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Saturday, 23 May 2009


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"As you read it, I am making physical changes in your brain. Right now! You can't stop me! Ha!"

Make brain hurt. Oww!

Dense, but interesting, and being a practitioner of the "orphan of the arts", I agree about framing.


So the upshot here seems to be that machines, even extraordinarily complex computational machines, cannot really mimic subjective human aesthetic judgments.

Can I say "duh" without sounding too improbable?

I would very much like to see an infrared HDR photograph of a cat. That sounds.. amusing, if nothing else.

This is an excellent (and well researched) commentary on true creativity and uniqueness; both disconcerting and inspiring.

"How can you rate that which has never before been seen, if you can't understand it?"

One limits the matrix and redefines the quality being assessed. At least that seems to be the method as evidenced by the caveats on their About page. But I may be reading something into it.

As you read it, I am making physical changes in your brain. Right now! You can't stop me! Ha!

These lines have made this my favorite explanation of Chomsky's ideas.

It is interesting thinking of photography in terms of this sort of communication, and wondering if visual images have grammar and syntax in the same way. We're pretty clearly hardwired for verbal communication, and obviously we're also visual animals - but are we hardwired for visual communication as well? Or is it piggybacked on the basic template for communication, and thus must be taught?

You've given me things to think about on today's long drive.

Is today Saturday?

Thank you, John Bates, for a most thoughtful (and very nicely worded) perspective. It is a welcome diversion from our usual, more narrow, focus here.

Then again, going from rating cameras to rating pictures may not be that big a leap.

People are funny: always looking outside themselves for 'valid' measurements on which to base their own feelings. How else would we measure the value of art if not for critics and pricetags?


Wow, Chomsky! Wow, linguistics! Wow, semantics! I haven't read anything about it since I graduated and now I find the topic here on TOP. Thank you, Mr. Bates. And you, of course, Mike.

I'll just add something that probably strengthens your thesis about context. That is, "I can't predict how you'll interpret what I say. Except, of course, for the context that we share."

Have you ever considered the Internet? Particularly the Internet from about ten years ago and specifically the Usenet, the news groups. The text-only medium removes the non-verbal (dare I say, emotional?) content and so a good part of context, increasing the probability of misinterpretation. That's why the emoticons were invented, after all, although they do such an imperfect job.

Cold equations cannot replace the context. If a computer algorithm could really have an emotional response as the developers claim, it wouldn't really be a computer algorithm but a real artificial intelligence. And we are still far from that.

This whole thing strikes me more as funny (if not cynical) than anything, but I would be interested in knowing where they got the algorithm for the work.

A long time ago (15 years) a couple of guys -- Russian immigrant painters -- set out to find out what the perfect painting would be in the U.S., and so they hired a public polling firm to find out. I read the book ("Painting by Numbers") when it came out, and found it to be both interesting and hilarious, but not interesting or hilarious enough to actually keep. I looked around on the web and found a review from 1998 in the New York Times.

The two painters interviewed 1,001 Americans, according to the review, by Luc Sante, and found that "Sixty-seven percent of respondents liked a painting that was large, but not too large -- about the size of a dishwasher (options ranged from "paperback book" to "full wall"). A whopping 88 percent favored a landscape, optimally featuring water, a taste echoed by the majority color preference, blue being No. 1 and green No. 2. Respondents also inclined toward realistic treatment, visible brushstrokes, blended colors, soft curves. They liked the idea of wild animals appearing, as well as people -- famous or not -- fully clothed and at leisure."

They then took their survey abroad, and found that a lot of these characteristics were actually reflective of international tastes, from all kinds of different cultures.

They then went on to paint some pictures that essentially ridiculed the whole concept of the information (the "American" favorite painting included George Washington and a hippopotamus -- the wild animal - in a watery landscape). Even so, the numbers were actually relevant, and the research methods were actually technically correct, as much as they can be in this kind of study.

It seems to me that any such algorithm for a program that would judge "art" would have to be based on similar studies, and, of course, would inevitably lead to hippopotami in the Hudson River.

If you actually apply the above numbers without any wit, it seems to me, the perfect American painting or art photo would be a hunting or hiking scene along a river, with both the hunter (hiker) and the wild animal in sight, with a blue sky reflected in the water-- which may explain why so many people love Winslow Homer, and why we see a million calendar photographs of the same thing.


JC, an interesting story, but how do you explain the popularity of the bales of hay then?

John Camp, have you seen the episode of the Dilbert show with the "Blue Duck" painting? Recommended. They do a study group and create an image which takes over the art world.

Anyway, this article may be over my head, because I don't really get the connection between the *probability* of a sentence or picture, and the *quality* of a sentence or picture.

Interesting comments. I have been experimenting with still life photos modeled on Egyptian friezes, an aesthetic that predates Raphael and the ivention of linear perspective in painting. The Egyptian frieze is a totally different set of rules for beauty.
So what I found interesting is that my conventional western photos scored as high as 99.2 ( had seven in the high nineties) yet my friezes scored seven.
so either my friezes just suck, or the Acquine doesn't understand pre-renaissance aesthetics.

"so either my friezes just suck, or the Acquine doesn't understand pre-renaissance aesthetics"

Or ACQUINE is clueless. I'm not saying it is, and I'm not saying it isn't, just that you shouldn't gloss over that possibility.


To Micheal Leuchtenburg:

Here's an infrared HDR picture of a cat:


Google couldn't find anything, but there are a few on Flickr.

