Last week, humanodon posed the question Can art be taught? after having a private discussion on the topic with ghostoffuffle.

In response to the question, I made the following point:

    Because art relies so much upon perception, it is difficult to even define what art is, and what it is not. Every definition will lead you to problems. Consider the basic act of creation. We could try to make the argument that at the very least, art requires that someone created it. But what about a painting done by an elephant? Or a robot? What if it is unknown what created the piece?

ghostoffuffle made an interesting reply to that:

    For the record, I think part of what makes art "art" and not technical writing or computer science or something is a confluence of intentional, directed movement with the presence, on some plane or another, of intuitive, a-logical design. If there's an easily defined formula to your art, then I'm not sure it's art, since art relies on a certain absence of logic. Which, leading to your question about robots and elephants- no, I'm not sure a robot can create art. But I'm less sure that the robot built to create art isn't an artwork in and of itself. Like the program that guy made to mimic classical composers. If the music itself is dictated by algorithm, then it's missing a key component of true art. But the program itself! Wow. Because it raises more questions than it answers, and it forces us to confront some uncomfortable implications about human creativity, and the nature of art. Wheels within wheels, man. The elephant who paints? Who knows? Maybe, yeah.

The matter has been returning to my mind over the past few days.

The paintings above were done by the human artist Russ Potak, the chimpanzee Congo, and the robot e-David. Not necessarily in that order.

Spoiler links:



Russ Potak


I like these. Abstract art has always spoken to me a lot more than more detailed work, starting with impressionism, going to late J.M.W. Turner, and through to everything today. I remember one of the first pieces of art that really spoke to me profoundly was a Jackson Pollock I saw when I was maybe 9 years old. It was so... sexual. It was around the time I was really discovering sexuality and it spoke to that part of me. It kinda clicked there for me, because obviously there's nothing innately sexual in a Pollock painting, and then there's nothing really innately in any painting, just what you take in and perceive. The more vague the piece, the more pure emotion instead of scene that's put into it, the more the mind can pull, I think. I like ghostoffuffle's idea of absence of logic, because that's what it is. Art is more of a raw, evocative thing. That's not to say that something sterile and clinical can't be art, because that's part of the human experience as well, at a 'lack of emotion is an emotion' level. I don't know that I can say the lack of dictation by an algorithm is a correct interpretation though. Bach's music is some of the greatest of all time, and he very strictly abode by an incredibly mathematical algorithm, to the point where his unfinished Die Kunst Der Fugue has been 'completed' by musicians multiple times over the years. I think that given time, a robot could potentially produce art. No, not at our current level of robotics, but given enough individual parts of programming that dictate something as a function working independently but coalescing to create something unique of "its own creation", yeah, it is possible. Is that so dissimilar from what the human brain does itself?

Anyway, mk, I really like these painting. Here is DC we have a museum of modern art called the Hirshhorn that is absolutely extraordinary. I've probably spent 20 hours in there over my last two trips, but the room I spent the most time in each time is the one full of Clyfford Still's works, and there are only three of four of them there. I posted once before about them, I'll find the link.

Edit: Aha, here we are:

From the post, here is Number 21, 1948

posted by mk: 1847 days ago