Our columnist replaced herself with AI voice and video to see how humanlike the tech can be. The results were eerie.
Our columnist replaced herself with AI voice and video to see how humanlike the tech can be. The results were eerie.
The good news about AI Joanna: She never loses her voice, she has outstanding posture and not even a convertible driving 120 mph through a tornado could mess up her hair.
The bad news: She can fool my family and trick my bank.
Maybe you’ve played around with chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, or image generators like Dall-E. If you thought they blurred the line between AI and human intelligence, you ain’t seen—or heard—nothing yet.
Over the past few months, I’ve been testing Synthesia, a tool that creates artificially intelligent avatars from recorded video and audio (aka deepfakes). Type in anything and your video avatar parrots it back.
Since I do a lot of voice and video work, I thought this could make me more productive, and take away some of the drudgery. That’s the AI promise, after all. So I went to a studio and recorded about 30 minutes of video and nearly two hours of audio that Synthesia would use to train my clone. A few weeks later, AI Joanna was ready.
Then I attempted the ultimate day off, Ferris Bueller style. Could AI me—paired with ChatGPT-generated text—replace actual me in videos, meetings and phone calls? It was…eye-opening or, dare I say, AI-opening. (Let’s just blame AI Joanna for my worst jokes.)
Eventually AI Joanna might write columns and host my videos. For now, she’s at her best illustrating the double-edged sword of generative-AI voice and video tools.
My video avatar looks like an avatar.
Video is a lot of work. Hair, makeup, wardrobe, cameras, lighting, microphones. Synthesia promises to eradicate that work, and that’s why corporations already use it. You know those boring compliance training videos? Why pay actors to star in a live-action version when AI can do it all? Synthesia charges $1,000 a year to create and maintain a custom avatar, plus an additional monthly subscription fee. It offers stock avatars for a lower monthly cost.
I asked ChatGPT to generate a TikTok script about an iOS tip, written in the voice of Joanna Stern. I pasted it into Synthesia, clicked “generate” and suddenly “I” was talking. It was like looking at my reflection in a mirror, albeit one that removes hand gestures and facial expressions. For quick sentences, the avatar can be quite convincing. The longer the text, the more her bot nature comes through.
On TikTok, where people have the attention span of goldfish, those computer-like attributes are less noticeable. Still, some quickly picked up on it. For the record, I would rather eat live eels than utter the phrase “TikTok fam” but AI me had no problem with it.
The bot-ness got very obvious on work video calls. I downloaded clips of her saying common meeting remarks (“Hey everyone!” “Sorry, I was muted.”) then used software to pump them into Google Meet. Apparently AI Joanna’s perfect posture and lack of wit were dead giveaways.
All this will get better, though. Synthesia has some avatars in beta that can nod up and down, raise their eyebrows and more.
My AI voice sounds a lot like me.
When my sister’s fish died, could I have called with condolences? Yes. On a phone interview with Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, could I have asked every question myself? Sure. But in both cases, my AI voice was a convincing stand-in. At first.
I didn’t use Synthesia’s voice clone for those calls. Instead, I used one generated by ElevenLabs, an AI speech-software developer. My producer Kenny Wassus gathered about 90 minutes of my voice from previous videos and we uploaded the files to the tool—no studio visit needed. In under two minutes, it cloned my voice. In ElevenLabs’s web-based tool, type in any text, click Generate, and within seconds “my” voice says it aloud. Creating a voice clone with ElevenLabs starts at $5 a month.
My sister, whom I call several times a week, said the bot sounded just like me, but noticed the bot didn’t pause to take breaths. When I called my dad and asked for his Social Security number, he only knew something was up because it sounded like a recording of me.
The potential for misuse is real.
The ElevenLabs voice was so good it fooled my Chase credit card’s voice biometric system.
I cued AI Joanna up with several things I knew Chase would ask, then dialed customer service. At the biometric step, when the automated system asked for my name and address, AI Joanna responded. Hearing my bot’s voice, the system recognized it as me and immediately connected to a representative. When our video intern called and did his best Joanna impression, the automated system asked for further verification.
A Chase spokeswoman said the bank uses voice biometrics, along with other tools, to verify callers are who they say they are. She added that the feature is meant for customers to quickly and securely identify themselves, but to complete transactions and other financial requests, customers must provide additional information.
What’s most worrying: ElevenLabs made a very good clone without much friction. All I had to do was click a button saying I had the “necessary rights or consents” to upload audio files and create the clone, and that I wouldn’t use it for fraudulent purposes.
Synthesia requires that the audio and video include verbal consent, which I did when I filmed and recorded with the company.
ElevenLabs only allows cloning in paid accounts, so any use of a cloned voice that breaks company policies can be traced to an account holder, company co-founder Mati Staniszewski told me. The company is working on an authentication tool so people can upload any audio to check if it was created using ElevenLabs technology.
Both systems allowed me to generate some horrible things in my voice, including death threats.
A Synthesia spokesman said my account was designated for use with a news organization, which means it can say words and phrases that might otherwise be filtered. The company said its moderators flagged and deleted my problematic phrases later on. When my account was changed to the standard type, I was no longer able to generate those same phrases.
Mr. Staniszewski said ElevenLabs can identify all content made with its software. If content breaches the company’s terms of service, he added, ElevenLabs can ban its originating account and, in case of law breaking, assist authorities.
This stuff is hard to spot.
When I asked Hany Farid, a digital-forensics expert at the University of California, Berkeley, how we can spot synthetic audio and video, he had two words: good luck.
