Tag: Culture

Czanne unmasked: the shattering portraits that blew Picasso and the Paris avant garde away

He painted his wife without lips. He painted his friend with a spinal deformity. And he painted himself as a ghost in a top hat. Paul Czannes unflinching portraits, coming to Britain this autumn, didnt just astonish Picasso and his disciples. They changed art for ever

In Paris at the dawn of the 20th century, a generation of young artists changed everything. They visited the dusty yet magical galleries of the Ethnography Museum in the rambling Trocadro and some started their own collections of African masks. This fascination with non-European art helped them break with hundreds of years of tradition. Pablo Picasso completed a portrait of his friend Gertrude Stein by giving her a mask instead of a face. He then painted Les Demoiselles dAvignon with its wildly cavorting masked prostitutes. Modern art was born in those bold years, in a glamorous atmosphere of absinthe, drugs (Picasso and his friends dabbled in opium) and sex in the red light district of Montmartre.

There is just one problem with this exhilarating story of the birth of modern art. It is not true.

My doubts began a couple of years ago in Londons National Gallery. I was looking at Paul Czannes Les Grandes Baigneuses, which he started in 1894. He was in his 50s then and did not complete it until 1905, one year before his death. Looking at the bold slashing lines of its landscape and the monumental abstracted nudes gathered under a crystalline sky, I realised something about the faces. Their eyes are dark sharp cuts. Their mouths, too. Their noses are like rigid blocks of wood. These are not faces. They are masks.

Yet they were painted by a man who, as far as anyone knows, had never looked at any African art. As for sex and drugs, he never went near them. The art of Czanne is the fruit of long, focused study by one man in front of an easel through long hot Provenal days. And this is the art that changed everything. This great 19th-century artist invented almost everything we attribute to Matisse, Picasso and Braque. Modernism is all there in paintings he executed as early as the 1880s. Czanne may be the single most revolutionary artist who ever lived.

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Her lips are made to vanish Madame Czanne in a Yellow Chair (1888/90). Photograph: Art Institute of Chicago

To be fair, Picasso never pretended otherwise. His adulation of Czanne was so great he bought an estate in the foothills of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain in Provence that became a famous motif in some of Czannes greatest paintings. The Spanish artist is buried there. He and Braque saw their movement, cubism, as the direct continuation of Czannes work.

Why do we persist in attributing to the artists of the 1900s ideas they themselves confessed Czanne had come up with a quarter of a century earlier? It is partly because of the dismal cliche that impressionism, the movement with which Czanne was associated in the 1870s, is soft and gentle, even chocolate box. Yet it is also the fault of Czannes admirers.

For about 80 years after his death, the belief was held by critics that Czannes art leads directly towards the high abstraction of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. His painting was given almost mystical properties by theorists of modernism. It can do your head in trying to understand exactly why his apples lead to a flat picture surface, especially when those apples look so damned round. Then, in the 1980s, we entered the age of postmodern art and it no longer seemed essential for anyone to make that effort.

Yet I am still banging my head against those apples. My introduction to modern art was the classic Robert Hughes TV series The Shock of the New in which Czanne is as towering as his mountain. So I couldnt wait to see Czanne Portraits, which comes to the National Portrait Gallery this October. I had to see it at its earlier stop, at the Muse dOrsay in Paris. It turns out to be the exhibition Czanne deserves and needs: a powerful, even shocking revelation of his genius.

Lets begin with masks. My suspicion that Picasso did not get them from African or Oceanian art but saw them first in the paintings of Czanne is amply confirmed by the long row of portraits of his wife, Hortense Fiquet, that line a wall, like Easter Island statues overlooking a bleak ocean. In a portrait he began in 1886, his wifes face becomes a porcelain mask. It is almost perfectly oval, unlike any human face. It is also as pale as a china cup. Weirdest of all, the lips are in the process of vanishing. Czanne erases his wifes mouth in a blank blue-tinged nothingness. For the moment lets leave any psychological interpretation of that aside. The artist looks at this face as if he were an alien, making a digital simulation of a human being.

His art dealer Ambroise Vollard looks back at him in the same alienated way. In Czannes 1899 portrait, the dealers black eyes have no human light: they are like holes in a mask. Vollards face is made of patches of colour, interacting greens, reds and yellows. Its harmony is unreal. Thin eyebrows balance above a straight nose under an immense forehead.

