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Posts Tagged ‘art history

“In economics, the majority is always wrong”*…

 

“Grumpy Cat,” whose image has flown across the internet– and graced the front page of the Wall Street Journal

One may imagine that economics has little bearing on the more frivolous frontiers of everyday life; but in fact it explains why one consumes so much “animal antics” online and so little Shakespearean seriousness…

Economics sometimes has surprising applications. One example is the Alchian-Allen theorem, an observation that came from a footnote in an economics textbook in the 1960s about how quality demand is affected by transport costs…

The Allen-Alchian theorem explains why places with high-quality produce (Allen and Alchian had in mind apples in Seattle, which is where apples come from in the US) nevertheless do not always get to consume that same high quality (they pointed to the market for apples in New York city, where no apples grow) because of the relative costs faced by consumers in each case (for New York consumers, a high-quality apple, once you account for transportation costs, was actually relatively cheaper than a low-quality apple compared to relative prices in Seattle). Hence the market sent the high-quality apples to New York.

You’re still with me? It’s all about relative costs. When you move something, or impose any fixed cost, the higher-quality item always wins, because it now has a lower relative cost compared to the lower-quality item.

The interesting idea is that this also applies in reverse – namely when we remove a fixed cost. The internet does this: it removes a cost of transport, and it does so equally for high quality and low quality content. Following the Allen-Alchian theorem, this should mean the opposite. Low-quality items are now relatively cheaper and high-quality items are now relatively more expensive. This idea was first explained by Tyler Cowen, but the upshot is that the internet is made of cats

The internet lowers the cost of “transport” for every idea, high and low quality alike. It’s the opposite of the apples situation. It means that low quality apples are now relatively cheaper. It means that cats-doing-funny-things is now relatively cheaper than say German Opera. Economics insists that when demand curves look like this we can expect more cat watching, and less German opera watching.

This theorem means that we expect a lower quality, “bittier” consumption to proliferate on the internet (as a technology that lowers transport costs of high-quality and low-quality ideas alike). Which is what we observe. So that’s a win for micro-economic demand theory.

Is this really what’s happened?  Have we all gotten dumber?  Read more– including the arguments, pro and con– at “The internet is made of cats – and you can blame economists“: and read the paper the lays out the “economics of cute” in “The Alchian-Allen Theorem and the Economics of Internet Animals.”

* John Kenneth Galbraith

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As we come to terms with the fact that all our bases are belong to them, we might spare a slightly skewed thought for Giuseppe Arcimboldo; he died on this date in 1593.  An Italian painter best known for creating partraits composed entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books, he is considered a Mannerist… though he might well be the first Surrealist.  He was certainly cited by many– from Dali through Ocampo to Švankmajer– as an influence.

Arcimboldo’s portrait of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, painted as Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, c. 1590-1

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

July 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”….

 

From…

I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

to…

There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

… American Scholar‘s list of the “Ten Best Sentences” (a list that includes the quote that titles this post, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice).  The list is offered unadorned, with no explanation of purview nor criteria (no “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” from Marquez?).  Indeed, the site’s picture editor clearly had her own opinion, expressed via her illustration of the article with the photo above– a picture of the typewriter used by William Faulkner, also absent from the list…

But then, that’s the point of any list of this sort: it’s usefully provocative.  And as Roy Peter Clark argues at Poynter, the examples can be instructive.

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As we flirt with our inner Flaubert, we might recall that it was on this date in 1893, in the text of Alfred Jarry’s play Guignol in L’Écho de Paris littéraire illustré, that the term– and the concept of– ‘pataphysics first appeared.  Jarry defined ‘pataphysics (derived from a contracted Greek formation that means “that which is above metaphysics”) as “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.”  Jarry insisted on the inclusion of the apostrophe in the orthography, ‘pataphysique and ‘pataphysics, “to avoid a simple pun”… indeed Jarry’s aim was to compound the puns:  The term pataphysics is a paronym (considered a kind of pun in French) of metaphysics. Since the apostrophe in no way affects the meaning or pronunciation of pataphysics, this spelling of the term is a signal–a sly notation– to the reader, suggesting a variety of puns, among them patte à physique (“physics paw”), pas ta physique (“not your physics”), and pâte à physique (“physics pastry dough”).

Jarry’s concept was resurrected after World War II  with the foundation (in 1948) of The Collège de ‘Pataphysique, a “society committed to learned and inutilious research” (“inutilious” = “useless”).  Its members have included  Raymond Queneau, Eugène Ionesco, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Julien Torma, Roger Shattuck, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, and Marcel Duchamp.

