Tag Archives: authenticity

“There’ll Be Spandex Jackets. . .”

A painting known as the de Brécy Tondo recently went on display Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford, England. This is notable because the painting, for decades, has been controversial.

Some people claimed it was painted by Raphael. Others claimed it was a copy of the artist’s Sistine Madonna alterpiece done sometime during the Victorian period, more than 300 years after Raphael worked.

The conclusion that the work was done by the artist and not by some imitator was largely predicated on artificial intelligence. Of course.

Hassan Ugail, a professor at the University of Bradford, and the director the its center of visual computing, developed an AI model that was evidently trained on Old Masters.

Hassan told The Guardian, “My AI models look far deeper into a picture than the human eye, comparing details such as the brush strokes and pigments. Testing the Tondo using this new AI model has shown startling results, confirming it is most likely by Raphael.”

Somewhat more substantive that it was done in the 16th century not the 19th is that Howell Edwards, a molecular spectroscopy professional at the University of Bradford, determined the pigments used were Renaissance-era appropriate. Odds are that some Victorian didn’t chance upon a cache of 300-year-old paint and decide to fake a Raphael.

Whether it is actually the work of the artist is something that, until someone invents a time machine, will never be completely known, AI techniques notwithstanding.

How do we know that the de Brécy Tondo wasn’t painted by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino’s dad, Giovanni Santi, who had been a painter, as well?

Continue reading “There’ll Be Spandex Jackets. . .”

Who Are They?

When is a band not a band? That is, generally it would be thought that a group of people get together and decide that their individuality will contribute to a collective undertaking that will be known under a given label, or name. They don’t lose their individuality. But their performances with others are subsumed by the work of the band. It can become the case that except for fans the name of the collective is known while those of the individual members aren’t. So if a member or two happens to leave the band only to be replaced by others, it very well may be that the “band” continues to exist much as it did before, although for those who are fans the absence of the performer(s) may be enough for them to consider the band disbanded.

In some cases it is thought that there are individuals within a band—considering the band as a collective—who are more instrumental to the existence of the band as a whole than others may be and so as long as they are part of the performance, the band continues to exist.

An abiding example of this is “The Who.” The band began in 1964. The members were Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.

Albums the band released include:

  • My Generation (1965)
  • A Quick One (1966)
  • The Who Sell Out (1967)
  • Tommy (1969)
  • Who’s Next (1971)
  • Quadrophenia (1973)
  • The Who by Numbers (1975)
  • Who Are You (1978)*

But in September 1978 Keith Moon died. Kenney Jones replaced him. Oddly, or appropriately, Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—as a member of the Faces/Small Faces.

The band kept performing and recording. Then in June 2002, John Entwistle died. Entwistle was replaced by Pino Palladino.

Consider: The Who became what is considered to be The Who not merely as a result of Townshend’s playing and writing and because of Daltrey’s pipes and performance. The drums and the bass played a fundamental part of the sound that people became familiar with.

Yet there seems to be an idea that because Townshend and Daltrey were up front, their continued existence and participation are the things that would make a post-Moon and Entwistle organization essentially what it had been before, that the performances are of The Who, not “The Who.”

Isn’t it conceivable that starting in October 1978 and certainly July 2002 that the remnants of The Who, when performing or recording, should have been more appropriately titled Who2 or something of the like? Whatever it was it was not the band that formed in 1964.

But is a band more than a brand? If you have a box of Tide you probably think of it as, well, Tide. And it is Tide. But it isn’t the Tide that was invented in 1946. The formulation is different but the brand name remains the same.

To treat members of a band as being fully replaceable is to really not have a band so much as a brand.

Continue reading Who Are They?

“Lennon Sings Sinatra”

In the world of art there are generally four steps:

  • Creation
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Acquisition

The artist comes up with an idea. That idea is then manifest in some outwardly physical (and possibly) repeatable form. Then that is put out in the world in some way.

The Creation part is as easy to understand as it is difficult to do.

The Production part can take various forms. For example, for a piece of music this might be writing it down in musical notation or recording it on some form of media, whether tape (that can be used to create things like albums) or as a digital file.

Then there is the Distribution. Certainly an artist who is only interested in the Creation part might not even go to the Production step, simply having the music in her head or performing it in the world yet not capturing it so that the performance is ephemeral. But she might want to create artifacts for her own use or edification. In this case, the work of art doesn’t go out into the wider world but it still exists in a form that someone else could have it. (E.g., If Renée Fleming sings in her shower, no matter how wonderful it is, it only exists in that period of time. If she records herself singing in the shower, then that performance exists after the time of the performance.)

In the case of something that has been created and transformed into some sort of artifactual being, there is the possibility for the Acquisition by others: Someone buys the painting or downloads the music.