“Not only can I generate this stuff, I can carpet-bomb the internet with it,” he said, adding that you can’t make everyone an AI detective.
Sure, my video clone is clearly not me, but it will only get better. And if my own parents and sister can’t really hear the difference in my voice, can I expect others to?
I got a bit of hope from hearing about the Adobe-led Content Authenticity Initiative. Over 1,000 media and tech companies, academics and more aim to create an embedded “nutrition label” for media. Photos, videos and audio on the internet might one day come with verifiable information attached. Synthesia is a member of the initiative.
I feel good about being a human.
Unlike AI Joanna who never smiles, real Joanna had something to smile about after this. ChatGPT generated text lacking my personality and expertise. My video clone was lacking the things that make me me. And while my video producer likes using my AI voice in early edits to play with timing, my real voice has more energy, emotion and cadence.
Will AI get better at all of that? Absolutely. But I also plan to use these tools to afford me more time to be a real human. Meanwhile, I’m at least sitting up a lot straighter in meetings now.
If you ever make a trip to Miami you must stop by Books & Books in Coral Gables and ask to meet owner Mitchell Kaplan. He might be at one of his other locations but you get the best bet of seeing him live in the main headquarters.
As I mentioned before in The Three Tomatoes newsletter, Mitchell is probably the best known, and most appreciated person in Miami and throughout the publishing world. He is the biggest supporter of getting people to read with his vast collections of books to read, his live interviews and readings with authors, the establishment of a yearly book fair and his amazing podcast where he holds discussions with every imaginable writer.
A case in point is his recent live interview with Pattie Boyd, an English model and photographer. She was one of the leading international models during the 1960s and, epitomised the British female look of the era. Boyd married George Harrison in 1966, experiencing the height of the Beatles’ popularity. She then divorced Harrison in 1977 and married Harrison’s friend Eric Clapton in 1979. They divorced in 1989. Boyd inspired Harrison’s songs “I Need You”, “If I Needed Someone”, “Something” and “For You Blue”, and Clapton’s songs “Layla”, “Bell Bottom Blues” and “Wonderful Tonight.”
Her new book Pattie Boyd: My Life in Pictures, features more than 300 photographs and artworks, with Boyd sharing full and intimate access to her personal archive for the first time.
Here are some of the things Pattie told Mitchell.
“I had kind of an inkling that there was a big change happening. I was working with photographer David Bailey. My agent phoned saying that after this session I was to go for an interview. There were loads of girls, as usual. When I went into the room, I recognized one of the guys (director Richard Lester, A Hard Day’s Night) because I’d done a TV commercial with him. Then I went home and my agent phoned in the afternoon telling me that I got a part in a Beatles film. That’s how it all started.”
Her new book Pattie Boyd: My Life in Pictures, features more than 300 photographs and artworks, with Boyd sharing full and intimate access to her personal archive for the first time. Listen to this outstanding episode.
Listen to the YouTube below. Ann-Margaret sounds terrific.—LWH
Ann-Margret’s new album, “Born to Be Wild,” includes a cover of the Steppenwolf title song along with other rock classics.Credit…Chantal Anderson for The New York Times
The actress and musician, who first burst out in “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1963, is releasing a new album of old rock covers featuring guests like her “Tommy” co-star Pete Townshend.
By Jim Farber
Ann-Margret has always spoken in a voice that falls somewhere between a purr and a coo. But at her home on a recent rainy day in Los Angeles, she broke up her usual gauzy tones with deep and gutsy growls. “One, two, three o’clock rock!!!” she half-bellowed and half-yelled over a video chat, echoing the opening line from “Rock Around the Clock,” Bill Haley’s raucous 1954 smash.
A few minutes later, she snarled through the opening salvo of “Splish Splash,” the highly caffeinated 1958 hit by Bobby Darin, only to follow it with the outburst, “I love rock ’n’ roll!” Her tone was far more Joan Jett than Kim McAfee, the sprightly character she played in “Bye Bye Birdie,” the movie that simultaneously made her a household name and the hottest pinup of 1963.
Ann-Margret — pronounced as one name, not two — has always been rock ’n’ roll adjacent, though that’s rarely talked about today given her long and varied career as an actress and a singer of lounge classics. She co-starred with Elvis Presley in one of his most beloved films, “Viva Las Vegas,” provided a flirty foil to a character meant to affectionately send him up in “Birdie,” and had a personal relationship with him of varying description.
She also commanded a lead singing role in Ken Russell’s gaudy movie version of the Who’s rock opera “Tommy,” and earned a Grammy nomination for best new artist in 1962 after scoring a Top 20 hit with “I Just Don’t Understand,” one of the first recordings to feature a fuzz-toned guitar. Her song inspired a Beatles cover on the BBC two years later and, in 2014, the band Spoon recorded a version of her take, not the Fab Four’s.
Yet, it’s only now, at the improbable age of 81, that Ann-Margret is getting the chance to assert herself as a full-on rock ’n’ roll goddess — if a winking one. On Friday she will release “Born to Be Wild,” the first album in the star’s career of 60-plus years to focus squarely on rock standards, all of which she handpicked, including Steppenwolf’s biker anthem referenced in the title and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which Elvis famously gyrated through in his own version.
A host of legit rockers leaped at the chance to support her in this lark of a project, including the “Tommy” creator Pete Townshend, who sang and played whiplash guitar on her version of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye-Bye Love”; Steve Cropper, who added Memphis cred to “Son of a Preacher Man”; and Joe Perry, who shot stinging solos into her take on “Rock Around the Clock.” The album also features cameos from peers like Cliff Richard (82) and Pat Boone (88).
