Do Robots Dream Electric Mona Lisas?

Dilshan Jayakody

GigaOM is suggesting that Robots are making some serious art. After referring to something such as this, the next thing to do would commonly be either trying to define “are they?” or shouting out loud “only us humans can make art!”.

Various explanations and definitions bind us, and of course our sense of individuality and uniqueness are the cherry on the top. “We are special! What we create is special!” Indeed my little art critic and connoisseur, you who consider that monocultural auto-tuned whining one just cannot escape, those contemporary flat (no it has 3D!) expressions of cinema, and the quite dead visual arts still as art. But perhaps they are our liberation, a window to escape from the room of old definitions?

And perhaps there is a question here, a flow of changing perception, comprehension, feeling. Perhaps we should ask, in what moment can an artifact created by a robot to be considered as art? When does it become it, what makes it it?

When a person or 100 breaks the barrier of silence and admits it? When an art competition jury (read: the connoisseurs, the gatekeepers) fail to notice any difference and give the first price to e-David‘s (read also the video comments) grandchild who created a new distinctive ‘style’ (not recognized before by whom?). Or perhaps when the next generation Hatsune Miku‘s thoughtful, touching and provocative song, “Save the world [from humans]” (not an existing song, at least not yet) is still on the Billboard top 5 after 18 months? A song that was not developed with a Vocaloid, but by Miku it(her?)self?

When it comes to Miku, captinrexbog2 comments on YouTube that “you don’t have to worry about them getting older doing drugs…”. But at the same time, no one can deny that drugs have played their part in some of the biggest masterpieces ever created – them and various mental issues. Perhaps the robot (as a broader non-human term) artists will sometimes “inhale” or inject (run code?) a virus that makes their behavior irrational (read: out of the ordinary) or “creative”, ending to similar results such as Led Zeppelin II or Twilight of the Idols?

Perhaps a wild code, not resulting in error (if we do not define it as one?), will result in something new or what we call creative? But can a code work (independently) if it does not follow the logic of the system where it should function? If not, is creating new anything more than following orders of the system? In such a case, what then defines new? Also, following this logic, and the spreading naturalistic view of human, an old question emerge once again: shouldn’t everything we humans have created and will ever create, be already coded in us too? And if so, what or who was the coder?

What is interesting here is not so much the is-is not debate, but what trajectory is the ‘robot art’ part of: the ever increasing and seemingly unstoppable (digital) technology-mediated human experience. Do we not, still, define (capture) art based on our mysterious self, irrationality (through language, constructed and masked as rationality), the single phenomenon the contemporary reason idolizing societies seem to despise and try to get rid of the most (although it is itself based on it): feelings?

An example. I recently visited Ken Done Gallery in Sydney. While in the gallery, I became furious how this childish scribbling (to me) was considered art. I hated majority of the works (quite literally and out loud, my wife asking me to tone it down), especially the Sydney Opera House things. After the inspection and pulling my hair, I left the gallery, and thought that was it. Still, something had irreversibly moved inside me in connection to the Sydney Opera Houses. An indescribable feeling, that made me go back to the gallery, and skim through the prints they were selling. So strong was the emotion towards these works, of which I wholeheartedly disliked. But I was a coward. I bough one, not a Sydney Opera House piece, but one of the works that I liked. Perhaps someday I will go back and buy the damn Sydney Opera House and contemplate the effect it had – for this, I still argue that I need the print physically in the same space with me.

Was there really ever something more authentic (and in what terms) when we just painted, and the camera did not yet exist? Do we feel betrayed if we fall in love with a work (of art), its aura, and later hear it was made by a machine? And wasn’t the debate and definition masturbation about art (which quite often now seems to appear as a synonym for entertainment) over anyway?

More readings:

Digital Alchemy – transforming data into poetry


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