Tag Archives: art

Art in 140 Characters

Is it possible to encode and compress an image to such a degree that the raw data can fit in a single Twitter message (140 characters) that, when decoded again, is still recognisable? The answer to the questions is a resounding Yes, as confirmed by a coding challenge inspired by Mario Klingemann’s attempt to compress and encode the Mona Lisa down to 140 characters.

Klingemann’s attempt, dubbed the MonaTweeta II, is definitely an image recognisable as the Mona Lisa, but it must be said that some of the entries to the main coding challenge are truly breathtaking.

The winning tweet (with a character to spare):


via @spolsky

Art Forgeries and the Uncanny Valley

In the third instalment of the Bamboozling Ourselves series (a look at the master Vermeer forger, Han van Meegeren), Errol Morris interviews the author of The Forger’s Spell, Edward Dolnick, and the two discuss the application of the uncanny valley in the forgery of art.

I particularly like Dolnick’s thoughts on the hindrance of expertise (final paragraph of this excerpt).

You would think a close copy would be the goal of a forger, but it might not be a smart way to go. If you were a brilliant technician it might be an acceptable strategy, but my forger, Van Meegeren, is not as good as that. […] He’s going to get in trouble, because that’s asking for a side-by-side comparison, and he’s not good enough to get away with that. […]

So how is he going to paint a picture that doesn’t look like a Vermeer, but that people are going to say, “Oh! It’s a Vermeer?” How’s he going to pull it off? It’s a tough challenge. Now here’s the point of The Uncanny Valley: as your imitation gets closer and closer to the real thing, people think, “Good, good, good!” — but then when it’s very close, when it’s within 1 percent or something, instead of focusing on the 99 percent that is done well, they focus on the 1 percent that you’re missing, and you’re in trouble. Big trouble. […]

Van Meegeren is trapped in the valley. If he tries for the close copy, an almost exact copy, he’s going to fall short. He’s going to look silly. So what he does instead is rely on the blanks in Vermeer’s career, because hardly anything is known about him. […] He’ll take advantage of those blanks by inventing a whole new era in Vermeer’s career. No one knows what he was up to all this time. He’ll throw in some Vermeer touches, including a signature, so that people who look at it will be led to think, “Yes, this is a Vermeer.” […]

It wasn’t going to be about how “you can’t tell the difference,” because you could. It would be, “How could people look at these things which are manifestly so different and not see what’s going on?” It became a story about how experts can get it wrong, and in fact, how expert knowledge, instead of helping, can be a hindrance. On the surface it seemed to be a story about art and history, but really, it’s a story about psychology.

Art and the Brain

Jonah Lehrer, a neuroscientist and writer I’ve mentioned many times, has a wonderful article in Psychology Today that looks at the field of neuroaesthetics and how the brain interprets art.

All the adjectives we use to describe art-vague words like “beauty” and “elegance”-should, in theory, have neural correlates. According to these scientists, there is nothing inherently mysterious about art. Its visual tricks can be decoded. Neuroaestheticians hope to reveal “the universal laws” of painting and sculpture, to find the underlying principles shared by every great work of visual art.

In the article Lehrer proposes The 10 Great Principles of Great Art and in the accompanying interview he challenges the supposition that neuroaesthetics will “unweave the rainbow” of great art.

    Related: Dr Shock takes a brief look at the relationship between architecture and neuroscience.

    via Mind Hacks

    Context and Aesthetic Judgements

    It’s no surprise that perceived context is important in influencing people’s decisions. A recent experiment has shown that people rate pictures as more aesthetically pleasing (and actually experience more pleasure while viewing them) if they believe they come from art galleries.

    Aesthetic judgments, like most judgments, depend on context. Whether an object or image is seen in daily life or in an art gallery can significantly modulate the aesthetic value humans attach to it. We investigated the neural system supporting this modulation by presenting human subjects with artworks under different contexts whilst acquiring fMRI data. Using the same database of artworks, we randomly labelled images as being either sourced from a gallery or computer generated. Subjects’ aesthetic ratings were significantly higher for stimuli viewed in the ‘gallery’ than ‘computer’ contexts.

    via @vaughanbell

    Interpreting Hybrid Images

    Remember how the Mona Lisa’s famous smile was painted in low spatial frequencies, hence why we interpret the face differently depending on where we look?

    Now, Mo of Neurophilosophy takes an in-depth look at how our brains interpret hybrid images and complex visual scenes, shedding more light on this effective imaging technique. He also links to the hybrid images section of MIT’s Computational Visual Cognition Lab which contains a fairly mind-boggling gallery of hybrid images.