“What she has done is extraordinary,” Townshend said by phone from London, adding an expletive for emphasis. “She picked up the silver thread that links her to the very genesis of rock ’n’ roll history. There’s a mischievousness to that, a light touch that’s perhaps necessary but also real.”
Townshend compared receiving the invitation to play on her album to the time, in 1993, when he “was summoned to play with the Ramones. You know you won’t say no,” he added.
From the dining room of the Benedict Canyon home she has lived in since 1968, Ann-Margaret said she’d long harbored hopes of making a record like “Born to Be Wild.” “Deep inside I’ve wanted to do this kind of album forever,” she explained. She alluded to her outfit — a black sweater, tight leggings and leather boots that rose past the knee: “This is what I’ve been wearing since I first came to Los Angeles,” she said. “This is what I’m comfortable in.”
She’s just as comfortable with language that dates from the ’50s, peppering her speech with words like “gadzooks” and “egad.” Looking youthful with her trademark auburn sweep of hair, Ann-Margret has also retained the coquettish character that first made her a star, giggling often when she speaks and never giving away more than she wants to. It was her original image, more than her music, that inspired Brian Perera, the head of Cleopatra Records, which specializes in projects of a historical nature, to propose the album to her.
“When you look at vintage photos of her, she’s wearing a leather jacket and riding a motorcycle, so the thought of her doing a rock ’n’ roll record really fit,” he said in an interview.
The “Born to Be Wild” album cover drives that home. It reproduces a 1967 poster created for her first Vegas show that finds her in a form-fitting jumpsuit while straddling a Triumph Tiger motorcycle. “I don’t think I can get into that jumpsuit today,” she said, and laughed. “But I can sure try!”
Ann-Margret has always been hot for motorcycles. Her father and uncle rode them when she was a child in Sweden, and when she saw Marlon Brando straddle one in “The Wild One,” “that was it. I had to have one,” she said. “I didn’t know many women who rode bikes back then.”
She still rides a Harley specially designed for her in lavender. It makes a perfect complement to her Cadillac, finished in her favorite shade: “Hot pink!” she exclaimed.
It could be a twin to Elvis’s famously pink Caddy. The relationship between Ann-Margret and E.P., as she calls him, has been the subject of gossip for decades, but she still won’t speak about the personal aspects of it — only their creative link. “We looked at one another and all of a sudden, I would do a pose and he’d be doing the same pose. We connected that way,” she said.
Her record company tried to stress the connection by having her record “Heartbreak Hotel,” but she never had much of a career as a hitmaker. It was her acting in “Carnal Knowledge” — praised in a New York Times review from 1971 — that convinced Townshend that she could really deliver in “Tommy.” While he called the major male actors in the 1975 film — Jack Nicholson and Oliver Reed — “egomaniacal, whiskey drinking lunatics,” he said that Ann-Margret was a consummate professional. She even carried off the absurdity of playing Roger Daltrey’s mother though she was just two years his senior.
One of Ann-Margret’s most famous moments in “Tommy” involved geysers of baked beans being shot directly at her. “They came down a chute and then — pow! — it threw me about five feet back!” she said. “And it smelled!” She recalled that Russell said her character was meant to be experiencing a nervous breakdown during the scene, but to some viewers it looked more like she was having an orgasm. “That’s fine with me!” she added brightly.
Townshend thinks the director, Russell, took a bit too much pleasure in having her do the scene repeatedly. “Ken loved to have a beautiful woman in his clutches covered in beans,” he said. “Let’s just do it again!”
For the new album, he believes Ann-Margret made a perfect choice in having him perform with her on the Everly Brothers song. “My acoustic guitar style is loosely based on Don Everly’s,” he said.
Pat Boone, who played Ann-Margret’s love interest in the 1963 musical “State Fair,” was at first taken aback by the song she chose for their duet, “Teach Me Tonight,” which he called “a love scene in a song.” “I thought, ‘What am I doing singing this?’” Boone said. “I’m 87 at that point and she’s got to be 80. I had to do it humorously.”
So he ad-libbed the lines “I think we just wrote an octogenarian love song” and “I’ll have to turn up my hearing aid.” For the record, “I don’t wear hearing aids,” Boone added with a laugh.
More saucy wit appears in a song Ann-Margret chose from her Vegas act, “Somebody’s in My Orchard,” which includes lines like “Somebody digs my fig trees/Somebody loves their juice.” “Oh, to see people’s faces when they finally realize what I’m singing about,” she said mischievously.
Despite all the album’s humor, Paul Shaffer, who played piano on “The Great Pretender,” insists that her Vegas-style approach to music isn’t just camp. “She delivers the goods,” he said.
When comparing her with young female entertainers like Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato, he added, “Aren’t they really doing Ann-Margret’s act?”
Like all of the album’s guests, Shaffer recorded his parts separately from the star. He noted that her voice on the recording is lower and huskier than when she last cut an album, a gospel work reflecting her faith that was released 10 years ago. But Perera of Cleopatra Records believes Ann-Margret’s chestier tone works for the grinding sound of early rock. He added that “there isn’t a lot of new music coming from artists whose careers started in the ’50s and early ’60s. That makes it special.”
The musicians who appear beside Ann-Margret on the album marveled over her ability, at 81, to convey a come-hither sexuality in her singing. To her, it makes an important point — that eroticism doesn’t have a cutoff date. At the same time, she made sure to deliver her sensuality with humor, and kept the tone of the music light.
