Generative Art: The Creative Power of Human-Algorithm Collaboration
The unique creative process behind generative art:
The creative process of generative art unfolds as a dynamic collaboration between human ingenuity and machine capabilities. Unlike conventional art forms where the artist's hand directly shapes every aspect, generative artists take on a more experimental, curatorial role. They provide the initial spark and overarching vision, then conduct an algorithmic symphony bringing their ideas to life.
The generative artist carefully crafts the systems, variables, and parameters that will govern how the art generates. Like planting seeds, the artist sows the starting rules and steps back to watch the autonomous growth. There is a balance between maintaining authorial voice through intentional constraints while also allowing space for unpredictability to flourish. Surprise becomes part of the creative journey.
Different Approaches, Different Outcomes:
Different artists use different processed to create their stunning works. Sofia Crespo utilizes neural networks to create unique AI portraits. She trains the algorithms on existing artworks as inspiration, then allows the AI to generate original images that reinterpret what it has learned.
Her collaboration with the machine results in novel and evocative portraits that exhibit both human and artificial creativity. She describes her work to being akin to “playing with an alien intelligence” since the whole process works in unpredictable ways. “I may be totally surprised by the results…but I'm also always learning from the process,” Crespo said.
AI Art: The Man-Machine Partnership
A collaborative approach between man and machine are often central to creative process. Artist Refik Anadol uses machine intelligence extensively to create immersive, data-driven art installations. In works like “Machine Hallucinations” and “Unsupervised”, Anadol fed massive datasets into neural networks to generate completely new visualizations of our world in ways only an AI could envision. The artist provides the vision while the machine brings novel perspectives.
“I see this not as Artificial Intelligence but as Augmented Intelligence - how we can work together to create new possibilities for human creativity,” Anadol commented on melding human and machine artistry in an interview to the Washington Post.
Working with machines for creative brings many challenges to the table. It can be challenging yet liberating to relinquish some top-down control and observe the machine riffing within the possibilities defined by the artist.
The Challenges and Outcomes:
Many artists have found it both challenging and freeing to give up some creative control to AI systems and let them generate new possibilities within defined constraints. While scary at first, this loss of control can lead to novel and unexpected outcomes.
For example, artist Refik Anadol worked with an AI system to create a dynamic, ever-changing sculpture called Machine Hallucinations. He gave the system a trove of data and loose parameters, then let it "hallucinate" endless abstract sculptures. As Anadol described it, "I don’t know what it will create in the next moment. It’s like jazz improvisation - we co-create together," in an interview with the prestigious Forbes Magazine in 2021.
Musician Holly Herndon took a similar approach in collaborating with an AI vocal model she named Spawn. She composed a rough song then let Spawn "sing" over it, generating eerie vocalizations she could never have imagined. While disconcerting at first, Herndon came to appreciate Spawn's contributions, saying "I’ve started to think of it as a surrogate vocal-cords that I don’t have to physically exhaust" told the widely-read New York Times in 2020.
Thus, while initially unnerving, surrendering some top-down control to AI can lead to intriguing creative partnerships. As artist Sougwen Chung, who collaborates with a robotic arm, put it: "By letting go of authorship somewhat, the outcome becomes something wholly unfamiliar and sometimes more interesting than what I may arrive at on my own," said in the arts speciality publication, Artsy in 2020.
This dance between human and computer - structure and spontaneity, order and chaos - breathes generative art's dynamism. The machine becomes a partner in exploring new aesthetic terrain. In generative art, the process is the art, rather than the final product. Creation occurs through collaboration, with the artist setting the stage for algorithms to perform their visual duet.
The Never-Ending Duet:
In a way, the process behind Generative art could be describe as a duet between the artist and algorithms. The artist establishes the context and constraints, and then allows the machine to improvise within those boundaries to generate unique visuals.
For example, artist Anna Ridler carefully curated a dataset of tulip photos, labeled with metadata, to train a generative adversarial network (GAN). She then let the GAN create an endless stream of new digital tulips, like a botanical jazz improv informed by the "sheet music" of data. As Ridler described it in Art Review in 2021, "I’m conducting it and saying – maybe more of these, maybe less of these.”
In generative art, the algorithms are collaborative performers that riff off the artist's prompts. MIT researcher Blaise Aguera y Arcas compared it to playing alongside jazz greats in Artsy in 2022, “You are Jammin’ with Miles. You set up a context in which they can be themselves.”
Rather than top-down control, generative art requires setting the stage for unanticipated outcomes. In many ways, during the process. As artist Helena Sarin explained in the Creative Applications Network in 2022, "Once you've created the starting conditions, the network takes over and does its own thing. So, then it becomes less about me imposing my vision and more about discovering what emerges from this autonomous process.”