If Machines Make Art, Is It Still Art?

wp-15895119815331073309784.png

A few days ago a fellow artist sent me a message on Instagram about a post he had saw that he thought I might be curious to see. In the message was a video clip of a person creating a drawing with an electric stippling pen. I don’t know if anyone has seen these pens (watch video below if you’re curious) but basically they’re an electric charged pen with a nib that rapidly goes up and down while releasing ink onto your drawing surface much in the same way you would use a regular pen in traditional stippling. It looks like a pretty cool, convenient and time saving art tool. But after watching the video, I was reminded of an MIT article that I read about teaching machines how to make art and I couldn’t help but wonder, exactly when and where do we draw the line between convenience and technology and express of the human spirit? As I thought about it more I couldn’t help but feel that the electric stippling pen was like cheating a bit artistically. To me, it’s akin to you grandma baking buttermilk biscuits from scratch compared to popping open a can of Pillsbury. Okay, maybe that’s comparing apples to oranges, anyways Pillsbury’s Grands are good as hell but I digress. At least with the electric pen, you’re still controlling the movement of the pen, so it’s not like it’s creating a drawing all by itself and you’re also still employing your own imagination to the artwork. But maybe it’s just me that’s haunted by this nagging, creepy feeling that gadgets and machines are taking over our lives and that in the process we’re losing something. What that something is, I can’t really put my finger on it but I’m sure two or three decades from now we’ll start to see reports and research papers coming out pinpointing what it is but it will be too late to correct the course.
Art has always been a form of human expression, so if we’re striving to teach machines how to be creative and make art, something that was once solely a human endeavor, can we still say that it’s art? When you take the humanness out of the equation of creativity is it still creativity or is it just an algorithm mimicking human creativity?
Needless to say, you won’t see me drawing with an electric stippling pen partly because I’m a traditionalist in that respect but also because stippling is my form of meditation that allows my mind and soul to slow down, which in this data driven, high tech, high speed, constantly connected, modern life we’re living, slowing down is something the human spirit sorely needs . And I don’t want some gadget taking that away from me.

Creating For Self

For some time now I’ve had this bag of beads just sitting on my shelf collecting dust and taking up space. I can’t recall how I obtained this bag of beads, all I know is that it was there and so, I figured I should probably do something with them. Departing from my usual activities to unwind, (listening to music or watching Netflix), I took the bag of beads off the shelf, sat in the middle of my floor and spent the next five hours beading. I had nothing particular in mind but with a few internet searches and some color coordination, I pulled together a few designs that were to my liking. It was nice to just sit and create something without being concerned about profit or productivity. Oddly enough, my husband popped his head into my room, saw what I was making, thought they were cool and reflexively asked, “Are you selling those?” (He asks this whenever I make something.) “No. That hadn’t crossed my mind.” I replied. “You should.” he responded before disappearing back into the hall while closing the door behind him. I thought about for a minute, maybe I should but after finishing the six pieces I created, I realized that deep down I just wanted to create something for myself for a change, something that I had no intentions on selling. Creativity doesn’t always have to offered to the gods of profit.

