Can artificial intelligence create art?

Written by Nilesh

April 10, 2017

How much of this is within the reach of a 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?

Can machines with artificial intelligence create art? We’ll continue this discussion from last week. At the risk of resorting to some oversimplification and generalisation, 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, or 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 are not art. Beauty, but not art. When you seek to create art, it is expected that you will attempt something new, or you will synthesise a number of different elements to create something with a message, with some deeper meaning. For example, if you collect greeting cards made by children around the world, and make a large collage out of them to be displayed in an art museum or an airport lobby, it will likely be accepted as art, since people 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, the traumatic experiences and hardships that spur artists’ creativity, all of these are aspects that we tend to be concerned with 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 mere 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 issue 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 art 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 dyes and colors and ink, in metallurgy and chemistry, in 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 a 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 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.


*This article was originally published on April 10, 2017 in Telangana Today, and can be accessed at Can artificial intelligence create art?


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