While this is a linear model that leads from the creator to the object and vice versa, there are situations where there is a disruption because it very well may be the creator is not the person who is thought to be the person who has created the work in question.

Continue reading “Lennon Sings Sinatra”

Girl with The Twelfth Album

Johannes Vermeer lived in the Netherlands in the 17th century. The painter died at age 43 in 1675. What is arguably his most famous work—and not just because of Scarlett Johansson—is Girl with a Pearl Earring. (It almost seems as though it is one in the “Girl” series, as among his other works are Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Girl Interrupted at Her Music, and Girl with the Red Hat.) Vermeer painted Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1665. Quite a talent at 33.

While it is a painting that is certainly wonderfully executed and valued as one of the world’s masterpieces (it is sometime referred to as the “Mona Lisa of the North”), the painting was lost for 200 years. In 1881 a collector, Arnoldus Andries des Tombe, bought a painting that was in not particularly good condition for not a whole lot of money. When cleaned it was discovered to be what is now considered to be one of Vermeer’s masterpieces.

There are approximately 35 Vermeer oils in existence. There were thought, until recently, to be approximately 36.

In 1942 the U.S. National Gallery of Art received a collection of paintings known as the Widener Collection. The recent provenance of the painting had it discovered in 1906 by Abraham Bredius, director of the Mauritshuis in the Hague; the Mauritshuis happens to be the museum that des Tombe had donated Girl with a Pearl Earring to in 1902. Arguably Bredius was familiar with Vermeer’s work. Girl with a Flute was purchased by Joseph Widener in 1923. René Gimpel, an influential Parisian art dealer, wrote of the sale in his diary, “It’s truly one of the master’s most beautiful works.”

The name of the painting may be familiar to you because earlier this month the National Gallery came to the conclusion that it isn’t by Vermeer. As the museum’s Marjorie E. Wieseman wrote of Girl with a Flute, “With present knowledge, we cannot be sure whether it was created in honest emulation or with the deliberate intent to fool a discerning 17th-century Dutch art market, as it fooled connoisseurs in the early 20th century.”

Continue reading Girl with The Twelfth Album

50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong–or Can They?

While the numbers are not laser etched in diamond*, Michael Jackson has sold some 258.9-million albums. This puts him behind the Beatles (289.5 million) but ahead of his first, former father-in-law (well, he would have been had he not been dead for 17 years): 230.6 million. All of these are/were (how do you count when the Beatles no longer exist, nor do either of the two Kings?) pikers compared to Rihanna, who has sold an estimated 334.7 million albums and the 34-year-old billionaire has, presumably, a long career ahead of her.

But back to Jackson. According to Spotify, he has 30,531,780 monthly listeners.

“Billie Jean” has had 1,149,441,023 streams. Consider: the population of China is 1.4-billion people, so it is as though most all of them know that “She’s just a girl who claims I am the one.”

Given these numbers it is safer than houses to claim that there have been a lot of people who have listened to Michael Jackson, either then or right now.

Continue reading 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong–or Can They?

Does This Sound Like the Real Thing or What Is Real?

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership.” —Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 1935


One of the things that is absolutely taken for granted is the ubiquity of the arts in our daily lives. Music comes from everywhere and while much of it doesn’t necessarily rise to the levels that one would imagine would have required the invocation of Euterpe, think only of the situation of someone 200 years ago:

One of the least expensive, most common instruments, the harmonica, wasn’t invented until 1821.

While we associate harmonicas with blues performers and hobos, it is a pretty good bet that back in the first half of the 19th century Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann’s instrument wasn’t an inexpensive item.

Hearing music–which we don’t even think about–was certainly something special for much longer than it hasn’t been.

Continue reading Does This Sound Like the Real Thing or What Is Real?

Sounds Like. . . ?

Apparently there is a museum in France dedicated to the works of a late 19th- early 20th century painter, Étienne Terrus.

The museum, located in Elne, France, in the Pyrénées, is full of paintings by Terrus.

Or at least many of the 140 paintings are by the artist.

And even more of them are, as has recently been discovered, fakes.

Experts have come in and determined that 82 of the paintings were not executed by Étienne Terrus, who died in 1922.

One of the clues in one of the landscapes: buildings that weren’t built until after the artist died.

You would think that something like that might be noticed.

But you often don’t see something unless you are looking, even if you’re looking right at it. And arguably there have been hundreds of people looking at those paintings, thinking to themselves, “That’s a nice Terrus.”

As the tagline for this site is not “Gouaches Can Change Your Life,” you are probably wondering what the Terrus Museum has to do with anything.

It got me to wondering about how we actually know whether music that we think has been recorded by an individual or a band really is aural evidence of that.

Continue reading Sounds Like. . . ?