Once you start looking for Czannes masks, they are everywhere in portraits of children, peasants, even of himself. In about 1882 he painted his face in an eerie masterpiece that has been lent by Moscows Pushkin Museum. The bald dome of his head in this self-portrait really does look like a dome, or an egg a perfectly rounded object, out of which bright sunlight carves the simple, stark features of his face culminating in grey and white slashes of beard hair. What a strange face, he thinks, as he looks in the mirror. Who is it?

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Eyes like holes in a mask Czannes art dealer, Ambroise Vollard (1899).

If you doubt the mask-like nature of these portraits, you only have to compare them with Picassos Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905-6) to see how it develops its stony carved face directly from such paintings as Czannes Man with Folded Arms (1899). Yet if the modernist deconstruction of the human face is this far advanced in Czannes art, recognisable in the 1880s, where does he get it from? What was he looking at?

Just for one moment, scrutinising that porcelain portrait of Madame Czanne, did I wonder if he looked at non-European art for inspiration. The face almost resembles a Japanese theatre mask. Japan fascinated the French avant garde in the 19th century in Manets portrait of Czannes lifelong friend mile Zola, the radical novelist has the obligatory Japanese art in his study.

Yet, as the development of his portraiture in this superbly lucid exhibition suggests, Czanne did not need to look at works of art from Japan or anywhere else for ideas. He got his idea of the mask from looking at faces themselves, again and again, until he could see them as pure geometry.

In his portraits of his wife there is a terrible distance. When he makes her lips vanish he seems to be doing imaginary violence to her, applying the painterly equivalent of a scolds bridle. In other paintings it is clear he is idealising her turning her face into a perfect geometrical form like the egg that hangs by a thread in Piero della Francescas Renaissance masterpiece The Brera Madonna.

Like Piero, who wrote manuscripts on mathematics, Czanne searched for geometrical order in the visual world. He famously said art should treat nature like the sphere, the cylinder and cone. But Czannes portraits are about a lot more than symmetry; they are about the unease of the human condition.

In Manets portrait of Zola, next to a Japanese print and behind Manets own Olympia, the author has pinned up a picture by the great Spanish painter of melancholic irony, Velzquez. One of Czannes first portraits in this exhibition is reminiscent of Velzquezs compassionate paintings of dwarves at the Spanish court. It is a portrait of his artist friend Achille Empraire, who was born with restricted growth and a spinal deformity. Instead of masking his physical frailty, Czanne emphasises it by sitting Empraire in an armchair with a very high back. Posing sadly, he has the clothes, beard and moustache of a romantic bohemian, yet his head massively outweighs his thin legs and emaciated hands.

This is Czannes first great painting. It dates from 18678 when he was still on a steep learning curve as an artist. Yet it transcends its technical crudeness: it is profound, speaking of the vulnerable isolation of all human beings. Enthroned like a king in his queer chair, Achille Emperaire is a tragicomic everyman. This is an unsettling and mighty image of the modern self.

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Antony Valabrgue fashionable black clothes heighten the lightlessness of the space. Photograph: Getty

Even more than his abstracting of the human face, it is the sensitive intelligence with which Czanne diagnoses modern unease that makes him such a shattering portraitist. You see it in his 1866 portrait of his friend Antony Valabrgue staring fixedly into space as if in a state bordering on mental disarray. Czanne cunningly uses the black clothes of 19th-century male fashion to heighten the gloom, setting his subject against a lightless space. It makes you think of Dostoevsky, but perhaps a better fictional analogy is Zola, who also appears in an early portrait here.

Czanne and Zola were best friends at school in Aix before both becoming part of the Paris avant garde. Zola portrays his friend, sometimes cruelly, in his novels. He brought a new human rawness to fiction: there had never been anything like his stories of sex and violence. His 1867 masterpiece Thrse Raquin is still shocking in its bleak absurdism, the most relentless, unforgiving noir horror imaginable and utterly realist. Perhaps their closeness helps us to understand why, even in his first portraits, Czanne has such a terrifying eye for discomfort, neurosis, weakness.

