In 2015, London artist Patrick Tresset presented an installation in Brussels called, 5 Robots Named Paul. The performance involved five school desk set-ups, each affixed with a clamp lamp, video camera, sheet of paper, and a robotic arm holding a ballpoint pen. A sitter could then have her portrait drawn by what appeared to be a robot, anthropomorphized by wobbly penmanship and webcam eyes studying her face. In reality, the video and the robotic arm were never connected — the drawings were made by a computer from a single photo taken at the beginning of the session.
For a recent study, researchers borrowed Tresset’s installation to try and figure out how we might better value art made by robots. Three scenarios were tested:
The first group of sitters stayed in the room while the robots drew. The second group were shown the drawings later and told that robots drew them. The third group were shown just the drawings and given no information. Afterwards, everyone was handed a questionnaire. The results showed that the participants who witnessed the robots producing their portraits had the most positive response to the artwork. Connection to the maker, it seems, was the key to feeling invested in any artist’s output.
Most of us human artists already understand this ineffable maker-viewer connection when looking at art — once considered a uniquely human activity. Even in the midst of 21st Century technological miracles — digital art, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and computer-generated imagery — people are still standing in art galleries, following their noses around the archaic technology of the human hand. The miracle is that we are still looking at paintings: mixed by hand, drawn by hand, glazed and varnished by hand and signed by hand. In looking for signs of life, we look for ourselves in others. “To perceive,” wrote Aristotle, “is to suffer.”
PS: “This is the first study to demonstrate the anthropomorphism of an agent impacts positively on aesthetic appraisal.” (Rebecca Chamberlain, from Putting the art in artificial: Aesthetic responses to computer-generated art, 2017)
5 Robots Named Paul — video: robots at work drawing
“We are human, and nothing is more interesting to us than humanity.” (M. H. Abrams)
Esoterica: When trying to explain what qualifies as art today, even in our most advanced technological times, we might still simply use the word “heart.” In 1873, German philosopher Robert Vischer invented the term “Einfühlung” or “aesthetic sympathy,” later translated in English as “empathy.” Empathy is created between two beings: in the case of art, a maker and a viewer. Vischer posited that even in static works like architecture and painting, viewers “move in and with the forms,” triggering what he called “muscular empathy.” Think of when your leg jerks while watching a ballerina take a leap across the stage.
Studies have shown that when people look at Lucio Fontana’s slashed colourfields, their motor and premotor cortexes quiver. We understand the slashing. We also all know the heart-jerk that happens when we’re eyeballing the art-marks of a personal hero. It is perhaps, the most primal and uniquely human of activities.
Struggling with depression in his 30s, Patrick Tresser lost the desire to make art by hand. As a life-saving measure, he embraced the emotional disconnection he felt while on medication and began building robots that could draw. He gave them all names as a way of ingratiating them to his portrait subjects. For Patrick, his robots became “a kind of prosthetic for my loss of sensibility,” he said. “Creativity can be a great help to overcome sadness, depression, and solitude.”
“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” (Oscar Wilde)
Watercolor Workshop – Painting Holidays in Santorini (5-12 July) and Thassos (26 August – 2 September) islands in Greece.
Join George Politis AWS, RI in a journey of creativity. Both islands are majestic, beautiful and quite hotels to stay, paint and also have as starting point to explore the islands. Painting in pure watercolor and mixed watermedia. Focusing in composition and experimenting. All levels are welcome. Every session starts with a demonstration and then we paint together. Maximum of 12 students. Price is all inclusive (hotels, three meals per day, transportation during the workshop and tuition).