The only time she turned sad in our talk was when mentioning her husband, the actor Roger Smith, who served as her manager for much of their 50-year relationship and who died in 2017. Last year, she also lost her old friend and “Bye Bye Birdie” co-star Bobby Rydell, who died before he could finish a track he started for the album. Small wonder, when asked about how she feels about her upcoming 82nd birthday, she said, “I’m just happy to be alive. I have the same friends I’ve had for 60 years, and I feel the way I felt when I first met them.”
Singing has the same effect: “I feel the way I felt when I was 10 years old whenever the music plays.”
On the evening of Jan. 15, 2021, in a remote Arizona desert town, Christine Benton saved a life.
She and her husband, Brian Benton, were traveling the country in a recreational vehicle and had parked near other R.V.ers at a winery in Willcox. As the couple were eating dinner, someone started shouting from an R.V. behind them. A woman had collapsed and was in cardiac arrest. She had no pulse. Frantic, her husband called 911 while two other people started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“She looked like she was gone,” said Ms. Benton, a retired paramedic firefighter.
But Ms. Benton had made a consequential decision before she and her husband started out: She had bought a personal automated external defibrillator, or A.E.D., which can shock a person’s heart back to life if it suddenly stops beating. Her plan was to to keep it with her, just in case. It was expensive, it was highly unlikely she would ever use it and her husband was hesitant. But she was adamant.
“If I were ever in a situation where I could save a life and I didn’t have an A.E.D., I could never live with myself,” she told her husband at the time.
As a firefighter, Ms. Benton had been trained to use a defibrillator. She knew that if someone’s heart stopped, a rescuer should start CPR immediately, pushing hard and rhythmically on the chest, while another rescuer went to get an A.E.D. As soon as that second rescuer returned, the A.E.D. should be used.
And Ms. Benton knew that A.E.D.s were easy to use, even for someone with no training. The device speaks to rescuers and tells them how to proceed.
But even though all states have laws requiring that A.E.D.s be available in public places, Ms. Benton worried that if someone had a cardiac arrest in a place where the nearest A.E.D. was miles away, the person might die — minutes count when reviving someone in cardiac arrest. For every one-minute delay in resuscitation, the likelihood of survival falls by up to 10 percent.
But emergency medicine specialists are divided on whether it makes sense for anyone to buy one.
They know that A.E.D.s in public places like airports, where thousands of people pass by every day, can make a difference and they urge people to use them if they see someone who needs help. In the U.S., 85 to 90 percent of people who have sudden cardiac arrests do not survive and many cannot be revived, often because resuscitation attempts start too late.
But the situation is different in the home.
For one, there is the expense — the devices often cost more than $1,000, making them far less affordable to the average person than home medical devices like a blood pressure monitor or a pulse oximeter. While there are efforts to develop cheaper A.E.D.s, they are still underway, according to Monica Sales, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.
The price is not the only thing that gives some specialists pause. The odds are so stacked against a dramatic save that it has proved impossible to show that personal A.E.D.’s make a difference.
An estimated 1,000 people a day in the U.S. have sudden cardiac arrests, in which the heart stops beating and the person is technically dead. But that represents a minuscule portion of the American population.
Even people at high risk of a sudden cardiac arrest were not helped by home A.E.D.s, a large study showed. It involved 7,001 people who had previously had heart attacks and who were randomly assigned to receive an A.E.D. or to be in a control group.
Despite the huge number of study participants, very few had cardiac arrests and, even when they did, the arrests often did not occur at home or were not witnessed. In the end, just eight people in each group were resuscitated at home. The authors concluded that even if the study’s size were doubled, there would be too few events to detect an effect of home A.E.D.s.
But think of an A.E.D. like a fire extinguisher, said Dr. Benjamin Abella, an emergency medicine specialist at the University of Pennsylvania. You might never use it, but having one might one day save a life.
“I think it’s a terrific idea” to own one, Dr. Abella said. He recently ordered an A.E.D. for himself.
For the same reason, the American Heart Association supports anyone who wants to get an A.E.D., said Dr. Comilla Sasson, a vice president at the American Heart Association and an emergency medicine physician at the University of Colorado Denver.
“If we could just reduce the stigma around, ‘Hey, I can’t do this because I’m not a medical professional,’” she said. “And you don’t need to have CPR certification to use an A.E.D.”
But Dr. Sumeet S. Chugh, director of the Center for Cardiac Arrest Prevention at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, has his doubts.
“I don’t think we have the data to support widespread prophylactic purchases of A.E.D.s even if you can afford it,” he said. And, he added, many who go into cardiac arrest do not have a shockable condition. One example is asystole, a flat line on the heart monitor indicating there is no electrical activity in the heart. An A.E.D. cannot revive people with unshockable rhythms. Other patients are not discovered in time for their heart to be shocked back to life.
That was the situation that Mary Newman found herself in. Ms. Newman, co-founder of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, which promotes awareness of cardiac arrest and has a support group for survivors, has an A.E.D. But when her mother collapsed in the bathroom during a family vacation, no one realized she was missing. By the time the family found her, it was too late to save her.
Yet there are rare examples of people who did save a life with a personal A.E.D.
One involved Esley Thorton, Jr. of Bismarck, N.D.
At about 8 a.m. on Nov. 25, 2019, Mr. Thornton sank into his favorite chair, inexplicably tired.
A few minutes later his wife, Melinda, heard an odd noise and came running into the room. “His body was contorted,” she said. “He was gasping for air.”
Then he stopped breathing. His heart had stopped.
Ms. Thornton screamed for her son Rhannon, who called 911 and grabbed an A.E.D. that another son, who works for the A.E.D. maker Stryker, had given his parents as a gift two years earlier.
