More musings on the nature of creativity

Today I came across this quote in an article I read online about how Facebook uses algorithms to manipulate our thinking. 

A provocative quote

So, without irony, I asked Facebook what they thought (by Facebook, I mean my circle of friends, my Dunbar’s number, my like-minded thinkers, you know, the ones filtered by Facebook algorithms).

One friend responded straight away disagreeing with the quote, with the argument that algorithms need to be created by the human hand (selected, manipulated) so therefore they are creatively generated. He argued further that someone has to craft the algorithms with ideas of taste and aesthetics in mind. Without those, there is no control on the output.  This friend is someone who does this. He is someone I consider an artist. He is certainly creative. He has created his own ‘art’ using algorithms (by art I mean something made from an initial thought that effects the senses and / or provokes thought). The examples he gave today were the MinusEveryone artbot which he has made which creates cartoons sans living creatures, and ThreeKissesADay which generates Briget Riley inspired Op Art images, which are, well, rather aesthetically pleasing I have to say. However, he speaks code (lucky him!). His medium of choice is code. He doesn’t need to outsource this aspect of his artistic practice.

I agree that algorithms used for artistic purposes need a creative manipulator (i.e. an artist) or, at least, creative input from somewhere. I have recently used algorithms for the sake of art with my meme machine which I made for the fine art degree show. The use of algorithms in art is an an area I want to explore further as well. I feel, however, in my case (as opposed to my friend’s case) that I am hampered by lack of expertise in the area of computer code and algorithm generation. I simply don’t know how to do it. I only have the ideas.

One of my generated memes

So a second question that came up from this discussion is: is the algorithm (or creation thereof) a medium of art (the same as oil paint or video editing software) or is it part of the creative process itself? As I outsourced the code writing, is the artwork 100% mine and 100% authentic? I’d like to think it is. I recently came across EmpathyDeck on Twitter which uses algorithms to generate empathy tarot cards that are tweeted to followers. I have received one already since I started following EmpathyDeck. EmpathyDeck was created by an artist who had help with the computer code to create the program. She is still the artist. So the computer code writing (or writer) is the medium. If you can do both, like my friend mentioned above, then you are lucky.

However, a third interesting question arose from the discussion I had on Facebook. If you can use algorithms to create something aesthetic and emotive (such that a good artwork  made by hand does), to do that you are presumably injecting into the algorithm theories of what constitutes an aesthetic artwork. In other words, you are using science to create art. You have to tell the code something in order for it to generate something back. This made me ask myself: can science explain creativity in the same way that science can be used to generate creative output, as we see with the above two bots made by my friend? Is it my ‘gut’ feeling and my natural sense of aesthetics that create my artworks or is it my neurons, my brain’s innate mathematical abilities and psychology and biology that are creating the artworks? Am I using maths and science without realising it? Can my creative output be explained, mapped out and fed into a machine in the form of code to create more similar artworks? I suspect that the answer is yes.

I’m not depressed by this thought. I’m curious. I think I need to learn more. Is it science that is thinking that? Is it science writing this blog?


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