He turned that eye most ruthlessly on himself. Czannes self-portraits are the emotional equivalent of his paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire endlessly questing miracles of scrutiny. What is he looking for? Himself. His true identity. Why does he keep coming back to his own image in the mirror? He cant find what he was looking for. He thinks he has caught it, but it slips away. He cannot ever be sure who he is.

In a beautiful pairing by the curators, Czanne in 1885-6 portrays himself in a tall bowler hat (in French its a chapeau melon) looking from the side, as if he has just turned round and spotted himself. He looks displeased. This painting has a strong, solid, almost sculptural finish. But then he thinks again. In a second painting he has the same pose and hat but the image is dappled, incomplete, vanishing. Did he really see what he thought he saw? Hes uncertain now. Another unsettling reperception of his own image is a painting from about 1885 based on a photograph taken in 1872. Can the Czanne who is painting it even be sure he is the same man he was 13 years earlier? He seems far from convinced. One eye in the portrait is almost closed. The figure is isolated in ghostly blue. Who was I, then?

Czanne not only anticipates Picasso but also Proust and Joyce as he meditates on the nature of the self. We are not continuous beings, his portraits suggest. We are mysteries to ourselves and others, divided and fragmentary behind our masks. He is the true inventor both of modern art and the modern soul.

  • Czanne Portraits is at Muse dOrsay, Paris, until 24 September and at the National Portrait Gallery, London WC2H, from 26 October until 11 February.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/aug/11/cezanne-unmasked-the-shattering-portraits-that-blew-picasso-paris-avant-garde-away

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GoldieBlox agreed to pay $1m to charity in Beastie Boys settlement

Argument over 'fair use' of Girls song ended in March with deal to donate to STEM education for girls. By Stuart Dredge

In March, the Beastie Boys reached a settlement with the US toy company GoldieBlox over the latters parody of their song Girls in a viral advert. Now the details of that settlement have been published.

GoldieBlox agreed to pay $1m to a charity of the bands choice supporting science, technology, engineering and/or maths (STEM) education for girls, in return for a backdated licence to use the track in the ad, which was a YouTube hit in November 2013.

The details were revealed in a document filed as part of a separate copyright infringement lawsuit between the Beastie Boys and Monster Energy, spotted by entertainment industry journalist Eriq Gardner:

On March 16, 2014, the parties settled The GoldieBlox Settlement granted GoldieBlox a retroactive license to use the musical composition of Girls between November 18, 2013 and November 28, 2013.

“In exchange, GoldieBlox agreed to make annual payments of 1% of its gross revenue, until the total payments reached $1 million, to a charitable organization chosen by the Beastie Boys and approved by GoldieBlox which supports science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics education for girls.

The settlement will not be used as evidence in the new case after a complaint from Monster, which is accused of using several Beastie Boys songs in a 2012 snowboarding video without approval from the band.

The GoldieBlox video, which reworked the original sexist lyrics of Girls to focus on encouraging girls to explore STEM subjects, was watched 8m times in a week last November, before sparking lawsuits from both sides and a debate over whether the video’s use of the song was “fair use” or not.

The Beastie Boys explained their decision in an open letter to GoldieBlox that month, saying they were respecting the wishes of member Adam Yauch, who died in 2012 and left a will explicitly banning use of his music in advertisements:

As creative as it is, make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads.

GoldieBlox responded with its own open letter after removing the track from the video:

We don’t want to fight with you When we made our parody version of your song, Girls, we did it with the best intentions. We wanted to transform it into a powerful anthem for girls … Although we believe our parody video falls under fair use, we would like to respect [Yauch’s] wishes and yours.

It remains to be seen how soon the $1m settlement is paid. GoldieBlox raised just under $286k on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter in 2012 to launch its business, which produces construction toys and books for girls, but its sales since the toys launched in March 2013 are unknown.

GoldieBlox: the toy designed to get girls into engineering

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/13/goldieblox-beastie-boys-girls-settlement

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The world has lost a great artist in mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani

She was the only woman to have won the Fields medal, maths equivalent of the Nobel prize

The mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani died two weeks ago. Shewas 40. I had never heard of her before reading about her death in the papers. Its a piercingly sad story: Iranian-born, and latterly a professor at Stanford University, Mirzakhani was the only woman to have won the Fields medal, the equivalent for a mathematician of the Nobel prize, and is survived, in newspaper-speak, by a husband and a daughter.

