The Artistic Touch of Algorithms

15Oct12 provides an extensive free repository of fine-art images and an online art appreciation guide aiming to do for fine art what Pandora did for music and Netflix did for movies. The idea for arose when its 25-year-old founder could not find a cool piece of art to decorate his dorm room. So far, 20,000 images have already been digitized by, and it is currently trying to figure out how to apply digital analytics to visual art. But the big question remains: “Can algorithms help explain art?”

The Dean of the Yale University School of Art, Robert Storr, is skeptical. He says: “It depends so much on the information, who’s doing the selection, what the criteria are, and what the cultural assumptions behind those criteria are.” Computers must first be given a code that tells them how to recognize the difference between a Renaissance portrait and a Modernist painting. They can then sort through endless works, comparing and drawing connections between similar styles and images.

This question makes me think of how (or whether) this mapping the world of art online will influence the way of artists’ perceive their own works. Oakley mentioned studies by Ros Gil (2007) explaining that people have extraordinary passion and enthusiasm for their work, and he lists the different elements of this passion as: the sense of autonomy and opportunity, the playful and pleasurable nature of the work, and the opportunity for community and political activism. Will this type of ‘labeling’ and ‘sorting’ by computers influence their autonomy? Will it create a more competitive environment or will they not be affected by it at all? I hope this new technology of labeling and coding artwork by machines will not diminish artists’ passion and enthusiasm for their work. Without passion and enthusiasm, art loses all meaning.

Muge Fazlioglu

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