Why do only some people get ‘skin orgasms’ from listening to music?

Mitchell Colver, Utah State University

Have you ever been listening to a great piece of music and felt a chill run up your spine? Or goosebumps tickle your arms and shoulders?

The experience is called frisson (pronounced free-sawn), a French term meaning “aesthetic chills,” and it feels like waves of pleasure running all over your skin. Some researchers have even dubbed it a “skin orgasm.”

Listening to emotionally moving music is the most common trigger of frisson, but some feel it while looking at beautiful artwork, watching a particularly moving scene in a movie or having physical contact with another person. Studies have shown that roughly two-thirds of the population feels frisson, and frisson-loving Reddit users have even created a page to share their favorite frisson-causing media.

But why do some people experience frisson and not others?

Working in the lab of Dr. Amani El-Alayli, a professor of Social Psychology at Eastern Washington University, I decided to find out.

What causes a thrill, followed by a chill?

While scientists are still unlocking the secrets of this phenomenon, a large body of research over the past five decades has traced the origins of frisson to how we emotionally react to unexpected stimuli in our environment, particularly music.

Musical passages that include unexpected harmonies, sudden changes in volume or the moving entrance of a soloist are particularly common triggers for frisson because they violate listeners’ expectations in a positive way, similar to what occurred during the 2009 debut performance of the unassuming Susan Boyle on “Britain’s Got Talent.”

‘You didn’t expect that, did you?’

If a violin soloist is playing a particularly moving passage that builds up to a beautiful high note, the listener might find this climactic moment emotionally charged, and feel a thrill from witnessing the successful execution of such a difficult piece.

But science is still trying to catch up with why this thrill results in goosebumps in the first place.

Some scientists have suggested that goosebumps are an evolutionary holdover from our early (hairier) ancestors, who kept themselves warm through an endothermic layer of heat that they retained immediately beneath the hairs of their skin. Experiencing goosebumps after a rapid change in temperature (like being exposed to an unexpectedly cool breeze on a sunny day) temporarily raises and then lowers those hairs, resetting this layer of warmth.

Why do a song and a cool breeze produce the same physiological response?
EverJean/flickr, CC BY

Since we invented clothing, humans have had less of a need for this endothermic layer of heat. But the physiological structure is still in place, and it may have been rewired to produce aesthetic chills as a reaction to emotionally moving stimuli, like great beauty in art or nature.

Research regarding the prevalence of frisson has varied widely, with studies showing anywhere between 55 percent and 86 percent of the population being able to experience the effect.

Monitoring how the skin responds to music

We predicted that if a person were more cognitively immersed in a piece of music, then he or she might be more likely to experience frisson as a result of paying closer attention to the stimuli. And we suspected that whether or not someone would become cognitively immersed in a piece of music in the first place would be a result of his or her personality type.

To test this hypothesis, participants were brought into the lab and wired up to an instrument that measures galvanic skin response, a measure of how the electrical resistance of people’s skin changes when they become physiologically aroused.

Participants were then invited to listen to several pieces of music as lab assistants monitored their responses to the music in real time.

Examples of pieces used in the study include:

Each of these pieces contains at least one thrilling moment that is known to cause frisson in listeners (several have been used in previous studies). For example, in the Bach piece, the tension built up by the orchestra during the first 80 seconds is finally released by the entrance of the choir – a particularly charged moment that’s likely to elicit frisson.

As participants listened to these pieces of music, lab assistants asked them to report their experiences of frisson by pressing a small button, which created a temporal log of each listening session.

By comparing these data to the physiological measures and to a personality test that the participants had completed, we were, for the first time, able to draw some unique conclusions about why frisson might be happening more often for some listeners than for others.

This graph shows the reactions of one listener in the lab. The peaks of each line represent moments when the participant was particularly cognitively or emotionally aroused by the music. In this case, each of these peaks of excitement coincided with the participant reporting experiencing frisson in reaction to the music. This participant scored high on a personality trait called ‘Openness to Experience.’
Author provided

The role of personality

Results from the personality test showed that the listeners who experienced frisson also scored high for a personality trait called Openness to Experience.

Studies have shown that people who possess this trait have unusually active imaginations, appreciate beauty and nature, seek out new experiences, often reflect deeply on their feelings, and love variety in life.

Some aspects of this trait are inherently emotional (loving variety, appreciating beauty), and others are cognitive (imagination, intellectual curiosity).