I always find the locution survived by too cruel to bear. So final the rupture, no room for error: shes gone, theyre left. And, in this case, how young the mother and the wife.

It is a sad story for other reasons, too, not least the intensity of Mirzakhanis expression in the photograph most of the papers used. There is a beauty that can onlybe described as that of the minds migration to the face, the transfiguring beauty of exceptional intelligence. So its a double loss: thepremature loss of a person and the premature loss of her genius.

I remember there being an unspoken qualitative distinction atschool between those who were good at maths and science the priests of numbers and symbols and the more poetical of us, whose medium, as Wordsworth had it, was the language of men talking to men. The assumption, at least on the part of us Wordsworthians, was that creativity was all on our side. I have since come to think the word creative has much to answer for. Among the freedoms it sometimes gave us was the freedom from structure, knowledge and the obligation to convince.

Mirzakhani, it is said, considered being a writer before turning to mathematics. It is unlikely she believed shed made a choice in favour of an inferior, or less artistic, discipline. And she expressed her immersion in mathematics in language every writer will recognise like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with luck you might find a way out.

The luck, of course, is no such thing. Its the mystery Keats called negative capability, the trust that the work will do itself if only we dareto plunge without irritability orinsistence into the dark, not sure we will find a way out at all. The bestwriting happens in this way, unintended, unknowing, grateful and surprised. Such abnegation of will is what we mean by creativity. So the mathematician and the artist are companioned in the same dark, and do obeisance to the same gods. The pity of Mirzakhanis death will be felt by poets as well as mathematicians.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/29/maryam-mirzakhani-great-artist-mathematician-fields-medal-howard-jacobson

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The female gaze through 70 years of Magnum | Giles Tremlett

As Magnum celebrates its 70th anniversary, Giles Tremlett looks at the role women have played in the agencys story

In 1960, the Magnum photographer Eve Arnold spent a year following Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam movement around the United States. The white, female photographer and the leader of black Americas radical movement found they both understood the power of images. Malcolm X helped Arnold, though his followers were not always happy to see her and after one rally she found the back of her jersey riddled with holes left by the cigarettes people had been jabbing into her back. The result of Arnolds work was a series of pictures that included an iconic image with the sharp and handsome Malcolm X sitting in profile, his hat tilted forward and a ring on his finger bearing the star and crescent moon.

Arnold was a talented photographer from a legendary agency. Magnum was set up 70 years ago this year by a small group of photojournalists led by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and Chim Seymour. The agency was not just a leader in providing the definitive and often first images of mid-20th century history, it also recognised that women belonged to what Cartier-Bresson called its community of thought. By 1957, two of its 15 owner-members were women including Arnold and Inge Morath. Some of their pictures still lurk in our collective subconsciousness as categorical representations of certain people, places or moments in history. It would take the New York Times, by comparison, two more decades to hire its first female photographer.

For several decades, women were a small but core part of Magnums operation. Marilyn Silverstone, Susan Meiselas, Mary Ellen Mark and Martine Franck also joined. But between 1983 and 2009, only one Lise Sarfati was admitted as a full member, and she later resigned. It is only in the last dozen years that Magnum where nominee members take four or more years to make it full membership has begun to redress the imbalance.

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Iconic image: Nation of Islams Malcolm X photographed by Eve Arnold in 1962 during his visit to businesses owned by black Muslims in Chicago. Photograph: Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

Arnold and Morath joined during the 1950s around the time early members, such as Capa, Seymour and Werner Bischof died. All had followed Capas rule that if your pictures arent good enough, youre not close enough and were killed, respectively, after stepping on a landmine in Indochina, being machine-gunned in Suez and driving off an Andean mountain road. Their deaths were a sign of the dedication Magnum expected of its members who considered themselves a hybrid of photojournalist and artist. They still do. That makes the agency notoriously anarchic. Magnums biographer Russell Miller describes meetings marked by tantrums and slammed doors. Magnum isnt a democracy, its anarchy, he says. A former employee was even more candid. Its like the inmates taking over the asylum, he said. Its mob rule.

