Do Robots Dream Electric Mona Lisas?

Dilshan Jayakody

GigaOM is suggesting that Robots are making some serious art. After referring to something such as this, the next thing to do would commonly be either trying to define “are they?” or shouting out loud “only us humans can make art!”.

Various explanations and definitions bind us, and of course our sense of individuality and uniqueness are the cherry on the top. “We are special! What we create is special!” Indeed my little art critic and connoisseur, you who consider that monocultural auto-tuned whining one just cannot escape, those contemporary flat (no it has 3D!) expressions of cinema, and the quite dead visual arts still as art. But perhaps they are our liberation, a window to escape from the room of old definitions?

And perhaps there is a question here, a flow of changing perception, comprehension, feeling. Perhaps we should ask, in what moment can an artifact created by a robot to be considered as art? When does it become it, what makes it it?

When a person or 100 breaks the barrier of silence and admits it? When an art competition jury (read: the connoisseurs, the gatekeepers) fail to notice any difference and give the first price to e-David‘s (read also the video comments) grandchild who created a new distinctive ‘style’ (not recognized before by whom?). Or perhaps when the next generation Hatsune Miku‘s thoughtful, touching and provocative song, “Save the world [from humans]” (not an existing song, at least not yet) is still on the Billboard top 5 after 18 months? A song that was not developed with a Vocaloid, but by Miku it(her?)self?

When it comes to Miku, captinrexbog2 comments on YouTube that “you don’t have to worry about them getting older doing drugs…”. But at the same time, no one can deny that drugs have played their part in some of the biggest masterpieces ever created – them and various mental issues. Perhaps the robot (as a broader non-human term) artists will sometimes “inhale” or inject (run code?) a virus that makes their behavior irrational (read: out of the ordinary) or “creative”, ending to similar results such as Led Zeppelin II or Twilight of the Idols?

Perhaps a wild code, not resulting in error (if we do not define it as one?), will result in something new or what we call creative? But can a code work (independently) if it does not follow the logic of the system where it should function? If not, is creating new anything more than following orders of the system? In such a case, what then defines new? Also, following this logic, and the spreading naturalistic view of human, an old question emerge once again: shouldn’t everything we humans have created and will ever create, be already coded in us too? And if so, what or who was the coder?

What is interesting here is not so much the is-is not debate, but what trajectory is the ‘robot art’ part of: the ever increasing and seemingly unstoppable (digital) technology-mediated human experience. Do we not, still, define (capture) art based on our mysterious self, irrationality (through language, constructed and masked as rationality), the single phenomenon the contemporary reason idolizing societies seem to despise and try to get rid of the most (although it is itself based on it): feelings?

An example. I recently visited Ken Done Gallery in Sydney. While in the gallery, I became furious how this childish scribbling (to me) was considered art. I hated majority of the works (quite literally and out loud, my wife asking me to tone it down), especially the Sydney Opera House things. After the inspection and pulling my hair, I left the gallery, and thought that was it. Still, something had irreversibly moved inside me in connection to the Sydney Opera Houses. An indescribable feeling, that made me go back to the gallery, and skim through the prints they were selling. So strong was the emotion towards these works, of which I wholeheartedly disliked. But I was a coward. I bough one, not a Sydney Opera House piece, but one of the works that I liked. Perhaps someday I will go back and buy the damn Sydney Opera House and contemplate the effect it had – for this, I still argue that I need the print physically in the same space with me.

Was there really ever something more authentic (and in what terms) when we just painted, and the camera did not yet exist? Do we feel betrayed if we fall in love with a work (of art), its aura, and later hear it was made by a machine? And wasn’t the debate and definition masturbation about art (which quite often now seems to appear as a synonym for entertainment) over anyway?

More readings:

Digital Alchemy – transforming data into poetry

Spotify; don’t know what to make of it.

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Gary Simmons (Licence)

The awful thing in this is that after just two days of using it, I just love the service.

I listen to music a lot. I think I’m one of those people you would say can’t live without music. It means to me more than just a background noise; I love the melodies, the rhythm, every different instrument separately and together [I’m one of those hearing even the good bass lines in the back], the lyrics, the gigs the album artwork: everything.

It’s not long ago, maybe a day or two, when I moaned about how I’m still just going to buy my music in CD and ignore these rather new web services around. And the came the Spotify invite.

Today I went to this music store, and somehow automatically came the thought about me having this service and there’s still lot of secrets to be found from its endless horizon of different, unexplored music. ‘Cause I’m always finding new bands and artist.

So there you have it, I’m hooked. But still, I will be buying the ‘real things’ as CD. Recently I justified this with a fact that I like the album art and printed lyrics, and also me as being a art director and a designer can give value for the good production. Like in the case was with the Mastodon album.

But in the other hand, being in love to the CD cover is like eating meat that you know is unethically produced: you may like it, but you know there’s some kind of exploitation behind it.

Think of the benefits of music being just the electric waves. No discs, no covers, no useless cellophane wrap; nothing in the physical world that someone has to manufacture, pack and transport to hundreds of different places. Nothing to left as trace when the ‘consumer’ stops to ‘consume’ and wants to throw the whole thing away. There comes a lot of pollution and waste in the before mentioned process. Well maybe I’m doing over thinking here, but can you say it’s not true?

But, what happens to artists and their pay? That troubles me the most.

People should understand, that if there’s a service where you can get almost all music in the world with only 10 $ per month, someone undoubtedly looses revenue and it won’t be the record label who gets the hardest hits. It will most surely be the artist. And if there’s someone saying “Them artists do music because they love it, they don’t need that much money”, I’ve got just one thing to say to you: Piss off with your ignorance.

One thing that Spotify can’t do [yet] is make the music come with me everywhere I go. I believe Nokia is trying this with its ‘Comes with music’, but I don’t know how that is currently going. Most likely not as good as it supposed to ’cause no ones writing about it all the time.

Well, for the final thought about this all. I watched today in a class where I went, how my teacher fought with her cassette player trying to rewind the right spot for us from the tape. After this we watched a video [yeah, a VHS]. Some rewinding took place again. Right there, all of a sudden, I felt how many things had changed and how I felt how prehistorical tools she was using. So I was thinking that is me trying to stick with the CD [and justifying it with some thin excuses] a same kind of almost embarrassing act?

Oh just one more thing: whole the time I was writing this post, I was listening The Black League‘s new album that came out this spring. From Spotify.

Album: Crack the Skye by Mastodon

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Here’s all to you ‘I buy all my records from the iTunes’ -guys out there: I just bought the new Mastodon album titled ‘Crack the Skye’, in CD, and the album artwork that I now possess in the physical world, can’t ever be dethroned by a digital album cover.

The leaflet itself is pure art [sorry that I cannot show all the pretty pictures here ’cause I’d had to scan the whole thing and that wouldn’t ever do justice for the print job]. The printing and art direction is very, very professional; I believe they have even used additional bronze ink on top of the artwork to get a cool effect throughout the album, and succeeded to have an outcome like this, which is challenging. All my compliments to the art director, the design team and the printer.

One thing that came to my mind after I recently had this one conversation about whether to buy Cd’s or get them from the web is this; possible replacement [or addition]o t the printed leaflet in the future could be some kind of digital leaflet or presentation, for example made with Flash. If there even was need for this.

But still, it wouldn’t be the same, ’cause I like to have days when I don’t have to put my 10+ electric appliances and gadgets on in my home. Sometimes it’s just pure relaxing to listen to the music and browse through an album leaflet and feel it in your hands. Right?

Now only thing that bothers me is that, as always, there could’ve been another cooler version of the album available here.