While previous research had connected Openness to Experience with frisson, most researchers had concluded that listeners were experiencing frisson as a result of a deeply emotional reaction they were having to the music.

In contrast, the results of our study show that it’s the cognitive components of “Openness to Experience” – such as making mental predictions about how the music is going to unfold or engaging in musical imagery (a way of processing music that combines listening with daydreaming) – that are associated with frisson to a greater degree than the emotional components.

These findings, recently published in the journal Psychology of Music, indicate that those who intellectually immerse themselves in music (rather than just letting it flow over them) might experience frisson more often and more intensely than others.

And if you’re one of the lucky people who can feel frisson, the frisson Reddit group has identified Lady Gaga’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at the 2016 Super Bowl and a fan-made trailer for the original Star Wars trilogy as especially chill-inducing.

The Conversation

Mitchell Colver, Ph.D. Student in Education, Utah State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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‘American Horror Story’ Season 6 Logo Appears On Social Media As Cheyenne Jackson Confirms Role

American Horror Story fans got a surprise Monday as tidbits of information about Season 6 appeared on social media channels for the show. Many were certain the Season 6 theme would soon be announced after these channels went black on June 14; however, as of Monday, the AHS Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts don profile pictures… Continue reading

‘Satisfaction’ Goes From Polyamorous To Psychedelic

The best show on USA just got better, with mind-expanding experiences ranging beyond visits with your local Buddhist to discuss interpersonal relationships and into the vastness of psychedelic experiences.

This may be the only show on television that actually deals with what is happening with modern day “fuck-it” America. People these days are trapped within the capitalist system, pushed beyond their own expectations and into a realm of opportunism. This show actually visualizes the world how it is… with the help of really good looking characters who don’t have financial problems.

Polyamorism isn’t new and it isn’t a paradigm shift in itself, but it’s a lifestyle finally affecting a big enough portion of the population that the entertainment industry can actually make a buck off of it. That isn’t to say that this show exists purely to capitalize on the trend, just the opposite. The trend enabled a television network like USA to feel no shame running with it to appease a portion of their audience. I happen to fall into that demographic and I’ve been pleasantly engaged in a TV show that doesn’t rehash the same old laundry list of cliches that other shows follow. Instead, we have a story line involving a spectrum of morality spanning genders, generations, and genie-like wish fulfillment. That may be the dividing line between the show and reality, that what you see in ‘Satisfaction’ is very much a fantasy — but how far from real life can it be?

Pot has already been legalized in enough areas that we can really say the U.S. is a cannabis-embracing country without it being based on conjecture. Homosexual marriage is now the law of the land and that means more people are open about, unafraid of, or willing to experiment in sensual liaisons with the same sex. Life in 2015 just isn’t what it was in 1955. Sixty years ago, deviants put lots of grease in their hair and smoked cigarettes in the boys room. Today, deviants are the norm. Nerds are the norm. It’s cool to be a porn star and it’s hip to sell drugs.

Old-school TV is a dying cyber-breed and that may be why USA decided to release this season of ‘Satisfaction’ online. The world that television drama needs to beckon is the world it should draw all of its creative ideas from and for this reason alone ‘Satisfaction’ hits a home-run. Issues that used to be taboo are now more-than tolerated, they’re embraced by the mythology of show creator Sean Jablonski who calls it “a post-modern love story”. Issues of modern-day dating, modern-day parenting and modern-day sexual indulgences are more than commonplace, they’re becoming a standard of living that extends beyond metrosexuality and liberalism and into uncharted TV territory like families without a nucleus, businesses that embrace the black market and, most of all, sex that doesn’t require a written consent form to engage in.

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I Binge-Watched That ’70s Show And Discovered That I Hate Josh Meyers

Some new characters cast to save a show from certain death do the opposite of said desired result, and Josh Meyers on That 70s Show is a perfect example.

I sometimes look for an old sitcom to put on in the background while I work and recently found myself in a That 70s Show binge. It was fun at first because the laughter sounded like it was a real studio audience. Then the second season hit and it started feeling like a fake audience mixed in with the real one, but at least the show still had decent writing, clever jokes and running gags galore, and the casting and acting worked. It wasn’t until I finally hit the 8th season that I realized why the show was cut short.

That might sound weird because the show wasn’t officially cancelled but concluded in 2006 at the end of the 8th season, but it was pretty obvious why. Sure, season 7 had a big drop in ratings which could have possibly meant that the Wednesday night audience just wasn’t interested anymore, and it could have really meant that the show had already run its course since both Topher Grace (Eric) and Ashton Kutcher (Kelso) had already decided to pursue film careers exclusively. But you know what REALLY killed the show for me? The new characters, specifically Josh Meyers.

