BECAUSE ART: CAN MACHINES BE CREATIVE?

April 2, 2022 By muriel 0

You’re walking through a gallery and stop to take in two seemingly unrelated pieces hanging side-by-side. one of them is a drawing of a bird, rendered with such precision its feathers could easily pop off the paper. The other is a sketch of what seems to be the same bird, however it’s nearly unrecognizable due to inconsistent line quality and parts that are entirely missing.

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In staring at the photo-real drawing of the perfect bird, you marvel over the technical ability required to produce it. You also study the sloppy sketch just as long, picking out each one of its flaws, yet decide you like the image of the strange bird because the errors are interesting to you.

When you lean forward to read the title card posted on the wall between them, you’re shocked to learn that the two considerably different images were made by the same artist; not the person them self, but a machine they built to create both drawings in two different styles.

As an illustrator, I’m fascinated by drawing machines because their purpose is to emulate an act which has always been a highly personal form of self expression for me. drawing machines and their creators are in a sense my peers.

Usually machines or robots that draw, regardless of type, are bound by the human influence of their creator. This causes most of us to see them as complex tools rather than collaborators… even though the human is more than likely just as dependent on the ability of the machine for the production of the work.

Really, the machine is a liaison between their own functional capacity to create images and the programming of their maker; a sort of co-dependent relation of ability between the two. like with the perfect bird, the machine doesn’t have to develop a greater sense of spatial acuity to draw photorealistic images like its maker would have to. It relies on programming which leverages the strengths of a computer mind, acting as a shortcut to producing the sort of realism us humans struggle with.

The trade off is in the subtlety. Machines are rock-stars at executing precision, however the important quality of imperfection found in drawings made by humans is a lot harder to forge. just like in painting programs, the simulated sable brush is only as believable as the software writer’s attention to how each fiber could potentially shift and splay in response to drag and pressure. Without these characteristics taken into account, every stroke would be a flat line, lacking what you’d probably define as feeling or expression; attributes that funnel into larger less easily definable ideas like creativity.

As the mind behind your drawing machine, how do you rectify something like feeling or gesture to produce works of expression like the strange bird?

The machine as a Tool

Along with fellow robot builders of the world, I ventured to the San Mateo maker Faire last year. Amidst the chaos I found myself lured into a booth which had a wall-hanging plotter pinned on the chain link fence in back. This particular type of robot tugged on memories from my distant past and got me talking to its creator, [Dan Royer].

I learned that [Dan] was in the business of designing robots and releasing them into the world as kits. By allowing the majority of his work to be open source, [Dan] hopes to start a collaboration with the world that will result in more capable iterations of his robots down the road. His means to an end being that these future renditions of his machines land themselves on the moon, either as capable tools or whatever they’ve evolved into by that point. having lofty goals of my own, I respect this sort of ambition.

In order to design robots for a living, one must start out selling robots for a living. [Dan] leverages the sales of his self engineered creations to afford a life style of perpetual development. because of this however, the element of production has a heavy influence on the way he designs his machines. Where 3D printing is a wonderful tool for rapid prototyping, it no longer becomes viable when you have to create a hundred of the same part.

The solution for [Dan] in handling all of his own manufacturing was to invest in a laser cutter. With this tool he can quickly create complex and dense shapes by stacking layers of thinner material together… like a robot sandwich.

This method is implemented expertly with his 3-axis arm kit. dozens of detailed cross sections pile together to create a robot that does more than just pick things up and place them somewhere. in spite of operating radially, it can produce accurate drawings too.

The arm rotates on a circular platform, so the use of X and Y coordinates would result in an image that looks like its been mashed into a funnel. To remedy this, [Dan] implemented inverse kinematics for the jointed robotic arm in order to create images that are proportionate.

Ee arm was doodling away while I talked to [Dan], but my attention was glued on the wall plotter a few feet away. This particular robot was his first success, dubbed the “Makelangelo”. Its creation was an indirect result of [Dan] teaching himself how to control stepper motors. In order to gauge accuracy, he would compare the axis of one motor against the other to see if they could consistently land at the correct spot. naturally these sort of tests evolved into the production of drawings. If the motors could plot a series of coordinates over time and turn out the expected image rather than a rat’s nest of scribbles, then he knew he was making progress.