If You Had A Time Machine What Would You Go Back and Do Differently

Back In Time
Photo by Jeffrey Czum from Pexels

Sometimes you have those moments where your mind wanders and you look back over your life and you ask yourself, “If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?” It’s one of those questions that many people are sure to ask themselves, I know I have. But for me that wondering would be in a more general sense where I always concluded that I wouldn’t do anything differently. In comparison to where I started from, I feel my life has turned out pretty okay. It could use some improvements in some ways but according to statistics and social scientists, my life should have turned out far worse. So I don’t regret how things have panned out so far. But then I got to thinking, is there anything I would do differently as an artist? And that’s when I started to feel some pangs of regret. While I’m proud of how far I’ve come, I can’t help but think at times how much further I could possibly be if I had of done a few things differently. Here are five things, that if I had a time machine, I would go back and do differently.
1. Own being an artist early on. In all honesty, I wasn’t too proud of having a creative spirit. I had sensed from the environment around me that being an artist didn’t have the same prestige in the community as being a principal, a social worker, teacher or foreman. I mean, people thought it was “cute” that I could draw but it wasn’t something that anyone encouraged me to pursue or praised me for. Even when I confided in a teacher that I was thinking about going to art school, I was immediately forewarned not to go and instead encouraged to go to a university with a diverse curriculum. So, I started off my academic career as a psychology major at the local community college only to later change it to Fine Arts, which required me to put in three years to obtain an Associates degree.
2. Take a few creative writing classes. I’ve always wanted to write and illustrate my own stories. Actually I wrote a 50 page short story back when I was 14 years old that I still have ’til this day. Since then I’ve only written two more that I’ve kept to myself. But once in a while I’ll do a drawing based off of a story that I’ve kept in my head. I’ve always imagined my art being coupled with stories or poetry and sometimes even songs. But to write and to draw, especially with the type of drawing that I do, seems to be a tall order. The time it would take to write the story and write it well along with the time it would take to do the drawing sounds exhausting. And with technology seemly shortening my attention span, I’m not sure if it would even be worth the effort. There is this thing called “Flash Fiction” that’s known for it’s brevity. I’ve entertained getting into that from of writing but it’s only a thought. Who knows, maybe I’ll find some way to weave writing into my art in the future.
3. Stayed in a smaller city. I moved from a small town to a big college city and I have to say getting my foot into the art scene here is much more challenging compared to when I was staying in a small town. In the town I was living in it was easier for me to develop a personal relationship with people. The manager at the local gallery was approachable and I could talk to her without having to make a pitch or bring a portfolio just to get her attention. Yearly there was a local art fair. Applications were $25 and a table was $50. But I was young and thought a bigger city was the place to be. So I didn’t invest too much energy into trying to get known as a local artist since I was going off to a university after I finished community college. To my surprise the art scene where I live now is nationally known. People from all over the country come to the yearly art fair and for a local artist just to have a table can run you up to $1500 but first you have to serve on the art jury for a year before you can get your own table.
4. Don’t underestimate the value of a community college education. Everything I learned that has been useful to me ’til this day, I learned at community college. From drawing, to web coding and graphic design. It was practical, useful and industry based. When I transferred to university, everything became based not on practicality but theory. Even the art classes. Out of my five years there and changing majors three times, the only courses I took that are still useful to me ’til this day were Economic Botany and Traditional Cartography. Looking back I feel that much of university education is more hype than anything else. So don’t look down on community college. I’m glad I attended both and was able to experience the difference. Don’t get me wrong, going to university was great for the experience and networking but looking back I probably could have done just fine without it and not have the debt I acquired. (I was able to pay for community college with my part-time job)
5. Invest in myself. Some people seem to have this unwavering belief in themselves and what they are doing. Me on the other had, I’v always had a tendency to second guessed myself and because of that I always put more value on the opinion of others rather than upon my own hopes and dreams. I always assumed everyone else knew better than me what was the best course for me. So for some time I followed the status quo until I found out the hard way that there’s no guaranteed security in the status quo just as much as there’s no security in carving out your own path in life. It’s eye opening when all that you thought was secure gets pulled out from under you due to corporate down sizing. In the process I’ve gradually learned how to live with uncertainty and developed more confidence in my ability to handle things.

So those are the five things I would do differently as an artist if I could go back in time. How about you? What are some things you would do differently as an artist or creative if you had a time machine?

Sculpting Light

The difference between a good artist and a great one is:
The novice will often lay down his tool or brush, then pick up an invisible club on the mind’s table and helplessly smash the easels and jade. Whereas the vintage man no longer hurts himself or anyone and keeps on sculpting light. ~ Hafiz

I wanted to put my head through my drawing table today. Despite the end results and the delight I see on the faces of collectors, being an artist isn’t easy. Some days I just want to throw in the towel. But then I remember there isn’t anything else in life that I’m remotely interested in doing. Nothing else makes my eyes light up or stirs my soul like creating art and seeing others creating art. I’m fascinated with the imagination, artistry and creativity. I’m the type of person who wants to see the concept art and storyboards for a movie more than the actual movie. I want to see and know how things are made not just marvel at the finished results. So this spirit of art and creativity is just in me through and through but it’s not always an easy spirit to live with. Sometimes I wonder why I couldn’t have been someone interested in numbers and went off to become an accountant? Or something a bit more, dare I say…practical. But that just isn’t how I was made, so I guess I’ll just keep sculpting light.