Rhannon put the device’s pads on his father’s chest. It said, “No pulse, administer shock,” Ms. Thornton recalled.
He pressed a button.
“Shock administered,” the device said.
“We heard him take a deep breath,” Ms. Thornton said. Her husband’s heart was beating again.
An ambulance came eight minutes after the 911 call — long enough that without Rhannon’s help, Mr. Thornton might have died or had serious brain damage.
One of the paramedics was astonished, telling the family that he had been a paramedic for 22 years but had never before seen a personal A.E.D. used in a patient’s home.
In Ms. Benton’s case, the woman whose heart had stopped began breathing again less than 20 seconds after Ms. Benton shocked her heart with the A.E.D.
Without the A.E.D., the woman, Karen Schluter, would have died — CPR alone would not have been sufficient in that remote location where it took about half an hour for an ambulance to arrive.
Yet no one would have predicted that Ms. Schluter was at risk. She was 52 and athletic — an avid bicyclist.
Now Ms. Benton and Ms. Schluter are good friends. Ms. Schluter has purchased an A.E.D. and so have others whose R.V.s were parked there that evening.
When the Bentons returned to their R.V. after their A.E.D. saved Ms. Schluter’s life, Mr. Benton looked at his wife and said, “I am sure glad you didn’t listen to me about buying that A.E.D.”
Gina Kolata writes about science and medicine. She has twice been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and is the author of six books, including “Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family’s Genetic Destiny, and The Science That Saved Them.” @ginakolata • Facebook
Elon Musk painted over the ‘w’ on Twitter’s sign at its San Francisco headquarters, changing it to ‘Titter’
Elon Musk painted over the “w” in Twitter’s name on the sign outside its San Francisco headquarters. He said Twitter’s landlord told the company that the sign was legally required to read as “Twitter.” “So we painted it background color. Problem solved!” Musk tweeted on Sunday.
Elon Musk appears to really want the sign outside Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters to say “Titter” — and he was ready to have some paintwork done to make it happen.
In a tweet on Sunday, the social media platform’s CEO posted a picture of the sign with the “w” painted over in white to blend in with the background.
Musk wrote in his caption: “Our landlord at SF HQ says we’re legally required to keep sign as Twitter & cannot remove ‘w’, so we painted it background color. Problem solved!”
Musk’s scheme to change the “Twitter” sign to “Titter” appears to have been in the works for a few days, per photos of the building uploaded to the platform by several Twitter users.
Last Thursday, entrepreneur and programmer William LeGate tweeted a picture of the sign, which had the “w” obscured.
“Elon Musk, in a remarkable show of maturity, has removed the “w” from Twitter’s logo outside their San Francisco HQ,” LeGate’s caption read.
The building’s landlord, SRI Nine Market Square LLC, did not immediately respond to Insider’s query on why the initial alteration was unacceptable, and whether the new, painted-over signage would be allowed.
Musk has made several drastic changes to the company’s San Francisco headquarters since he took over Twitter. In January, he tried to sell hundreds of things from the office to boost income for Twitter, like kitchen appliances, Twitter sculptures, furniture, and even office plants.
And in December, Twitter cut janitorial services in the headquarters, forcing employees to bring their own toilet paper to the office.
The disagreements over the Twitter sign are the latest in the longstanding feud Musk has had with the building’s landlord, SRI Nine Market Square LLC. The landlord sued the Musk-owned Twitter in January. The lawsuit accused Twitter of not paying rent of roughly $3.4 million per month in December and January for the headquarters’ Market Street premises.
Separately, Musk has also been tinkering with Twitter’s interface. Last week, Musk replaced Twitter’s bird logo with the Shiba Inu — or doge — mascot. Following this change stocks of the meme cryptocurrency that Musk supports, called Dogecoin, soared by 20%.
Musk did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
We now view his crowning masterpiece “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” through a scrim of unsettling questions.
Please, I beg of you. DO NOT MENTION his name to me.
It was always the same with him. Women who revered him as the blazing sun around which life revolved invariably suffered the indignity of his womanizing and malice. I remember my shock when I read years ago that Françoise Gilot, one of his muses, accused him of pressing a lighted cigarette to her cheek during an argument, as if to brand his seal into her skin.
I am not suggesting that Picasso’s paintings be removed from museums. That would be foolish and self-defeating. But would it hurt to ignore Picasso for the moment? It’s just common sense that an artist can cause offense only so many times before you begin to seek out more uplifting company. There are countless artists less acclaimed than Picasso who deserve our attention. Go see a show by a woman artist today. The current season in New York happens to be a bonanza, with major exhibitions by Sarah Sze and Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt) at the Guggenheim, and Cecily Brown at the Met.
Picasso’s offenses go beyond his boorish treatment of women. He was disrespectful of entire cultures. Asked in 1920 to contribute a few lines to a magazine article on African art, he notoriously snapped: “African art? Never heard of it.” It was a surprising statement from a man who had helped himself to African riches — not pearls and gemstones, but rather intellectual property, African ideas and forms that would prove essential in the invention of Cubism. He had excitedly visited the Trocadero, the ethnographic museum in Paris whose display cases were stuffed with ceremonial masks from the Ivory Coast and other colonial booty, artifacts that would help free a generation of Western artists from the centuries-old obligation to treat painting as an imitation of nature.
We will never know who, exactly, created the masks that Picasso borrowed for his “Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907), that crowning masterpiece in which five prostitutes rendered in pink tones gaze out from a Barcelona brothel, their angled arms and torsos heralding the tilting space of Cubism. The painting, which lives at the Museum of Modern Art, is as close as Picasso ever came to issuing a manifesto. But today we view its surface through a scrim of unsettling questions. The two figures on the right are outfitted with West African masks — sophisticated and spiritually laden objects that Picasso yanked out of context and reduced to mere props in a crude sexual fantasy.
Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” from 1907, heralds the radically tilting space of Cubism. The two prostitutes on the right are wearing West African masks.Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via The Museum of Modern Art
Like most critics, I subscribe to rule No. 1 of cultural appreciation: One must separate an artist’s life and work. Works of art are inevitably made by imperfect human beings. And it does not diminish the inherent integrity of a painting or a sculpture to contemplate its maker’s peccadilloes and ethical lapses.
But Picasso is different, in part because he drew so much attention to his private life, capitalizing on a media industry that had not existed for Degas or Cézanne or other of his predecessors. It is easy to picture him, a short, compact man with a cannonball head and Svengali eyes, posing for Life magazine in his striped Breton sailor’s shirt. He modeled shirtless as well, a bare-chested pugilist in boxer shorts, waving a Gauloise cigarette. His work was so explicitly autobiographical that he referred to it as his “diary.” It could be divided, he said, into seven distinct styles, each one tethered to one of his female muses.
By now we feel like we know them, starting with Fernande Olivier, his first muse, an artists’ model whom he immortalized as a doleful presence beneath a black mantilla, as if to emphasize his Spanish origins. Olga Khokhlova, a Russian ballerina born in Ukraine, was his first wife, her wavy auburn hair pulled back to reveal her porcelain skin in a famous portrait. They were still marriedwhen he took up with 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, an athletic blonde then living with her parents. She inspired his inordinately prolific “miracle year” of 1932, which produced such masterworks as “Girl Before A Mirror” and “Le Rêve (The Dream).” She is easy to recognize in his paintings, with her yellow hair and boneless body, a tumbling jumble of circles and spheres.
Marie-Thérèse Walter was known as Picasso’s “golden muse” and her blond hair makes her easy to recognize in his paintings.Apic/Getty Images
“Girl Before a Mirror” (1932), a Cubist painting by Picasso of Walter contemplating her reflection, her body a jumble of circles and orbs.Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via The Museum of Modern Art
In 1935, only two months after Walter gave birth to their daughter Maya, Picasso fell in love with Dora Maar, a daring photographer admired by the Surrealists. A dark beauty with blue-black hair, she became the subject of Picasso’s Weeping Women paintings, and appears as spiky and jagged as Walters had been fecund and round. Maar underwent shock therapy after he left her for Gilot, a painter herself who achieved enduring fame by becoming the first of Picasso’s muses to walk out on him, to extricate herself from the Minotaur’s labyrinth-prison. I have occasionally spotted Gilot from a distance on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a 101-year-old artist in a red coat, out for an afternoon walk. You rock, Françoise!
Picasso’s “The Weeping Woman” (1937) shows his lover Dora Maar weeping into a handkerchief, her lips trembling.Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via The Museum of Modern Art
At the risk of piling on, we might also acknowledge Picasso’s dereliction as a father and grandfather. His lovers at least chose his company and presumably reaped occasional rewards. His four children, by contrast, never signed on for adventures with Pablo — or for their eventual abandonment by him. After 1964, when Gilot published her best-selling “Life with Picasso,” he reportedly refused to accept a visit or even a phone call from their children, Claude and Paloma. The saddest life was surely that of his grandson Pablito, who, at age 24, was turned away from Picasso’s funeral by his widow, Jacqueline Roque; he went home and committed suicide by drinking bleach.
And yet. While accounts of his unsavory private life proliferated over the years — there was, for instance, Arianna Huffington’s “Picasso: Creator and Destroyer” (1988), and “Picasso: My Grandfather” (2001) by Pablito’s sister, Marina Picasso — they did not tarnish his image. Rather, it seems, they enhanced his myth as a man of supersized passions. In the popular imagination, Picasso’s masculine bravado, like van Gogh’s madness, was taken as a perverse confirmation of his creative genius. It had no discernible effect on the art-world machinery that has kept his work on perpetual view at major museums and top-flight galleries, and kept his auction prices sky-high.
Françoise Gilot with Pablo Picasso and his nephew Javier Vilató, captured on the beach in Golfe-Juan, France, August 1948, by Robert Capa.Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
For this reason, I feel indebted to the #MeToo movement, which has led us to collectively reconsider types of abuse that were once ignored or laughed off. In the 50 years since Picasso’s death, it goes without saying that nothing has changed about him or his work. But we have changed dramatically as a society; we believe in the rightness of calling out the behavior of people who think their privileged status amounts to a license to abuse. It is too late to demand penance from the dead. But it is not too late to demand a modicum of decency from the living.
How should we feel about Picasso? There is no unified answer, just as there are no unities of form in his work. Isn’t that what made him so radical? He understood the impossibility of seeing things in one fixed way, even relatively simple things, like a mandolin or a bowl of oranges on a tabletop. Instead he showed us how multiple views, superimposed, can coexist in the same painting, at the same moment, in the same head.
The act of looking, he seemed to say, does not produce a static and unchanging picture, but constant fluctuations in perception. So perhaps it’s fitting that no artist has been the subject of more shifts in viewpoints than he himself. I love him. I hate him. Picasso has left me forever divided.
Today, I Love Him
He produced so many sensitive and empathetic images of women, and some of the most civic-minded masterworks of the 20th century.
