I recently became thoughtful at first hearing the news that there exists a robot that has been painting for the past 20 years. According to the PBS.org website, "AARON mixes its own paints, creates striking artwork and even washes its own brushes." This revelation reminded me of my initial trepidation about digital photography back in 1991.
I was in college and deeply involved in my photography classes. I was producing more work than I ever had previously. I had even started tutoring other classmates in the use of the darkroom. It was during this slightly elitist period in my photographic career that I first learned of the emergence of digital photography, a bizarre melding of art and computer science that dared to replace film with 0s and 1s. Without exception, every photography student who got involved in the conversation of this new technology swore they'd NEVER use a digital camera. I wonder if we would have more clearly realized the world we were living in had we known that AARON existed, and that it already had several years of experience in creating art? It's 15 years later, and I'd love to track all those former classmates down to take a poll of what camera they're currently shooting!
It's feasible that several of those photography students stayed with film. The 35mm SLR camera body that I paid $1000 for in 2001 can now be purchased for $500. But economics isn't the deciding factor for many photographers. Most of the serious photographers I know do not shoot for money, they shoot for the love of it, and this is what brings me back to AARON the painting robot. The first question I asked when learning about AARON is "Why?" Why would someone create a robot for the purpose of creating art? This news was especially timely because I'm currently listening to an audiobook called "Lead the Field" by Earl Nightingale. One of the more memorable quotes is when the author recounts hearing someone say "scientists are happier than artists because scientists are regularly involved in objective tasks while artists are usually staring at their navel."
So here I am, once again trying to make sense of the marriage between art and science. When I was 19, I lacked the perspective to appreciate the valuable benefits that digital photography would offer me. Right now, I'm having a hard time appreciating the value of a painting robot. Can a robot create art? Is digital photography as valid an art form as film photography? I don't know these answers, but I have a hunch that there's something very profound hiding in our endless pursuit to do things differently.
To learn more about AARON, click here.