To a Musician Not Dying Young

Recently I was with a few people from southern California who had come to musical maturity in the ‘70s. I learned that there is a robust “tribute” or “cover” band scene there. One of the women I was with had been a backup singer in a Segar tribute band. It seems, she explained, that many of the people in these bands are unsuccessful in getting their own music to break and so they perform—or could that be “pretend”—as others.

So there are bands like the Dark Star Orchestra, the Australian Pink Floyd Show, The Fab Four, Nervana, and multitudes more.

In many cases it is not enough to have a note-for-note rendition of the original band in question, but some of these tribute bands cover themselves in the clothing and the hairstyle of the individual musicians making up the bands in question.

(Of course, the Iron Maidens have a look that doesn’t duplicate the original for obvious reasons.)

We will not see the Beatles again. Not Pink Floyd or Nirvana. And while the situation with the Dead is uncertain, Jerry’s not going to be on stage.

And the music created by the originals is often so good that it exists independently of the people who made it in the first case, so it could be the case that there are several people who go to the clubs who have no idea of what’s being covered and when they leave they go home and download “Katmandu.”

Which is certainly a good thing for all concerned, be it the tribute band, the listener or, in this case, Seger.

But there was a comment that one of the people made that struck me as being odd and in some ways unsettling, a comment that was agreed to by the others in attendance: “Well, we can’t see the originals any more so this is just as good.”

Is it? Really?

Without going all Walter Benjamin and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical [Digital] Reproduction,” doesn’t authenticity matter?

Continue reading To a Musician Not Dying Young

Manufactured Happiness

What if they were really Milli Vanilli?Several weeks ago a suitcase was picked up at a flea market in Australia that could have potentially been the sort of thing that would have caused the guy on Antiques Roadshow to gush from every orifice: It was thought to contain Beatles memorabilia, including heretofore unheard recordings. The speculation was that the suitcase had been the property of a man who had worked as a roadie for the band, as well as had spent time working in some capacity in the recording studio. He was reportedly killed by police in 1976. In L.A., not Sydney. Subsequently, a “Beatles expert” came to the conclusion that the contents of the case were not “authentic.” While aspects of the story would lend themselves to novelization by, say, Kinky Friedman, it raises another point, this about how musicians are generally perceived by listeners.

Continue reading Manufactured Happiness

Is This Website Real & How Do You Know?

A front-page story in a recent edition of the LA Times looked into the creation of web sites for entertainment products—films—by alleged fans. As the story, “Fake Fans, Fake Buzz, Real Bucks” by Dana Calvo (20 March ’01), opens: “The 34-year-old computer whiz in Silver Lake got a phone call from the friend of a friend—the head of publicity for a movie studio. The offer as $10,000 a week for an Internet ‘project.'” The project was to create an indie-appearing website to flak a movie.

The story of the generation of the enthusiasm for The Blair Witch project is well known. And because of the usefulness of the Internet to create interest (Blair cost about $1-million to make; it grossed, according to Calvo, $128-million in just five weeks), this is becoming a marketing strategy. And let’s face it: movie companies are record companies. The names are different but the suits are the same.

Calvo writes: “The hired enthusiasts don’t reveal that they are on entertainment company payrolls. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to verify which Web pages are by genuine fans and which aren’t even by tracing the registered owner of the site.”

Which strikes me as somewhat disturbing.

Take this site, for example. How does someone know that those of us who post to this page aren’t really in the thrall of some anti-Sting cabal? How does someone know that there is actually more than one person writing this stuff? I don’t want to get into some sort of riff on solipsism here (“Hmm. . .I haven’t been to France for a while: How do I know Paris exists?”), but to simply muse on the fact that those who participate in the creation of bona fide sites about stuff really need to concentrate on providing authenticity of voice, a reality that can’t be bought by corporate suits. I suspect that if you were to go to Yahoo and search for a pop artist, beyond the “official” sites there are more than a few that are nothing more than genuine-for-hire. It may be dismissed as just a matter of the unenlightened not getting it (“So what?”), but it seems to me that this is sort of a slippery slope to the world described in 1984, where the Government (or in this case, the Industry) creates the entertainment for the proles. And there are one hell of a lot of proles whose spending affects what gets elevated and what gets quashed.

There could be an argument raised that this is done only for the “name” acts, but isn’t it posible that given the comparative low cost of creating sites (the guy from Silver Lake obviously got one hell of a deal; I imagine that Jake may be wondering at this point. . .), it would be the marginal artists who are more likely to be the ones for whom Internet crypto marketing is done. The budget may be low, but the Internet is infinite.

The truth may be out there. It’s just hard to find.

(Next time: Man on the Moon? Fact or a bad movie shot at Area 54?)