Keeping Score in the Arts: Preview
by Ken Arneson
2004-03-08 9:00

Suppose, for a moment, that there were no statistics in baseball. None, not even the score itself. No runs, hits, or errors were tracked. What would the sport be like?

To begin with, everyone would have a different opinion about who won each game. You’d pick a winner based on how the experience of the game felt to you. Which team’s play did you like better?

“The long home run in the sixth inning was impressive. The home team was the winner, in my opinion.”

“No, that diving catch in the fourth inning was awesome. I give it to the visitors.”

Nothing would have any set value. Perhaps you find the arc of a fly ball to be beautiful, and the team that seemed to hit the best fly balls is the one you’d pick as the winner. Who could argue against you? You like what you like, right?

Pity, then, the poor statisticians, who would have no numbers from the game to analyze. They’d have to resort to measuring the opinions of the audience.

How would you rate Sammy Sosa’s performance today on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great)?
5 – 15%
4 – 28%
3 – 33%
2 – 14%
1 – 10%

Average: 3.24

MLB GOA (Game Opinion Average) Leaders:
Derek Jeter: 4.14
Ichiro Suzuki: 4.05
Neifi Perez: 3.95
Eric Byrnes: 3.92
Juan Pierre: 3.88

Intellectuals, of course, would come forward to take on the challenge of deciding who is best. We cannot trust mere public opinion with such a task. It takes experts to truly understand this stuff!

So then we’d be flooded with essays like “Baseball Analytics: A Postmodern Approach”, “The Influence of Global Capitalist Hegemony on Individual Player Evaluation”, “Oedipal Dynamics in Team Construction”, and “The Role of the Female Orgasm in Baseball Management Decisions“.

In other words, there would be an awful lot of humbug.

For baseball, this is a silly imaginary exercise. But for the arts, this is reality. Nothing can be measured, every opinion is valid, and surveys of those opinions produce absurd results.

I have felt for a long time that the arts would make a lot more sense if it had a statistic like “runs scored”. If we knew exactly what we were trying to accomplish with a work of art, we could speak about it with more accuracy and less humbug.

It seems like an impossible goal, but there’s no harm in trying to reach it. So this week, I will present a series of articles where I explore the nature of art, why it’s so hard to explain, and take a guess at how it could be measured.

Next: A New Science

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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