Posts filed under “Art”


No. 1.

Here is a very simple guessing game, but we hope to see some very creative responses. These are all details of buildings in and around Pittsburgh, as photographed by Father Pitt, and your job, dear readers, is to guess what kind of building each one comes from. People familiar with Pittsburgh may also amuse themselves by trying to recognize which particular building each detail comes from, but it will not be easy, because many of these buildings are in out-of-the-way neighborhoods. Of course, if you are stumped and want to cheat, you can open an image in a new tab, and the file name will tell you what it is.

We put the rest of the article behind a “read more” tag, because there are quite a few pictures to load, and we don’t want to bog down the front page for a week and a half.





Portrait of a Gentleman.

Portrait of a Gentleman (?).

Portrait of a Young Gentleman.

Portrait of an Old Gentleman.

Portrait of a Young Gentleman with an Old Gentleman.

Portrait of a Gentleman Who Believes He Is Still Young but Is Suffering from a Delusion.

Portrait of a Lady.

Portrait of a Lady of Quality.

Portrait of a Lady of Unusually High Quality.

Portrait of the Sort of Lady You Don’t Bring Home to Mother.

Portrait of a Clergyman Reading the Sporting Times.

Portrait of the Archbishop of Canterbury Dressed as the Archbishop of York for a Masquerade Ball.


Historical Scenes.


The Death of the Earl of Cavendish from a Surfeit of Malted Milk Balls.

Citizens of Liverpool Fleeing the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Institution of the Royal Academy of Hoops.

The French Frigate Moutarde, After an Hour and a Quarter’s Engage­ment, Strikes to His Majesty’s Ship Roast Beef.

King Solomon Counting His Wives and Coming Up One Short.

Cincinnatus Leaving His Plough to Go Back to Accounting.

The Prophet Jeremiah Ordering Falafel from a Street Vendor.


Allegorical and Mythological Scenes.


Britannia, Hibernia, & Scotia Bickering Over a Leg of Mutton.

Nine Tailors Making a Man from Cloth Remnants.

Bacchus Refusing White Zinfandel.

Fate Weighs the Schedule of the No. 91 Omnibus in Her Balance.

Virtue Awarding Herself a Good Conduct Medal.

The Apotheosis of Henry Biggleton, Late Manufacturer of Biggleton’s Famous Imbricated Kidney Pills.

Artemisia Defies the Goddess Athena and Is Turned Into a Harmonium.

Prosperity Rides the Horse of Commerce Across the Bridge of a 20% Excise on Imports.


Water Lilies
Nymphées, by Claude Monet, digitally corrected.

Buried way down in the menus is a new setting in Microsoft Edge, the second-most-popular browser:

Enhance images in Microsoft Edge
Sharpens images and improves color, lighting, and contrast

It turns out that Microsoft has introduced sophisticated artificial intelligence to process all the images you look at even if you don’t ask for them to be processed.

This is amazing! Haven’t you always wished Rembrandt could be a bit brighter? Wouldn’t it be better if Monet weren’t so blurry?

If you are a photographer, chances are pretty good that sharpness, color, lighting, and contrast are the four things you fuss over most when you’re preparing a photograph for publication. Well, you’re just wasting your time. Microsoft will use the awesome power of artificial intelligence to throw out your decisions and substitute much better ones. The setting is on by default, and it takes an inquisitive user or an unlikely coincidence even to discover that it exists.

This must be what the future looks like. In the future, artists will no longer have to worry about whether they have got the colors exactly right or whether the subject stands out from the background well enough. Rough in the composition, and the machine will take it from there. And the artists who do worry about those fussy little details will no longer waste anybody’s time but their own. The rest of us will see their pictures with all the currently fashionable aesthetic decisions made in the most agreeably fashionable way.

But why should we stop at images? Couldn’t deep learning tidy up Shakespeare’s notoriously sloppy blank verse? The pacing of Moby-Dick could be tightened to James Patterson standards. All that frittering about in a Bach fugue could be reduced to a tune you could walk home humming. The frustrating vagueness in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey could be sharpened up until a five-year-old could understand what was going on.

Microsoft has come up with the artificial-intelligence version of this French translator.

Of course the main effect early users noticed was that a lot of images in Edge were blurrier than in other browsers, but Microsoft says, “We're aware of the issue and are looking into it.”


By Guest Contributor Bozar the Clown.

These sins may perhaps also be described as cardinal, in that they are the chief (though by no means the only) aesthetic sins that plague our civilization today; but they are ordinal in that they may be ranked from least to most sinful, thus:

7. Visible utility cables in historic neighborhoods.

6. Conceptual art, which is simply an artist demanding praise for coming up with a theme without bothering to make the art that would express the theme.

