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Attempted Artificial Art Appreciation

To its credit, Microsoft has developed a free app to assist people with low vision. Using imagery captured by a mobile phone, the app’s artificial intelligence (AI) attempts to describe what it sees.

It’s pretty good at reading labels and signs. That’s useful. Facial recognition is supposed to detect the presence of friends and identify them by name. If it works, it might be a good idea to keep pictures of enemies in your database, too … to know when they are around.

Naturally, I wondered what Microsoft would have to say about art. I pointed my iPad camera at one of Helen’s early palette knife oils … a cityscape of Vancouver.

“Probably a picture hanging on a wall,” the app reported accurately. Hmmm.

A detail from a Stefan Berg linocut stumped the algorithm completely.

“No faces detected”.

OK, the app in its present state won’t make a very interesting companion during visits to the art gallery, but these are early days. The app will learn.

What it will learn remains an open question. At first, it will probably just regurgitate descriptions it has been fed.

But AI teaches itself. I wonder what critical insights we might be in for. 🤓

Great gate

Someone put considerable skill and imagination into the making of this utilitarian gate, keeping unwanted visitors and trash build-up out of a narrow gap between buildings.

It can be seen in the 800 block of Kingston Road, north side.

IMP, who lives nearby, sees it as representing “a pelt, or the entrance to my tenement back in Glasgow”. I see a figure (perhaps a dressmaker’s judy) slipping through the iron grate.

The cracked stone is held together with metal staples. They remind me of stitches, so I’ll go with the dressmaker idea.

If you visit that block, don’t miss …

The fading sign over a long-empty store was painted by hand. Time is revealing the brushwork. Before computer-cut vinyl lettering took over, there were many skilled artisans capable of such work. Today, there are only a few … but their work is still very much in demand.


The experiment

While literally destroying the data on a couple of old hard drives, I salvaged two surprisingly powerful magnets and wondered what I could do with them.

Aha! I tied cords to each of them and took them to the beach. Ashbridges Bay is crowded on the weekend, but only one guy asked me what I was doing. I don’t think he was impressed. Anyway, the beach sand quickly gave up lots of iron filings as I dragged my magnets along.

I bagged the catch and went back for a few more passes. There’s a lot of iron in our beach sand.

There’s a lot of other stuff in the sand, too. My leashes held magnets, but others held dogs … lots and lots of those little sidewalk dusters that are in vogue right now. The beach is their litter box. Wash your hands well, in the unlikely event that you try my experiment.

Sand gets pulled up with the iron filings. At home, I spread the haul out on newspaper and purified it by making several passes over the filings with the magnet. Sand is left behind and soon, all that’s left is a smooth, black pile of iron powder that’s quite silky to the touch.

Why doesn’t the iron rust? Why isn’t the beach reddish? More experiments may be required.

Helen Andersen would have been 98 today

My mother died back in 1995, but I thought I’d mark her birthday with this newspaper clipping from 1987. Helen was at least as devoted to her peace activities as she was to her painting career.

You can search my blog to see more posts about her and her work … or check Wikipedia.

I don’t know what Helen meant when she says, quoted above, that she “would never carry a poster that wasn’t perfect”. Her idea of perfect must have had something to do with strong emotional expressiveness, certainly not with exact delineation or smooth blending.

The Nuclear Mother painting was intended as propaganda against the nuclear arms race and atomic testing. It did travel to other cities and was once shown to the mayor of Hiroshima. Whereabouts of the work are unknown, if it still survives.

The colour image is from a snapshot on paper … a bit soft on focus, but the best representation I know of. It doesn’t convey the rough textures of the surface, which Helen exaggerated by including lumps of plaster of paris under the oil paint. She told me she wanted the effect of scar tissue, burnt flesh and scabs.


G is for …

Some daily walks take on themes; Glenn Gould, for example. Following my feet, I found myself heading in the direction of the Grinder on Main, a nice little coffee shop where I had first seen Stefan Berg art displayed. Better look inside. Maybe there’s something to see.

Well, well. It’s Stefan Berg again. His large series of masterful linocuts inspired by Glenn Gould are smartly framed, selling for around $200 each, the barista told me.
That’s a very good price.

I look again through the images I’ve admired before, this time concentrating on the technique and compositional structure. Bars of black and white create midtones. Piano keys.

Berg calls his series a wordless novel, not a set of illustrations. This interview reveals intelligence and intent underpinning Berg’s craftsmanship.

Why not walk on, south along Main, past the Kingston Road intersection where the street changes its name to Southwood, then continues down the hill to Glenn Gould’s former family home?

About 1200 steps from the linocuts, I looked for (and missed seeing) the plaque marking the house. I’d seen it many times before, but even retracing my steps up the hill, I couldn’t tell which of the houses had been Gould’s home.

“No matter,” I told myself. “I’ve walked past it … close enough”.

When I got back home, I looked up the address: 32 Southwood, to be exact. [MAP] Next time I go by, I’ll look to see why the plaque was so hard to find. 32. Glenn Gould was born in 1932.

Google Streetview shot of the house plus the elusive plaque.

Let’s listen to some Glenn Gould. This piece is mentioned in the Stefan Berg interview (above). About 4 minutes.

Prokofieff, Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat minor

Honestly, I’m torn

I can’t decide. Does this poster work? The graphic design is awful but when I think about it, who would respond to such an advertisement except someone who can’t see how bad it is?

Maybe this work is perfectly targeted … if it gets any response at all. Some tear-off tabs seem to have been taken, but a little farther down the street, temporary TTC bus stop signs were similarly shredded.