Artists And Robots On Artificial Imagination

The Human Vision Of “Artificial Imagination.”


This week in Paris sees the last few days of the exhibit Artists and Robots at Le Grand Palais.

Described on site as, “an opportunity to experience works of art produced with the help of increasingly sophisticated robots,” it’s a unique display en masse that pushes the question of what is considered as “art” when robots are involved, and to what effect if any, this collaboration with robots has on the production of art.

Human Study #2.d, La Frande Vanite au corbeau et au renard by Patrick Tresset

This particular exhibit pictured above with the fox and crow, and one of the first that I walk by, I remember throughout the experience. You cannot see it in this image, however, the robot arm moves to tirelessly draw what it sees ahead through a single “eye” or camera, that rotates back and forth between the display and its desk.

One interpretation, that is of the display comment, is that it is “…une sorte de commentaire sur la futilite de l’existence humaine,” or in English, that this is a commentary on the futility of human existence. Another interpretation, or my own, is that this really speaks to how we should interpret the capabilities of AI and robots.

The data used for machine learning and for programming AI is all data collected from our human input, and based on our understanding of the world. While there remains a certain fear that robots and AI will put people out of work and take over the planet, this is a good example of the fact that AI cannot think for its own, and that the way robots perform is a direct reflection of our input. Any future developments, will be carefully thought out by none other than ourselves.

For example, it is not the robots that imagine these pieces of art. Rather, they are a part of it. Each display is intrinsically tied to the creativity of the human artist as they explore the human vision of “artificial imagination.”

As of now, this exhibit reflects our imagination and ability, and not that of the AI or robot’s, to create art. Needless to say, this could change. Can we create an input that produces a new output, one that is understood by computers (programmed) but not by ourselves? Would this new code be a new interpretation of the world that we could eventually decode? What would it mean? Until this interesting input/output is possible, or until consciousness is created, it will continue to be the artists and not the robots who are featured in each title by the display.

A Human Contrast

Following this exhibit Artists and Robots, is a ticket option to the Kupka gallery. Kupka was a surrealist painter in the Rennaissance. His early works were realistic with the perfectionism reflected in the art of the Renaissance, but then, we begin to see change. Slowly Kupka’s art transforms from perfectionism, to surrealism, and then to mathematically abstract art.


For Kupka, the idea of surrealism formed as he began to draft the outline of a river, a boat, swimmers, the shoreline, and then he realized that this is a new way to view the world. Not exactly as it is, but open for interpretation as a place for imagination and creativity.

In later years, Kupka’s art turns from surrealism to geometric shapes and patterns. All with mathematical inclinations, similar if I may say, to that of the robot artists we see today in the exhibit of Artists and Robots.

Is this a reversal of what we will see as we continue to advance in our studies of code, artificial intelligence and robotics? Or do we only have one way of viewing the world, like that of the robots that endlessly draw what they see through their one “eye” that views the fox and raven?

Reflexao #2 by Raquel Kogan

“Their palette is a canvas with numbers in unlimited combinations.”- Display at Le Grand Palais 

In this image above, we see series of numbers that move across the mirrored floors and walls, and even across our bodies as we walk through this immersive piece that continues forever in the infinitum of reflections. Does this correlate to the infinite of possibilities that we can numerically enter in code to create an infinite of art via AI and robots? Or could it be interpreted as a limitation to our language and therefore in the way that we can describe our view of the world in computer programming, machine learning and artificial intelligence? As we come up with new computer languages, how will this describe the world in software, and therefore, alter the output that we see in interactions with AI? Can we create what looks like artificial imagination?

On Artists and Robots

Quite literally, this exhibit offers a gateway to an immersive and interactive digital world where we can ponder on our questions of what is art and culture, and how will our world change with AI and robots.

“Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” – Marshall McLuhan

From other exhibits in Artists and Robots that reflect visualizations of data, to computer graphics that play with our conception of space, to more sophisticated attempts at surrealist artist and robot collaborations as seem in “Portrait on the Fly” by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, the exhibit of Artists and Robots suggested interesting answers to its questions of:

What can a robot do that an artist cannot?”

If it has an artificial intelligence, does a robot have an imagination?

Who decides: the artists, the engineer, the robot, the spectators or everyone all together?

What is a work of art?

Should we fear robots? Artists? Artist- robots?

In combination with the Kupka exhibit it’s clear to me that there is a long way to go before we have anything quite like artificial imagination as such, or further, artist-robots that consciously create art.

The mathematically produced art of the artists and robots was a far cry in comparison to the more comprehensible Renaissance, surreal, and then even the abstract art of Kupka. Something beneath the layers of paint, perhaps in the movement of the brush, suggested familiarity and humanism.

Like many demos, or even conventions that I’ve attended such as VRLA, this exhibit echoed with the cool edginess of smooth white walls, foreboding sound effects and shiny gadgets. It’s all a sign that we are still in the “medieval ages” of technology as a foreign concept to our world. Until we create a new computer languages, or algorithms that accurately reflect the world around us with room for the many exceptions that exist in our world, it will not be easy to have “true” collaboration between humans and robot artists.

When I walk into a robot artist gallery and feel at ease with the familiar brush strokes or patterns like that of Kupka, or, until my mind (not likely in my lifetime!) is able to better decipher the mathematic patterns and art of robots programmed by artists, AI and humans will continue to effectively speak two different languages; one human, and one rudimentary human (artificial humanism) that is based on mathematics.



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