AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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EMERGENT POETRY AND GOOGLE TRANSLATE

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Google Translate’s Emergent Poetry

Some of you will be familiar with computer poetry, poetic compositions generated by computers using algorithms. Some of you may even be familiar with computer prose, as the book The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed (text here). There are lots of things to say about this. Who’s the author? Is it really poetry? And what does it say if computer poetry passes the Turing test?

Last week, I stumbled upon something new in this neighborhood, care of Google Translate. You might think this would be generated by inputting something funny (but promising if you think about it) like assembly instructions or political speeches–or even something translated into a different language, then translated back. Instead, this Google Translate poetry takes as input a single, repeated Japanese hiragana character. As you can see above, the returns are surreal and delightful. (For all of these, I’ve used ‘ke’, け.)

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See here and here for more examples.

For a little background, hiragana is a syllabary, so it’s not like Chinese characters where, roughly speaking, each character is a word, and these are subsequently built up into other words. An individual hiragana character can be a word, but this is also true in English with ‘a’ and ‘i’. And, like English, the meaning of the characters are not somehow built into the meaning of any word containing them. (The meaning of ‘a’ is not built into the meaning of all words that contain that letter.)

This fact about hiragana makes the results all the more interesting. In fact, you don’t need to limit yourself to hiragana to get these outputs. At his blog Riddled, Smut Clyde uses all sorts of different repeated syllables and repeated letters to generate such poetry.

You can also get different results by switching up spacing, returns, hyphens, and so on. Here’s an example using spaces.

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The Philosophy

Philosophically speaking, it’s a little different from traditional computer-generated poetry, which often takes a mass of text as an input in order to generate something new and sometimes in a similar style. Here, the program (Google Translate) is not intended to really generate anything. It’s meant to convert some existing meanings into roughly synonymous existing meanings. (It would actually be contrary to the goal if new meanings were created.) But what we see in the above examples is meaning that just sort of emerges out of language goo. It’s as if we’d shaken a tree and its twigs and leaves fell into a meaningful pattern, or if we discovered a poem floating on the top of a bowl of Alpha-Bits cereal. We might end up shaking a lot of trees to find something good, but there is a sense in which we didn’t create the thing that comes out.

I don’t have any position on this stuff. Maybe it’s a collaborative, co-authored work. Maybe we who dub the final thing ‘poetry’ are the real authors. Or maybe it’s just not poetry at all. Maybe there’s nothing philosophically controversial here. But even that would be kind of surprising, I think. In any case it’s a fun example to think about. And so much fun to play around with, too.

I’ll say one thing, after having messed around with it a little bit: As the one who enters the characters, you have some control over what comes out. You can exercise this control to varying degrees, being more hands-on (inserting spaces and punctuation, cutting and pasting, determining which lines are more or less interesting/poetic/provocative) or more hands-off (entering virtually random-length strings punctuated by occasional line returns). The more hands-on it gets, the more it feels like a collaboration, as you get inspired by what excellent random things pop out (“Welcome to the place where you can sit down with your birthday daughter”??). The more hands-off it gets, the more it feels like you’re just stumbling upon some surprisingly meaningful twigs.

Here’s a final challenge (or concession?), in the form of a one-line poem, very poetically using ‘i’ (い):

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– Alex

(via Language Log)


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VAPORWAVE AND MUSIC THEORY

Are music recordings their own type of musical instrument?

How does timbre (vs. pitch, harmony, etc.) affect musical experience?

What, really, is the point of music theory?

And is vaporwave really dead? (Do you, Dear Reader, not yet know what vaporwave is – or was?)

All these questions and more are addressed in this excellent video (from 2016 that I just discovered…) by YouTuber and musician Adam Neely.

 


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JERRY SALTZ: BAD ART CANNOT BECOME GOOD IN NEW CONTEXTS

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photo of Longo’s sculpture on Whitney’s Tumblr account

Another entry in philosophy-meets-the-artworld:
Famous art critic Jerry Saltz weighs in on Vulture about Robert Longo’s All You Zombies: Truth Before God, which was recently installed at the Whitney.