"JC, an interesting story, but how do you explain the popularity of the bales of hay then?" --erlik

The answer to that question (which I assume is tongue-in-cheek) is (NOT tongue-in-cheek) a book in itself. I suspect that certain reactions to art, that can only occur with forms of art, are hard-wired; and among these are a sense of pleasure when we see fecund fields, sources of water, and signs of human activity. That's why Constable's warm country farm fields are so much more loved than American paintings of glorious wilderness.

Ergo, Haystacks.

One of the most famous paintings every made is Pieter Breugel's "Hunters in the Snow" (Sometimes called Hunter's Return") which is essentially (according to the statisticians) a perfect painting: clothed people, animals, water (though frozen), warmth, blue, etc. And for you Canadian readers, who will talk at the drop of a hat about how Canada invented hockey, you will see in this mid-sixteenth century painting, people playing pond hockey...

I'm not good at links, but the painting can be seenhere.


A person walks into a gallery and is perplexed and disappointed at the photographs on display. They appear to be colourless green photographs - without artistic merit or meaning. A gallery employee advises the visitor the photographs are examples of the exploration of idea X, which critics agree is significant and important. The photographs failed by not including the general viewer in the conversation.

Art evolves and progresses (not sure if that's always the right word) with the introduction of new ideas that change the frame of reference and introduce new ways of having visual conversations. Think Braque and Picasso with cubism - a new way of looking at the world - or how photographs of child labour and third world sweatshops changed perceptions and started new conversations about brand fashion labels and western consumerism.

If the visual conversations become too far removed from the general collective understanding they are perceived as colourless green ideas sleeping furiously, and a gallery of photographs that are only understood by the cognoscenti. Context and shared understanding are part of the visual conversation.

It's the quality of the ideas and how effectively they are translated that matter. Executed well, photographs can result in the broader acceptance of new ideas and start new conversations in the collective consciousness.

As an earlier post mentioned, we are visual creatures and the language of imagery is still developing and not well understood. Never before have so many people on the planet created so many images. At first, there will be a lot of noise. But visual languages and our understanding of them are probably still in their early stages of evolution.

This sort of posting is why I sent you that book, brother!

Actually, I like taking purrty pictures of my cat with a VGA camera phone. None of this fancy HDR stuff. The new language is "miaow". I just need a gallery prepared to print the cat-alogue.

"One of the most famous paintings every made is Pieter Breugel's "Hunters in the Snow" (Sometimes called Hunter's Return") which is essentially (according to the statisticians) a perfect painting: clothed people, animals, water (though frozen), warmth, blue, etc."

And all of that doesn't really take into account the emotional content of the painting. By the postures of the hunters and dogs in Breughel's painting, they are dead-tired. But at the moment of the painting, they are finally entering their village and will be home soon.

They are also successful - as far as I can see on the dark painting - the leftmost hunter carries a dead animal on his back.

The skaters on the frozen pond also mean that the village is prosperous because they have leisure time to play.

The fire on the left, beside warmth, shows that the peasants are either singeing a hog or rendering fat. Prosperity again.

We see all of that*. Computers don't.

BTW, there is the theory that Breughel's landscapes from that period, including this one, show the Little Ice Age. Also something that a statistical analysis wouldn't really understand.

* Of course, those of us who still know what you do with a slaughtered hog. :-)

I was discussing this very topic with the guy who does our lawn just the other day, and bam!, it shows up in TOP. Amazing!

Dear Folks,

Seems to me a lot of people are presupposing the answer (and worse, the import of the answer) before the experiment is complete.

Possibly semi-passable pontificating but extremely poor scientific method.

I certainly have no idea what fraction of aesthetic is psychophysical and what it cultural. I'm plausibly convinced it's not 100% of either, but if experimentation like ACQUINE eventually showed it was 90-10 either way, I'd not end up being shocked beyond words. Or 50-50. Or whatever.

What would shock me is if anyone came up with a truly plausible answer absent experiments like ACQUINE.

pax / Ctein

I like it and thats all I have to say without typing for days.

Creationists, especially the "intelligent designer" kind, really want there to be some arbitrary measure on information that takes *meaning* into account. It is hard to explain to them that according to Shannon, a random string contains the *most* information since you need every bit to receive it properly.

More like this please! (Parse that without context.)
I'm pretty sure that John camp is referring to Komar & Melamid: The Most Wanted Paintings project which can be seen here.
Komar & Melamid are also responsible for
American Most Unwanted Song and American Most Wanted Song.

Quote from the above "the opening soprano rap is especially arresting: lyrics are simultaneously rap and cowboy-related, while the vocal line is atonal and the bass is provided by a tuba. Note the bagpipe breaks."

"What would shock me is if anyone came up with a truly plausible answer absent experiments like ACQUINE."

Plausibility in the results of the Acquine experiment would only be within the limited parameters set out by the experimenters, which are incomplete, and their presumptions, which are faulty. This is no different from the experience of studying Aesthetics in art or philosophy. What would be shocking is if, after they came up with their one plausible answer, anyone were to employ it and it alone. Humans! Always upsetting the apple cart.

This is late because I had been contemplating just biting my tongue but...

The objective of Acquine is niether to succeed or fail. It is all about the information acquired trying to create such a system.

Similar for the various computational linguistics initiatives and the "Komar & Melamid" work.

The ONLY beneficiaries of this information will be marketers and propagandists. All of us regular folk will be the losers.

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