Josh Meyers is the brother of Late Night star Seth Meyers, whom I don’t particularly like either. The two of them have a shit-eating grin forever plastered to their face that brings my hatred of humanity to new heights every time I see them. It wasn’t just that Seth would laugh at his own jokes on SNL which pushed me over the edge, it was that his jokes just weren’t that funny yet his facial expression told a whole other story. He’s marketable, and that’s about it. There’s no artistry, only junior high level humor and the crux of his theatrical presence levitates right on the line of mediocrity. He’s a personality and it’ll probably work for Late Night for years to come, but I hope I never see him in an actual acting role.

Josh, on the other hand, has had a few and I’m still trying to figure out why. In season 8 of That 70s Show he’s the worst addition to a cast I’ve ever seen. While all the other main characters have strong, distrinctive personalities, Meyers’ is virtually non-existent. He looks perfect and only serves as a tool to push the story along. The other more perfect-looking people, Kelso and Jackie, ran archetypes that offset the more normal, geeky characters I grew to love by season 2. These new characters, though? The producers should be ashamed of themselves; Josh Meyers should have been strapped to a chair and beaten for a while before being allowed on set. It would have given him character. He was a terrible replacement for Eric Foreman, but more importantly he was a poor excuse for an actor.

I realized I hated Seth Meyers around the time that he had his brother Josh on Late Night to talk about their family. Guess what? I don’t care about your family. I want to hear about the entertainment industry, that’s why I tune into talk shows like that. It turns out, Seth worked a similar thing into his Weekend Update on SNL a few years ago as well. I looked it up to see if it was funny. It wasn’t. Again, I don’t care about your family, the jokes are only funny to you and your friends, not to me as a viewer. It’s a bigger waste of time than watching a sitcom in the first place. I mean, I’ve already chosen to waste my time and laugh at dumb jokes, but now you’re going to make jokes that only you think are funny and the audience is laughing nervously to? Argh, someone kill their careers please.

So, That 70s Show finally fell apart for me. Only 9 years late, I guess. To be honest, I don’t think I missed anything. Aside from the cultural relevance of helping to push pot smoking into the mainstream throughout the early 2000s, the show’s only real relevance is being the start of four actors’ careers.

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Patrick Stewart Stars in Starz Comedy ‘Blunt Talk’

Jonathan Ames, the novelist who created the short-lived but critically acclaimed HBO comedy Bored to Death, is trying his might on a new network with the help of Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane in the producer chair. Blunt Talk stars Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation and X-Men fame as Walter Blunt, a British newscaster whose recent migration to Los Angeles in the hops of climbing the American nightly cable news ladder leads to misguided decisions on and off the air, resulting in calamities and chaos that he must navigate through in order to save his career.

If it sounds cliche, think again.

The same story has been running for a little while under the moniker Episodes, but has failed to live up to the edgy potential that both the millennial and gen-X audience are looking for. Episodes stars a husband and wife team of writers from England who get a shot at writing an adaptation of a show for a U.S. television network only to find themselves drowning in the woes of TV executive back-office antics and the allure of the Hollywood lifestyle. By contrast, Blunt Talk is more about the self-destruction of a talking head hell-bent on becoming America’s biggest news anchor. By teaming MacFarlane and Stewart you have some wackiness that might just spell “entertainment” with a capital E. And let’s not forget the creativity of a writer like Ames. While Episodes proves its on-air right with its dry wit and quirky, saucy story-line, Blunt Talk goes beyond the pale, which can be seen in just the trailer alone.

To watch the trailer, click the video below.


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It’s time for artists to take over the banks

Nicky Marsh, University of Southampton

Although things in Greece appear to have stabilised slightly after a fortnight of dramatic uncertainty, the heightened speculation on the future of Greek money that we saw at the height of the crisis is by no means irrelevant.

A BBC journalist, speaking in Athens just as the referendum results were reported, considered the whereabouts of the drachma printing presses (he needn’t have bothered: the Greek finance minister had confirmed some days earlier that they had been destroyed on Greece’s entry into the euro). Elsewhere, scenarios involving Greece printing euros independently of the European Central Bank, stamping existing euros with the word “drachma”, using IOUs, bitcoins or local currencies began to circulate.