From the milestone of accuracy, [Dan] continued to develop other drawing styles for both the Makelangelo and the ARM. like filters in Photoshop, these styles can be applied to any image and the plotter will act on code to re-skin the outcome.

The goal for much of [Dan’s] work is to create a platform capable of producing works like the perfect bird, so that others can use this conventional as a starting point. like crafting an optimal paintbrush that the owner can then pluck bristles from to create an alternate stroke.

When designing the machine, what if perfection was never the point to begin with? What bountiful coolness could the pursuit of the unexpected yield?

The machine as an Artist

At some point during my expedition in art school years ago, I diverted from illustration and threw myself into a robotics class. This being my first run-in with electronics ever, it felt a lot like taking high diving instructions without knowing how to swim.

To stay afloat, I channeled inspiration from the other seasoned tech veterans. For instance, the guy who sat across from me, [Harvey Moon], already had a reputation for designing and fabricating his own drawing machines. His work became the object of my fascination because I saw him as an inverse of myself; I being an artist that drew pictures of robots, he being an artist who made robots that drew pictures.

[Harvey’s] drawing machines were in a league all their own because they seemed to effortlessly pull off a sense of human-like feeling and style, which was a quality granted by the imperfections in the images they produced… imperfections that appeared genuine, not canned or determined ahead of time.

By surrendering the outcome of the drawing over to the machine itself, [Harvey] gives the machine permission to have its own creativity. JEP. let me tell you how.

The Wall-Hanger

The project [Harvey] was known for by the time I landed myself in his presence was a wall-mounted robot. It was deceptively simple, but the elements were expertly developed to work exactly as he wanted them to.

This little machine created lines inherent of the delicate tension between pen and paper like a seismograph. One continuous trail meandered in and around itself, becoming an image that lacked the precision indicative of machines while also remaining impossible to replicate by human hand.

Almost everyone is familiar with plotters of this flavor. The kind that tether a pen on a string between two stepper motors… acting in cooperation with gravity, like a spider weaving its web. They’re fairly common these days, but [Harvey] started building his first prototype at a time before they were as heavily documented on the Internet as they are now.

Like the rest of us students in fine art, [Harvey’s] original passion was in a more traditional medium, photography. Without anyone else’s prior experience to use as a starting point, he had to begin from scratch, teaching himself the ins and outs of stepper motors by salvaging them from old printers.

This being his first project involving microcontrollers and programming, it would be years before he figured out how to coax a stepper into producing a drawing. Along the way, the dialogue of trial and error between [Harvey] and his work became integral to the meaning behind it.

He came to realize that he was more pleased when his machine failed than when it worked as he expected. If the output was always unknown, there was no way to grow bored of it. due to this attraction to chance, it was never his intention to produce a machine that drew perfectly. He set his conventional elsewhere.

But alas, you can’t really force a “happy accident”. The better [Harvey] became at his craft, the more work he had to put into engineering unpredictability. His way of pulling off this trick is through the use of clever algorithms.

Where most wall hanging plotters are given a starting image to copy, resulting in a more or less predetermined output, [Harvey’s] algorithms allow the machine to carve the path as it’s being walked.

To give an example of how this could work, the machine is similarly provided with a source image, however depending on what pixel it’s told to begin the drawing at, the result will be different each and every time. To pull this trick off, a program in Processing converts all of the pixels van het beeld in percentages van grijs. Van het gekozen punt van herkomst zal de machine in de nabijheid van de donkerste pixel doorgaan, meteen meteen het bij aankomst, zodat het er een tweede keer overheen kan worden.

Taiwan Wall-hanger

Naarmate zijn muurhanger veranderde van geeratie naar iteratie, bleef [Harvey] met meer manieren experimenteren om zijn controle over de uitkomst van de tekening over te geven. Op een meer recente tentoonstelling in het National Taiwanese Museum voor Schone Kunst, besloot hij om het statische beeld als bron te sloegen en het gebruik van live video te introduceren als middel om onvoorspelbare ingang te oogsten.

