Uncommon Sense

April 25, 2021

Netflix, Please Give the Atmospheric Scores a Day Off

I tuned in to watch a new Netflix movie, Without Remorse, with Michael B Jordan, an actor I like to watch. I had to turn it off several minutes later because of one of Netflix’s bad habits. It funds many movies and most of them have very “atmospheric” soundtracks, that is the music is almost continuous and mood setting. It also makes the movies hard on those of us who are a bit hard of hearing.

After struggling to hear and then make sense of the dialogue, I get frustrated and just turn the show off. And it is not that I haven’t tried other things. I watch a fair number of foreign generated shows, which use subtitles for those who don’t speak Korean, or Japanese, or Spanish. I do not mind this but it has certain limitations. When an English language show is on, I can go to the bathroom or the kitchen and still follow what is happening. If I am dependent upon subtitles, if I lose sight of them all I hear is words I do not understand. I either have to pause the show or rewind it when I get back (sometimes the bathroom calls strongly).

I do understand what a good movie soundtrack does, but I am learning what a bad movie soundtrack does now. Are any of you experiencing the same issue?

February 27, 2021

Made You Look—A Documentary

Filed under: Art,Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 8:33 am
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Last night I watched an interesting documentary about a massive art fraud in New York City. In the late 1990s and much of 2000s $80 million of fake paintings were sold as if legitimate. The pieces had sketchy provenance, so they were often “authenticated” by experts.

This is a fascinating documentary, well done, but a number of points were never mentioned or were glossed over.

The Authenticating “Experts” Were Full of Shit
Various experts were asked to “authenticate” these paintings and often did so wholeheartedly, even though they turned out to be fakes. This process has been shown to be flawed over and over but keeps being used. If a new painting is discovered, one not seen in catalogues of the artist’s works, an expert should go no further than to comment something along the lines of “It appears to be in this artist’s style and the painting appears to be of an appropriate age.” That’s it. But these “experts” were stumbling all over themselves to state that the paintings were authentic, something that couldn’t be told without extensive testing. When the extensive testing was done, some of the pigments hadn’t been invented until after the artist died, which is kind of a clue, don’t you think?

The experts basically should limit there comments on a previously unknown painting to “is worth further testing.”

Collectors were Glowing About the Fakes
When the fakes were purchased, the new owners loved those paintings, gushed about how beautiful they were, etc. so they were good art, no? But when they were proved to be fakes the collectors were outraged. Clearly they were not buying art for the sake of the art. They, instead, wanted to brag about how much money it cost, or that it was painted by a famous painter, or looked at it as an investment, but these people never say things like: ”It was such a good bargain, I could see myself selling it for a nice profit is just a few years.” or “I wanted to snatch this up before a bidding war started. It will be much more valuable in time.” So, these hypocrites gush over the quality of the painting but are outraged when they find out that it was faked. Apparently they can distinguish between fake beauty and real beauty . . . not.

This Has Been Going On for Years
This was mentioned a couple of times. It was not a surprise to find out that the forger/painter was a Chinese gentleman. Whether he was a willing participant in the fraud was not determined because there is a tradition in China of copying other works (and not just China). These copies are often sold quite cheaply to people who could not come close to affording the real thing. Much like we have posters of famous art works to hang on our plebian walls. It was suspicious, of course, the lengths gone to to use period and artist correct materials, which would not be necessary for “decorative art pieces.”

Art students are often seen in museums copying masterworks as exercises. And when the originals are being sold for millions, the temptation is there. In this case the works copied were those of American Expressionists (not my cup of tea) which are random enough to be more easily copied, also materials of the age these were created (1950s and 1960s) are still available.

Fueling all of this were prices of hundreds of thousands paid by the art dealer for paintings that sold for much more, even millions. This was a point critics say should have cause alarms to go off, but since greed is the driving force of this age, no one noticed anything sketchy for over a decade.

December 23, 2020

/The Social Dilemma

Filed under: Art,Culture,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:24 am
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The documentary of this title is currently available on Netflix and I had passed over it quite a few times before viewing it, which I did last night.

The documentary mixes in taking head segments with little scenes in an ongoing drama of how social media affects a family. I could have done without the vignettes as the talking heads were quite spectacular. These were all people who either had something to do with the development of social media companies or had studied the effects of their existence in some detail.

The basic premise is that social media use algorithms to line their pockets . . . nothing wrong there, except that the algorithms have no mores, they just want to feed your attention more of what you are interested in. This results in a massive case of positive feedback for everyone who participates. Positive feedback is almost never a good thing.

The talking heads point out that we who participate are all being manipulated against any judgment applied either by us or the providers and it is dangerous.

Bless them as they say that there are no villains here. Nothing was done with intent to cause the problems that now exist. They found the inventor of the “like button” who explained what was behind its creation. An unintended consequence stems from the fact that we evolved in small social groups, in which it was important to be liked by a majority of one’s fellows. The social media platforms have extended that circle to thousands of strangers, often leading young participants into doing bizarre things to accumulate “likes ” from them. And to what end?

An expert on AI systems says that we all worry about when artificial intelligences get so powerful that they overwhelm human strengths, like SkyNet in the Terminator movies (accompanied by the crunching sounds of humans skulls beneath the feet and treads of robots . . .). But well before that point we would reach point in which AIs could overwhelm human weaknesses, a point they did not claim we are at yet, but they easily could have.