These anxieties weren’t confined to Greece. On the day that the German parliament voted on the bailout, the light artist Oliver Bienkowski projected the message “Außer Betrieb” (out of order) on the European Central Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt. And, despite the recent settlement, these anxieties are far from consigned to history.

Out of order.
Fredrik Von Erichsen/EPA

At the root of the crisis lie the divisions between national economies – divisions a shared paper currency cannot paper over. A euro printed in Greece looks similar and is worth the same as a euro printed in Germany, despite the obvious differences between the economies.

Hence the crisis awakens age-old anxieties about what paper money itself means, what relations of power and trust it symbolises and what happens when they begin to break down. All the current talk of Greece’s debts conceal a more fundamental truth: paper money is itself always a debt, backed not by gold but by the future taxation that the government is able to levy.

So the questions of who owns the debts that the euro represents, and how the connection between Europe’s national taxpayers and its single currency can be forged, are clearly political and social as well as financial. They are also questions that bite uncomfortably deep into the history of the eurozone – as Thomas Piketty’s high-stakes intervention into the debate has recently highlighted.

Grim times.
Show me the Money, Author provided

Hacking banknotes

The desperation, frustration and anger that many Greeks clearly feel regarding the nature of their euro trap – or “fiscal waterboarding” in the words of Yanis Varoufakis – can now be seen on their euros themselves due to the work of the Greek artist Stefanos. On his website, he documents his daily drawing, scanning and spending of euros. He fills the classic imposing architecture of these doctored euro notes with ghostly stick figures. Some of them are desperate: they hang, fall, bleed and lie on the Gothic buildings of Europe’s financial institutions.

In an interview for the London Review of Books, Stefanos describes how the project was initiated by news of a suicide, saying: “Whenever violence or poverty is reported, I transfer the message on the medium.” Other images from Stefanos’ archive are incredibly threatening. They speak to the other kinds of crises that Greek has faced this summer. In some examples, the figures become multitudes, surging up rather than falling from buildings, crowding through archways to enter new spaces.

Show me the Money, Author provided

These notes can clearly be placed in the much longer tradition of artists appropriating banknotes, something that is explored in an exhibition I have been involved in curating. As Stefanos understands, the everyday tenacity of paper money makes it the perfect vessel for carrying its own critique: the invisible relations that money reproduces can easily be written onto its very surface and released out into the world for people to peruse while spending.

Show me the money

Artists started to experiment with money from the time of the financial revolution in the early 18th century. Some of William Hogarth’s work, for example, tackles the threats, the decadency and the corruption, that paper money represented to him.

In 1797 the government passed the “Bank Restriction Act” which meant that the Bank of England no longer had to exchange paper money for gold. A rise in counterfeiting followed, and the government introduced draconian laws to safeguard paper money. Artists reacted to these laws by creating money themselves. In 1819 for example, George Cruikshank made what he called a “Bank Restriction Note”.

Cruiskhank’s forgery.
Show me the Money, Author provided

Like Stefanos some 200 years later, Cruikshank altered the traditional iconography of the note, converting it into the images of state violence (skulls, a hangman’s noose, ships for transportation) that was dealt to those who dared counterfeit paper money and disturbed the fragile social promise upon which it was based. And of course, Cruikshank’s note was itself a satirical forgery that disrupted circulation.

Similar are the pennies laboriously defaced by the Suffragettes in the early 20th century, which saw the cry “Votes for Women” being circulated on currency itself.

Or the annotations of conceptual artist Cildo Meireles, who defaced paper notes in order to condemn and question the repressive military regime in Brazil, naming those journalists who had been silenced and then killed by the state. Meireles wrote on both Brazilian and US notes. The circulation of the notes alongside one another offered its own critique of the US complicity with the regime. This is a tradition that continues in the US to this day: Occupy George saw the public ambitions of the Occupy movement being quietly transferred to the dollar:

By circulating dollar bills stamped with fact-based infographics, Occupy George informs the public of America’s daunting economic disparity one bill at a time.

Votes for Women.
Show me the Money, Author provided

An artistic currency

Other artists treat the threat of money’s destruction, the end of the complex social relations that underpin paper money that are always attendant on these moments of crisis, very differently.