Morath was a Magnum editor before starting to take her own photos in 1951. She became, among other things, a photographer of Hollywood stars and even saved the life of the Second World War hero, the actor Audie Murphy, after he injured himself during one of director John Hustons duck shoots. Morath pulled his boat back to shore by swimming in front of it and using her bra strap as a tow rope. In one of her best-known images, an off-guard Marilyn Monroe raises her eyes to Moraths camera, warmth shining through the glamour during a break in the filming of The Misfits.

Both Morath and Arnold befriended Monroe, and their photographs of her reveal their ability to build intimacy and trust. She doted on the pictures Inge Morath had taken of her, sensing real affection, Monroes then husband, playwright Arthur Miller, later recalled. Marilyn liked her at once, appreciating her considerate kindness and the absence remarkable in a photographer of aggression. Morath went on to marry Miller after he separated from Monroe. Their daughter, Rebecca Miller, is the film director and partner of Daniel Day-Lewis.

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Heads up: Katayoun Khosrowyar, Irans national under-14 football team coach, practices her skills in Tehran, shot by Newsha Tavakolian, 2015. Photograph: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos

Much has changed since the glory days. Internet and digital phone cameras are bringing more radical change but, as a new generation of women builds a presence at Magnum, some things remain the same. People often dont see beyond you as a person with a camera; they dont think of you as a professional and they let their guard down, says Olivia Arthur, an Oxford mathematics graduate who was an early recruit to the new wave of Magnum women.

Arthurs Jeddah Diary series, an intimate portrait of young women in Saudi Arabia, is a prime example of this unsought advantage. Her pictures speak of secret partying, alcohol, lesbians and hook-ups. Its an extreme example. But I had so much access to a world that couldnt even have been seen by a man, she explains. Arthur provides not just photographs but also text. She finds a festive atmosphere among women in a theme park, for example, where the only photograph she can publish is of an empty fairground ride. The lesbian crowd is at the bowling alley, hanging out, flirting, kissing, Arthur writes. Walking around with a girl dressed like a man, security approaches. Im getting complaints, she says. Women are afraid, they think there is a man here Cant you be more feminine? Some of Arthurs pictures were tantalisingly held below a bright light and photographed again to hide the subjects face. I had access to something that couldnt all be shared.

The industry is very male dominated, but when you make your work, personally I think its easier to be a woman, says Susan Meiselas, who joined in 1976 and links the generation of Arnold and Morath with the newcomers. Her entry into Magnum was an example of just how willing members are to take apparently risky bets on new talent, despite the famously rigorous selection process which now sees aspirants present three different portfolios over four years. Meiselas had made her name taking pictures of itinerant strippers in New England fairgrounds. These hung on the walls of the Whitney Museum in New York, but she had little experience of photojournalism. When in 1978 she set out for Nicaragua a country in open rebellion against strongman Anastasio Somoza she did not even know how many rolls of replacement film she could request (she asked for 10 and Magnum sent 100). Her enthusiasm was such that experienced hands soon warned she was taking the get close philosophy too literally. She turned into a much-praised conflict photographer. Her Molotov Man picture of a beret-clad Sandinista fighter with Mick Jagger looks captured both the bravado and, for some, the romance of battling US-backed regimes in central America during the 1980s.

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Sleepy princess: a young girl yawns during the annual Fiesta de las Cruces (Festival of the Crosses) in Abern, captured by Cristina Garcia Rodero, Spain, 1993. Photograph: Cristina Garcia Rodero/Magnum Photos

There has always been a tension at Magnum between art and reportage. Even stronger has been the tension between art and money. For years the agency struggled to make a decent profit. In 2010 Magnum sold much of its New York archive of press prints to billionaire Michael Dell who then gifted them to the University of Texas with an insurance value reported at more than $100m. The market is now pushing photographers towards the art side of the balance. Photographers like Arnold were given months to carry out magazine commissions, while todays Magnum members are more likely to be given days. As a result much of the agencys best photography is to be found in limited-edition books.

