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The "Enfant Terrible" of Austria: Egon Schiele

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Today's stop on the "Feel Art Again" trip around the world is Austria, with artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918). Reader Brandon Z. requested a post on Schiele, "the prolific enfant terrible of the early 20th-century" who died at the tender age of 28.

1. Egon Schiele was notorious for his paintings of nude young women, like "Three Girls" (above right). Schiele usually couldn't pay for professional models, so he would paint prostitutes, the young girls who hung out at his house, his wife Edith (above left), or even his sister, Gerti. Gerti posed nude for her brother until she was 16, although she was originally embarrassed to pose nude and would only allow Schiele to paint her from behind.

2. Schiele, after seeking out Gustav Klimt, became a protégé of the famed artist. Klimt acted as a mentor to Schiele, buying his drawings and exchanging drawings with him, finding him models, and introducing him to potential patrons. Klimt's influence on Schiele can be seen in paintings such as "Woman with Black Hat" (above left).

3. In 1912, Schiele was arrested for kidnapping and statutory rape after the thirteen (possibly twelve) year old daughter of a prominent Krumau (Bohemia) family ran away from home and convinced Schiele and his lover to take her to Vienna. When she changed her mind, they returned to Krumau where Schiele was arrested, at which time the police confiscated 100+ "pornographic" drawings from his home. Although most of the charges were eventually dropped, Schiele was convicted of "public immorality." He was sentenced to 3 days in prison (in addition to the 21 he had already served awaiting trial), and the judge burned one of his drawings over an open flame in court.

4. Schiele's colorful life has inspired a play, film, theatrical dance production, and musical score. The play, Tatjana in Color, written by Julia Jordan, tells the story of the events leading to Schiele's arrest from the point of view of Tatjana, the young girl who wanted to run away to Vienna. The 1980 biographical film, Excess & Punishment, explored Schiele's artistic demons. An American band named Rachel's composed the score Music for Egon Schiele for the 1995 theatrical dance production Egon Schiele, which represented Schiele's life.

5. Despite his long-term lover, Valerie "Wally" Neuzil, Schiele married Edith Harms on June 17, 1915, the anniversary of his parents' wedding. Three years later, Edith died of the Spanish flu while 6 months pregnant. Schiele made a few sketches of Edith after her death until he, too, succumbed to the Spanish flu just three days later.

Larger versions of "Woman with Black Hat," "Field of Flowers," and "Three Girls" are available.

Fans should check out the Egon Schiele Virtual Gallery; the Schiele collections from Belvedere and Zeno; and the books Schiele by Reinhard Steiner, Between Ruin and Renewal by Kimberly A. Smith, and Egon Schiele: Life and Work by Jane Kallir.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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