Some, such as Robin Bhattacharya, use it as an opportunity to produce alternative structures for money. Bhattacharya is based in Zurich, one of Europe’s most important financial centres. He has yoked together the value of art and the value of currencies by creating a currency based on his own persona:

The Robin Currency is a fully functioning currency system based on prime numbers. The coin and notes of any denomination each correspond to one prime number and are therefore unique. Other currencies such as euros, dollars and British pound can be exchanged for ROBIN™. The currency can be freely traded and the fluctuating exchange rates reflect its market value.

High-value stuff.
Show me the Money, Author provided

The value of Robin’s notes is determined by their relative scarcity or point of introduction into circulation. The currency began with 1 ROBIN™, and each new note issued since has been a prime number. So the lower the number, the more it is worth.

Faith in such an entirely self-referential system of supply and demand has to be shared between a community of believers – so, in this case, art collectors. Which gives his currency an oddly secure status:

In times of economic uncertainty, the investment in art is – while risky – one of the most recession-proof … And while other, state-supported currencies are in turmoil, the art-currency ROBIN™ might well be one of the most stable as each note is unique and therefore, in time, can only increase its value.

Perhaps, then, it is time we learn the lessons that artists have spent centuries trying to teach us: that money is a social and cultural as much as an economic concept and it is one in which all of its users need to have faith.

The Conversation

Nicky Marsh is Professor of Twentieth Century Literary Studies at University of Southampton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

An overdue appreciation of ST Gill, Australia’s first painter of modern life

Sasha Grishin, Australian National University

ST Gill may be the quintessential Australian colonial artist, known to anyone who has been educated in Australia and seen textbooks on Australian history full of Gill illustrations of the gold rushes, yet he has never been the subject of a comprehensive retrospective exhibition. At least, not until now.

The fault, at least in part, is mine. About 25 years ago I embarked on a major ST Gill project to compile a comprehensive catalogue raisonné of his work leading to the publication of a substantial book and a large curated retrospective exhibition.

Title Page of The Australian Sketchbook, 1864-65, chromolithograph.
State Library of Victoria

It took longer than shorter and now, at last, the book is out and the exhibition opens to the public on July 17 at the State Library Victoria.

Independent satellite Gill exhibitions are opening simultaneously at the regional galleries in the centre of Victoria’s “Gill country” at Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine and Geelong, while at the University of Melbourne, there is an international Gill conference plus an in-focus exhibition on Gill’s studies for the iconic Doing the Block, Great Collins Street (1880).

Doing the Block, Great Collins St., 1880, watercolour.
State Library Victoria

STG, as he was universally known, may have had to wait 135 years since his death to be comprehensively celebrated, but Victoria is now honouring him in style and the show will travel to the National Library of Australia in 2016.

So, who was Gill and why was he lionised in the 1850s, neglected later in life and subsequently relegated to art historical purgatory?

He was born in Somerset in England in 1818, where he received his early training in Devonport, Plymouth and London. The Gill family migrated to South Australia, when he was 21, arriving in the newly established colony just before Christmas in 1839.

For the next 41 years Gill, in Australia, worked at a frenetic pace, initially spending 12 years in South Australia, then four years in Victoria, much of this time on the goldfields, then seven or eight years in Sydney and then the final 16 years of his life based predominantly in Melbourne, where he died in relative poverty in 1880.

Rundle Street, Adelaide, 1845, watercolour.
State Library Victoria

Like his contemporaries George Cruikshank and Honoré Daumier , Gill’s output was prodigious, with about 3,000 items by his hand catalogued thus far. That was in keeping with the rate of production by his contemporaries working within the tradition of democratic multiples.

Gill produced watercolours, pen and brush wash drawings, pencil drawings and sketches, lithographs, other forms of prints, and possibly daguerreotypes. He may have experimented with oils, but few or no oil paintings are extant which are indisputably by his hand.

Gill may have arrived in Australia with all of the baggage of a liberal-minded Englishman, whose father had been a Baptist minister and subsequently dissented and joined the Plymouth Brethren, but within a couple of years in the colony he was questioning the values inherited from the old country.

There is evidence in his art that he spent a considerable amount of time with Indigenous people and came to respect the way they lived within their environment. Subsequently in his work he bore witness to how Indigenous Australians had become dispossessed and exploited in their own land.

John Alloo’s Chinese Restaurant, Ballarat, 1855, lithograph.
State Library Victoria

He gave the Victorian goldfields a human face and, unlike many of the other artists who showed successful diggers posed with their discovered huge nuggets, Gill more than anything else showed the experience of “being there”. When xenophobic politicians whipped up hysteria against the Chinese boat people, accusing them of stealing our gold and jobs, Gill in his art condemned racism and celebrated the hardworking Chinese miners and depicted the first Chinese takeaway restaurant in Ballarat.

