Sunday, June 18, 2017


Chris Rodley set up his computer up with a deep-learning algorithm to combine 19th century fruit art with dinosaurs. 

The resulting Arcimboldo-esque 'fruitosaurs' have pears and plums rounding out their rib sections. Berry textures stand in for pebbly scales.

Mr. Rodley's software also crossed dinosaurs with an old book of flowers, creating a botanical mashup that's different from what a human collage artist would invent. 

There's an overall color and value logic to each dinosaur, and a clever solution for each of their eyes. The background texture is fragmentary, not quite identifiable as specific plants. And the "writing" along the bottom is mumbo-jumbo.

While it's all delightful fun, it raises some serious questions for working illustrators. Is this truly creative or artistic? How will illustrators—or art directors—use these tools? Should illustration competitions such as the Society of Illustrators or Spectrum permit entries created with artificial intelligence? How could they ever stop it?
Here is Chris Rodley's website and Twitter feed. Thanks, Kevin Cheng


Bill Marshall said...

Interesting questions, James.

Not knowing the process, I'm just guessing that the "creative" part to this is in coming up with the algorithm initially, but after that it is the ultimate in formulaic art, yes?

As far as the competition goes, there could be a separate category for machine produced images, but personally, I wouldn't find it as fulfilling as viewing original art/illustration.


António Araújo said...

James, I wish you had told the readers - just for a while - that you had painted that second picture yourself. :) Then, I wager, most would have commented on how delightful and whimsical it is (I personally find it so, but what do I know). As it is, we'll get the usual defensive flesh-bot reactions about it being mechanical and devoid of "soul", whatever that may mean. The fact is that most human-made art is as formulaic as it gets, and in fact most artists spend a big part of their life looking for their own special formula that happens to work with their viewers (and then find it often very hard and perilous to deviate from said formula). That's what "style" is: a "formula". But somehow it has "soul" when we flesh-bots do it. :D

Elena Jardiniz said...

When computer 'animation' first started I knew a Disney animator who swore no computer could animate a decent sequence. He was right too - mere rotoscoping looked horrible. That said... as the software improved and the animators' skills in the software improved computer animation really came into its own. It will not replace live acting, although an actor working with a team of skilled animators certainly can build a marvelous, subtle, complete performance (Smaug, Dobby, Gollum, Davy Jones)

Will a computer be able to generate 'art'? Well, not sure about that. Can it generate beauty? Only with a thinking mind and eye to appreciate 'beauty'. Without a mind to appreciate what it is seeing there is no beauty, even if all the elements are there.

Choosing the dinosaur images that would be translated into the arcimoldosaurs took imagination, are they 'art'? Dunno. They're pretty cool, and that's not to be sneezed at.

Sesco said...

If the imitation of a flower in paint, or in photography, or in animation, is art, then these algorithms are also art. All of us have evolved from "Nature", and our ideas are from that same source. If you were to have flown over Manhattan in the 1400's you would have seen Nature. If you fly over Manhattan today you see, in the middle of Nature, men's ideas manifested in geometric or natural forms. I believe we are somewhat jealous of Nature, in that we instinctively know when we are resonating due to beauty, that this beauty appears effortless as new species come online and old species go extinct, or as geology shapes solid forms into Grand Canyons, and we strive as products of this Nature to imitate the effortless beauty, to give form to our ideas, which we hope will cause a similar resonation as effortlessly as Nature. Algorithms are ideas which we men have caused to manifest images which are as much art as all the other manifested ideas which we call art. An art deco building begins with ideas that an architect draws into blueprints. A programmer codes an animation that manifests as dinosaur images. Since we have no concrete definition of 'art', I suppose everything we express must be art. The impulse to create, or to imagine, is nothing more than the next evolution of Nature. If God is the Creator, then the impulse to create, or to imagine, is an expression of Nature through mankind. Either that, or I've artfully expressed the nature of two large glasses of fermented grapes.

Bill Marshall said...

Excellent pots, Sesco!


Bill Marshall said...

"post", sorry for the typo.

Ava Jarvis said...

Neural networks are very neat software contraptions, but they must be seeded properly in order to work at all.

By that I mean: a human chooses what the neural network initially learns from. And then? A human is required to gently guide the neural network and try to prune out any horrific decisions it may make (and trust me, before these images were generated, there were probably quite a lot of nightmares they aren't showing us).

Teaching a neural net is itself an art. Choosing what it learns and how it learns and reinforcing what it learns? That's still art with a human hand to guide it. Neural networks are a tool—we haven't yet reached the point where the machines actually think for themselves as yet. :)

(I'm not sure Skynet would produce art.)