Art and Algorithms


art workshops in Provence
Yves M. Larocque giving his talk in Detroit.

The future of artists, being art-algorithm-makers.

A few hours ago, I gave a talk to a group of artists of the Detroit region. I did not “knock” them out, nor “convert” them (as some Studio Italia friends from the area suggested), but just shared one of my concerns when it comes to art. I hope I was not to provocative. In a few years from now, algorithms of all sorts will be actively part of our lives. We will not need lawyers anymore to draft a contract of some kind, nor a physician for our annual checkup; a third of the blue-collar work force will not exist anymore. This is already happening. Today, in an American university, there is an algorithm constructed of all Beethoven’s works, fed into a computer, which is already composing beautiful concertos to the point that we think that they were composed by the German genius himself.

What is an algorithm? It is simply a recipe, a procedure that lists all necessary steps to complete a task. Some of these algorithms are constructed from a vast array of data fluxes created and shared through the multiple existing networks, or information repositories. But what about painting? Are we, artists, in a way protected from this evil thing called algorithm?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, if you choose to break established artistic rules. No, if you choose to be a conventional artist. One of the major repositories of art information is YouTube.  Just Google “how to paint a chickadee”, or “how to paint an Italian landscape”, and you will find thousands and thousands of short videos. In a few years from now, the human being will manage to assemble all the simple instructions from these thousands instructional clips to create “the” algorithm of the quintessential reproduction of my now notorious “chickadee”.  The same applies in painting a barn in a field, a swan, a mother with her child (just google “mother art”). In simple terms, a computer will be able to paint the perfect chickadee and not only in its most realistic way but also “à la Impressionist”, “à la Modernist”, “à la…” and also “à la You…” Therefore, on top of lawyers and physicians, graphic designers, illustrators, Sunday artists are going to be part of the disappearing breed.

So, what is left to do?  This is exactly what I talked about during my lecture. And this is exactly what we deal with during our painting workshops in Italy and Provence. In the long term, it is up to us to fool these new algorithms: to imagine new ways in painting the Italian landscape, to engage our art into the national and international sociological fabric, to imagine new art forms with our new technological tools. In the short term, it is time now to reflect on our own art, to question who we are as participants of this new society which is, at the very moment, unfolding. We must be aware. And by doing this, of course, we will be contributing to the creation of new algorithms for the vast information repositories. Maybe this is the future of artists, being art-algorithm-makers.

4 thoughts on “Art and Algorithms

  1. As always thought provoking. Does this mean I can stop painting “trees”? I do struggle with some of these new pieces…,what if anything is there to relate to? The old question of “what is it” or “what is it saying” at times leaves me shaking my head! Time for an Yve’s boost I believe! Best wishes from down south…way down south,

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    1. Heather, it is just food for thought, just food for thought. I am also thinking, just like you. Just read Homo Deus; a brief history of tomorrow, by Harari. When I teach art history and theory at the School of Art, sometimes I stop talking for two minutes… and then my students are asking me… “are you all right?” And then, I reply; “ I am just thinking, just kicking myself in the butt.” Heather, I know how you feel. But there must be a way to paint that tree, a new way, reflecting our time. Never forget that it is during the process that we feel the most. It is better to do four long-thoughtful-process-paintings than 40 for a quick fix; like the final cigarette scene in the bed.

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