Technology to detect art forgeries

Dartmouth researchers have devised a way to use technology to detect art forgeries:

Sparse coding technology has long been an important tool in neuroscience research, allowing scientists to quantitatively determine how optical information is represented by neurons in the brain. Dartmouth researchers have recently extended its use to the field of quantitative art authentication, or stylometry.

By using sparse coding technology to mathematically analyze and compare drawings by famed Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel with a known set of imitations, the researchers were able to distinguish between the genuine works and the forgeries. James Hughes, Daniel Graham, and Daniel Rockmore in the computer science and math departments describe their findings in the paper, “Quantification of artistic style through sparse coding analysis in the drawings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder” recently published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sparse coding technology was developed to emulate the human visual system. To translate the complex images first detected by eyes to the simpler models found in the brain, our visual system uses a number of “filter” neurons. These neurons are triggered by specific patterns in the image. The brain has evolved to efficiently identify many predictable patterns found throughout the natural world and is consequently able to minimize the number of filters required per natural image. Conversely, the brain requires many more filters to model images that it has not been previously exposed to.

Hughes, Graham, and Rockmore applied these ideas to their own art authentication technology. Essentially, they imagined a visual system that had evolved while being exposed only to Bruegel drawings. Thus, it would process Bruegel drawings using few filters but would have to use many more when looking at anything else—including Bruegel forgeries.

To create this model the researchers obtained a number of genuine and fake Bruegel drawings. They digitally broke the authentic works up into smaller pieces and using sparse coding technology identified the smallest or “sparsest” set of those pieces that could be used as filters. This set of filters essentially quantified Bruegel’s unique artistic style by capturing properties repeated throughout the artist’s works.

via DUJS Online » Dartmouth researchers spot art forgeries using sparse coding technology.

Good invention! It might not catch all forgeries, though. A problem in the modern art market is how to detect a genuine Jackson Pollock, whose major works consist of random spills of paint on canvas. Forgeries have come on the market that were made in exactly the same way and so look essentially the same. A genuine Pollock is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. A fake Pollock is worthless. But how to tell them apart?

There actually is a way to tell sometimes.
This account of the Pollock forgery below describes how the fake painting was found to contain paint compounds that did not exist until after the artist’s death.

Which is the real Jackson Pollock?
The work on the left is a fake; the one on the right is genuine.

Why does it matter? If a fake Rembrandt looks as good as a real one, why can’t we just enjoy it anyway? (There is an answer to that.)

HT: Joe Carter

Eye-gate evangelism

You’ve seen them:  those huge roadside crosses.  It seems that some pastors are promoting them as what they call “eye-gate evangelism.”  Now they are becoming controversial, with some people throwing up obstacles to their construction, considering them kitschy eye-sores.  See Controversy over great big roadside crosses | Believe It or Not | HoustonBelief.com. (The linked article includes a guide to where the biggest of these crosses are located, with at least one being taller than the Statue of Liberty.)

So what do you think?  Are they effective witnesses to the Cross of Jesus Christ?  Or not?  Do they do any harm?  Are they at least pious symbols that are perfectly appropriate, especially on private property?  Or do they trivialize something sacred?

The Catechism as graphic novel

Concordia Publishing House is putting out an edition of Luther’s Small Catechism in comic book–I mean graphic novel form.

I think it works! Don’t you? Buy it here.

Cranach painting for sale

A newly discovered work by Lucas Cranach will be auctioned off today at Christie’s in New York.  It’s entitled “Bacchus at the Wine Vat.”   Here is the description:

A gloriously eccentric work by Cranach (1472-1553), “Bacchus at the Wine Vat,” 1530 (pictured at left; estimate: $2.5-3.5 million), re-imagines the typically youthful wine god Bacchus as a balding old man with tankard in hand amidst a rollicking group of putti grouped around a vat of wine. Enabled by an old crone who serves them, the cherubs engage in messy antics that wryly warn the viewer of the perils of excess drink—fighting, falling down, vomiting, and even passing out. Interestingly, the work is believed to be one of the earliest references in painting to the process of wine-making. Given the German origins of the work and the surrounding landscape depicted within it, the white wine inside the vat may specifically reference German Riesling wine, a varietal first recorded in royal ledgers in 1435.

via Rediscovered Old Master & 19th Century Works among Offerings in Christie’s Auction | WorthPoint.

Click the link and scroll down to see the painting.   (Caution:  baby nudity, nymph nudity, crone nudity, underaged drinking, substance abuse, and explicit Riesling.)  If anyone would like to spend $3 million to buy it for the Cranach Institute, that would be fine.

HT:  Paul McCain

How God is in the world

Longtime Cranach reader and commenter Dan Kempen “got” yesterday’s post Makoto Fujimura on art, paganism, and worship. His reflections are worth considering in themselves:

God is in the world, not merely as the one who has authority over it, but as the one who is creating it. Even in a broken world, everything God creates is a work of art. Everything God creates is a masterpiece. There is a wonder of God in the created world that is both immanent and transcendent. It is not the deification of “nature,” but the perception of the handiwork of God, and, to follow Makoto Fujimura, when your eyes are opened, you can even see the second article woven into the first. You can perceive the Grace of God in the very fabric of his creation.

Granted that, strictly speaking, the grace of God is revealed in His Word rather than creation as such, in what sense is that last sentence true?

Could this be the basis of a Christian environmentalism? How would it be different from regular environmentalism?

Do you see how this relates also to vocation?

Makoto Fujimura on art, paganism, and worship

My former student and current. . . tech guru Stewart Lundy has a fascinating interview with via Makoto Fujimura, the acclaimed Japanese-American abstract artist who is also a devout Christian. Read the whole interview. What struck me the most was what he said about paganism and about worship:

There is spiritual danger in Paganism, and as Origen stated (and recently quoted by Pope Benedict) Paganism is defined by “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood.”  In other words, Paganism flattens our perception, makes all experience virtual, dumbing down our senses. Paganism, as in the Matrix movie, is virtual, manageable, flat reality, whereas the red pill takes you down into the harsh reality of pain and suffering. Christianity opens our perception and our understanding of Reality. . . . .

Proper worship is central to our understanding of reality, the arts, and it affects everyone, Christians and non Christians.  Culture is affected by how we worship God. . . .

By “proper worship,” I mean a distinctively Christological way of looking at God, the world and ourselves that is driven by understanding and experiencing God’s grace.

Do you get what he’s saying? What’s the connection between worship as he defines it and our understanding of reality, the arts, and culture?


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