Saltz writes of ‘badness’ as a “metaphysical constant”:

Can older bad art be made good by changing political times? The short answer, I think, is “No.” Really bad art may be a metaphysical constant, and in the case of rediscovered, long overlooked masterpieces I tend to believe the work was always good and we just weren’t capable of seeing it yet.

But says that, really, it might not be that important:

But when thinking about how times change works of art, we probably need to get away from using words like good and bad. Let’s focus instead on values that make art useful: surprise, energy, redefinitions of skill, a willingness to fail flamboyantly, originality in pursuit of different ideas of beauty, ugliness, urgency, the shedding of biography, or 1,000 other things. Look through these lenses and older art will often look very different in newer times. Any image of black face or lynching reverberates horribly today, as it should.

So what exactly does Saltz think of Longo’s sculpture? Check out the full article at Vulture.


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CAN #SELFIES BE ART? SAATCHI SAYS YES

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I’m going to go ahead and say Saatchi isn’t really that cutting edge on this one. People have been doing self-portraits for a long-ass time. Maybe those don’t count as “selfies” though?

In any event, the famous Saatchi Gallery will host a show this spring called “From Selfie to Self-Expression”. This is funded together with the enormous Chinese telecom company Huawei. (Hm, I wonder why they’d be interested in selfies.)

Maybe most exciting is for those artistic sorts who read the blog: You can enter your own selfie for a chance to be shown at Saatchi!

They’re currently holding a selfie competition (entry rules here), open until March 12, 2017. You have to submit images via their website interface. For whatever reason, you can’t just post an Instagram with the #SaatchiSelfie hashtag and be entered. Although they do want you to use that hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Or you can just scope out the current entries.

From the website: “Winners will receive Huawei’s latest smartphone and have their selfies showcased at the Saatchi Gallery as part of Selfie to Self-Expression.” Even if you weren’t jonesing for the newest line of Huawei phones, being part of a Saatchi show would be pretty cool.

The show will run from March 31, 2017 – May 30, 2017.

Image: Rembrandt, Self-Portrait (1660), courtesy of The Met Collection


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CITIZEN TRUMP: AN INAUGURATION DAY SPECIAL FROM AFB

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Did you know that Donald Trump’s favorite movie is Citizen Kane?

Did you know that the famed film director (and one-time Berkeley philosophy PhD candidate) Errol Morris interviewed him about it?

And did you know that LitHub’s Anthony Audi interviewed Errol Morris about that?

On Rosebud, Morris recalls:

It’s fun to hear Trump talk about how Rosebud somehow works, the metaphor works, “I don’t know why it works, but it works. After all, Steven Spielberg paid a lot of money for it, so it must work. Paid a lot of money, maybe seven figures, six figures.”

This comment is in reference to Spielberg’s having purchased the sled used in the film for $60,500 in 1982. (In fairness, that is six figures in 2008 dollars – about $135k.)

Humor aside, Trump seems to be suggesting an aesthetic theory on which money is evidence of – or perhaps constitutive of – quality. (Surprising, I know.)

Check out the video of Morris’ 2008 interview with Trump below:

The interview contains some intriguingly vulnerable moments. (“Wealth does in fact isolate you from other people. It’s a protective mechanism.”) But also some classic Trump.

Morris: “If you could give Charles Foster Kane advice, what would you say to him?”

Trump: “Get yourself a different woman.”

One last gem of Morris’ from the LitHub interview:

I have this concept based on possible revisions to the DSM V, the diagnostic manual for American psychiatry, and I was going to call it Irony Deficit Disorder: the absolute inability to appreciate irony on any level whatsoever, particularly when the irony involves oneself.

To find out more, follow the above links or check out these articles:

Excellent meme via @laurenweinstein on Twitter


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POET ANSWERS STANDARDIZED TEST QUESTIONS ABOUT HER POETRY – INCORRECTLY.

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I must alert you to an awesome piece by poet Sara Holbrook on HuffPo, where she explains that Texas used two of her poems for middle school standardized tests.

Holbrook:

  • receives an email from a distressed teacher who doesn’t understand the answers
  • discovers poor formatting that adds to the confusion
  • finds the questions in question
  • cannot, ultimately, answer them

The narration of her thought process going through the questions is also delightful.