They discuss the effect of social media upon political polarization, even on whole nation’s stability and elections, and what might happen should an autocrat really use social media effectively.

From thinking I knew the topic well, I found myself much better educated for having viewed this doc. If you have also viewed this documentary, what do you think?

November 6, 2020

Ever Want to Write a Fantasy or Science Fiction Novel?

Filed under: Art,Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:43 pm
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I have been engaging in the Q&A site Quora for quite some time and lo and behold, two Grand Dames of fantasy and science fiction, Mercedes Lackey and C.S. Friedman are dispensing fabulous advice to writers on Quora. Check them out of this interests you. I consider some of their advice to be priceless, and they are founts of wisdom on other issues as well. Ms. Lackey is an expert on birds, for example.

May 4, 2020

Now and Then

Filed under: Art,Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 10:03 am
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I just read an obituary for Tony Allen, the drummer’s drummer and one of the eulogizer’s pointed out that he sought for someone who could play his pieces as Tony had, but that drummer was not yet born, apparently. Musicians who are transformative often prove hard to impossible to replicate.

A little more than a century ago when such a musician died, the best that we could hope for in a musical legacy was sheet music, and of course the effect that musician had on his fellow musicians. But listeners had no way to observe the effect, other than in memory once that musician died.

Before written sheet music, the best we had was that so and so was taught by “him,” you know. “He was a student of . . .” was another way to say the same thing. But there was no way to share that with future generations.

Now, we have sheet music, commentary, video, and audio recordings, autobiographies, etc. so as far as musical immortality, we are much closer to that, but still people bemoan the loss of people who cannot be replaced.

The life lesson is that replicating the past is important, especially is we want to know “where we came from” in a tradition, but what is more important is what we create next. Having just a focus on the past gets to a state of stale rapidly. Taking what was offered and moving up to new highs, now that is a challenge, a challenge Tony Allen met, extraordinarily well. He survives in recordings as an inspiration to all future drummers and musicians.

January 24, 2018

So Beautiful!

Filed under: Art,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 9:45 pm
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This afternoon I went to see and hear the musical Beautiful based upon the life and music of Carole King. Her most famous album is Tapestry which is fitting as she seems to have woven a little bit of the tapestries of the lives of myriad people, including me.

We seem desperate to find words to live by and it is disappointing so many of us have settled for a hateful and violent monotheistic religion when better words to live by are right under our noses.

Beautiful closes with the song of the same name, part of which is:

You’ve got to get up every morning
With a smile in your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes you will
That you’re beautiful, as you feel.

Words to live by, indeed.

December 26, 2017

God, the Inspiration of Artists!

At this time of year I see many representations of artist’s glorification of the Christian god (including mundane Christmas carols that I have always loved). This treasure trove of art is used from time to time for justification (aka spin) of the existence of this or that god. “How could a god who does not exist inspire so many artists?” we are asked. “How could such great artistic expression come from less than the most holy?” (♫ Grandma got run over by a reindeer … ♫)

I think folks need to take a closer look at this. I just finished a book on the messages hidden in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by none the less than Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Michelangelo, who only wanted to sculpt, was given the commission to paint the ceiling of a huge chapel, a facsimile of the temple of the Jews (at least part of it—which was a huge insult as the Jews forbade any such replicas being built). This was an offer he couldn’t refuse and which cost him seven years of his life, his most productive years that could have been applied to sculpture, but. . . . His commission was to paint Christian scenes upon the ceiling and then later, the far wall. This was so inspired by God (and the Pope, his patron) that Michelangelo painted that huge fresco, still one of the largest frescos ever painted, without painting a single Christian figure on the ceiling. All of the figures Michelangelo painted were Jews. There were also several insulting messages for the Pope and other prominent people of the time.

This was not a new practice invented for the occasion, Renaissance painters often painted in such “messages,” including insults for their patrons. Artists were also not allowed to sign their works, so it was often the case that a figure in a painting carried the face of the painter. Michelangelo was so insulted when he unveiled the Pieta he sculpted because the viewers insisted that the sculptor must be Roman because no one from Florence had enough skill, that he broke into the site at night and hastily chiseled his name into the statue! Similarly his face and the faces of his lovers appeared in his frescos. One of the faces on the Sistine Chapel’s surfaces is that of his lover of the time (and yes, M was gay)!

Much of this art and music was commissioned at a time when the few rich people who could afford to commission such works were either Princes of the Church or were secular leaders who needed to overlay some religious sanctity atop their secular rule. So, many of these glorious works of art (sculpture, painting, music) were commissioned on religious themes.

To claim that religion inspired these art works is disingenuous at a minimum. The ability to paint or sculpt “on spec” was limited as artists were paid very little, so if you wanted to guarantee a sale, you had better cater to the prevailing “art market.” Since the rich were constantly sucking up to the religious elites, and vice-versa, it is no surprise that many, many glorious artworks were dedicated to such people. To make an argument for the existence of god from such inspiration shows either a complete lack of understanding, a lack of other credible arguments, or both.

I am really tired of the elites pissing in our glasses and telling us it is lemonade. I would find them more honest if they were to swing a pocket watch in front of our eyes, mumbling “You are getting very sleepy, very sleepy … when you awake, you will believe….”

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