The Berenstain Bears go Christian

The Berenstain Bears have been children’s favorites since the first title was published in 1962.  The son of the original cartoonist took over the franchise in the 1980s.  Mike Berenstain is a Christian, and he brings out explicit Christian themes in one line of the books published by Zondervan.  Go here for those titles.

A Jewish dad writes about why his four-year-old loves the Bears in the New York Times Magazine.  He was taken aback by the Christian titles, though he doesn’t mind them too much.  Read what he says after the jump.

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Did the Greeks make China’s terracotta army?

Archaeologists have discovered European DNA at the site where those 8,000 lifesize terracotta soldiers guard the tomb of China’s first Emperor.  They are concluding that Greek sculptors may have been involved with their creation, especially since the realistic statues correspond to Greek styles and techniques.

They were made in the 3rd century B.C., which means that the contact between West and East pre-dated Marco Polo by some 1500 years. The Emperor may have become aware of Greek statuary as a result of Alexander the Great’s march to India a century earlier.

I would say, however, that while the Greeks might have had a role in making the individual statues, the Greeks never used art on such a colossal scale.  Greek sculpture honors the individual.  This army of statues is profoundly collectivist.  So the Chinese can still claim credit.

Photo Credit:  Creative Commons. The Chronicles of Mariane.

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Tattooing Christians for 700 years

We have blogged about the way Coptic Christians in Egypt use tattoos as a way to identify themselves as Christians to their Muslim neighbors.  How else can Islamic mobs know whom to attack, since the Copts look the same and speak the same language as any other Egyptians?  The Coptic Christians are in your face about it, tattooing a cross on their wrists or arms for all to see.

It turns out that some Coptic tattoo artists migrated in the Middle Ages to Jerusalem.  It became a custom for medieval pilgrims to the Holy City to get a tattoo as an indelible souvenir.

To this very day, the Razzouk family has a tattoo business in Jerusalem, one that has been handed down generation after generation since the year 1300!  You can go there to get a tattoo of a Jerusalem Cross, or St. George & the Dragon, or other traditional designs that are first stamped on your skin by templates that are centuries old.

Read the report, excerpted after the jump, and go to the link to see the tattoos. [Read more…]

The whole world’s gone hipster

Go into a “cool” coffee shop.  Notice the reclaimed wood, big glass windows, subdued colors, and light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.  Now go into another cool coffee shop in another city.  Notice how the look is exactly the same.

Now, if you can afford it, fly to Paris.  (We’ll wait.)  Go to the cool coffee shop.  See anything familiar?  Go to Denmark.  Moscow.  Peking.  Sydney.

If you are sick of coffee by now, go to a restaurant, bar, Airbnb rental, or anywhere with the reputation of being cool.  Look where the hipsters hang out.  Notice how everything looks the same!

So says British journalist Kyle Chayka, who says that “the hipster aesthetic is taking over the world.” [Read more…]

Are wedding cakes & photos commodities, or are they art?

When atheists object to a monument of the Ten Commandments, I have argued that it should be defended as a work of art.  And to the reply that non-religious people find it offensive, say, “art is supposed to be offensive.”  As we see in the futile attempts to ban controversial art works, art is pretty much sacrosanct and courts have ruled that it is thoroughly protected under the First Amendment as “free speech.”

Those Christian bakers and photographers who object to taking part in gay weddings are being charged with discrimination, as if creating culinary sculptures and expressive photographs were commercial commodities, on the order of selling products in a grocery store.  But what if the cakes and photos are works of art?  Artistic expression, even when it is paid for, cannot be coerced or constrained.

This is the argument now being made in the courts.  So far, unsuccessfully, though bakers and photographers have long insisted that their work is a creative, expressive, and aesthetic art form.

I wonder if a composer, or a portrait painter, or a poet would have to accept a commission from a gay couple.  Would gay artists in any of these forms be required to provide their services for a group they deem homophobic?  As I’ve asked before, does a rock musician’s refusal to allow his music to be played at a Donald Trump rally constitute discrimination against someone for his political beliefs? Would an atheist filmmaker who refuses to make promotional videos for a church be discriminating on the basis of religion?

At any rate, the legal debate over “what is art” is just getting started.  Can anyone help in drawing the lines?  See the legal wrangling after the jump. [Read more…]

Music composed by artificial intelligence

Google engineers are trying to see if Artificial Intelligence can generate works of art, thus morphing into Artificial Creativity.  The company’s Project Magenta is working on algorithms that would allow computers to compose music.  See Can machines make music? Google tests creative boundaries of AI. –  

The first composition has been released.  It consists of only four notes.  (The drums are human additions.)  Hear it after the jump.

Then discuss:  Do you think machines with Artificial Intelligence will be able to create art?  What’s the difference between the Artificial Intelligence of a machine and the Actual Intelligence of a human being? What else is needed to create a work of art besides “intelligence”?  Can machines ever have those things?
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