When I was a teenager, Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” that colossal antiwar painting rendered in newspaper tones of black and gray, was on loan to the Museum of Modern Art. The artist had sent it to New York before World War II to safeguard it from Francisco Franco, the dictator who ended democracy in Picasso’s native Spain.
“Guernica” stayed here for more than four decades, and growing up under its spell enlarged my sense of what art could be. Art, it seemed, was not about the pursuit of refinement and social polish but an encounter with the kind of raw, screaming emotion adolescents have no trouble grasping.
I remained a Picasso worshiper, even as friends decorated their dorm rooms with posters by Matisse — blankly elegant images of all-blue nudes scrubbed of any detail. They enchanted but they lacked the earthy potato-life that sprang from so many Picasso images. His pencil lines pushed through space and curved against gravity like some new type of wind-resistant plant that botanists had yet to name.
It is not hugely cool to profess a love for Picasso these days. His status as the greatest of all modern artists, which was taken as an article of faith for much of the 20th century, has worn thin in a #MeToo world. Part of the problem is that his self-advertised image as a sexual conqueror, a Don Juan with a paintbrush, no longer charms. As we know from an ever-growing shelf of biographies and memoirs, he could be an unrepentant bully. He mistreated his numerous wives and mistresses, ensnaring them in a sadistic two-step of seduction and abandonment in violation of all standards of decency.
As we contemplate the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death, on April 8, and the cornucopia of 40-plus museum exhibitions that will commemorate him, in New York and across Europe, I find myself pulled between disapproval of the man and a critic’s adoration of his art. And, as in the case of critics who have cringed at the offending views of Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wagnerand T.S. Eliot, the art love wins out. I cannot agree with feminist critics who write off Picasso as a pseudo-master whose work has been overrated and artificially propped up by the patriarchy.
Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937) viewed by visitors at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid. The painting is a symbol of the terrible suffering that war inflicts.Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times
One of the great ironies surrounding his life is that a man who behaved so callously toward women produced so many sensitive and empathetic images of them, not to mention some of the most civic-minded masterworks of the 20th century. This is what Picasso’s detractors — like Hannah Gadsby, the Australian comedian and Picasso basher, who will help curate a Picasso show at the Brooklyn Museum opening on June 2 — often miss.
If there is an argument to be made in 2023 that he should be ignored on the basis of his misbehavior, there is another to be made for the need to look deeply at his art again. Since his death the rise of feminism has provided a lens through which to reconsider his work and especially his representation of women. And there is much we are just beginning to notice.
For starters can we please retire the oft-cited plaint that he reduced women to sex objects? Women were the dominant subject of his art and he viewed them as sources of vulnerability and strength. They appear in a wide range of personas and moods. He painted women who were intellectuals and artists. Women who engaged with the world or turned away from it in dreamy reverie. Women with two profiles and vertically stacked eyes, icons of emotional complexity. In 1937, he painted the anguished women of “Guernica” — noble messengers alerting the world to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
Has any other visual artist left us with such a vivid pantheon of female characters? Paul Cézanne, by contrast, rendered his wife Hortense as a severe matron who appears less animated than the apples in his still lifes. Edgar Degas was less interested in the interior lives of his ballerina-subjects than in the animal awkwardness of their bodies and the pleasure of glimpsing them from behind. Amedeo Modigliani’s stylized portraits make his hundreds of female subjects look like part of an extended family whose members have a genetic predisposition for long faces and giraffe necks.
Picasso, by contrast, brought the weight of lived experience into his work, even when he was tethered to archetypal subjects. He can fairly be called the foremost painter of mother and children of the 20th century. One of my favorite-ever paintings is “The Mother,” at the St. Louis Art Museum, in which a 30-ish woman appears in bony profile, hurrying into town, beneath a cloudy, green-smudged sky. As she grips the hand of her chubby toddler (who chomps distractedly on an apple) and carries her second child on her shoulder, she exemplifies motherhood purged of the usual Renaissance-style bliss. Here, instead, is a woman who will go to the ends of the earth for her children and isn’t expecting anyone’s thanks.
“The Mother” (1901), an early painting by Picasso, shows a view of motherhood purged of Renaissance idealization. Here is a woman who will go to the ends of the earth for her children.Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via Saint Louis Art Museum
In “Gertrude Stein” (1905-6), Picasso depicts the American expatriate writer’s immense talents in her hulking presence.Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
And in the pantheon of Picasso superwomen, let’s not forget Gertrude Stein, the American expatriate writer who took a shine to the young Spaniard. Stein, who was 15 years older than him, traipsed regularly up the steep hill in Montmartre to pose in his studio in the fabled Bateau-Lavoir. His famous portrait of her, at the Metropolitan Museum, brilliantly transforms her extra 30 pounds and linebacker shoulders into a sign of her immensity as a writer. Dressed in her usual brown corduroy coat, she is as monumental as any of the biblical sibyls gazing down from the Sistine ceiling.
For years we focused on Picasso as Mr. Modernism, the audacious avant-gardist who co-founded Cubism in the years before World War I. Working with Georges Braque, he shattered the single-point perspective that had prevailed in painting since the Renaissance. Instead of replicating literal reality, he sought, in the twisting tornado of Analytic Cubism (1910-12) and later in the wider and sunnier planes of Synthetic Cubism, to dismantle the process of seeing, to capture the little shifts of perception that occur in time as you contemplate any sight.