Gill showed women on the goldfields, something other artists tended to shy away from. He depicted them rocking the cradle, extracting the gold, looking after the family as well as running the notorious sly grog tents.

Sunday Camp Meeting, Forest Creek, 1869, watercolour.
State Library Victoria

Gill also showed the dark side of the gold rushes with the creation of an environmental wasteland stripped of flora and fauna with choked waterways.

Between August and October 1852 he produced 48 small black and white lithographs titled Sketches of the Victoria Diggings and Diggers As They Are, which were widely imitated and became some of the most famous works from colonial Australia.

In Gill’s art of the early 1850s, a new human species was given visual form, that of the Aussie digger: tough, resilient, resourceful, possessing a dry humour, one who was true to his mates, but intolerant of all forms of authority, humbug and institutionalised religion.

The visual typologies Gill developed were subsequently built upon by the artists of The Bulletin, including Phil May, and later hijacked and mythologised by the nationalist propagandists of the Great War.

Quartz Crushing, Base Black Hill, Ballarat, 1855, lithograph.
State Library Victoria

It was between 1852 and 1856 that Gill reached his greatest popular acclaim, he was lionised as the Australian Cruikshank and he was mercilessly plagiarised in Europe, at times by artists of major standing, including Gustave Doré.

In Adelaide Gill worked primarily for a British audience and the illustrious James Allen took Gill’s paintings with him to England to employ as visual propaganda to accompany his lectures designed to encourage migration to the colony of South Australia. But by the time Gill was working in Victoria, his primary audience had become local and his lithographs and letterhead papers were sent abroad by those living in the Australian colonies as testimony as to what was happening in Australia.

As an artist, Gill became more accomplished as he grew older and some of the finest work dates from the final decade of his life. It was also at this time that he was marching to a different drummer to the one who commanded the attention of the small but growing Australian art audience which hankered for glowing romantic oil paintings or Barbizon-style picturesque landscapes.

The Gawler River, 1844, watercolour.
Art Gallery of South Australia

Gill was a democratic socialist in his orientation, one who was increasingly critical of authority, high society and the official church. In his later years he was surrounded by a shrinking band of supporters, died in poverty and was largely forgotten.

Although the myth that he died as a hopeless alcoholic who could not hold a paintbrush has been discredited, he did suffer from neglect in his later years. The real cause of his death, as we now know from the post-mortem, was an aortic aneurysm, which was generally associated with high blood pressure and a family history of heart problems.

The claim which I make in this exhibition, as curator, is that Gill was one of the most important colonial artists of Australia. What he sought to achieve in his art was quite different from that of most of his contemporaries, including Eugene von Guérard, Nicholas Chevalier, William Strutt and Louis Buvelot.

He interrogated Australian society and its values, questioned our attitudes to our environment and created a visual tradition on which many other artists have built. In many ways he is Australia’s first painter of modern life.

Australian sketchbook: Colonial life and the art of ST Gill is at the State Library Victoria, Melbourne, from July 17. Details here.

The Conversation

Sasha Grishin is Adjunct Professor of Art History at Australian National University.

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The third book – Harper Lee may indeed have another ace up her sleeve

Lynda Hawryluk

We all love a good mystery. So what are we to make of claims and counterclaims currently playing out in the media about a possible “third book” in Harper Lee’s body of work, a companion piece to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) and the newly-released Go Set A Watchman (2015)? Is a third book possible?

Well, yes, it is.

In 1966, the Hanover County School Board in Richmond, Virginia declared To Kill a Mockingbird “immoral literature” and sought to have it banned from all school library shelves in their county. Still riding high on the success of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but becoming jaded with and tired of the demands of public life, Lee nevertheless provided a response to the heated discussion being played out in the local newspaper in that county, beginning by explaining the reports she’d heard from Richmond had made her wonder if any of “[the board] members can read”.

She continued:

I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enrol the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

Lee’s rapier wit and somewhat dark humour is not unlike that of the young Scout Finch’s innate rebelliousness and deep sense of justice, which many readers have already have seen playing out again in Go Set A Watchman, through Jean-Louise’s (the now grown-up Scout) conflicted relationship with her father, Atticus Finch.

