Mar 14, 2014

Can Machines Make Art?


Last weekend, I went to the Armory Show and laughed at a painting of a woman who looked like she belonged on the wall of a 1980’s hair salon.  The soft glow around her dirty blonde hair and the soft focus in her cheeks made her look like a cross between Celine Dion and Kelly Kapowski from “Saved By The Bell.”

I laughed and moved on, until my good friend Alana pointed out the artist’s description: Untitled Girlfriend (Jerry’s Girl) – A composite of the 57 girlfriends of Jerry Seinfeld’s character who appeared on screen in the television series ‘Seinfeld.”  Pigment print on canvas.

Art, in the most conventional “beautiful” sense, has been “unnecessary” for a long time.  We can all appreciate the technical skill of a great painter, but the nature of contemporary art post-1950 has shifted and evolved and allowed viewers to critique the concept rather than the execution.  This is bush-league undergrad Art History 101.

As long as natural and artificial intelligence are two separate properties, art will remain a mystery, and their synthesis might however be achieved thus rendering art unnecessary.  Following this line of thinking, Turing’s question, “Can machines think?” would now have to read, “Can machines make art?”

Dieter Daniels

Richard Prince did not paint this piece.  Still – Jerry’s Girl costs 15,000 dollars, far less than Richard Prince’s photographs which are listed at an auction price of 300K.  A machine generated this composite, and a human being generated the idea.  This is a perfect example of how the synthesis between artificial and natural intelligence can be achieved.  But rather than rendering art “unnecessary,” this marriage presents us with a product that speaks to our kitschy sensibilities.  I think the spontaneous nature of artificial intelligence creates art perfectly suited to our heightened sense of irony.

Judging by several other pieces from the Armory, I think the art world is trying to come up with the right formula for this new kind of kitsch.   Etchings of the 90’s filtered through a modern lens will always perform well (are we going to make large scale canvas paintings of AIM away messages? Huge Lisa Frank tapestries to hang at The Cloisters?).  The work has been made by computers, about computers, and essentially, for the obsessive fans of computers.  Art – in the way Dieter Daniels  describes it – is not rendered unnecessary, just less expensive.