Want Your Children to Survive The Future? Send Them to Art School
Dustin Timbrook

Ultimately, the trick is to have some ability that cannot easily be automated into software, robotics or learned by a neural network. Computers can beat the pants off of us at memorization, manufacturing, application of algorithms — but what they can’t (yet) do is come up with something truly novel that pleases humans. We don’t know how to get a great idea…we do sometimes come up with great ideas — but we can’t produce them on demand, and we don’t know how we get them…so this is something we’ll find almost impossible to automate.

“Art” isn’t quite the word for that. It’s relatively easy to make a robot that could paint a picture in the style of just about any artist you can name using nothing more than a photograph of the subject.

What isn’t easy to automate is the discovery of a new style. Who would have guessed that cubism is somehow compelling? But once you’ve discovered that it is, I don’t doubt that you could write software to analyse some photographs of a subject and turn it into a bunch of distorted multi-directional images in the style of Metzinger or a Delaunay. The trick is not to be a Metzinger — the trick is to be like Georges Braque — and come up with an entire school or art that is entirely new.

Doing that is not precisely “art” — it’s meta-art.

We tend to think of the people who paint the cubist pictures as the creative types — but computers can certainly replace them. The people who can’t (yet) be replaced are those who come up with conceptual leaps such as painting a portrait from multiple directions at once and rendering that in a pleasing manner…describe that concept to a computer — and you don’t need all of those artists to churn out hundreds of works in that style.

But even then, we are mislead. Consider the idea that it would be cool to be able to pack all of the music you care about into a little box that fits into your pocket. That fits into this category of novel thought that can’t easily be reproduced. When we hear that we immediately leap to “Steve Jobs!” But he didn’ t do that…he was another Metzinger. There were lots of MP3 players out there before the iPod…what Jobs did was to find a company that made tiny/cheap hard disk drives — and some guys who could design a nice user interface and to put them to work. The novel thought happened much, much earlier than that.

The problem is that we can’t teach people to come up with entirely novel concepts — when we teach art, we teach the mechanics of applying paint, the science of color, the math of perspective and the history of all of the ideas for new approaches to art that have already been thought of. It’s not clear to me that art school helps you in any way whatever to become a meta-artist.

Trouble is — we don’t know how to teach this — and we strongly suspect that only a very small percentage of people are capable of coming up with novel ideas on their own. Furthermore, we really don’t need too many of these novel ideas. If a new art style pops up once a decade, that’s fine — but if we had 100,000 people coming up with new art styles — with a “Style of the Day” website displaying them all — we’d soon be utterly overwhelmed…somewhat as many of us are being overwhelmed by the flood of new technology ideas.

So perhaps 0.01% of the population cannot be replaced by technology — but that doesn’t help the rest of us.

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