This relationship, and particularly the rendering of Atticus Finch as a rather more complex man with segregationist overtones, has created in would-be readers and fans somewhat of an ethical dilemma – read the book, and risk tarnishing the image of one of the most beloved characters in American letters.

Atticus Finch is a man exalted like no other, particularly for one who’s occupation is a lawyer, and oft-cited as the reason many join the legal profession.

Real-life influences

Lee’s father AC Lee was also a lawyer, and it is to him both To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman are dedicated, along with Lee’s sister Alice, a lawyer with the distinction of having been the oldest practising lawyer in Alabama, only retiring a year or so before her death at 103 in November 2014.

While a respect for the law and a keen sense of justice ran in the family, it was Harper Lee who backed away from practising, leaving university just shy of a law degree to move to New York City to focus on writing. There are obvious commonalities between the portrayal of Jean-Louise in Go Set A Watchman and what we think we know of the life of Harper Lee, and it is through these close readings that we are given our only real glimpse at the writer herself.

Choosing a life away from home and the family trade seems characteristic of the strong-willed woman who wrote that blistering retort to the school board, and is evident in the index of Charles J Shields’ unauthorised biography, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (2006).

Under “Lee, Nelle Harper”, we find entries for: “Athleticism” (p. 77, 78), “Drinking of” (22, 99, 129, 185, 270), “Foul mouth of” (76, 78), “Humor” (89, 97, 112) and, tellingly, “Nonconformism of” (33, 35, 39, 55, 61, 76-77, 84, and 237).

Lee’s carefully guarded private life is one of the few things over which she has retained a sense of ownership. One only has to witness the almost distressed and soul-searching reactions to the re-imagining of Atticus Finch being played out across social media and in news columns to understand that To Kill A Mockingbird is a book that in many ways belongs to us now, not Lee.

Competing versions

Charles J Shields’ biography contains many references to the previous versions of To Kill A Mockingbird, and they are revealing, especially in light of claims there may be one more version of this much-loved and revered text.

We learn much about the labour Lee performed under the watchful eye of editor Tay Hohoff. The descriptions in Shields’ book of the “drafts, titles and revisions” refer not only to the extensive editing and revision the manuscripts were subject to, but also the progressive titles, with Go Set A Watchman being first offered to editors in 1957.

Go Set A Watchman is recorded on index cards from the publisher’s office as being received, and Lippincott’s (the publisher) staff track the manuscript’s development over time.

There followed a series of suggestions to an uncommonly compliant Lee, and this resulted in the shift in perspective to what we now know is Jean-Louise as a 26-year-old in Go Set A Watchman, to Atticus in the next full manuscript submitted. Chapter 5 of Shields’ unauthorised biography describes the next iteration of the novel in the chapter title: Atticus becomes To Kill a Mockingbird.

Atticus, then, would be the mysterious “third” book (chronologically, it would be the middle book of three). Hohoff’s name should figure largely in the eventual discussion of the changes made to the manuscripts, especially given the furore over the depiction of Atticus in Go Set A Watchman, and claims from Hohoff’s granddaughter that the editor would not have approved of the publication of Go Set A Watchman.

The new Atticus Finch

It seems evident that Hohoff’s steady hand guided Lee to a more flattering and progressive portrayal of Atticus Finch, one that may sit somewhere in the more moderate middle, if the manuscript of Atticus ever comes to light.

This is, by all accounts, the man AC Lee became later in life, and one Harper Lee enjoyed a good relationship with, developing a deep admiration for her father, as evidence by the dedications of both her best-selling books to him.

Perhaps in this third version of the man – in Atticus – readers would find, as Jean-Louise does (and as Harper Lee seemed to), a sense of balance and an acceptance of their differences. In the last pages of Go Set A Watchman we see this, with Jean-Louise helping the increasingly frail Atticus Finch into a car, expressing her love to him in words and yet thinking of him as “her old enemy” (p. 178).

There’s a quiet, devastating reference to her brother there too but then the dark Lee humour rears up and bites the reader, lest the scene lull us into a false sense of sentimentality.

Where Lee may have once responded with fiery retorts to a perceived slight against her work, the once rebellious nonconformist has been able to settle into something resembling acceptance – of her fame, of her status as a writer, of her life away from the limelight, which has regardless led to further scrutiny.

Questions still remain about the discovery and publication of Go Set A Watchman, including Lee’s participation and the role of her lawyer. It’s all part of what long time friends have described as the “delicious mystery” of Miss Lee.

