• Germany's news in English

Painting robot sparks 'what is art?' debate

The Local · 23 Oct 2013, 15:38

Published: 23 Oct 2013 15:38 GMT+02:00

David’s creators at the University of Constance in southern Germany upgraded a robot whose original function was to weld car parts and then fitted him with a camera and computer, as well as a painting palette and some brushes.

They then programmed him to replicate images by taking account of shape and shade, as well as relative position on the canvas.

Oliver Deussen, IT professor at the university, spent three years teaching David the robot, whose name stands for 'Drawing Apparatus for Vivid Interactive Display,' to paint.

"We were interested in describing human painting styles mathematically," Deussen told news agency DPA.

Click here to see some of David's paintings

The camera's function is to constantly compare the developing painting to the original image, thus allowing adjustments to be made. When the programme can no longer identify improvements, David stops working.

The result is a painting, which while bearing an undisputed likeness to the original motif, contains human-like imperfections.

David even has the sophistication to replicate obscure touches like reflections in water. "In principle, e-David can paint in an impressionist style," Deussen told DPA.

But the paintings are raising questions about the definition of art and the role of the artist. Some speculate that in the future, smaller versions of David could enter the market, allowing people to direct their artistic robot companions to create unique, on-the-spot paintings of their surroundings.

"Pictures created by robots are conceptually fascinating and go way beyond an ordinary gimmick," said Robert van der Valentyn from the Van Ham auction house in Cologne.

But he conceded that the pictures represent "at best the efforts of the programmers, who as a rule, aren't artists but rather rely on existing art forms."

Van der Valentyn argued that robot-made paintings cannot emulate the intuition and creativity which goes into a painting by a human. "From that perspective, computer-generated paintings do not pose a threat to the art market," he said, pointing out that "Chinese factories already supply that market at incredibly low prices."

Holger Bunk of the Academy of Art in Stuttgart said that the artist's role in society has stood the test of time. "I have never heard of a development which calls into question what I as an artist or an art teacher do," he said, adding that he was sceptical about whether a robot could be taught to develop a sense of its own position in time and space.

While some may not be ready to describe David as the next van Gogh, his artistic apprenticeship is set to continue. His creators hope that he will soon be able to learn to use different techniques to convey motifs and to differentiate between people and objects.

Despite the scope of his ambition, Professor Deussen describes his creation not as an artist but as a "kind of modern paintbrush."

But as David's technique improves, the lines between human creativity and artificial intelligence may well become more blurred.

Click here to see some of David's paintings

Story continues below…

READ MORE: New Berlin museum for 20th century art


Follow us on Twitter @thelocalgermany

Like The Local Germany on Facebook

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Brexit vote
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
A sign in Berlin's tech giant and startup-building company Rocket Internet. Photo: DPA.

London is currently thought of as the main hub for startups in Europe, but that will all turn around when the UK leaves the EU, tech industry experts say.

Brexit vote - Analysis
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
British Leave campaigners celebrate Brexit result. Photo: DPA

Britain leaving the EU means trouble ahead for Germany - and its hardest task will be convincing the Brits to drop a self-defeating ideology, a leading foreign policy expert told The Local.

How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Photo: DPA.

Considering a change of passport after the UK's vote to ditch the EU? Here’s how to do it.

Germany makes fracking verboten
A sign in North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA.

German lawmakers approved a law that essentially bans fracking, ending years of dispute over the controversial technology to release oil and gas locked deep underground.

Brexit vote
German far right 'cries for joy' after UK votes to leave EU
Left to right: AfD's Beatrix von Storch and Frauke Petry. Photo: DPA

The far-right AfD party called for a "new Europe" and the resignation of the EU's top two politicians in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Brexit vote
Merkel: Brexit has cut into European unity
Angela Merkel at a press conference after the Brexit vote on Friday. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that the UK's decision to leave the EU has created a "cut in Europe" and the project of European unity.

Couple copulating on bridge shut down Autobahn
Kaiserlei Bridge in Frankfurt. Photo: Dontworry / Wikimedia Commons.

It was a highly unusual choice of location for a romantic rendezvous, police in Frankfurt point out.

Brexit vote
Germany: Brexit vote is a 'sad day for Europe'
A British flag along with other flags of European Union member countries flies in front of the European Council building in Strasbourg, France. Photo: EPA.

Top German leaders declared that it was a "sad day for Europe" after British voters opted to leave the European Union.

Viernheim hostage-taker wasn't carrying lethal weapon
A police officer stands guard in front of the cinema in Viernheim. Photo: DPA

The 19-year-old German man who took over a dozen people hostage in a cinema in western Germany on Thursday was carrying replica weapons, prosecutors have confirmed.

Brexit vote
German stock market sees biggest drop since 2008 crash
Photo: DPA

News that British voters had opted to leave the EU led to panic in Germany's largest stock index.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
US expats: Taxes are due June 15th
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
7 photos which show the aftermath of Bavaria's Autobahn bridge collapse
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
How to sound like an expert on German football this summer
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
6 reasons Germany's summer is unbeatable for thrill-seekers
The future belongs to these 10 German regions
How pictures of footballers on chocolates made Pegida really mad
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
Bayer's Monsanto takeover would be 'diabolical': environmentalists
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd