October 24, 2013 10:16 am
Two officials in charge of cultural affairs in China lost their jobs after “restoring” 270-year-old Buddhist frescoes by painting over them with cartoon-like murals, the BBC reports. A Chinese blogger broke the news, which sparked a government investigation of the temple, located in Liaoning, a province in northeastern China. Their investigations revealed the following chain of events, the BBC writes:
Permission for the work to go ahead was given by city-level cultural heritage officials after a request by the temple abbot.
But it should have been sought from the cultural heritage office at provincial level to ensure national standards were followed. This had not happened, Mr Li said.
The project was given to a local firm which was not qualified for carrying out repair works on cultural relics, the official said.
You can see a before-and-after slideshow of the paintings here.
So far, the head of temple affairs and the lead of the cultural heritage monitoring team have both lost their jobs. The Communist party chief in charge of the area has also been scolded, the BBC reports, although government officials told a local newspaper that more people will likely be punished.
Across China, citizens are digitally voicing their outrage over the botched restoration. The Raw Story collects a few of those reactions:
“As a man from Chaoyang, I sincerely feel some people’s brains were kicked by a donkey,” wrote a user with the online handle Brave Brick.
“I should have cut the frescos down with a knife and brought them home if I had predicted this.”
Another poster said: “Ignorance is horrible!”
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October 1, 2013 10:14 am
A single somersault or spin will send most people reeling, but professional ballerinas perform such dizzying movements without a hitch. Through years and years of practice, their brains become desensitized to vertigo-inducing spins, turns and leaps, a new study finds.
A ballerina’s brain accomplishes this feat by turning off some processing in the vestibular system—the part of the brain responsible for balance, The Scientist explains. Researchers recruited 29 experienced dancers and 20 people of similar ages who don’t spend their time whipping around in circles. The scientists placed their subjects in swivel chairs that acted a bit like a personalized Tilt-a-Whirl. As the chairs spun, the researchers followed their subjects’ eye movements. At the same time, the participants turned a wheel to indicate how quickly they felt like they were spinning. Scientific American explains what happened:
They were able to show that dancers had a decrease in the vestibular-ocular reflex. They moved their eyes less as they whipped around…And they also felt the turning less than controls. More importantly, the dancers sense of turning, and the vestibular-ocular reflex, were UNCOUPLED. They were not related to each other. So even though their eyes were moving in the reflex, they didn’t feel it!
The authors also use an MRI to examine and compare the density of their subjects’ grey matter in the area of the brain responsible for balance. The dancers had significantly lower grey matter, hinting at their ability to not feel dizzy. This finding, SciAm points out, is only correlational, meaning dancers may physically reshape their brains with years or training, or that the people who have a natural ability not to fall over when they spin around may be those most likely to go on to become top-of-the-line ballerinas.
The paper authors, however, believe the former explanation is the correct one, although they cannot definitively prove that. “Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input,” they said in a statement.
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September 9, 2013 12:02 pm
The first newly discovered Vincent Van Gogh painting since 1928, “Sunset at Montmajour,” spent years collecting dust in a Norwegian attic. Experts assumed that the large canvas was painted by another artist, but when art historians took a closer look, they reconsidered. To confirm the painter’s identity, they used a number of techniques and lines of evidence. The Associated Press reports:
It can be dated to the exact day it was painted because Vincent described it in a letter to his brother, Theo, and said he painted it the previous day — July 4, 1888.
He said the painting was done “on a stony heath where small twisted oaks grow.”
Van Gogh’s word alone, however, did not authenticate the painting. Two years of intense research were required to give the painting the final stamp of approval. “Since 1991 the museum has developed a number of new techniques for identifying and authenticating works of art,” the New York Times reports. (Here’s a run-down.) And according to the museum’s senior researcher, they used “all those methods” in this round of research.
The Van Gogh Museum tested pigments in the painting to ensure they matched with other known works Van Gogh produced at the time. Researchers use a variety of microscopic techniques to study pigments likes these, including transmission electron microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, optical microscopy and polarized light microscopy. The Museum explains how the latter method aids in this process:
This investigative tool enables pigments and fibres to be identified. The particles to be examined, generally between 1 and 20 μm (microns) in size – smaller than one-thousandth of a millimetre – are placed under a microscope and a polarized light source is shone through them from underneath. Each type of pigment and fibre reacts differently to these polarized light rays so that every single particle can be identified.
