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Computer program reveals artists' influences

Algorithm deciphers a painting's style by contents, composition, brushstroke

2:00pm, October 13, 2014
 paintings by Frédéric Bazille and Norman Rockwell

A new computer program was able to detect a subtle link between paintings by Frédéric Bazille (left) and Norman Rockwell (right).

Computers have become budding art historians. A new program can figure out a particular painting’s style — whether it’s abstract, impressionist or Baroque, for example — and tease out possible influences on the artists.

Program designers started with a close look at 1,710 paintings. For each work, the program logged the everyday items depicted, such as chairs and stoves, as well as features including color, composition and brushstroke. By comparing lists of these features with lists made from reference paintings, the program figured out the style of unknown paintings about 70 percent of the time, computer scientist Ahmed Elgammal and colleagues at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., report August 19 in Multimedia Tools and Applications.

The program’s analyses could offer historians a new way to look at artists’ influences, Elgammal says. Among other

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