Using Computers to Create Art

Can computer software be artistic?

Without doubt software and computer, codes are brilliant in creation. Photoshop, MS Paint, and Corel Draw are just a few examples of computer software that are incredibly powerful tools for the creation of art. However, only a few people would agree that computers are creative, in as much as that codes can be used more than a tool.

Simon Colton, the developer of The Painting Fool, a software that he says exhibits creativity, is one of those people. According to him, computers are simply tools or processes that have creativity projected onto them by people and artists.

With the evolution of technology, various “robot artists“ have produced masterpieces that have become comparable to the human artistic ability. Harold Cohen claims that AARON, a software that he developed is a notable example. The e-David, a robot developed at the University of Konztanz in Germany is also one. It uses a visual feedback loop to constantly check the effect of its paint strokes. Oliver Deussen, the co-developer of E-David says “We try to mimic how a human painter creates a drawing.” But he’s doubtful about whether a robot can display intentionality. “Regardless of what we implement, the machine will never be a person,” he says. “It will only have a very limited idea of what it is doing, no intention”.

However, The Painting Fool’s developer does not aim is far greater than just producing beautiful, human-like works of art or provide art services.  It’s to have humanity accept this technology as an artist, talented or not. “The goal of the project is not to produce software that can make photos look like they’ve been painted, Photoshop has done that for years,” he says. “The goal is to see whether software can be accepted as creative in its own right.”

The latest version of The Painting Fool was showcased at an exhibition in Paris, where it painted portraits of attendees. Now a temperamental artist, it reads news articles to give it a “mood” — good news reports make it joyful while negative news stories make it sad. The changes in the mood produce very interesting outcomes. Colton reveals that it has declined to paint the person sitting for it at least six times.

When a person sits in front of the laptop containing The Painting Fool, it decides on a specific adjective related to its current mood. For instance, if it is in a good mood, it may choose colourfully then it tries to create a portrait of that person based on that adjective. It may use pencil, paint or pastel. “It sets [itself] a goal at the start, based on a mood that we don’t give it,” explains Colton. It attempts to get an understanding of the mood of the artwork.

After the painting is completed, the software runs a self-assessment to determine whether it has achieved the goal it set itself. By using “Darci”, the software with an artificial art critic manages the self-assessment, The Painting Fool now displays its creative characteristics, says Colton.

Dan Ventura and his team at Brigham Young University who created Darci explained that by drawing on a database of images labeled by humans, it is able to comprehend what types of adjectives a new image expresses. A neural network was built and it will eventually learn to map and predict the future by analysing new images and deciding whether they are happy or dark and sad. “The Painting Fool now displays all of the behaviours that amount to creativity, says Colton.” Having the ability to analyse images makes The Painting Fool self-critical. Just like any struggling artists, it becomes unhappy when it fails to achieve a goal, says Colton.  

But it picks itself back up and tries again. It looks back on its failures and changes it in the future to develop a style that is better suited. Having a goal setting and learning abilities as well as an independent personality such as self-criticism makes The Painting Fool creative. The software exhibits characteristics of a child learning and creating but people classify the child as an artist but not the software, because of context.

Despite the the new developments of The Painting fool, many people still remain skeptical. The term “creative” itself is vague and prone to controversy, correspondingly as with the word “Art”. Regardless of this, Colton says that it’s not a problem. “You’ll find a hundred newspaper articles written this year with the headline, ‘Is It Art?'” says Colton. “We’re not meant to agree what Art is, that’s what drives it forward. And creativity is exactly the same.” Despite the debate on whether computers are artistic, we can continue to use great tools to facilitate digital works of art, you can produce wonderful large format printing material for business uses, or even high-quality print booklets all by yourself. Computers may still be learning about the creation of art, but possibly one day, art produced by computers will be seen behind acrylic showcases of the biggest galleries and humans will be overtaken.