The museum also determined, using X-ray analysis, that the canvas used for this work matches the type of canvas that Van Gogh used for another work in the same period.
“Everything supports the conclusion,” the Museum writes in a statement. “This work is by Van Gogh.”
Van Gogh told his brother that he considered the painting to be “a failure in several respects,” the AP notes. The Van Gogh Museum director, however, disagrees. Describing the painting’s merits in the Museum’s statement, he writes: “What makes this even more exceptional is that this is a transition work in his oeuvre, and moreover, a large painting from a period that is considered by many to be the culmination of his artistic achievement, his period in Arles in the south of France.”
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September 5, 2013 12:04 pm
Artists are commonly seen as angsty, starving, kind of crazy and always moping. But that depiction of them is only mostly accurate. While they may not make much money or live in the nicest of places, artists are actually far more satisfied with their jobs than you probably are.
A recent study looked at data, collected by a huge project called the European Values Study from 49 different countries in Europe, in which people were asked about their job satisfaction. On a scale of 1 to 10, artists averaged a score of 7.7. Non-artists were significantly below that, down at a 7.3. “This gap remains even when controlling for differences in such factors as income and hours worked,” writes Tom Jacobs at Pacific Standard.
Of course, things aren’t the same everywhere. Everybody in Britain is miserable—artists and non-artists alike. And the Swiss are bundles of joy, regardless of their jobs. But even at both extremes, artists still rank their job satisfaction higher than those who do other work. Why? Because being an artist means you avoid Office Space–like boredom and inanity. Artists pick their work, learn new skills, are encouraged to be creative and can make their own decisions. The researchers boil this all down to the amount of autonomy artists have compared to the rest of us.
So while it might be fun to mock artists from your cubicle, they’re having the last laugh.
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August 28, 2013 11:20 am
Carousels were once a staple of an American childhood. But the ornate, well-made carousels of the past are in danger. They’re deteriorating and being sold off piecemeal, horse by horse, or sometimes even for parts.
At Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix has a history of the carousel and the current fight to save it. She writes:
At the height of the Golden Age of Carousels (1890s-1920s), somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 hand-carved, hand-painted merry-go-rounds were spinning around the United States. Now, there are only 150 of these antique carousels in operation. And experts estimate that there are only a dozen left that could be restored to their full glory.
In the 1970s, as carousel lovers watched their beloved merry-go-rounds fall into disrepair and their pieces show up on auctions, a group of preservationists formed the National Carousel Association. The group’s early goal was to stop people from taking carousels apart and selling them piece by piece, Bette Largent, president of the NCA told Collectors Weekly. But as time went on they realized that the breakup was bound to happen in some cases and welcomed collectors of individual pieces into their club. The NCA does a census each year, cataloguing the operating carousels around the country. You can browse their list of classic wood carousels, classic metal carousels, and new wood carousels. They have also generated a map of where you can find these carousels across the country.
Carousels started in Europe as training machines for would-be knights. Boys would ride on hanging saddles and practice spearing metal rings as they went around. The 1800s saw the first carousels that were for fun, and rather than spearing metal rings, children tried to grab a ring as they went by (as readers of Catcher in the Rye might remember). During Victorian times, carousel makers added chariots for those who didn’t want to climb up onto the horse—a risqué act for a Victorian woman. “Of course, she’d sit side-saddle,” explained Pam Hessey, an artist and carousel restorationist, “but her suitor would be able to hold on to her waist to steady her while the carousel went around and look at her ankle, which was exposed.” When craftsmen came to the United States, they found themselves with lots and lots of wood to make new carousels with, and went to town. This was when carousels acquired wild animals like giraffes, tigers and lions along with the classic horses.
As time went on, carousels showcased different sensibilities— they were rotating time capsules of style and world events. There was the flamboyant Coney Island style, bejeweled and complicated. There was the Philadelphia style, classic, realistic and detailed. There was the country-fair style, very simple and cartoon like. Then came Arts and Crafts carousels and Art Deco carousels. When King Tut’s tomb was discovered, Egyptian themed animals showed up in carousels. During World War I, the flag horse was added.
It was also World War I that ended the golden age of carousels. Wood was now required for building war supplies, and forest fires created a shortage of the soft wood that was ideal for carving out the carousel animals. The roller coaster arrived in the 1920s and made the carousel a children’s ride, before the Great Depression put a damper on amusement for years. It wasn’t until the 1970s, and the formation of the NCA, that carousels found a group of dedicated caretakers and restorers.
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