There Are Layers Here
June 12, 2019 8:05 AM   Subscribe

I gotta say, for such a ridiculous* piece, I did not see that twist coming.

*absolutely not a complaint
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:50 AM on June 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I guess I shouldn't spoil the twist. So— I disagree with the writer's conclusion after the twist. If it was a compelling image before, it still is.
posted by zompist at 9:21 AM on June 12, 2019 [7 favorites]

Heh, my areas of interest the last few years pretty much undercut the ability for the twist to be a twist for me, but there's a lot of really interesting visual and cultural stuff involved in why that would or wouldn't be the case. I don't think we need to worry about spoiling the article in the thread; it's not a long read and the twist is more of an "oh" than an intricately plotted mystery story, and the thread's here to discuss it!

So, one of the things about that image is: it has things that look like brush strokes, which shouts "oil painting!", but it's the individual small regions of "brush stroke" that are convincing, while the overall pattern of strokes is unlikely and the transition from one stroke to the next is weird and vague, or involves fairly hard right angle turns mid-stroke for no clear reason. There's also a conspicuous perpendicularity to a lot of the stroke texture, with strokes making those right angles relative to the rectangular perimeter of the image instead of lending more toward the slanted lines of the composition.

You also see stroke texture, the little thin groups of parallel lines swooping and turning together, moving over regions of the painting with fine detail or hard lines of contrasting color, which makes no sense: bigger, more impasto-looking brush texture in paint corresponds to dragging a brush with a lot of paint relatively roughly across an area, and is good for depositing a big smear or slop of color but would annihilate any fine detail underneath.

There's other little things, but that stuff is what hit me right away.

So the brush stroke emulation is doing this uncanny valley thing where at a glance, at a very surface level, it's really selling the idea of oil painting. It's an effective trick, under sufficiently casual examination. But it also tells on itself in a bunch of weird ways once you look close or have a point of comparison. I really like these painterly filters as an experiment in visual processing and meta-art; they fail at verisimilitude but that's fine, they're something other than literally-being-an-oil painting. But there are characteristic ways that these processes fail at the details and looking at a lot of generative imagery in the last few years is the other half of why this jumped out at me right away.

The really interesting thing to me, having said all that, is that someone could sit down and essentially attempt to painstakingly recreate these fake-oil-painting features with real oil paint. Nothing in that image is impossible, it just doesn't make sense as a likely oil painting. With sufficient effort, a fairly unlikely oil painting could recreate those properties fairly precisely, the same way a dedicated painter can recreate the soft focus and bokeh and chromatic distortion that show up in photography but which would have no natural reason to exist in a traditional oil portrait.

Anyway, it's also a pretty nice little post-impressionist painting even if it came from another universe.
posted by cortex at 9:40 AM on June 12, 2019 [9 favorites]

Honestly, just the difference in framing from the original is enough to make this a much more interesting image. The original photo mostly works as a sort of Peeping Tom look at a famous person in private. It's blurry and taken from far away, so you feel very distant from A-Rod and his toilet. On the other hand, while the painting retains some of that by clearly placing the viewer outside the window, it puts you much closer to the action. A-Rod becomes an figure to contemplate, not just gawk at. The viewer is encouraged to empathize with A-Rod and place themselves in that bathroom instead of peeking at the details of his bathroom decor. Ersatz computer generated rip-off or not, it's definitely Art.
posted by Copronymus at 10:10 AM on June 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

My first thought was that the writers were missing that photography is an art. I looked up the original photo (can't find a good link, but it's easily Google-able), and what strikes me is how much better the "painting" is than the photo. It's been straightened out and nicely cropped. The tonal range has been flattened out and the three-dimensionality lessened, which somehow makes it better. And the brushstroke filter adds a nice level of abstraction.

But, maybe all these reactions just recapitulate the history of Impressionism. Once you have instant realism via the camera, you gotta put the art in somewhere else.
posted by zompist at 11:00 AM on June 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Near as I can reckon, computers and software are literally just tools and mediums people can use to make or do things. Making art with computer is extremely not a new thing. This is a cool image to be sure but it does still look very much like a filtered paint effect. Really I think the most fun thing to do with this image would be to attempt to recreate it, down to the generated looking brush stroke patterns, especially in the outer wood frame. Seems like the message of painting from life, when life is an image on a screen of a digitally altered photo is good enough for at least an undergrad painting thesis. I also think it would be really hard to paint like this, in some places it almost looks like what happens when you have like excess oil trapped under a film of paint as it dries and wrinkles up
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:37 PM on June 13, 2019

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