For some, this is a return to their roots. Cristina Garca Rodero, a Spanish member, had been taking photographs for decades before joining in 2005. Her first project had been an epic journey taking pictures of Spanish fiestas which took 15 years to complete and became a book. When we meet in Madrid she has just returned from India, and is considering setting out for Brazil to photograph Easter rituals. Her festival obsession means she now also travels to the Nevada desert for Burning Man, to Berlins Love Parade and to other erotic festivals. I guess I probably look at those in a different way to a male photographer, she says.

The degree of ambition and amount of work – required to be a Magnum photographer has been one of the blocks to women. Men do not always have the same impediments. I remember war photographers who were back in the field a few days after a child had been born, said Meiselas, who recalls at least one talented female nominee leaving Magnum because it did not fit with her family life. Arthur, who I catch in jet-lagged mode in London between trips to India and New York, shares her life and small daughter with a fellow photographer. Hes very supportive, and we are able to juggle, she says.

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A simple smile: Marilyn Monroe during a break in filming The Misfits, New York, 1960. Later Arthur Miller revealed how much she liked the Inge Morath shot. Photograph: The Inge Morath Foundation/Magnum Photos

Magnum photographers have, in terms of nationality, always been a diverse group. So what happened to women during that 26-year lull? Meiselas believes that, in part, the agencys history of incorporating women mirrors that of society and feminism with women photographers joining during the militant 70s and the bold early 21st century, but not during the low days of the late 20th century. Three of the nine photographers now going through the process of acquiring membership are women and Magnums foundation gives an annual Inge Morath Award to young female photographers wanting to complete a long-term project. One of the current Magnum nominees, Newsha Tavakolian, is the subject of a picture by another of the agencys photographers, her fellow Iranian Abbas. It shows her at work in a press pack among a bunch of short-sleeved, bare-headed cameramen. Tavakolian is the only one obliged to cover her head and arms. It is a reminder that in some places women struggle just to become professional photographers, making the idea of joining Magnum an almost impossible dream.

Magnums 70th anniversary is being celebrated throughout 2017 (magnumphotos.com/magnum-photos-70; #MagnumPhotos70). To order a copy of the anniversary book, Magnum Manifesto (Thames & Hudson, 45) for 38.25, go to bookshop.theguardian.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/apr/30/the-female-gaze-through-70-years-of-magnum

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The hidden history of Nasas black female scientists

The diversity of Nasas workforce in 1940s Virginia is uncovered in a new book by Margot Lee Shetterly. She recalls how a visit to her home town led to a revelation

Mrs Land worked as a computer out at Langley, my father said, taking a right turn out of the parking lot of the First Baptist church in Hampton, Virginia. My husband and I visited my parents just after Christmas in 2010, enjoying a few days away from our full-time life and work in Mexico.

They squired us around town in their 20-year-old green minivan, my father driving, my mother in the front passenger seat, Aran and I buckled in behind like siblings. My father, gregarious as always, offered a stream of commentary that shifted fluidly from updates on the friends and neighbours wed bumped into around town to the weather forecast to elaborate discourses on the physics underlying his latest research as a 66-year-old doctoral student at Hampton University.

He enjoyed touring my Maine-born-and-raised husband through our neck of the woods and refreshing my connection with local life and history in the process.

As a callow 18-year-old leaving for college, Id seen my home town as a mere launching pad for a life in worldlier locales, a place to be from rather than a place to be. But years and miles away from home could never attenuate the citys hold on my identity and the more I explored places and people far from Hampton, the more my status as one of its daughters came to mean to me. That day after church, we spent a long while catching up with the formidable Mrs Land, who had been one of my favourite Sunday school teachers. Kathaleen Land, a retired Nasa mathematician, still lived on her own well into her 90s and never missed a Sunday at church.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/05/hidden-figures-black-female-scientists-african-americans-margot-lee-shetterly-space-race

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Paintings reveal early signs of cognitive decline, claims study

Psychologists believe they can identify progressive changes in the work of artists who went on to develop Alzheimers

The first subtle hints of cognitive decline may reveal themselves in an artists brush strokes many years before dementia is diagnosed, researchers believe.

The controversial claim is made by psychologists who studied renowned artists, from the founder of French impressionism, Claude Monet, to the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning.

While Monet aged without obvious mental decline, de Kooning was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease more than a decade before his death in 1997.

