Art and Artificial Intelligence

MTArt Agency
Jul 8, 2016 · 4 min read

In 1996, Deep Blue, a chess-playing computer developed by IBM, was the first machine to win a chess match against the world champion Garry Kasparov. Since then, artificial intelligence has gone down a rapid development trajectory, now even questioning the divide between technology and creativity.

Machines can now make art ‘like humans’.

Pushing past the notion of the machine as the extension of the artist, Harold Cohen, former artist and professor at the University of California San Diego, designed Aaron, an art-creating program that can paint still life and portraits of human figures without photos or other human input as reference. Artomatix, founded by Eric Risser in 2013, uses algorithms to leverage the ‘world’s first artificial imagination’. The team at Deep Dream Google has spent recent years ‘teaching computers how to see, understand, and appreciate our world’.

But can intelligent machines really match human creativity? Surely when we think artist, we think human and when we think artificial intelligence, we think machine. At least in the art field, we cannot seem to come to terms with the possibility of a machine truly making art. Why?

Returning to the very definition of creativity (the use of the imagination or original ideas, esp. in the production of an artistic work) and the role of the artist, we already find elements of contradiction. Harping back through the vials of art history, we find two key definitions of the creative genius: the technical and the psychological.

Artists as technicians, seeking both aesthetic and practical perfection, can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Their endeavours to create the ‘ideal body’ and the ‘perfect composition’ correspond to the notion of: kalos kai agathos — the inner being reflected in exterior beauty. Leonardo da Vinci goes down a similar track: his drawings and paintings aim to accurately replicate the human figure solely through visual parallels. Despite their retrospective shortcomings, his paintings and drawings take autopsies and academic studies as foundation, without subjective perspectives.

In these cases, it is easier to imagine how human error could be outdone by artificial intelligence. Algorithms could no doubt find perfect proportions and enable ‘perfect’ compositions better and faster than we ever could.

So far so good, maybe intelligent machines can actually be defined an artists.

But there is still another element to consider: our second understanding of creativity and the role of the artist.

Art as the result of psychological impulse is unpredictable, uncalculated and intentionally imperfect. Almost magical in both quality and compulsion, works under this category engage the very flaws of our human condition. Francis Bacon, for example, is renowned for his ability to suck the soul out of his sitters: their inner energy, psyche and suffering. Here art can never overcome humanity: it is intrinsically human.

Jackson Pollock takes this concept even further. His entire practice is based on chance, accident and human error. Action precedes direction: the painter becomes the painting — the creator the created.

So we have a choice: art that is based on aesthetic perfection, where machines can overcome human error, or art that takes this human error and makes it valuable. Should art present an unattainable level of virtual perfection, or should it engage the realities of our human condition? This debate is one that pervades contemporary culture: the ‘real’ body shape vs. the photo shopped, idealised social media vs. the depiction of real life experiences, the list goes on.

As the era of automation rises, creatives and artists are documented as those least threatened by machine replacement. It is surely their humanity that renders them irreplaceable: their individuality that encourages us not just to be better, but to think differently.

Perhaps this is the solution we are looking for. Technology and human creativity should not be exclusive but rather reciprocally beneficial. In art, simulating creative procedures by computer can enhance our understanding of creativity in humans as well as improving its execution. In science, objectivity exists to a certain degree, but in the arts there is no collective consensus. Creative software must then ultimately be assessed in a subjective fashion, one pertaining to the arts and one relying on human input. History and experience are built on the subconscious and Freud’s notion of the ‘unconscious mind’ and art, in turn, is built on context and fuelled by personal, cognitive understanding. Creativity is a process — not a terminus.

Technological advancements, thus, become enablers rather than competitors in this process.

After all, isn’t this what tech does best? It frees the creative brain of mechanical intricacies to, instead, focus on ideas and their expansion.

MTArt acts as an incubator for the development of our artists. Incorporating technology within an artist-centric model, one where creativity is considered as singular and always catered to accordingly, allows for the mutual acceleration of both virtual and human progression.


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