The Protojournalist
11:35 am
Wed April 16, 2014

Art In A Jar: A Puzzle In Blue, Yellow And Shred

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 1:11 pm

The Puzzle

The challenge: Guess the masterpiece — by looking at its pieces — in the jar.

Can you identify a great painting by a random arrangement of details? Can you find the whole not in the sum of the parts, but in some of the parts?

Please post your guesses in the comment section.

The Idea

The idea came from a library in Lawrence, Kan. A librarian there took pages from a book, cut them into strips, put the strips in a jar and asked patrons to identify the book.

We tried. It was hard. We wondered if a famous painting might be easier to identify. Or at least make a prettier picture.

Surely it's been done before, we thought, but we asked Emily Bogle and Jim Tuttle of NPR's creative Visuals Team to make a photocopy of a famous painting. Cut the copy into strips. Place the strips in a jar so that it is a jumble of details. Snap a lovely photo. Et, voila.

The Question

The experiment might go some way toward answering the question: Can we see artistic greatness manifest in a snippet of a painting, or must we see the whole work to get the full masterpiece effect?

"Works of art are complex and layered," says Linda Duke, director of the Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University, after receiving our puzzle. "We apprehend them in various ways."

Paraphrasing the artist Donald Judd, Linda says "a work of art has a kind of presence or integrity that makes it art. It defies reduction. If it is reduced to parts, then it is no longer able to function as a work of art."

But maybe it still makes a pretty good puzzle. Here's a hint: The original belongs to the National Gallery of Art.

The Solution

We will eventually reveal the correct answer in the comment section, as well. And please remember: No real paintings were harmed in this process.

The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj

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