Alfred Jarry

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Written by LW

April 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

“When I was shown the charts and diagrams… How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick”*…

 

How meta is this?!  An infographic on infographics

 

* When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

- Walt Whitman

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As we ponder pictograms, we might spare a grateful thought for the man who wrote the book on perspective, Leon Battista Alberti; he died on this date in 1472.  The archetypical Renaissance humanist polymath, Alberti was an author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher, cartographer, and cryptographer.  He collaborated with Toscanelli on the maps used by Columbus on his first voyage, and he published the the first book on cryptography that contained a frequency table.

But he is surely best remembered as the author of the first general treatise– Della Pictura (1434)– on the the laws of perspective, which built on and extended Brunelleschi’s work to describe the approach and technique that established the science of projective geometry… and fueled the progress of painting, sculpture, and architecture from the Greek- and Arabic-influenced formalism of the High Middle Ages to the more naturalistic (and Latinate) styles of Renaissance.

from Leon Battista Alberti, Della Pictura

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Written by LW

April 25, 2014 at 1:01 am

“All the world loves a clown”*…

 

Nonetheless, circus folk fear that a national clown shortage is on the horizon.  In a trend that only those who suffer coulrophobia could love, membership in the country’s largest trade organizations for the jesters has plunged, as an aging membership struggles to recruit new nabobs of the crimson nose.

‘What’s happening is attrition,’ said Clowns of America International President Glen Kohlberger, who added that membership at the Florida-based organization has plummeted since 2006. ‘The older clowns are passing away.’ He said he wouldn’t release specific numbers, citing the privacy of the members.

Membership at the World Clown Association, the country’s largest trade group for clowns, has dropped from about 3,500 to 2,500 since 2004. ‘The challenge is getting younger people involved in clowning,’ said Association President Deanna (Dee Dee) Hartmier, who said most of her members are over 40.

Read more in The Daily News [via NPR's The Two-Way, from whence the photo above]

* Cole Porter

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As we stock up on greasepaint, we might send provocatively nonsensical birthday greetings to Hugo Ball; he was born on this date in 1886.  Ball worked as an actor with Max Reinhardt and Hermann Bahr in Berlin until the outbreak of World War I.  A staunch pacifist, Ball made his way to Switzerland, where he turned his hand to poetry in an attempt to express his horror at the conflagration enveloping Europe. (“The war is founded on a glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines.”)

Settling in Zürich, Ball was a co-founder of the Dada movement (and, lore suggests, its namer, having allegedly picked the word at random from a dictionary).  With Tristan Tzara and Jan Arp, among others, he co-founded and presided over the Cabaret Voltaire, the epicenter of Dada.  And in 1916, he created the first Dada Manifesto (Tzara’s came two years later).

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Written by LW

February 22, 2014 at 1:01 am

“In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness”*…

 

Rafael Araujo’s illustrations are bafflingly complex—so complex that you might assume the artist uses a computer to render the exacting angles and three-dimensional illusions. And true, if you were to recreate his intricate mathematical illustrations using software, it probably wouldn’t take you long at all. But the craziest part of all is that Araujo doesn’t use modern technology to create his intricately drawn Calculations series—unless, of course, you count a ruler and protractor.

The Venezuelan artist crafts his illustrations using same skills you and I learned in our 10th grade geometry class. Only instead of stashing those homework assignments deep into the locker of his brain, Araujo uses these concepts to create his da Vinci-esque drawings. In Araujo’s work, butterflies take flight amidst a web of lines and helixes, a shell is born from a conical spiral, and the mathematical complexity of nature begins to make sense…

See more of Araujo’s work at his site, and read more at “Wildly Detailed Drawings That Combine Math and Butterflies.”

* Samuel Beckett

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As we root around for our rulers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1497 that Dominican friar and populist agitator Girolamo Savonarola, having convinced the populace of Florence to expel the Medici and recruited the city-state’s youth in a puritanical campaign, presided over “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” the public burning of art works, books, cosmetics, and other items deemed to be vessels of personal aggrandizement. Many art historians, relying on Vasari’s account, believe that Botticelli, a partisan of Savonarola, consigned several of his paintings to the flames and “fell into very great distress.”  Others are not so certain.  In any case, it seems sure that the fire consumed works by Fra Bartolomeo, Lorenzo di Credi, and many other painters, along with a number of statues and other antiquities.

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Written by LW

February 7, 2014 at 1:01 am

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