A robot that paints like Jackson Pollock

A robot that paints like Jackson Pollock

Summary: According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, computer scientists at the Washington University in Saint-Louis (WUSTL) have built a robot that makes drip paintings like Jackson Pollock's -- who was also known as "Jack the Dripper." The robot, dubbed 'Action Jackson,' can finish an 'artwork' in just minutes, like Jackson Pollock probably did sometimes. But the paintings by this robot can be bought for about $10, which is far from the whopping $140 million price paid last year for "No 5, 1948." Anyway, the article raises an interesting question: who is the artist, the software designer or the robot?

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, computer scientists at the Washington University in Saint-Louis (WUSTL) have built a robot that makes drip paintings like Jackson Pollock's -- who was also known as "Jack the Dripper." The robot, dubbed 'Action Jackson,' can finish an 'artwork' in just minutes, like Jackson Pollock probably did. But the paintings by this robot can be bought for about $10, which is far from the whopping $140 million price paid last year for "No 5, 1948." Anyway, the article raises an interesting question: who is the artist, the software designer or the robot?

Below is a painting done by Action Jackson which was presented at the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Design Fair in Whitaker Hall of WUSTL on December 8, 2006. (Credit: WUSTL). Here is a link to a short article about this exhibit (WUSTL News, January 18, 2007). As you can see, it's less complex than the real Jackson Pollock's painting, No. 5, 1948 (Credit: Wikipedia).

A painting by Action Jackson

But even if the Action Jackson's paintings are 'simple,' can they be considered as art? And in this case, who is the artist? And can a robot be creative? Here is the answer of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Many artists and scientists say that before a robot can be credited with creativity, it must have autonomy. There's a difference between a robot that makes choices about its art, and a robot that carries out rigid instructions, said Gary Greenfield, a University of Richmond mathematician who makes computer-generated art. "We don't confuse Photoshop with being a creative entity," he said, referring to the digital imaging software. "We think of it as a tool."

But William Smart, a WUSTL computer science professor working in the Media and Machines Lab, tends to disagree.

If Action Jackson is a paintbrush -- an extension of the artist's hands -- then the seed of creativity is in the program that controls the machine. That seed is, most often, a program called "404," named after the number of the class in which Action Jackson was built. [Mechanical engineering student Topher McFarland] programmed the nozzle to trace out those numerals, sloppily, across the cardboard.

Just for your information, Action Jackson doesn't cost much. It has been assembled from leftovers of other engineering projects. "And empty Bic pens serve as sheaths for control wires."

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, you also can watch Action Jackson painting in this short movie (QuickTime format, 1 minute and 28 seconds, 6.65 MB).

Sources: Eric Hand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 19, 2007; and various websites

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Topic: Emerging Tech

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