Creative Machines


Written by Jade French
12 Tuesday 12th February 2013

The ‘Senseless Drawing Bot’ created by So Kanno and Takahiro Yamaguchi is a machine which divides opinion. On the one hand the machine is a mere ‘bot’, programmed to perform a monotonous task. On the other hand, looking closely at how the 'bot operates allows us to question what is achieved in creating a piece of art. The machines self-propelling trajectory becomes almost graceful as the mist of spray paint  builds up. The machine might be 'senseless' but is being revered for its simplicity.

Then, just as you’re brought into the world of the 'bot a commentor like Mywebmaster eloquently points out “Fucking bots stealing the jobs of all those talented graffiti artists :)”. Despite the smiley face at the end does Mywebmaster have a point- if machines can make art, are artists redundant?



AARON might certainly think so. And no, that isn’t another really great online persona, AARON is the creation of Harold Cohen who since the 1970s has been tweaking and perfecting his robotic artist. The result is a mixture of Pop Art blocks with Modernist undertones and a dash of Gauguinian colour. Jokes.

The result might be bright but that could be a result of an over-enthusiastic programming from Cohen whose career has been dedicated to tweaking Aaron. There was a time when Aaron could only create in monochrome, but even in full colour these creations lack some sort of soul resulting in girls with square faces and all the movement of a Sims character.

Cohen, the creator of Aaron is as skeptical of the artistic merit of the computer’s art as anyone; he would only “consider it creative” if the machine could create a painting it had not been programmed to. Cohen has high standards.

So, machines are taking over? With their mechanic arms and circuit board brains? Well, fear not. Because there is a well known guy who gives the impression that there is no substitute for a human hand. 

Jackson Pollock

Modern Art is a concept we are getting pretty comfortable with now. On viewing an all-white 'concept' canvas we might even utter those immortal words "I could do that!". It's not a new reaction though - the 1950s had Jackson Pollock to contend with. His splatter paintings have divided opinions since Life magazine crowned him the “greatest living painter in the United States” in 1949. 

The power of machine art means that Pollock has been one of the most contested painters in history. Genius or fake? Easy or difficult? Can you replicate a Pollock just by dripping paint? YES! The power of the machine means that you too can draw your own Jackson Pollock painting. Or NO? Because Pollock’s work is all about fractals and mathematical precision. It’s a tough one to call.

‘Action Jackson’ is a machine specifically created to mimic the work of Pollock using fractals and programming. Yet, these fake Pollock paintings are sort of like trying to pay for things with Monopoly money because it’s only Pollock’s work that sells for $140 million dollars. 

Theo Jansen: Kinetic Sculpture

There may not be a substitute for the (human) hand in the case of auctions but kinetic sculptors such as Theo Jansen explore how machines can become art themselves. His machines look like prehistoric creatures gliding across the sand and, although they are man-made, they engage with their surrounding nature in such a way that their movement and structure become an artistic expression. 

Catapulted forward by the wind they illustrate a relationship between nature, machine and art- or, as Jansen puts it, “I make skeletons that walk on the wind”. This type of moving art is right up Kinetica Art Fair's street too, which Don't Panic! covered a while back

So from the mechanical arm of the Senseless Drawing Bot to the running wire legs of Jansen's 'Strandbeest' these machines show how the mechanical and artistic can operate together. Leaving us sure that even if machines do take over the world at least we will have some interesting art to look at.

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