5. All art that does not decorate.

4. Verse with no rhythm. (Note that this does not exclude vers libre: study Whitman.)

3. Architecture that defies its neighbors or ruins their intended effect.

2. Auto-Tune (when it does not refer to putting a car in better running condition).

1. Televisions in public places.


Judith Slaying Holofernes, by Artemisia Gentileschi

Our previous observation on art criticism provoked an interesting discussion between two frequent correspondents. Since the original article was very short, we repeat it here:

The next time you read a glowing review of some work or exhibit by a contemporary artist, train your critical eye on the critic. Ask this probing question: How much of the rhetorical skill of the critic is applied to excusing a lack of technical skill in the artist?

To this “von Hindenberg” responded with a proposed method for distinguishing art from goofing off:

My favorite set of criteria to determine whether something is ‘art’ or not is

1. Did it require technical skill or at least effort to create?

2. Does it attempt to convey a message or elicit an emotional response?

3. Is it aesthetically pleasing?

If a thing hits two out of three criteria, I’ll agree that it’s art. Whether or not it’s good art is another question entirely.

“The Shadow” replied with a question about von Hindenberg’s criteria:

I would question whether something that doesn’t even try for criterion 3 is art.

…to which von Hindenberg replied with another question:

Would you consider a performance that deliberately makes the audience uncomfortable and even unhappy in order to make them consider a subject not art? A sculpture or painting that is deliberately unpleasing for the purpose of sending a message can be art.

Here Dr. Boli was tempted to make a snide remark. A sculpture or painting that is deliberately unpleasing for the purpose of sending a message, he was about to say, is an editorial cartoon, not art.

But it seems useless to debate what is and what is not art. A definition of “art” that excluded most of what we could find in a museum of contemporary art would be uselessly contrarian; it would simply prevent us from talking about what is going on in the artsy world without inconveniencing the denizens of that world one little bit. It seems to Dr. Boli that von Hindenberg has pointed the way to the only useful distinction: “Whether or not it’s good art is another question entirely.”

This means, however, that we would have to abandon his three-point plan for identifying art, because it is clear from the most cursory glance at the art world of today that the only one of those criteria anybody cares about is the second: “Does it attempt to convey a message or elicit an emotional response?” To speak of technique at all is embarrassing. To speak of aesthetics is to imply that aesthetics can be judged. The message is everything. Take a look at any art criticism today: how many times will you see words like “issues,” “transgressive,” or “marginalized” used approvingly to describe what the artist is accomplishing? If the artist is giving voice to the marginalized, the artist is doing all that can be done in art.

These seem like lazy excuses for bad art. Dr. Boli observes that people who are actually marginalized generally seem to put a great deal of effort into the technical aspects of their art. The ones who get by on lazy excuses are mostly the spoiled middle-class kids who could afford to go to art school.

But the assumption that the message is the important thing has seeped so far into our collective mind that it is difficult for us to think of art in any other way. Even von Hindenberg tells us that “A sculpture or painting that is deliberately unpleasing for the purpose of sending a message can be art.” Now, much depends on what we mean by “unpleasing.” If we mean that the subject can be unpleasant, like Gentileschi’s Judith Decapitating Holofernes, then the point is well taken. But if we mean that the unpleasant subject can be treated without caring about how it looks, that is a different matter. Again, the idea that aesthetics should be ignored or defied for the sake of the message seems lazy to Dr. Boli.

Think of Picasso. Guernica is horrifying, but it does not ignore aesthetics. On the contrary, Picasso agonized over the aesthetic decisions. Should there be any other colors than greys and steely blues? He tried them, but they didn’t work. Guernica is certainly a painting with a message (in that way it seems unusual among Picasso’s works), but the message is conveyed through the aesthetics.

In spite of occasional great works like Guernica, Dr. Boli believes that the emphasis on message over form in art has been almost universally destructive. It has created a culture in which we no longer teach artists technique: we teach them to write grant proposals. They learn to plan a work of art by asking, “What do the stupid inferior yokels who never look at art need to be told?” That meaning is almost always implied, at least, although the question is seldom phrased that way, because if it were we could see the absurdity of it at once.

It is time, Dr. Boli believes, for a rebellion against the tyranny of the message in art. It is time for us to refuse to judge a work favorably simply because it says something we agree with. Instead, it is time to insist on technical proficiency and aesthetic judgment. Our rallying cry will be the principle of Oscar Wilde: All art is quite useless.


The next time you read a glowing review of some work or exhibit by a contemporary artist, train your critical eye on the critic. Ask this probing question: How much of the rhetorical skill of the critic is applied to excusing a lack of technical skill in the artist?


Benno Janssen was Pittsburgh’s favorite club architect: he gave us the Twentieth Century Club, the Keystone Athletic Club, the Masonic Temple, the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, the Longue Vue Club, the Rolling Rock Club, and the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association. For this last club he designed a magnificent Renaissance palace with an enormous arch for the main entrance, and what is a Renaissance arch without a massive cartouche for a keystone?


Our friend Father Pitt supplies us with this picture. Have a look at it and try to imagine the story behind it. What do you think happened to bring it to its present form?

Father Pitt says that he imagines it this way: he sees the sculptor spending months interweaving the letters Y, M, W, and H in the most artistic manner, finally finishing it and presenting it to the discriminating eye of Mr. Janssen, and being told, “You left out the A.”