Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Mona Lisa is Happy

In Cracking the Mona Lisa Smile, Elizabeth Millard demonstrates how technology is currently playing a role in the analysis of artwork. Personally, I think technology should not be used when analyzing art work, especially when so little is know about the work. The role of technology in artwork should be an informative role, which it is for the most part.

Millard references an experiment conducted by Sebe and Huang, who developed emotion-recognition software and applied it to the Mona Lisa. Using the software, the two University of Amsterdam and University of Illinois researchers quantified the Mona Lisa’s facial emotion. The use of “algorithms that quantify facial expressions” and “face tracking software that determines several major emotions in expression” allowed the researchers to quantify the painting. The researchers obtained their experimental data by determining the displacements in the Mona Lisa when compared to a “neutral, Caucasian female face”. The experiment determined that the Mona Lisa is 82.67 percent happy, 9.17 percent disgust, 5.81 percent fearful and 2.19 percent angry.

The two researchers admitted that the experiment was conducted for their own amusement and claim that they will not be examining any further works of art. Their main purpose was to highlight the “value and potential of emotion-recognition software.” While there is no doubt validity in their experiment, it should not be used as a means of analysis. If anyone were to use the results of this experiment to make an analysis of the Mona Lisa, they would be completely erroneous. The software may very well be dead on in the Mona Lisa being 82.67 percent happy; however, the Mona Lisa is a painting, not a real person. That means that, even though the facial expression is one of happiness, Da Vinici may not have intended it that way. The identity of the Mona Lisa is not known for sure. Some believe that she was “Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine cloth merchant”, while there are those that believe that she was not even based on a real person, but rather a composite of models. Dr. Lillian Schwartz, from Bell Labs even concluded that the Mona Lisa is a self-portrait of Da Vinci through a technological comparison of the Mona Lisa to a known self-portrait by Da Vinci. When she used a computer to compare the two images “the features of the face (aligned) perfectly.” (Mona Lisa). Many art historians do not agree with Schwartz’s experiment. They claim that Da Vinci, as a great artist, would have spent a great deal of his time practicing drawing the human face. The historians claim that Da Vinci likely used his own face to practice drawing; therefore, there are many similarities between the Mona Lisa’s face and Da Vinci’s own face (Mona Lisa). Given that we know so little about the identity of the Mona Lisa, the data from Sebe and Huang’s experiment should not be used to make inferences about the painting. Technology will never be able to confirm what Da Vinci was actually thinking and feeling when he painted the Mona Lisa.

Technology can, however, serve more useful roles in art. According to Millard, technology is playing a major role in the discussion of art. Today, technology can unite artists and their audiences via the internet. The article notes the growing use of blogs to discuss a particular work of art. The article also notes that technology is now used for art databases. These databases store prices for artwork and are a great idea because the freedom of information on the internet prevents art galleries from taking advantage of potential customers. Perhaps the most useful application of technology is the use of it to verify the authenticity of artwork.

Millard, Elizabeth. " Cracking the Mona Lisa Smile." NewsFactor Network. 03 February

2006. 08 Apr 2007. http://www.newsfactor.com/story.xhtml?story_id=41276&page=1

"Mona Lisa." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 10 Apr 2007



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