Alex Forsythe at the University of Liverpool analysed more than 2,000 paintings from seven famous artists and found what she believes are progressive changes in the works of those who went on to develop Alzheimers. The changes became noticeable when the artists were in their 40s.

Though intriguing, the small number of artists involved in the study means the findings are highly tentative. While Forsythe said the work does not point to an early test for dementia, she hopes it may open up fresh avenues for investigating the disease.

I dont believe this will be a tool for diagnosis, but I do think it will trigger people to consider new directions for research into dementia, she said.

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William de Koonings Woman 1, 1950 and Untitled XXVIII, 1983. Composite: Alamy

The research provoked mixed reactions from other scientists. Richard Taylor, a physicist at the University of Oregon, described the work as a magnificent demonstration of art and science coming together. But Kate Brown, a physicist at Hamilton College in New York, was less enthusiastic and dismissed the research as complete and utter nonsense.

Forsythe and her colleagues used digital imaging software to calculate how a mathematical feature called fractal density varied in artists paintings over their careers. The seven artists included Monet, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall, who all aged without obvious brain disease; Salvador Dali and Norval Morrisseau, who developed Parkinsons; and de Kooning and James Brooks, another abstract expressionist who was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 1985, seven years before his death.

Fractals are geometric patterns that repeat themselves at different size scales. They are seen in nature in the branching of trees and rivers, and in the craggy contours of coastlines. In paintings, fractals appear when patterns made by the tiniest brush strokes repeat on larger scales. The fractal dimension is a measure of fractal complexity, where an artwork with a large fractal dimension has a high ratio of fine to coarse fractal patterns.

Forsythe found that paintings varied in their fractal dimensions over an artists career, but in the case of de Kooning and Brooks, the measure changed dramatically and fell sharply as the artists aged. The information seems to be like a footprint that artists leave in their art, Forsythe said. They paint within a normal range, but when something is happening the brain, it starts to change quite radically.

Writing in the journal Neuropsychology, the scientists claim that the fractal dimensions of paintings by Monet, Picasso and Chagall tended to rise as they aged. For Dali and Morrisseaus work, the fractal dimension followed an upside-down U-shape over time, at first rising and then falling. The most stark result was seen in the works of de Kooning and Brooks, where the fractal dimension started high and dropped rapidly from the age of 40.

The work has echoes of previous studies that revealed early signs of dementia in the language used by the former US president Ronald Reagan, and the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch. Telltale hints of future dementia have also been spotted in autobiographical essays written by nuns in their 20s.

Taylor pioneered the use of fractals to study and even authenticate drip paintings by the late US artist Jackson Pollock. He believes Forsythes research could do the same for other artists and save museums from being conned into buying fake artworks. But he also saw more important applications. This work could hopefully be used to learn more about conditions such as dementia, he said.

To me, the most inspiring message to come out of this work is that beautiful artworks can result from pathological conditions, he said. When de Kooning was diagnosed with Alzheimers, some critics argued that he should stop painting, but as he slipped into dementia, his artwork changed and became more simple, Taylor said.

To me, these more simple works conveyed a peacefulness that wasnt present in his nurture-dominated earlier work. It all goes to show that sometimes you can think too much about art. Sometimes you just need to tune into your inner self, the nature part, he said.

But Brown disagreed. In 2006, she co-authored a paper in Nature that disputed Taylors research. She said that sketches dashed out on her computer had the same fractal dimensions as a Pollock drip painting and might be authenticated as the real thing.

The whole premise of fractal expressionism is completely false, Brown said. Since our work came out, claims of fractals in Pollocks work have largely disappeared from peer-reviewed physics journals. But it seems that the fractal zealots have managed to exert some influence in psychology.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/29/paintings-reveal-early-signs-of-cognitive-decline-claims-study

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Kazuo Ishiguro: ‘Were coming close to the point where we can create people who are superior to others’

Social changes unleashed by new technologies could undermine core human values unless we engage with science, warns author

Imagine a two-tiered society with elite citizens, genetically engineered to be smarter, healthier and to live longer, and an underclass of biologically run-of-the-mill humans. It sounds like the plot of a dystopian novel, but the world could be sleepwalking towards this scenario, according to one of Britains most celebrated writers.

Kazuo Ishiguro argues that the social changes unleashed by gene editing technologies, such as Crispr, could undermine core human values.

