Can A Robot Paint an Artistic Masterpiece? Can there be such a thing as an “artistic robot?”
What a ludicrous question! Of course a robot can’t paint an artistic masterpiece, right? Art relies on feeling and emotion and interpretation…the artist must be inspired as they work, creating brushstrokes not as form, but as expression! The application of paint not as a simple coating, but as an emotional outpouring of something deeper, something hard to define, something SPECIAL! Conversely, robots only do what they are “told” or programmed to do. In other words, a robot is only capable of reproducing the original work of a human based on commands it receives from a human, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Recent technological developments are blurring the line between art and artistic replication. And while scientists agree that machines aren’t yet to the point where they can create unique art the way a human can, they aren’t as far off as one might imagine.
When we think of art, we often imagine that the nature of art is in a human channeling their feelings through a medium. Be it a canvas painting or a marble sculpture, art is at least in part a reflection of the artist themselves. That is what separates art from furniture, or a building, or a grocery bag: art is created with at least a degree of emotion and is intended to inspire an emotional reaction. It only stands to reason that for something to be art, both the creator and the viewer must be capable of feeling emotion.
Almost by definition, any piece of artwork that is not an original is in fact created by a robot. Be it a picture of a Picasso in an art history textbook or a reproduction of a landscape by Monet, robots and machinery have long recreated the brushstrokes and images of artists for all the world to enjoy. However, despite the mass reproductions available, original works of art like the Mona Lisa and Nighthawks still draw millions of visitors interested in admiring the original work of art to museums each year .
Robots recreating exact works of art through print or paint is not a new development. But robots creating original works of art certainly is. An advanced robot named “eDavid” is able to paint in the style of Rembrandt or Manet, using varying thicknesses of brush-strokes to build up colors and layers until a full painting comes in to view. The eDavid robot is also able to draw in black and white and uses constant color-adjustment feedback through a camera to update the thickness and gradient of its brushstrokes.
eDavid only creates paintings based on original pictures uploaded to its memory, so it isn’t as if the robot is showing a subjectively creative side. That said, don’t most artists take visual cues from landscapes or people or still life arrangements when they paint? What eDavid is doing is arguably no different; where an artist might set up an easel at the base of a mountain range when painting a landscape, eDavid would simply use a photograph of that same range for inspiration.
Furthermore, robots are now being used as the tools of the artist just as a paintbrush or chisel might be used. Some artists are developing robots and machines to complement their work instead of simply reproducing it. In some cases, engineers are actually programming the robots to make errors in their artwork like humans in an effort to create art that looks more like it was made by man and not machine.
Still, the immediate argument about whether or not robots can create original artwork remains valid: if a robot can’t think and feel emotion, how can that robot interpret those feelings and thoughts and channel them onto a canvas as an artist does? Imagining a robot capable of such feelings is the stuff of Science Fiction…for now. But the finesse and detail required to use a paint brush like Van Gogh or Dali is already present in machines and robots. As robotic intelligence develops and scientists learn more about understanding the brain’s functions, and how to translate those functions to computers and mechanical devices, it is only a matter of time until some of the world’s great artists require nothing more than a power outlet in the wall to get started painting a masterpiece.
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