Some computer scientists at Rutgers University in New Jersey have written a computer programme that finds connections between paintings and can even discover influences between artists, they claim.
But those parameters are based on a woefully old-fashioned and dull misunderstanding of what art historians do, and what they look for. Was he arguing against Degas by making sure we saw some reference to his work?
The big question is not that Caillebotte (one of the examples given) was influenced by Degas. Why would it be valuable to work with it, to work it otherwise?
And many striking comparisons and links were indeed thrown back by the programme.
But I’m afraid this is by no means going to help art history.
The real problem is that even in the game of source hunting and influence tracing, ideology is already at work.
Art Comparison Essay Locke J An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Influence, linking artists and artworks in a one-way direction, such as family descent, is a dressed-up way of protecting the canon (and the art market), and this machine-aided form of looking for similarity would only reinforce it.Describe the two paintings in detail so that your readers can easily visualize them without actually seeing them.Explain how the perspective, technique, and compositional features of each painting help create contrasting rhetorical effects.The works were identified for certain similarities of technique or ways of painting, for instance, hands or ears.At this point, in the later 19th and early 20th century, the project was somewhat forensic.There was, until recently, virtually no art history that ever asked how women or African-Americans, or non-Europeans “influenced” the direction of art, or even traced any kind of links between such artists and the canonised white men.It is the kind of art history practiced in today’s universities, rather than the auction houses, that is asking precisely these bigger questions.It is, of course, possible that Rockwell knew Bazille’s painting from an illustration in a book about Impressionist art, and even liked it.But what would we learn from finding pot-bellied stoves in both paintings, except about how people heated rooms pre-central heating?Indeed, the founder of this method was a doctor, Giovanni Morelli.But unsurprisingly, the discipline has developed somewhat since then.