Can Technology like Artificial Intelligence Create Art?

Worli Art- A Painting
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series AI & ART

Can machines with artificial intelligence create art? We’ll continue this discussion from our previous article which introduced the topic. At the risk of  some oversimplification and generalization, this week we’ll explore the question: ‘What is art?’

Creator intent

Art is almost always created deliberately. If you sit down to paint a greeting card for your friend’s birthday, you are not creating art. If you paint a road sign, you are not creating art. In that sense, content alone cannot define art. This is why a beautiful sunset or a Himalayan peak is not art. Beauty, but not art. When you try to create art, you are generally supposed to attempt something new. Or perhaps you will synthesize many different elements to create something with a message. You will likely create something with deeper meaning. For example, imagine you collect greeting cards made by children around the world. And then you make a large collage out of them that is displayed in an art museum or an airport lobby. People will now accept this as art since they can now find some deeper meaning in it.

Consumer intent

There is a lot that goes into us accepting something as art. We like to celebrate artists. Think about the stature that artists like Arundhati Roy or M.F. Hussain enjoy. We tend to be interested not just in art, but in the stories of its creation. The rags-to-riches stories of celebrity writers are fascinating. The traumatic experiences and hardships that spur artists’ creativity are important. We are concerned with all of these aspects when consuming or experiencing art.

Content

Whether it takes the form of a painting or a poem, art is something specific that engages us. Art needs to catch our attention, make us think, and question our perspective. For example, I once saw a large display at an airport made entirely of paper planes hanging from the ceiling. It was a multi-story display, and as you went up and down the escalator at the airport, the display looked different depending on your vantage point, and how far away you stood. The display at the airport was art because of its ability to engage people, and make them think about perspective and depth.

Social characteristics

Art is not merely content intended to be consumed as art. Art invariably reflects–and comments on–its society. Nations go to wars, go through economic depression or experience dramatic growth, undergo social and political change, and all these changes are reflected in art. This is why we have novels advocating social justice, songs celebrating the patriotic spirit, and movies addressing issues like unemployment and terrorism.

Evolutionary characteristics

We routinely say things like ‘great art is timeless and knows no cultural boundaries’. And on the consumption side, that may be true to some extent. But in terms of creating art, there is clearly a trend where things change from one century to the next (drama gives way to the novel, for example) or from one generation to the next (Rock & Roll music gives way to Heavy Metal). This change is almost always a deliberate reaction. Artists feel constrained by dominant forms of artistic expression, and seek to break out of them using new methods and techniques. And as the audience around them is also new–a whole new generation, with a new range of experiences–the transition works (usually) smoothly, and a whole new form of artistic expression comes up.

Role of technology

As with everything else, new technologies have shaped our artistic expression, and even invented new art forms. Art forms like photography and film are entirely the result of technological advancements. Our technological advances in the manufacture of dyes and colors and ink, in metallurgy and chemistry, in the manufacture of ceramic and glass and cloth and other materials, have all had an impact on how we practice various arts. Music is a great example. Each musical instrument is a machine that allows us to create a different sound, expanding our ability beyond mere singing.

How much of this is within the reach of an AI-powered machine? We already use machines like violins and pianos to create art, but can a machine compose a new melody or create a new painting? And if it does, will be able to accept it as art? Would we credit the creator of the AI machine as the artist, or the machine itself?

Next week, we’ll discuss how Artificial Intelligence works, and what aspects of art that we have discussed here may be within the reach of a machine.

Image Source: Wikimedia

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