Skill and Creativity

My wife, an artist, and I received an email from my father-in-law about an artist who paints pieces you’d swear were photographs.  I was amazed, my wife was bored.  She said, “if I wanted a photograph on my wall I’d hang a photograph.  Why waste the countless hours to duplicate a one?  That’s what cameras are for.”  This sparked a mildly heated debate about art. My wife assured me that given the time and extraordinary patience, any skilled painter could recreate a photograph.  But is it art?  This naturally got me thinking about Statistics.

We’ve been looking to hire a new Statistician for a while and have had many discussions about what our ideal candidate looks like. As a Statistician, I of course have one all-encompassing answer to all questions in life: “it depends.”  If we needed someone who has mastered the tools of Statistics then I’d be comfortable randomly selecting a candidate with high marks and a PhD or Master’s degree. We have powerful machines that can crank out complex, detailed analyses, like zillion megapixel cameras capturing scenery.  But is it art? The question is really about skill vs. creativity, and as they say in mathematics and logic, skill is necessary but not sufficient.

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