At one point, she writes:

Parents, educators, legislators, readers of news reports: STOP TAKING THESE TEST RESULTS SERIOUSLY

Idiotic, hair-splitting questions pertaining to nothing, insufficient training, profit-driven motives on the part of the testing companies, and test results that simply reveal the income and education level of the parents.

All very fair. But then a bit of intentionalism to finish it all off!

My final reflection is this: any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead.

I protest.

Whoa – okay. Now the little dose of philosophy:

She definitely thinks she has the final word on how her poetry is interpreted! But like, does she really? Maybe she’s a good poet but a bad interpreter. (I’ll admit that the questions and answers do in fact seem a little silly. And I’ll be the first to throw down about how terrible standardized testing is.) But in principle, there’s no reason to think that just because she can’t answer the questions, they’re bad questions. Right? What do you guys think?

Go read the whole thing on Huffington Post.

Image credit: t-shirt design via Fashionably Geek – sorry little birdies, it looks like it’s sold out! 😥


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VENGEANCE IN BRIGHT PINK

You might think that you can’t, like, own a color, man.

But you’d be wrong. (And actually you’d have been wrong for a while. See Yves Klein Blue.)

Context: Maybe you remember the dustup earlier this year when superstar artist Anish Kapoor acquired the exclusive rights to (artistic) use of Vantablack, the blackest black in the world. Check it out:

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you can totally see through your screen that it’s the blackest black in existence, right?

Snarky remarks aside, it seems to make the aluminum look downright velvety. Artists were (reasonably) pissed about not being able to use this.

One such artist took revenge. Stuart Semple has developed the pinkest pink in existence. Check it out:

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it’s definitely pinker than this image can depict

And he’s making it available to everybody except Kapoor. Even you* can go grab a jar for £3.99.

*Unless you’re Anish, in which case, wow! We’re super flattered. Click-like-share this blog with your friends!

He’s also developed the glitteriest glitter, which is about twice the price of the pinkest pink, and also available to anybody except Kapoor.

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so why is everybody just talking about the pink?

Real questions: Are these really the pinkest pink and glitteriest glitter? On what sort of scale? Is this just a publicity stunt? Was what Kapoor did just a publicity stunt? Does any of that matter? And is it a problem for the future of art, now that you can actually own certain colors? Or is it no big deal?

Read more:

Images credits: (1) via Wikimedia Commons; (2) and (3) via CultureHustle, Stuart Semple’s website


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3D PRINTED, AI-PRODUCED ORIGINAL “REMBRANDT”

A collaboration between ING bank, Microsoft, Delft University of Technology, and the Mauritshuis museum brings us the Next Rembrandt project.

They’ve created an original, Rembrandt-style “painting” created by analyzing existing Rembrandt paintings (colors, head direction, facial composition, etc.).

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If this is a taste of what the robot apocalypse will look like, then I guess it seems sort of anticlimactic.

Anyway, if you were curious about how to make the MOST paradigmatic Rembrandt painting, you’d want the following characteristics:

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Okay, but so much you probably already knew, without any deep data algorithms. Just with your fleshy meat brain.

But could you do this part?

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They did micro-landscape analysis of the brushstrokes and mimicked that, too. Then used “paint-based UV ink” to create the final product with a 3D printer.

And how does it look?

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I mean, it looks like a Rembrandt to me. (Some people claim they can tell it’s not authentic. I’m skeptical.) This – like computer-generated poetry – raises a bunch of interesting philosophical questions.

  • Is it an artwork?
  • Is it a painting?
  • Is it an original painting?
  • Is there an author? Who is it?
  • Is there any creativity involved? Any expression?
  • Would it actually be distinguishable, even by experts, from a real Rembrandt? And does that matter?

But most importantly:

  • Will this creativity and computer learning lead to robots enslaving humanity?

“You could say that we use technology and data like Rembrandt used his paints and his brushes to create something new.” – Ron Augustus, Director of SMB Markets at Microsoft

I mean, like, you could… but should you?

If you’re curious, check out the video below to see an overview of the project. Much more at the project website.

(Via Core77. Thanks to Noah Greenstein for the pointer.)