Computer spots fake Jackson Pollock paintings better than humans

John Hopton for – Your Universe Online
The celebrated American artist Jackson Pollock was a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement and is best known for his drip paintings, in which paint is dripped or poured onto canvas, rather than brushed. The result is strikingly original, but also complex and outwardly haphazard, and even experts have trouble distinguishing the genuine from the counterfeit Pollocks.
Now, though, technology can do it for them.
Lior Shamir of Lawrence Technological University in Michigan has developed computer program that uses machine vision to “see” and analyze Pollock paintings–real and forged. It demonstrated a 93 percent accuracy in spotting true Pollocks.
The results are described in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Arts and Technology.
Shamir employed computational methods to characterize the low-level numerical differences between original Pollock drip paintings and drip paintings done by others attempting to imitate him. “The human perception of visual art is a complex cognitive task that involves different processing centers in the brain,” Shamir explains. “The work of Jackson Pollock showed unique physiological and neurological human responses to Pollock’s drip paintings.”
But the human eye has limitations in how it perceives the specific physical qualities of a painting. A computer, however, can quantify the details at the pixel- by-pixel level once a painting has been digitized, and identify details and patterns that we do not consciously detect.
What is art, really?
In one respect, the development confirms the inherent originality of Pollock paintings, but at the same time makes us ask what art really is if we can’t tell the forgeries from the real thing in the way that art is supposed to be consumed, that is to say by being looked at rather than by being “numerically characterized” by computers.
The way in which art can move people is important, and it is also clearly wrong to have people pay millions of dollars for a painting that they think is by a certain artist when really it isn’t, or even to have them pay money to look at it once. But the story does raise the question of why art by the greats is so expensive. The nuances in Pollock’s work may elicit “unique physiological and neurological human responses,” but does that mean that the responses are so unique, or so uniquely better, as to justify the expense and adoration attached to names such as Jackson Pollock?
It makes you wonder if extreme admiration for the greats is partly inspired by a snobbish and long-standing version of celebrity culture. Obviously someone like Pollock was pretty original in his style, but are his splodges, inspiring though they may be, several million times more meaningful than other people’s splodges? Or does a frenzied cult build up around certain people, and spiral?
The idea that modern art is littered with meaningless, over-hyped nonsense has been well discussed, and it is probably a futile discussion because art is so subjective. However, it is worth asking if the extreme reverence shown to some artists, and more broadly to creative “heroes” in general (anyone else heard Ed Sheeran being described as a “genius”?) is excessive. As far as the field of art goes, this is one of the themes covered in Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop movie.
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