Voor deze specifieke installatie, [Harvey] bevindt [Harvey] van tevoren in Surveillance-camera’s in Taiwan in gebieden met verschillende verkeersdichtheden. Gedurende drie maanden, vier van de tekeningmachines van [Harvey], langzaam weggegooid, pogingen getrouw om het ooit veranderende weergave te repliceren dat door de camera wordt gezien. Het resulterende beeld was een originele afbeelding van het verstrijken van de tijd gecreëerd door de grimmige kans.

Naar de derde dimensie!

Tijdens het denken aan nieuwe manieren om de controle over de inhoud van zijn machines op te lossen, heeft [Harvey] beschouwd als manieren om dimensionaliteit in de vergelijking van zijn werk te brengen. Deze gedachten resulteerden in het bouwen van een Delta-robot als een nieuw platform voor experimenteren.

In plaats van zo veel te concentreren op de input om de toevallige output af te leiden zoals hij had met zijn muurplotter, opende de Delta-robot nieuwe gronden om met verschillende media te rotzooien als een manier om het onvoorziene te creëren.

Hoewel Delta-robots geassocieerd zijn met precisie van industriële kwaliteit en gebruikt als 3D-printers om deze reden, wilde [Harvey] de gemeenschappelijke associatie breken.

In overeenstemming met zijn verlangen om te spelen met nieuwe en oncontroleerbare media, bouwde hij een extruder voor de eindafbod die hete lijm zou spuwen in plaats van filament. Echt, er is niets minder controleerbaar dan kleulen, stringing, volledig onherstelbare heuvels van gekoelde gesmolten plastic.

Om te eindigen met deze intrigerende stapels semitransparent Goo, programmeerde [Harvey] een willekeurige vormgenerator in verwerking die in realtime zou lopen, die g-code generatief gaf als het ging.

Dus, tool of artiest?

Als de geest achter je tekeningmachine, als het produceren van een gevoel van gevoel of gebaar, omvat het opgeven van zoveel mogelijk van uw eigen besturing … op welk punt moet uw machine krediet ontvangen voor wat het over u maakt?

Ik denk aan de hypothetische situatie waarin [Harvey] wegwandelt, zijn installatie in Taiwan maakt om nooit terug te keren, en als een passage van een science fiction-verhaal, gaat de machine op om tientallen jaren tekeningen te produceren door mensen in de gemeenschap die zich niet langer herinnert hem.

Met [Harvey] tot nu toe verwijderd van de vergelijking, wie produceert de kunst op dit punt? Is het de persoon die het papier weerhoudt? Of de mensen op de live camera-feed die de invoer levert? Of is het nog steeds [Harvey] omdat hij te krachten is voor het oorspronkelijke idee?

Moet eigenaar van de bron behoren?

Stel je dit scenario voor. Als u een kopie van een schilderij afdrukt die u hebt gemaakt, schrijft u het krediet voor de kunst en de afdruk aan uzelf, niet de maker van de drukmachine of de machine zelf. Je gaat rond en laat mensen de kopie en opscheppen, “kijk ik naar de illustratie die ik heb gemaakt!”. Je neemt het eigendom van de creativiteit, het vermogen en de intentie die nodig was voor zijn creatie, hoewel de inkt op dat vel papier niet technisch werd toegepast door je hand.

Als het echter tijdens het afdrukken van diezelfde afbeelding, de papierstoringen en smeert inkt overal op een interessante manier, die u vervolgens aan uw muur ophangt omdat het ongeval interessanter was dan de bedoelde print … wat dan?

De gesmeerde Mess-up was gebaseerd op ingang die je hebt opgegeven, op een machine die iemand anders heeft uitgevonden … maar het product was echt een gevolg van zijn eigen doen. Natuurlijk was er geen intelligent ontwerp achter wat het maakte; Geen-de-Messing Het handelde op de verstrekte gegevens, zijn eigen functionele capaciteit en de RI