His myth has been burnished by his prodigious output — he produced an estimated 13,500 paintings, in addition to astounding quantities of drawings, prints, sculptures and ceramics — as well as his embrace of contradictory styles. He veered between opposite poles of abstraction and realism, between the gaunt, poetic figures of his Blue Period and the zaftig matrons of his Rose Period, between the paper-lightness of his wildly inventive collages and the bulbous tonnage of his sculpted bronze heads. As Jackson Pollock, his much-younger American admirer, once remarked, “That guy missed nothing!”
When I was in college, studying art history, I was taught that Picasso was a Prometheus-like figure who gave the gift of artistic fire to Pollock and his fellow Abstract Expressionists in the war-torn ’40s. But his influence began waning in the early ’60s, when Modernism yielded to Post-Modernism, with its emphasis on pastiche and irony. The new art god was Marcel Duchamp, an expatriated Frenchman who was living quietly in Greenwich Village, a wry, cerebral artist-philosopher who claimed to have given up art for chess. What is art? Anything, Duchamp contended, even a store-bought bottle rack, and his exaltation of found objects eventually became its own art-school orthodoxy, leading two generations of artists to marginalize painting as passé.
“Bottlerack” by Marcel Duchamp, 1961 version of a 1914 original that the artist proclaimed to be a work of art and called a “readymade.”Association Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via Philadelphia Museum of Art
Today, however, when so many younger artists are thinking about their personal stories and feelings of social marginalization — whether through race, gender or ethnicity — the medium of painting has returned to prominence. And Picasso himself, hyper-conscious of his Andalusian origins and expatriate status in France, can be seen as a forerunner of the recent turn to autobiography in art.
Two new books argue as much. Pascal Bonafoux’s “Picasso: The Self-Portraits” is an attractive volume that brings together the artist’s 170 self-portraits in various mediums, including photography. And in “Picasso the Foreigner,” the French writer Annie Cohen-Solal cuts through the usual fluff about Parisian bohemia (goodbye absinthe) and takes us instead north of the city, to the archives building of the French police. Consulting yellowed documents, she tracks the xenophobia that followed Picasso in his adopted homeland, where the police branded him an alien. Tellingly, he never became a French citizen, which may partly explain the mood of disenfranchisement that infuses the early work of his Blue Period and especially his scenes of “saltimbanques” or circus performers, like “The Frugal Repast,” his first-ever etching, in which emaciated lovers with spindly El Greco fingers have nothing in this world but each other.
Pablo Picasso, “The Frugal Repast” (1904, printed 1913). The etching captures his empathy for socially marginalized, down-and-out people.Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
One of the significant shows this year, “Picasso and El Greco,” opening at the Prado Museum in Madrid on June 13, will look at how the young Picasso was shaped by his 16th-century Greek-born predecessor, whose flame-like forms appeal to everyone’s inner expressionist.
In New York, the Picasso-themed exhibitions will be modestly scaled. A small but promising show opening May 12 at the Guggenheim Museum, “Young Picasso in Paris,” centers on “Le Moulin de la Galette,” a newly conserved masterwork from the permanent collection. Completed in 1900, it was among Picasso’s first canvases in Paris as a 19-year-old newcomer torn between the realism of the Spanish past and the loose brushwork of French Post-Impressionism.
I recently visited the Guggenheim’s conservation lab, where the painting looked dazzling. Set at a famous dance hall near the artist’s studio, “Le Moulin de la Galette” gives off a glowy energy. Picasso clearly delighted in the sight of the dozen or so women gathered at the hall — with their bright red lips and rouged cheeks, their fur stoles and long dresses, their animated gestures as they whisper to each other, heads pressed together. The male figures, by contrast, are total duds; they’re basically faceless. In the upper left corner of the painting, three gentlemen in top hats perch on a raised platform, coldly assessing the attractiveness of the women.
Picasso’s “Le Moulin de la Galette” (1900) shows a dance hall scene with vibrant lights and women sitting or standing, whispering with each other. They hint at Picasso’s fascination with female figures as the heroes of modern life.Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette,” a touchstone of Impressionism, 1876.Musée d’Orsay
The painting recalls earlier French paintings, especially Renoir’s “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette,” a touchstone of Impressionism set in the wholesome light of midafternoon. Picasso’s canvas is more enticing because it is set at night and suffused with so much radiance, whether in the women’s expressions or in the electric lights that stretch in a garland across the top of the canvas, tiny blurs of yellow flashing against the enveloping mist of velvety, Velazquez-like darkness.
The conventional view of the painting holds that the women are “dolled-up cocottes,” as John Richardson glibly put it in his biography of Picasso. Yet it needs to be said that the women are more alive than the men. They hint at Picasso’s fascination with female figures as the heroes of modern life.
So how could I ever turn on Picasso? I won’t. Not ever. He sustained a remarkable intensity of feeling as he shifted from the convincing realism of this early paintings to the splintered shards of Cubism. It was a spectacular leap, and you suspect it was driven by his knowledge that everyone’s life appears to be broken into pieces when glimpsed close up
The Jayda Knight fan club at the Miami City Ballet in the North Miami bandshell. Jayda created the clever animated art behind the dancers. The piece is called Dazzling Creatures. Applauding her: me, Eliot, Nellie Chi, author Deborah Desilets, Dawn McCall, Jayda Knight, aka Flying Knight, and friend. What a gorgeous night.
Videos of Jayda Knight’s, aka Flying Knight, art work in action. This presentation in the North Miami bandshell was so creative that the Miami City Ballet, asked her and dance choreographer Sean Miller to develop future productions. Whoa baby!
Jayda Knight, aka Flying Knight, was the star of the Miami City Ballet last night in the North Miami bandshell as she created all of the background art work to appear in “Dazzling Creations”. Bravo Jayda.