsating pressure boxed him in, he would take another piece of glass, smashed it to pieces, and kept on walking as nothing ever happened. During periods of calm, as he was approaching the highest point of the crossing, he would have a name creep into his mind: Irene. When he made it to the highest point, he had run out of glassware in his bag, which was now filled only with blood-stained, old newspaper. The sun had made it to the top of the sky and had its best chance of seeing the vertical sandstone walls. For a brief period of time the murky brown of everything around had its strange purple tinge cut by the bright yellow sunlight, turning briefly a forgettable shade of vermilion. The light descended low enough that Dylan could see the lizards sunbathing in the noon sun, their presence betrayed by their movement and yellow eyes. The sun not long after descended gently in unison with Dylan on the path. He didn’t think ‘Irene’ again.


Next to the entrance to the tiny village square was a sign battered by the weather and reading ‘Sandstone Hills’, barely legible in a strange gothic font and with yellow letters on a rusted background. The place was packed with one massive fair ride offering folk the chance to ride round for £5 on tacky unicorns, dolphins, orangutans, and pigs until the insides of their thighs grew blisters. The contraption took up so much space it seemed to displace the atmosphere as well, and left for a suffocating fair experience. The whole event was actually just a Sunday market, which had brought in on command from some clever businessman the ride in order to call it a fair and put prices up dramatically. Not dissuaded, the local folk were going round the stalls in an orderly fashion. In counterclockwise sense from the entrance were arranged stalls in such a way to provide one with things they needed for the day, in the right order: greasy fried sausages wrapped in bacon and served on a slice of black pudding next to a ladlefull of baked beans (from a can, reheated over a fire for dramatic effect), a pint (or several) of apple cider, seventeen different kinds of cheese, the only one selling being the extra mature cheddar, a selection of underbaked and over-infused with baking powder scones, no jam (too much sugar is bad for the health), a pint (or several) of dark ale, so that by the time one had visited all the stalls and the shops selling ‘Ye ol’ knick-knacks’ situated behind them, they had passed the day and were ready to leave with all their money gone. In the corner of the square opposite the entrance, hidden behind the last stall selling watermelon and pork pies (a local tradition), was sat a haggard looking man with his face covered in bandages. In front he had a hat filled with coins and a paper bag filled with blue marbles. The adults barely noticed him, but he had made himself into an attraction for the kids. He gave the big marbles for 50p and the small ones for 30p. The slightly older and working towards becoming astute businesspeople among the children could get the imperfect ones for 20p. By the end of the day, Dylan had made enough to buy himself a pie and pint of lager (cheaper than ale), fix the hole in his budget left by the room where he had spent the night, and get himself a train ticket back.

On his way to the station, which was actually about half a mile outside of the village and consisted of a ticket kiosk and a platform with a leaky roof, he swung by a shack from where he knew he could buy pigments stolen from a chemicals’ factory which had closed down years before, but had never been cleared out. The jolly man inside was not bothered hiding the nature of his business and cried out when he saw Dylan:
‘Dylan, mate, haven’t seen you in ages, what can I help you with this time?’
‘Mate, some of that stuff you sold me last time lasted forever. If I put too much in made the glass so coloured I couldn’t see through it.’
‘There’s plenty more where that came from. What would you like? Some cad yellow?’
‘Neah, think I’m done with that for a while. You got some more of that cobalt blue?’
‘£50 for a 10 g bag’
‘Bloody hell, ain’t you got some smaller ones?’ Dylan knew the bag probably hadn’t even been weighed and must have had a couple of grams in it at most. He had saved £20 for his visit here and knew the man, whose name he never cared to enquire about, would give him as much as he wanted for as much money he had.

With his blue bag of wonder safely craddled among the newspaper in his backpack, Dylan turned up to the kiosk and asked for a one-way ticket to Larkham. On the train he fell asleep and dreamt of Irene.

How Should Scientists Look at Art?

Ever since the days of me vaguely paying attention in school to literature studies I carried around the simplistic view of scientists being apollonians and artists being dionysians. Not to say that this was expressly taught, but having been presented with an aggrandised view on the virtues of knowledge by the power of metaphor, I proceeded to (mis)understand and retreat into my sand castle of scientific study. The Apollonian and Dionysian are in fact collections of fundamental traits in humans, and therefore found in members residing on either side of the science/art divide, and contrary to what a keen highschool teacher might have suggested, imply in no way one being better than the other.

On my journey of crossing from the science to the art side, I wanted to understand why would the proponent of one be often against, or at least ignorant about, the other? Having highlighted above that one’s nature does not direct one way or the other, I need to find another strategy for analysing this problem.

I would like to reference an analysis carried out by professional musician Adam Neely in his episode on ‘What does music mean?’, where he reviewed relevant historical background and then concluded in his eloquent and dizzying way that, in spite of music not meaning anything, it results from the power of metaphor to transform the physical basis of music.

I am going to take creative writing and the visual arts of painting and drawing to subject them to the same analysis involving the physical basis and the means of eliciting consumer response. I think the issue of message is fundamental to consider for understanding the scientists’ apprehension towards these arts, and I will include it as well. Scientific knowledge values the terse argument, the communication of immediate and comprehensive information on the topic under discussion. Failing to obtain this cognitive gratification, scientists divert attention and worse, sometimes, as the public in general tend to, develop a derogatory attitude towards art.

  1. Creative writing. I don’t think there is a physical basis here. Unlike music, which can be experienced through the recognition of sound, with the exception perhaps of musicians’ ability to hear music while reading sheet music, writing is only a surrogate for speech. It records auditory information in a visual fashion. As far as eliciting response goes, I don’t think creative writing is limited to the use of trope, because unlike scientific writing, it leverages the value of the body of writing. By stripping text of any superfluous content, all possibility for it to contain meaning beyond the explicit is removed and it thus becomes just a ‘skeleton’ of writing. Furthermore, I think well-written text offers the opportunity for vicarious enjoyment of existence: you become immersed in the action and briefly, and in a limited fashion, you live inside the writing. So, next time you are reading a book and are exasperated by the author describing the colour of the sky, remember these two things: you don’t have to try to assign meaning to the colour and if the author had failed to include enough detail to create a world, you would have been reading an instruction manual.
  2. Painting and drawing. The physical basis is the obvious use of colour and tone to record an image, which we can see because of the interaction of light with matter. There is no obligation on the author’s or artwork’s part to convey meaning: art can have purely decorative purpose. What matters is that by making clever use of visual elements, the artist manages to elicit a response from the brain of the viewer and its hardwired image recognition mechanisms: light/dark contrast, bright colours for food, dark colours for the unknown, smooth/ragged shapes for comfort/discomfort, etc. Use of symbols and visual metaphor in an attempt to convey more sophisticated information is optional, and would make use of the image recognition the viewer has learnt, rather than inherited.

Having argued my way through the fact that scientists and artists are people, and that art doesn’t have to have a meaning for it to be appreciated, I can now answer the title question: There is no way for you to look at art. Just look at it! And if you don’t feel anything, don’t believe that no one else will, or that another piece of art will not bring you to feel something.