Were going into a territory where a lot of the ways in which we have organised our societies will suddenly look a bit redundant, he said. In liberal democracies, we have this idea that human beings are basically equal in some very fundamental way. Were coming close to the point where we can, objectively in some sense, create people who are superior to others.

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Ishiguro spoke to the Guardian ahead of the opening of a new permanent mathematics gallery at the Science Museum in London, which features a machine to predict coastal storm surges built by his oceanographer father, Shizuo Ishiguro.

The author hopes that the 5 million exhibition, and others like it, will encourage people to engage with the process of science and its future trajectory, rather than simply tuning in for the headline results of research and only then worrying about the implications.

Despite the atom bomb and things like this, were still in the habit of compartmentalising scientific endeavour, he said. Its important that we, as a society, get much more interested in science and maths, that we dont silo it off in our minds … until theres some breakthrough product that turns up.

Ishiguro cites three areas – gene editing, robotics and Artificial Intelligence – that he believes could transform the way we live and interact with each other over the next 30 years.

We are on the brink of all kinds of discoveries that will completely alter the way we run our lives, said the author, whose 2005 book, Never Let Me Go, imagines a dark future in which humans clones are raised to be organ donors.

The gene editing tool, Crispr, allows scientists to cut, paste and delete single letters of the genome with unprecedented precision, meaning aberrant genes can be overwritten with working copies, and, potentially, functional genes replaced with enhanced versions. Chinese scientists are already trialling the technology in patients to treat lung cancer.

When you get to the point where you can say that person is actually intellectually or physically superior to another person because you have removed certain possibilities for that person getting ill or because theyre enhanced in other ways, that has enormous implications for very basic values that we have, said Ishiguro.

He also has concerns that in AI and robotics the bulk of intellectual capital lies with the Silicon Valley masters of the universe rather than universities or government-funded labs.

There are some very powerful and rich people who want to do enormous research in this area, he said. Some of them might want to come out with things that are very beneficial, but its probably outside of regulation and so, yes, I think society as a whole needs to be more engaged.

Ishiguros father, an oceanographer originally based in Nagasaki, moved with the family to Guildford, Surrey, to work at the National Institute of Oceanography in 1957, when Ishiguro was five.

Dr
Dr Shizuo Ishiguro with his electronic analogue machine, which converted meteorological and ocean data into electrical signals on a series of wire meshes. This allowed the height of storm surges, and where and when they would make coastal impact, to be predicted. Photograph: Image courtesy of NOC Archive.

Despite the two countries having been at war just a decade previously, the family were made welcome, he said. The British people of that era had a very sophisticated sense of the international community because they had come through the war, he said. They knew the difference between serious things and less serious things, [having] lived through a period when they thought they were going to be under Nazi occupation.

Ishiguro contrasts this with the anti-immigrant rhetoric that dominated the Brexit and US election campaigns.

We have become much more multi-cultural and much more cosmopolitan in many ways, but the attitude to, say, the refugee crisis, I think is quite different to what I remember from the Britain I grew up in, he said.

His fathers electronic analogue machine, which is the size of a large wardrobe, converted meteorological and ocean data (wind speed, tidal motion, water depth and so on) into electrical signals on a series of wire meshes. This allowed the height of storm surges, and where and when they would make coastal impact, to be predicted. The system was originally developed to help Japanese fishing fleets, but modified to be applied to the North Sea, where floods following a storm surge in 1953 led to more than 2,000 deaths.

Ultimately, the machine was superseded by digital computers, but the scientist continued to perfect his creation in the family garden shed in Guildford until his death in 2007 a fact Ishiguro describes as entirely unsurprising.

Despite having taken a different career path, Ishiguro inherited an obsessive attitude towards work from his father, he said, recalling him mulling over equations every evening while watching American thrillers on television.

Looking back now I can see that the whole approach to his work is quite like my approach to my work as a writer, he said. He didnt think of it as a job at all. It was something he obsessively thought about the whole time. That was my model.

Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, opens on 8 December. It spans 400 years of mathematics, focusing on ideas and objects that have influenced everyday lives.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/02/kazuo-ishiguro-were-coming-close-to-the-point-where-we-can-create-people-who-are-superior-to-others

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