Lee may still have one more ace up her sleeve, but Go Set A Watchman has already achieved some of what To Kill A Mockingbird did, both polarising and uniting readers – and leaving us ultimately wanting for more.

See also:
A long-lost friend reborn: what we can expect from Go Set a Watchman

The Conversation

Lynda Hawryluk is Senior Lecturer in Writing at Southern Cross University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Museums are using virtual reality to preserve the past – before it’s too late

Jenny Kidd, Cardiff University

Cultural institutions are steeped in history and tradition, but they are also uniquely placed to take advantage of some of the latest technology. Drones, 3D printing and augmented reality apps are just some of the tools being used to construct “virtual museum” experiences for real and digital visitors. While these technologies open up new and exciting possibilities for curators, they also provoke resistance around the issues of authenticity, ownership and value.

There are currently a number of projects under way that explore how historically or culturally significant sites and objects can be presented using digital means. For instance, museums around the world are investigating the possibilities offered by 3D printers to extend and further examine their collections in a form where detail can be magnified and destruction is far less consequential.

Meanwhile, the EU’s Digiart project will be using drones to “capture” inaccessible cultural artefacts, before creating advanced 3D representations of them. And Cyark is creating a free online 3D library of the world’s cultural heritage sites, using a combination of lasers and computer modelling.

Internet of historical things?

According to Digiart, one result of this might be an “Internet of Historical Things”: one where immersive 3D story worlds become a genuine possibility for historical encounters.

The Smithsonian offer an online Panoramic Virtual Tour, as do the Louvre and the V&A Museum of Childhood. Augmented reality applications are a feature of many sites of archaeological significance

It is not uncommon to find museums rendered in Minecraft, lovingly built brick-by-brick by an invisible crowd of tech-savvy fans, as in the British Museum’s Museumcraft, or the shortlisted IK prize entry Tatecraft. Digital media are also impacting the analogue museum experience profoundly, perhaps most playfully evidenced in the world’s first selfie museum, Life in Island, where, unlike some cultural venues, selfie sticks are welcome.

Tatecraft creator Adam Clarke explains his idea.

One question to consider is whether the extension of this activity into the realm of play and the imagination alienates us further from the authentic “aura” of the original, undermining it, devaluing it, or perhaps even exposing its limitations. The rhetoric of authenticity has traditionally been key to the way heritage experiences are packaged and sold to us. Yet “authenticity” is not an objective value – it is always ascribed to (say) an object or a work of art, by some authority.

Museums often recognise this – and have engaged in active exploration of the limits of the authentic. The Museum of Art Fakes in Germany is a prime example, as is the recent Museum of Lies initiative from Incidental and Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Museums have begun to embrace the possibilities of “remix culture”, offering high-resolution artworks (for example) for re-use and circulation. The Rijksmuseum’s Rijksstudio is a beautifully crafted example of how this can work in practice. In my own research, I tend to find the public demonstrate more conservative attitudes than the conservators to such developments.

Cultural emergency

But these are not really new developments. People have been talking about virtual museums for many years
as ways of allowing visitors access to sites and experiences that would not otherwise be available to them. What is remarkable is how far we have come from the clunky interactivity offered in those early attempts, and the number of ways that online and on-site experiences have begun to blur.

Exploring the line between fact and fiction has an appeal for institutions that have historically been caught up in discussions about origins, preservation and – more recently – restitution. Being able to test new forms of reality raises fascinating and far-reaching issues – which museums and galleries are not shying away from.

For instance, there are a host of ethical concerns around recreation and representation. These developments open up new avenues for debate about the restitution of cultural artefacts: if I can 3D print the Elgin Marbles or build them in Minecraft, does that complicate the discussion about their ownership, or make it more straightforward?

Throughout 2015, the wars in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq have continued to claim lives and displace millions. Alongside the shocking human toll of these conflicts, there is a growing concern about the cultural losses being inflicted on these ancient civilisations. Footage shot by drones in Syria has given us unprecedented access to, and evidence of, the destruction of cultural heritage in those parts. UNESCO have launched an emergency initiative to safeguard Syrian cultural heritage.

Michael Danti of the Syrian Heritage Initiative at the American Schools of Oriental Research has said that these developments are “the worst cultural heritage emergency since World War II”. Tourism cannot take the same form again in countries that have seen that level of devastation. Here we see how technologies can be used not only to document the making – and unmaking – of heritage, but also to rebuild it; both materially and in the imagination.

The Conversation

Jenny Kidd is Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University.

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