“Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.” — Moliere
From Edward Lear’s “Nonsense Botany” (1871):
Goya’s La Maja Desnuda and La Maja Vestida. In 19th-century Europe, it was common to have two paintings of the same subject, swapping them out depending on who’d be visiting. Still, the Inquisition confiscated both of these as obscene.
Said the Duchess of Alba to Goya,
“Do some pictures to hang in my foyer”;
So he painted her twice —
In the nude to look nice,
And then in her clothes to annoy ‘er.
— Cyril Bibby
Imaginary pictures “cataloged” in Thomas Browne’s Musaeum Clausum of 1684:
- “A Moon Piece, describing that notable Battel between Axalla, General of Tamerlane, and Camares the Persian, fought by the light of the Moon.”
- “A Snow Piece, of Land and Trees covered with Snow and Ice, and Mountains of Ice floating in the Sea, with Bears, Seals, Foxes, and variety of rare Fowls upon them.”
- “Pieces and Draughts in Caricatura, of Princes, Cardinals and famous men; wherein, among others, the Painter hath singularly hit the signatures of a Lion and a Fox in the face of Pope Leo the Tenth.”
- “Some Pieces A la ventura, or Rare Chance Pieces, either drawn at random, and happening to be like some person, or drawn for some and happening to be more like another; while the Face, mistaken by the Painter, proves a tolerable Picture of one he never saw.”
Borges wrote, “To write vast books is a laborious nonsense, much better is to offer a summary as if those books actually existed.”
William Topaz McGonagall is renowned as the worst poet in the English language. Sample:
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
He didn’t even get the facts right here — 75 died.
In the opening to his Poetic Gems, McGonagall wrote, “The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet.” Millions agreed. Stephen Pile, in The Book of Heroic Failures, calls him “so giftedly bad he backed unwittingly into genius”; his temperance speeches were wildly popular with “poet-baiters” in Dundee, who pelted him with eggs and vegetables, and he was allowed to play Macbeth only if he paid in advance.
When Tennyson died, McGonagall visited Balmoral to ask if he might become poet laureate. He was told the queen was not at home.
Steven Wright used to say, “I’ve been doing a lot of abstract painting lately, extremely abstract. No brush, no paint, no canvas. I just think about it.”
With Mr. Picassohead you can make a Cubist portrait in about 60 seconds. I spent a little longer on this one, pretending to get the composition right, but it’s hard to go wrong with drag-and-drop noses.
Even simpler is the Mondrian Machine — even a dead guy could produce a neoplasticist masterwork if you clicked the mouse for him.
I suppose the masters wouldn’t approve of these pushbutton knockoffs; Picasso seemed to take a dim view of technology in general. “Computers are useless,” he once said. “They can only give you answers.”
Ambigrams are word renderings that can be read both right-side up and upside down (or, sometimes, in a mirror). They’re hard to do convincingly, though some designers are pretty good at it. The one above was actually generated by a computer: Word.Net’s Ambigram.Matic. It’s not as elegant as the others, but I’m surprised that a machine can do this at all.
Upload your own photo into this face transformer and you can change your age, race, or sex, or see yourself as a Modigliani, Botticelli, or El Greco, or even as manga. (This Mona Lisa is half chimpanzee.)
The software was developed by Bernard Tiddeman and David Perrett of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. Earlier this month they estimated how Elvis Presley might have looked on his 70th birthday, and they’ve also rendered John Lennon at 64 and morphing videos of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
Tiddeman says, “This technology was designed to help psychologists understand how our brains interpret faces, an immensely important social function, helping us to recognize friends, choose a mate, or read people’s emotions.” They’re also using it to plan facial surgery and to help find wanted and missing persons.
Why do we recognize each other by the fronts of our heads? Because hair and clothing change too much, and because people’s hands are too similar. Studies involving prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces, imply that there may be a specific face perception system in the brain.
Even stranger is Capgras delusion, in which you recognize the faces but lose the emotional response to them, which makes it seem as though your friends and family are being replaced by impostors. Creepy.
YuppiePunk’s Serial Killer Art Review presents the jailhouse compositions of 14 career murderers.
Born to a legless alcoholic and a violent prostitute who shot his pony and beat him into a coma, Lucas lost an eye and experimented with bestiality as a teenager before stabbing his mom and launching a one-man crime wave.
He eventually confessed to 3,000 murders; if that’s true, he killed someone every day between 1975 and 1983. Kind of explains why he didn’t paint still lifes.
If you’re into this stuff, check out John Douglas’ disturbing book Mindhunter. A former FBI profiler, Douglas inspired Scott Glenn’s character in The Silence of the Lambs.
After studying sociopaths for 25 years, Douglas could examine a crime scene and give an uncannily accurate description of the killer: he has a speech impediment, he drives a red Volkswagen Beetle, he owns a German shepherd, he lives with sisters. And he’d be right. That’s one talent I don’t envy.