Artist and robot creating a painting: Who is the author?

Artist and robot creating a painting: Who is the author?

The artist cannot be the author of a painting if someone else has painted it for them. Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and other masters who use assistants are constantly criticized. While their assistants do most of the work, these artists still claim authorship under their own name.

With the rise of artificial intelligence, this question has resurfaced, but in a slightly original form. Now artists are using robots to paint pictures, and beyond the question of authorship, the public is asking: where is the human creativity in this?

My name is Vladimir Tsimberg, I am the founder of Robohood Inc. We developed software for these robotic artists to help people bring their creative ideas to life. Using our software, industrial robotic arms paint physical pictures with brushes on canvases, and it is a human who is the author of these paintings. In this article, I will explain why.

The concept of authorship

The author is considered to be a creative individual whose efforts produce an original work of art. This involves using skills, developing their own, or using established artistic techniques and styles to achieve the desired result. The artwork reflects their emotions and conveys meanings and their vision of the world. Authorship issues have become more complex with the advent of technology. Audiences are accustomed to the idea that an artist must literally touch their work, but when they use a robot to paint, that physical connection is missing.

However, there is also an understanding that authorship belongs to the one who has exclusive control over the creative process, the one who conceived the idea. This may not be the most popular definition in contemporary art, but historical examples in painting support it. Rubens, Rembrandt, Raphael, Titian, and other great painters may not have touched their paintings because assistants painted them. The canvas would bear the name of the studio owner, the artist, rather than the apprentice, which suited all parties.

Many artists made no secret of the fact that others were working on their behalf. Rembrandt, for example, used to tell his customers that a painting created by him would cost more. However, if they agreed to have assistants do the work, he would not only reduce the price but also make it in the right size and with all the details they wanted. Only later, already in our own time, did such a scheme prove to be a problem.

For example, after experts discovered that assistants had partially painted a version of Titian’s Venus and Adonis, Sotheby’s attributed authorship of the painting to the master himself in the auction catalog. This was probably done to prevent the canvas from dropping in price.

Venus and Adonis. By Titian.

Modern artists are increasingly turning to innovation to push the boundaries of their creativity. Neural networks and robots are becoming assistants, playing a role similar to Rubens’ apprentices but in the technological world.

One characteristic of authorship in art is to create. If an author needs a robot in his creative approach, that does not make him an author in the least.

When we think of the prominent artists who hired other people to paint pictures, can we think of their assistants as special vehicles for expressing ideas? The artist is the creator of the concept, in control of every step of the creation process, and in charge of all creative decisions. But instead of a brush, they required an assistant, a camera, screen printing, neural networks, or a robot to execute it. With a 3D printer, the author of the sculpture would be considered the one who designed and created it. Although the person did not physically touch the sculpture, they set the task for the printer. Robohood technology for robots works on the same principle.

The robot as a tool

When Robohood developed the software, the major goal was to enhance the creative tools of artists of all levels, whether professional or amateur. Our robots are designed to perform all assistant tasks.

In the best tradition of Renaissance workshops, a 21st-century artist gives a sketch to an apprentice robot, which transfers it to the canvas with brushes and paints. As with assistants in the studio, you must monitor the robot’s work, and if something goes wrong, you can fix it. The artist plays the role I described earlier: an idea generator. They create the concept, prepare the sketch, and determine the color palette. With our robots, the sketch can be a photograph or a digital image. While the manipulator works on one painting, the human artist thinks about what to paint next.

Besides increasing productivity, a robot can improve painting skills or help master complex techniques. Unfortunately, humans do not have absolute knowledge in every field, and there are very few genius artists who can paint everything. Aivazovsky, Repin, Michelangelo, and Rubens sought help from colleagues when they were struggling with something — be it a portrait, a landscape, or other details.

There are many examples of contemporary artists who programmed robots for themselves to bring a fresh experience to their artistic process: Pindar van Arman, Sougwen Chung, Patrick Tress, and others. However, when the audience sees the robotic artworks, they treat them with prejudice. The fundamental problem remains that, from the outside, it looks as if the artist is not actively involved in the painting process.

“The creative responsibility lies with the human”

Some artists see robots not only as tools but also as co-creators capable of bringing a fresh perspective and ideas to the artwork. However, the authorship is still with the humans because they formulate the task. Artist Pindar van Arman says that artificial intelligence has no intention of making art, and the only author here is the human who controls it.

ChatGPT, an AI-powered, text-generating chatbot, responded to the question of who would be the author in a human-machine co-creation in the following way: “When the robot act as a tool, a means to embody the artist’s ideas, this approach preserves the traditional understanding of authorship, where the creative responsibility lies with the human.” ChatGPT also suggested, if the robot is capable of independent creativity without direct influence from the artist, it is possible to assign authorship exclusively to the robot.

Currently, our robots cannot act autonomously without human involvement. Even though there is a neural network built into the program that can generate any image, the textual description for the generation still has to be thought up by the artist. It can be a part of the creative process, as creating a quality prompt requires knowledge of textures, shadows, and a clear understanding of the result.

If we delve into the philosophy, the creation of paintings with the help of a robot is not only the work of an artist who gives meaning to the paintings. It also has software developers and machine learning specialists who have codified the entire creative process into an algorithm. This is a kind of art, too. There will always be a human touch. It is the human who trains the robot, and it is the human who evaluates its work. You can’t say that the absence of the “master’s hand” on the canvas means that the creative act didn’t take place. Artistic skill and effort were used to create the painting, anyway. This is an important requirement for authorship.

Android artists may cause confusion. The famous automated robots Aida, Sophia, and Ameka were created for quite different purposes — they were not tools for humans. Their creators wanted to test the possibilities of artificial intelligence. For example, the robot Aida can create paintings without human intervention, i.e., make decisions and search for ideas with the help of her computer brain. Here, she is the author.

However, Robohood creates a tool for the artist that is subject to the will of a human being, like a pencil or a graphic tablet.

People will always argue about what is art

Of course, the public’s perception of such creativity plays a big role. Marcel Duchamp was convinced that the artist does not perform a creative act alone. “The spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications, and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” A lot depends on galleries and collectors. For some, the “hand of the master” is important, while others do not care who and how created the painting, because they are interested in the idea.

Technology has long infiltrated the art world. We may not use innovative tools for creativity, but we cannot deny their impact on the creative industry. This was the case when the camera was invented. There were authors of photographs — also pictures but made by pressing a button or two. It was called soulless mechanical creations. Now we see that photography is simply another branch of art, and most likely robots and artificial intelligence will remain similarly adjacent, leading the world in a new trend — robotic art.

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