• 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
Dresden 'most woman-friendly’ city in Germany
Photo: DPA.

Sorry Berlin, you're not the most progressive city for women, according to a new report.

The future belongs to these 10 German regions
This east German city won the 'most improved' category. Photo: DPA

A new study shows that one city above all will dominate the future of Germany, but if you're canny you might still want to think about moving to Leipzig or Erfurt.

Fugitive ex-terrorists 'on huge crime spree' in north Germany
(L-r): ex-RAF members Volker Staub, Daniela Klette, and Burkhard Garweg. Photo: BKA

In their struggle against capitalism they once murdered businessmen and politicians. Now three ex-terrorists have taken to robbing supermarkets - and rather successfully, too.

Scooter singer finally reveals how much the fish cost
H.P. Baxxter. Photo: DPA

It is the question Germans have wanted to know the answer to for almost two decades - and now they have the answer, thanks to a US talkshow host.

'I'm definitely not a paedophile': disgraced MP
Former MP Sebastian Edathy is in hiding after a child pornography scandal destroyed his career. Photo: DPA

Former MP Sebastian Edathy quit his job and left Germany after videos of naked children were found on his computer.

Weekend promises storms, humidity - and a bit of sun
A storm in Cuxhaven last weekend. Photo: DPA

The forecast for the coming days isn’t the pristine blue skies many of us are longing for. But, in among the storms, the sun will still peek out.

Prosecutors take aim at unedited Hitler book
An original edition of 'Mein Kampf' featuring a photo of Hitler on an inside cover. Photo: DPA

German prosecutors said on Thursday they were investigating whether to bring charges against a publisher who has promised to print a version of Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic manifesto "Mein Kampf" without annotations.

VW bets on battery factory for electric car dominance
A VW logo is seen in front of a plugged-in electric car. Photo: DPA

Scandal-hit car giant Volkswagen is set to sink huge sums into building a factory for batteries to power its future electric cars, German media reported on Friday.

Raging ticket controller seizes Chinese traveler's passport
File photo of a plainclothes ticket controller. Photo: DPA.

Germany's national rail operator is in hot water after a ticket controller reacted aggressively to a newly arrived Chinese traveler who made one of the most basic transit mistakes: forgetting to stamp her ticket.

Berlin politician crusades for health of skateboarding dog
File photo: DPA

Can a canine enjoy skateboarding? That's the question Berlin politicians are struggling to address in a row over a dog on four wheels.

Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Pegida enraged by black children on chocolate bars
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
Monsanto takeover would be 'diabolical': environmentalists
10 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
MP recites explicit Erdogan bestiality poem on live TV
China beats Germany in readiness to help refugees
Headless Lübeck corpse turns out to be discarded sex doll
Pensioner claims to have found hidden Nazi nukes
Business & Money
Here's why Munich is worth 20 times more than Berlin
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
6 things about Munich that will stay with you forever
Church plans to connect with faithful at Wi-Fi 'Godspots'
Online hate speech can cost users thousands of Euros
Bavarians in rush for non-lethal weapons licenses
Here's Germany's Mannschaft for Euro 2016
The Syrian pianist playing his way into Germans' hearts
The parrot who flew fast enough to trigger a speed camera
New law could let free Wi-Fi bloom across Germany
Berlin's plans to beef up the German army
Lufthansa's Euro 2016 ad takes aim at England
Supermarkets must pay massive fine for fixing beer prices
4/20: Five things to know about weed in Germany
Police break up hipster swarm at vegan restaurant opening
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd