Integrate Technology Into Works of Art: Is Technology Gradually Taking the Right of Creating Artworks from Artists?

David Hockney, one of the most influential contemporary artist nowadays uses iPhone and iPad to create his paintings. The free lines and signature bright colours appear on the screens of variable sizes at his survey exhibitions, which have been travelling around the world. It is not surprising how such an established artist would like to pick up an Apple pen to create artworks as the usage of new technologies has been an important way of artistic creation. The development of art creation tools frees artists from being limited by the materials, working time and location, and brings new visual experiences to the audiences. The application of the latest technology has been far beyond painting. Artists tend to use coding, programming to create artworks, or even in some cases the technology also plays the role of “creator”.

Technology as a processing machine

Artist Siman Li’s interactive artwork: Fortune on Hand (2016) using webcam, Arduino, Javascript to generate a poem about one's 'fortune' base on their own unique palm lines.[1] This might be the most straightforward example of technologies taking human’s positions, but it is far more than that. The integration of new technology and traditional conceptions question how the tradition exists in modern society. The enthusiasm together with reverence attitudes toward the latest things affect the application and influence the human being in reverse.

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There is another similar artwork that the artist Dmitry Morozov created a contraption that sniffs out pollution in the air and turns it into glitch art, which sensors measure dust and various gases like CO (carbon monoxide), CO2 (carbon dioxide), HCHO (formaldehyde), and CH4 (methane).[2] The dirtier the air, the brighter colours show up.

Image from  Dmitry Morozov

Image from Dmitry Morozov

The integration of technology and artworks always challenges the definition of “art” and explores the different methods of “creating” artworks. But here I would like to thank technology that it redefines “art” which brings the social issues into a rather humorous way and let us talk about the fateful problems less seriously and put those at the front stage.

Technology engaging with audiences as a part of the artwork

The artworks requiring audiences’ engagement, in some ways, make audiences part of their presentation. Raven Kowk is a visual artist, animator and creative programmer. His artwork: Algorithmic Menagerie is an interactive installation in which all “creatures” are generated by the algorithm. The virtual ecological system mimics the nature and human being is part of them, which invites audiences to engage with the installation.

Image from  Raven Kowk

Image from Raven Kowk

The new technologies bring more possibilities for works of art. Artists transfer their creating rights to the technology and allow their artworks to have an “open-ending”. Especially for interactive installations, the audience are the ones who decide the result of the presentation whereas the artists play a role of “designer”. To some extent, the art installations become a machine which is an embodiment of the law of nature of the human and ecological environment and artists only determine the logic behind.    

Technology producing “unknown” results

The Fortune on Hand and Algorithmic Menagerie are two examples of technology generate artworks after audiences’ engagement. Some artists even choose technology to generate artworks with no interruption. aaajiao is the virtual persona of artist Xu Wenkai. His artwork Typeface is an art experiment that aaajiao collected a lot of time carved stone rubbings convolutional to train a deep convolutional generative adversarial network (DCGAN). Through the study of a large number of samples, the neural network to master the method of writing, able to create new words. Not only the output is out of the artist’s control, the meaning of the characters is completely lost. In artist aaajiao’s word, “the process of creating recreates the text into a meaningless imitation.”

Xu Wenkai,  Typeface

Xu Wenkai, Typeface

However, I don’t regard such output as totally meaningless. The imitation and recreation processes within the network might go through fast evolution which is beyond our recognition and timeframe. In other words, a few minutes processing is equivalent to the hundreds or thousands of years the evolvements that what so-called “meaningless imitation” is the presentation of words used in the future. No one can prove my conjecture even myself and this is where the charm and danger of the latest technology that we people don’t fully understand the things made by ourselves.

Who is creating artworks?

The integration of technology and art avoids the same context of the artworks showing everywhere. The fascinating part is every single time the result would be different so that the artwork extends its lifespan by providing new possibilities. It could be a solid reason for artists creating interactive works to get rid of being outdated. But with so many interferences from outside- audience, environment, algorithm,  is the artist the only creator? ? Who is the real creator of these artworks?

The above four artworks share some similarities: firstly, the technology works at the ending part of the artwork to present a certain formation based on the “input”; Secondly, its processing part substitute for the human activities. Thirdly, the result is not foreseeable. If we focus on these characteristics, the technology doesn’t harm the creation itself but actually show a broadened view of the society. The development in art history is also the reflection of the human scientific revolution history. The tools for creating works of art are always playing a more and more important role. From the invention of the paint tube to allow artists painting outdoors, to Andreas Gursky manipulating photos to reach the perfect, technologies purify the artworks to the extreme. Go back to the question, who is the real creator of these artworks is actually asking should artists fully be aware of the result of the processing generation when applying any tools to create art and could the result be beyond the expected?

So far, no evidence shows the technology has the creativity, which is the key factor differentiates the artist from the craftsman. The outputs above are all based on facts and follow the pre-programmed instructions to generate results. Even the deep convolutional generative adversarial network in the aaajiao’s Typeface is no a creation, but actually an imitation of human being activity. The output is not necessarily to be fully understood by the audience and the open-ending can be beyond the human’s knowledge. The surprising result can also be part of creation as long as the whole conception, supporting theories and facts are from artists. Random generation may happen but the creating itself originates from an idea to the reality, rather than a formula producing results. The technology is not take rights of creating artworks from artists, but it is producing artworks in a unified and systematic way.


[1] Siman, Li. URL: